Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing
Natural selection has led to some fairly bizarre adaptations throughout history. The elephants trunk, the human brain, and a butterfly’s wing are all evolutionary marvels in their own right. But some of the most fascinating adaptations, in my opinion, have to be the mimics. Organisms that have evolved to look like more dangerous, venomous, or poisonous organisms. There are snakes that have developed patterns to resemble the venomous Coral Snake. There is false stinging nettles, a plant that has evolved to mimic the leaves of the venomous Stinging Nettle. There are literally thousands of examples found throughout the animal and plant kingdom alone. I was fortunate enough to find some of these mimics in my own backyard.
Rodent Bot Fly (Cuterebra abdominalis)
This nasty fly has taken on the appearance of a large bumble bee. In fact when I scooped it up from my lawn my mom and sister thought I was going to get stung. Fortunately I had a keen eye. Bot flies are found throughout the world and are parasitic. A quick Youtube search for bot fly removal will give you enough footage to make even a hardened biologist squirm in disgust. This particular species uses small rodents and rabbits as a host. The larval flies develop just under the skin of the host feeding off the fluids and tissue of the host. They will pupate and fall onto the ground where they finally develop into an adult. An entomologist (someone who studies insects) friend of mine said that this particular species is actually quite rare to find in the adult form. All I know is I’m glad that I am not a potential host for it!!
No stinger here!!!
Although it looks like bumble bee the lack of long antenna and the extremely large eyes are tell-tale signs of a a fly, taxonomic Order Diptera.
Robber Fly, Genus Laphria unknown species
The title of this post is Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing but for a Robber Fly is isn’t entirely true. Robber Flies are predators in their own right so a more accurate title might be Cougar in Wolf’s Clothing. Robber Flies are said to be the falcons or accipiters of the insect world. They patiently wait on a leaf or a branch for their prey to fly by. They then swoop into the air and capture their prey on the wing. Many different species of Robber Fly prey on various different species of insect. How and where robber flies develop is still largely unknown although they are suspected to be parasites of beetle grubs as larvae. It is amazing to know that in today’s modern world where we, as humans, think we know it all we still haven’t figured out the basic life cycle of animals in our own backyards!
True bees have four wings for flight. Flies only have two, this is where the scientific name for the taxonomic order of flies, Diptera, comes from. It literally means “two wings”. But this name is not entirely true. Flies still have the second set of wing but in vestigial form. If you closely at the picture above you can spot the vestigial wing just underneath the flight wing (look for the little yellow spot). This vestigial wing is the aeronautical instruments of the fly. It is this wing, and all those little hairs that prevent you from ever getting that troublesome housefly. It also allows flies to make sudden changes in direction.
Evolution is an amazing process, it’s happening in your own backyard. All you need to do is look.
Up Next: Froglets