Giant Weta

Giant Weta

One of The Biggest Bugs on Earth Today

Do you remember how it felt the last time you had a mouse in your home? Nobody likes seeing a mouse crawl around their house! Well, imagine seeing a nasty bug the size of a mouse! That's just about how big the Giant Weta is. Native to New Zealand, they can weigh up o 2.5 ounces by the time they become full grown adults, although not every giant weta grows to be that big. The giant weta loves to snack on carrots, and in zoos that they are kept in they feed them carrots and shallots for their main meals. Not only is this bug one of the biggest insects on Earth, but it is also one of the oldest creatures that is still walking the planet. There have been fossils of the giant weta found in sediment that date the fossils back to the Triassic period 190 million years ago. As with many bugs we have discussed in this blog, the giant weta is getting close to extinction, but thanks to the help of scientists and zoologists, they are beginning to make a comeback. These bugs are bred exclusively in captivity, as we try to grow the population back to a level where they can sustain themselves. In 2013 at the Auckland Zoo they hatched so many baby giant weta, they had to hire on many more workers just to feed all of the babies!

Like lots of other insects, the giant weta does not have lungs. It instead breathes though its exoskeleton. It uses these tiny holes to bring oxygen into its body, then its organs pump the oxygen to every cell inside of the bugs body. Most bugs don't have hears. They have eardrum like areas covering their whole body. Unlike most bugs though, the giant weta has ears. However, its ears are located on its knees!

Silkworms

Silkworms

 

The most important bugs in fashion

The Bombyx Mori, also known as the Silkworm is not only one of the most important bugs for making clothing, but because of what humans depend on these worms for, they are also very important to the worldwide economy. The Silkworm eats mostly white mulberry leaves, however they will eat many different types of leaves as well. One strange fact about these worms is that they wouldn't be able to reproduce if they didn't have humans to help them. Ironically though, it is also because of humans that they are in this situation. These worms were domesticated over 5,000 years ago in China. Since then, the production of silk coming from these worms has increased by ten times what they used to create! This is because they were selectively bred, meaning only the best of the best producers were allowed to breed, and the worms that were not up to par were not allowed. This is why they are no longer able to breed themselves. Because humans have controlled their reproduction for so long, they have slowly grown to depend on the help of humans to reproduce.

So, how did these worms become the go to bugs to make some of the finest type of clothing in the world? Well, over 5,000 years ago when people in China were looking for a way to make fine clothes, they discovered the cocoon of the silkworm, and its fiber like qualities. Over time, they discovered that boiling these cocoons will make them dissolve and create long fibers that can be fed into a spinning reel used for the production of clothes. People who make silk clothing also have to have a large amount of mulberry leaves! It takes over 3,000 mulberry leaves being eaten by the silkworms to produce just 2.2 pounds of silk. So, the production of silk is quite a long, tedious process, which is why it is so expensive. Not only do they have to buy tons of silkworms, but they also have to have enough leaves to feed them which means planting and keeping up trees, they then have to breed them properly so that they can have larvae that will produce cocoons that can turn into silk, then they have to remove the dead silkworm parents, boil the cocoons of the silkworm larvae, and then start this whole process over again. Because they produce so little silk per worm, it takes over 5,000 silkworms to make a pure silk kimono!

 

Source:

“Bombyx Mori.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 May 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombyx_mori

 

Periodical Cicadas

Periodical Cicadas

Why do they only come back every 17 years?

2024... a year when SpaceX is planning on taking its first commercial trip to mars, also, the next year when we will have the next biggest visit from Cicadas here in Tennessee. These bugs can be such a nuisance, especially when they are so loud you can barely hear yourself think when you're outside! When these bugs come out every 17 years they shed their skin, fly, reproduce, and then die. So, what happens when they disappear again for so long?

Well, these cicadas that come out every 17 years are all adults, and the reason they come out is only to shed their juvenile skin, and then reproduce. After they have completed their reproduction they die. About a week after they appear and the process of reproducing has been finished, the females will lay between 400 and 600 eggs inside tree twigs! Once they have laid their eggs, within the next few days the female will die, as she has completed her purpose. Within the next couple of weeks the eggs will begin to hatch, and the infantile cicadas will drop out of the tree limbs and fall onto the ground. The cicadas that don't get eaten by birds once they drop to the ground will bury into the dirt and begin their young lives under ground. Unlike many bugs that have a very short life span, cicadas actually live for 17 years! However, they spend every single day of their lives (except the few minutes they are above ground after their birth, and the week of life for reproduction before their death) under ground  where they feed on the fluids from roots of shrubs and trees. Cicadas live their whole entire lives under ground except for one week, where they come out of the ground, reproduce, and make that deafening noise we all hate. Although you may hate when they come every 17 years, lets at least all be thankful that they live most of their lives under ground, out of sight, and out of earshot!

