Yesterday we had a photo of newly hatched baby spiders. Continuing on this theme, reader Mark Sturtevant sent some lovely photos on the theme of small arthropods. His notes are indented; check out the possible case of mimicry in the last photo.
This batch of pictures has a theme, which is an exploration of adorableness in baby arthropods.
In this first picture we have a very pregnant jumping spider (Metacyrba undata), which came to live with me for a time. She eventually produced an egg sac, and stayed within it for about two weeks. I knew that the eggs had hatched when she emerged. I let her go and tore open the egg sac to see the baby spiders inside.
The next picture shows what I saw: dozens of baby Salticids. They were pretty cute, but also a little odd, with nearly blank faces and they showed no interest in walking even when prodded. I expect they were still living off of their yolk, and their nervous systems were not yet wired up to let them be the hyper-active spiders that characterize their family. I deposited them outside in a safe space. I now regret doing that, since I should have kept them longer to see them become more active. It would be fun to take pictures of cute little jumpers as they run around all over the kitchen table. I will do that next time.
Next is a teeny little bush katydid (Scudderia). Isn’t it adorable? This is more like it.
The next picture is of a baby grasshopper, most likely the differential grasshopper (Melanoplus differentialis). Obviously the juvenile orthopterans reliably have what we consider to be cute: big heads and oversized feet.
Rounding off the orthopterans is a young Roesel’s katydid (Metrioptera roeselii). This is one of the ‘shield-backed katydids’, so-named by the prominent pronotum: the saddle-shaped plate on the back.
Although most of my photography is done out in the field, the pictures of the above baby orthopterans were staged, done with captives that were confined to a box. Orthopterans jump, you see, and I do need to take a lot of pictures of each one. But captive ‘hoppers are still hard to control. Photographing baby orthopterans went like this: take a picture. Where did it go? Look around. Put it back into place. Take a picture. Where did it go? Look around. How did it get on the floor?? Put it back into place….
The last two pictures are of young leaf-footed bugs (Acanthocephala terminalis). Leaf-footed nymphs may not be classically cute, but I like them because they are goofy looking. These insects change their colors as they grow. The first instars are bright red (see this example), and that is a warning color because the species uses chemical protection. As they grow they next turn black, and that is what we see here. I am curious about the strategy behind this shiny black stage with iridescent blue markings on the abdomen. Is it trying to mimic something that predators do not want to eat? I don’t know, but I often see them confidently walking around on leaves in the forest.
The pair shown in the last picture (and there is a 3rd bug barely visible out of frame) are older nymphs with more contrasting light and dark colors. So what’s with this color pattern? Again, I am not sure; but on a couple occasions I have seen nymphs at these stages do what these characters are doing, namely standing on leaves that were spattered by bird droppings. Mimicking bird droppings is a widespread form of camouflage in the insect world, and I wonder if older Acanthocephala nymphs also to do that, seeking at times to sell their identity as bird poo by hanging out on the real thing. In any case this pair was cracking me up because while they were sharing their tiny stage, they would frequently engage in bouts of repeatedly kicking each other with their oversized hind legs. They reminded me of two kids in the back seat during a long car trip.