To describe a dragonfly is obviously unnecessary. In all of the country and at all times they were just as how we are used to seeing them. Being similar, in general, they are different only in size and in what not everyone will pay attention to...
In the Carboniferous period of the Palaeozoic (i.e. ancient) era, 300 MYA, possibly even earlier, when tree-like ferns and horsetails grew abundantly on Earth, and their rotting trunks were 'preserved' into the mighty masses of stone coal upon which the humanity depends even today; when not a single bird flew over the hot and reeking swamps and bogs and flowers didn't exist on Earth, already the giant dragonflies Meganeura and Palaeodictioptra flew over the stagnant waters. The first flying insects of Earth had a wingspan of almost a meter (70-90 cm, as proved by the fossils). One may suppose that the ancient deposits of Earth have preserved not the biggest members of those antediluvian dragonflies. And not the biggest among their larvae either: they are no more than 30.5 cm in length. Never, neither earlier nor later, did the world know such giant insects.
The biggest of the modern dragonflies have a 13 cm wingspan, only in case of some exotic species - 19 cm.
The smallest are 2 cm in length. They are called damselflies or the lesser dragonflies, though some of them are bigger than the 'true' dragonflies.
The calopterygids, the demoiselles, flutter over the waters as the butterflies do. Their wings are broad (relative to the Odonata in general), smoky in case of the females, blue in case of the males. When they sit to rest, they fold their wings over their backs.
Not everyone will consider the demoiselles to be dragonflies. In places, the author has heard, they are called the river butterflies.
But they are dragonflies. The spreadwings and the pond damselflies - also. They are very similar to each other, though the first group are more or less bronze-green. Who didn't catch them in their youth! Those are weak, delicate (breaking from a rough touch!) dragonflies that are found in plenty among reeds and cattails. They are thin in every way. The spreadwings, the pond damselflies, and the demoiselles - those are our common damselflies.
Now for the 'true' dragonflies.
Wherever we end up, if there are nearby ponds and rivers, they are unavoidably there as well! Everyone saw them and lazily chased them away from a sun-warmed knee a four-spotted skimmer who sat there to rest. Some of the harmful aftermaths of the mass appearances of those dragonflies were only recently identified by science.
The four-spotted skimmer and the broad-bodied chaser are the most common of our dragonflies. In summer they are encounters almost at every pond and river. The broad-bodied chaser's ap-pearance is very noticeable: the abdomen is light blue (male) or yellow (female), flat, pressed at the top and bottom.
Anyhow, those dragonflies are intense fliers. Not always, but often they gather in big swarms. Once, in July, over the Swedish town of Malme, the skimmers flew for several days without end (though with intervals). And they were so numerous that the city streets, the rooftops, the grass of the parks were covered in dragonflies.
The biggest, perhaps, in the 20th century invasion of Europe by the dragonflies occurred in 1947 in Ireland. They appeared from the side of the sea and invaded the island in several columns. One of the columns, as a big dark cloud, similar to smoke, flew over Mid-Carc from noon to the very evening and frightened people a lot.
The entomologists had established that this swarm was not seen over either England or France. They think that after leaving the shores of Spain or Portugal this swarm flew over the sea for almost 1000 km.
How far south is reached by the dragonflies of the northern countries of Europe is currently unknown. But every autumn large swarms fly to the south through certain passes in the Pyrenees and the Alps.
The yellow dragonfly has settled on almost all of the continents. Its countless swarms often eclipse the sun over Egypt, Sudan, Tanganyika, South Africa, India and Indochina. Once myriads of those dragonflies attacks at night the decks and masts of the liner 'Victoria' when it was crossing the Indian ocean in 1260 km from the nearest coast of Australia.
The invasion of the dragonflies is a bad omen. People say that when the dragonflies have passed, one should expect a bird plague. Chickens and turkeys stop laying and die as if from an evil curse. The peasants of Poland, once they see dragonflies in the sky, hurry to get the chickens into coups. Superstition?
Well, the scientists also noticed that the chickens stop laying eggs where many dragonflies have passed. What connection can be there is hard to understand. However, the sick chickens were examined under a microscope: their ovaries were eaten by the trematode worms. Then the dragonfly larvae - the naiads were examined under the microscope even more attentively, one millimeter after the other. And the trematodes were found in them. The chickens were fed with the dragonfly larvae and the birds got ill.
And immediately this mysterious connection between the chicken and the dragonfly became clear. The trematodes begin to develop in snails and insects, and for the second half of their lives they parasitize in birds and mammals. The dragonfly larvae are almost always infested with them.
Our biggest dragonflies are the mosaic and the green darters. They can be also seen far away from water, in the forest clearings. During the sunny days and evenings they fly here, rapidly changing their course to trap with their specialized legs some mosquito, mayfly or fly. The dragonflies destroy a multitude of the blood-sucking mosquitoes that harass everything that is alive and warm-blooded in the woodland. Thus the summer activities of those 'jumpers' are not useless or pointless as the well-known fable states...
The larvae of all the dragonflies - the naiads - live underwater and are also carnivorous, devouring plenty of larvae of the aforementioned mosquitoes, small aquatic insects and worms. They catch them with a very original 'weapon' - a so-called mask, the lower lip that was transformed into a grasping organ. When ready to attack, the mask is bent under the head on the naiad's 'throat' like the right arm of a boxer bent in the shoulder joint, and then straightening suddenly, like the aforementioned arm in a direct strike. The hooks at the end of the mask grasp the prey and drag it to the mouth of the dragonfly larva. It all happens in a fraction of a second!
The dragonfly larvae do not surface as the diving beetles and aquatic spiders do to get fresh air. They breathe by getting oxygen straight from the water. The naiads of the damselflies (the spreadwings and the pond damselflies) have elongated gill petals at the end of the abdomen. The rear end of the intestine also acts like a pump that draws water in and out. This peculiar 'inhaling' and 'exhaling', especially developed among the naiads of the 'true' dragonflies, creates a reactive reaction, an additional moving impulse (in case of the darters, for example, it is quite fast movement forwards).
The larvae of the damselflies live, grow and molt underwater for a year or about so, of the dragonflies - for about two. Then it comes the time of the final molt and the move to a life in another element.
The naiad crawls via a plant out of the water. The vertical crack breaks the chitin covers of its head and back. It emerges from them as if from a sheath, also freeing its legs, one after another, from its former clothing as well. It dries in the wind for about 6 hours; its wizened wings straighten out, harden under the pressure of liquid inflowing into them, and begin to quiver. And behold - an adult dragonfly!
If you will want to know if it is a male or a female, look at the end of the abdomen. There are two thin stick-like anal outgrowths. The female has only the upper pair. The males have also the bottom, more short, one or two pairs.
'Although the dragonflies are excellent fliers, their wings do simple movements and our entomologist U.M. Zalessky was able to make the dragonflies fly on 'replacements': he cut off a dragonfly's wings, leaving only the base of the wing, to which he carefully glued on a wing of another dragonfly or even a butterfly, and the dragonfly flew on another's wings, albeit poorly!' (The member-correspondent of AN USSR M.S. Gilyarov.)
In the front of the dragonflies' wings, not far from the top, a dark thickening is very noticeable (in case of the yellow meadowhawk, for example, it is red). It is a pterostygma, a 'wing eye'. The pterostygma extinguishes the vibrations of wings during a flight (that dangerous flutter that in its time has destroyed plenty of planes that have surpassed a certain speed barrier). The bionics hinted to the plane builders the idea of such extinguishers of the wing vibrations and the flutter was defeated.
Beetles, hymenopterans, (ants, bees, wasps), dipterans, (flies, mosquitoes) and butterflies are the most numerous of all insects. Butterflies live on all continents of Earth and in the most different landscapes, (only Antarctic has no butterflies). Their general appearance, of the adults - i.e. butterflies, and of the larvae, the caterpillars, is quite monotypic. However, the size of the butterflies of our world vary in scale from 2 mm to 32 cm. It is the biggest butterfly in the world - the South American white witch 'Thysania agrippina'. However, its' record-big wings are relatively narrow, and therefore their surface area is lesser to that of two butterflies from Papua New Guinea and the adjacent Asian countries - the Hercules butterfly and the Atlas. The surface area of their wings is 300 cm square!
Butterfly life does not hold any particular surprises. It is quite simple: the eggs hatch into caterpillars, all in them, in their anatomy, aimed towards one goal - to feed, feed, and feed. To store enough proteins and fats so that later, when it pupates and will not eat anything, the miraculous processes of transformation from pupa to butterfly, can occur. This metamorphosis is astonishing! Deep and basic transformations occur in the pupa, all of its' tissues are remade anew, and the 'worm', which this creature recently was, suddenly becomes, (under the skin of a pupa) a beautiful winged insect.
You know many of them well.
Here is a brimstone. They appear in spring before many other. The grasses are not green yet, the first flowers have only opened, and the bright yellow butterflies are already flying. These are males. And the females are pale, almost white. Few butterflies live as long as brimstones do: for 10 months. They winter the cold months and fly in spring anew. They lay their eggs in summer and die.
The pale clouded yellow is similar to the brimstone. It flies at the end of the summer to spend winter in the south, like a migratory bird. Some pale clouded yellows reach Africa.
The painted lady is a famous traveller. In autumn, the painted ladies gather in flocks fly south: to Iran, India, and some to Africa. These butterflies live all over the globe. They are absent only from South America.
The red admiral is a traveller too! However, this is a solitary wanderer. The red admirals fly south individually, low to the ground. This is a black-brown butterfly, and its wings have red stripes, like those on a black admiral uniform.
The small tortoiseshell. Early in spring, the small tortoiseshells are already out. They winter as adult butterflies. And as soon as sun grows warm, they crawl out of different cracks, from beneath the bark. They fly for some time, lay eggs and die. The caterpillars usually live on nettles.
The large cabbage white. Gardeners do not like this butterfly. It is a pest: its' green-colored caterpillars eat cabbage leaves and other agricultural plants. They are especially annoying in from the south, if the summer there was dry, many large cabbage whites arrive.
The mourning cloak. These butterflies love to sit on roads, spreading the black-velvety wings with a white lining. And if they fold them together, then they will always turn so that the sun shone straight above. In morning to the east, in noon to the south, in evening to the west, their folded-over-the-back wings are directed. This is something of a live compass!
