Archive | May, 2012

May Taxonomy Fail: Everybody wants to be an ant

28 May

Here’s a fun one for my bug blooper series of mislabeled and misidentified bugs from around the interwebs.

Drumroll, please….

“Fire Ant”


This is a very cool one.  Take a close look, because I love these little guys.  This is not a fire ant.  And it’s not an ant.  This is a nifty little ant-mimicking spider.

Some very cool ecology here.  Ant mimicry is fairly widespread in the arthropod world.  In some cases it allows predators to blend in with ants–either to steal their prey or assasinate and devour the ants themselves.  In many cases, however, this mimicry serves a defensive purpose.  When you’re a centimeter long, looking like an ant makes you a bad ass.  For example, check out this ant-mimicking mantis nymph:

Nobody’s messing with him.  For more great photos check out  Up Close With Nature’s  excellent post on ant mimicry.


“Fire ant” spider via Connemara Conservancy Meadow Tour Guide

Caterpillar Hunters

25 May
A green purple and red beetle with big jaws.

Calosoma scrutator, the fiery searcher.

Here’s a colorful beetle I run across fairly often (they are extremely popular in student collections).  While many members of the genus Calosoma, the caterpillar hunters, are black in color, a handful of species (in the creatively named subgenus Calosoma) have metallic green elytra.  Calosoma scrutator, the fiery searchers, are further distinguished by a red/gold band around the edge of the wing cases.  These beetles are fast and aggressive, preying primarily on caterpillars as both adults and larvae.  We recently had a few live beetles donated for an insect zoo we did for a local elementary school, and I got to spend a good deal more time observing them than I ever have in the field.

Fiery hunter (green beetle) preying on cricket.

Caterpillar hunter attacking a cricket.

Not having any caterpillars around, I’ve been feeding them crickets, which they do well on so long as everybody in the tank gets their own cricket meal.  There’s a good deal of scrambling and tussling as each beetle attempts to secure a cricket and retreat to a quiet spot to eat, easily devolving into slapstick if two possessive beetles happen to bump into each other.  I’ve started passing out crickets with tweezers to minimize the chaos.  Luckily, they all appear to be too armored to take any real damage from each other, and they haven’t shown any inclination to eat each other–though at least one forum thread I found says they may.  When not eating or searching about the tank they spend most of their time burrowing or tucked under bits of wood and debris.

Close up of green carabid beetle chewing on Cricket Prey

Nom nom.

Caterpillar hunters possess a ferocious pair of mandibles, but don’t appear to be particularly adept at manipulating their struggling prey–unlike spiders with their pedipalps or mantises with their raptorial forelegs.  Instead they scissor away at the soft fleshy parts of their prey, slowly masticating it into a pulp.  I have some rather alarmingly gory video that I’ll try to get up at some point.

Apparently the adults have been known to live for an impressive three years, so I’ll have to see if I can keep these flashy fellows around.

Caterpillar Hunter (green beetle) eating a cricket

Nom nom nom

Zebra Spider

18 May
Close up of black and white striped zebra jumping spider.

Stripey zebra jumping spider.

Here’s a particularly adorable jumping spider I found being adorable on a dead tree by the Red River in Oklahoma.  Like most jumpers this fellow did not want to let the camera get close–I’ve cropped the above photo way down so we can all admire his stripey splendor.  This is a member of Salticus, the zebra jumpers, so called for the black and white stripes seen in many species.

This particular species (Salticus austinensis Gertsch; Det. Joe Lapp, 2012) is a conspicuous predator, with an active period in the brightest part of the day that is shorter than many similar jumping spider species it cohabits with.  They prefer large, vertical foraging areas such as walls, rocks faces, or in this case, the broad flat side of a dead tree.  Such well lit, open expanses may help them avoid ambush predators.  (Horner et al 1988)

Zebra striped black and white jumping spider on swirly tree bark.

Jumping spider against tree bark.

March of the Zombie Flies

4 May
Decaying dead blow fly carcasses stuck to sand.


I don’t actually know what was going on with these creepy decayed blowfly carcasses.  If you haven’t noticed, that top one is missing its head and the bottom fly’s wings and eyes are flaking away.  I found these and a half dozen more stuck fast to a sandy overhang by the Red River this past Entoblitz.   It kind of looked like a still scene from Attack of the Zombie Flies.

Why were they congregated there?  What killed them?  Personally, I suspect a bacterial infection or pathogenic fungi.  Many such parasites can actually alter the behavior of their hosts, causing them to seek out situations and habitats that help the pathogen grow better or infect new hosts.  There’s even a little bit of evidence that pathogens may be able to manipulate human behavior: a few studies indicate that people infected with Toxoplasma gondii (often carried by cats) may be more risk-prone.  The protozoan parasite may alter the behavior of its intermediate rat host to increase the chances of predation by cats, allowing the parasite to complete its life cycle (Berdoy et al 2000).

So, anyway, I’m going to go with mind-controlling fungal infections on this one.

That, or aliens.

I don't know; therefore aliens