5 Insects With An Identity Crisis
The insect world is full of mimics (bugs that look like other bugs) or insects that have an ability more likely to be found in an entirely unrelated group of insects. Some of these remarkable mimics use their abilities to fill a niche that is underutilized by other insects, others use them to avoid or keep out of sight of predators. Other, more sinister insects even go to the extreme of mimicking their prey so they can sneak up on and capture them before they have a chance to escape. The following article contains five interesting examples of mimicry and convergent evolution in the insect world, this list however is by no means comprehensive as there are literally many thousands of different insect species that do this.
1. A Carpenter Bee Mimic
Carpenter bees are cuter than the average bee for a couple of reasons. Firstly they are often bigger than european honey bees and secondly they are normally much furrier. There are a group of predatory flies called robber flies (family Asilidae), some of which would happily make a meal of a carpenter bee regardless of how cute they happen to be to our eyes. One particular robber fly species Hyperechia marshalli (the carpenter bee robber fly) has a remarkable adaptation for avoiding detection by their hapless carpenter bee prey until it's too late. The carpenter bee robber fly mimics the color pattern, general shape and overall hairiness of its prey so it can fly in and capture it. Once the carpenter bee robber fly has a hold of its prey it then proceeds to use its proboscis to inject its enzyme-rich saliva to liquidfy the insides of the bee before sucking the digested bits of bee right back out again via the same proboscis.
2. The Mantisfly
Neither a mantis or a fly, mantisflies are actually a type of lacewing belonging to the family Mantispidae in the order Neuroptera. There are around 400 species of mantisfly worldwide with the vast majority of species occurring in the tropics and sub-tropics. Mantisflies are generally smaller than preying mantises (Order Mantodea) but have the same voracious appetite for any insect smaller than themselves. They also have the same triangular-shaped head and fearsome raptorial forelegs for capturing their prey as preying mantises do. This make them look almost exactly like mini-mantises, confusing many an amateur entomologist in the process.
3. Flea Beetles
Flea beatles (tribe Alticini of the family Chrysomelidae) are notable for their ability to jump. They are tiny beetles which can jump many times their own height much like their namesake the flea can. Like the flea they also have enlarged hindlegs (seen in the picture to the right) which contain powerful muscles that enable them to launch themselves high into the air. Unlike fleas though these beetles are not blood suckers, instead they prefer to chew holes in plant leaves. Some species are beneficial, feeding on the leaves of weedy plants while others are pests and only feed on agricultural crops or garden plants.
4. Leaping Cockroaches
With a common name of leaproach, the next critter sounds more like a type of facehugger out of an aliens movies than a real insect. Although terrestrial in origin, Saltoblattella montistabularis was only recently discovered in 2010. Prior to its discovery jumping cockroaches were only known from the fossil record and were thought to have become extinct in the late Jurassic. Like the flea beetle above the leaproach also has enlarged hind-legs with powerful muscles that enable it to jump. Its jumping abilities are said to rival those of grasshoppers. The antennae of leaproaches also have an additional attachment point to their head compared to non-jumping cockroach species, an adaption thought to help stabilize the antennae while jumping.
Louseflies (Flies of the family Hippoboscidae) are parasites of mammals and birds. There are winged and flightless species in which the wings are reduced or absent. They gain their name from another parasitic insect, the louse (Order Phthiraptera). Lice (the plural of louse) and louseflies also share similarities in their appearences. They both have broad, flattened abdomens which likely helps them to cling close to the skin underneath the hair or feathers of the animals that they feed on.
The Lousefly pictured is the swift lousefly (Crataerina pallida) which as its name suggests can be found in the nests of common swifts (Apus apus). The pupae of the swift lousefly sit dorment in the empty nests of the common swift, when the adult swifts return the following year to lay to their eggs the lousefly pupae quickly hatch and the adult louseflies then proceed to feed upon the adult and hatchling swifts. They then lay their own eggs which hatch into larvae that soon turn into pupae and again wait dormant in the empty nests for the next generation of common swifts to torment.