If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen my note earlier this week mentioning that I’d submitted photos for consideration for inclusion in the Science OnlineScience Art show (because I’m attending SciOnline next week – woooooooo!!!!), all photos that depict insect behaviors. You’ve seen several of these before, but I’m going to present them all here together, and tell you a little bit about the behaviors that they represent. I only included one terrestrial insect in the bunch:
Leave Me Alone
I’ve posted this one before, but this is the larva of the pipevine swallowtail, Battis philenor, a huge and beautiful swallowtail butterfly that feeds on (wait for it!) pipevine plants as a larva. I poked this caterpillar just before I snapped this shot so that the yellow bits above its head would become visible. Those little horns are the osmeteria, little knobs coated in stinky fluids that some caterpillars use to deter predators. They’re spectacular in this species! You can’t beat that yellow against the purple-black larva.
The rest of my entries were aquatic insects. First up, another shot I’ve posted before:
Giant Water Bugs Hatching
This species of giant water bug, Lethocerus medius, tends to hatch at night so until the evening of this hatch, I hadn’t ever actually seen the process. I was in the lab working on some research close to midnight when I looked over and saw all the “lids” of the eggs I was working with pop up – all at one time. The bugs spent the next 45 minutes or so wiggling out of the eggs, doing everything in near synchrony. Shortly after I snapped this shot, the bugs all tipped forward and row after row of tiny, new giant water bugs suddenly dropped into my hands, and then into the water. It was one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever experienced – and I’m so happy I had my camera handy so I could document it!
This is one of my favorite aquatic beetles, the predaceous diving beetle Thermonectus nigrofasciatus. It’s an awesome beetle for many reasons, but I like it in part because it uses a sort of SCUBA tank approach for breathing underwater. The beetle swims to the surface (and these are powerful, graceful swimmers, unlike my next few entries!) and gathers an air bubble that it stores under its wings. Then the beetle can swim around underwater, sit at the bottom and relax, eat, find mates – anything! – while breathing the oxygen in the bubble. Once the air runs out, it needs to return to the surface to get more. This big, beautiful girl was resting after an energetic swim about the container. The sort of shimmery sheen on her body is a thin coating of air that surrounds most of her body. Isn’t she beautiful?! (And if you want to know how I know this is a girl, I direct you to my post Aquatic Insects that Suck for more information.)
Next, another aquatic beetle:
This beetle is another predaceous diving beetle, just a little younger than the one pictured above, and a different species. Like the adult beetles, the larvae live in water and rely on air from the surface. However, the larvae don’t carry air around with them underwater. Instead, they stick the long rearmost segment of the abdomen out of the water, allowing air to flow into the larva’s respiratory system. It works rather like a person using a snorkel! The larva can “hold its breath” for some time underwater as well, but now and again it will stick that tail up so it can gather some more air at the surface. Super cool behavior!
And because it’s what I work on most, I give you a giant water bug breathing:
Breathe In, Breathe Out
I wrote a whole post on how this species breathes, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail. This giant water bug (Abedus herberti) is, however, rather similar to the adult beetle pictured above in that these bugs carry air under their wings and need to return to the surface periodically to renew it. Like the adult beetle, this bug is able to extend the length of time they can remain underwater by taking advantage of a neat trick of physics with another behavior, but I’ll refer you to the longer post if you’d like to read more about it.
So those are my entries. They’re not all perfect photos, but I chose them because they depict the kind of behavioral entomology that I do rather than their photographic merit. I also think some of these photos represent behaviors that few other people have documented photographically. I have no idea whether any of my submissions will be chosen for the final show, but I hope at least a few cool insect behaviors will be featured among all the other fantastic art that is submitted to this show. And even if they’re not, I suspect I’m going to have a wildly good time at Science Online next week! I’ll likely be tweeting and blogging (right here!) and giving updates on Facebook next Wednesday – Saturday. Feel free to follow me online if you’re interested in hearing about the things I’ve learned about science communication online. I couldn’t be more excited!