Sunday, April 22, 2007

Insects of Iraq

Camel Spider

At the top of the list is the infamous Camel Spider. These beasties can be found all over this country. There are also variations of this species in the Southwestern United States. How big do they get? As big as they want!

The order Solifugae is a group of arachnids, containing around 900 species. The name derives from Latin, and means those that flee from the sun. The order is also known by the names Solpugida. Their common names include camel spider, wind scorpion, sun spider and matevenados ("deer-killer" - a Mexican nickname).

Solifugae are not true spiders (which are from a different order, Araneae). Like scorpions and harvestmen, they belong to a distinct arachnid order.

Most Solifugae live in tropical or semitropical regions where they inhabit warm and arid habitats, but some species have been known to live in grassland or forest habitats. The most distinctive feature of Solifugae is their large chelicerae. Each of the two chelicerae is composed of two articles forming a powerful pincer; each article bears a variable number of teeth. Solifugae also have long pedipalps, which function as sense organs similar to insects' antennae and give the appearance of the two extra legs.

Solifugae are carnivorous or omnivorous, with most species feeding on termites, darkling beetles, and other small arthropods; however, solifugae have been videotaped consuming larger prey such as lizards. Prey is located with the pedipalps and killed and cut into pieces by the chelicerae. The prey is then liquefied and the liquid ingested through the pharynx.

As indicated by their name, Solifugae are mostly nocturnal, and seek shade during the day. It was this behavior which led coalition soldiers in the 2003 invasion of Iraq to think these arachnids were attacking them. In reality, they were merely moving toward the newly available shade provided by the soldiers' presence. The absence of shade sends them away.

Desert Mantis

I haven't personally run into any of these but I got the picture from a soldier that has them all over his hooch. He says they help keep the roaches away. Makes sense to me.

A desert mantid of the Eremiaphila species these small carnivore insects blend into the sand, and can dash an incredible speed. These insects are the most abundant, coming in all colors, sizes and flavors. The most abundant are the large black desert ants, that densely inhabit the akacia groves of Karkur Talh and the Gilf valleys, and incredulously butterflies, that seem to appear at any spot with the slightest green vegetation. In Wadi Hamra we did find a large spider that tried to make home in one of our cardboard boxes left out for the night, and encountered a fine example of the same species in Karkur Ibrahim.

Oriental Hornet

The bottom photo of this species was assassinated by one of our soldiers. It measured 1 3/4 inches long by 3/4 inches wide. No casualties reported so far from these nasty looking things.

The Oriental Hornet (Vespa orientalis) is a type of tropical species with both tropical and temperate distributions (such as the Asian giant hornet Vespa mandarinia), it is conceivable that the life cycle depends on latitude.

The genus Vespa comprises about 20 species, most of which are native to tropical Asia, but there is a species found across temperate Eurasia from Britain to Japan (V. crabro), and another (V. orientalis) that extends via southern and central Asia to the Arabian peninsula, up to northern and eastern Africa and the Mediterranean basin (including southern Italy and Sicily).

The European hornet V. crabro has been accidentally introduced to North America and is present in many eastern regions. In Vespa crabro, the nest is founded in spring by a fertilized female, known as the queen. She generally selects sheltered places like hollow tree trunks. She builds a first series of cells (up to 50) out of chewed tree bark. The cells are arranged in horizontal layers named combs, each cell being vertical and closed at the top. An egg is then laid in each cell. After 5-8 days it hatches, and in the next two weeks the larva undergoes its five stages. During this time the queen feeds it a protein-rich diet of insects. Then the larva spins a silk cap over the cell's opening, and during the next two weeks transforms into an adult, a process called metamorphosis. Then the adult eats her way through the silk cap. This first generation of workers, invariably females, will now gradually undertake all the tasks that were formerly carried out by the queen (foraging, nest building, taking care of the brood, etc) with one exception: egg-laying, which remains done exclusively by the queen.

Desert Ant

Like anywhere in the world, we have ants. They are very well adapted for living in the desert. The whole ant navigation thing actually works off of scents left by scouts. We test the theory by leading a trail into someone's hooch (they earned the practical joke).

