Leafhoppers, treehoppers and planthoppers have the most aerodynamic-shaped body in the insect world. All of them are strong jumpers that can move with equal ease forwards, backwards, or sideways like a crab. The crab-like motion distinguishes hoppers from most other insects.
They also come in many shapes and colors with over 12,500 varities worldwide.
The beautiful insect shown below is a planthopper nymph. During the span of time after it hatches and before it becomes fully mature, the planthopper nymph secretes a waxy substance from its abdomen that gives its tail the look of a colorful fiber optic display. It serves as a defense from predators who are somewhat hypnotized by the effect.
As the planthopper gets ready to do its favorite thing — hop around — it moves the waxy threads into a sleek line.
It moves ever so slowly before making a great leap, and it can fan the threads back out for an extra boost while it’s in the air.
The final effect is like a dazzling fiber options display.
Most caterpillars have long hair called setae covering their bodies. This hair act as a defense mechanism. The hairs often have detachable tips that will irritate would-be predators by lodging in the skin or mucous membranes.
Here are a trio to avoid: the puss caterpillar, the hickory tussock caterpillar and the io moth caterpillar.
The most venomous caterpillar in the United States, the puss caterpillar, got its name because it resembles a cuddly house cat. Small, extremely toxic spines stick in your skin releasing venom. At first the sting feels like a bee sting, only worse. The pain rapidly gets worse and can even make your bones hurt. People who have been stung on the hand say the pain can radiate up to their shoulder and last for up to 12 hours.
One dapper critter called the hickory tussock caterpillar has a velvety back and sweeping bristles. It looks more like a vintage feather boa than a caterpillar and is widely distributed in the eastern half of North America.
Some people have little to no reaction to the hickory tussock’s sting, but others have a reaction that ranges from a mild to severe rash comparable to poison ivy. It’s microscopic barbs may cause serious medial complications if they are transferred from the hands to the eyes. The adult moth flies away in May and June.
Caterpillars have to eat a lot. Within a few weeks of devouring as much greenery as physically possible, an io caterpillar can go from being a half-inch-long worm to a nearly three-inch-long monstrosity, brilliant green with red and white racing stripes like the Io mother caterpillar:
Io caterpillars are indeed capable, and more than willing, to deliver a painful sting. If you brush up against these spines, the tips will break off and start to inject venom.
So what do you do if you get stung by any of these toxic caterpillars? Place Scotch tape over the affected area and strip off repeatedly to remove spines. Apply ice packs to reduce the stinging sensation, and follow with a paste of baking soda and water. If you have a history of hay fever, asthma or allergy, or if allergic reactions develop, contact a physician immediately.
No larger than a ladybug but with an elaborate mating dance the Maratus “peacock” jumping spider of Australia has a spectacular display.
To woo the female spiders the males are talented dancer with fancy footwork and an elaborate, decorative abdomen flap that they can raise up and down.
The female watches enthralled and if she is swept away by his magnificence she will allow him to mate, sometimes after first turning and doing her own dance to him, wiggling her abdomen seductively.
The greatest attribute of these jumping spiders is their advanced eyes. All spiders have eight, occasionally six, eyes, but they are generally quite simple organs, specks of black or silver that can detect light and dark, shadow and movement and some fairly rudimentary blurry images. The two central front eyes of the jumping spider are much more advanced – large, fronted by spherical lenses, with an internal focussing mechanism and complex four layered retina. All this means that a jumping spider can see fine detail, in color and at different distances.
Both sexes of the Australian “peacock” jumping spider have the ability to see color through ultraviolet, blue, green and red photoreceptor cells within their eyes.
The pattern on the male abdomen is unique and so is the choreography of each species’ dance
In June of 2016 Seven new species of peacock spider from the southern coast of Western and South Australia were discovered and named last month, bringing the total number of species discovered up to 48.
Just for fun watch this video created by naturalist Jürgen Otto of a male waving his legs around and raising his bright colorful display to attract a nearby female:
Developed by Harvard University and MIT in 2013 this bee-sized micro-robot was designed to fly and behave independently. It can now land on walls.
Inspired by the biology of an insect with two wafer-thin wings that flaps almost invisibly, 120 times per second, the Robobee is capable of sustained flight. To improve depth perception the Robobee has micro-LiDAR sensors to serve as eyes. This allow them to perform precise tasks like landing on a flower.