Source: “The Periodical Cicada’s Timing.” JW.org, www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/awake-no4-2016-august/periodical-cicadas/

The Lorde Howe Island Stick Insect

The Lorde Howe Island Stick Insect

Image By Peter HalszCC BY-SA 2.5

The "Land Lobster" that came back from the dead

The Lorde Howe Island gets it name from the island it is native to. It is a very small island located between Australia and New Zealand in the Tasman Sea. They get their nickname from the fact that they look a lot like lobsters that live on the land. At one point, they were so plentiful they were used by locals as fish bait!

They don't have wings, although they are able to run very quickly. One interesting thing about these bugs is that, unlike many other bugs and even animals, the male and the female share a bond for life once they mate. When a male and female mate they are together for the rest of their lives. The pregnancy for the female, much like humans, lasts 9 months. Once the female is ready to give birth she climbs a tree, and hangs upside down while she lays her eggs. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Land Lobster though is the fact that they can reproduce without the need of a male. This is what also allowed this species to essentially come back from extinction.

Image By  Jan Hecking  /  CC BY 2.0

In 1918 a ship called the SS Makambo carrying passengers and cargo from Australia crashed into Lorde Howe Island. When the ship crashed they accidentally introduced black rats into the area, which had never been there before. After some time, the rats discovered the Lorde Howe Island Stick Bug and began eating them all, as their own rat population grew. By 1920 no one was able to find any of these bugs, and after a few years of searching they were officially declared extinct. However, in 1964 a group of climbers were climbing a sea stack about 14 miles away from the island. When they got to the top of the sea stack they found a dead Stick Bug. This was significant because it meant there was at least some somewhere that had survived, as evidenced by this recently dead stick bug. Over the next few years a few more dead ones were found, but never any living bugs. Finally in 2001 there was a new discovery. Australian scientists David Priddel and Nicholas Carlile came up with the idea that on a small island away from the island there may be enough vegetation to support a population of these bugs. They decided to go and explore the island and when they got there they found nothing but crickets. So they came back at night when the bugs are most active. They found a population of only 24 of these bugs living under a bush that dropped fruits they were able to eat. They had officially come back from the dead! The living bugs were quickly taken back to a zoo to be assisted in their repopulation. As of 2016 the Melbourne zoo had hatched over 13,000 eggs from the Lorde Howe Island Stick Bug, thus bringing back from extinction.

 

Source: 

“Dryococelus Australis.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 May 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dryococelus_australis

A Spider That Pretends To Be An Ant

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A Spider That Pretends To Be An Ant

Photo By Judt GallagherCC BY 2.0

Hiding in Plain Sight

Spiders are scary to humans, but even scarier to ants. They prey on ants constantly! However, even spiders have many fears too, as they are the favorite meal of many other creatures. Spiders have figured out a way to not only have an endless supply of ants to eat, but to even trick their prey into defending them and keeping them safe from predators. 

Photo By  Yogendra Joshi  /  CC BY 2.0

Because ants live in such large groups, and are very territorial, they are often left unbothered by many predators a spider would have to deal with. This, along with the fact that ants are a delicious meal for spiders, gives the spider a very good reason to want to live with them. In a phenomenon called myrmecomorphy, spiders are able to change the way they look and act, and trick the ants into thinking that they are one of them. Most of these spiders that trick the ants are covered in reflective hairs that simulate the shiny, three segmented body of an ant. They also have color patches around their eyes to make it look more like an ants eye. They even act like ants! They take their front to legs, and hold them up near their heads to make them look like antennae. They'll even learn to walk in a very erratic, zig-zag pattern just like ants do.

Spiders deserve a lot of credit for being able to pull this off. Not only are they able to change how they act and look, but they are also even able to perform some of the most stealthy eating and killing of any insect. Many times, they will wait until they find themselves alone with an unsuspecting ant, thinking that the spider is actually one of its own. When the spider sees that the time is right, and none of the other ants will notice, he pounces and kills his prey! Leaving no witnesses and no one suspicious at all. After killing his mea though, he still needs to eat it. The spider, still mimicking the ants, will perform something that is quite normal for the ant tribe. He will carry off the dead nest-mate away from their nest, which is a very common practice, thus bringing about no suspicion at all. Once the spider has taken away his meal, he is finally able to eat it. After this he will continue to fit into the group of ants, being protected and treated like one of their own, until he finds another opportunity to strike and get his next meal.

