Hi all! Long time, no see. I have been busy finishing up my dissertation and preparing to defend my dissertation on March 15. As a result, I have not had much time to write for enjoyment. However, I’m forcing myself to stop tonight for a few moments.
Since I’m preparing to defend, I thought I would spend some time discussing the defenses of insects, millipedes, and other arthropods. These organisms are often considered defenseless. Everything (bacteria, fungi, birds, bats, fly swatters, etc.) seems capable of killing these animals. Indeed, many of these things can kill arthropods or harm them. Fortunately for certain arthropods, they have so many different ways to avoid danger. If you could give me less than five minutes of your attention, then I can share with a few of many phenomenal examples.
Avoiding conflict can be challenging when the whole world seems out to get you. How do some make hiding in plain sight seem so effortless? They look like the food they eat, move slowly, or fall to the ground when disturbed by a potential predator. If you don’t think falling is effectives, then talk to an entomologist who has experienced this.
Imagine the following scenario. You are a few inches long and about to be attacked by another animal much larger than yourself. Alone, outsized, and without any tools except for your own body, what do you do?
Some arthropods take control against seemingly impossible odds and attempt to retaliate. For instance, some praying mantids will splay their wings and forelegs in attempt to look bigger and intimidate would-be assailants. As bizarre as this may seem, it can be effective. For more about praying mantids, follow Syndey Brannoch, a Ph.D. student, studying the taxonomy of praying mantids around the world. Of course, there are more famous cases of social insects like yellowjackets, honey bees, and ants which will bring together many individuals to fight as one while they protect their colonies.
Some predators know to avoid arthropods which have certain colors because they taste bad or make them sick. Studies in the 20th century discovered robins would avoid particular butterflies after eating Monarch butterflies, even those that were of a different species. Both species were bright orange, of similar size, and overlapping habitats. This makes it tricky for any bird attempting to eat a butterfly without the worry of vomiting. Though there is now knowledge the Viceroy butterfly has compounds which make it taste bad to birds, this concept of mimicry has been found in many different areas.
There are millipedes in the United States which excrete cyanide from specialized pores in their bodies. Yes, you read that correctly. These millipedes are brightly colored. While this makes the millipedes easier to spot, this also makes them easier to avoid. This cool research was the result of Paul Marek, Derek Hennen, and their colleagues.
As always, thanks for reading. I appreciate your time and any comments you may wish to share. You can find me on Twitter (@EntoLudwick) and reach out if you would like. Have a great day!