Friday 5: Bugs with Bubbles

For today’s Friday 5, I’m going to share something near and dear to my heart: aquatic insects that carry bubbles of air with them underwater.  These bubbles are important in the respiration of many aquatic insects and have some cool properties (e.g., they can act like gills!).  I can spend hours watching aquatic insects breathing, so I’m going to share some of the love with you all today!  Let’s start with a couple of simple, very standard types of bubbles.  This beetle is a predaceous diving beetle:

Thermonectus basillaris

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus basillaris

Now it’s a little hard to see the bubble here (it’s just barely visible at the back end), but that’s because this beetle holds its bubble under its wings.  It acts like a SCUBA tank: the beetle uses up the oxygen and then has to go back to the surface to get another bubble.  However, if the beetle exposes that bubble to the water by squeezing a little part of it out the back end (like in the image I posted on Wednesday), this beetle can take advantage of some nifty tricks of physics and turn that bubble into a gill.  Without going into too much detail (read the post linked at the top of the page for details!), oxygen can flow into the bubble from the water and extend the length of time the beetle can remain underwater significantly, but only if the bubble is exposed to the water.  It is thus very common to see predaceous diving beetles of many species swimming around with big bubbles protruding from their posteriors.

Other beetles carry their bubbles on the outside of their bodies, such as in this water scavenger beetle:

Tropisternus lateralis

Water scavenger beetle, Tropisternus lateralis

Aquatic insects with bubbles on the outside of their bodies expose their bubbles to the water all the time and can often remain underwater for extended periods. The bubble won’t last forever though, even when it’s constantly exposed to the water, so this beetle and most other insects with belly bubbles still have to go to the surface to get a refill every now and again.  Unlike the predaceous diving beetle above that goes to the surface butt first, this beetle pops up to the surface and exposes the top of its head and thorax. I can only presume that there are some cool air channels that allow the air at the surface to flow around the side of the beetle and into the air space under the body.  Might have to look into that more closely someday!

Beetles aren’t the only insects with this style of bubble either!  This is a water boatman:

Water boatman

Water boatman

As you can see, it’s got a very similar bubble to the water scavenger beetle above.  It also exposes it’s thorax at the surface when it needs to refill.  However, water boatmen have a really interesting behavior associated with their bubbles. Because oxygen moves incredibly slowly in still water and takes ages to get from the surface to the locations where insects are living, insects such as water boatmen that hang out at the bottom of ponds are exposed to a rather low oxygen environment.  That also means that the bubble’s gill-like properties are diminished because once the oxygen close to the bubble is absorbed, it takes a while for more oxygen to reach it.  Water boatmen solve this problem by using their huge, oar-like hind legs to stir the water around their bubbles.  This creates turbulence in the water, pushing the oxygen poor water away from the bubble and bringing new, comparatively oxygen rich water into contact with it.  Awesome behavior!

Here’s another belly bubble, this time on a creeping water bug nymph:

Creeping water bug, Pelocoris sp

Creeping water bug, Pelocoris sp

Just another belly bubble you might be thinking, but hear me out.  A lot of aquatic bugs hold air stores under their wings.  Unfortunately for the nymphs (= the immatures), they don’t have wings, so they are missing the neat little compartments for air storage their elders have.  Many species store air in belly bubbles instead.  That means that, in several groups of aquatic bugs, the entire respiratory system moves from the bottom of the bug to the top when they undergo their final molt into adults.  Now that’s just cool!

