Hey! I’m working on a comic for the strange and amazing (upcoming) horror anthology from Iron Circus Comics. In the course of writing my unsurprisingly insect-themed story, I’ve been consuming massive quantities of great, cheesy, gruesome classic horror comics.
Not beetle-related per se, but the large, flightless, and delightful Madagascar hissing cockroach has been in the news lately. NSCU engineers, perhaps taking advantage of their university’s considerable assemblage of entomological expertise, found a way to direct the cockroaches’ hideous scuttling via remote stimulation of the cerci and antennae.
More importantly, some news outlets are heralding this as a search-and-rescue breakthrough, which is just delightful. I for one would love to see more heroic dictyopterans at the scene of any given natural disaster. Robo-roaches, laser mantises, whatever.
(maybe they could collaborate with the giant bomb-sniffing pouched rats of Tanzania?)
Longtime readers of the original, largely-defunct American Beetles may recollect a series of posts back in the day, focusing on strange and horrifying things that beetles do. One of the best examples, of course, is the demure and lovely (also wingless and eyeless) leiodid Platypsyllus castoris, a beetle so weird it was once placed in its own order (and for a long time, its own family).
Platypsyllus, also known as the “beaver beetle,” is an obligate ectoparasite of (yes) beavers. It is also the only beetle demonstrated (by Wood, 1965) to be a genuine parasite of mammals; species in a number of other beetle families are phoretic on mammals, meaning that they cruise around enjoying a free ride, be it for purposes of protection, dispersal, or (in the case of the delightful South American staphylinid Amblyopinus) feeding on various smaller arthropod parasites of the vertebrate host.
Ashe and Timm (1987) noted that Amblyopinus seems to enjoy a mutualistic relationship with its host, the Mexican volcano mouse: when placed on a non-host rodent species, the beetles were immediately scratched off and frequently eaten. Other noted mammal-phoretic beetles include several rodent- (or desman-) associated leiodid genera, the amblyopinine staphylinids Myotyphlus and Edrabius, and the erotylid Loberopsyllus, which to my understanding is found only on hamsters.
What you should know is: I was looking up some references on inquiline and phoretic habits in staphylinoids the other day, and came across what might be the greatest staphylinoid paper ever written.
This indignant article takes to task the idea that the hapless staphylinid Myotyphlus is a true parasite of rats. This is thanks to “personal communications” from a vigilant rodent researcher, who (after conducting deeply personal investigations of “2,000 Rattus assimilis“) reveals the following:
Obviously, this captures the imagination. Being phoretic on mammals may be old hat for staphylinids, but: anus specialists? That’s news to me. You’ve probably heard of the South American scarabs who specialise on sloth dung; in order to colonise the dung whilst it’s still fresh and malleable, they ride around on the sloth, perpetually vigilant for the next deuce to drop. I have also heard rumours of Australian Onthophagus, another scarab, being discovered in shocking abundance on the nether regions of kangaroos. This kind of behaviour may be acceptable for scarabs, but I was surprised to hear about staphs stooping to this particular level.
Anyhow, Hamilton-Smith and Adams would like you to know that Myotyphlus has since been found living wild and free in subterranean mounds of bat guano, and is therefore IN NO WAY an obligate ectoparasite, nor indeed a parasite at all. I think I speak for all staphylinoid enthusiasts when I say I shall breathe slightly easier knowing that Myotyphlus is no obligate associate but merely a facultative inhabitant of the rat anus microhabitat.
Ashe, J. S., and Timm, R. M. 1987. Probable mutualistic association between staphylinid beetles (Amblyopinus) and their rodent hosts. Journal of Tropical Ecology 3:177-181.
Wood, D. M. 1965. Studies on the beetles Leptinillus validus (Horn) and Platypsyllus castoris Ritsema (Coleoptera: Leptinidae) from beaver. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Ontario 95: 33-63.
I spent a lot of time helping my partner collect skinks this winter (summer? Whatever you call it when it’s December but also very warm out). Everywhere you go that has skinks also has brown snakes, scorpions, giant terror centipedes, and ants, ants, ANTS.
I have to admit this episode was… not without precedent. Bull ants, genus Myrmecia, are a unique and special part of the Australian insect fauna, noted for their visual acuity, aggressiveness, tendency to jump, and unbelievably painful/ intermittently deadly sting. Note also that in many photographs of these guys, they are looking directly into the camera, clearly saying “Oh? Oh you’re taking a picture? YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?”
More excellent Myrmecia (and other, lesser ant) portraits by Alex Wild are here, for your perusal and just ripping off without permission for your pest control company, because that’s totally cool.