SPOTLIGHT STORY

Crazy Insects

The weird and the wonderful world of creepy crawlies

Insects are everywhere! They are the most diverse group of animals on the planet, including more than a million species and representing more than half of all known living organisms. The number of species is estimated at between six and ten million, and potentially represent over 90% of the differing animal life forms on Earth.

King Stag Beetle Case - from the collection of Queensland Museum

Forerunners - and 'forefliers'

They appeared more than 400 million years and are the oldest animals to have adapted to life on land.

They are also the first complex animals to have developed the ability to fly, developing the skill about 400 million years ago in the Devonian period.
The picture below shows "an extraordinary fossil, not just because it is the earliest insect known, but because the structure of its jaws is similar to flying insects today, suggesting an early origin of flight.' - Claire Mellish, Curator of Palaeoarthropods

Oldest Fossil Insect - from the collection of the Natural History Museum

They have some amazing skills

Intruders don't stand a chance against a soldier Turtle Ant. She guards the opening to the colony's nest using her shield-shaped head as the door. Only nest mates who smell like her and know the "secret knock" - a rhythmic tap on her noggin with their antennae - will be allowed to enter.

Turtle Ant - from the collection of the Field Museum

Others have a really unique relationship with flowers

Some large sphinx moth (Cocytius antaeus) have a very specific relationship with the plants they pollinate. The giant sphinx, for example, is the only known pollinator of the famously rare and delicate ghost orchid of Florida’s swamps.

Giant Sphinx Moth - from the collection of Houston Museum of Natural Science

They can be big

Phryganistria heusii yentuensis is a new subspecies of Phasmatodea discovered by one of the entomologists of Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. It is 32 centimeters long (54 cm with forelimbs stretched out) and is officially the second biggest living insect that has been described. Only one other stick insect is bigger: the Phobaeticus chani from Borneo, coming in at almost 36 cm.

The Second Biggest Living Insect - from the collection of  RBINS Museum of Natural Sciences (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences)

And sometimes almost invisible….

Some insects have camouflage that makes them look so similar to leaves that it’s almost impossible to see them if they want to hide.

These tricky insects, like the one below from Southeast Asia, belong to the walking stick family. They depend on their amazing camouflage to keep them safe from predators like birds, reptiles, and other arthropods. When fully grown, their wings make them look exactly like leaves, with veins, stalks and all!

Moving Leaf Insect - from the collection of Houston Museum of Natural Science

Some are so small that you can’t really figure out how weird they are

The Brazilian treehopper (Bocydium globulare) is only about six millimetres long and feeds on the sap of plants. Treehoppers have the ability of darting off really fast when danger looms. Many species of treehoppers are found in Tropical America, whereas Europe has only three species, one of which was introduced from America.

Keller's insect models: The Brazilian treehopper - from the collection of Museum für Naturkunde

Dance like a bee

Do you know the famous bee “dance”? When a bee finds a food source, she tells the other bees about it by “dancing”. The other bees follow her by touching her with their antennae. A circular dance means that the food is less than 100m away. A figure-of-eight dance means it’s further away. The slower the dance; the further away the food. The dance also shows the direction of the food in relation to the sun. Those are some powerful moves!

Educational Bee-hive from the collection Museum of Natural Sciences (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences)

No calorie counting or dieting here

Locusts can eat their own weight in food in a day. Whereas, a human being eats his own body weight in about half a year.

The European Migratory Locust forms swarms of up to two billion animals, which can reach a combined weight of up to three tons. These swarms can cover distances of several hundred kilometers and consume everything in their path, rendering entire landscapes bare.

Locusts - from the collection  Senckenberg Nature Museum Frankfur

Discover more from the weird and wonderful natural world in 7 Mind-Blowing Facts About Dinosaurs.

Explore the Natural History project here.

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