The rock grayling. Already in June, you can see this beautiful butterfly. The male very beautifully courts the female. First, he folds before her, as if in a lowest bow. Then, folding and unfolding wings, the male literally dances around the female on the ground.
The Old World swallowtail is our biggest and most beautiful butterfly. Sometimes it is also called the cavalier. It has migrated to us from hotter countries. Few of Old World swallowtails are left - protect them! Laws that protect nature forbid catching these butterflies.
The Apollo. It is an even rarer butterfly; it lives mainly in the southern mountains. Like the Old World swallowtail, it is from the swallowtail butterfly family. These butterflies too must be protected. Do not catch them if you encounter them!
The gossamer-winged butterfly. It is a small butterfly, with a plain appearance, but their caterpillars live interesting lives! They are 'friends' with the ants. They live in anthills; eat aphids and even ant eggs there. In addition, the ants 'milk' those caterpillars: they tickle them with antennae, and get sweet drops from a special gland in the back.
The fritillary. Its' caterpillars live on violets. The butterfly seemingly understands that the violets will wither in winter, and a completely different batch will bloom in spring, and so it lays eggs not onto flowers, but nearby on a rock or some branch. They will winter, in spring caterpillars will hatch, and immediately crawl onto fresh violets.
The woolly bear. The mottled wings of this moth are like a signal flag! They warn everyone who will want to eat it, that they should know better. Its' blood is bitter, poisonous. The caterpillars are hairy, seemingly covered with reddish-brown 'fur' like true bears!
The underwing. When it sits on the bark, it is invisible. The colorful underwings are hidden behind grey-colored upper ones. If you startle the underwing, it will fly, flashing brightly, and will sit nearby on the bark again. It will immediately hide the underwings and it is gone. It became invisible.
The hummingbird hawkmoth. In twilight and at night it hovers around flowers, quickly hovering in the air before the flower and will such nectar with its long proboscis. In summer many hum-ingbird hawkmoths fly north, some reach the very tundra.
The death's head hawkmoth. It is a rare moth in our country. However, sometimes it flies in from the south. At night, it misbehaves and robs bees! It will pierce the honeycomb with its firm proboscis and drink honey! And buzzing like a bee meanwhile. However, the trickery does not always work; sometimes the bees will rush the robber and sting it to death.
The privet hawkmoth... However, let us stop here: to simply list our butterflies will take an entire book. To meet them more closely with each of them you can find plenty of special guides, text-books and other works. We will concentrate our attention at one of unexpected discoveries of the last decades...
'When we entered the crevice, then we had to put on spectacles: as a hurricane hail they fell onto our faces'.
This was written by William Bib, a famous American naturalist. On one of Venezuela's mountain passes his road got blocked by an immense swarm of winged insects. Butterflies, beetles, flies, wasps, bees! Representatives of no less than fifteen zoological orders rushed by in a single whirlwind. Every second six butterflies crossed the field of vision. And as for the passing flies, bees, wasps, beetles - they couldn't be counted!
In the same place, in South America, another famous explorer of the tropics, K. Williams, saw a migration of the butterflies. Over a river, a pristine wilderness, an abandoned plantation of rubber trees, they flew in a chain. A squadron that stretched beyond the field of vision covered a 16 kilometer front! A day passed, and two, and three, and the butterflies continued to fly and fly towards southeast.
Williams asked the natives. The armadas of the butterflies didn't surprise them at all: they fly here annually - the natives told Williams.
But Williams didn't believe them. After all, until a relatively recent time, the naturalists believed that the butterflies didn't go far from the places where they hatched as caterpillars. It happens, true, that on occasion the winds carry them into foreign lands, but that doesn't happen often.
Later, in Tanganyika, Williams examined and described many different migrations of insects and doubted for the first time the beliefs of his mentors, deciding that the butterflies aren't really such homebodies as they're believed to be. And when he looking into old books and scriptures, then he understood that he wasn't a Columbus here: before him many people saw the migrations of the butterflies.
Incidentally, it was exactly Columbus who was one of the first to write about this: 'On the next day such uncountable swarms of butterflies appeared that the sky darkened' (at that time his ships were approaching Cuba).
But Columbus too was late with his discovery. The first message of a butterfly migration (a great swarm of them moved from Saxony to Bavaria) is dated 1100.
And in 1104 the butterflies 'eclipsed the sun' over one of the French towns, sowing panic amongst its inhabitants. In 1272 the Italians experienced the same fear, and in 1248 - the Japanese. In 1745 a cloud of snow-white cabbage whites landed onto the German village of Harrah. The villagers thought that as if a snowstorm broke free in the middle of a hot summer.
The invasions of butterflies were also noted in 1741, 1805, 1826, 1879 and 1905. Over one hundred of such events were already recorded from the countries of Western Europe: France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and the British islands.
Smugglers and mountaineers found high in the mountains entire glaciers covered in dead butterflies. Apparently, ill weather caught them over a mountain pass during a migration through the mountains. The sailors often saw swarms of butterflies flying to the south of the Mediterranean Sea. They, evidently, had their own theory: the butterflies were moving to Africa.
