Monday 20 February 2017

Roughty-tufty Legs

Image: Aleksey Gnilenkov
Exoskeletons are pretty great; it's one of my favourite things about insects. Who can say no to your own custom-made suit of armour, precisely moulded to every contour of your body and available in a wide range of exciting colours to suit every taste?

There's just one problem: bulging muscles. Exoskeletons simply lack the flexibility to show off a rippling bicep to best effect. No matter. Some insects have found other options...

Video: Video Like
Aristobia approximator
Common Tuft-bearing Longhorn Beetle
OK, so those aren't roughty-toughty legs, but they're definitely tufty antennae. Which is close enough for something called A. approximator.

The Common Tuft-bearing Longhorn comes from Thailand and it's pretty big at some 3.5 cm (1.4) long. It's also gorgeous with that 'slowly cooling molten lava' look. And that's about all the information to be had! I'm not even sure what those tufts are for. Things like that are usually used by males to sniff out females but in this case, I don't even know if males are the only ones that have them.

Image: Gilles San Martin
Gomphocerus sibiricus
Siberian Grasshopper
Now, this is roughty-toughty! Look at the biceps on that!

Those aren't biceps are they?

Look at the... wrist blobs on that.

Siberian Grasshoppers like to keep things chill. They can indeed be found in Siberia, but they can also be found everywhere from Spain to parts of China. But they don't live in the hot parts of Spain or France or anywhere else. They live more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) up in the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Carpathians and other mountain ranges.

Only the males have those Popeye wrists. Why? I have no idea! Maybe it's just to show how big and tough they are. They could have got themselves some warm, feathery tufts or a nice jumper. They got wrist blobs, instead. I, for one, am impressed.

Image: Katja Schulz
Platypalpus discifer
Platypalpus discifer
This tiny fly reaches a mere 2.6 millimetres (0.1 in) in length and comes from eastern North America. It belongs to the Hybotidae family, also known as Dance Flies.

They're called Dance Flies because some of them have a habit of running around in complex patterns on tree bark. Cute! Until they pounce on an even tinier fly and eat it. Do tiny dancing shoes help P. discifer dance even better? No idea!

Image: ron_n_beths pics
Ptilocnemus lemur
Feather-legged Assassin Bug
Ah, yes. Here comes the dark side of the tufted leg. The Feather-legged Assassin Bug is 1 cm (0.4 in) long and found in eastern Australia, where it's commonly found hanging out on eucalyptus trees. It's a specialised hunter of ants. Specialised... and dastardly.

It starts, as surely it must, with those extraordinary legs of theirs. That's right, they walk! Once they reach the edge of an industrious trail of ants, things get a little more sinister.

The Feather-legged Assassin waves its legs around, attracting the attention of nearby ants. Then it secretes a substance from certain glands on the underside of its abdomen. It quickly becomes clear that whatever that substance is, ants find it... fascinating.

Passing ants are intrigued, beguiled, bewitched by the smell of something delicious in the air. They lick their lips, or do whatever the insect equivalent is with their mandibles. They draw closer, and the Feather-legged Assassin obliges them by raising its body so they can get a good sniff of that intoxicating aroma. One ant can resist no more. It gives that delicious substance a taste and...

Is paralysed. Now the Assassin Bug can stab it in the head and suck out its innards. It's like an assassin's honey trap only with actual honey. Really, really delicious but also poisonous honey.

Image: Robert Whyte
Stephanopis barbipes
Brush-legged Crab Spider
We've gone through all the major insect appendages so here's a bonus spider! S. barbipes is a small Crab Spider from eastern Australia. Females are up to 0.7 cm long (0.3 in) and rather brown and drab. They're not exactly pretty, but they're well camouflaged as they rest on bark, their long, powerful, front four legs eager to grapple prey.

Males, by contrast, are about half the size, at least twice as colourful and have 'bearded legs,' which is what barbipes means. Why do they have bearded legs? No idea! They wave them around sometimes so maybe they use them to court females. And by 'court' I of course mean 'ask permission to get really close and not get eaten.'

That would make sense. All in all, however, I think I've discovered that most roughty-tufty legs are entirely mysterious. They look cool, though, and it gives me lots of ideas for when I get my own exoskeleton. Can't wait!


  1. Hey I discovered your website not a while back and I really enjoy it! Keep it going!
    And don't worry for your exoskeleton, should be available in +- 5 years :D

  2. Thanks a lot StarP!

    I'm looking forward to that exoskeleton!