- Courtney Goe -
Insects are one of the more powerful, but largely unseen, forces in this world. With over 950,000 species of insects identified and counting, they’re far more prevalent than any other type of animal. The next runner up in the animal kingdom would be unclassified invertebrates at 130,200 species. If you even include the plant kingdom, Dicotyledons fall short at only 199,350 species. No other organism comes close. Depending on the bug and the period of history, they’ve been worshipped or reviled in equal measure. In honor of our upcoming bug collection, we thought we’d take a brief journey into their strange little world.
Honey and beeswax have been prized for over 2700 years. Honey, called “nectar of the Gods,” was thought to have supernatural healing powers by the Greeks and Romans; the ancient Egyptians used it as an embalming fluid. In the Quran, the bee is the only animal that is able to talk to God. Our uses today may seem more mundane, but they’re incredibly important. Thirty percent of the world’s crops and ninety percent of our wild plants rely on bees to reproduce and survive.
There is even an artist, Aganetha Dyck, who is using their building capabilities to fix broken objects. She places broken ceramic figures from thrift stores in custom apiaries, and lets the bees work their magic. Cracks in ceramic are covered with beautiful honeycombs, and the effect is striking.
Another insect with incredible capabilities for creation would be the silk worm. An organism (Bombyx mori) that now only exists in captivity, these worms create the strongest of all natural fibers. Silk’s tensile strength is comparable to that of steel, but it is much more elastic. Because of these properties, it was the only option for surgical sutures and parachutes until the development of nylon in 1938. Each larva spins a cocoon that is comprised of 3000-5000 feet of thin silk fiber. Silk also has natural piezoelectric properties, similar to quartz crystals. This is an electric charge that is created through the application of pressure on the material. That, and silk being a poor conductor of electricity, is why silk often is the culprit of static cling.
Insects aren’t just of interest because of what they can provide for us. Sometimes they’re intriguing because they’re so very different than we are.
Praying mantises are an excellent example of this. Again, ancient Greeks and Egyptians believed them to have supernatural powers. In Greece it was thought a mantis could show a lost traveler their way home. The Egyptians belief was similar; their Book of the Dead considered the mantis a minor god who could show souls to the afterlife.
The mantis’s alien appearance serves an important purpose. They are ambush predators, meaning they wait for prey to come close, and then strike. Their physical appearance makes them look like sticks or flowers to their prey. This is most strikingly apparent in the Devil’s Flower Mantis.
These are among the larger mantis species, with the females reaching 13 cm and the males reaching about 10 cm. Their threat display, used to discourage predators, can include a dazzling display of color. Usually you associate a bright, leaf green with mantises; the Devil’s flower can have a combination of white, red, black, blue, and purple. These are incredibly effective hunters, and have been for a long time. Mantis specimens found in amber, believed to have lived approximately 50 million years ago, have had very few evolutionary changes.
Another impressive camouflage act comes from Acanthaspis petax, a member of the Reduviidae or “assassin bug” family. These insects hunt ants in a fairly standard way; puncture their prey, liquefy the insides, suck them out and consume them. However, afterward, this assassin bug uses their dried out exoskeletons as camouflage. The dried ant husks are stacked on the assassin bug’s back like a backpack.
Scientists in New Zealand found that they use only ants, and that is with good reason. The predators of Acanthaspis petax are afraid of ants. Ants swarm, ants use chemical weapons, so they’re best avoided. An experiment found that spiders attacked assassin bugs without their ant camouflage ten times more often than their camouflaged counterparts.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into the vast world of insects. Keep your eyes peeled for sneak peeks and updates about our upcoming insect collection! Make sure to follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss even a bit of our dark bug magic.