How to Identify Insects Just By Looking at Their Mouths

iStock
iStock

Most of us learned how to tell arachnids and insects apart in elementary school, but classifying insects into their different orders based on looks alone is a little trickier. If you want to look at insects like an entomologist does, though, there’s one body part in particular you should focus on. According to a TED-Ed lesson by Anika Hazra, identifying the type of mouth an insect has can tell you a lot about what group it belongs to, what it eats, and how it evolved.

There are five main types of mouthparts insects can have, the most common of which is the chewing mouthpart. These mouths are characterized by large, serrated mandibles made for grinding up plants and prey. Believed to be the most primitive type of insect mouth still around today, you can see the chewing mouthpart on insects like ants and grasshoppers.

Other insect mouthparts include the pierce-sucking type, which is used by bedbugs and mosquitos to suck blood; the siphoning mouthpart, the curly, straw-like mouths that butterflies have; the sponging mouthpart, which helps flies sop up fluids; and the chewing-lapping mouthpart, which enables bees to build their hives as well as eat.

It’s important for scientists studying bugs to be able to recognize the diverse mouths of insects. It’s also a useful skill if you’re just a casual bug enthusiast. For illustrations of all the different mouthparts, check out the video from TED-Ed below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

Why Do Ants Die After the Queen Dies?

iStock
iStock

Eduardo Fox:

A fundamental fact about social Hymenoptera (wasps, ants) that most people, including entomologists, are unaware of: They cannot live without their larvae.

Next time you see an ant’s nest, a bee hive, or a hornet’s nest, remember: That structure is essentially a neonatal ICU!

Why? Look at an ant’s body below:


Clker.com via Quora

Did you notice the waist? I tell you: The individual’s stomach is located after the thin waist. That means an ant cannot eat solids.

Now, take a look at an ant’s larva (a & b, below):


Notice the waist? There’s none. It means larvae eat solid food!

So, this is what happens: Ants are working hard together in that nest mainly to bring up hundreds of babies. They come out to get food and bring it back to the nest, then they chew it up and place it on their larvae. Larvae will swallow and digest the food for them. Especially protein. Larvae secrete nutrient-rich liquids back to the ants, which is their main source of amino acids and fatty acids.

Who lays eggs to produce larvae? Queens.*

What happens when queens die? No eggs, hence no larvae.

What happens when there are no larvae? Bad nutrition, ultimately no reason for the nest. Ants gradually get disorganized, and after a few weeks they die.

Wasps and more "primitive" ants can more easily produce a new queen who will be the next mated female in the hierarchy. However, if none of them is fertile enough and mated, the nest won’t last long. Bees work differently.

* Important technical notice: Queens normally live longer than workers. Nowhere in this answer did I mean to imply that larvae can somehow enable workers to live as long as queens!

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Watch a Gulper Eel Inflate Like a Terrifying Balloon

OET, NautilusLive.org
OET, NautilusLive.org

Since launching in 2008, the Ocean Exploration Trust's Nautilus research vessel has live-streamed a purple orb, a transparent squid, and a stubby octopus from the bottom of the ocean. The latest bizarre example of marine life captured by the vessel is a rare gulper eel that acts like a cross between a python and a pufferfish.

As Thrillist reports, this footage was shot by a Nautilus rover roaming the Pacific Ocean's Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument 4700 feet below the surface. In it, a limbless, slithery, black creature that looks like it swallowed a beach ball can be seen hovering above the sea floor. After about a minute, the eel deflates its throat, swims around for a bit, and unhinges its jaw to reveal a gaping mouth.

The reaction of the scientists onboard the ship is just as entertaining as the show the animal puts on. At first they're not sure what they're looking at ("It looks like a Muppet," someone says), and after being blown away by its shape-shifting skills, they conclude that it's a gulper eel. Gulper eels are named for their impressive jaw span, which allows them to swallow prey much larger than themselves and puff up to intimidate predators. Because they like to lurk at least 1500 feet beneath the ocean's surface, they're rarely documented.

You can watch the inflated eel and hear the researchers' response to it in the video below.

[h/t Thrillist]

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