A simple theory, but until recently many biologists thought it to be absolutely impossible. The first meek voices in its defence came from the entomologists already in the 19th century, but until the middle of the 20th century this problem wasn't seriously studied.
The American entomologists gave a lot of input into the study of the butterfly migration. It was easier for them than for their European colleagues, to undertake such investigations: USA and Canada are home for the monarch - a classical example of the migrating butterfly. Regularly, at a strictly defined time, (in spring and autumn) these beautiful and big butterflies make long journeys.
In the autumn, the monarch butterflies gather from all over North America to fly in a wide front to the south, covering a distance of more than 3000 km. They winter in Mexico, in Florida, on Cuba and the Bahamas. Many of the butterflies also settle in South California.
There the so-called butterfly trees grow. The monarchs settle on them in the thousands. From one year to another they winter on the same trees, covering their branches and leaves with a complete living mass. A 30 cm long branch had more than a hundred wintering butterflies, as counted by one scientist.
In California the monarch butterflies are shown to the tourists. There exists a fine of 500 dollars for each stone thrown to the butterflies and for any other harm caused to them.
Usually, the butterflies sit immobile. Only when the sun gets too hot, the butterflies reluctantly move into the shadows. They become livelier at spring time, begin to visit the local flowers and gradually move back north. The butterflies breed along the way. They die, after laying their eggs on the milkweed. The next generation continues to move north, to the Promised Land of the ancestors, and in the autumn the young monarch butterflies once again fly south for the winter and winter on the same trees, even though they have never seen those trees themselves!
The monarch butterflies (though of a different species) live in South America. And there, every autumn they fly to the equator, and in spring - to the south.
There are no other butterflies, most likely, equal to them in the ability to pass such great distances. The monarchs were found in Europe hundreds of times, they were caught in the sea 280-420 km away from America's shores. They already became acclimatized on the Canary Islands and the Azores. And if they could find an adequate species of milkweed (the monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed!), then they would've settled in Europe long ago.
The monarchs are conquering new countries to the west of America too: many times their front teams have crossed the Pacific Ocean. In 1850 the monarchs were seen on the Hawaii for the first time. After ten years they appeared in New Zealand, slightly later - in Australia. Westward flights are continuing: the monarchs have already reached Borneo.
The European butterflies, in the character of their migrations, divide themselves into three main groups. The butterflies of the first group simply fly in from the south, for example the linear and the oleander hawkmoths. The oleander hawkmoth was found during the summer even at Kazan' and Karelia. These butterflies do not breed in the temperate latitudes and in the north. Their homeland - Caucasus, Crimea and the southern countries. These aren't migrating, but accidentally visiting butterflies.
The second group: the black-veined white butterfly, the mourning cloak butterfly, the cabbage white butterfly, the small tortoiseshell butterfly, the tiger swallowtail. They breed in Central and Northern Europe, but annually, during the summer, from the south arrive the southern mourning cloaks, cabbage whites and tiger swallowtails, which enrich the fauna of the local butterflies. The butterflies of this group usually winter in Central Europe, but during some years they migrate back south.
Periodic, spring and autumn flights are done by the butterflies of the third group: the painted lady butterfly, the admiral butterfly, the 'Death's head' hawkmoth, the morning glory hawkmoth. They don't winter in Central and Northern Europe - not as eggs, or caterpillars, pupas or adult insects. Each autumn they fly to the south.
Some fly on their own, others - in more or less big swarms, which are joined by more and more new companions as they move down south, including the other species. Dragonflies and even birds were observed in the butterfly swarms. The migratory paths of the butterflies in general match the directions of the birds' flights.
The butterflies, as shown by some observations, strictly follow a chosen direction and do not go far astray from it. When in their paths mountains or tall buildings appear, they prefer to fly over them rather than around, even if the way around is shorter. Usually they fly just above the ground at a 1-2 meters' height, only occasionally rising over the houses. But one butterfly swam was observed at a 2000 m height!
The migration speed was studied on the cabbage white. In the quiet weather against a 4-point wind speed it flies 2-4 m/s (7-14 km/h). On the wind it does 10 m/s (36 km/h).
The question as to how the butterflies orient themselves is still unclear. It's noted that they fol-low warm air currents. In the spring, for example, the migrating butterflies first appear in Eng-land, whose shores are washed by the Gulfstream, than in the Central Europe, even though the latter is located in the south. Following the currents of warm seawater and air the butterflies arrive even in Iceland, passing hundreds of kilometers over the ocean.
Of all our travelling butterflies the painted lady was studied best. It's a very common butterfly in Ukraine and the south of Russia. It's light brown, similar to the small tortoiseshell. The German scientists have examined the information about the painted ladies' flights for the last 170 years, their paths and the times of their arrivals and departures. The painted ladies often gather into colossal swarms and make long journeys, flying for thousands of kilometers. These butterflies have spread throughout almost the entire world (they currently live on all of the continents save for South America and obviously the Antarctica). They're often encountered thousands of kilometers away from the shores over the Atlantic Ocean.
Before WWII the painted ladies had overrun the USA. Their caterpillars ate all of the weeds and the farmers turned to the agricultural department with a request if there is some means to annually cause a mass outbreak of the painted ladies so that they would always clean the fields from the weeds. In 1942 a colossal swarm of the painted ladies was seen in those parts. It had over 3000000 butterflies!
