In the meadows of Europe, colonies of industrious team-workers are being manipulated by a master slacker.
The layabout in question is the Alcon blue butterfly (Maculinea alcon) a large and beautiful summer visitor. Its victims are two species of red ants, Myrmica rubra and Myrmica ruginodis.
The Alcon blue is a ‘brood parasite’ – the insect world’s equivalent of the cuckoo. David Nash and European colleagues found that its caterpillars are coated in chemicals that smell very similar to those used by the two species it uses as hosts.
To ants, these chemicals are badges of identity and the caterpillars smell so familiar that the ants adopt them and raise them as their own. The more exacting the caterpillar’s chemicals, the higher its chances of being adopted.
The alien larvae are bad news for the colony, for the ants fawn over them at the expense of their own young, which risk starvation. If a small nest takes in even a few caterpillars, it has more than a 50% chance of having no brood of its own.
That puts pressure on the ants to fight back and Nash realised that the two species provide a marvellous case study for studying evolutionary arms races.
Theory predicts that if the parasites are common enough, they should be caught in an ongoing battle with their host, evolving to become more sophisticated mimics, while the ants evolve to become more discriminating carers.
These insects make a particularly good model for such arms races because their geographical ranges overlap in a fractured mosaic.
Alcon blues lay their eggs on the rare marsh gentian plant and it’s there that they first grow before being adopted by a foraging ant. Both gentians and butterflies are rare but the ants are common, meaning that only a small proportion of colonies are ever parasitized.
The result is a series of evolutionary hotspots where the two species wage adaptive war against each other in contrast to the many coldspots where colonies never encounter the deceptive butterflies.
Overlooking the beautiful vista of San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands, a male carpenter bee drinks nectar from one of the native Scalesia flowers. (It was also a windy day; I was afraid he was going to bump into my camera.)
Photo by Andrew Schnorr.
Wood bees, or carpenter bees, are one of the pests that can be frustrating.
These bees look quite similar to the bumblebee as they are about the same size. The wood bees will create a nest in wood areas, often in your homes framing or in trees.
They have a shiny black appearance with a yellowish striping, without hairs. How do you know if you are dealing with the wood bees? They usually hang out in the eaves of your home or you see them drilling into the wood of your home.
It is important to work quickly to destroy their colony because they can easily destroy your home’s framing.
A colony of bees can suddenly develop within the framing of your home, causing a loud buzzing sound in certain areas of the home.
You know that scene in the newish King Kong where those folks get eaten alive in a pit of giant insects? It’s a damn character assassination, through and through.
The huge cricket-like bugs among them are based on the giant weta, the heaviest reliably reported insect on Earth, at 2.5 ounces.
And really, the movie bugs could have been even bigger for all I care—it’s that their crummy attitude is all wrong. Giant weta, for their monstrous size, are actually quite sweet.
Not like cuddly sweet, though you’re welcome to try, but sweet nonetheless.
They demand an apology. Or else…they’ll…just kinda just sit there and eat carrots.
Weta are New Zealand’s most iconic bugs, around 70 known species that range from the big ones like the giant weta to other smaller varieties: the “tree,” “tusked,” “ground,” and “cave” weta, all equally excellent in their own unique ways.
They all differ in size and features, but all are products of the strange evolutionary history of New Zealand, an island that’s enjoyed relative isolation. That is, until humans arrived and started making a mess of things.
Native blue-banded bees. (Credit: Fish Fidler/Flickr)
by Becky Crew
Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
This has to be one of the prettiest bees in the world.
Named for the beautiful turquoise bands that run across its abdomen, the blue-banded bee (Amegilla cingulate) sports a lush golden and white fluff, enormous green eyes, and tan-coloured wings that look like crisp layers of cellophane.
Males can be distinguished from females by the number of blue bands they display – males have five while the females have just four.
Adult blue-banded bees typically grow to between 10mm and 12mm.
The species is found all over Australia, except in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
It’s also native to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, East Timor, Malaysia, and India, so it enjoys a pretty healthy range, spreading out everywhere from urban areas to open fields and dense, tropical forests.
It’s rumoured they’re attracted to blue and purple flowers, perhaps because they could blend into their surroundings when collecting pollen from them, but this has yet to be proven.
They are known to frequent lavender plants, however, and according to the Australian Museum, they appear to be attracted to people in blue clothing. But it’s cool because these bees are non-abrasive, and don’t move around in intimidating swarms like other species, they live solitary lives in little burrows in the soil or the crevices of rocks.
Mycterophallus duboulayi is a chafer beetle and like all of its kind loves flowers and hot sunny weather. Photo credit: Stanley and Kaisa Breeden
Photographers Stanley and Kaisa Breeden have focused their lenses on some very small forms of life.
The pair are masters of ‘focal stacking’ photography, in which they merge images to create an otherwise unachievable depth-of-field.
Here, they’ve used their skills to bring out some of nature’s smallest details, from the amazingly delicate textures of moth wings to the curled-up form of a sleeping
In this defence posture, the caterpillar of the fruit-piercing moth (Eudocima fullonia) has stretched segments of its body to enlarge the ‘eyes’ on its skin – a ploy to discourage predators. The moth is as striking as the caterpillar. Photo credit: Stanley and Kaisa Breeden
All these images can be found in their book, Small Wonders: A close look at nature’s miniatures.
Stag beetles like this splendid Mueller’s stag beetle (Phalacrognathus muelleri) are not endowed with antlers but with enlarged and reinforced mandibles. The ‘antlers’ are really its jaws. Photo credit: Stanley and Kaisa Breeden