Tag Archives: invertebrates

Spiders by post – that’s got to be cruel, hasn’t it?

In a bizarre news item, the BBC reports:

A man has admitted sending a rare venomous spider in a package to a colleague at work. Mahlon Hector, 22, of Leicester delivered the Mexican red-kneed tarantula in a box addressed to a Marks & Spencer branch in Leicestershire. Hector handed in his resignation after dropping off the parcel at the Fosse Park store.

Mexican red-kneed tarantula

Now that’s curious enough. Curiouser still, however:

A Leicestershire Police spokesman said: “The spider may also have suffered and we would have pursued the matter under animal cruelty legislation but it does not cover invertebrates.”

How crazy is that? Just look at that cute, furry spider and imagine it being shaken up in a box for some weird practical joke! What if it was one of those sweet little grey squirrels, or rats? People would be marching in the streets, probably led by Sir Paul McCartney. Well, the spider was probably OK, but the Ranger is very fond of spiders, and was startled to learn that there’s no way in law to be cruel to invertebrates. Perhaps there’s room for one more pressure group? No more flyswats! Ban the beer-trap! Calamari and prawns will be off the menu when the Invertebrate Cruelty Act is finally passed…

First published 2006. Republished with corrections 2013.

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!

Reference

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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Is Eresus the cutest spider on earth? Send me to find out.

The worlds’s cutest spider. It’s a hard-fought contest, with the jumping spiders invariably on the podium. But I’ve got a soft spot for another family altogether, the eresids or Velvet Spiders. I think they’ve been unfairly overlooked and I’m going to see if I can redress the balance.

The UK’s only eresid is the Ladybird Spider Eresus sandaliatus, of which I have written before. I’ve never seen one, and there’s a chance I shan’t ever do so as it’s fearsomely rare in this country.

Eresus sandaliatus

Eresus sandaliatus

But hold on, there might be hope – both for the spiders and me. There’s now a Buglife campaign to increase the tiny population of this delightful, but very rare, animal. I recently found out that Buglife give an unusual promise “For donations over £1000 we can arrange a visit to a site for you to see the Ladybird spider in its natural habitat and experience this important conservation project first hand” So I’m starting a campaign to donate £1000 to Buglife for this wonderful spider. All donations gratefully received, if we get to £1000 I shall write, photograph and blog the visit ad nauseum. It might take a while but I intend to get there!

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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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The Wasp Piñata

Wasps! Urgh! What are they good for? Absolutely nothing! Well, you’d think so by the amount of cursing they get around this time of year. People really don’t like wasps, but wasps can’t resist coming to have a look at – and taste of – the interesting things people like to do outside. So conflict inevitably ensures… or at least a lot of flapping about and yelling. But something the Ranger recently spotted at a local market just might hold a solution for the age-old impasse between irate human and yellow-jacketed hymenopteran.

Waspinator!

What is this bizarre thing? And what has it to do with wasps? Continue reading

Check out this massive fly

This weekend The Ranger discovered that the biggest fly in the UK was much bigger than he’d previously thought. Yes, we heard you wanted to see a picture of a simply gigantic horsefly. So here it is.

Tabanus sudeticus (c) Cat James

 

This is Tabanus sudeticus, sometimes called the dark giant horsefly. It seems, oddly enough, that this impressive insect has not really got a commonly-accepted English name. It’s referred to in one place as the “dark behemothic horsefly”: a charmingly descriptive name, albeit a little cumbersome. Continue reading

Buglife squished

If you’ve been following the story of small charity Buglife on this blog you will recall its legal challenge intended to prevent development on West Thurrock Marshes, a former industrial site now very rich in invertebrate biodiversity.

Buglife logo

After a long trek through the courts it seems as though the final act may now have been played out in this drama, as Buglife retires to lick its wounds following a comprehensive rejection of its arguments by the Court of Appeal. Continue reading

Buglife rides forth yet again

It really does seem to be like the butterfly that stamped. If you’ve been following the story of small charity Buglife on this blog you will recall its legal challenge intended to prevent development on West Thurrock Marshes, a former industrial site now very rich in invertebrate biodiversity.

Spider stamp © Buglife

Buglife made its own alternative stamps showing species threatened by the Royal Mail development

The original site developer, Royal Mail, has now pulled out and Buglife suggests that this is because “Buglife pressure forced Royal Mail to scrap its plans“. However the planning consent still stands, so some other body could still do the works and damage the site. So Buglife took the matter to court. Continue reading