Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween Week's Terrifying Insects: Corpse wearing carnivores!

This Halloween week I would like to highlight some scary insects for you. While I normally endorse bugs and try to get people to not look upon them with fear and loathing, it doesn’t mean that all insects are cuddly, wuddly woolyworms. Some can capture our greatest fears and make them real. Such as today’s scary bugs, Perisceptis carnivora and Acanthaspis petax

Some of our most classic horror film villains are chainsaw wielding and knife brandishing maniacs. People line up to see famous creepers like Jason Voorhees, Leather Face, and a host of others using their chosen implements of destruction and chasing down pesky teenagers. An added horror for some of these characters like Leather Face or Buffalo Bill from the Silence of the Lambs is that they take the skins of their victims and wear them. Ever since the ghastly discoveries at Ed Gein’s house, it seems like we have been fascinated with this particularly brand of evil. We are not unique in this behavior though. Today we’ll talk about a couple of corpse wearing weirdos from the insect world. Let me introduce you to Perisceptis carnivora and Acanthaspis petax.

P. carnivora, aka the predatory bagworm, is one of the few caterpillars that we know of that consume flesh rather than leafs like most of their brethren. Bagworms may be familiar to you as pests of ever green trees where they will infest and build a cozy little bag to live it. They construct this bag out of the local building materials, pine needles, juniper leafs, berries, what have you. The predatory bagworm though has a somewhat more macabre decorating sense. Once these caterpillars finish with dinner they will take the hollowed out head capsules and other bits of insect and sew them together with a silk mesh. Once they finish they have a nice little corpse condo to develop in as they age. They hide in this body bag and wait for more unsuspecting prey to wander by and they spring out to gobble it up. They will eat beetles, flies, spiders, you name it. I think this just shows that folks in horror movies and insects are at the same level of intelligence, as they are the only groups who would consider walking past bags composed of corpses in the woods and think they won’t die in the next five minutes.


The next organism is Acanthaspis petax which is a type of assassin bug. Assassin bugs by and large are our allies as they help kill pests and keep their populations in check. That doesn’t mean that some of them don’t do so in creepy serial killer ways. All assassin bugs use their needle like mouthparts to stab and then suck all the life juices from their prey. A. petax, in particular is an assassin bug that likes to go and hunt ants. While most assassin bugs discard the leftover husk when they finish eating, A. petax has a different plan for that corpse. They actually produce a sticky substance from their back that they use to glue the dead ants on top of them. Now while Leather Face may use his skin suits to simply terrify, A. petax seems to depend on using their gruesome costume as a deterrent for predators. Researchers found that when these bugs had the ant bodies glued to them, predators like jumping spiders were ten times less likely to attack them. Pretty ingenious for the predator to have a couple of different uses for the prey!

I was going for a business casual kind of look

Join us again tomorrow as scary bug week chugs on! That is, if you dare!