Big Big Bugs Robotic Creatures
Chinese Praying Mantis: Tenodera aridifolia
-Resident of eastern Asia and the United States, from Massachusetts to New Jersey and west to Ohio.
-Actual Length: Approximately 2.6 - 3.8 inches (65 - 95 mm)
-Approximate Magnification: 60 times life size
The elegant, leaflike Chinese mantis may have traveled to this country as a ship's stowaway in the 1890s. Praying mantises were named for their appearance at rest. With their forelegs folded in front of their long bodies, they look like people praying.
In fact, since these insects spend most of their short lives hunting, they could just as easily be called preying mantises. Their strong "preying" legs combined with their large eyes, flexible bodies and powerful mandibles, or jaws, help them to regularly capture and devour moths, butterflies, grasshoppers and other insects. Even small frogs, lizards and birds are fair game for the largest species of hungry mantises. Male mantises are often eaten by females after mating.
Rhinoceros Beetle: Chalcosoma atlas
-Resident of Thailand, Burma and other countries of Southeast Asia
-Actual Length: Approximately 3.8 inches (95 mm)
-Approximate Magnification: 40 times life size
The stocky rhinoceros beetle is among the largest members of the beetle family known as scarabs. All beetles are part of the order Coleopteran, or sheath wing. "Sheath wings" are the two armorlike front wings that cover and protect the transparent back wings beetles use for flying.
Some beetles are herbivores -- eating only plants -- others are predators -- eating other insects, snails, slugs, worms, tadpoles and even small fish. Although many are pests, some, like ladybugs, are gardeners' best friends. Many fill an important role as nature's clean-up crew, scavenging on dead plants and animal carcasses or dung. Horned male scarabs like these rhinoceros beetles often battle each other for food or mates.
Desert Locust: Shistocerca gregaria
-Resident of Africa, southern Spain, Arabian peninsula and Southwestern Asia
-Actual Length: Approximately 2 inches (55 mm)
-Approximate Magnification: 70 times life size
In armies and clouds they come, eating every crop along the way. Feared by farmers, these pests include both newly hatched, immature grasshoppers, called nymphs, and winged adults. Scientists believe that hot, dry weather sometimes causes many nymphs to hatch in an area that is much too small to support them. These "gregarious nymphs" develop different forms and behavior from normal grasshoppers. Instead of staying in one place, they tend to form groups that migrate. These groups stay together from the time they begin to hop until after they develop wings and can fly. Migrating locusts not only eat crops, but also grass, trees, and cloth. Although farmers have tried controlling locusts with pesticides, the chemicals are harmful to humans and other animals, too. Now scientists are experimenting with safer solutions that could save crops without destroying the environment.
Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar: Papilio xuthus
-Resident of eastern Asia
-Actual Length: Approximately 1.8 inches (45 mm)
-Approximate Magnification: 30 times life size
The clumsy caterpillar is the second, or larval, stage in the ugly-duckling-to-swan transformation known as complete metamorphosis. This makeover occurs in four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Female swallowtails typically lay 100 eggs in each life cycle, and one larva, or caterpillar, hatches from each egg. The caterpillar's growth occurs in five steps called instars. After each instar, the caterpillar sheds its old skin, or molts, to reveal new larger skin underneath. Finally it attaches itself to a leaf, molts for the last time, and becomes a pupa. A protective chrysalis soon forms around it. The pupal stage lasts several months. Inside the chrysalis, the adult legs, mouthparts and wings develop and the body form changes. In the spring, a beautiful butterfly emerges and the life cycle begins again.
Giant Stick Insect: Heteropterix dilatata
-Resident of Malaysia
-Actual Length: Approximately 6.7 inches (170 mm)
-Approximate Magnification: 120 times life size
Stick insects are nature's wallflowers: they are so well camouflaged that most people never notice them. Each species mimics a branch, twig or leaf of the plant it feeds on. They even sway gently to imitate branches blowing in the breeze. Their slow movements help reduce the risk that they will be seen and eaten by birds or other predators.
Although stick insects are related to mantis, they are strict vegetarians. While some species are wingless, many have wings that resemble leaves. Most live in tropical climates. The largest stick insects may grow to as much as a foot long.
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