Monday, November 16, 2009

The True Bug

"What is that?" she said, entering the shop.

"A bug," her granddaughter responded.

I had to look.

Sure enough: a true bug.Armored, triangular-headed, leaf-footed, his wings camouflaged and folded tightly along the back, this prehistoric monster of a bug (at least an inch and a half long) almost sprinted up the screen to the top of the door. Before I could get a well focused shot, he shot straight up like a helicopter or the golden snitch in quidditch. I watched him soar across the street, gaining altitutude, until finally losing him as he buzzed above the bank. I found him online: species Acanthocephala declivis.

I read what I found, but I prefer what my entomologist friend emailed:

They are true bugs. Hemipterans (which means that 1/2 of their wings are sclerotized, and half membranous), and subgroup Coreidae. They have sucking mouthparts. All those homologous mouthparts that you saw in the grasshopper are modified in these bugs to make a straw-like mouth for piercing and sucking. Incomplete metamorphosis, because the young nymphs look like miniature adults, without wings.

I call them leaf-footed bugs, but they are surely close to the photo you sent.

Assassin bugs are in this group. Also kissing bugs. Kissing bugs carry Chagas' disease, a blood parasite that lodges in the heart. Darwin described being bitten by a kissing bug (so-called because they bite around the lips and nose), and some medical historians think that he had Chagas' disease. Kissing bugs live as commensals in wood-rat nests. As a graduate student, I excavated wood rat nests and found quite a few. Darwin or wood rat, it doesn't matter.

Who wouldn't love the ugly bug!

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