And finally, we come to this gorgeous, tiny beetle:

Crawling water beetle, Peltodytes sp

Crawling water beetle, Peltodytes sp

That’s a crawling water beetle, and it holds air under its wings like a lot of other beetles.  What makes this beetle special is its hind legs.  If you’ve ever identified beetles using the entomology textbook An Introduction to the Study of Insects (originally by Borer and DeLong), one of the first couplets you come to mentions expanded hind coxae that are fused to the metasternum.  If that didn’t make any sense to you, this means that the portion of the legs where they attach to the body has been modified into a large flattened plate that is fused to the body.  The rest of the leg sticks out from under the plate.  These beetles use the space between that plate and the abdomen as a backup air store!  They pack some little air bubbles in there that are thought to supplement the main bubble held under the wings, and they’re right out there where they’re exposed to the water.  With a name like crawling water beetle, it should be obvious that these beetles are not strong swimmers, so they like to stay underwater as long as they can.  Carrying little leg bubbles likely gives them a valuable respiratory boost.

So there you have it!  A bevy of bubbles for your enjoyment.  Next time you see an aquatic insect, I encourage you to look for a silvery sheen on the body.  That’s a good indication that you’re looking at an air store, and you’re one step closer to understanding how that species breathes!  I don’t know about you, but I find that terribly exciting.  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth
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Friday 5: Insects on My House

I am going to try not to bore you with endless photos I’ve taken with my new camera, but I feel like I want to share a few more this week.  I also don’t have a lot of time to get this blog post up, so it’s going to be photo heavy and text light tonight.  Sometimes that’s just the way life works – I have to work tomorrow!

A friend of mine recently asked about the macro twin light flash that I got for my new camera rig to see how I liked it.  It was just after I’d returned from California and I hadn’t actually had a chance to use it yet, but a request for information like that is the perfect excuse to practice with the new gear!  So, I switched on my porch light, waited a few hours, and headed out to snap a few photos.  I have white siding on my house, which provides this sort of white box-like effect that I enjoyed very much.  Here are a few of my favorites!

Click Beetle

Click beetle

Click beetle

Click beetles are fabulous beetles!  I’ve written about them before, so I’m not going to go into much detail here, but this was one of the smaller click beetles I’ve seen.  I thought it was rather cute!

A Bug

A bug

A bug

I’ll eventually get to attempting to ID this one (I haven’t ever claimed to be great at sight identification of terrestrial insects!), but for now I’m just calling it a bug because it’s a true bug.  Want to know what makes an insect a bug?  I’ve got a post for that!

Another Bug

Another bug

Another bug

Another unidentified bug!  Check out those crazy antennae.  Wow.  This is a beautiful bug, and I might not have noticed it at all if I hadn’t photographed it.  It was rather small and the details weren’t obvious to the naked eye.

Two Lined Spittlebug

Two lined spittle bug

Two lined spittle bug

These bugs are crazy common in Raleigh!  I see them everywhere in the summer.  I even had one hitch a ride into my house on my shirt the other day.  They’re awfully pretty, for bugs that spend part of their lives hiding in a foam that looks a whole lot like a bubbly loogie.

Scarab

scarab

Scarab

This beetle was hiding under the decorative trim around the front door.  There’s something about insects shot from this perspective, with the insect clinging to a substrate and peering at you from behind it, that I just love.  I know I shouldn’t anthropomorphize like this (bad Dragonfly Woman!), but they just look so friendly!  This beetle would likely be called a June bug by the people of the Midwest (and a few other regions of the US), one of the common brown scarabs you see so many of during the summer.

The trip out to my porch light confirmed two things for me.  First, there is a shocking diversity of insects that come to my regular old compact fluorescent bulb-lit porch!  I hadn’t actually spent much time photographing the insects out there since we moved into the house almost a year ago, but it’s pretty impressive.  Plus, it’s high time I start scaring the neighbors by lurking around my front door and bushes with a camera late at night!  Second, I am very fond of the Canon twin light flash.  I diffused both flashes with a piece of frosted mylar that I got at the last BugShot I attended, and that was all it took to produce some lovely light that filled in the shadows produced by the porch light nicely.

