Did you know male jumping spiders dance to court the females? Some species raise their forelegs like a surrender or wave them side to side (all the fellas in the house!). Some bob and weave. Some bend and twist their abdomens. Sexy sexy.
Did you know there are parasitoid wasps that are parasitoids of parasitoids of parasitoids?
Like almost immediately after hatching itself a Cotesia glomerata will lay its eggs in the young caterpillar of a cabbage butterfly. Then doot-deet-doot-deet-doo oh well would you look at that here comes our friends Lysibia nana and Gelis agilis and they lay their eggs in those Cotesia glomerata pupae. But then guess what. Gelis agilis can then lay its eggs in those Lysibia nana pupae. Tertiary parasitism.
Wait what. How’s that even possible?
Did you listen to me talking earlier about the blister beetle larvae? An entomologist buddy of mine gets excited to tell me these stories ‘cause he knows how excited I get to hear them. They get all in a bunch on the tops of flowers and make themselves smell like the female sex pheromones of bumblebees. So then like some dumb kid without realizing or I guess probably not even caring a male bumblebee goes and tries to mate with them, which makes it so the larvae can grab onto him real quick. Then when he finally finds himself a female the larvae jump on over to her. The larvae smell like her offspring now and she nurtures them as such.
I mean my heart really goes out to those male bumblebees. Or maybe to the larvae actually. I bet it’s a wild ride to get shook around during a bumblebee love dance. Worse than rabbits I suppose. Either way, and it must be some sort of diagonal thinking on my part, those parasites that take advantage of sex like they do always make me question whether we’ve put our heads on backwards making so much out of love, romance, intimacy, and so on.
Or yeah also too. Like in Israel, did you know, there’s an orchid that over so many countless centuries or however long has gotten itself to look like a bee. They’re hairy and dark and yellow and smell like the females of course. So our male bee friends are always getting the carpet pulled out from under them. They try to mate with the flower and so therefore then the pollinia sticks to them. Then hot dang he catches a whiff of another one of them beautiful, tricky orchids, tries to mate with it, but instead has only done the last one’s pollinating.
Did you know about Ampulex compressa, the jewel wasp? She’s got lustrous chitin a blue purple color, though the reason why isn’t known. And beyond that these lady wasps’ parasitoid behavior is elegance itself. She works with the same precision as Fabre’s hunting wasps. One sting to paralyze a cockroach’s front legs, another right into its brain. After her venom wears off, the cockroach starts to act real weird. First it begins to groom itself excessively for about usually thirty minutes or so. Then it enters into a sort of zombie, numb-to-everything state. She clips the cockroach’s antennae, bites into them, and leads the cockroach into its already-made burrow. There she lays her eggs onto the cockroach’s body. The larvae will first suck out all of the bodily fluids, then burrow into the cockroach’s body to begin on the internal organs. After maybe ten days the larvae will emerge as adults.
Speaking of monsieur Jean-Henri Fabre, his is the life I want to live most. He would sit for hours and hours to observe his hunting wasps, performing the funny, improvised experiments old-school entomologists always make me smile with. In More Hunting Wasps he tells about stealing Scolia interruptae’s victims and hiding them to see the wasps’ reaction. Usually whichever poor wasp he’d decided to trick would have to go out and hunt down another beetle. And because this was an experiment he’d go about it with what you’d call scientific integrity or maybe a little childlike humor. The joke never has to end when your stooge lives its life one instinctual impulse to the next. His wasps would keep hunting down beetles ‘til he’d have a pile of them next to him. Also, if I’m remembering this right, while sitting under his holm oak, passing French soldiers would often accost him, in disbelief that all he was doing was sitting under a tree in the middle of nowhere digging up wasp larvae cocoons.
Did you know over down in west Texas and southern California they got two, no wait actually three, species of ants that wage a kind of nearly-modern warfare on each other? They eat the same things: yucca nectar, aphid honeydew, cacti fruit, etc. Because the food isn’t so overabundant around those parts, our two Mymecocystus species’ workers secrete a toxic chemical to repel other ants when they find some yummy, sugary meal. Then if some sneaky intruder makes it into their colony they’ll spray it with formic acid, which melts skin, then pull the little bastard apart limb by limb. The opposing side, Dorymyrmex bicolor, works their enemies slightly less cruelly by plugging up the top of competing ant hills with stones and pebbles so as to trap the populace inside.