Desert ants have an internal system -like a pedometer - that keeps track of how many steps they take, according to a new study. The insects seem to rely on this system to find their way back to the nest after foraging. Other insects may also possess this pedometer-like system.

Some types of ant appear to use visual cues or leave scent trails to find their way home. But desert ants have a remarkable ability to retrace their steps from their nesting site even though they travel on flat terrain that is devoid of landmarks, and any odors quickly fade in the hot temperatures.

Sand Spider

Haven't seen any of these in person either.

The six-eyed sand spider (Sicarius hahnii) is a medium-sized spider of deserts and other sandy places in southern Africa. It is a member of the Sicariidae family; close relatives may be found in both Africa and in South America, and it’s near cousins, the recluses (Loxosceles) are found worldwide. Due to its flattened stance and later grade legs, it is also known as the six-eyed crab spider. Assays of its venom have led some to recognize this spider's bite as the most dangerous on record.

This spider buries itself in the sand and strikes from ambush at prey that wanders too closely. Sand particles adhere to cuticles on its abdomen, thus acting as a natural camouflage if uncovered. If disturbed, it will run a short distance and bury itself again.

There is some question as to the danger posed by this spider. It is very shy and unlikely to bite humans, and there are few (if any) recorded human envenomations by Sicarius. However, toxicology studies have demonstrated that the venom is particularly potent, with a powerful hemolytic/necrotoxic effect, causing blood vessel leakage and tissue destruction. Envenomations of laboratory animals have yielded devastating results, with many of the test subjects developing multiorgan breakdowns. Unlike the dangerous neurotoxic spiders (the widow spiders, the Australasian funnel-web spider, and the Brazilian wandering spiders), no antivenom currently exists for Sicarius, leading many authorities to suspect that a bite by this spider is likely to produce a fatality.

Fog Drinking Beetle

Learned a lot from this particular insect about collecting water. Using a poncho and a few sticks, it can be done in the same technique that the beetle uses.

Fog-drinking Beetle (Onymacris unguicalaris) Follow the southwestern coast of Africa north from Cape of Good Hope toward Namibia's gemstone-rich Skeleton Coast, and you come to the Namib Desert. Home to the world's highest sand dunes, the Namib is also a cornucopia of biomechanical marvels: a spider that rolls like a wheel; a gecko that dances on the hot sand; and the bizarre, two-leafed Welwitschia mirabilis, which looks like a wrecked airplane planted in the sand and can live more than a thousand years, The environment is a harsh one. Annual rainfall in the Namib typically measures less than an inch, and on most days the only source of moisture is the early morning fog that rolls off the chilly Atlantic, tantalizing the denizens of the parched sands.

In the salty light of one such foggy dawn, a long-legged Namib beetle (genus Stenocara) stands on a small ridge of sand. Its head faces upwind, and its stiff, bumpy outer wings are spread against the damp breeze. Minute water droplets from the fog gather on its wings; there the droplets coalesce, until they finally grow big enough to release their electrostatic grip on the wing surfaces and roll down to the beetle's mouth parts, giving the animal an early morning drink. In such an arid environment that drink is vital, for once the Sun burns off the fog, there is little the insect can soak up except blistering heat. Besides being helpful to the beetle, the water-gathering mechanism-only recently understood by investigators-might someday become the basis for large-scale, artificial schemes to gather water from.

Desert Hairy Scorpion

I got this close up picture of this fattie at the bottom while it was sneaking up on me in a hide site out in sector. The other one was in my boot and I set him free to go kill someone else. Life is good here!

Nocturnal animals, scorpions are amongst the most ancient of land-dwelling organisms. They are efficient predators of insects and other small invertebrates. Desert hairy scorpions utilize their claws to hold a potential prey item while they swing their telson up and over their backs to inject venom into the other animal.

Their venom is not known to be deadly to humans, but a sting from one of these scorpions is likely to be painful, at least for the first few minutes after the sting. The stinger itself often becomes dull after some time in captivity, but the sharpness returns after this arachnid molts. All scorpions are live-bearers, with parental care manifesting itself in the form of the mother carrying the young scorpions, or nymphs, on her back.

Food in the wild includes any invertebrate that these scorpions can overpower. We have observed on individual feeding on a wild cricket. They sometimes will also overpower and feed on small vertebrates such as baby lizards.

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