Let me just say right off the bat, if you’re the least bit squeamish, you should not read the next two weeks posts!
When I was a kid, there was a toy called Creepy Crawlers, in which you would take the goop, which was really a form of latex, pour it into the round, oven-like device, which you plug plugged in. There were different molds you could put in it to change what type of bug or insect you want, and presto, you had your own rubber insects. This toy, of course, was banned along with several others due to safety reasons. The switches tended to burn out, but the newer version has a built in circuit breaker so that doesn’t happen. It’s still good to know that insects are still kings in the world of imagination.
Which brings us to our two week series on arthropods. In my first novel, Dimension Lapse, I introduced my readers to eight feet insect-like creatures called Belorions, who were really colonists from their home world of Zacharas. In the second book of the trilogy, Return To Doomsday, Jeff Walker travels to their home world, and comes face to face with two warring tribes.
Arthropods have been the stuff of science fiction for years, Starship Troopers and Men In Black just to name a couple. My story is also about these fascinating creatures, who are the most resistant and fragile animals in the world. But just what is considered an arthropod?
Arthropods are any invertebrate animals that have an exoskeleton or skeleton on the outside of their body. Because their shells inhibit growth, they replace their exoskeleton by moulting or shedding it. They are the most surviving phylum of animals of all the animal kingdom and have been around the Cambrian age, even longer than the dinosaurs. There are over a million different species of arthropods, and they make up 80% of all the animals on Earth.
Their vision is made up of various combinations of compound eyes. Each section sees the same object, so to them they see many objects at once. The only exception to this are dragonflies and spiders, who combine their eyes to form a single image. Arthropods have sensors or connections in their segmented bodies that link to their nervous system, and pressure sensor membranes that function as ear drums. They use internal and external fertilization to procreate, with the exception of scorpions, who are the only ones to bear live young. Some insects undergo a metamorphosis, like a caterpillar to a butterfly.
Arthropods have been known to be both beneficial and destructive to mankind. Bees help to pollinate crops, but locusts have been known to ravage them. Some insects, such as fleas and ticks carry diseases such as the Bubonic Plague.
Arthropods are divided into four phylum:
Insects Myriapods Arachnids Crustacea
This week, we’ll discuss the largest of the groups, insects which are divided into 29 different orders. Tomorrow, we’ll start with our first six orders:
Thysanura-Bristletails Diplura- 2 pronged bristletails Protura Collembola-Springtails Emphemeroptera- Mayflies Odonata- Damselflies and dragonflies
Until tomorrow, make sure you check under and in your bed for any of your own crawling friends. Here are today’s links:
A BUG’S VIEW OF THE WORLD
Today we’ll be talking about five different orders of insects, which include one of my favorite insects-the dragonfly. They are Thysanura, Diplura, Collembola, Emphemeroptera, and Odonata.
Thysanura is the species as what we know as Silverfish, Fishmoths, and firebrats, which are basically all the same animal. They have a silvery glitter of scales, move like a fish, and are less than 1 centimeter long. They have flattened bodies, are oval in shape, and have flexible atennae and short mandibles. They are generally found in moist, humid environments.
Diplura are the 800 different species of two pronged bristeltails. They grow up to 2-5 millimeters long, have no eyes, and are unpigmented, or clear in color. They have long attennae, with 10 or more bead-like segments, and a pair of pincers at the tail. Moulting occurs up to 30 times throughout the insect’s lifetime, which is about a year. They are commonly found in moist soil and leaves.
Collembola are omnivorous insects that prefer moist conditions, and commonly referred to as a springtail. They are less than 6 millimeters long, and have 6 or fewer abdominal segments and possess a tubular appendage. They lack a trachea respiration system, so they breathe through a porous cuticle. It has an abdominal tail-like appendage that allows it to spring in the air when threatened. The species has been around since the early Devonian period; however, there are no fossils, and most are found trapped in amber. There are at least 3600 different species of them, and have been known to be damaging to crops.
Another insect of this order are mayflies, which have 2-3 tails, a single claw on each leg, and has gills along its abdomen. Some live in the water when they are offspring, and fly when they’re adults, and others live in the water their whole lives. They moult, mate, and then die, usually only living a day or two. They are divided into four groups; crawlers, clingers, swimmers, and burrowers.
