AUGUST
1999

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

8-12-99

Insects Show Up in Unexpected Places

We all know that insects sometimes show up in unexpected places-like a flying cockroach that does aerial maneuvers around the living room. And it always seems to happen when the neighbors or mother-in-law drop by for an evening visit.

Or picnic beetles. Where do they come from before doing body slams into the potato salad and cold slaw at the family reunion picnic in the park?

The fruit fly is another insect that just seems to appear from nowhere. How do fruit flies find that tomato on the windowsill or the overripe banana so quickly?

The truth is that insects are everywhere during the summer. We just don't notice them. Out of sight is out of mind for most of us when it comes to insects. At least, that is the case for cockroaches, picnic beetles and fruit flies.

Actually, insects are everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. Insects have managed to exploit most nooks and crannies of nature as places to live. To do so, insects exhibit varied living styles.

Some insects, like cockroaches, live in many different situations. Cockroaches also will eat almost any kind of food. Because they are not choosy about where they live and what they eat, cockroaches, picnic beetles and fruit flies are called generalist insects. 

But other insects are specialists. These insects have specific needs for food and abode. One such group of insects is the Strepsiptera, or twisted-wing parasites. They live as parasites in the bodies of bees, first in bee larvae and then in adults. The female Strepsipteran never leaves the body of the bee.

Another insect associated with bees is the oil beetle of Britain, which is a type of blister beetle. Following hatching, the young oil beetle crawls to a flower where it waits for a bee to arrive. The immature beetle attaches itself to a bee and hitchhikes to the bee's nest. There, the beetle eats a bee egg and then proceeds to feed upon pollen and nectar stored by the bee.

There is a mosquito that lives in the liquid in the pitcher part of the pitcher plant. This is a remarkable feat, because the pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant and digests insects that are entrapped in the liquid. Exactly how the mosquito larvae avoid being digested is unknown. What is known, however, is that they feed on other insects in the liquid.

As its name suggests, the petroleum fly lives in petroleum pools in California. There, it feeds on other insects that are entrapped in the oily mess of the pool.

All kinds of fleas and lice live as ectoparasites of animals. Some are very specific to one kind of host. So, we have names like pigeon lice and human lice. One unusual ectoparasite is a beetle. This beetle lives in the fur of beavers-the only place it has ever been found.

Probably one of the most specific lifestyles of any insect is the human coffin fly. This fly, as far as is known, feeds in the larval stage only on embalmed human remains. Buried coffins are not infested, so the fly is found around mausoleums.

Yes, insects do show up everywhere and in some unexpected places!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox