Mention an insect or spider and the first reaction that we often encounter is that of avoidance or fear. That bad rap is often unwarranted and shrouded with stories around hearsay and ignorance. The beauty of nature isn’t limited to the avian or mammalian life; arthropods and their mind-boggling diversity can enthrall us with what seems like an endless variety of shapes, structure, behaviour, mutualism, parenting and survival methods. They employ various techniques to thrive and survive, ranging from camouflage to mimicry. This photo-heavy feature intends to provide a sneak-peek into their fascinating world.
A leaf katydid rests on a leaf, taking utmost care to curve its super-log antennae to match the contours of the leaf. With texture and colour closely matching that of the leaf, camouflage is a strong and effective technique chosen. You can’t be hunted down if you can’t be seen!
Highly complex eyesight has evolved in predators, aiding them to make the best of every remote possibility. Look at the large Anterior Median Eyes (AMEs) of this jumping spider (Hyllus sp.). They work in sync with smaller eyes that are laid out around the head and provide the spider all-round awareness. This eyesight, along with their powerful legs that are powered by internal hydraulics, enables them to jump impressive distances, making them formidable predators.
Compound eyes coupled with a streamlined, strong body helps robberflies (Asilidae sp.) hunt down prey with great precision. A specialised feeding apparatus is used to inject enzymes into the prey and then suck out the liquefied insides.
Insects are a critical link in the food chain, making for a source of protein and nutrition. Eggs are often laid in large numbers to provide the best chance of survival, considering all the risk factors including parasitism and predation. Some of the Pentatomidae stink bugs lay eggs in geometric perfection! The eggs are often glued at the base to a branch or leaf surface; the nymphs emerge by pushing the latch of the egg case open.
In this unique intricately linked chain, to make the most of what’s available, body-snatching is prevalent. Each life stage of the insect is important in its own unique manner. The wasps, with their vast array of techniques, are great at natural control and rule this space.
An Ammophilla wasp carrying back a caterpillar that is subdued by injecting it with venom, and paralysing it. The caterpillar is then stuffed into a perfectly dug out hole, where the wasp buries it and lays eggs into the soft body. The wasp larvae emerge by eating the caterpillar inside-out. Spiders are another favourite as unwilling hosts, and the wasp quickly dismembers the spider before burying it.
A wasp (Anastus sp.) overseeing a set of parasitised Pentatomidae stink bug eggs. Egg parasitism is yet another strategy employed by wasps. The wasp lays eggs inside each stink bug egg individually using its ovipositor. The larvae hatch inside the protein-rich eggs and emerge as wasps by making a hole in the egg wall. Nymph/larval forms of insects are often found together. In many species, they stay huddled together for a few instars.
Safety in numbers coupled with a nasty sting keep these Limacodidae caterpillars safe. They almost exclusively feed off the underside surface of the leaves. Their spiny structures hold potent venom that can leave a painful sting and bright colors provide enough warning to keep potential predators at bay.
Shown here is a phenomenon called cycloalexy where the larvae of Chrysomelidae beetles get into formation in readiness for pupation.
The wild basil plant often hosts the Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia sp.). The spider blends in perfectly with the green as well as dried leaves of the basil plant, lying in wait to ambush anything that comes within reach. The female of this species makes an egg sac and stands guard, not venturing away. It is common to find a guarding mother hunting while having a prey in its grasp already; it is clear that the ambush strategy works well.
Plataspidae make the most of the seasonal avarekalu (Hyacinth bean) creeper. Seen here are eggs and nymphs. The adults look like rounded buttons and are considered a pest.
Not everything one sees in this world is to be believed. Batesian mimicry is often used to deter predators. Ants, given their aggressive outlook and reputation, are a popular source of aping.
A male and female jumping spider (Myrmarachne sp.) – the male with his long chelicerae stands guard for the female resting in her silken retreat. The males even have fake eye spots at the end of the chelicerae to complete the perfect mimicry. This world isn’t only about survival, it does provide for great beauty and mutualism for us to marvel at. Fascinating dependencies, intricate relationships, cannibalism – all make for a great study!
Named after their behavior of hovering, these hoverflies, like bees, are important agents of pollination. As adults, they solely rely on nectar and pollen. With this sweet business, they visit a lot of flowers and with that the possibility of coming across a crab spider lying in ambush. Stripes are often mimicked from bees and wasps to deter predators.
The stunning colours on this tiny male jumping spider (Chrysilla sp.) shimmer in sunlight! Along with using limbs for getting around, they often employ a technique called ballooning where they reach a high place to release silken threads in the hope of catching wind to literally float away.
We humans take great pride in having discovered farming, but these ants have been doing it for eons. They tend to a variety of insects that rely on plant sap, returning to these ‘farms’ to help themselves to honeydew that the nymphal forms produce. Seen here is an ant tending to Pysillid adults. The ants are known to maintain several farms in parallel.
This tiny world holds many wonders, often hidden in plain sight. I’ve marvelled, documented and photographed every single month for the last three years, exclusively focusing my attention on arthropods, and continue to be amazed by how highly robust and adaptable the denizens of this kingdom are. They’re the best in making the most of abundance/opportunity that each season brings with it.
This, as any other form of nature observation can make for a great, fruitful hobby, filled with fascination, and will definitely fill a nature lover’s heart with more appreciation for the beauty we often walk right past. A single tree/shrub can provide shelter and micro-environment(s) for a multitude of arthropods. Observing this up-close definitely helps us understand the fine balance that exists in nature. This deep understanding is critical to quantify and often justify the need for conservation.