Huge swarms of butterflies also passed over Germany in 1879, 1903 and 1926.
Annually, the painted ladies that wintered in Africa gather into large swarms during the spring and hurry to the north. They cross the Mediterranean Sea, they fly over the Alps. Beyond the Alps the swarms break up, many of the butterflies settle there, others continue on their journey. By the middle of May they reach the northern lands of Germany, England and Belarus and after several days appear in Scandinavia as well.
In Africa the painted ladies can be found everywhere south of the Sahara. They don't spend their time here half-asleep, as the monarchs do during the winter, but don't waste time and actively reproduce.
...Skertchly rode on a camel (it was under Suakin, in Sudan). The camel made him fall asleep. The sky was burning hot. And the air froze, full of heat. But the grass around rustled, as if blown by the wind! Skertchly jumped off the camel and run into the steppe to see what was going on. And froze, astonished: painted ladies - millions of painted ladies! - were emerging from the pupas, spread their wings and fluttering, dried in the sun. That's why the grass was rustling: almost on every leaf, on every grass stem, sat a butterfly. After an hour and a half the entire steppe shook with the wind from the wings, and the butterflies rose into the sky. The swarm vanished in the east, over the sea.
Williams thinks that they flew over Turkey to Ukraine. He personally saw thousands of painted ladies in Egypt many times, and every year in the beginning of summer they flew in the same direction.
The first painted ladies that arrived from the distance south are easily recognizable. They, as it is called, are very 'weary' from the journey. Their coloration is pale, as if the colors were bleached by the sun. The wings with the worn-down scales are ripped at the edges. The butterflies sit on the plants for a long time, are reluctant to leave them, apparently they're resting after the heavy journey.
In June the second wave of the painted ladies comes from the south. They hatched from the eggs of the butterflies that have settled in April and May in Southern Europe. After laying their eggs the painted ladies die. In July the local painted ladies begin to fly - the descendants of the butterflies that've arrived from Africa. They're noticeably bigger than their immigrant parents were and are brightly colored. At the end of the summer the young painted ladies fly to spend the winter in Northern Africa.
The painted ladies of North America and Australia also migrate in autumn and spring.
The seasonal migrations of the butterflies very closely resemble those of birds. But there are significant differences between them. During the autumn, all of the birds that've grown in the temperate forests fly to the hot south - both young and old. Among the butterflies, only the young, which have hatched in summer from the eggs laid by the butterflies that've flown from the south, fly away for the winter. Every butterfly does such a journey only once in her life.
The butterfly migrations are only beginning to be studied. Many interesting discoveries await their explorer. For the final solution of the questions the co-ordinated efforts of many scientists from different countries are necessary.
To observe the butterfly migrations is a harder job than that of the birds. You cannot put a ring on a butterfly! First the butterflies were marked with stripes of different colors. Oil-based colors were mixed with polish and painted on with a brush onto the lower side of the wing. It was decided that in Switzerland the mark will be red, in Austria - yellow, in West Germany - green, and in the East Germany - light blue.
Each station dedicated to study of the butterfly migration has - aside from the color, common to every country - its own distinguishing mark made from a combination of stripes and dots, rather as in the Morse code.
The Americans mark the butterflies by gluing to their wings tiny labels with the address of the museum and the number of the marked insect. The entomologists in Toronto punch a hole in the wing with pincers, right after the front edge vein. A label is inserted into the hole and after bending its edges around the vein, they glue them together. The wing bearing such a label weights no more than its' counterpart does, since the hole puncher removes from it a part of the tissues, equal in their weight to the label.
In addition, Dr. Rer from East Germany raised and released 60 000 cabbage whites into the wild. Each butterfly, leaving the laboratory, received a small mirror as a gift - a think aluminum plate that's attached to the wing. Sparking in the sun, the mirror, undoubtedly, will attract attention to the butterfly. Knowing the price of the human curiosity, Rer believed that people, after noticing a butterfly with the mirror, will immediately begin to chase it. They'll catch it, examine it, and see, next to the mirror, a microscopic label (it weighs 3 mg together with the mirror!). With a magnifying glass they will read the scientist's address and will write as to when and where the butterfly was caught.
And it happened so... in 20 cases out of 60 000.
A BRIEF SURVEY OF SOME OF THE BEETLES
So, Earth has about 300 thousand, (275, to be more precise) of coleopteran insects known to science. However, this number alone does not cover the diversity of the coleopteran tribe: every day, scientists from all over the world discover and describe thousands of new species and sub-species of beetles. How many of them there really are? As some entomologists suppose, about half a million species at least.
The former USSR has about 20 thousand beetle species. Therefore, we will restrict ourselves only to those, which have interesting behavior, way of life, significance, (malevolent or benevolent), for humans, or just some other character traits, say - an unusually large size... The beetle order is called Coleoptera. Indeed, their front wings (the elytra) are a firm, chitinous armor. They cover the beetle's abdomen as well as the hind, folded, membranous wings. Some beetles may have no actual wings, but they always have the elytra. Such beetles cannot fly: for it is the hind, membranous wings life the insect up into the air. It spreads the elytra, pushing them to the sides and upwards, unfolds the hidden behind hind wings, the muscles start to move them... and the beetle flies.
