Friday, October 25, 2019

10 Halloween-Worthy Insect Names

A cartoon of a black insect with red eyes
As anyone who has ever taken even a cursory look at insects knows, many of them live quite gruesome lives. They are the terrors of the micro world they live in. Sometimes their behaviors are reflected in the common names given them, other times relatively benign insects are saddled with frightening names and still others have hideous names whose origins are not at all clear. Many of these names are regionally specific as well. Let’s look out some of these fiendish sounding creatures:

1) Assassin Bugs (Zelus renardii) – We sell oodles of these all day on our site. Their aggressive homicidal tendencies make them especially effective predators for many soft-bodied insect pests. For more about them, check out their page here.

A large black bug with its hind end raised. Known as the Coffin Cutter (Ocypus olens) .
Coffin Cutter
2) Coffin Cutter (Ocypus olens) – This decidedly cemetery-ish name is just one of the many sinister names that this Rove beetle goes by. It’s most commonly known as the Devil’s Coach Horse, but its AKAs also include Devil’s Coach Whip, Devil’s Footman and Devil’s Coachman. It doesn’t sting, but can deliver a hard bite with its large pincers. It also lift its tail up like a scorpion and spews a foul-smelling liquid from its abdomen when threatened. I found a neat little limerick about this bug by Janet MacConnaughey: 
      Satan's horses, no rinky-dink ginks,
     Are huge bugs, glossed with devilish inks.
     Devil's coach-horses (grubbers
    And hunters); and lubber
    (His horses) can also spew stinks.

A furry red and black bug on a log.Cow Killer (Dasymutilla occidentalis) .
Cow Killer
3) Cow Killer (Dasymutilla occidentalis) - AKA: Velvet Ant. Both of these names are misleading. They do not really kill cows and they are not really ants. Instead, they are wasps with a sting that feels (to those unfortunates that have felt it) powerful enough to kill a cow. The female has the stinger and stays on the ground, while the male has wings but no stinger (doubtless a good thing). These furry, red and black bugs pose no real threat to humans, unless you interfere with a female as she scrambles around searching for a place to lay her eggs. In which case, you probably deserve it. For more on this wasp that parasitizes bees and other wasps, go here. If you want to see someone foolishly subjecting himself to a sting, here’s one for you.
A black and beige moth with markings that look like a skull on the back of its head.Death’s Head Moth (Acherontia spp)
Death's Head Moth

4) Death’s Head Moth (Acherontia spp) - AKA: Hawk Moth, Death Moth. Many people are familiar with this moth; it played a role in the movie Silence of the Lambs. Apparently this formidable-looking creature loves honey and has a sweet little squeaky voice (something like if a cross between a rabbit and a cicada). Having a voice is fairly uncommon in moths, enough so that scientists have been studying it. Here is a quick read on what they’ve learned – and there is also an audio clip of the voice.

A close up of a gold, black and white dragonfly perched on a stick.
Ear Cutter
5) Ear Cutter – Dragonfly – AKA: Ear Sewer, Ear Needle, Devil’s Dragon, Horse Stinger, Mule Killer, Bee Butcher. According to this article, these are just some of the regional names used for dragonflies in the US. The myths surrounding dragonflies are much more extensive, and darker, than I ever knew.

A green and yellow cateptillar with red and black horns and many black spikes. It is hanging upside down on a plant stemHickory Horned Devil (Citheronia regalis) caterpillar .
Hickory Horned Devil
6) Hickory Horned Devil (Citheronia regalis) – There’s no mystery about the nickname here – these big (they can get hot dog-sized), fat caterpillars have giant horns on their heads and spikes all over their bodies. They live short-lived lives from late July to mid August in the southern and southeastern US. After that they become Regal (AKA Royal Walnut) moths.

7) Stump Stabber (Megarhyssa macrurus) –AKA: Giant Ichneumon Wasp. Though small (about 2” long) the females of this parasitoid wasp species have the longest known ovipositors at twice the length of their bodies. Although they look like scary stingers, they are for depositing eggs – oh, and drilling. These wasps seek out insect hosts under the wood of stumps and trees and, once she finds the right one, she drills a hole down to them and lays her eggs in their nest. Here are some great pictures and even a video of her in action. I guess the male Stump Stabbers just go by Mr. Stump Stabber.
A close-up of the front of a yellow and black bug floating in water. It is holding part of a fish.Toe Biters (Lethocerus americanus)  
Toe Biter with prey

8) Toe Biters (Lethocerus americanus) - AKA:  Giant Water Bug, Indian Toe Biters, Alligator  Ticks. These large (up to 2½”) beetles are native to North America and are very common in both manmade and natural bodies of water. Watch out for them in the shallows - when disturbed, they do bite. Toes are usually the victims of these bites as people step on or near enough to them. Although the bite will not cause lasting damage, it does produce burning pain, swelling and even skin discoloration. If you want to see the same guy that was willing to take a Cow Killer sting getting bit by a Toe Biter, check him out here.

9) Vampire Moth (genus Calyptra) – If, when you think of moths you think of delicate little things fluttering helplessly around your porch light, you may want to reconsider your thinking. Because there really are moths that are vampires - yes, some moths actually pierce the skin of verterbrates (including humans) and lap up the blood. Scientists are still determining just how many of the 17 species in this genus are blood-eaters (so far it’s 8-10), but since only two species are here in the US, you probably don’t have to worry about them. But, you never know…Here’s more on them and here’s a video of the little blood lovers.

A long gold and black bug,Witch’s Horse (Anisomorpha ferruginea) 10) Witch’s Horse (Anisomorpha spp) – AKA: Devil’s Riding Horse, Devil’s Darning Needle, Spitting Devil.These bugs are North American members of the extensive stick insect family. During mating, the males can be seen “riding” on the backs of the females, which may explain some of the
horse references. But, the Spitting Devil moniker is more accurate. These guys emit well-aimed sprays of a noxious-smelling, burning liquid as a self-defense mechanism and they aren’t hesitant to shoot. A direct hit to the eye can cause serious damage and the fumes alone have respiratory effects. It’s best to let these horses pass unhindered.

A black and white clip of people running from a giant spider as it comes down the road. From a late 1950s era horror movie.
Ahhh, the insect world! A haven for the macabre, full of endless stories of blood lust, zombies and creative ways to feed on other beings. And also cute little guys who only want to eat some leaves before they get eaten.

Submitted by Pam

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