Dear Mom: You're Better Than These Fantastic Insect Mothers. And That's Saying Something!
Doting mothers come in all shapes and sizes, even small, some might say "unflattering" ones. Take the earwig, for instance. After egg-laying, females of this inch-long insect species dutifully guard their eggs, all 20 to 80 of them, warding off predators and continuously cleaning them. Once the eggs hatch, she'll protect her flock for a further few weeks, until their second molt.
The female lace bug is similarly motherly. When a damsel bug approaches to snack on her young nymphs, she'll jump on the back of the larger, armored insect and fan out her wings in an attempt to slow it down, allowing her young time to scuttle away to safely. The encounter usually doesn't end well for the mom, but at least some of her offspring may survive.
It's a pity the lace bug isn't more formidable, like the praying mantis. Utilizing brain and brawn, the mother mantis sends her nymphs to the tip of a twig, and positions herself at the base. There's only one way to her kids, and it's through her. Most insect predators elect not to test the gauntlet.
The Brazilian tortoise beetle is a bit more hands-on. Her larvae, which are roughly one-tenth her size, brown, and resemble millipedes, form themselves into a symmetrical pile underneath her. In this defensive posture, they begin to defecate, and their feces collect on tiny hooks near the anus. It's a bizarre sight: a brilliantly colored beetle, resting atop a throng of unbecoming larvae, ringed by poop. (Below: A golden tortoise beetle.)
All insect moms likely pale in comparison to a "momma strepsiptera," however. While the males of this species of parasitic wasp are actually rather elegant, the females are just blubbery piles of eggs. Their only purpose is to mate and give birth. "Birth" may be a euphemism in strepsiptera's case, though. Is it technically "birth" when your ravenous babies devour you on their way out?
Now, to all the human mothers out there, you might think that nothing says "I love you" like letting yourself be eaten from the inside out, but I disagree -- you're just being humble. The sacrifices you made, in terms of time, physical health, and sanity, for outweigh those of the mother strepsiptera. She never had to deal with dirty diapers, complaining, or puberty. Cannibalism was a cop out.
Happy Mother's Day!
(Top Photo by Tom Oates, 2010 / Middle by Ilona Loser)