There are millions of insect species living in the desert. Insects, with their hard outer coverings (cuticle) made of tough chitin, are perfectly suited to living in the desert's dry conditions. Trapping moisture inside their bodies, insects get their moisture from their food making a source of water unnecessary. Among the many desert insect species, a number of beetles, ants, grasshoppers and wasps have fascinating adaptations to their desert habitat.
The darkling beetle is specially adapted to hunt in the heat of the day. Its hard, white wing case is reflective. The Namib desert beetle survives one of the driest habitats on earth by getting its moisture from the early morning fog that drifts almost 80 miles inland from the ocean only about 30 days a year. It takes a stance -- fog-basking -- that allows it to collect water droplets on the bumps on its back and channel them into its mouth. The blister beetle lays its eggs in grassy areas where solitary bees forage. All the eggs hatch at once and gather into a formation to look like a female bee. They even smell like a female bee as the blister pack releases a pheromone. The pack attracts a male bee and hitches a ride on his back switching to a female bee when the chance presents itself. The female will then transport the blister beetles back to its nest where they eat its provisions of nectar and pollen and eggs.
Harvester ants gather seeds and store them in "granaries" inside their nests of clipped grass to eat during the dry season. A nest may hold more than 10,000 harvester ants. Some members of a honeypot ant colony store so much sugar that they get too large to move. They then act as a storehouse for the colony by attaching to the ceiling of the nest. During lean times they regurgitate the sugar to feed the colony.
Aztec pygmy grasshoppers, which live two years, are one of the few species of grasshoppers to survive winter. Creosote bush grasshoppers are also known as desert clickers because of the sound the males make in their creosote bush home. The louder males attract females, but the quieter males often sneak in to mate before the dominant male gets the chance. Pallid-winged grasshoppers use their pale yellow hind wings to attract mates but escape predators by landing and folding away the colourful wings to become camouflaged. Locusts are a type of metamorphosed grasshoppers that swam together and invade areas stripping all vegetation by eating their own weight daily.
Jewel wasps, or cuckoo wasps, lay their eggs in host nests so the larvae can eat the host eggs or larva. They can curl into a ball for defence. Tarantula hawks require a tarantula spider to serve as host for their larvae. The female wasp will seek out the tarantula's burrow, kick the spider out and attack it with a paralysing sting. It will then drag the spider back into its burrow and lay an egg on the spider's abdomen. The grub drinks the spider's juices and eventually burrows inside the abdomen and feeds. Red velvet ants are really wasps that have the reputation of cow killers. Resembling ants, these wasps dig into the nests of ground-nesting bees and eat a hole through the cocoon to deposit eggs. The immature velvet ants then eat the bee larvae. Its exaggerated cow killer nickname comes from the painful sting they inflict on people and cows.
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- "Frontiers in Zoology"; Fog-basking behaviour and water collection efficiency in Namib Desert Darkling beetles; Thomas Norgaard and Marie Dacke; July 2010
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