However, this is not without exceptions: there are such beetles that fly without lifting the elytra: they put their membranous wings through the side-slits located there. They are the flower chafers. There are slightly less than 3 thousand species of them in the world, around 50 - in the former USSR. When the flower buds of roses and lilacs open, the flower chafers fly down to them and eat the petals and pestles of the fragrant flowers. The flower chafers themselves smell unpleasant. These are the golden flower chafers. Others, the 'copper', sip tree sap. Their green backs, their elytra, do not have the perpendicular white dashes as the golden flower chafer does, and their larvae live not on the ground, but in anthills.
'One of the curious examples: on the elytra of the flower chafer Cetonia aurata - one of the most common and noticeable Russian flower chafers - I discovered the word 'gold' via a microscope. It is peculiar that the inscription is engraved in Russian, the Latin species name of the aurata beetle means 'golden'... The flower chafer group also includes the biggest beetles of our planet - the go-liath beetles that reach 11 cm!' (V. Grebennikov).
The goliath beetle lives in the African tropics. It flies and runs quickly. Due to its' speed, the scientists gave it a scientific name honoring a fleet-footed hero of ancient Greece - Meleager - and the genera name - goliath - reflects its' size and strength. This is what one mythical Biblical strongman was named.
In the past, the goliath was thought to be the biggest beetle, but the American rainforests now known to have giant longhorn beetles, next to which the goliath is a dwarf!
The stag beetle is the goliath of our European forests, it is 6-8 cm long including the 'antlers'. Those 'antlers' are very long upper jaws. The beetles do not grab prey with them, but 'butt' each other. On oaks, where sap is leaking from beneath the bark, the beetles fight for the sweet drink. Grabbing each other with their 'antlers' they try to throw each other off a tree. The larvae of these six-legged stags, before becoming beetles, live for 5 years in rotten stumps and tree hollows.
The Hercules beetle is twice as big as the biggest stag beetles are. That including the immensely long horn on its head. Meanwhile, its' neighbour, native of the Amazon jungle - the titan long-horn - is just as big without a horn. The Hercules and the titan are the biggest beetles in the world: 16-18 cm long! However, they are not the heaviest. The Acteon rhinoceros beetle is more massive than they are, even if it is smaller than they are. It too lives in the American tropics.
The Ussuri longhorn beetle Callipogon relictus is the biggest beetle in our lands. Even without the magnificent antennae, it is 10 cm long! Some Indonesian longhorn beetles have antennae that are 22 cm from one end to another! Many various longhorn beetles live in the tropics. Their larvae, living in wood, chew it from the inside. They ruin trees, furniture. A house can even collapse, if its' walls and ceiling are eaten by longhorn beetles.
The Alp rosalia is a brightly colored longhorn beetle. It is celestially blue in color! With black horizontal stripes on its back and antennae. Its' larvae live in old rotten beech trees. Few of them are left in the Alps and this beautiful beetle is probably dying out.
The jewel beetles, perhaps, are the most beautiful beetles. Golden, green, yellow, with multiple multicolored spots. They all have very firm armor. These beetles, just like gems, are used to make bracelets and brooches.
The ancient Egyptians have decorated their sarcophagi and equipment not just with gems and colored glass, but with the jewel beetles' elytra as well.
The oil beetle! Better do not even touch it! The blood of this beetle has a strong poison: 30 mm will kill a person. If the poison of an oil beetle touches skin, there will be boils and burns. However, hedgehogs, bats, frogs, chickens, swallows eat the oil beetles without any harm to them. Female oil beetles bury many eggs underground, up to 10 thousand. Their larvae will hatch from eggs and crawl onto flowers. There they attach to a 'wild' bee and fly on it into the bee nest. There they first eat the egg, laid by the bee, and then they feed on honey.
The bombardier is an astonishing beetle! It, while fleeing, shots at its foes. It ejects a caustic liquid from the tip of the abdomen. With a sound it explodes in the air, 'gunpowder smoke' follows the insect. An explosive gas is formed from the complex compounds of the bombardier beetle's defensive liquid! And after the explosion - the water vapor forms. Scientists have only recently solved the artillery riddles of the bombardier beetle. Nothing like this is found in other animals.
The checkered beetles fly, quickly run over stems and flower petals during hot summer days. They seek places to better lay their eggs, so that the larvae, as soon as they hatch from them, could immediately grab a bee or a wasp. Those tiny 'cuckoos' will fly into a foreign home and immediately begin to tear through it. They eat bee or wasp larvae.
Of course, you know well the May beetle. All over the country, wherever there are forests, during April - May thousands of brown beetles hover over the greenery of fresh leaves. They will die in a month. And their larvae will hatch from eggs, buried by females, and for 3-4 years they will live underground, eating roots of young trees.
The big and glutinous larvae of the June or July beetle too live underground and are great pests of fruit gardens and grapevines. Several species of the June beetle live in the south of the former USSR.