And with that, I think I might head out to snap a few more photos before I go to sleep!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Cactus Bugs

This is one of my favorite shots from Bug Shot 2012:

Opuntia bugs

Opuntia bugs

Someone had brought in a prickly pear cactus paddle with a bunch of these bugs on them and I thought they were quite beautiful.  This species (Chelinidea vittiger, the cactus coreid or opuntia bug) is a pest of prickly pear, but it sure is pretty!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: Recent Bug Photos (Briefly)

Due to a death in my family a few days ago, today’s Friday 5 is going to be short.  I’m out of town and don’t have access to my main hard drive, so it’s a little tough to do a good post anyway.  However, I have taken a ton of bug photos recently, largely as a way to stop thinking about sad things for a little while, and I have my cameras with me.  These are 5 of my recent favorites.

This beetle (the ten-lined June beetle, Polyphylla decemlineata) has been out in force in Flagstaff, AZ the last few nights.  Hundreds of them have come to the porch light each night.  They squeak when you pick them up too!  Pretty fun distraction.  This isn’t the most technically precise photo of the bunch I took, but I love the look of his (or her – don’t know why but I call all animals “he” until I know better) face:

ten-lined June beetle

Ten-lined June beetle, Polyphylla decemlineata

Okay, so you’ve seen several photos of palo verde beetles recently, but photographing them was a joy for me.  Hence, another Derobrachus hovorei:

palo verde beetle

Palo verde beetle, Derobrachus hovorei

A damselfly from Flagstaff, AZ.  It’s probably a plains forktail (Ischnura damula) or pacific forktail (I. cervula), but I honestly haven’t put much effort into IDing it yet.  Identifying a random damselfly hasn’t even come close to the top of my list of priorities lately, and I’m not great at IDing adult damselflies anyway:

Forktail damselfly, Ischnura sp.

This beetle (along with palo verde beetles) always makes me think of summer in Tucson, AZ.  This is a fig beetle, Cotinis mutabilis, aka my June bug:

fig beetle

Fig beetle, Cotinis mutabilis

Finally, I have no idea what this long-horned beetle is and haven’t even begun to try to ID it, but I thought he was just lovely.  And look at those long hairs on the abdomen!  He was sitting under the porch light at my house in Tucson earlier this week:

Longhorn beetle

Long-horned beetle

This may be my shortest Friday 5 yet, but it’s the best I can do.  Hope you enjoyed the pretty bugs!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Friday 5: My Favorite Aquatic Bugs

As an aquatic entomologist in Arizona, I come across a ton of aquatic true bugs (order: Hemiptera) as I work.  We have nearly every family of aquatic true bug in the US somewhere in the state and at least one type is found in nearly every water body I’ve encountered.  We have a lot of bugs!  Considering I also study a bug, it seems fitting to devote a Friday 5 to the bugs.  I can’t believe I haven’t done it already!  These are my top 5:

5. GIANT WATER BUGS (FAMILY: BELOSTOMATIDAE)

giant water bug

Giant water bug, Family Belostomatidae, Abedus herberti

Okay, okay.  We all know I love my belostomatids dearly.  They’re awesome though!  They eat things that are vastly bigger than they are, including things with backbones.  Some of them are amazing fliers.  They’ve got some interesting respiratory behaviors (I’m saving that for a future post).  And then there’s the whole parental care thing.  Really, what’s not to love about a giant water bug?  Two more interesting facts: belostomatids are readily eaten in southeastern Asia (a glandular secretion of a Lethocerus species is highly prized in Vietnam) and members of the genus Lethocerus are considered pests of fish hatcheries.  Super cool bugs!

4. CREEPING WATER BUGS (FAMILY: NAUCORIDAE)

creeping water bug

Creeping water bug, Family Naucoridae, Ambrysus sp.

Naucorids, also known as the creeping water bugs, are the often overlooked distant cousins of the water bugs.   As you can see, they look very similar and they are often found side by side with water bugs in streams or ponds.  But naucorids are oh so fabulous!  I am a lover of the unlovable, so I like them partly because they have a nasty bite.  It adds significant zest to the experience of catching them.  I have never been bitten by either water bugs or naucorids, but listening to a person talk about a giant water bug bite and then a naucorid bite, it’s clear that naucorids are vastly more painful even though they’re smaller.  Naucorids are also really cool because they a) use a plastron, a permanent air bubble that allows them to extract oxygen from the water, to breathe as nymphs, b) are sometimes found in hot springs, hot desert pools, or very salty water, and c) can make sounds.  Seriously though: avoid the pointy bits on the head!