Thoreau’s warring ants for the desensitized, violent-video-game-playing, raised-on-television children of the 21st century!
Probably I bet you didn’t know about beaded lacewings, let alone specifically Berothidae lomamyia. Don’t worry any. I’ll tell you some.
Adults actively lay their eggs near termite colonies. The larvae discharge an immobilizing gas, containing an allomone, from their anuses into the termites’ faces. After one to three seconds the chemical will knock out the termite and the lacewing larva will proceed to feed upon it.
My friend Barbara gave me this one.
Did you know about flukes, a type of flatworm? Well really what I want to tell you all about is Dicrocoelium denditicum, the lancet fluke. Like most others, these have a three host life cycle. The adult lives inside a sheep or whichever other grazing animal and lays its eggs there. Then the sheep poops and a snail accidentally ingests a fluke larva. Whilst inside the snail the fluke undergoes clonal replication. So then you’ve got hundreds of these larvae and then the snail excretes them in its slime balls. Ants really like to eat these slime balls. So then you know the ant has got a fluke larva inside it now but this is where things get wacky. Sheep don’t purposefully eat ants. I mean what would be the point in that? So our fluke will take control of the ant. During the day the ant goes about its regular business doing all the things an ant will do. But once night comes around the ant will climb up to the tip of a grass blade and clamp itself there with its mandibles so as to be grazed by a sheep that way the fluke can meet up with other flukes in the liver, reproduce, and complete its life cycle. Ta-da!
“Hey, alright alright. That’s enough!” says the male cycad to the thrips and weevils living inside its cones, feeding on its pollen and other tissues. “I’m dioecious, not delicious!”
“But taste is subjective,” they respond, quite thoughtfully, wanting not only to continue their lifestyle but to truly get to the heart of the matter. Also maybe something like they find false dyslexia scrumptious?
Thrips and weevils thrips and weevils.
Never mind. What’s cool really about this is that the male cycad actively heats up the interior of their cones in order to shoo the thrips and weevils out. From a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 104. The thrips and weevils hurry on out and find refuge in female cones, therefore accomplishing pollination. Once the thrips and weevils get hungry again and the male cycad stops with the steam coming out its ears they can return.
So yeah here they are finally. The territorial butterfly. The Red Admiral. Vanessa atalanta! Like the name of a sideshow performer. Red Admiral, like all butterflies, with its excessively large wings, flamboyant colors, daintily meandering flight.
Wait. Before I get into this, take one moment to appreciate your own humor at thinking of a territorial butterfly. Anthony says to me it’s funny to imagine butterflies with bravado: “Yo bro you best watch your step bro. These are my flowers right here you’ve got your eyes on.”
Red Admirals typically keep watch over a smallish meadow with sunlight coming from the west. And they’ve got favorite perches they treat like watchtowers. Surprisingly or not, two Red Admirals fighting over territory isn’t like a WWII fighter plane dogfight. Or like two hang gliders trying their best to emulate a WWII fighter plane dogfight. A description of each turn in their dance dulls the frenzy. Imagine the fight clouds from Looney Tunes episodes. The foes spiral upwards, oftentimes reaching 50 feet or more, until the intruder becomes disoriented and retreats. A Red Admiral will defend its territory all afternoon, encountering up to one hundred intruders in the space of a single hour. And then possibly maybe out of the thousands of males one female will come along so that he can mate with her, retire from the tumult of his wayward youth, settle down, crack open a beer, and check out how the game is going after a long day’s work at the furniture warehouse his father-in-law owns. One day that old jerk will keel over and he can run the business the way it should be. Although more and more often the idea of going back to school seems appealing. There’s money in computers. Everybody has a computer like everybody has a car. Look at the kids walking into stop signs they can’t keep their eyes off their phones! Hmm. What’s up with Daniel he hasn’t gone out to find his own place yet? She’s always coddled him. That kid could really make something of himself if he ever focused on anything. But that’s how I was I guess in a way. I mean what’s so great about the life I’ve lived that I’m here in this moment. Coincidence and the chaotic nature of opportunity. At least for someone like me. Flecks of sunlight. Moss on felled trees in the bottoms by the creek. Did they give up or what happened?
Tanner Barr grew up in Reelsville, Indiana, and recently moved to Chicago. He makes noise and pizza and is preparing to go back to school (blech).
Xander Hazel grew up in Reelsville, Indiana, and has lived in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois for a few years. He looks at beetle poop and labor union emails and is preparing to leave school (blech).