Category Archives: The Ranger’s surfing highlights

Chrysis inaequidens, the jewelled cuckoo wasp

Chrysis inaequidens, the jewelled cuckoo wasp

Look at this gorgeous North American solitary wasp (click the image for a bigger version if you like). Now wonder about its name – why is it named after a bird? After all, cuckoos are hardly known for their brightly coloured plumage. The answer lies in its lifestyle. Cuckoo wasps are so named because they breed by surreptitiously laying an egg in the nest of another (usually) wasp or bee – just as cuckoos do to other birds. Then the young cuckoo wasp larva hatches out, eats the larva of the host animal, and then enjoys the provisions the mother has left behind for her own offspring. From the cell emerges not the expected bee or wasp, but another species entirely – the adult cuckoo wasp.

The cuckoo wasps (and there are many species, including quite a few in the UK) have some special adaptations to help them do this. They have a really long egg-laying ovipositor, that can extend telescopically to let them insert an egg deep into a host cell. They also have the ability to curl up into a protective ball, like some woodlice do; with strong armour on the back, and gaps underneath where they can tuck their legs and antennae safely. It must be a hazardous life being a parasite – those host bees and wasps can bite and sting!

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Nice legs! The world’s leggiest animal is rediscovered.

Last seen in 1928, the colobognath millipede Illacme plenipes is thought to have more legs than any other animal on earth – one female was found with 750 legs, while the males are thought to have a maximum of 562. Despite its legginess the species is actually quite small, even relative to other millipedes. Females grow to just over an inch long; males are slightly smaller. Now scientists from the University of Arizona have rediscovered this elusive beast, and here’s a video of it.

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A shrimp on a treadmill to the tune of Benny Hill

Persisting with the Ranger’s long-standing interest in bizarre invertebrates, the latest addition to his virtual menagerie is this video, enigmatically titled “A shrimp on a treadmill to the tune of Benny Hill”:

This is one of the funniest things the Ranger has seen online for a long time. Which probably says something about the internet.

An enormous jumping spider

Jumping spiders are, on the whole, pretty tiny things. And I say ‘pretty’ deliberately as they are amongst the cutest, funniest and most decorative of spiders. The game of ‘hide and seek’ with a passing zebra spider never grows old. But what if they were bigger? A lot bigger? They’d be irresistibly cute, surely! Well, Hyluss diardi, a south-east Asian species, is one of the biggest jumpers there is, growing up to 10mm long. And here he is:

Delightful!

See a further video here.

Wasp scissors are safe and simple.

In days gone by, we hear from time to time, people used to make their own entertainment. Indeed they did; and in 1946 a slim tome was published by Wm. A Bagley called ‘Things to make and do’. The descriptive powers of Mr Bagley set out to inspire the youth of post-war Britain to engage in such frugal but beneficial pastimes as ‘Whittling a bunch of keys’, ‘More whittling: a curious tripod’ and even ‘To create some bottled mysteries’.

Things to Make and Do, Wm. A. Bagley, 1946

Most striking to me  though, in the table of contents, was the Wasp Scissors. Bagley explains the purpose of his Wasp Scissors with the following arresting scenario:

During late summer days the following comedy, or something like it, will be frequently performed at picnics, camps and other alfresco meals. A fat wasp will land on the jam pot and everyone (especially the ladies) get excited. Father, attempting to swipe the wasp with a rolled-up newspaper, knocks the milk over into the sugar. The wasp, now thoroughly alarmed, stings someone, and whilst the sting is being attended to, about a dozen other wasps get stuck in the jam. Mother thereupon scoops out the contaminated jam, and so wastes a lot.

Safe and Simple

Now, if you only had the pair of wasp scissors shown in the drawing you would not have all this bother. One little nip, and the wasp is quickly, cleanly, and humanely extinguished. You can make a pair in one evening at very little cost. They sell very well, too, among friends and neighbours, or at sales, etc.

You want to see the wasp scissors? Of course you do!

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Well, that worked… sort of.

So what’s the big idea with puffer fish? Puff out, frighten off your enemy and make yourself too big to eat. It’s apparently quite a successful strategy.

Eel and puffer fish

But just occasionally even the best-laid plans go awry.

(Image taken at Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman via Reddit. See another pic of the same pair. Eel is probably a Green Moray Eel (Gymnothorax funebris). No ID on the fish.)

Why are there no really big insects any more? Blame birds.

It’s no secret that 300 million years ago, the largest insects were a lot bigger than they are now. The largest known insect that ever lived is an ancient griffenfly Meganeuropsis permiana. This creature belongs to the extinct order of griffinflies (Protodonata) – related to dragonflies -  and measured an impressive 71 cm across, larger than most birds. There were a variety of other megainsects in prehistoric times, but these days, the biggest ones are considerably smaller. So what happened?

Vespa mandarinia (c) Gary Alpert

Vespa mandarinia, the Asian giant hornet

One fact which is widely considered to be relevant is the limitation of insect respiration. As insects don’t have lungs like us vertebrates, they rely upon oxygen entering their body through many tiny tubes. They can help it on its way with various tricks but in essence, if the tube is too long the oxygen can’t get down it far enough. So an insect that got too big would soon run out of oxygen and find it difficult to fly or run. So how did those huge ancient insects get around that limit? The answer is that they didn’t. In Permian times the atmosphere was more than 30 percent oxygen, compared with 21 percent today. So insects had more oxygen available, and could grow larger.

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Smearing toads with haemorrhoid cream… humanely

Regular readers will remember the anguish with which celebrities and commoners alike rallied round the cause of poor old introduced hedgehogs in Scotland, hard-pressed by conservationists bent on their eradication.

A cute little toad

 

Now an Australian comparison has arisen. Let’s see if Sir Paul McCartney steps forward once more, in defence of the cane toad! Yes, this deeply unpleasant creature, introduced in 1935 and wreaking havoc ever since, is the object of extraordinary hatred by, it seems, all Australians. No Australian societies exist to stand up for the rights of cane toads, and nobody is offered any bounty to cane toad rescuers. Instead, we get the robust Aussie response of “Not In My Backyard Day”, which is sponsored by the Northern Territory government. Continue reading