The name ‘bug’ is often used to describe insects (and sometimes other creepy-crawlies), but the word ‘bug’ should really only be used for one group of insects, the sapsuckers of the order Hemiptera. This is only one order in a class of two dozen other orders that comprise one of the most diverse groups of organisms in the world. They range in size and shape from giant, thin stick insects to tiny round beetles. More than a million species have been identified and there are many more to be discovered. In Australia, over 85,000 species have so far been described, and it is thought that there is at least an equal amount yet to be named.
The highest diversities of insects are usually associated with the tropical rainforests of the world. It is estimated that 90% of all the worlds insects are found in the tropical rainforests, and in Australia it is no different. The wet tropics region of north-east Queensland is usually recognized as having the most diverse insect fauna on the continent. The following sections describe the orders that are commonly encountered in the Australian tropical rainforest.
In contrast to the introduced cockroaches, many native cockroaches are not quite so disgusting, and in fact many are quite attractive. Cockroaches are usually fairly subtle creatures, coloured in browns to avoid detection. They are dorso-ventrally flattened, and the ‘neck’ of the insect (called the pronotum) is enlarged in cockroaches to form a broad shield protecting part of the body and the head. The legs are spined and adapted for fast scurrying. Unlike the more omnivorous house cockroaches, many native species mostly feed on dead vegetation, such as rotting logs, fallen leaves, and other detritus in the rainforest.
Macropanesthia rhinoceros, ‘Giant Burrowing Cockroach’. The heaviest cockroach in the world. Wingless. Female feeds young on dead leaves dragged down into underground tunnels where it generally lives. Adults may emerge after heavy rain. Sold as a pet. Found in drier rainforest and woodlands; endemic to north-east Queensland.
While termites are often called ‘white ants’ and do superficially resemble ants, they are in fact not at all closely related. Their order is considered much more primitive than ants, but they have evolved a complex colonial ‘caste’ system similar in some respects to ants, with specialized ‘worker’ and ‘soldier’ individuals. Termites feed primarily on cellulose in dead vegetation and are thus acknowledged to be important recyclers in the rainforest.
Stick Insects are insects that....errr...look like sticks.
Eurycantha calcarata, 'Thorny Devil Stick Insect', 'Giant Stick Insect'. Found in New Guinea, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia.
The ‘Whirligig’ Beetles comprise their own family, with hundreds of species found whirling about in circles on the surface of the quieter waters all around the world. They are in fact looking for dead insects or ones that are trapped in the surface tension of the water. Their eyes are like bifocals, for they are divided into two segments for looking above the water and below the surface simultaneously. They can be seen in the quieter parts of creeks in the lowland forests, and often end up in the swimming pools of some of the rainforest lodges.
This large family has over 1200 species. They can be long, large beetles, with thick, long antennae. The larvae are large white grubs that live and chew inside decaying wood, and they are a favoured food for various indigenous people around the world. The ability to chew on wood is due to the heavy mandibles, so this is a good reason to be careful of their bite.
Ants have to be one of the most diverse, interesting and ecologically important families of animals in the world. They are of course found all over the globe, with the greatest diversity in the tropics. The family is split into several different sub-families. Australia has over 4000 species.
Ants have highly evolved social structures, with individuals developing into different ‘castes’ that have different functions, such as workers or soldiers. Generally, the regularly visible ants such as these soldiers and workers are sterile females. The winged flying males only appear during the times of reproduction and establishing new nests. Studies in the last few decades have revealed the efficiency of their communication through the use of pheromones.
Most adult ants actually feed on liquid foods such as nectar and fruit juice. The mandibles seen in adult ants are for defence and tearing apart food. The food that we often see adult ants carrying is usually being taken back to the larval ants, who are in the form of tiny grubs, and much more predaceous than the adults.
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