Fellow Worpresser Peter ( https://ppazucha.wordpress.com/ ) sent word of a tragic arachnid death. The world’s oldest spider, a female Australian trapdoor spider known only as Number 16 was found dead in her burrow at age 43. Number 16 didn’t succumb to old age, her death is credited to a parasitic wasp attack. Wasps enter burrows laying eggs in or on the spider. When eggs hatch, larvae eat the spider from outside in or inside out. Number 16 was identified in 1973 by Barbara York Main, the University of Western Australia arachnologist known as “the spider lady”, part of Main’s trapdoor spider population study in the central wheat-belt of Western Australia. Before Number 16, a 28-year-old captive Mexican tarantula held the title of oldest known spider. Curse you parasitic wasp, RIP Number 16.
It’s impossible to Google death of world’s oldest spider without stumbling upon a plethora of insect peculiarities.
Chris Miller, project manager of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, England discovered a lethal virus that turns caterpillars into zombies. Baculovirus affects how caterpillars’ brains react to sunlight and forces them to make a death march towards treetops in the middle of the day. Zombie caterpillars march to the treetops and die. Their bodies liquefy, the virus bursts out of their corpses and drips onto victims below.
What remains of an oak eggar moth caterpillar after it climbed to the top of a tree and liquefied. (Chris Miller)
Hats off to Nymphister Kronaueri, a new species of beetle identified by Christoph Von Beeren, an ecologist at Germany’s Technische Universitaet Darmstadt while studying army ants with his colleague Daniel Kronauer in the Costa Rica rainforest, spring 2014. Camped in the jungle, watching army ants by lamplight, they noticed ants with double butts. Closer inspection revealed another example of specialized adaptation in the natural world. Evolutionary whimsy decreed army ants wouldn’t notice a stowaway beetle masquerading as an ant ass. Army ants are apex predators, voracious marauders stinging, dismembering and devouring unfortunate spiders, birds, snakes and small animals along the way. Over 300 insect species shadow ant armies feeding on scraps. Science doesn’t know why, but for what must be a very good reason nature insists a piggy-backing ant butt beetle gets first crack at the buffet.
From above, it’s hard to tell this army ant has a beetle attached to its rear. (M. Maruyama)