Tag Archives: bugs

Lonomia obliqua caterpillar: prickly little beast

In the rainforests of South America lives a fragile and lovely caterpillar–lonomia obliqua— that will kill you if you let it. Be warned, dear readers, that they are often found–or rather, go unnoticed– on the bark of trees, which provides perfect  camouflage for the nasty, homicidal little  lepidoptera.

There they lurk in unassuming wait for travelers to lean against their trees, and to unknowingly brush against one of their numbers. Scientists will tell you that the powerful anticoagulant venom is a defensive mechanism, but the author of BV knows different. Lean in close to your screen, now: they are in league with evil forces and poise dto take over the world. It’s all very hush hush.

Ahem. On a practical note, symptoms of Lonomia obliqua poisoning include “severe internal bleeding, renal failure and hemolysis.”  A lethal dose of the toxin is minuscule, among the lowest of all known toxins. Brush against two of these villains and you’re meat.

To wit: though the lonomia family is responsible for only .1 % fewer toxin-related deaths than are rattlesnake bites,  should you be injected by the caterpillar, it would only take one one-thousandth volume of venom (versus the average snakebite) to do its work. One shudders to think.

So dear readers, should you find yourself in a Brazilian rainforest, mind the trees, forget the snakes, and beware the caterpillars.

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BV-worthy new exhibit

 

The California Academy of Sciences has long been beloved by the author of BV, figuring in her elementary school field trips, and, more recently, looming large in her consciousness as an example of stunning sustainable architecture. And a friend is employed there, I am proud to say, as a plant taxonomist– though, traitorous wench that she is, she will soon be abandoning us all to pursue a PhD in Chemistry on the east coast.

Pah. stupid PhD in chemistry. Stupid east coast.

In any case, If you would like to see an exact cast of Ida, the  Darwinius masillae that is a distant cousin of all of us today, you can do it at this exhibit. You can also learn about extreme adaptations (neat!) , reproduction (wink wink, nudge nudge) , and extinction (boo!).

Personally, the author of BV is excited to learn that the state fossil of California, Smilodon Fatalis, will be on display. She is also not a little bemused to discover that california *has* a state fossil.

which led the author on a rather amusing little digression into internet research-land, where she discovered the following:

California has the expected emblems, that is, a  state…

BIRD: California Valley Quail
ANIMAL: California Grizzly Bear
TREE: California Redwood

as well as a

 song
 seal
 motto
colors
nickname
flower
and flag (social studies history reports come flooding back to some of us) 

But is also has a state…

FOSSIL: Smilodon Fatalis (sabertooth tiger, see above)
INSECT: California dog-face Butterfly (well, it’s mother thinks it’s beautiful)
FISH: California Golden Trout
MARINE FISH: Garibaldi
MARINE MAMMAL: California Grey whale
REPTILE: the Desert Tortoise

not to mention:

 gemstone
Gold Rush ghost town
 Silver rush ghost town
grass
military museum
mineral
Fife and drum band (very cool)
Prehistoric artifact
rock
soil (SOIL!?!?! we have an official  SOIL. inconceivable)
tall ship
tartan
and theater.

And a poet laureate to write about all of ’em. (Which she doesn’t, at present. She seems to write a lot about love and death and architecture. But that’s a snap judgement)   

Seriously. Don’t believe me about the soil? look here. And expect a California series on BV in the near future.

sick of my rambling and want to read more about the exhibit? Read the articles from SFGATE and/or SFAppeal.

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Bejeweled Insects

Every so often, dear readers, the author of BV is struck positively speechless (shocking, I know) by an image from the animal world. In this case, these  include the  images of Miroslaw Swietek , Martin Amm, and Jens Kolk (see a sample of Swietek’s work, above, and photographs by Amm and Kolk, respectively, below)  and they are so exceedingly beautiful that for once, the author has nothing snarky or otherwise sideways to say about them. These photographers used a macro lens and flash in the wee hours of morning to catch “sleeping” insects wet with dew.  Follow the links above, and at the bottom of this page, and enjoy.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1260946/The-stunning-pictures-sleeping-insects-covered-early-morning-dew.html

http://seawayblog.blogspot.com/2008/03/insects-in-morning-dew.html

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Happy Birthday to an Angry Old Canard!

 

Donald Duck is 75 today!

The angry old canard’s full name Donald Fauntleroy Duck, and his official birthady is recognized today to commemorate the release of his debut film, The Wise Little Hen for which, true to the bad luck for which he is famous, he didn’t even get a screen credit.

He was recognized in 1942, however, when he recieved an Oscar for his appearence in the short film Der Fuehrer’s Face in which Donald plays a worker in an artillery factory in “Nutzi Land,” and who can ever forget such classics as “How to have an Accident at Work?”

You can, dear reader? well, shucks. here ya go:

let’s face it, If there is one star on teh walk of fame that the author of Bv can get a real kick out of… it’s the Duck’s.

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Parasitic Wasps, part deux

A friend to BV has alerted the author to the following video, as a follow-up to a recent posting on parasitic wasps. His advice? Not to watch this while eating lunch.

Dear readers, heed this wise man’s advice. But *do* watch. The effects of the “wasp virus” may be among the more bizarre phenomena of the animal world. (And far more innteresting than the swine flu, anyway).

cheers, Isk, for the tip.

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The Ant-lion (lion ant)

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The entire premise of Bestiarum Vocabulum, as some of you might know, rests on the genre of the medieval bestiary ( or bestiarum vocabulum). It is therefore meet that we occasionaly visit the archives for entries, as part of an ongoing medievalist series. 

Take, for example, the Ant-Lion, of whom Adhelm, abbot of Malmesbury (639-730)  once wrote the following riddle:

Dudum compositis ego nomen gesto figuris :
Ut leo, sic formica vocor sermone Pelasgo
Tropica nominibus signans praesagia duplis,
Cum rostris avium nequeam resistere rostro.
Scrutetur sapiens, gemino cur nomine fingar !

I long have borne the name of hybrid form :
Both ant and lion I am called in Greek
A double metaphor, foreboding doom ;
My beak cannot ward off the beaks of birds.
Let wise men search out why my names are twain.

 

And why are the Ant-lion’s names twain? There are two possible answers. In the first, the Ant-lion is a large, fierce insect. This is likely Adhelm’s opinion, one shared by Gregory the Great ( Moralia in Iob, Book V, chapter 20, section 40), and Isidore of Seville (Etymologies, Book 12, 3:10), and other venerable medieval types.

But there is another possibility: that as the result of a mating between a lion and an ant, the Ant-lion has the face of a lion and and the body of an ant.  And this, dear readers, is the interesting answer, made more interesting by its tragic ending.

Because the Ant-lion is at gustatory war with itself.   Belying the Latin dictum “de gustibus non disputatem est,” the lion’s head will only eat meat, while the ant body can only digest grain. The ant-lion, divided against itself, inevitably starves.

Very sad.

… but the author of BV, as you might expect, is having a difficult time getting past the basic premise of this explanation, which is that an ant can mate with a lion. The mind. boggles.  at that visual.

 

 

…and should any reader find him or herself with a bit of free time and a clever pen (ahem), renderings of said illicit act will be gladly posted in a future posting. But *try* to keep it PG13.

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Cane toads just can’t catch a break

cane-toad-2

Once upon a time, 101 Cane toads were  deliberately introduced to Australia, under the premise that they would eat the beetles ruining the sugar cane crops, ridding the farmers and population of a costly pest. Yet as we have learned time and again, the road to hell is paved with non-native species.  The population of poisonous cane toads exploded in Australia, the toxic toads started causing deaths of native species, and a variety of measures were sought to mitigate the new-and more obtrusive- problem, including:

1) Golf clubs (the author of BV cannot reccomend this, though she does understand the sentiment)

2)freezing 

3) gassing

 

But now, scientists believe that they may have found “a more natural way” to kill these killers: Meat ants.

…Yes folkes, this is another one of *those* posts.

Meat ants, a carnivorous species native to Australia,  have been observed eating cane toadlets, leaping upon them and devouring them alive. Or dead, however they find them.  Unlike the native toad species, moreover, the cane toads have not evolved defences to meat ants as have their Aussie counterparts. Simply put, “they do not hop away.”

Not one to hook his wagon to just any star, the mayor of Darwin and Frogwatch coordinator, Graeme Sawyer doubts that these ants can come to the rescue, as they “just don’t eat enough toads.”

Who knows whether sending the toads to swallow the beetles, and sending the ants to swallow the toads will end in tragedy… But the author of BV is put in mind of a childhood song …

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The life of the leaf-cutter ant: miss lonelyhearts OR sapphic smithii?

 

Leaf-cutter ants, or so they say, are all female. According to a National Geographic article, these ladies “thrive without sex of any kind—ever.”  As evidence of this essential sexlessness, scientists cite the fact that leafcutters have evolved to the point that they reproduce only when queens clone themselves.

