Badass bugs. Why insects are the fiercest of all animals

eyed-flower-mantid
Eyed-flower mantid. Image by Quartus Grobler.

Eyed-flower mantid

Nothing quite captures the "pretty but tough" trait quite like the eyed-flower mantid. I first saw one these beauties during my third year practicals whilst on a field trip at the Vernon Crooks Nature Reserve in Kwazulu-Natal.

I remember thinking that this strange looking weirdo was one the most strikingly beautiful creatures I had ever seen - with its bright purple colour and crazy spines. It looked seriously badass.

And given that female mantids are renowned cannibals notorious for devouring their males after mating - that's says a lot.

praying-mantis
Eyed-flower mantid nymph

To clarify, sexual cannibalism is not always the case. Luckily for male mantids, not every sexual encounter ends in death. There is truth, however, to the black widow syndrome. Several theories exist as to why females tend to cannibalize males including a possible marked increase in fertility for the female who makes a meal of her mate. Females have even been observed beheading their males during mating - and the poor headless buggers still manage to get the job done. Thats mighty impressive!

eyed-flower-mantid
Adults bear the distinctive eye-spot on their fore-wings to confuse predators.

The coloration of the eyed-flower mantid makes for great camouflage with flowers, enabling the perfect ambush.

The wingless nymphs display lateral spines on their curled up abdomens while the eye-spots on the forewings of adults confuse and frighten off predators.

They are truly the perfect combination of freaky and beautiful.

 

Like these slick ambush predators, there are many badass insects that are just as ferocious, if not more (relative to size),  than some of nature’s most awe-inspiring beasts. Parasitic wasps for instance, lay their eggs in the larvae of butterflies, beetles and other insects, with the grubs feeding off their hosts from the inside. If I were a caterpillar that would be enough to send chills down my squiggles.

spider-wasp

Spider-hunting wasps

Spider-hunting wasps have got to be among the the top ten of nature's little monsters.

You have to ask yourself what is creepier than one of the most feared creatures in the animal kingdom? The thing that preys on them perhaps? 

These hovering beasts use their venom to paralyze their eight-legged victims for capture before dragging them to their nests where they are eaten alive by larvae. Basically the stuff horror stories and nightmares are made of.

Army ants

We can't speak of fearsome insects without due acknowledgement of the army ants – arguably among nature’s most aggressive predators. When these guys are on a mission, everything in their path is obliterated.

Freakishly large mandibles, strength in numbers and impeccable teamwork makes the army ant colony a powerful force of destruction.

army-ants

Army ants are not the only members of the family on a war path. Enslaving ants such as Polyergus lucidus invade the colonies of other ants, capture their broods and enslave them into their own colonies. Picture a colony of victorious ants marching back to their nest carrying stolen larvae in their mandibles - nothing to see here, move along.

mosquito

Malaria mosquito

Saving the deadliest for last, as far as human mortality is concerned, the malaria mosquito ranks as the number one killer. Anopheles gambiae, is the species responsible for more human fatalities than any other species, making this miniscule monster the deadliest creature on earth.

Before we get vengeful, let’s take a moment to commend these magnificent creatures and award them the respect they deserve. Aside from being impressively formidable, the importance of insects for life on earth cannot be overstated. Without them ecosystems would collapse and life as we know it would cease to exist. Remember that most insects are harmless – well, to us anyway.

TRIVIA

  • The word bug is commonly used to refer to insects and other small invertebrates, but the bug is in fact a type of insect in its own right characterized by piercing-sucking mouth parts. Types of bugs include pill bugs, milkweed bugs and ladybirds. So all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs.
  • Anopheles, the genus of mosquitos which is responsibile for the transmission of the malaria parasite ironically means useless.
Badass bugs: Why insects are the fiercest of all animals
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