Saturday, November 13, 2010

Birthday surprise from nature

I celebrated my 22nd birthday while on the Arizona trip this summer. My "gift" from the others was to be dropped off along Cave Creek about half a mile upstream from the research station in order to hike back by myself. It took me somewhat over two hours, and I would have taken longer if it hadn't started to rain. When I told my family and friends about this they were unimpressed, but it was truly a wonderful experience and perfect day.

The sun came and went, meaning it wasn't too hot, but there were bouts of sunlight to attract some beautiful butterfly species to the water banks. I of course flipped every rock and log during my travels, and observed several Mastigoproctus giganteus (vinegaroons), Scolopendra sp. (centipedes), alligator lizards, and other goodies. Unfortunately I did not come across any snakes, but I guess you can't have everything.

My favorite discovery was in a small pool of calm water at the edge of the creek - a male giant water bug, in the family Belostomatidae (Hemiptera). This species, like many in the family, utilizes male parental care as a reproductive strategy. The females lay eggs sequentially on the male's back, and he offers protection until they hatch. The young do not hatch all at once, as they are cannibalistic and would become overcrowded if stuck in a small pool. I brought the father back with me to take some photos. He stayed overnight, and look what I woke up to the next morning! A phenomenon I had been hoping to witness since the moment I learned about it as a child, I got to see baby water bugs hatching from their father's back (I actually only saw their eyes peeking out of the eggs at first, this is about halfway through.) If you notice the pattern of already hatched eggs on his back, they were right on time as the next youngsters scheduled to hatch. The whole process, from egg cracking to complete emergence, took about an hour. The young started out slender and pale yellow; they slowly expanded while their cuticle hardened and darkened.

The happy father and offspring were then released back into the creek.

19 comments:

GW said...

That is COOL! What a great treat for you to witness, finally. And what a treat for me to learn about these bugs.

Cindy said...

Just wanted to say how much I am enjoying this whole series of posts from your time in AZ. Looking forward to lots more!

Alex said...

Ah! Cute!

dragonflywoman said...

Oooh! Abedus herberti, one of the bugs I work on. Aren't they amazing? I love them. You know, it takes the females about 6-8 hours to lay all of her eggs on the male due to the repeated copulation the male insists on. The female only gets to lay 1-3 eggs for each copulation, so the whole process of oviposition is very slow and results in the eggs being many different ages. The eggs at the back end up being a lot older than the eggs at the front, hence they hatch before the eggs closer to the head. I'm glad you got to see it! If you ever have a chance, I highly recommend watching Lethocerus hatching. It's way more impressive! (Actually, I've got a video of it on my blog. It isn't quite the same watching the video as it is to see it first hand, but feel free to check it out if you're interested: http://dragonflywoman.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/lethocerus-medius-hatching/)

Brigette Zacharczenko said...

Hi dragonflywoman! Thanks for the extra info on this species, and the video.

Andrew said...

wow, so cool, so lucky!! I'm glad you shared this awesomeness with us!!! Thanks!

bioephemera said...

That is incredibly cool! Thanks for sharing.

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Bogleech said...

Once per year here in central FL, certain well-lit parking lots come alive with hundreds of giant waterbugs...though I've never gotten to see a male with eggs either! I believe the species here just attaches eggs to water reeds.

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There's no doubt, the dude is absolutely just.

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plus he in fact bought me dinner because I found it for him.

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