Stick InsectNovember 04, 2015 – A tree stands in a forest under a cloudy sky. Suddenly it appears as if a twig is crawling down the trunk. The object isn’t actually a twig that’s sprung legs—it’s a stick insect. The stick-like trickster uses its appearance to protect itself from enemies so it doesn’t end up in, well, a sticky situation. FOOLED YA Stick insects—also known as walking sticks—live in tropical and temperate (or mild) forests all over the world. Related to grasshoppers, crickets, and mantises, these creepy-crawlies are usually brown, green, or black. They’re also the world’s longest insects. The largest one ever found stretched 22 inches with its legs extended. (Most are only up to 12 inches long.) This bug spends much of its time in trees, munching on leaves. When predators such as birds approach, the insect tries to remain completely still in order to blend with the branches. If a predator isn’t fooled and grabs the bug by the leg, it’s no big deal. The insect can detach the leg and scuttle away. It will later regenerate, or grow back, the lost limb. A GOOD EGG About 3,000 species of stick insects exist. Some are master mimics even before they hatch. The females from these species lay eggs that look like plant seeds. This prevents carnivorous insects from eating the eggs. This crawler really knows how to go undercover. Text by April Capochino Myers
InsectsInsects are small animals with six legs and a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton. Most have wings and antennae.
TermiteApril 21, 2016 – A queen stretches out in her spacious home as her subjects scurry around her. The queen’s workers try to make her comfortable and keep her dwelling clean. This “royal” is well cared for, but you couldn’t exactly call her lifestyle luxurious. That’s because she’s a termite! LARGE AND IN CHARGE Over 2,000 species of termites can be found around the world. Termite colonies, which can include thousands of individuals, often live in large dirt mounds. When a female termite hits breeding age, she may emerge from her colony and find a mate. The pair then creates a burrow in the ground and the female (called a queen) begins to produce eggs—a lot of them. In fact this female generates around 30,000 eggs a day! Once her offspring hatch, they become part of her colony. As the female produces more and more eggs, she begins to grow. Over time she can become the length of an adult human’s index finger. That’s a hundred times bigger than any of the termites that surround her. Eventually the queen gets so large that she can barely move. Luckily members of the queen’s community are there to wait on her, um, antenna and foot. TERMITE TOWERS Many of the offspring that hatch from the queen's eggs become worker termites. They help the queen by keeping her clean, feeding her plant fibers, and looking after newly laid eggs. These insects may also double as construction workers, carrying up soil from underground to create the colony’s mound. Some termite mounds can reach over 17 feet in height. Sounds like the termite queen and her workers really know how to go big! Watch an amazing video about termites. Text by Andrea Silen, NGS Staff
Wacky Weekend: Bizarre BugsSeptember 17, 2015 – Check out this photo gallery of strange creepy-crawlies.
Moment of Eww!July 15, 2016 – From freaky fish to a foul fowl, meet a few of nature’s grossest creatures.
Moment of JoyJanuary 19, 2016 – Come on, get happy! Click through the gallery to see heartwarming photos of puppies, elephants, hippos, and more.
Praying MantisMarch 01, 2014 – These insects get their name because they have very long front legs that they hold in a position that reminds people of praying. There are about 1,800 species of praying mantids around the world. People often refer to any mantid as a praying mantis, but mantises are part of a smaller group within the mantids. Praying mantids are carnivores, eating mainly insects and other small animals. Many gardeners and farmers welcome mantids, because the insects they eat are often pests that hurt crops. In addition to insects such as crickets and grasshoppers, mantids eat spiders, frogs, lizards, and even small birds. Praying mantids have long necks topped by a triangular head. They can turn their heads 180 degrees—an entire half circle. They're well-camouflaged, adapting colors that help them blend with plants. Some also have amazing body shapes that make them look like leaves or branches. Their front legs have rows of sharp spines to help them hold on to their prey, which they usually begin to eat head first!
LadybugMarch 01, 2014 – There are about 5,000 different species of ladybugs in the world. These much loved critters are also known as lady beetles or ladybird beetles. They come in many different colors and patterns, but the most familiar in North America is the seven-spotted ladybug, with its shiny, red-and-black body. In many cultures, ladybugs are considered good luck. Most people like them because they are pretty, graceful, and harmless to humans. But farmers love them because they eat aphids and other plant-eating pests. One ladybug can eat up to 5,000 insects in its lifetime! Most ladybugs have oval, dome-shaped bodies with six short legs. Depending on the species, they can have spots, stripes, or no markings at all. Seven-spotted ladybugs are red or orange with three spots on each side and one in the middle. They have a black head with white patches on either side. Ladybugs are colorful for a reason. Their markings tell predators: "Eat something else! I taste terrible." When threatened, the bugs will secrete an oily, foul-tasting fluid from joints in their legs. They may also play dead. Birds are ladybugs' main predators, but they also fall victim to frogs, wasps, spiders, and dragonflies. Ladybugs lay their eggs in clusters or rows on the underside of a leaf, usually where aphids have gathered. Larvae, which vary in shape and color based on species, emerge in a few days. Seven-spotted ladybug larvae are long, black, and spiky-looking with orange or yellow spots. Some say they look like tiny alligators. Larvae grow quickly and shed their skin several times. When they reach full size, they attach to a leaf by their tail, and a pupa is formed. Within a week or two, the pupa becomes an adult ladybug. Ladybugs are happy in many different habitats, including grasslands, forests, cities, suburbs, and along rivers. Seven-spotted ladybugs are native to Europe but were brought to North America in the mid-1900s to control aphid populations. Ladybugs are most active from spring until fall. When the weather turns cold, they look for a warm, secluded place to hibernate, such as in rotting logs, under rocks, or even inside houses. These hibernating colonies can contain thousands of ladybugs. The name "ladybug" was coined by European farmers who prayed to the Virgin Mary when pests began eating their crops. After ladybugs came and wiped out the invading insects, the farmers named them "beetle of Our Lady." This eventually was shortened to "lady beetle" and "ladybug." NASA even sent a few ladybugs into space with aphids to see how aphids would escape in zero gravity.
