The Truth is in the Tooth

When you take a bite into a juicy hamburger or dive into a pile of asparagus, do you ever wonder how you’re able to eat the way you do? Humans, by nature, are omnivores; this means that we eat fruits, veggies, and various meats. If you NEVER saw a person eat, though, you could still tell what his diet was! The truth is in the tooth, my friend.

something will jump in my mouth, if i just wait long enough
Creative Commons License photo credit: PhyrePh0X

Canine teeth (you could call them your vampire teeth) are found in carnivores, or animals that eat meat.  For instance, you wouldn’t find any blunted teeth in the mouth of a Velociraptor! Molars, on the other hand, are used by herbivores (animals that eat plants) for grinding hard to digest foods. Try looking into the mouth of camel sometime and see what you find – watch out though, they spit.

Diphyodont animals, like mammals, have two sets of teeth in their lifetime.
Polyphyodont animals like sharks have teeth that are constantly being lost and replaced; they grow a new set every few weeks. Can you imagine losing every tooth in your mouth twice a month? Sounds pretty terrible, but at least you’d collect a lot of quarters under your pillow! Incidentally, the Shark Tooth Fairy is also the Queen of England.

Elephant Tongue
Creative Commons License photo credit: greggoconnell

Another useful tool for eating is the ever-important tongue. Some tongues are attached and cannot be stuck out, like the elephant (no raspberries there,) and some are used for more than just eating. Cats’ tongues are rough to aid in grooming, for instance. A frog’s tongue is sticky to trap their food and bring it to their mouths. Did you know a frog uses its eyes to swallow? If they used their tongues, they’d choke.

If you find yourself without the opportunity to observe the mouths and eating habits of wild and extinct animals, come on down to the Museum! It’s the only place in town where you can see a poison dart frog in action and view a T. rex locked in battle with a duck-billed dinosaur.

Walk like a bird: a dino-track puzzle

anomoepusHere’s a map of dino tracks, made by an Anomoepus. It was an Early Jurassic omnivore (ate plants and animals) but it had feet like those of early meat-eaters’.

Run your finger around the tracks. Most of the time the Anomoepus was walking on its toes with the ankle way off the ground, the way a bird walks. Sometimes it was walking slowly, so the tracks are close together. But it sped up in a few places – can you see where?

There’s one place where the dino sat down to rest. You can see the imprint of the big tendon that was on the back of the shin and ankle (called the “Achilles tendon”). And you can see the hand-prints also. The Anomoepus hand was a very primitive dino hand, with five fingers.

Can you see where the critter squatted down on all fours?

Tracks like these prove that dinos walked like birds and hardly ever jumped like a kangaroo.

Photo From You: Insect Identification

 A Mole Cricket
photo provided by Rachel Drew

Hello again, dear readers and bug lovers! I was very pleased to discover this week that we recieved a photo all the way from Virginia Beach, Virginia. This one can be a real head-scratcher for those of you who have never seen one before, which is probably most of you!

I first happened upon this insect in college while collecting insects in a huge parking lot at night. I saw some sort of large insect jumping and flying for several feet at a time. When I finally caught up to it, I was honestly taken aback by what I saw. It was a mole cricket; an insect that spends nearly its entire life underground, only coming to the surface to forage at night. So, Rachel Drew from Virginia Beach – that is what you found on your livingroom floor! Now, let me tell you a little bit about these odd – looking creatures.

Mole crickets make up the family of orthopterans (grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets) called Gryllotalpidae. These crickets are made for digging, and if you look at them closely, their head, thorax, and front legs really do make them look just like a mole! The rest of their body looks more like a normal cricket. Their front legs are equipped with little claws which help them dig and construct their tunnels. These claws are called dactyls and their number and arrangement help scientists differentiate between certain species.

Most species have well developed wings which can carry them for about 5 miles during their mating season. They are also very good swimmers. Mole crickets are omnivores, and they will will feast on worms, insect larvae, and roots underground as well as grasses at the surface. I’m not sure which species is pictured here, but more than likely the Southern mole cricket or the tawny mole cricket. It looks as if it may be immature due to the lack of well developed wings. These two species are most common in the southern part of the country. Unfortunately, they are both introduced species and can be considered pests in some areas. These little guys are harmless, however, and for those who are lucky enough to spot one, a really great photo opportunity!

Well, thank you so much for sending in the great photo Rachel, and for reading about us in Virginia! This insect will always hold a special place in my heart as one of the weirdest looking things I’ve seen! As always, Happy bug watching!

Want to learn more about insects? Keep reading.
Check out an insect that spends the summer singing.
Costa Rica: bug geek paradise.
Mantis maaaaadness!