3. Toad bugs (Family: Gelastocoridae)

toad bug

Toad bug, Family Gelastocoridae, Gelastocoris sp.

I am absolutely thrilled to come across these little guys!  They’re the most adorable insect on the planet as far as I’m concerned.  Just look at them!  They’re called toad bugs for obvious reasons and they really do look remarkably like some of the little toadlets that crawl up onto the shores during the monsoons.  They also move like toads by making short little hops.  Toad bugs are shore bugs, so they always live near water, but live on land.  They blend in with the shore like mad too.  They’re nearly impossible to see unless you happen to see one jump.  Sometimes I go looking for them, and even then I’ve only seen three or four live toad bugs in the wild.  Toad bugs eat other shore insects and mites and suck water out of the sand on the shores.  Pretty darned cool little bugs.

2. WATER MEASURERS/ MARSH TREADERS (FAMILY: HYDROMETRIDAE)

hydrometrid

Water measurer, Family Hydrometridae, Hydrometra sp. Photo by the fabulous Kate Redmond!

I am totally in love with these bugs!  Like the toad bugs, hydrometrids are nearly impossible to see, even when you’re actively searching for them.  They are about a centimeter long so they’re a decent length, but they are incredibly thin (less than a millimeter wide) and they tend to blend right into the background.  They also move very slowly, so there’s little chance you’re going to catch the movement of one out of the corner of your eye.  Hydrometrids live on the surface of the water in areas where there’s a lot of vegetation and hunt small bugs on the surface.  I think they look a lot like walking sticks, but just look at that fabulous little head!  So cute.  Confession: I once jumped off a boat when I saw one of these on the water’s surface, right out in the open where I actually had some hope of seeing it.  They’re that exciting to find!  (Then just 30 minutes later, my boss and I saw a bear swim across the lake and climb straight up a cliff, and 10 minutes after that were boating through a massive monsoon storm.  Best sampling day ever!)

1. Water scorpions (Family: Nepidae)

Water scorpion

Water scorpion, Family Nepidae, Ranatra quadridentata

I’m going to devote an entire post to these guys, so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here.  My favorite aquatic bug deserves its own post!  For now, just know that the water scorpions are the most closely related insects to the giant water bugs and are similar to them in many ways.  However, while giant water bugs are the big beefy football captains of the aquatic insect world, the water scorpions (at least the ones in the genus Ranatra, pictured here) are the skinny little nerdy kids that weigh 95 pounds in spite of subsisting on a diet of Coke and chicken strips.  Athletic and muscular versus awkward and gangly.  With a name like water scorpion, you’d think they’d be a little more bad a**, but that is sadly not the case.  Love ’em!

So, are you a bug lover yet?  If you’ve made it this far, it’s probably painfully obvious that I am!  Be sure to check back in a few weeks for more buggy goodness as I attempt to make you fall hopelessly in love with water scorpions!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Giant Water Bug Parents

Now that I’ve made a quick detour to talk about ants and other stinging insects and the dragonflies at a local wetland for a few posts, it’s back to the giant water bugs!  Today I want to go over parental care in giant water bugs.  If you remember from my post on insect child care, giant water bugs use a special type of parental care: paternal parental care.  This means that only the father participates in the care of offspring, and it is a very unusual behavior among insects.  So let’s go over how the water bugs care for their eggs!  First, though, I need to provide a little background information about giant water bug taxonomy (the organization of biological organisms) so everyone can make sense of it all.