Moment of Brr!December 17, 2015 – Feeling chilly? Let this adorable gallery warm you up. From belly-surfing otters to diving foxes, these animals are truly cool.
Luna MothJuly 16, 2015 – A luna moth perches on a leaf, its bright green wings folded over its body. Suddenly the insect spreads its wings to reveal their great size. This moth's wingspan can stretch four and a half inches—that's about the same length as an iPhone. CATERPILLAR CRAVINGS Found only in North America, the luna moth starts out as a very hungry caterpillar. Newly hatched, this caterpillar constantly munches on the leaves of walnut, hickory, sweet gum, and paper birch trees. After about a month of filling up on these plants, the caterpillar builds a cocoon. The insect lives inside for about three weeks, then emerges as a moth. The eye-catching critter is easily recognizable because of its wings. But that's not the luna moth’s only interesting feature. The insect doesn’t have a mouth or a digestive system. That's because it only lives for about a week after leaving the cocoon, and it doesn't ever eat. BAT AWAY Although luna moths don't have an appetite, they're a favorite snack for bats. To protect themselves from these predators, the moths spin the tails of their wingtips in circles. This disorients the bats so much that the moths are often able to make a getaway. Guess you could say they're winging it! Text by April Capochino Myers
MosquitoMarch 01, 2014 – Mosquitoes are known the world over for their itchy "bites." And they’re also known for spreading some of the world’s worst diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis, and dengue. Only female mosquitoes actually "bite." They use their mouth, which looks like an upside-down funnel with the narrow end pointing down, to pierce their "victim" and sip liquid. This liquid could be either blood (human or animal) or plant juices, depending on the mosquito species. Male mosquitoes feed solely on plant juices. Different species prefer the blood of particular animals. Some mosquitoes feed only on snakes, frogs, or other cold-blooded animals. Other mosquitoes prefer birds. Still others prefer cows, horses, and people. Like most insects, mosquitoes have two compound eyes, each of which contains thousands of six-sided lenses that point in all different directions and move independently. Mosquitoes can’t focus their eyes like people. Instead, their eyes stay open to help them detect quick movements. The mosquito’s wings beat about 1,000 times per second and create the insect’s telltale buzzing sound. The female’s wings create a higher-pitched tone than the male’s, helping it attract potential mates. Most female mosquitoes lay their eggs—up to 200 at a time, depending on the species—in water or near it, although not all species must hatch their eggs in water. Favorite places to lay eggs include any place that water pools, such as marshes and swamps, plus tree holes, discarded containers, and poorly maintained swimming pools. Transparent parts that cover the mosquito egg keep it from sinking. In warm weather, most eggs hatch within three days.
CicadaMarch 01, 2014 – Cicadas are the elders of the insect world. Some species of cicada live as long as 17 years, though most of the time is spent underground. There are two groups of cicadas: dog-day cicadas and periodical cicadas. Dog-day cicadas are very dark with greenish markings and spend four to seven years underground before emerging in July and August. Periodical cicadas are dark with red eyes. They emerge in late May and early June after 14 to 17 years underground. New groups of young are born every year, so every year different generations emerge. Female cicadas lay from 200 to 600 eggs in tiny holes made in branches and twigs in trees and shrubs. Cicada young—called nymphs—hatch from the eggs and immediately drop to burrow underground, where they attach to tree roots. The nymphs remain attached to the roots, sucking tree sap, for most of their lives. When the dormant period ends, the cicada emerges from underground at sunset, guided only by instinct, and climbs the trunk of a nearby tree. There the cicada’s skin sheds, allowing the adult cicada to emerge. Above ground, male cicadas fill the air with shrill buzzing sounds, the result of small drum-like plates on the abdomen that the cicada vibrates rapidly. While many people find the sound annoying, the male cicada uses it to attract female cicadas for mating. Both male and female cicadas die after about five weeks above ground.
Hissing CockroachFebruary 17, 2015 – The Madagascar hissing cockroach is all hiss and no sting. Its alarm hiss, which sounds like a loud snake hiss, is the cockroach's attempt to scare off intruders. The male cockroach also uses distinct hisses to attract a mate and to intimidate other male cockroaches. When defending their territory from other males, these cockroaches will hiss, push, and shove, and stand on their “toes” to show who's boss. The male that is larger and hisses more usually wins. It is one of the largest species of cockroach in the world—adults grow to be between two and four inches (5.1 and 10.2 centimeters) long! With their thick and waxy exoskeletons, Madagascar hissing cockroaches may look like big pests, but they’re actually important to the health of the rain forest. They are detritivores, which means they eat decaying plant material and animal carcasses. They recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem.