Monday, September 12, 2011

Speak Out With Your Geek Out: Bugs

I love bugs. To be precise, I love invertebrates, insects in particular and true bugs most of all. I think it all began with the pond my parents had in their garden – there always was something to see. Pondskaters, backswimmers, a leech, lot of beetles and dragonflies – I loved the dragonfly larvae in particular. They are fierce hunters, like their parents, and if you catch one with your hands, it can give you a surprisingly hefty punch with its jaws.

My parents taught me about the animals I encountered and they never said that any of them were ugly or gross – although I do know that my mother is afraid of spiders and earwigs. I started to keep woodlice as pets, my father built me a terrarium for them and I soon had a busy colony. I remember watching a woodlice give birth (the eggs hatch in a pouch underneath the mother’s belly) and I found the tiny little woodlice every bit as adorable as a puppy or a lamb.


My love of true bugs began with a pair of assassin bugs (Platymeris biguttata) I bought at a reptile expo. Despite being predators and able to deliver an extremely painful sting with their beak, they are docile, very social and fascinating to watch. They look like little aliens and of the many invertebrates I have kept as pets, they are my favourites, along with my land hermit crabs.

Invertebrates never cease to amaze me with their sheer variety. Every time I think I’ve seen it all, along comes a totally outrageous creature that looks or behaves in a way that makes my jaw drop. Take a look at the bombardier beetle, who shoots boiling liquid out of his butt. Several hundred times per second. I mean, who would dare to come up with such a creature in fiction?

Velvet worms look like bumbling tubes with stumpy legs, but they can run extremely fast and will catch their prey by glueing it down with their sticky spit. They also hunt in packs (at least some of their species do) and the dominant female is the first to eat. If they were bigger, they could give any lion a run for its money.

(the video is from David Attenborough's Life in the Undergrowth, which I highly recommend for anyone with an interest in invertebrates)

Water bears are tiny and they are everywhere. If some moss grows on your porch or roof, you will find a water bear in it, you just need a microscope. They are also pretty much indestructible. And totally adorable to boot, ambling along in a drop of water under your microscope.

What I like best is that I can find something interesting pretty much everywhere, just by taking a closer look. Often I turn over a leaf or a stone and find something I have never seen before. The sense of wonder I experience as a child sitting at the edge of our pond has never left me.

This post is for Speak Out with Your Geek Out. Join us and write about your geeky hobbies from the 12th to the 16th this month.

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