The forest caterpillar hunter beetle also lives there, in the south. It is a large beetle. It runs quickly. Each day it runs almost a kilometer of space in the tangle of grasses and tree branches. It is a good tree climber. Even its' larvae can climb and hunt harmful caterpillars among the foliage. When in America there was an uncontrollable outbreak of the gypsy moth that ruined large tracts of woodland, their worst enemies - the forest caterpillar hunter was introduced there from Europe.
The Crimean ground beetle. It lives in Crimea and Caucasus. Almost all ground and tiger beetles - and there are about 25 thousand species of them on the planet - are carnivorous, speedy, useful beetles. They destroy slugs, caterpillars, May beetles. The ground beetles live in the tropics and on the subantarctic islands, on Greenland, northern Siberia, in valleys and mountains, to the very edge of the ice sheets.
Some of the tropical ground beetles are very big beetles, up to 10 cm in length.
Now let us look in the water: there are beetles too. Diving beetles. You can see them almost in any pond and lake. These are carnivorous beetles. They attack aquatic insects, even tadpoles and fish fry. They fly from pond to pond at night. Their larvae too are predators. Their jaws are sharp and shaped like sabres. The largest larvae of the diving beetles attack tadpoles and small crucian carps. They stab their prey with jaws as sharp as scimitars. Tadpoles and little fish, dragging everywhere the attached predator, and the latter slowly but surely digests and eats that body part of its' victim that it had grabbed.
A diving beetle larva does not really have a mouth at all. Well, actually, it is present, but it is also firmly locked by interlocked 'lips'. The larva cannot open it. It sucks a victim's tissues with its jaws: just like the venomous fangs of an adder, they are grooved. In this case, however, they transfer not venom, but digestive juices. The already digestive product goes back into the larva via the same grooves.
When the time comes to transform into an adult beetle, the larva crawls to land and buries underground. The young beetle usually winters underground as well. It emerges in spring, spreads its' wings and flies to water.
Is there such a pond or a quiet stretch of the river, where the whirligig beetles did not live? Probably not. The author, certainly, did not find such a pond or a quiet stretch of a river.
Throughout the day, the small black beetles slide through the water surface in a merry dance as if it was ice, and 'like drops of steel' they scatter to all sides when you, wanting to look at them, bend over a pond too closely, and the dark shadow will frighten the beetles.
But the alarm passed, and the beetles whirligig once more. They do not drown, because forces of surface tension support them from below.
Whirligig beetles are hunters. They seek out prey both above and below water. They do not have to leave one observation post for the other; their eyes are split into above water and below water lobes. It is as if the beetles have for eyes: two seek out everything interesting in the pond, and the other two keep a look in the air.
However, this is not the only reason why they whirligig beetles can attract a curious mind. A closer look at their way of life allowed designers to look from the same vantage point at both the beetles and the working processes of the most complex radiolocation devices.
When the whirligig beetles were brought to a lab and the can was put into a dark room, they whirligiged in the darkness too. Just as dexterously as during a sunny day in a pond, they maneuvered, turning at the right moment to avoid colliding with each other and the aquarium walls. The beetles got blinded, nothing changed in their behavior.
The German biologist Frederic Eggers decided to examine more attentively these mysterious abilities of the whirligig beetles. He noted that their antennae are built differently than those of the other beetles. When a beetle whirligigs, its' antennae are always located at the border of water and air, neither lower nor higher. With their dense bristles, they seemingly pick the cream off the water.
This is indeed almost so: the 'cream' that is getting caught by the beetles' antennae are surface waves. The same waves that scatter in rings through the water from a fallen leaf or stone. They spread from the beetles too, to all sides, as they run through the water as a Gospel sorcerer. Reflecting from obstacles, they return to the beetle. There the beetle catches them with its 'separator' antennae.
When doctor Eggers damaged the whirligig beetles' antennae, (put hairs on them or damaged the nerves that served them), and then put the beetles into water, nothing remained of the whirligig beetles' dexterity. They helplessly, 'like a bird that struck the window glass', hit all the objects, each other, and the aquarium walls.
The microscopic bristles on the insect antennae, shifting under surface wave by one milliard share of a cm, already can inform the animal mind about their shift, and consequently, about their encounter with a wave. But curiously, how do the beetles distinguish the reflected waves that they themselves push forwards, from other water movements?
This mystery still awaits scientists.
'In the evening, under electrical light, everything in the aquarium sparked with numerous sparks. What's that? Apparently, those beetles that got bored sliding through the water, grabbed a bubble of air, sparkling like quicksilver, and went into underwater journeys. Incidentally, the beetles showed here also the art of speed of speed and dexterity. In a second, the beetle swam for about half a meter. Its' body length is 5 mm' (Professor P.I. Marikovsky).
Earth has about 700 species of whirligig beetles.
THE HOLY SCARAB AND THE BIRCH LEAF ROLLER
The dung beetles and the leaf rollers manifest the care for their young in a series of different, but surprising, instincts. The first make balls from dung and roll them with their hind legs: the ball is in the front, the beetle behind it in reverse! The balls of the worse, so to say, dung become food to the beetle itself. It will bury such ball into a burrow, will get into that burrow itself, and will sit there for several days until it will eat the entire ball.