Indeed,  one author of the study explains  that the (typically muscular) reproductive organ of the female leafcutter ant (M. smithii)  “has evolved into a ‘sort of a ghost of an organ at this point,'” and that no male of the species has ever been found. Were a male “theoretically to appear somewhere, we’re not sure they could mate any more,” she said.

The author of BV would like to offer a few observations:

1) Some among us would probably chuckle, quipping  that it will be a fine world when human females develop the same ability.

2) But others- the more sexually driven, certainly- would retort that a life “without sex of any kind– ever”   was not nearly worth the benefit of a life without fighting for the remote or the correct arrangement of the toilet seat.

3) And there the debate might end, with the simple conclusion of “I’m glad I’m not an ant” or “I wish I were an ant,”  but for the third group- the more flexible thinkers and those who swing that way- who might question the scientists’ assumption that the lack of males (and even of internal reproductive organs)  neccesarily means a “lack of any kind of sex-ever.”  

Rather denotes a lack of creativity, from a certain standpoint…

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Ichneumon wasps: evidence against religion or just mean sons of Bi*%*!s ?

w2_17941a

Darwin once offered  the ichneumon wasp as proof against the central tenets of natural theology, which believed in the creation of all living things by a benevolent god. Expressing his opinion  in a letter to American botanist Asa Gray, Darwin wrote:  “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae.” 

What form of animal behavior could be so abhorrent that its existence alone could stand as proof against divinity? Dear readers, the author of BV would like to warn you that what follows should not be repeated to small children, nor the highly suggestible, lest they– like the author herself– suffer recurring nightmares because of it. Even those strong of stomach, beware:  no zombie movie could prepare you for this one.

Ichneuman wasps are what is called “parasitoids:”  the wasp selects a nice, juicy looking victim, lands, and with a flick of her stilleto-sharp  ovipositor,  injects her eggs forcibly into the host’s vulnerable body. Not leaving anything to chance, she will then inject a paralytic, a poison that paralyzes the victim without killing it.

Then, keeping the living incubator alive as long as possible, the newly-hatched young first eat their host’s fatty deposits and digestive organs, before moving on to the choicest- and most fatal- morsels: the heart and central nervous system. 

I believe, dear reader, that the proper response to this is:

 evolutionary-disgust

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every dog has its day… off

and so does B.V. Come back tomorrow for something worth looking at. For today,  consider this: If you were a bee, you could get your legs chewed off for drinking your evening beer.

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Hercules Beetle: natural prey of the Stymphalian birds?*

behold the strongest insect on earth

behold the strongest insect on earth (and in the background, the much smaller flower beetle).

 The Hercules beetle (Dynastes hercules) is perhaps the most immediately recognizable of the rhinoceros beetles; it’s propensity for epic battles and family tragedies in the Grecian vein, though less well known, is among the beetle’s most prominent characteristics. 

Male beetles, for instance,  often use their prominent horns to fight for the right to mate with a comely female. The outcomes of these battles are determined by the whims of the gods, and may inflict devastating psychosocial effects which can fatally disrupt the entire Dynastes  family.

The winner and his prize may then engage in extended bouts of celebratory lovemaking; amorous sessions between Hercules beetles can last for 50 minutes-considerably longer than the average human encounter, which clocks in at a whopping… two minutes.

Epic, indeed.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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pink amblycorypha katydid

 

This Pink amblycorypha katydid gave his bride a gift, but she wishes he katy-didn't

This Pink amblycorypha katy-did give his bride a gift, but she wishes he katy-didn't

It has been brought to the author’s attention that the Pink Dragon Millipede is not the sole pink specimen  in the insect world; the pink amblycorypha katydid is equally pink, and no less charming at cocktail parties. In accordance with this discovery, the author would like to introduce a short run of “pretty in pink,” a series on roseate  members of the animal world. Whether their behaviors are as rosy as their hues remains to be seen.

The second member in our series (following the Dragon Millipede, naturally) is, as noted above, the pink amblycorypha katydid, a romantic soul and a genetic anomaly belonging to the species western round-winged katydid (Amblycorypha parvipennis). Like other katydids, this specimen  (should it prove to be a hetero male secure enough in his masculinity to wear pink)  will provide a “nuptial gift” of a  spermatophore, a nutritious little ball of ejaculate, to his loving bride.

What the author of  BV would like to know is: will that little love-token be equally pink, and mightn’t the female katydid prefer something by way of a box of chocolates?

