Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

December 7, 2008

Snug as a Bug

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 11:47 am

  It was early Friday morning when I ventured out to my back shed to get a reindeer antler. The morning was bright but the temperature was a crisp January-like 18 degrees. I unlocked the shed door, swung it open, and spied two large bugs hanging along the inner edge (see here and above). Although you, the reader, might rightly figure that I am about to tell you more about these bugs, you probably are still a bit puzzled over the first sentence.

  Retrieving Rudolph’s antler from the shed sounds more like a passage from Santa’s diary than a clownish naturalist’s blog. I do believe the Jolly elf does take along some spares just in case one of his reindeer blows an antler along the way – I mean, how embarrassing would it be to have a flat antler over Finland with no service stations open? My shed-ward excursion was to get an antler for presentation purposes.

  Now that this explanation is out of the way, let’s get back to the freezer bugs.  These creatures are called Leaf-footed Bugs, a name that needs no explanation once you see them close up (see here – note crab spider snuggling up). You’ll note that there is a leaf-like expansion on each of the back legs. In insect talk, this portion of the leg is called the hind tibiae. One reference even refers to this feature as a “foliaceous hind tibia” which makes the thing sound very grand indeed. As “true bugs,” these foliacious fellows are sap-suckers by trade and are related to Stink and Shield bugs. If irritated, they can flood the air with clouds of “straight chain aldehydes and keytones” – in other words: defensive stink bombs.

  These individuals are overwintering, or hibernating if you prefer (technically not true, but let’s not get our antlers out of whack here).  The season for active stinky plant juice drinking insects is over and adult female Leaf-footed Bugs seek shelter and enter into a state of deep torpor in the cold season. Charged with an ample dose of natural anti-freeze, they can sit out the coldest of weather.  They look dead when in this state but remain flexible.  If the temperature were a bit warmer, the bugs would have been able to render a weak response to my intrusion. Instead, they could be handled without prompting a release of the s-bomb.

  I needed to do a little homework in order to find out the exact species. Inverted white V markings on the back, actually looking more like a pair of conjoined lower case “h” letters, identify them as an introduced species commonly called the Conifer Seed Bug. I have several large spruce and pine trees in my yard, so this makes sense. When in large numbers, these insects can be a substantial pest, so I would be in my rights to end their kryogenic little lives with a single step (leaf-foots are also called squash bugs, so there would be some poetic justice here). But, such is not my way.  Nature, it turns out, already has a control plan in process.

  Take a close look at this one (see here). Can you see that tiny white seed on this gal’s head? That is an egg laid by a parasitic insect called a Tachinid Fly. The fly larvae has already hatched, burrowed into the bug’s body via the head, and consumed a large part of the innards. The leaf-footed bug was already running on empty by the time it entered winter shelter and the fly larvae is overwintering with it – snug as a bug in a bug! It will emerge out of the hollow shell of its host and pupate when spring comes along.

  In fact, given that the type of Tachinid Fly is apparently called a Feather-legged Fly, there certainly is some poetic language justice in this situation. It takes a hyphenated killer to take on a hyphenated pest.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress