A Coat of Many Corpses

By Josie Glausiusz|Tuesday, October 01, 2002
RELATED TAGS: UNUSUAL ORGANISMS
The West African assassin bug has a unique fashion instinct. In its nymph stage, the rapacious critter covers itself with a dust coat adorned with dead ants, termites, and flies whose bodies it has sucked dry. Miriam Brandt, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Regensburg in Germany, believes this sartorial splendor acts as the equivalent of a detachable lizard's tail.


There's a bug underneath. Really.
Photograph courtesy of Miriam Brandt.
Brandt and Dieter Mahsberg of the University of Würzburg conducted an insect dinner party in which they presented three sorts of live assassin bugs—naked, dust-coat-only, and fully clothed—to the creature's natural predators: spiders, geckos, and centipedes. The bugs' macabre "backpack" seemed to confuse the attackers. A spider, for instance, would bite and let go, perceiving only a stack of insect husks. "If it did hold on, the jerk it exerted ripped the backpack off the nymph's back, leaving the predator occupied with the pile of debris it had captured, thereby giving the bug the opportunity to escape," says Brandt.




 
Comment on this article
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
DSCMayCover
+

Log in to your account

X
Email address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it emailed to you.

Not registered yet?

Register now for FREE. It takes only a few seconds to complete. Register now »