 

Source:

Andrew, Elise. “Spiders Disguise Themselves as Ants to Hide and Hunt Their Prey.” IFLScience, IFLScience, 20 Mar. 2018, www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/spiders-disguise-themselves-ants-hide-and-hunt-their-prey/

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Could insects become giants?

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Could insects become giants?

Photo By Opoterser / CC BY-SA 3.0

Insect Monsters? Be Glad They Aren't Here... Yet

As time goes on, many species, including humans, have all had the same tendency; getting bigger. In the 18th and 19th centuries the average height of a human was about 5' 5", while today the average is about 6' 1". Based on fossils, it has also been discovered that many other animals are getting bigger as time goes on, with an exception to all types of bugs. So while we are all getting bigger, why aren't bugs? Well, there are a couple of theories on that.

An insect physiologist at Arizona State University named Jon Harrison has one hypothesis; that their exoskeletons may not be strong enough to allow them to get much bigger at all. This was just one theory he was taught, but there is very little evidence to actually back this up. There has only been one study done on this theory, and in that study they found that even in the largest of insects, even their exoskeletons weren't thicker, so this is most likely not the case.

One leading theory is because they are just too delicious to other creatures! As insects get older and become larger from the time they are born, they have to molt. Meaning, they have to remove their current exoskeleton in order to grow a new one that will be big enough for their new size. During this process of molting, the poor insects have no protection. If an ant was the size of a dog and molted, thus having zero protection, it would likely find itself as the main course for another creatures meal that night. However, being as small as ants are, during the molting stage most animals wouldn't bother with eating them, as they are going to get very little nutrition from something that small.

One other theory is that they do not get enough oxygen. This is a theory that Jon Harrison has studied quite extensively. The idea is that once the insects reach a certain size, the insect will require more oxygen. The tracheas, the tubes that transport oxygen, would be too small to transport the amount of oxygen needed for them to grow. The reason for this theory comes from the fact that insects a long time ago were much bigger than they are today. In fact, we have a blog post all about the largest insect ever, which can be read here! When insects were this big, the amount of oxygen in the air was much more than it is today. Back then, air was about 35% oxygen, where as today it's 21% oxygen. According to an experiment done by Harrison, insects get smaller when they are raised in low oxygen conditions. To contrast, many of them would get bigger when they were raised in a higher oxygen environment.

So while these are just theories, they give us some ideas of why insects do not continue to get bigger, and what could one day cause them to get bigger. Hopefully ants and other bugs continue to stay the size that they are. If they get any bigger, we may run into some problems controlling them. Let's all hope that either the oxygen content in the air doesn't rise dramatically, or that other animals decide they wouldn't want to eat big bugs, or else we may end up in a situation with ants as pets instead of dogs!

 

Source:

Main, Douglas. “Why Aren't Insects Human-Size?” Live Science, 19 Oct. 2012, 10:04 AM, www.livescience.com/24122-why-insects-are-not-bigger.html

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Why do Mosquitos bite?

Why do Mosquitos bite?

Photo By João Trindade / CC BY 2.0

What's The Point in Making Us Itch!

Spring has been here for a while, but the actual spring weather is finally here, bringing with it all of the pesky bugs we all hate to deal with. No doubt, on the top of everyones list of bugs they hate are mosquitos and their itchy bites! So why do they bite, and why do those bites itch?

Well, to begin let's discuss why they bite in the first place. While it may seem like every mosquito you ever see is coming after you to bite, it is actually only the females that bite! The reason for this is because they need proteins and other special component of our blood in order to produce their eggs. One a female mosquito has landed on you and decided to take your blood, she uses her proboscis, which is like a tiny needle, to penetrate the skin, and move it around and search for a vein that she can take blood from. Once she has the blood she is able to fly off and the creation of her eggs for reproduction is able to commence.

So then why do they itch? Well, as the mosquito draws your blood from you, it also injects some of its own saliva into your blood. The reason it has to inject its own saliva is because it's worried it will get stuck inside your skin! The mosquitos saliva contains an anticoagulant, which means it keeps your blood from clotting. So, while the mosquito has its proboscis inside your skin, it releases its own anticoagulant saliva into your body so that your blood doesn't clot around it, and get the insect stuck. When your body recognizes that this mosquito saliva is a foreign body to you, and therefore should not be there it immediately starts attacking. Part of this attack involves releasing histamine. The histamine is what causes the itching, and also causes the area around the bite to swell up.

