If you are one of those people who loved being outdoors as a child, then you know what fun it is to chase a butterfly, to try and catch dragonflies, or to just look at ants moving in line carrying their food. While our childhood is now gone, the world of insects still remains as awesome as it was then. Every day we encounter hundreds of these insects and dismiss them away as unimportant. But investing a bit more time will reveal what busy and interesting lives these insects lead and the facts related to them. Keep reading to find out 10 weird and fun facts about insects.
1. Dung beetles can navigate only when the Milky Way or clusters of bright stars are visible and are the only insect known to orient itself by use of the galaxy.
Dung beetles are tiny beetles that feed mainly on excrement (dung). When they sniff out a steaming pile of fresh feces, the dung beetles gather around it. The males painstakingly create balls out of the dung and then roll them away from the mound sometimes taking along a female that he had picked up. Then the pair bury the dung which later serves as food for their offspring. The most noticeable aspect of this whole process is that the dung beetle always rolls away the dung ball from the feces mound in a straight line despite all obstacles.
Also, dung beetles can navigate in a straight line even at night and is the only known insect to do so. Scientists have found that dung beetles find their way according to the Milky Way. They also use the lights from star clusters to direct their way. In a single night, a dung beetle can bury dung 250 times heavier than itself. (1, 2)
2. Bees don’t buzz during an eclipse. Bees remain active and noisy right up to the last moments before totality. As totality hits, the bees all go silent in unison.
On the eve of the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017, ecologist Candace Galen of the University of Missouri conducted an experiment. She, along with a team of researchers and a few hundred elementary school students, decided to find out how honey bees respond during a solar eclipse. Earlier that day, they suspended tiny microphones among flowers to record the buzzing of the bees throughout the eclipse.
During the eclipse, the team found out that the bees continue to buzz up to the last moment before totality. Totality is that stage of a total solar eclipse when the Moon completely blocks all direct sunlight. The team observed that as soon as totality hit, the bees abruptly went silent. Even moments before totality, the bees were actively flying and nosily buzzing around, but they all stopped in unison as totality hit. Professor Galen made the observation that during the eclipse as it gradually got darker, the buzzes lasted longer. This suggests that as the total eclipse was approaching, the bees were taking longer flights and flying more slowly. (source)
3. The blue wings of the morpho dragonfly are surprisingly alive. Scientists found a respiratory system in these wings, the first time this has been seen in any insect.
When insects are born, their wings are alive. As they morph into adults, the cells of wings begin to dry. Only the veins remain alive. The dried-out zones either become clear or are covered in colored patches bordered by the network of veins. Only these veins have a life-support system including nerves, respiratory tubes, etc. The rest of the wing is dried up and dead as a person’s toenail clippings. But entomologist Guillermo Ferreira of Kiel University, Germany was in for a great shock when he saw the scanning-electron-microscope image of the morpho dragonfly’s wings. He saw that the striking blue wings are fully alive.
The morpho dragonfly is the only insect whose wings have been found to be alive. Ferreira found out that the wings had an unusual, tracheal, respiratory system. According to him, the blue color of their wings is probably due to the live wings. The blue pigment is actually not present on the morpho dragonfly wings. The wings look blue due to a living layer of structure that plays tricks with light. (source)
4. The adolescents of the planthopper bug are the first living things discovered to have evolved mechanical gears. They’re located in its legs and enable it to jump at an acceleration of 400 g in 2 ms.
The first person to invent a mechanical gear was a Greek mechanic who built it sometime around 300 BCE. As it turns out, nature had already experimented in this field through a hopping insect, Issus coleoptratus, also known as the “planthopper bug.” It is also the first living creature ever discovered that has an actual gear system in its body. The juveniles of this species have an intricate system of functioning gears in their back legs.
The juvenile Planthopper bugs jump by locking their legs into a leap-ready position. The minuscule pair of gears at the top of their legs interlock their teeth like a zipper. The appendages rotate at the same instant, and, within a blink of an eye, the bug skyrockets away accelerating at the speed of 400 g. The creature is less than one-tenth of an inch long, and, at its top speed, it can reach more than eight miles-per-hour! (1, 2)
5. The ears of the katydid are located on their legs and are quite similar to human ears, complete with the entomological versions of eardrums, ossicles, and cochleas.
Katydids, also known as “bush crickets,” are golden-faced, nocturnal insects with a miniature unicorn horn on their heads. They are noted for their mating calls which are sung in an ultrasound frequency range. Katydids can hear sounds in the frequency ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 hertz. They hear sounds through their two, human-like ears, one on each front leg located just below their knees.
