Friday, December 11, 2015

Mantis Fly - A perfect mimic for Preying Mantis

I was having my photography walk at Karnala Bird Sanctuary in monsoon. Though the season was very good for macro life, somehow on that particular day the insect activity was very low. No butterflies and other insects were visible. I spotted few spiders with egg sacks. So i was busy with shooting of the spider moms and their tiny spiderlings. Suddenly i saw some movement around me... a small wasp settled on a dry twig few meters away. It was very tiny hardly 5-8 mm in size. This is very tiny Mantis Fly female from family Mantispidae (of course i came to know this afterwards as i was not seen such creature in last so many years). The female Mantis Fly landed on the small twig and stared laying eggs by circling. Soon the entire twig was covered with tiny white eggs. This entire process took more than 30 minutes. 

The mantis fly is actually a remarkable creature. From a distance, it looks almost exactly like a wasp. As you look closer, though, you'll notice it has claws like a praying mantis. Despite its fearsome appearance, mantis flies don't sting and are pretty much harmless to humans. They get their name from their mantis-like appearance, as their spiny "raptorial" (raptor-like) front legs are modified to catch small insect prey and are very similar to the front legs of mantis. The Mantispoidea are a superfamily of lacewing insects in the suborder Hemerobiiformia. Mantispidae, known commonly as mantis flies, mantispids, mantis lacewings or mantis-flies, is a family of small to moderate-sized insects in the order Neuroptera. There are many genera with around 400 species worldwide. Mantis fly larvae are predatory especially on spider eggs so they generally ride on female spiders. There are not common because they are nocturnal but more active hunters than true preying mantis.   

The subgroups of mantis fly have different specialized larvae. One subgroup has larvae that are parasite on bees, wasps. Another group's larvae are predators of small Arthropods. Third group have larvae parasitic on spider eggs. These larvae have well developed legs like the larvae of beetle so they can search out spider egg sacs or female spiders. They ride on female spiders and are even transferred from one spider to another during mating or cannibalism.  These larvae enter the egg sacs as the female spins them.. That means these larvae remain on spider like lice on our head. 

Location : Karnala Bird Sanctuary, on 23.08.2015 9.56 am
Nikon D7100, Tamron 90 mm VC macro with Nikon R1C1 flash

Yuwaraj Gurjar

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Baby Bugs : Just emerged from the eggs.

Animals have two ways to make sure that they leave offspring in the world, so that their genes survive. One is to have few children and care for each one intensely. The other is to have huge numbers of offspring, so that even though many die enough survives. That is what insects do. Most of those eggs, or the larvae they give birth to, will die in one way or another, so there have to be many of them.

In most insects, life begins as an independent egg. This type is reproduction is known as ovipary. Each egg is manufactured within the female's genital system and is eventually released from her body through an ovipositor, a tube-like, saw-like, or blade-like component of her external genitalia. The egg-laying process is known as oviposition. Each insect species produces eggs that are genetically unique and often physically distinctive as well - spherical, oval, conical, sausage-shaped, barrel-shaped, or torpedo-shaped. Yet regardless of size or shape, each egg is composed of only a single living cell.

In most insects the egg is covered by a protective "shell" of protein secreted before oviposition by accessory glands in the female's reproductive system. This eggshell, called the chorion, is often sculptured with microscopic grooves or ridges that may be visible only under the high magnification of an electron microscope. The chorion is perforated by microscopic pores that allow respiratory exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide with relatively little loss of water. The micropyle, a special opening near the anterior end of the chorion, serves as a gateway for entry of sperm during fertilization.

A female receives sperm from her male partner during the act of mating. She can store that sperm for long periods of time in a special part of her reproductive system, the spermatheca. As a developing egg moves past the opening to the spermatheca, a few sperm are released onto its surface. The sperm swim toward the micropyle - the first one to reach its destination enters and injects its nucleus into the egg. The sperm nucleus quickly fuses with the egg nucleus to form a one-celled embryo. This event is known as fertilization. After the egg is fertilized, it undergoes a period of rapid growth and development known as embryogenesis, literally the "embryo's beginning".

Many insects pass the winter in the egg stage. Insect eggs are ideally suited for withstanding the hardships of winter. The eggs have shells that are thick and watertight. In many cases the eggs are covered with hairs, silk, or frothy materials produced by the female before she died. These provide an extra degree of protection by insulating the eggs. Most butterfly or moth caterpillars eat their eggshell just after the hatching as they get maximum proteins out of eggshell. But these “Baby Bugs” just crawling here without eating the eggshell.

Yuwaraj Gurjar.

Caterpillar : Greedy eating machines.

Butterflies and moths undergo major developmental changes during their growth. The moth lay eggs, which hatch into creeping forms with chewing mouthparts. These are called as caterpillars or larvae. Incidentally, the word caterpillar is derived from two Latin words, catta pilosa, meaning hairy cat, which is quite descriptive of some kinds. During this stage the moth feeds and grows. It is only during the larval stage, that actual growth occurs, and a caterpillar’s only aim in life is to feed and store up food.

The caterpillar eats through the top of the egg, creative a hole through which it emerges. After hatching, it often eats the eggshell as its first food and this gives it invaluable nutrients. Since this is the only growing stage in a moth’s life, it has to consume as much food and store as much energy as possible. Its jaws works like scissors very rapidly and efficiently and it finishes leaf after leaf on branch after branch. The caterpillar grows rapidly so periodically it has to molt. A moth caterpillar casts off its outer skin layers five times in its life.

Although most caterpillars feed on leaves, there are strict preferences for specific host plants. These strict preferences are dictated by the chemical composition of the plant parts that the caterpillar eats. Therefore, the caterpillar feeding on a particular plant species or set of species will not eat leaves of other species. Some caterpillars may prefer slightly mature leaves, some may refuse to eat anything other than tender ones; most prefer to tender leaves but otherwise eat whichever are available on the plants where their mothers as eggs place them.

The coloring is usually such that the larvae are well camouflaged, and can thus avoid or fool predators. Sometimes there are scary looking eye designs or bristles to frighten the enemy.

When the larva is ready to pupate, it attaches itself to a spot with silk pad and cremaster. After a period of rest, it starts wriggling and makes undulating movements from tail up, until the skin bursts near the head. The skin is then pushed upwards till it gets collected near the tail. The pupa then draws it tail out and by means of some minute hooks in the cremaster, fixes it to a surface again after casting off the old skin. The pupa hang there for some days and then the adult will emerges out of that pupa for a new flying life.

Yuwaraj Gurjar.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ceropegia Flowers – Beautiful flytraps.

The name derives from the Greek words 'keros', a wax candle and 'pegnynai', assemble or unite; for the chandelier like flower structures of some of the species. Ceropegia contains a diverse group of 160 named species distributed over a wide range including the Canary Islands, Africa, Madagascar, Arabia, India, Ceylon, China, Indonesia, Phillipines, New Guinea and Australia. About 40 species from India occur mostly in the peninsula, with the Sahyadri or northern Western Ghats alone home to 20 species of this specialised plant group, most of them endemic to the area. Ceropegias are uncommon small herbs that appear only during the monsoon months, blooming for just a couple of weeks, in very remote habitats. Since their habitats become even more inaccessible in the rains, sightings of these flowers are rare and adventure for shooting. I clicked this particular flower in Tungareshwar Sanctuary on a rock cliff around 75 feet high.

Ceropegia attenuata

 Flowers occur either singly or in clusters and have a tubular corolla 2 or more times as long as its diameter and longer than the 5 lobes. The base of the tube is usually inflated and the tube may have downwardly orientated hairs on the inside and hairs on the outside and at the edges of the lobes. Colors include reds, purples, yellows, greens and mixtures of these. The hairs until the flower wilts may trap flies entering the corolla. The tips of the lobes are fused together to form a cage-like flower structure in many species, but are open in others. The five lateral entrance windows on the lantern are decorated with frills of vibrating colored hair. The inside of the pitcher has dark colored bands, which seem to guide insects to the nectary. The purpose of evolving this complex structure of flower is to ensure pollination without loosing much pollen and nectar.

Ceropegia media

 If an insect is trapped in the pitchers and has brought in pollens from another flower, which is picked up by the sticky stigma as the insect was attracted towards the sweet nectar. Once pollination has occurred, the stalk of the flower bends and the pollinated flowers turns limp, bending over and releasing the trapped insect. Once the critical process of pollination is completed successfully, fruiting begins.

Ceropegia hirsuta - TOP view
Ceropegia media - TOP view

Ceropegia huberi - TOP view

Ceropegia jainni

Ceropegia rollea

Ceropegia vincaefolia 

Ceropegia vincaefolia - TOP view

Yuwaraj Gurjar.