 

Source:

“Mosquito Facts: How and Why a Mosquito Bites You.” Mercola.com, 8 Aug. 2015, articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/08/08/why-mosquitoes-bite.aspx

Rabin, Roni Caryn. “Ask Well: Why Do Mosquito Bites Itch?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 June 2016, well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/ask-well-why-do-mosquito-bites-itch/

Dragonflies

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Dragonflies

Photo By Renee "Mrs. Dash"CC BY 2.0

Where Does The Name Dragonfly Come From?

We've already talked about the largest insect to ever walk the planet, that looked just like a dragonfly, but where does the name dragonfly come from? They don't exactly look like dragons! Well, the name has some very odd beginnings. There are two different stories to how it got its name; one from Romanian Folklore, and one from the Native American Folklore.

Image By  Friedrich-Johann-Justin-Bertuch  / {{PD-1923}}

Image By Friedrich-Johann-Justin-Bertuch / {{PD-1923}}

The Romanian story starts with St. George being assigned the task of killing a dragon that was attacking the town of Silence. Instead of killing the dragon he only injured it, then put it on a leash and gave it to the towns princess. Apparently the devil was the one who sent the dragon to the town, and because St. George was the one who defeated the dragon the devil cursed his horse, which turned it into a giant flying insect. In the Romanian language the term Devil's Fly is Drac Fly. Over time this slowly turned into the name dragonfly that we have today.

The Native American story came from the Zuni tribe. To them, dragon flies were a sign of spring and a good harvest. In their story, the Zuni left their land because it became barren, and was unusable. Because they were so eager to leave, they left in such a hurry that they left two children, a brother and sister. The brother made a doll out of some old corn husks and grass. As they remained on this barren land, they began to starve so the corn and grass doll came to life and flew around trying to find corn maidens. When the corn maidens arrived, so did the fertility of the land, and the Zuni tribe as well. After this, the corn and grass doll asked for a companion. From then on, their offspring were called dragonflies, and are the dragonflies me and you see today.

While researching for this blog, I will admit this is not what i expected to find. I expected a bit simpler of an answer, but this turned out a lot more interesting! Let us know in the comments below which one you believe, or if you have your own story.

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FireFlies

FireFlies

Photo By Terry Priest / CC BY-SA 2.0

What Makes Them Glow?

On those nice spring, summer, and early fall nights, its hard to miss the glow of fireflies in the night. Fireflies are not just beautiful, but many children have fun trying to catch them, and keeping them as pets in a jar. People even travel from all over the world to come see them in the Great Smokey Mountains as they, once a year, all gather together to light up the sky together. But what makes them glow? And why do they all gather in the same spot one a year?

The reason they are able to glow is because of a chemical reaction in their abdomen. Things like oxygen, calcium, magnesium, and a naturally occurring chemical called luciferin are some of the chemicals inside that create this light. This reaction that causes light isn't just something simple however. It's very complex, and something that has baffled scientists for nearly 60 years! The main problem is the fact that the luciferin and oxygen are somehow, which most scientists have always thought was impossible. Without getting to confusing, the reason the firefly is able to defy logic is because when the oxygen enters the firefly abdomen, it gets an extra electron, making it possible to react.

So, why do they all gather in the Great Smokey Mountains every year? Well, this phenomenon is called the FireFly Shuttle, and it is part of a mating ritual. The males and females gather from all around. The males synchronize their flashing pattern, and the females synchronize their flashing pattern. This makes it obvious to each firefly which one is a male, and which one is a female so a mate can be chosen quickly. 

Puss Moth Caterpillar

Puss Moth Caterpillar

 

Image By Gail HampshireCC BY 2.0

Very Vulnerable, and Incredibly Creepy

     Like most caterpillars, the Puss Moth Caterpillar is a very squishy, very vulnerable creature. Because of this it has to resort to some kind of self defense in order to keep itself alive. Rather than have any offensive capabilities, it instead uses the tactic of mimicry to scare off possible predators. Its face, as seen in the photo, is made to mimic some kind of larger creature, specifically one with bones in its face, as those are more likely to be scary than a caterpillar with no bones.

     The Puss Moth Caterpillar has a bright green body, and one white spot on each separate portions of its body. The two black dots on its face are meant to mimc eyes. Then, its actual face, is in the center of what looks to other creatures as a gigantic mouth hung open. It may be a little hard to see, but if you squint your eyes, you can make out how it could look like a scary creature to other bugs and animals. On top of it just looking creepy, it acts like something from a horror movie. If you touch it, it will immediately turn around and stare at you. Touch it in a different spot, and it will stare right back at you again. No matter where you are, it will detect where your eyes are and turn around and stare directly at you. If this isn't enough to scare you, or any predator away, then through the two horns on its back, it will spray a mist of formic acid, causing extreme irritation to anyone or anything that gets in the mist.