I’ve already gone over the order, family, and American genera of the giant water bugs in previous posts, so I’m not going to go over them again here.  (Please see my taxonomy page for more information if you get confused along the way.)  However, there is another taxonomic group that falls between the family and the genera that I haven’t discussed yet, one that is important when considering paternal care behaviors in the giant water bugs.  This group is the subfamily.  You can easily tell when you are looking at a subfamily, at least when dealing with animals, by the suffix -nae at the end of the name.  Most giant water bugs belong to two big subfamilies, Lethocerinae (which includes only the genus Lethocerus, the truly giant water bugs) and Belostomatinae (which includes everything except Lethocerus, usually the smaller, rounder, and/or less robust water bugs).  There is one genus, however, that is very rare and only found in a very small part of South America, HorvathiniaHorvathinia is so rare, in fact, that researchers don’t even know where to look for it in the wild or whether it does any sort of paternal care like its close water bug relatives.  Horvathinia is generally placed within its own subfamily, Horvathininae, but some researchers think it might belong to either Lethocerinae or Belostomatinae instead.  Time and more DNA analyses will answer this question, but for now we’re going to ignore it.  After all, we don’t know what sort of parental care it uses, so we don’t need to talk about Horvathinia more here.

So, why do we need to know the subfamilies?  There are two basic known types of paternal care in giant water bugs.  These behaviors are known collectively as brooding behaviors – the word brood refers to a group of offspring all cared for at one time – and they are divided along the subfamilial lines.  This means that Lethocerus, a lethocerine, uses a different brooding behavior than the belostomatines, such as Abedus and Belostoma.  Let’s go over belostomatine brooding first as it is generally more familiar outside of the entomological community.  This is Abedus herberti:

Abedus herberti

Abedus herberti

Isn’t he a handsome father-to-be?  This is one of my favorite aquatic insects – I think they are gorgeous, amazing insects!  Take a look at those brown, round things on this bug’s back.  Those are the eggs that this bug fathered!  The belostomatines are back brooders, which means that the males care for the eggs attached to their backs.  How to the eggs get there?  In the belostomatines, the male and female mate, and then the female lays a few eggs on the back of the male.  The male then insists that they mate again (more about this in the next post), and then the female lays a few more eggs.  Several hours later, the female finishes laying whatever eggs she has available (up to about 150 in A. herberti) and leaves the area.

The male cares for the clutch of eggs on his back in several different ways.  All of the belostomatines carry their clutches to the surface periodically.  This allows the embryos developing inside eggs to breathe more efficiently – it is a lot easier to get oxygen from the air than from the water.  (In fact, providing oxygen in this way may be the primary function of back brooding behaviors.)  In the the bug you see here, Abedus herberti, the father further cares for his clutch by doing push ups underwater.  The eggs are able to absorb some oxygen directly from the water, so the push ups are probably a way to stir the water around the eggs and help the developing embryos breathe more efficiently when they are submerged.  Other species of belostomatines will do other underwater behaviors.  Eggs that are abandoned (male belostomatines can abort their eggs if they aren’t developing properly) or deposited anywhere other than on the backs of the male never hatch.  In contrast, almost 100% of brooded eggs hatch.  Brooding is thus an obligate behavior, one that is necessary for the continued survival of these species.

Now let’s take a look at how a lethocerine broods and compare their behaviors to those of the belostomatines.  This is Lethocerus medius:

Lethocerus medius

Lethocerus medius

As you can clearly see, the eggs are not on the back of the male in this species.  Instead, the eggs are laid on a stick above the water line.  Can you see them?  If not, take a look at the stick below the bug – those light colored, rounded blobs are the eggs.  (You can see a previously hatched clutch under the back end of the bug as well.)  This bug obviously cares for his eggs very differently than the belostomatine we looked at above.  If he’s not carrying his eggs around on his back, how does he care for them?

