10 surprising encounters at the Insect Festival
Do not judge them too fast by their small size! Hairy, colorful, horned, glittering, agile and sometimes even mythical, insects are surprising animals.
On September 21 and 22, 2019, the Insect Festival of Aquarium du Québec offers you quality time, up close and personal, with 10,000 small insects, including a number of bugs you can touch
Let’s first make it clear that Bombyx is a butterfly. Silkworm is what we commonly call its larva. This species no longer exists in the wild. It is the product of a long artificial selection in the sericulture industry, i.e. the art of silk production. This tradition developed in China 4,500 years ago. At the time, the secret of silk production was carefully kept by Chinese women, under threat of being put to death should they fail. The Silk Route, connecting China to Europe, eventually came into being with increasing demand for the luxury fabric. Legend has it that the silk thread was discovered when a Chinese empress unwound a Bombyx cocoon that had dropped in her tea. When the silkworm becomes a chrysalis, it develops a cocoon around itself made of semi-liquid silk, which hardens in contact with the air to form a thread that can be as long as 1.5 km! We use this thread to make silk.
You’re not mistaken… this is indeed a bug! Phyllium is the camouflage champion and it can even imitate the movement of a leaf in the wind. Blow gently on its back and watch it sway left and right. This fascinating insect lives hidden in the leaves of tropical forest canopies. The largest specimens can grow to 10 cm in length. You’ve got to be pretty clever to spot him. Let’s test your observation skills!
This black shield-clad insect is Africa’s largest Dynastide. In its home regions, it is rather common. Albeit not especially appetizing at first glance, Augosoma centaurus is bred for human consumption. In Africa, its larvae are cooked and eaten as a high protein food. The larvae are white, big, and plump. They stay immobile in the shade, in decomposing wood in preparation for their first flight.
These elegant looking bugs have been around for 300 million years. Initially, specimens were over 70 cm long. Their larva, called naiad, is entirely aquatic, preferring warm stagnant pond water. During its last molt, the larva leaves the water and an adult dragonfly emerges, leaving her cast and aquatic life behind. An unequalled aerial acrobat, the dragonfly can hover, fly backwards, and even fly head down.
Golden tortoise beetle
The golden tortoise beetle was for a long time a mythical figure in entomology, even a legend of the high mountains of Latin America. In the past, people needed to shake the leaves of young trees in the hope of dislodging and catching a few specimens. Nowadays, most specimens are found at night near artificial lights, as is the case for our famous Quebec beetles, the hermit beetles known as barbots. Always of exceptional beauty, golden beetles are nevertheless quite common, as is any insect in a natural environment. However, their limited habitat at the top of high mountains and the difficulty in observing them has long led us to believe that they were in fact much rarer.
Orchid bees don’t produce honey; they produce fragrance! Males collect and store volatile compounds from flowers in a cavity in their hind legs. Throughout their life, they look to pick up the rarest scents from orchids. During mating, males release their collection of fragrance and females choose the males whose scent is most complex, sophisticated, and appealing.
Pepsis is a super wasp, one of the largest in the world! Its potent (and painful) sting makes it a daunting adversary to giant spiders! The insect’s flashy colours clearly signal that it’s dangerous. Before laying its eggs, the female goes hunting for tarantulas. It injects its venom causing paralysis in the spider and drags the hapless spider to its burrow. It then delicately lays a single egg in the abdomen of its prey. When the larva hatches from the egg, it feeds on the organs of the spider, alive but paralyzed. The prey can remain alive for weeks while the larva eats it from the inside. Eventually, the Pepsis emerges from the tarantula, leaving nothing but a carcass behind.
Millipedes are not insects, they are myriapods. Unlike bugs, they have more than six legs: not thousands like their name suggests, but generally between 100 and 400. The giant millipede has approximately 256 legs; it can grow to 40 cm in length and live between 5 and 7 years. When it feels threatened, it rolls up into a coil and secretes a toxic irritant substance. Millipedes are decomposers, playing an essential role in nutrient cycling. They are able to turn decaying wood, fruit, and dead leaves into fertile soil. Any organic waste is a feast for millipedes!
This phasmid belongs to the stick insect family. It blends seamlessly in the dead leaves thanks to its outgrowths, but it has another form of camouflage that it uses in emergency situations. When in danger, it curls its abdomen upward over the body looking just like a scorpion! This mimicry is not very effective with humans, but it works really well with birds; the erstwhile predators quickly fly away to avoid getting stung by the scorpion, leaving the phasmid safe and sound.
Stag beetles stand out with their distinctive horn-shaped mandibles, in particular in males. They spend the better part of their life in larva form, feeding on decomposing wood in the soil. The females of certain species climb up trees, leaving a strong pheromone scent in their path intended to attract males. The latter use their powerful mandibles to fight, and the victor gets to join the female at a treetop in the forest.