Odanata are the group that include damselflies and dragonflies. Damselflies are similar to dragonflies, but have smaller, slimmer bodies, and wings that fold along the body when at rest. They have existed since the lower Permian period. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, and are predatory, eating other insects. These insects are also aquatic when they’re young, and even in adulthood, still live around ponds, lakes, and rivers. They moult repeatedly, and go through metamorphosis. Fishing flies that mimic damselflies are sometimes used in wet-fly fishing.
Dragonflies are characterized by their large multifaceted eyes, and have an elongated body. They are agile flyers, and their hind wings are broader than their forewings. They have brilliant or metallic colors, and have nearly 24,000 optical nerves, or sections, in their compound eyes. They’ve been around for 325 million years, and early versions had a wingspan of 3 to 4 feet wide.
My character Zarcon is a combination of arthropods. He is part ant, part dragonfly, and part lobster. His vision is like that of a dragonfly, who can see many colors, even more than we do. His compound eyes allow them to see in all directions, and his claw like hands allow him to grab things and press buttons. He has four arms and two legs, which he uses to his advantage. He is a unique, and resourceful character worthy of mention, even though he has a rather short part in my series of books.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue our series with a whole new group of insects. Until then, here are today’s links:
Today we’ll be talking about various orders of insects, but most of them have one thing in common-they’re in an order by themselves. Some of these orders can get very large in tropical climates, up to 12 to 13 inches long in some cases.
The first are the phasmids or Walking Stick. It is a leaf eating insect, which uses its natural camouflage to protect them from predators. They are some of the largest insects in the world, and can grow up to 13 inches, and are most abundant in the tropics. They have three phases in their lives; eggs, nymphs, and adults. Some species have wings and can fly.
Orthoptera are the order which we commonly know as grasshoppers,crickets, katydids, and Locusts. They produce sound by rubbing their wings or legs together, and can create “songs” for mating this way. They generally have a cylindrical body, with hind legs elongated for jumping. They have mandibles for biting and chewing, large, compound eyes, and have two pairs of wings. They have been known to ravage crops completely in a matter of minutes, being one of the most destructive insects. They are considered a delicacy in parts of the world, and the only insect considered to be kosher in Judaism.
Mantodea are what we know as Mantises. They’re are over 2400 species of this insect, and are distributed worldwide in temperate and tropical climates. They have triangular heads with large, bulging eyes supported on flexible necks, and may or may not have wings, depending on the species. They are ambush predators, and have a lifespan of about a year. The adults lay eggs in the fall, and die, and their young hatch in the spring. Their closest relatives are termites and cockroaches. They sometimes are cannibalistic in nature, and the female eat their mates after copulation. They have been considered to have supernatural powers by earlier civilizations such as Ancient Greece, Egypt, and Assyria.
Blattaria are probably our least favorite on this list, being more commonly known as the cockroach. These pests range from over 4600 species, the most common known as the American Cockroach, German cockroach, or Asian Cockroach. They live in wide range of environments and conditions around the world, and the tropical ones are much bigger in size. Mainly nocturnal, they’ll run away when exposed to light, and they transmit bacteria wherever they go, which spread diseases as well. They are one of the oldest insects on the planet, and have been known to even survive nuclear blasts, and ice ages.
Isoptera, or termites, are close ancestors to termites as well, and have over 3106 different species. They are sometimes called “white ants,” due to their ant-like quality to work together as a colony. Colonies can be from a few hundred to a few million. Queens have the longest life span of any insect, up to 50 years. They feed mostly on dead plant material and the cellulose in wood, and this recycling is of considerable ecological importance.
Dermaptera are the creature known as an earwig. These strange creatures are found throughout the Americas, Africa, Eurasia, Australia, and New Zealand. There are over 2,000 species, and some latch on as parasites on mammals. They have a pair of forceps pincers on their abdomen, and short, thin wings, although they rarely use their flying ability. They are nocturnal, and hide in small, moist crevices during the day. Damage to crops is commonly blamed on Earwigs.
Monday, I’ll be back with some more creepy crawlers to irritate your skin. Until then, have a nice fall weekend.
LEAFHOPPERS, BED BUGS & FLEAS, OH MY!
Today we’ll be talking about some areas with insects that are a bit touchy and itchy as well. They are several groups of insects that are either parasitic in nature, or depend on dead life forms, as well as regular vegetation, and can also feed on Nectar.
The first is the one that is probably one of the worst insects man has ever had to face. It is the Phthiraptera, or commonly known as lice, and contrary to belief, they do not jump like a flea. They can latch themselves to hair on humans and animals, and lay eggs, causing severe infestation rather quickly. There are over 3,000 species, and females are more common than males, and can even be asexual. They are scavengers of dead skin and blood.