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African Bat Bug: insectus sex-offenderus

the african bat bug, seen here in it's mug shot,  is a convicted sex-offender

the african bat bug, seen here in its mug shot, is a convicted sex-offender and occasional drag artist

One would not wish to be a female bat bug. Male bat bugs (blood-sucking insects of the family Cimicidae) have developed the disconcerting  habit of ignoring females’ conventional girlie bits, instead using  their sharp penises to stab target  females in the stomach, injecting sperm directly into the bloodstream.

In response, females have developed “paragenitals,” which guide the offending male’s piercing member into reservoir of spongey immune cells. But this is far from the end of the story.  

According to a report from National Geographic,* scientests who ventured into dangerous bat caves in East Africa to study the bugs  were surprised at what they found ” We ended up uncovering a hotbed of deception,” says  evolutionary biologist Klaus Reinhardt at the University of Sheffield in England; “nothing like this exists anywhere else in the animal kingdom.”

Because  the rampant males aren’t just targeting females; there are, according to the same study, “documented cases of males performing the same injurious sexual acts on other males,” to less reproductive avail and the considerable confusion of their victims. 

So, what’s a bat bug to do? In this case,  male bat bugs have developed their own “female” paragenitals to avoid the assaults; not to be outdone, certain exceedingly clever female bat bugs have developed the ability to mimic the paragenitals of  males to improve their own defenses.  the author of BV attempted to make contact with someone who could shed light on this tangled web , but Julie Andrews, star of the hit film “Victor, Victoria,” was unavailable for comment.

This, dear readers, is not mere gender-bending, its survival drag. 

  

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/09/070925-bat-bugs.html

Cf. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084865/
      http://www.livescience.com/animals/070920_genderbender_bug.html
      http://www.bioedonline.org/news/news.cfm?art=3613
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cimex_pilosellus

 

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Bushtit

This tiny bushtit is likely a male, as females typically have light eyes. Note the size of the bird in relation to the handler's fingers (shown)

This tiny bushtit is likely a male, as females typically have light eyes. Note the size of the bird in relation to the handler's fingers (shown)

 

Despite its name, the Bushtit (Order  Passeriformes, family aegithalidae) is not a well-endowed member of a prominent American political family but a tiny, insect-eating bird. Once called “Common Bushtits,”* these birds are primarily found in woodland and suburban habitats (ranging from southwest British Colombia, along  the western border of the United States, to Guatemala) where they can be found hanging upside down from foliage scavenging insects. Bushtits typically swoop into an area en mass, bustle around noisily while eating and socializing, and then depart, also en mass, for more insect-rich patches of greenery.

* The birds successfully petitioned for a change-of name when it was brought to their attention that “common” had unsavory connotations, a circumstance made particularly agregious by the fact they already had a reputation as ‘noisy little tits.” **

** A number of grad students and adjuncts were recently disappointed when their petition to change the name of freshman composition students to “Bushtits” was rejected.

Cf. http://homepage.smc.edu/sakai_walter/Species%20Accounts/bushtit.htm
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushtit

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Jumping Spiders (family Salticidae)*

 

This creature, which resembles a friendly member of the Muppets, is actually an agressive hunter.

This creature, which resembles a friendly member of the Muppets, is actually an agressive hunter.

There are as many as 5,000 species in family Salticidae, more than in any other family of spiders .  All the more fodder for arachnphobic catatonia.  In contrast to their numbers, of course,  is the size of individual members of family Salticidae, which average less than 2cm in length (though the females are typically larger than the males. Females are usually scarier anyway, if you ask for the author’s humble opinion).

Jumping spiders are agre3ssive little buggers: as  active rather than passive hunters, these  hunters jump by means of specialized internal hydraulics,  like little Gangstamobiles,  causing  their legs to extend forcefully and rapidly, propelling them into the air and across long distances. Characteristically, a jumping spider creeps towards its prey, crouches, inches its forelegs towards its target, and… (GULP!)  pounces,  covering distances as great as  30cm (one foot, and 15x its own body length). See figure B, below.

Were these facts not enough to secure the jumping spider’s place in B.V.’s  list of the most awe-inspiring and nightmare-inducing creatures, family Salticidae is also cannabalistic, often preying on their web-making spidey bretheren. Watch out, spiderman.
The jumping spider in action. The writer of B.V. will have arachnophobic dreams for weeks on the strength of this image.

figure B: The jumping spider in action. The writer will have arachnaphobic dreams for weeks on the strength of this image.

* NB: this installment of B.V. is dedicated to Lowly_Adjunct (aka. K.E.); oh you who perversly loves spiders, enjoy– this one’s for you.

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