Day 36: Mini lecture on two insects who may or may not reflect human traits

[Image c/o https://twitter.com/NWSElPaso – it is the official insect of New Mexico]

We are bingeing on Mother Nature but I’ve tried to limit the flora and fauna facts and figures.

There have been photos and brief descriptions but nobody wants a lecture and hopefully you will see these animals in real life if you haven’t already.

That said… we learned about two insects recently which we are now going to share with you as they mirror back certain human traits, both admirable and avoidable.

The Tarantula Hawk Wasp and the Hercules Beetle.

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At first the Tarantula Hawk Wasp (THW) appears the most evil of animals, utterly focused and ruthless. Other interpretations would describe it as efficient and effective. These are adjectives normally used for people and we have to remember that natural selection is just trying to make animals successful at ensuring that their genes are passed on. Anything else – including judgements on behaviour – are irrelevant.

The THW is a very large wasp, possessing what is meant to be the most painful of stings. [It has been compared to bullet ants – see our earlier post from the rainforest]. Our guide says “Imagine lying in the bath while someone throws a live toaster in – the sting electrifies the body.”

The THW feeds on nectar and in that respect, it is a prolific pollinator.

So far, so unusual.

However the THW is awesome (in the original sense of the word) due to how it feeds its children:

  • It goes hunting for ground-based tarantulas. They live in small holes in the ground, often created by other animals, and stay quiet for most of the time. We saw several tarantulas a couple of days ago on a night walk (guided, we’re not stupid). They eat seldom, sometimes only once a month and are actually quite fearful. Are they shy? Well, not compared to the crocodiles :).
  • So the THW goes hunting for tarantulas. That is gutsy in itself. (Ah – those human adjectives, sorry). They go into the hole and sting the tarantula, as you do.
  • The sting paralyzes the spider but does not kill it.
  • The THW then drags the spider back to a pre-created space just off its main nest, a bit like an annexe you use for AirBnB. The TWH uses its strong back legs to drag the spider along the ground.
  • The spider is still alive.
  • The wasp lays one egg on the abdomen of the spider and covers the entrance to the nest.
  • With the spider alive but paralysed, the egg turns to larva. When it hatches it then eats the still-alive spider but it is so well designed that it avoids eating the vital organs of the tarantula until it runs out of food. It wants to keep the spider alive.
  • After a few weeks a grown wasp emerges from the body of the spider which dies, if it hasn’t done beforehand.

So in layman terms it goes hunting for another badass insect, kidnaps it and locks it away so that the new child can self-feed on it. This takes time management to a whole new level.

In human terms this reminds me of the proverbial psychopathic entrepreneur, stopping at nothing en route to building a company or achieving the chosen goal. Of course that is melodramatic, and to assert too much judgement on the design of the insect world may be foolish.

Even so, the cunning is incredible and we were blown away by this story.

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A Herculese beetle at one of our pitstops in Limon province

The Hercules Beetle made us laugh. While it is beautiful and alarming, and perhaps similar to the Massive Attack ‘Mezzanine’ album cover, it is also an example of brains beating brawn.

Known primarily for its strength (apparently it can lift between 100 and 850 times its bodyweight), the beetle feeds on fruit and is docile until it starts fighting with other males.

This is when the interest kicks in.

There are large males and smaller males, as defined by the size of their horns at the front. We are told that “the large males fight to see who will mate with the female. But sometimes the fights take a long time and a smaller male will sneak in and mate with the female while the fight is going on, helping their genes to pass on to the next generation.”

Less ego, more initiative.

The winner of the fight also mates with the female but that will be in vain. Hence today you have large males and small males – currently evolution is providing a way for both of them to survive.

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That is the nature tour over for today. You could spend a lifetime here studying the wildlife and people do.

We’ve moved from beach to hills and now to a volcano, the next post will update you on the actual travels as well as our first ever eviction from a hotel.

One thought on “Day 36: Mini lecture on two insects who may or may not reflect human traits

  1. Thank you for that lovely description of baby THW’s feeding habits! Nature at its sadistic best… Just don’t tell the girls about the Nazca Booby’s found in the Galapagos – they have a propensity for inflicting similar suffering on their siblings. Apparently linked to high testosterone levels, so fortunately not a concern!! Jane X

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