Bugs sure lead strange lives

Published 11:59 pm Friday, March 13, 2009

Nature is so fascinating. Take insects for example.

Do you know what a katydid looks like? I’ve seen them all my life, but didn’t recognize them as katydids, just grasshoppers. Then I saw a picture of one. They have long hair-like antennae, and their eardrums are located on their front legs.

Katydids live in trees and bushes and raise quite a racket at night. If you’ve ever paid close attention to a katydid serenade, you know how noisy those insects get. True katydids often sing in unison in two groups and alternate songs. One group bellows “katydid” as if it is challenging the other. Then the other responds just as loudly with “katydidn’t.”

The cricket is another insect singer. Its eardrums are also on its front legs. Field crickets chirp day and night. Ground crickets emit high-pitched trills. There’s one cricket, the snowy tree cricket that is also sometimes called a “thermometer cricket.” You can count its chirps easily and its rate corresponds well with the temperature where the cricket lives. In the eastern United States, you can estimate the Fahrenheit temperature by counting the chirps in 13 seconds and then adding 40.

Cicadas also sing, but only the males. Their “music” is a loud, pulsating buzz. Its purpose is to attract the opposite sex. In parts of the southern Appalachian Mountains, cicadas are known as “dry flies” because of the dry shell they leave behind. Each species has its own distinctive song.

Water (or aquatic) bugs skimming across the water fascinate me. Until I read an article about them, I never knew that they flew from one aquatic habitat to another. I also learned that some giant female water bugs lay their eggs on the backs of the males. The males carry them around until they hatch.

All aquatic beetles get air at the water surface. Some carry a film or air bubble on their bodies below the surface. They breathe these when they are underwater.

As a child, did you ever take a stick and say a little rhyme to try to coax a doodlebug out of its underground pit? Doodlebugs are ant lion larvae that hole up in sandy or dusty soil at the bottom of a conical pit. They feed on whatever insects fall into the pit. Would you believe that you can actually buy doodlebugs through the Internet?

What about those beautiful butterflies we always wanted to catch when we were children? When we touched the wings, the color came off in a powdery substance on our hands. That’s because the color is composed of a covering of tiny scales. One of the smallest butterflies is the blue. The larvae of some of the blues excrete honeydew. This honeydew attracts ants.

Speaking of ants, did you know that a queen ant might lay eggs for as long as 17 years? Yet, the males who mate with the queens die after mating.

The insect world is not only fascinating, but also strange.