This is some good grub

19th May 2000 at 01:00
(Photograph) - "Help, help! Put me down, you... you..."

That's me, doing my Fay Wray impersonation (remember the scene where King Kong holds her aloft?) And quite fetching I look too, even if I say so myself.

You think it's demeaning? You reckon I'm being used? Believe me, I'd rather be exploited by an ant than be invited to dinner by some of my other neighbours. Eating is too nice a word for what those brutes do with their mouth parts.

Take the lacewing. The adult is called a stinkfly, on account of... well, you can probably work that out for yourself. But a lacewing larva is called an aphid lion. Ooh, it sets my mandibles on edge just thinkingabout it.

This hairy brute uses its claws to catch us aphids - something of a hammer to crack a nut, given our complete lack of defences. Then it sucks out all our body fluids. Imagine that next time you drink a banana milkshake in a hurry.

You know about the ladybirds, of course. They lay their eggs close to where we're grazing. Next thing we know, the eggs have hatched and the larvae are behaving like dogs in a sausage factory. "Ladybird, ladybird fly away home, your house is on fire and your children are gone."

Good riddance, I say. One of those babies can devour 300 of us in its first fortnight, and when mum tucks in, we vanish by the thousand.

At least death by ladybird is quick. Have you heard what some wasps do? They inject their eggs into us. That way, their precious larvae can begin eating us from the inside out the very minute they hatch.

And you wonder why I don't complain if some ant wants to have its way with me. It' my honeydew it's after, of course. And, to be honest, the ants are welcome to it. I don't need honeydew, dew I?

We're not talking Kublai Khan here, by the way. Forget that bit about "he on honey-dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of Paradise". That was a different sort of honeydew.

The stuff the ants get by stroking me down there with those big scaly antennae is actually a waste product of my digestive system. I drink sap and take loads of nutrients from it. But who needs a bellyful of sugary water at the end of the day? Ants love it, though - as do some bees. And, in order to keep it coming, they carry us on to the juiciest plants, and even get rid of those ladybird eggs before they hatch. Some even take our eggs indoors for the winter.

There are special ants called "repletes" whose role in life is to get filled up with honeydew and hang about until it's needed. (Haven't they heard of Tupperware?) And wait till you hear this. Some female ants actually take a pregnant mealy bug with them on their mating flight so their first-born will have honeydew for breakfast.

Now that's what I call a photoopportunity. Even Fay Wray never got a scene like that.

* Web links

Visit for a photo-encyclopaediaof ants.

Stunning electron microscope pictures of bugs and other small organisms can be found at: www.pbrc.hawaii.edubemfmicroangela

Teachers talk about classroom projects based around The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle at: www.eduplace.comhmcoschooltviewtviewslevine28.html

Picture by: Andrew Syred

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