Another day, another insect.

Image source: HowStuffWorks

I looked it up, and it appears to be true that termite males and females go through a winged, “alate” form before they mate and become a new king and queen. That explains the pile of wings on my floor two mornings ago.

Now I do have to admit some respect for the termite, because they really are master engineers. Even though they ate through several of my books while I was serving in the Peace Corps, and even though they didn’t give me much chance to sleep two nights before, they can also build structures that are (for their size) as advanced as any skyscraper:

The biggest surprise for me in my recent burst of termite research is that they are closely related to cockroaches and mantids, not ants. Ants are related to wasps, hornets, and bees, and considering how much I’ve been stung these past few days, that’s easy to believe.

I definitely encountered the bullet ant (Paraponera clava) while I was at La Selva, and made sure I didn’t touch it. The name alone gives you some idea of the pain from its sting.
The insect family tree. Isoptera are termites, Blattodea are cockroaches, Mantodea are mantises, and Hymenoptera are ants, wasps, hornets, and bees.

Considering the close evolutionary relationship between termites and cockroaches, which is so close that the two groups are sometimes lumped together, I wonder if it is more that just a coincidence that I’ve found five cockroaches in and around my clothing today (with two scuttling across the floor after I removed my boots). If nature is trying to tell me something, I think I get it already. Cockroaches are one of the most diverse groups of insects on the planet, with almost 5,000 different species (and only four of which are pests). The roaches I found on my pants and boots today were probably leaf-eaters, and they got onto me when I brushed up against leaves during my treks through the forest. That didn’t stop me from jumping each time I saw one, though! Not that I was scared, it’s just that they move so fast that you don’t know what’s on you–but when I saw it was just a cockroach, I flicked it off.

Still, I think that this giant cockroach I saw back at La Selva was pretty darn cool.



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