A Mother’s Love | A Closer Look at Bug Moms


May 3, 2021
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As Mother’s Day approaches, we’re reminded of all of the hard-working, loving, and caring moms out there. I have three little boys of my own and I know what I’ll be doing, soaking up quality time with them and enjoying the sweet hand-written notes and beautiful pictures.

While we’re all making plans and deciding what to buy or do for mom, there are some moms out there that never get the recognition they deserve. They have set the stage for parental care among animals and some are even more dedicated than we could imagine.

Arthropods are some of the most ancient animals around today. The first ones appeared over 400 million years ago and many have changed very little over that time. We often think of these creatures as dead-beat parents. Most lay their eggs and leave the young to fend for themselves, which they typically are very capable of doing. There are some though that stand out as truly extraordinary mothers.

Cockroaches

These poor creatures are among the most hated of all insects. However, not only are they crucial to some important processes, such as decomposition, they are even more diverse and fascinating than most people give them credit for.

Multiple species of cockroaches are known to feed their young with some kind of secretion, (ever heard of cockroach milk?), from their bodies that provides them with nourishment or beneficial gut bacteria needed for proper digestion. One species of cockroach, the wood-burrowing roach (Cryptocercus spp.), spends up to 3 years living with, feeding, and protecting their young, until these “teenage” roaches are ready to head out on their own.

Another group, the Perisphaeriinae, are much like roly polies. The females are able to curl their bodies into an impenetrable ball and when threatened, will do so with all of their young nymphs tucked safely inside.

Centipedes

Centipedes are the stuff of nightmares for some people. Tons of legs, fast-moving, with venom-delivering fangs. They have no interest in coming after you, it’s prey that they’re after.

You could not meet a more tender and gentle mother. They remind me of a crocodile mom with the razor-sharp teeth and a deadly bite force, yet she carefully scoops her babies into her mouth to protect them. The mother centipede’s sharp strong legs typically trap and grab prey, but they also curl around her eggs. She constantly licks them to prevent mold growth inside her humid burrow. When the babies hatch, she still cradles and protects them, until they are ready to hunt and fend for themselves.

In the ultimate act of motherly sacrifice, some centipede moms offer themselves as the first feast for their young, ensuring they will have enough foods to give them the best possible start to life. That’s dedication!

Burying Beetles

Burying beetles are model parents of the insect world and they go to great lengths to ensure the success of their offspring, from the very beginning.

These important decomposers feed on the bodies of small deceased vertebrates like birds and rodents. They start by burying the body, so no other insects can get to it.  Just as excited new human parents design and decorate their nursery, the beetle parents strip the carcass of all hair and feathers and use it to provision the nest. They then cover the carcass with secretions that will prevent decay and keep the meat fresh for their babies. Once their babies hatch, they may cull some so there aren’t too many for the size of the carcass. This ensures that each one is able to have enough food to grow to its fullest potential.

The larvae are able to feed themselves, but the parents also chew and regurgitate food for them. The mothers are the real heavy lifters here, as studies have shown that they engage in more fights with intruders and are better able to defend their brood than the males. Girl Power!

There you have it – some amazing mothers to salute, as they ensure that the next generation of predators and decomposers that keep our environment balanced and healthy are brought into this world.

Are you still looking for that perfectly unique gift for your mom? Stop by HMNS at Sugar Land for some great ideas, including some beautiful plants for her garden. We sell milkweed which will help the monarch butterfly moms feed their babies.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Erin M
Authored By Erin M Mills

Erin Mills received her undergraduate degree in Entomology from Texas A&M University in 2004, and after a short tour of the pest control industry, joined HMNS as the Cockrell Butterfly Center's Insect Zoo Manager in 2005. Over the years she expanded the butterfly center's live arthropod collection, developed the ever popular "Bugs on Wheels" outreach program, and continued to establish her role as HMNS's insect expert. In October of 2016, she achieved her long time goal of becoming the Director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center and in January of 2021, she joined the team at HMNS Sugar Land as the Director of Nature Programming. Erin leads hikes in Brazos Bend State Park and provides fun, hands-on nature-based experiences at HMNS Sugar Land. As a Board Certified Entomologist, Erin has extensive knowledge of insect identification, ecology, plant relationships, husbandry, really any insect-related topic!

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