Ticks resemble little bumps on skin, but a closer look reveals the barbed mouthpart (hypostome) that's inserted in human flesh and can't easily slip out. Dania Richter of the Technical University of Braunschweig watched, under very high magnification, ticks using other mouthparts to pierce skin, generating “a toehold,” before a breaststroke-like action pulled in the barbed hypostome. The study is published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
S. Turner, UC Riverside
This scanning electron micrograph image of a southern house mosquito (foreground) makes evident the straw-like mouthpart used to suck human -- and other -- blood. The red and black additions highlight smelling activity. It’s believed that a mosquito can smell a person from 100 feet away.
Spiders in the genus Loxosceles, including the brown recluse, are among the few common spiders whose bites can seriously hurt people. Greta Binford, an associate professor of biology at Lewis and Clark College, recently studied the spiders, including the one shown here from South America. The spider bites can cause our skin to die. "Our bodies are basically committing tissue suicide," she explained. "That can be very minor to pretty major, like losing a big chunk of skin. The only treatment in that case is usually to have a skin graft done by a plastic surgeon."
Older workers within a rainforest termite species,
, have built-in “explosive backpacks” that become bigger and more deadly over time. The blue in this image -- showing several workers and a soldier termite -- is actually a sack of toxic blue liquid. Jan Šobotnik at Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague found that worker termites could explode this toxin onto enemies during suicide missions that help their colonies.
Entomologist Michael Caterina and his team studied clown beetles, which munch on fly larvae found in decomposing bodies He snapped this shot, which shows one such beetle’s mandibles. It’s apparently a bug-eat-bug world, even in the remains of the deceased.
Slimy slugs are the bane of gardeners, but a recently discovered slug species makes others seem tame. The ‘ghost slug,’ found in Cardiff, Wales, lives on land, is carnivorous and possesses blade-like teeth. It’s out all year round -- not just on Halloween.
Sam Droege, Flickr
This fly was photographed after it became stuck in a glob of hand sanitizer, so it was likely frozen in this image seconds before its demise. The photo reveals the fly’s compound eyes, which have the fastest visual responses in the animal kingdom. The tongue-like proboscis is also sticking out.
Leeches are predominantly bloodsuckers that feed on blood from humans and other animals. When leeches bite into a victim, their saliva prevents blood from clotting, causing victims to bleed from the wound for hours. The good news is that this effect has beneficial microsurgery applications, such as helping doctors reattach tiny veins.
David Hughes, Penn State University
The zombie-ant fungus invades an ant’s brain, causing the insect to march to its death at a mass grave near the ant colony. The fungus winds up the winner, since it then erupts via spores that come out of the ant’s head. A parasitic fungus, however -- the white and yellow material in this image -- can castrate the zombie-ant fungus, allowing the ant to live.
Linda Tanner, Flickr
Photographer Linda Tanner spotted this black widow spider in an old, dark barn, heading for a front porch. Black widows are very common, and are often found in garage door slats, hiding in dark corners, under woodpiles and in other places in and around homes. Usually they mind their own business, focusing on their insect prey, but their venom can cause human victims to experience nausea, muscle aches and paralysis of the diaphragm, which can lead to breathing difficulties.
One of the best ways to avoid being bothered is to masquerade as something unsavory, reports a new study identifying a spider whose web and body resemble bird droppings.
The orb-web Cyclosa ginnaga adds to the growing list of spiders that are nearly indistinguishable from avian excrement.
In this case, the spider sells the look via additions, otherwise known as "decorations," to its web, which may include carcasses, egg sacs, plant detritus or silk.
Researchers Min-Hui Liu and colleagues explained: "We found that: (1) the presence of the spider's decorations rendered its body indistinguishable from bird droppings in the eyes of its predators and (2) concealing C. ginnaga's web decorations resulted in an increase in predatory attack probability. Accordingly, we concluded that the body and web decorations of C. ginnaga form a bird dropping masquerade to avoid predators."
Liu is a researcher at National Chung-Hsin University and the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute.
For the study, published in the latest issue of Scientific Reports, Liu and the other scientists compared the spider's body and its web to bird poop, in terms of how they reflect light and otherwise appear in a natural setting.
Since those values were so similar, the scientists suspected that wasp predators could not distinguish between these very different items. They tested the theory by monitoring what happened when they blackened, with carbon powder, some of the spider bodies, thus ridding the spiders of their disguise.
Sure enough, the blackened spiders were quickly attacked and eaten by the wasps. The other spiders, retaining their poop look, were usually ignored.
Masquerading as bird poo could be much more common than previously thought among spiders. The spider Celaenia excavate's common name is "the bird-dropping spider." Species from the genus Mastophora, such as the bolas spider, also resemble bird feces.
In addition to keeping predators at bay, the disguise may help the spiders to fool their own prey. The bird-dropping spider, for example, stays motionless on its web during the day to fool passers by.
At night, the spider engages in another form of mimicry. It releases a moth female sex pheromone that attracts male moths. Once the moths come close, the spider suddenly jumps into action, capturing the amorous moth victim with its powerful front legs.
It's unclear if C. ginnaga enjoys such other benefits. What is clear is that these spiders, resemble bird feces in terms of color, size, and additional visual properties.
Take care in your garden! Things might not be all that they seem.
Photo: Arkys curtulus, aka "the bird-dropping spider." Credit: Peter Woodard, Wikimedia Commons