Tales from Tanzania: That’s no mint on your pillow

Some hotels leave mints on pillows. But in the African Serengeti, you get assassin bugs.

Assassin bug on a pillow

Not a mint.

Dave and I had been actively searching for invertebrates on our trip to no avail. The guides thought we were weird (crazy) from all of our questions about insects (as well as snakes and lizards). No one goes to Tanzania for the little things — they’re only interested in the big stuff.

So imagine our delight when we came “home” one night and discovered this AWESOME assassin bug on our pillows.

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David, with our non-mint, and our pillow.

Assassin bugs are awesome because they have specially adapted mouths, perfect for sucking “the goodie” out of other insects. They pierce through the exoskeleton of their prey and inject saliva into the body. The saliva liquefies the innards of the prey, which can then be sucked right out (like a smoothie!).

An assassin bug with its prey.

Not only are assassin bugs insect-smoothie-enthusiasts, but they’re great at defending themselves. They can spit their saliva into the eyes of those things that might try to eat it (birds) or accidentally disturb it (humans), causing temporary blindness.

Now tell me that’s not awesome.

The life cycle of an assassin bug

DISCLAIMER: We may have totally lied to everyone on the trip — and by, “We may have lied,” I mean, “We totally lied.” Knowing what the assassin bug can do, we decided to tell our fellow travelers that we found it outside our room rather than on the pillow. Why cause a panic? (But don’t tell the others.)

Kwa heri!

Behind-the-Scenes: Insect Photo Safari

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
The forrest floor, kind of!

I realize that sometimes I tend to be long-winded, especially when it comes to my favorite subject: bugs! I could go on all day about behavior, life cycles, morphology, etc… but most of the time, there are no words to describe the things that we get to see here! I’ve decided, for this blog, to give my keyboard a break and show you guys some of my favorite photos from behind the scenes. So, for those of you that are more visually stimulated, here is a small glimpse of some of the beautiful, colorful, expressive, and amazing faces that we get to see everyday, enjoy!

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     Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
Sitting pretty on a roll of tape

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A captive audience
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yes??
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face-to-face with fangs
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acrobatic grasshopper
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 So fuzzy and cute
like a teddy bear, with a stinger!

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containment room stand-off
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making an egg case
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You’re not supposed to see me!

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My favorite!

Well, there you have it! I would love to hear back about which picture is your favorite! If you’ve enjoyed looking at these photos, you should check out the HMNS Flickr page! We would love for you to add your own memories from the halls or exhibits of HMNS. Just go to http://flickr.com/groups/hmns/, join the group, and start adding your photos to the pool – we pick one a month to feature here, as well.

Also, should you ever find an unknown insect take a photo of it and send it to us at blogadmin@hmns.org to have it possibly featured here on the blog.

Want to learn more about insects?
Watch a Giant Asian Mantis eat a cricket.
Learn how to keep a Katydid.
Do you know the differences between centipedes and millipedes?

PHOTO From You: Insect Identification

Hello again insect enthusiasts! Well, we’ve already received another photo from one of our wonderful readers! This week’s photo comes to us from Ben Bailey in College Station. This photo was taken at the Texas A&M horticultural gardens, my alma mater, and a great place observe the variety of bug life Texas has to offer!

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Venusta Orchard Spider (Leucauge venusta)
Photo provided by: Ben Bailey 

Spiders certainly are not insects, but they are arthropods, which share several characteristics with insects such as: segmented bodies, jointed appendages, and a hard exoskeleton. Spiders belong to the class Arachnida, along with scorpions, ticks, mites, and some other weird looking things! Arachnids all have 8 legs, 2 main body segments, and a pair of jaw-like, fang-bearing appendages. All arachnids are predators which feed on a wide variety of small prey including insects and most are harmless to humans. This means that they can actually be helpful in your home or garden!

This striking photograph is of one of my favorite spiders, the Venusta Orchard Spider (Leucauge venusta). In Latin, venusta means beautiful, and as you can see, this is a gorgeous spider. The Venusta Orchard Spider is a small orb weaver that likes to hang out in light, open areas near shrubs and trees. They construct a horizontal web about 1 foot wide. They cling below the web, or a nearby twig and wait for an unsuspecting insect to become entangled. These spiders, like most, are very shy and harmless to humans! Consider it a beautiful, natural little ornament for your garden.

Thank you so much Ben, for sending in the great picture, and reading our blog! Keep ‘em coming folks!

Science Doesn’t Sleep (4.28.08)

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Creative Commons License photo credit: CharlesLam

So here’s what went down since you logged off.

iFest is over for this year - did you make it out? What did you think? Did the life-size rock-hewn church live up to the hype? The Chronicle has coverage of the festival’s last day.

Did you hear? Lucy is staying in Houston a little while longer.

I said, I’M AWESOME!!! But, self-esteem this high isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Operator, put me through to the rainforest. I hear insects are using plants like telephones.

Well, it does speak in code…And it turns out, my computer might be spying on me.

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over CERN’s Large Hadron Collider – like, whether it will create a black hole that will swallow the Earth. The Bad Astronomer did a great post debunking this theory, and he’s just posted a video tour of the Collider that shows just how big it really is.