Sunday, 11 March 2012

Insect Ogres

Insect Ogres
Everyland’s Nature Club
By A. Hyatt Verrill
From Everyland magazine, May 1916. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, Mar. 2012.
While walking along same sandy country road, on a warm summer's day, look closely in the hottest, sunniest spots and you may find the home of an insect ogre. The home will look very commonplace and innocent, for to your eyes it will appear like a little funnel-shaped pit, an inch or two in diameter with smooth, steep sides and in the very centre of the bottom you will see two tiny, black points. But if you are patient and watch the little hollow carefully, you will see a very interesting thing. Presently an ant comes scurrying along, all unmindful of the hidden danger in her path, but as she reaches the edge of the pit the sand slips from beneath her feet. Bravely she struggles to regain the edge, but, as fast as she scrambles up, the sand falls from under her and gradually she slides down to the bottom. Instantly the two sharp points dart forth and seizing the ant in a vise-like grip tear her to pieces. Then for the first time you realize that the little black points belong to a living creature and that the hollow in the sand is a cleverly arranged pitfall.
The insect which builds these traps and which lies in wait for unfortunate passers-by to tumble into its jaws is known as the ant-lion. If you should dig out the ant-lion from his den you would find him a curious, fat-bodied creature with a humped back, stout flat head and with two long, curved, strong jaws. If you place him on the ground he will move backward as rapidly as forward and he will at once commence to dig another pitfall by throwing up the sand with his head and jaws, and using them exactly like a tiny shovel.
This queer chap is the young, or baby ant-lion, and when he is fully grown he spins a silken ball coated with grains of sand and within this cocoon he changes to a pupa. In a few weeks the full-grown ant-lion breaks out from the cocoon, and you would never suspect that this pretty insect was the same creature as the savage little ogre who caught the ant.
The full-grown ant-lion is a graceful, long-bodied insect with narrow lace-like wings and looks very much like a small dragon-fly or "darning-needle."
Another common insect ogre may be found upon the branches or leaves of plants, trees, and shrubs. These are tiny black and orange creatures something like the ant-lions in form and with similar curved, sharp jaws. But unlike the ant-lions they do not hide in a pitfall but run rapidly about peering into every crevice and corner. They are very greedy little beasts, always hungry, and are just as savage and bloodthirsty as their ant-lion cousins. They do not fear to attack any other insect they meet, and as they are very strong and powerful they often overpower and devour creatures many times their own size.
Their favorite prey are the plant-lice or aphids and on this account they are known as aphis-lions and as they are very useful insects they should always be encouraged. When the aphis-lions have killed their prey they hold it on the tips of their jaws and suck the blood through grooves on the under side of their jaws. Some kinds of aphis-lions make cloaks out of the empty skins of their victims and then go about, masquerading as plant-lice, veritable "wolves in sheep's clothing,"
When the little "lions" have grown to full size they roll themselves in little round silken cocoons which look like pearls and within these beautiful homes they turn to pupæ.
A short time later a tiny circular door is opened in the cocoon and a dainty and elegant little insect steps forth. This creature has a slender green body, delicate pale-green wings, long green feelers and great lustrous golden eyes. During its sleep the insect has apparently repented of its bloodthirtsy ways and never disturbs any other living creature henceforth. In this form the aphis-lion is known as the lacewing fly or Golden Eyes and its most curious habit is the way it lays its eggs. The mother lacewing fly knows that if she placed her eggs upon the surface of the leaves the first baby aphis-lion that hatched out would eat up all his brothers and sisters before they broke their tiny egg-shells. This the golden-eyed mother prevents by placing each egg upon the top of a stiff, silken stem half an inch in length. Then, when the young hatch out, they scramble down and scamper off without knowing that the rest of the family is resting, safe from their jaws, above their heads.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.