I have the oddest experiences as an entomology graduate student. Last week I found myself tagging along with a friend from the FLIES lab* to examine the decaying hog carcasses they have laid out in a field. They do this to study the arthropod communities involved in the degradation–maggots, carrion beetles and more. In this instance it wasn’t as bad as it might have been–it’s been relatively cool out for one thing. On top of that, nearby fire ant colonies had evidently been scouring eggs and larvae from the corpses, something which I learned can virtually halt decay in some circumstances, since the fly communities can’t establish the maggot masses that take a pig apart.
*Forensic Laboratory for Investigative Entomological Sciences (and, yes, I imagine they spent a while on that one)
Donning gloves, I was quickly picking through dead pig fur for lice and other entomological treasures. It was a novel experience. So here they are, sucking lice in the louse suborder Anoplura, which I am going to presume are hog lice (Haematopinus suis). Close up pictures of lice make it evident why an unpleasant human manifestation of this pest is sometimes called ‘crabs.’ Their tarsal claws, specially modified to oppose a tibial spur for the gripping of hairs or feathers, resemble tiny lobster claws. Their dorsoventrally flattened bodies are secondarily wingless, all of which enables them to cling close and tight to their host’s skin while they take a blood meal.
The bottom picture was taken by my labmate Collin McMichael on a digital scope. If you want a glimpse into the inside of his head (it’s a scary but entertaining place) you can wander over to Tumble-Bumble where he gathers up bizarre odds and ends from around the internet, pretty much at random.