Tanks and Trains
When you see a spider running across your kitchen floor, you know that a rolled up newspaper or a well-placed shoe will eliminate the problem. Shoes may very well be the weapon of choice to use against insects and arachnids. Their soft exoskeletons can’t compete with a sturdy sole. If you ever find yourself in the American southwest, you might come across an insect that your shoe will not be able to smash and conquer. Meet the ironclad beetle.
I am Iron-beetle-man
Ironclads were steam powered ships used in the Civil War. Thick iron plates protected the ship from cannon balls. If you imagine an insect named after this Civil War vessel, you might begin to realize why your shoe cannot hurt it. Ironclad beetles have thick exoskeletons. They are the tank of the insect world. Against an ironclad beetle, a rolled up newspaper will do nothing. If you step on one, you will not kill it. In fact, their exoskeleton is tough enough that when insect collectors get one for their collection, they have to use a small drill to make a hole for the pin.
That strong exoskeleton is in place for a reason. Ironclad beetles are found in desert regions. Their thick armor protects them from losing moisture and from predators. What animal is going to want to chew on a rock?
If Ironclad beetles are insect tanks, then the pine processionary moth are the trains of the insect world. Before you imagine a massive smoke churning train engine, focus on the length. Processionary moths create a basketball sized sac in the tops of pine trees. Hundreds of little caterpillars hatch out and begin to eat pine needles with their hardened mandibles. They might be little caterpillars, yet they have a huge, voracious appetite. Once all the pine needles have been consumed, they cut through the webbing and begin to eat every needle on the pine tree. After which, they move on to the next tree and the process continues. The caterpillars form a massive line as they move from tree to tree. With hundreds of individuals stretched out into a single file line, they resemble an insect train. Unlike the ironclad beetle, you can smash these.
Processionary moth caterpillars are a very destructive insect. If you took a picture of pine forest before the caterpillars marched in and after, the comparison would shock you. In their lifetime, those caterpillars will decimate three quarters of the forest. That means 75 percent of your trees will be needleless skeletons. Without their needles, all of those pine trees will die. Imagine the forest fire threat after the processionary caterpillar comes to town. Smokey the Bear might start carrying bug spray instead of a shovel. Before you run outside and start killing every caterpillar you see, the processionary moth is not found in America. Europe and Asia is home to the processionary moth.
Whether by ironclad tank or meandering train, the world of insects will continue marching on.