secret weapons

In August 2005, I spent quite a bit of time photographing grasshoppers. One of my accidental discoveries was that some species, when disturbed, will regurgitate copious amounts of dark, foamy liquid. The grasshopper in the above photo – a species of spur-throated grasshopper – is just beginning to produce fluid. At times, it was actually quite frustrating to get a “clean shot” as the grasshoppers would be producing so much frothy stuff that it would get all over their heads and my hands. This morning, I looked through my photos and realized that I deleted most of the “messy shots” — which is really quite a shame as I should have kept a few to illustrate one of the defense mechanisms of grasshoppers (note to self: Don’t do that next time, okay?).

What’s got me thinking about this all of a sudden? I’ve just begun reading Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures by Thomas Eisner, Maria Eisner and Melody Siegler (Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 2005), which contains several pages on the defense strategies of grasshoppers. There is an excellent photo of a regurgitating grasshopper on page 97 (much nicer than my example up above). As per usual, I’m reading about six or seven books at the same time, and this one fits nicely with my usual modus operandi as it’s the kind of book that one can pick up and read for a few minutes. The chapters are brief and self-contained, each dealing with a particular “case study” of insects, spiders, millipeds and all sort of other invertebrates that spray mists of toxic gases, regurgitate unpleasant plant materials, have venomous bites, or ooze repellant chemicals from their pores (among other things). Some of this information is not new to me, but the presentation of the materials is quite excellent and makes for an enjoyable read. There are many wonderful photographs and each case study includes chemical formula diagrams where applicable. Definitely an interesting and fun read for anyone fascinated by the lives of invertebrates.

Tags: , ,

  • Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Trackback URI:
  • Comments RSS 2.0

4 Responses to “secret weapons”

  1. Wayne Says:

    It’s interesting to me how many of our authors – Eisner as you mention, and Wilbur Duncan as I have mentioned before – have as co-authors members of their families. I don’t know about Eisner, but I do know that in the case of Duncan that this is a family immersed in conservation and local flora.

    Well, that aside, secret weapons is a great topic. In evolutionary biology we call it “the arms race” but a rose is a rose is a rose and we must surely suspect something going on there too! Blister beetles come to mind, but the gross upchucking by grasshoppers is especially interesting. Just a bit of pressure on a tomato hornworm seems to be enough for it to practically evacuate half its green guts. And while we won’t encounter them here on earth, sea cucumbers eviscerate themselves in response to a predator attack, only to regrow their internal organs.

    I’m trying to imagine how interesting that might be the next time some colleague annoys me.

  2. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – Yes, that is an interesting thing about families working together. It does seem that, when it comes to nature study, etc… the whole family is usually quite avid. That’s certainly true among almost all of the naturalists and field biologists that I know.
    Ha! I was thinking of how quickly one might clear a room — perhaps a crowded elevator(!) — if one could begin regurgitating black foamy liquid at will. (-:

  3. robin andrea Says:

    I wish humans had as interesting defense mechanisms. It would be so great to repel and repulse people without having to actually lay a hand on them. Wouldn’t the world be such a different place? Or would it? Imagine being able to eviscerate yourself and then be able to regrow your own parts. That would take some of the pleasure out of slasher movies.

  4. Cathy Says:

    Wow. Great photo generating gross garrulity ;0D
    (Loved it)