Lethocerus medius is an emergent brooder.  This means that the eggs are laid on vegetation above the water line instead of on the backs of the males.  However, like in the belostomatines, the eggs still need care and will die without it.  Giant water bug eggs have likely been brooded for millions of years.  During that time, it seems they have lost most of their ability to retain water.  Lethocerine eggs that are left out of water without parental care dry out so badly that the embryo inside dies.  So, lethocerines, like the one you see here, care for their eggs by bringing them water.  The male will typically remain attached to the stick that holds his brood, but is usually found at the base of the stick underwater, using his respiratory siphon to breathe.  Every now and again, the male will climb up the stick to his clutch and let all the water on his body drip down onto the eggs.  There is evidence that suggests that the males of some species might also swallow water that they then regurgitate onto the eggs.  Once the eggs are nice and wet, the male then climbs back down his stick and waits underwater until he has to water his eggs again.

So there you have it.  One group of giant water bugs cares for their underwater eggs by bringing them to the surface to get air and the other cares for their eggs, which get plenty of air, by bringing them water.  Pretty cool, eh?  Next time, I’ll discuss some of the costs and trade offs associated with parental care in giant water bugs.  In other words, I’ll be talking about why brooding is bad for dad.  Stay tuned!

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Text and images copyright © 2009 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Insect Child Care

As humans, we take the care of children for granted.  If you have a kid, you take care of it until it is old enough to move out and live on its own.  Lots of other mammals care for their children in similar ways, teaching their offspring how to survive in the world without their parents.  But this sort of parental care behavior is very rare in insects.  The insects I study, the giant water bugs, have a very special form of parental care and I’ll talk about that in my next post.  Today, I want to go over some of the different insects that use parental care so that you might learn a bit about the different ways that insects can care for their young.

This is a carrion beetle (also known as a burying beetle):

carrion beetle

Carrion beetle

If you follow my blog, I’ve talked about this beetle before in my post about my mold problem in my insect collection, so it should be familiar.  Carrion beetles are some of the more disgusting animals in the world, at least as far as most people are concerned, so please skip on to the next photo if you have a weak stomach.

So how exactly do carrion beetles care for their young?  Let’s go through the process, keeping in mind that it works a little differently from species to species.   First, the male-female pair finds a dead animal.  This could be a mouse, a snake, a bird, a small opossum – anything that’s in the size range a pair of beetles can handle.  Let’s say the beetle above has found a mouse.  The beetle and its mate will pull all of the fur off, roll the mouse into a ball (often colorfully called “mouse balls” in entomological circles), and bury it to prepare the carrion.  The pair will mate and then the female will lay her eggs near or on the carrion.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae will feed on the rotting carcass and the parents often help them feed.  The parents also help make the carrion last longer by eating fly larvae (maggots) that compete with their young for food.  Some carrion beetles spit digestive enzymes on the carrion to keep it fresher longer and others will carry mites that provide this service for them.  In fact, the parents are so busy taking care of the carrion that it requires both of them to keep molds, maggots, and other organisms from completely taking it over and depriving their children of food.  If the parents are successful, the larvae will feed for several days to a few weeks and go through all of their larval instars, then drop off the carcass to pupate.  At this time, the parents abandon the nest and leave their offspring to fend for themselves.  So, carrion beetles care for their young from the egg stage until pupation.  They are also among the very few insect species that have this sort of bi-parental (two parent) care. It is very unusual for both the father and the mother to care for the young.

A more common parental care behavior is the sort you find in the webspinners.  This lovely creature is a webspinner:

Webspinner

Webspinner

Isn’t he gorgeous?  These are actually rather unusual insects that aren’t common most non-tropical (i.e. temperate) locations.  Many entomologists will actually never see one of these alive in their lives!  Luckily for me, Arizona just happens to be one of the places where they are very common, so I was able to get some photos of this webspinner on my back porch one afternoon.

