16 Jan

Croaked; the Tale of an Insidious Insect

beware

When you think of insects, it isn’t difficult to imagine their dog eat dog world where bugs eat other bugs. Within the world of insects, a predator can suddenly become the prey. If you were an insect, not only would you have to worry about being eaten by your fellow bugs, a world full of small mammals and reptiles are ready to turn you into lunch. There is one exception.

The Slayer of Frogs
Against a frog or toad, insects cannot stand a chance. A frog is like an amphibian vacuum cleaner, swallowing everything smaller that gets close. If you were an insect living in frog territory, the last thing you want to do is draw any type of attention to yourself. A frog can whip its tongue out, catch a prey and return it to its mouth in the time it takes you to blink your eye. Around an amphibian, the word “bug” means lunch. The exception is fighting back one toad at a time. Meet the Epomis ground beetle. If you were in Africa or Europe and you got a chance to see one, you would not think much of it; they look like any other beetle. Their larvae look like fat grubs with a mean set of pincers. The real difference comes when a frog gets close.

Insect death wish or farewell frog?
The Epomis larva wiggles its antennae and moves around, trying to draw the frog’s attention. Once the predator locks on, it is all over… for the frog. The amphibian closes in on the seemingly hapless larva and attacks. The larva dodges the tongue strike and launches itself at the would-be predator. Using those sharp mandibles, the larva attaches itself to the frog’s soft underside and begins to feed. Young larva drink body fluids, larger ones are big enough to chew and will slowly eat the frog down to the bones. In laboratory tests, scientists found that the larva can avoid the frog’s tongue almost every time.

You might be wondering what happens when the frog manages to snag the Epomis larva. Have you ever eaten something that disagrees with you? In the rare instances where the frog swallows the insect, the larva begins to chew up the delicate insides. The frog spits up the masticating menace. Unfortunately for the frog, the larva then attacks. In every confrontation, Epomis wins and the frog gets eaten. Even if the frog is dedicated to keeping its meal, the larva wins. One larva was able to survive two hours within the belly of its committed predator. Two hours. That means this little critter survived digestive juices and an oxygen poor environment. Finally the frog couldn’t take the internal pain, spit the larva out with a mass of blood. The larva then attacked and ate the frog.

Insidious Insects
The insect world can blur the lines between predator and prey. Even creatures that specialize in eating insects can quickly become the prey.

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