strange behaviors

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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Valentine’s Day Woes? It Could Be Worse.

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 13, 2009

chocolatebeetlesSo maybe your loved one’s idea of a great Valentine’s Day gift is chocolate rhinoceros beetles.  They’re being offered by a Japanese web site for roughly U.S. $49.  Consider yourself lucky.  Here’s a report about deceptive mating practices in the natural world:

Spending the day of love alone, with a carton of Ben and Jerry’s or a handle of Jack? Abandoned by your one and only just last week, right after you finished putting him/her through grad school?

Well, it could be worse. At least you haven’t been eaten alive on a blind date.

Here’s how it sometimes happens in many species of moths throughout America, Africa, and Australasia.  To start with, the females in these species send out pheromones as a chemical advertisement of sexual availability. It’s like putting a profile up on The hypersensitive male moths detect the sex pheromones with their antennae, and come flocking by the dozen, ready for action.

But moth pheromones and dating websites can both be deceptive, and some of the moths don’t have quite the dating experience they envisioned.

The problem is that bolas spiders of the genera Mastophora, Cladomelea, and Ordgarius have evolved to imitate these sex pheromones.  As the excited moths flock in, the bolas spiders detect them with their sharp eyesight and hearing–and then pluck the unlucky suitors out of the air with a sticky ball on the end of a string.

The spider pulls in the male moth and embraces it. Then the unhappy couple hang from the string and spin together in a morbid waltz while the spider wraps the moth for future consumption, and finally leaves to fish for another victim.

To add insult to injury, the spider having the moth for dinner is not even good looking. To avoid being eaten by predators itself, the spider disguises itself as a large bird dropping. That’s what I’d call a shitty date.

For more general information about the bolas spiders read:

KV, Yeargan. 1994. Biology of bolas spiders. Annual Review of Entomology
Vol. 39: 81-99


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