Bugs are Amazing!

Well, it’s officially summer here in Texas and Houston is literally buzzing with insect activity! I don’t know about you, but I have about 18 mosquito bites and I’m sure there will be many more to come. Bugs are everywhere now and this is the best time of year for them.

People always ask me why I’m so interested in bugs and why would I want to work with them for a living. Most people are so concerned with how gross or weird they are to see how amazing they can be. The more I get to know them, the more I want to know – they just blow me away! Hopefully you will feel the same. I wanted to share some amazing insect facts with ya’ll so maybe while you’re out and about this summer, you’ll think a little differently about our little friends!

First thing’s first, Arthropods are the phylum that insects belong to and includes all of their close relatives like arachnids, crustaceans, and myriapods. There are an estimated 1,170,000 known species on earth. Those are only the ones we know about; there are probably millions more waiting to be discovered!

Of these, about 1,000,000 species are insects, which account for more than half of all known living species on earth…that’s amazing! Scientists believe that there are up to 9,000,000 more species that have yet to be discovered, OMG.

So lets compare that with some other animals shall we? There are 5400 species of mammals, 10,000 species of birds, 8200 species of reptiles, and somewhere around 6000 species of amphibians.

3 - Hi YA YA!
Creative Commons License photo credit: robstephaustralia

The largest order of insects are the beetles with 350,000 species making them the most abundant animal on earth. In fact, 1 in every 4 animals is a beetle! Coming in second are butterflies and moths, with 170,000 species. The largest insect (heaviest) is a beetle called the Goliath Beetle. They can weigh 4 ounces, which is as much as a quarter pound burger (meat only.) The longest is a walking stick from Southeast Asia measuring 22 inches.

Think insects all have short lifespans? Think again. Cicadas can live 17 years underground before becoming adults, ant and bee queens can live for decades and one type of wood boring beetle emerged as an adult after being in a bookcase for 40 years, yikes!

The loudest insect is an African cicada. We are used to hearing cicadas during the hot summer days. I heard cicadas in Costa Rica that were so loud I thought they were birds at first! The African cicada can produce sounds that have been recorded at 106.7 decibels. In comparison, a jackhammer produces about 100 decibels.

grasshopper chomping on my leg hair
Creative Commons License photo credit: slopjop

Most people know that Monarch butterflies migrate pretty far, but did you know that locusts travel much further? They have them beat by a couple thousand miles. They have been known to travel nearly 3000 miles one way! One species even flew from Africa, across the Atlantic ocean to South America; now that’s amazing! They also win in terms of the largest swarms. The largest swarm was recorded in Africa in 1954. It was so huge it covered an area of 77 square miles. That’s kind of scary.

Insects are pretty amazing fliers. They were the first animals to take to the air, about 200 million years before the first birds. Dragonflies are up there, having been clocked at 36 miles per hour, but the horsefly can reach speeds of more than 90 miles per hour! A hummingbird can beat its wings about 60-80 times per second,  pretty impressive. A tiny fly called a midge can beat its wings up to 1000 times per SECOND, that’s unbelievable.

When it comes to foot racing, we do have a super star, right here in Houston. The American cockroach(big one with wings) can reach speeds of 3.4 miles per hour. Now that doesn’t sound fast, but in human terms, it would be like one of us running 400 miles per hour. The Australian tiger beetle is the fastest clocking in at 5.6 mph, which is the equivalent of 720 mph for a human.

European rhino beetle taking a walk on a concrete mixer
Creative Commons License photo credit: e³°°°

All insects are of course very strong, being able to carry or move things many many times their own body weight. A well known beetle, the rhino beetle can carry up to 850 times its own weight. That would be like an average guy, maybe 175 pounds, being able to lift 150,000 pounds. Good luck with that!

So see, insects are pretty darn incredible. It may even make you feel better to know that out of the million species of insects that exist on earth, less than 1 percent are considered to be pests or harmful to humans. The vast majority live in tropical regions like Asia, Africa, and South America, with the highest concentration in rainforests. I could go on and on about the feats of insects, but I’ll save some  for another time. Until then, I hope you all can learn to appreciate the most incredible, beautiful, and diverse life forms on our planet. Happy bug watching!

Eeeeeeeeeeewww, Roaches!!!!

In my line of work, I’ve come to know insects pretty well. I recognize the importance of each and every kind of insect and I love to teach the public about them. Insects help us infinitely more than they could ever harm us! The one poor soul that gets the most grief is a wonderful little organism known simply as the cockroach. Men squirm, women scream, and even some children turn up their nose at the mere thought of a cockroach! I spend a lot of my time here campaigning for these little guys and I’m here to clear up some misconceptions, and hopefully change some perceptions about these awesome insects!

Visitors of the Prayerful Sort
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Clearly Ambiguous

Let’s start with the basics; cockroaches are insects with 6 legs, 3 body parts, 1 pair of antennae, and sometimes, 2 pairs of wings. They belong to the order Blattodea. These insects are most closely related to termites and praying mantids which have been known as “specialized cockroaches.”

Did you know that there are about 4000 different species of cockroach worldwide? We’re used to seeing the brown ones, but they can be green, white, or even dark blue. Some can even have elaborate patterns with colors like red and orange. They live in almost every climate; however, they are mostly concentrated in tropical climates. Most roaches live in forests, making homes of trees, rotten logs and leaf litter. They spend their lives as scavengers and decomposers. They rid the world of decaying organic matter and replace it with nutrients that feed the soil and plants. They are one of our most important decomposers, and our existence depends on them! Sometimes, however, they can get a little too close to home.

Bush Cockroach
Creative Commons License photo credit:
Cyron a beautiful bush cockroach!

Out of the 4,000 different species of cockroach, about 4 or 5 have decided to invade our homes from time to time. Can you blame them? Natural habitat is declining faster than ever and we offer them great accomodations, complete with a free all-you-can-eat buffet! That huge, gigantic thing scurrying accross your floor is called the American Cockroach – and it’s probably the biggest bug in Texas. It’s commonly referred to as a water bug, palmetto bug, or tree roach, but the only scientifically correct name it has is Periplaneta americana.  They prefer to hang out in dark, warm, moist environments and that’s why you will usually only see them at night while they forage for food.

If you keep your house clean, well organized, and in good repair, you may see one of these roaches in your house from time to time. Do not panic, it probably wandered in from outside and it’s very unlikely that you have a heavy infestation. Now, if you keep your house dirty, cluttered, and falling apart, well, you are welcoming every roach in a mile radius.

Another familiar species of cockroach is the German Cockroach Blatella germanica. These roaches are very small, light brown, and have 2 longitudinal stripes just below the head. Unlike the American cockroach, German cockroaches are highly adapted to living only in human dwellings, completely dependent on the filth humans leave behind. So, if you see one of these roaches in your house, it is very possible that you do have a very serious infestation. Here are some common myths about roaches and the real truth behind them.

Roaches are dirty.

False! Roaches are obsessive compulsive about cleanliness! They spend most of their time resting, and the rest of their time cleaning themselves, much like a cat. Roaches are actually some of the cleanest animals around.

Roaches spread disease

Trufalse. This is a little less clear cut. Roaches themselves do not have diseases, but can transmit germs with their hairy legs and sticky feet. For example, if you leave residue from raw meat on your counter, it is possible a cockroach may walk through it and track it around, but if your counter is clean and disinfected, that roach will stay clean! There have actually been studies where a cockroach and a human finger touched the same dirty kitchen floor. They were each swabbed and the swab was smeared into a petri dish to be cultured. at the end of the study, the human finger produced several times the amount of bacteria the cockroach did.

Roaches can hurt you

False! Roaches are equipped with no more than a set of jaws for chewing. They are capable of biting, which would not hurt at all – but that’s really not their style; they’re more into running away. They have no stinging appendages or anything like that. They are harmless.

Roaches can live for two weeks with no head.

Ok, this one is actually true. The reason for this is that a roach has several brains throughout its body, not just one in its head. They are really just ganglia or bunches of nerve cells. The one in the cockroach’s head only controls its antennae and mouthparts. Remove the head, and it will still be able to control its legs which are equipped with millions of sensory receptors, allowing it to find its way quite well. Eventually, though, the insect will be overcome by dehydration and die.

I saw an albino cockroach!

False! It’s likely that the cockroach you saw is one that has just shed its skin. A freshly molted cockroach is white with black eyes, and very soft and vulnerable. After a few hours, its new skin will start to harden and grow darker, until it is the original color.

Cockroaches can give my child asthma

True. Unfortunately, a heavy infestation of cockroaches can cause asthma in allergen-sensitive individuals, especially children. If you have hundreds of cockroaches in your walls, the feces will build up and become airborne. This is all the more reason to keep your house clean!

Well, there you have it folks, the skinny on cockroaches. I hope that some of you may look at cockroaches in a new light and next time you see one – give it break! It’s not their fault they have a bad rap. If you still feel nauseous thinking of them, just make sure your house is sparkling clean. If we clean up after ourselves, the roaches don’t have to do it for us. Skip the poison, it’s bad for the environment and kills all of those wonderful bugs everyone loves to see. Until next time, happy bug watching!