To feed its offspring, i.e. the grubs, the best dung, preferably that of the sheep is chosen. The scarabs often fight for it, stealing each other's balls. Whoever does fight off the rivals (or steal it from a rival instead) quickly rolls its dung ball away. The beetle's strength is surprising: it weighs just 2-2.5 grams, and the ball - up to 40 grams. If the ball is designated to become the food for the larva, then already in the burrow the female reshapes into a vaguely pear-like shape and lays an egg into its narrower end. The larva eats the 'pear' from the inside, without breaking through the surface walls. Then it pupates and approximately after a month it becomes a beetle that also 'winters' in the pear in the moderate latitudes, emerging from the burrow only next spring.
The ancient Egyptians elevated the dung beetle to a sacred level, worshipped it as a deity. They engraved its images in stone, and putting it onto a deceased's heart, buried them with the mummies. The scientists suppose that the deification of the dung beetle happened thusly: the Egyptians saw in the beetles rolling the dung the movements of sun in the sky.
Approximately 90 species from the scarab genus as well as others - the copres, the dung-eaters, the pill-makers, etc - make balls out of dung and bury them in burrows. Some of them, though, gather not dung, but bits of meat, broken feathers, skin, and hair. The cleaning-up role of those beetles in nature is great.
...This beetle is not very big. It is very tiny: 3 - 4 mm in length. It is black, with a small proboscis. A weevil, in short. And it is named the birth leaf roller. It rolls the birch leaves into cylinders not just in any way, but also according to the rules of high math. That is why its rolled leaves do not unroll.
During a warm spring day a female leaf roller climbs onto a birch and finds a soft leaf. On its upper surface, backing slightly to the right of the base, the female bites the leaf with its sharp jaws and backing makes a first cut leading to the vein. It nibbles the central vein slightly and moves to the left side of the leaf. Another twisted cut goes from the edge to the vein, but it less bow-shaped than the first.
Finishing it, the beetle returns to where it has started, again onto the right side of the leaf. It moves to its lower surface and, moving quickly, rolls the right side of the leaf into a narrow cone out of five to seven tight rolls.
Then the insect rolls the left side of the leaf exactly into the same way. But it rolls that side in reverse, around the already completed cone. A thick green sheath is formed.
'The examinations of those jagged cuts, produced by the beetle on the leaf, showed that by the way of making those, and no other, cuts, is possible to roll a leaf thusly. It is quite curious that in this job the beetle solves of the riddles of higher mate: to build an evolute via a given involute. Apparently, if the given mathematical riddle is solved correctly, then the leaf will not unroll for real' (professor N.M. Plavilshchikov).
The beetle, of course, works without complex calculations. The instinct tells it the only correct and the most economic form of the cut that minimizes the labour made to roll a leaf.
Then the female climbs inside the cylinder and bits its surface in three to five places. Laying into each bite a yellowish oval egg the female climbs outside and rolls the lower end of the cone into a small roll, thus firmly locking its offspring in the green sheath.
The entire job takes about half an hour. Finishing it, the beetle rolls a second leaf.
After several months the white legless grubs already feel crumpled into the cylinder. Wind and rain rip the now-brown cylinders of the leaf rollers off the branches. The grubs chew through their walls, and bury themselves underground, where, in burrows, they pupate and become young mathematician beetles.
The birch leaf roller is widely spread: in Europe and Siberia - everywhere, where birches grow. It inhabits other trees too: the hornbeam, the beech, the aspen, and the hazel. The weevils of other species also roll, each in their own manner, the leaves of the grape, the oak, and the hazel.
Ants, bees, wasps, ichneumons are from the Hymenoptera order.
Over a hundred thousand of species of all sorts of Hymenopterans were discovered on the planet. But before we go over to the bees, let's look at their closest relatives among the ants. They have a unique way of keeping food supplies!
In North America live the so-called honey ants of the myrmecocistus genus. They suck the sap of the sugar oak, and by the dry season a great supply of it is kept in the anthills already.
How is it kept? In living barrels...
When the first explorers uncovered their anthills, they were astonished. Rounds, grape-sized 'barrels' of honey were hanging off the ceiling of a large, semi-circular chamber. The 'barrels' were alive! They clumsily tried to crawl away into a dark corner.
The ants seek their 'honey' during the nights - the sugary excretions located on the oak's galls; the ants eat them as much as they can and return to their anthill noticeably swollen. The honey, brought in the crop, is passed from mouth to mouth among the ants to the 'living vessels'. The stomach and the abdomen of these wonderful ants can stretch as if they were made from rubber. The barrel ants swallow so much honey that their abdomen stretches to impossible proportions! Like overripe grapes they hang, sticking with their claws to the ceiling of the 'food warehouse' - the most spacious room in the anthill. The natives even call them so - 'terrestrial grapes'. The honey squeezed from these ants resembles that of the bees and is very pleasant to taste. The Mexicans break into the anthills of the honey ants and get there their honey. 400 grams of first-rate honey can be squeezed out of a 1000 barrel-ants.
The ants feed their larvae on the stored honey. During lean times even the adult ants often run into the cellar to receive several sweet droplets from the mouth of a barrel-ant.
The south of Europe and Asia is inhabited by ants of the proformica genus (and Australia by that of the meloforus genus), who keep the liquid food supplies in the same way.