However since many applications for small drones require them to stay in the air for extended periods, they run out of energy quickly. To keep them aloft longer the design team turned to electrostatic adhesion. They added an electrode patch and a foam mount that absorbs shock. Using a constant supply of energy the Robobee can now stick to almost any surface from glass to wood to a leaf. The power supply is simply switched off to detach.
Possible uses for robotic insects in addition to crop pollination, including search-and-rescue after a disaster and environmental exploration in dangerous locations such as volcanoes.
Robobees are a beautiful example of how bringing together scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines to carry out research inspired by nature and focused on translation can lead to major technical breakthroughs.
Of all an owl’s features, perhaps the most striking is its eyes. The forward facing aspect of the eyes that give an owl its “wise” appearance, also give it a wide range of “binocular” vision (seeing an object with both eyes at the same time). This means the owl can see objects in 3 dimensions (height, width, and depth), and can judge distances in a similar way to humans.
An owl’s eyes are large in order to improve their efficiency, especially under low light conditions. In fact, the eyes are so well developed, that they are not eye balls as such, but elongated tubes. An owl cannot “roll” or move its eyes – that is, it can only look straight ahead. The owl makes up for this by being able to turn its head up to 270 degrees left or right and almost upside down.
The retina of an owl’s eye has an abundance of light-sensitive, rod-shaped cells appropriately called “rod” cells. Although these cells are very sensitive to light and movement, they do not react well to color. Owls have extraordinary night vision, but see in limited color.
To protect their eyes, owls are equipped with 3 eyelids. They have a normal upper and lower eyelid, the upper closing when the owl blinks, and the lower closing up when the owl is asleep. The third eyelid is called a nictitating membrane, and is a thin layer of tissue that closes diagonally across the eye, from the inside to the outside. This cleans and protects the surface of the eye.
For protection from predators some insects have well developed eye spots. Owl Butterflies are large, tropical butterflies found in secondary forests and rain forests from Mexico down to the Amazon in South America. It is easy to see why they are called Owl Butterflies. Their wings look like the face of an owl, and if you spread the wings out, you can actually see a pair of eyes looking straight at you. Of course they cannot blink.
This lovely creature is the Indian pangolin also known as the thick-tailed pangolin. The size of pangolins varies by species, ranging from 12 to 39 inches. In all species, females are generally smaller than males. In fact, male Indian pangolins can be up to 90% heavier than their female counterparts. Most are solitary and noctural.
There are 8 extant species of pangolin: the Indian Pangolin, Philippine Pangolin Giant Pangolin, Ground Pangolin, Tree Pangolin, Long-tailed Pangolin, Chinese Pangolin and Sunda Pangolin. They all look like small dinosaurs.
As you probably noticed, the pangolin has large keratin (the same substance as horns, fingernails, and hair) scales covering its skin, the only known mammal with this adaptation. These continue growing throughout their entire life, and the scales of these critters comprise about 20% of their total body weight. They are the only known mammals with this adaptation.
When the pangolin’s tongue is fully extended, it can be up to 16 inches longer than its entire body length! Pangolins use these long tongues to eat their favorite foods, termites and ants. Pangolins’ insatiable appetite for insects gives them an important role in their ecosystem: pest control. Estimates indicate that one adult pangolin can consume more than 70 million insects annually. Pangolins have special muscles that seal their nostrils and ears shut, protecting them from attacking insects. They also have special muscles in their mouths, which prevent ants and termites from escaping after capture.
As a result of increasing threats to pangolins, mainly in the form of illegal, international trade in pangolin skin, scales, and meat, these species have received increasing conservation attention in recent years. Sadly each species is now threatened with extinction.
Polish photographer, Marek Miś, has developed a technique for photographing living and inanimate microorganisms, plant tissues and micro crystals directly through the eyepiece of a microscope. You may have seen his awarding winning photographs in either the Nikon Small World Competition or the Olympus BioScapes Competition. Here are a few of my favorites:
Marek’s microphotographs are made using various lighting techniques – bright field, dark field, phase contrast, Rheinberg illumination, polarized light, oblique illumination and mixed techniques. To see more of Marek Mis’s work go to this URL: http://www.mismicrophoto.com/plants.php
German photographer, Dr. Igor Siwanowicz who works at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology specializing in invertebrate photography, has succeeded in showing the world there is beauty of form in the insect world.
You can see a more complete portfolio of Igor Siwanowicz’s work here: