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Bugs are Shiny, but How? And Why?

Like Katy Perry’s halftime star ride, some bugs just beg to be seen. Some flash and glimmer to attract mates while others show off to tell you to back off. Whether they’re blending in with a little bling or wowing with disco-ball bodies, insects use amazing engineering feats to play tricks with light. Here’s how they do it:

Piled sheets of exoskeleton create stunning colors in beetles and harlequin bugs, as well as the mirror-like golds and silvers found in chrysalises.

Some insects take reflecting to the next level with added features. Morpho butterflies’ tree-shaped structures work like LEDs. They trap light and force it back out in a straight line. Morphos are even more impressive than LEDs, reflecting 80 percent of the light that enters their wings.

 

Another type of reflector uses dishes that reflect light with a colorful effect. Different dish thicknesses, widths, and depths result in different color and shine outcomes. These structures not only produce regal brown in the bronzed tiger beetle but also help the gaudy Madagascar sunset moth strut her stuff.

Weevils and some butterflies use complex 3D, crystal-like structures in their exoskeletons to reflect light, like opals. Light bounces off the indentions in all directions.

 

Cooler still: Some insects use their powers of reflection to hide from selected audiences. The green hairstreak butterfly’s wings reflect polarized light to its mates while camouflaging its wings against new spring leaves.

 

 

Some Morpho butterflies flash shiny blue or green signals to mates from the sidelines while appearing […]

By |May 28th, 2015|Bugs|1 Comment

Things that get under your skin: Parasitoids

Your worst enemies can really get under your skin. Insects known as parasitoids do just that, getting into other insects’ bodies and eating their hosts alive from the inside out.

More than 100,000 described parasitoid species of wasps, flies and other insects lurk the globe, hoping to turn nearly every type of insect’s life into a horror show.

The following parasitoids master the horrifying art of living inside an all-you-can-eat buffet.

1. Aphidiinae
BHR-parasitoid-illo-2Aphidiinae wasps are aphid specialists. These tiny terrors find unsuspecting aphids and jam their waspy eggs directly into the aphids’ abdomens with needle-like egg-laying devices. Our poor aphids die slowly as wasp larva slurp their nutritious aphid guts. Meanwhile, the aphids’ outsides turn into a papery, brown protective husk, from which Aphidiinae burst triumphantly as adults.

Don’t get too comfy inside that aphid husk, Aphidiinae!

2. Asaphes vulgaris
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Hyperparasitoids, like the even smaller wasp Asaphes vulgaris, attack parasitoid wasps already infecting hosts. Hyperparasitoids of Aphidiinae, for example, will seek out parasitized aphids. The hyperparasitoid inserts an egg into the first parasitoid, and after its own gobblefest, the new larvae pupates before chewing its way out of the aphid, like the tiniest doll in a horrific babushka.

Some parasitoids don’t have an only child complex.

3. Copidasoma

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Copidasoma takes a “DIY, babies!” approach to child rearing by depositing a few eggs into moth eggs. The moth caterpillars hatch, unaware that they’re stuffed with flesh eating aliens. While the young caterpillars grow up, the wasp eggs rapidly divide, and the original few become up to 2000 eggs, a […]

By |May 13th, 2015|artist in residence, Bugs|5 Comments