Archive for the ‘Spiders’ Category

Every now and again, I learn about a creature that I have never heard of before that so surprises me that I can’t stop thinking about it. The most recent occurrence of this was about a month ago when I stumbled upon a picture online of a species of insect that just does not seem possible. it is called a Wasp Mantidfly (Climaciella brunnea). Firstly, the name of this insect is one of those names that just gets better and better as you read through it. Secondly, the name of this insect fits its appearance perfectly. I mean look at this thing!

What insect is this? : Garden : University of Minnesota Extension
A Wasp Mantidfly (Photo Credit: University of Minnesota Extension).

Learning about this insect has just gotten better and better the deeper I have gone! And it starts with a bit of irony because while the name fits the appearance of this species to a T, with its very wasp-like black and yellow striping and narrow waisted body, its very mantis-like front legs, and its very fly-like wings, it is actually not related to wasps, mantids, or flies! Perfect, and I right!?!

The Wasp Mantidfly is one of about 400 species of Mantidfly (sometimes also called Mantisfly) found around the world with 13 occurring in the USA. They are actually in the family that includes lacewings and antlions. And these Mantidflies have evolved a ton of amazing adaptations!

The first set of amazing adaptations have to do with the larvae. The first is that most Mantidfly larvae are parasites that eat spider eggs. The larvae cannot get through the silk strands that a mother spider spins to wrap her eggs in. So, the larvae gets itself wrapped into the spider egg case as the eggs are being laid. How the larvae is able to do this brings us to the second amazing adaptation – hypermetamorphesis. Regular metamorphesis is when an organism goes through several distinctly different life stages in its lifecycle. A classic example is the butterfly that lays an egg that hatches into a caterpillar that forms a chrysalis that emerges as an adult butterfly. Hypermetamorphesis is when an organism goes through those same life stages and then some! In the Mantidflies, the larvae actually have a couple of forms with the first one being a long-legged and very mobile form, and then the second form being more grub-like. The first mobile stage allows the larvae to seek out a spider and grab on for a ride. The trait of riding around on another animal is a third amazing adaptation – phoresy. Phoresy is when one organism rides around on another organism. The Mantidfly larvae hangs around on the underside of leaves and other places that are likely to have a spider walk past, and when a spider does pass by they climb aboard. If the spider is a male, the larvae will ride around until the male spider mates at which point the larvae will leave the male behind and ride around on the female. Once the larvae is on a female spider, it gets carried around on the female spider until she lays eggs. At which point the larvae maneuvers itself so that it gets wrapped into the egg-case. Once securely inside, it changes in the more grub-like larvae form and then begins eating the spider eggs. The larvae remains inside the egg-case to pupate and then emerge as an adult Mantidfly that is able to chew its way out of the spider silk and go on with its life.

The adult Wasp Mantidfly, specifically, has a more amazing adaptations! One that it is a Batesian mimic. This means that its coloration has evolved to look like a dangerous wasp, but is in fact harmless itself. If you are curious about Batesian mimicry, I posted a video on my YouTube channel on mimicry. A second amazing adaptation comes into play when the adults are looking for mates which occurs in the spring. The males release an aggregation pheromone. This is a chemical that female Wasp Mantidflies can detect and that attracts them to the male. One advantage of these aggregation chemicals is that it may help the Wasp Mantidflies to determine if an insect is a potential mate or a wasp that they look so much like! Yes, Batesian mimics have to worry about mimicry too. And lets not forget about those incredible front legs! In an impressive example of convergent evolution, the Wasp Mantidfly uses its front legs in the same way that a Preying Mantis does which is to grab other insects to eat.

All in all, these creatures look like they might have been produced in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, but are actually an amazing product of evolution, and I really want to see one!!!

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Information is important. With information each of us as individuals, and our society as a whole, can learn about the world. With information, we can all make decisions that make sense. With information, we can all discuss ideas.

Without information none of that is possible. Without information, we are, at best, at the mercy of our current, limited knowledge, and our base instincts. Without information we are, at worst, at the mercy of the limited knowledge and instincts of someone else.

This is why the gag order, and insistence that all reports and data be pre-screened before release to the public, issued by the President to the EPA are so concerning to me, and I think should be so concerning everyone else. This is exactly the kind of action that limits access to, and spread of, information. It will only hamper all of our abilities to operate as rational, critically thinking individuals. It is the kind of action that is put in place to control what we, as citizens, know and when we know it. This is censorship and it has no place in science or a free society.



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A few days ago, I went into my boss’s office to go over an extra credit assignment he is creating for a class I am helping with.  As we looked at the tree of life and talked a bit, he showed me something amazing.  From a desk drawer, he pulled out a small test tube with a bit of cotton blocking the open end.  walking around inside the test tube was a small spider, only about half a centimeter long.  My boss has done a lot of work studying spiders all around the world, and in particular has focused his work on spiders hat live in caves.  This was just such a spider.  Completely blind having no eyes at all due to having evolved in the total darkness of a cave, my boss was keeping it cool in his desk and feeding it fruit flies.  Some people exploring a cave near Sonora, CA had found this spider, collected it, and had then brought it to my boss for identification.  And here is the amazing part.  It could not be identified because it was a species that had never been described before!  This was s first for me; to hold an undescribed species!  It reminded me just how little we really know about the biodiversity of the world around us, including the world in our backyards.  So, there I was holding a small piece of the unknown, staring into tone of the white regions of the map.  Really exciting!

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