Take a look at the forelegs and look at the tarsi, those little segments near the end of the leg.  See that one big oval shaped tarsus where the arrow is pointing?  This is a specialized tarsal segment.  Were you curious why these are called webspinners?  If so, here’s the reason: that specialized tarsal segment contains a silk gland.  Webspinners are actually able to make webs!  They don’t make webs like most spiders though.  They make long, tube-like webs, called galleries, underground or in a food source.  The galleries are where the parental care takes place.  A male and female webspinner mate in a female’s gallery.  The male leaves right away and the female lays her eggs in her gallery.  As the nymphs hatch, they live within the gallery of their mother under her care.  When they reach the adult stage, they may leave the nest to find another place to live (especially if they are males – they don’t stick around in their mother’s nest very long) or continue to live in the gallery, expanding it so that it fits more and more individuals.  This sort of parental care should sound very familiar, even if you know very little about insects.  If it’s not coming to you right away, I’ll give you a hint: ever see an ant farm?  Webspinner galleries are a lot like ant nests and the sort of care that they exhibit is very ant-like.  One female establishes a nest that can end up containing several generations of offspring.  Paternal care by a single adult female is relatively common among insects, especially in the social insects like ants, bees, and wasps.  But webspinners are rather different from the ants, bees, and wasps too – they don’t have one single female who produces all of the offspring in the nest.  The female who establishes the gallery originally produces a second generation and might produce several more, but the other females in the nest are all able to produce their own offspring as well.  So, to recap, webspinners use maternal parental care (the female parent cares for the young) and care for their offspring from the egg stage through adulthood, and even sometimes beyond!  This is very different than what we saw in the carrion beetles where both parents were necessary for the survival of the offspring and care ended as soon as the larvae pupated.

Now we’ve come to the really rare parental care behavior: paternal care, or care only by the father.  This sort of behavior is only known in a VERY few insects, including the golden egg bug (Phyllomorpha laciniata) and the giant water bugs.  I’m going to talk about the giant water bugs in more detail in my next post, so for now, check out the photo of the golden egg bug at this link:

http://www.koleopterologie.de/heteroptera/5pent2/coreidae-phyllomorpha-laciniata-foto-guenther.html

(I apologize for not having my own photo, but these are only found in Europe and I’ve never been there.  I’m also not keen on stealing other peoples’ photos without permission.)  Did you see the gold colored eggs on the back of the male in the photo?  These bugs are, like SO many other insects, named after a characteristic they possess.  These bugs have bright gold eggs, so they’re called golden egg bugs.  So how do they care for their offspring?  This species is probably just evolving their paternal care, so it’s still a bit sloppy compared to the elegant system you find in the giant water bugs, but here’s the general idea of how the system is thought to work.  The eggs of these bugs have traditionally been laid on plants near the ground.  However, the vast majority of the eggs left by themselves are eaten by ants.  The females of this species are therefore starting to deposit their eggs on the back of other members of their own species, mostly the males, gluing them to the backs of these individuals so that they are protected from the ants until they hatch.  The bugs themselves don’t like having ants on them, so they’re inclined to keep the ants away from the eggs they carry as well.  Pretty neat huh?  The offspring thus benefit from the selfishness of the adult that carries them.  I call this a sloppy system because females basically have to ambush a mating pair to be able to lay eggs on their backs.  Most golden egg bugs really don’t want to carry the eggs and will try to get away.  Mating pairs have more important things going on and keep doing what they’re doing while another female lays her eggs on the male.  The male bugs then carry the eggs around with them until they hatch, at which point the egg shells fall off.  Golden egg bugs thus care for young only in the egg stage and then the nymphs are on their own.  Unlike the carrion beetles, only one sex usually cares for the eggs, and unlike the webspinners, the males are usually the caregivers.  In the giant water bugs, the other insects that use paternal parental care, the system is a little different.  The male and female mate, and then the female lays her eggs in a way that ensures that the male cares for his own offspring.  The females mate, lay their eggs, and leave.  The male is left on his own to care for the eggs until the nymphs hatch from them.

Paternal parental care is probably the most rare form of parental care known in insects, but all of the giant water bugs observed to date use this form of parental care.  Tune in next time for more information about the amazing parental care system of the giant water bugs and prepare to be dazzled and amazed!

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