That’s true of our local parks too: they may be places of wonder, but they also contain some insects that frankly gross me out. So, just in time for Halloween, here are seven of the creepiest living organisms in the park.
1. “Dog Vomit” Slime Mold
Let’s start with a truly disgusting sight. The scientific name for this is “Fuligo septic,” but doesn’t “dog vomit” describe it better? You know if you’ve ever seen this bright yellow slime mold, most likely in mulched areas, or on compost piles. Yes, it looks like a fungus, but it is actually a slime mold, an aggregation of cells all stuck together like one big blob. And in case you’re not grossed out enough yet, you should know that this “plasmodium” can move, like a giant amoeba, in the direction of nutrients.
First Photo: thinkstock; second photo: ~Squil~
2. Jerusalem Cricket
First things first: these large, flightless insects are neither “true” crickets, nor are they native to Jerusalem. They are in fact native to the western United States and parts of Mexico, and are especially known for their large, human-like head. Primarily active at night, they use their strong mandibles to feed mostly on dead organic matter, but sometimes they prefer other insects. But wait, there’s more: their bite is painful, but not venomous, but they can also let off a horrific smell. Stay away!
Photo Credit: Ron Wolf
3. American Cockroach
Cockroaches, the bane of my life when I lived in a bedsit in London, have been around since the age of dinosaurs. And while they are pretty yucky insects, often associated with dirty living conditions, they also have some remarkable features: they can run up to three miles an hour, live for almost a month without food, and for about two weeks without water. That must be why they are so resistant to all attempts to move them. Another interesting fact: a cockroach can live for up to a week with no head.
Photo Credit: thinkstock
With their large, hairy bodies and legs, tarantulas don’t look like the friendliest of critters. As a 7-year-old, my stepson kept one as a pet, although I always stayed away. But in fact these spiders are virtually harmless to humans: their bite may be painful, but their mild venom is not as powerful as a typical bee’s. They can live up to 30 years in the wild, but they shed their external skeletons every few years. You’ve probably seen the black ones, but they have a variety of colors, depending on their environment.
Photo Credit: thinkstock
5. Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle
The name says it all! These are aggressive predators that come from Europe, but were introduced to the United States. They are similar to earwigs until they are threatened, when their scorpion-like posture reveals what they really are. This beetle is part of the Rove Beetle family, of which there are around 1000 species, but the Devil’s Coach Horse is the largest: it can be over an inch long. However, although it can look menacing, it does not sting.
Photo Credit: forresloon
This little creature gets its name from the fact that the immature spittlebugs, or nymphs, surround themselves with a protective frothy material, resembling human spit, which they excrete from their anus. These insects are found across the United States and, like their relatives the aphids and cicadas, they suck plant juices for nutrition. As a gardener, you might not appreciate these little guys, but they are generally harmless.
Photo Credit: Mike Baird
7. Mountain Pine Beetle
Having seen the devastation that this tiny creature has wrought in Rocky Mountain National Park, I really hate this one. The Mountain Pine Beetles are working their way across parts of the United States, destroying thousands of acres of trees. Even worse, climate change is helping them, since they move faster in warmer climes. There is really no way to stop this onslaught. Mountain Pine Beetles have impacted more than 4 million acres since the first signs of outbreak in 1996.
Photo Credit: nrdc_media
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