The Hemiptera, or true bug, contain 50,000 to 80,000 different species. Most common are Aphids and Cicada that they range in size from 1mm to 15 cm, and share a common arrangement of sucking mouth parts. Most feed on plants, although some are predatory, and they live in a wide variety of environments. Some are agricultural pests, and cicada are a form of food as well, and some like bed bugs and ticks are parasites.
Neuroptera are the family of insects that include, mandiflies, dobsonflies, lacewings, and antlions. There are over 6,000 species, and are considered “net wing” insects, having four membranous wings that have fore wings and hind wings about the same size. They have chewing mouth parts, large lateral compound eyes, and undergoes a complete metamorphosis. There are some kinds that consume nectar as well.
Coleoptera are what is known as the beetle family. There are over 400,000 species; some are scavengers, some leaf eaters, some predatory, and some even parasitic. Most beetles have two pairs of wings; the front pair are hardened into a shell-like protection, sheltering the soft abdomenon underneath. They have a hard exoskeleton, and come in a variety of colors and sizes. The Goliath Beetle is the largest, reaching up to four inches long.
The Mecoptera, or scorpionfly, is so named because its gentalia resembles the stinger of a scorpion. It wings are narrow in shape, and have numerous cross viens. The female’s eggs absorb water, and increase in size. Their larvae are similar to caterpillars, however, they don’t change into a cocoon. They are believed to be the first pollinators of the planet.
Siphonaptera are what we know as the common flea. They are wingless, with legs specifically designed to jump long distances. They have been known to jump up to ten feet, and are external parasites, living off the blood of other animals. They have been found to be one of the biggest vectors in disease, such as carriers on the plague, passed by rats during the middle ages. If you’ve had pets, chances are they’ve probably had them from one time or another.
Tomorrow, I’ll be back with a collection of winged insects that will make your skin crawl. We’ll look at the pollinators, the artists, and the workers. Until then, here are the links:
They have been the subject of sci-fi and horror movies, such as Them, Mothra, The Swarm, and The Hive. They are small, but feared by almost everyone. They are, of course, the winged insects, and they usually have six legs and antennae, or “feelers.”
Diptera are the group that include mosquitoes, flies, and nats. Everyone is familiar with these bloodsucking parasites that leave an itchy rash on the skin. They carry several diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and west-nile virus. Flies and mosquitoes are one of the largest groups of living organisms, reaching over 150,000 different species. Mosquitoes and Black flies are responsible for more human suffering than any other organism other than themselves, destroying food, especially grains and fruits.
Lepidoptera are the group that include Butterflies, Moths, and skippers. There are many variations of the species, each adapted to its specific environment. They have small, flattened “hairs” that give them their variety of colors and patterns. Their wings are membranous, and they are producers of silk, as well as pollinators. They are considered one of the most beautiful insects in all of the arthropod kingdom, and some species can grow to an almost 12 inch wingspan. Like other insects, they go through a pupil stage, first starting as caterpillars, then to a cocoon, and then to their new form as a butterfly or moth.
Hymenoptera is the third largest order of insects in the world, with over 150,000 species. They include Bees, Ants, & Wasps, and have membranous wings, with their hind wings are connected to their fore wings by a series of hooks. They have venomous stingers that some people can be allergic to. Contrary to belief, yellow jackets are considered bees, and hornets are wasps. Some people believe that are their own order, but this isn’t the case.They are born in a worm-like larvae stage, and grow into their adult forms. They live in nests, work together as one large unit to perform tasks, and usually only have one queen who produces the eggs for the hive or nest.
Ants will sometimes form bridges to cross a body of water, and will even “steal” workers from other nests to make slaves out of them, something that no other known insects do. Female ants are the only ones to have wings, as are sometimes known as flying ants.
The movie Them was a classic horror-sci-fi flick which also seemed like a documentary in parts. It will always be secured in my mind as one of the best, even though the effects were cheap, and the acting was poor. Tomorrow, get ready to enter the world of nightmares, and the world of the Arachnids. Until then, here are today’s links:
THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES
One of my favorite scenes in The Lord of The Rings trilogy is the part where Sam squares off against Shelob, a giant spider who lives within a mountain. Spiders and other Arachnids are the subject of books, movies, and nightmares. Occassionaly, we’ll see one cast in a good role, such as Charolette’s Web, but they are few and far between.
Arachnids are the order of Arthropods that include spiders, scorpions, harvesters, or daddy long legs, ticks, and mites. They often have eight legs, and are mostly predatory or parasites. Spiders are air-breathing arthropods that inject venom into their prey, which causes paryalysis. They produce silk, which they use to build webs. Prey are stuck to these webs, and the spider injects the venom, and will sometimes encase the prey for later consumption. They suck the bodily fluid from the victim, and leave the carcass to decay. They also wrap their eggs within an egg sack, also made of silk. Most are predators, feeding on small insects.
Some species, such as tarantulas and trap door spiders even eat small birds or lizards. Only a few kinds in the world are dangerous to humans, such as the black widow, brown recluse, or the Trap Door spider. The largest species can reach up to a foot wide. Certain species, such as tarantulas and black widows eat their mate after sexual intercourse, and some are cannibalistic as well.
Scorpions are also predatory arthropods, with pincers, a narrow, segmented tail which is curved in the back, and a venomous stinger on the end. They range in size from 9mm to 20mm. They are one of the earliest known land animals on Earth, dating back to 430 million years. There are over 1750 known species, but only 25 have venom capable of killing a human being. They are sometimes kept as pets, and feed on crickets.
They have been known to give off a bluish florescence when placed under ultraviolet light. They are nocturnal, and hide under rocks and tree bark during the day. The 1957 movie Black Scorpion is one of the few movies that capitalizes on these interesting creatures. In some areas, spiders and scorpions are considered a high protein source, and are consumed as delicacies.
Harvesters and Daddy long legs are similar to spiders, although they do not possess fangs, and there venom is produced in a noxious gas, capable of paralyzing their small victims. They are unable to produce webs due to their lack of silk glands, and when there legs become detached, they can twitch up to an hour. To humans, they are harmless, and almost as common as house flies.
Ticks and Mites are parasitic arthropods that latch themselves to victims in order to draw blood, or some other source of food. Dust mites are microscopic and eat particles of dust and dirt. Skin mites are beneficial to us because they eat dead layers of skin and bacteria. Ticks are vectors of disease, such as lyme disease, and latch themselves to their host from long grass or brush.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at arthropods that lives in creeks, rivers, and oceans. They are the Crustaceans, and no, it’s not a rock group. Until then, here are the links:
Today is the last day on our Arthropod series, and today we’ll explore the last three phylum of the order; Crustaceans, Myriapoda, and Annelidia. Crustaceans form a very large group, total over 67,000 species, and include , lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill, and barnacles. They range in size from (.004)brine shrimp, to the Japanese Spider Crab which is 12 1/2 feet.
Crustaceans have an exoskeleton which moults as they grow. They are free aquatic animals, and have a fossil record dating back to the Cambrian period. More than 10 million tons of lobsters, crabs, crayfish, and shrimp are produced in aquatic farming for human consumption. Krill is a vital part of the aquatic food chain as well. Crustaceans usually have antennae and mandibles, and in the case of lobsters and crabs, have pincer-like claws, and a fan-like tail. A lot of crustaceans are able to produce eggs without fertilization from a male, and barnacles are asexual. Blue lobsters are rare, but have been found every so often.
Myriapoda is the class that includes centipedes and millipedes. Both have segmented bodies and breathe through spirals instead of having lungs or gills. Centipedes are terrestrial and flexible, having flattened bodies. Millipedes are much more rigid and have a sub-cylindrical shape. Centipedes have one pair of legs per segment, and millipedes have two pairs. Centipedes are quick, are predators, and attack their victim by injecting a venom into their prey, whereas millipedes are much slower, and consume dead plant and animal matter. Centipede venom is generally not dangerous to humans, but a slight skin irritation can sometimes occur after being bitten.
Annelida, or more commonly known as worms. They have long, cylindrical bodies, with no limbs. They can range from microscopic sizes to as much as 190 feet(aquatic bootlace worm.) They are invertebrates, which means they are boneless, with no nose. eyes, mouth, or ears for sensory facilitation. Instead, they gather it through their skin. They reproduce asexually, and consume dead plant and animal material. They are one of the few arthropods who actually live and regenerate, even after being cut in half. And yes, I saved the most squeamish arthropod for the last!
Well, that’s it for all things that crawl, squirm, fly, or burrow into the ground. Hope you enjoyed our pre-Halloween arthropod series. Next week, you’ll start up a brand new series. Until then, the links are below. Have a good weekend, and enjoy the hay rides, apple cider, and fall weather.