A Story Of Flies And Ants

Bengalia flyAh well, quite some time since I have written for deBugged. So what happened in between? I left India and am living in Europe now again. Also started breeding beetles again (These make fantastic undemanding pets, but well, unlike pests, mine are big, colorful and entirely harmless. And, even worse, they also are prone to become affected by pests: House centipedes will eat their larvae; coffin flies will populate the same substrate, as will mites. Pests still manage to annoy me big time that way ;-). But before leaving India, I found some time to go and travel a bit and to spend some time in nature, doing what I like most – stalking insects, observing and photographing them.

My travel took me to a friend’s place in the foothills of the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. His place still has a lot of original forest cover left, and there are uncountable animals roaming around. Among others there are wild elephants, leopards, gaur to name a few, which make walking around a thrilling, and at times very dangerous exercise.

Risking my life for science and the greater aim of getting deeper insights into the secret world of animals I did however manage to discover a few curious things about our insect friends (or enemies):

Mosquitoes as per schedule

Mosquitoes in that area do have very curious timing. They only bite for about one hour at dusk (between 6 and 7pm). I know that normally there are peaks in mosquito activity at dusk and dawn, but trust me, there they only were attacking for this one hour. After and before that total peace.

The Jumping Ant

It might sound like something from Alice in Wonderland, but these things exist. I was finally able to observe Jerdon’s jumping ant (Harpegnathos saltator). A very odd looking large ant, with long mandibles and big eyes. Looked kind of cute, but is said to have a nasty sting. A stinging ant? Well, let’s recall the reason why ants and termites do not get along: Termites are related to cockroaches and ants are closer related to wasps. A stinging ant surely adds a new dimension of pain to the known list of annoyances. Anyhow, these were roaming around and trying to photograph them made me go mad, as they really are good jumpers. I photographed the soil and the background more often than the ant, but I am happy, I can at least present you one photograph of the Jumping ant.  I was wondering if I should try to get myself stung, to write about it later on on deBugged, but then decided this would be going too far.

Ants vs. Flies or the abduction and eating of infants

Remember Jonathan Swift? Yes, the author of ‘Gulliver’s travels’. What is less known is that he also wrote a sarcastic (at least I hope he was) essay, called ‘A modest proposal’, where he suggests to eat children, as a means to cope with famines. Obviously and luckily though, nobody took him serious, but I was thinking about this, when I was observing some flies with really funky eye colours that somehow were always sitting closely next to columns of ants and from time to time jumped into it. Now this is a very strange behavior for a fly that might serve as a potential food source for those ants. Unless, they were not doing it for the thrill (like our extreme athletes), there must have been some better explanation. So I went closer and observed for some time. What I saw was the following. These flies were closely observing the ants passing by, unmoving. However, whenever an ant that was carrying ant larvae with it, the fly jumped on them, grabbed the larvae and flew off to eat that larvae. The ants were rather puzzled by this, but did not seem to have a defense against the children robbers. Later, at home I managed to check my books and was able to identify the flies belonging to the genus of Bengalia of the family of Calliphoridae. You surely know certain members of this family, but under their common name, Blow Flies: More famous members of this huge family are the blue bottles and green bottles.

The body of Bengalia is rather dull, but their eyes shine in colours nicer than any rainbow. The behavior of stealing and eating the ants’ little ones even has its own name. It is called Cleptoparasitism. Wikipedia explains it as “a form of feeding in which one animal takes prey or other food from another that has caught, collected, or otherwise prepared the food, including stored food” . Well, comparable to me, snatching food from the fridge, every time I visit my parents.

But I am running off track again, forgive me. There will be more stories to be told on deBugged, hopefully in the nearer future. Hope you enjoyed this post and learned something.

Visit Ben’s blog at www.harink.com/benjamin/blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *