Posted by: scrubmuncher | February 3, 2010

A face only a mother could love (1)…

There are a lot of people who are repulsed by insects, and for good reason, as a few of them, especially the immature stages look like nameless things that have scampered out of a nightmare. Still, it’s often the case that what these rotters lack in appearance than more they make up for in sheer interest value.

Take the larva of the green tiger beetle (Cicindela campestris) as a case in point. It’s an ugly brute:

Here's a green tiger beetle larva looking a bit annoyed at being extracted from its burrow - Winterton Dunes, Norfolk (Ross Piper)

Just take a close up look at its face:

Green tiger beetle larva

Mug-shot of a the same larva still looking a bit put-out - Winterton Dunes, Norfolk (Ross Piper)

These may be ugly, but they’re fascinating animals that spend their whole life out of sight in a burrow they excavate in sandy soil. The larva’s spends most of its time at the mouth of the burrow, wedged against the side of the tunnel using two patches of bristles and hooks towards its back end. Its tough head, like a living lid, plugs the mouth of the burrow perfectly. Poised, ready to strike, the larva waits for unsuspecting prey to blunder over its lid-like head. The larva strikes in the blink of an eye, lunging from the safety of its burrow to grab any small insect that wanders within range. With its dinner impaled on its enormous mandibles, the larva slinks to the lower reaches of it burrow to tuck in.

Bristles on the back of the larva

These raised patches of bristles are how the larva keeps itself fixed in the same position at the mouth of the burrow for long periods of time

It’s normal to find small colonies of these larvae in areas of suitable habitat, so any small insect that accidentally wanders into these miniature killing fields will have to run the gauntlet of several, hungry tiger beetle larva.

As mean as the green tiger beetle larvae look, they’re not without their enemies, but we’ll take a look at the most devilish of these in the next post.


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