The ears of katydids are less than a millimeter long and quite similar to human ears. Human ears are divided into three main parts: the eardrum, the ossicles, and the cochlea. Katydids have a similar auditory system. They have eardrums which vibrate when a sound wave hits them. The ossicle is a fluid-filled vesicle which transmits the vibrations. The vesicle also acts like a simplified cochlea complete with sensory-hair cells that transmit the vibrations to the brain. (1, 2)
6. A fly called Goniurellia tridens has “ant-mimicking” wings. Those “ants” on its wings aren’t real ants, but markings. When threatened, the fly flashes its wings to give the appearance of ants walking back and forth. The predator gets confused, and the fly flies off.
Next time you see a fruit fly buzzing around, do not dismiss it. The reason being the fruit fly buzzing around you might be Goniurellia tridens. The Goniurellia tridens is known for the amazing markings on its otherwise transparent wings. Each of its wings has an ant-like insect pattern. The ant markings are perfect with a head, two antennae, six legs, a thorax, and a tapered abdomen.
Anyone looking at the Goniurellia tridens might mistake it for three insects – a fly and two ants – instead of just one. The fly flashes its wings when threatened. It gives the appearance of ants walking back and forth. This confuses the predator and buys the fly enough time to fly off. (1, 2)
7. An Australian moth, Uraba lugens, wears its previous heads as a hat during its caterpillar stage and is known as the “Mad Hatterpillar.”
Hats have been used by people since time unknown, and hence they have a lot of history. In nature, there exists a species of caterpillar who wears hats but in a different style. Instead of using foreign material to make hats, the caterpillar keeps a part of its own head as a hat every time it molts. This caterpillar is known as the “gum-leaf skeletonizer,” and more colloquially as the “Mad Hatterpillar.”
The Mad Hatterpillar grows like all other caterpillars by shedding its hard, outer shell. Each time it sheds the shell, it keeps a part of it that once enclosed its head. So, after each molt, the stack of head shells grows eventually becoming a tall, tapered tower. It often uses its head-shell hat as a defense against predators. (source)
8. Cockroaches’ exoskeletons allow them to withstand weights up to 900 times their body weight. Also, they can compress their bodies between 40 and 60% while traversing through tiny spaces.
The humble cockroach is well known throughout the world for its ability to make almost all human beings scream out in panic and fear. Usually, when we spot one, we either scurry away in disgust or charge towards it with the intention of smashing it. But not all blows are successful. The cockroaches often manage to survive our blow due to their speed and also due to their insanely strong exoskeleton. According to a paper published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” in small crevices, cockroaches can withstand weights up to 300 times their body weight. In normal situations, they can withstand 900 times their own body weight. That’s why cockroaches often run away unharmed even after being hit by an object.
Scientists also found that cockroaches can navigate through extremely small, confined spaces by compressing their body. While traveling through tiny crevices, their flexible body can compress between 40 and 60%. Their strong exoskeleton protects the soft body inside it allowing the cockroaches to emerge from tiny crevices unscathed. (source)
9. The Oriental hornet, Vespa orientalis, turns solar energy into electricity.
Vespa orientalis, or the Oriental hornet, is just like all other hornets except for one special feature. It has the amazing capability to turn solar energy into electricity inside their exoskeleton. The Oriental hornets are most active during the afternoon. They harvest solar energy through their shell. The yellow and brown stripes on their abdomens absorb sun rays. Then, the yellow pigment transforms the solar energy into electricity within the hornet’s body. Scientists are planning to duplicate the hornet’s body structure to harness the power of solar energy.
The oriental hornet not only has the capability to harness solar energy, but it also has a well-developed system to keep its body cool in the sun. Inside the body of the hornet, there exists an interesting heat pump system similar to air conditioners and refrigerators. (1, 2)
10. The veined wing of the clanger cicada can shred bacteria to pieces. Scientists have discovered that their wings have antibacterial “nanopillars” that pull bacterial membranes apart.
Cicadas are locust-like insects. Scientists have discovered that their wings are natural antibiotics. It is one of the first natural surfaces discovered which can kill bacteria solely through its physical structure. The wings of clanger cicada are covered by “nanopillars” that are like blunt spikes. These nanopillars are on a similar size scale to bacteria.
It is often thought that the nanopillars kill the bacteria by puncturing it, but that’s not what happens. When a bacteria comes in contact with the cicada wings, its cellular membrane sticks to the surface of the nanopillars. The membrane further stretches into the crevices between the nanopillars, and this causes great strain. In the end, the membrane ruptures killing the bacteria. The process is similar to stretching an elastic sheet to such an extent that it becomes thinner and eventually begins to tear. (1, 2)