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How Not to Be Eaten

How Not to Be Eaten: The Insects Fight Back

Gilbert Waldbauer
With illustrations by James Nardi
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    How Not to Be Eaten
    Book Description:

    All animals must eat. But who eats who, and why, or why not? Because insects outnumber and collectively outweigh all other animals combined, they comprise the largest amount of animal food available for potential consumption. How do they avoid being eaten? From masterful disguises to physical and chemical lures and traps, predatory insects have devised ingenious and bizarre methods of finding food. Equally ingenious are the means of hiding, mimicry, escape, and defense waged by prospective prey in order to stay alive. This absorbing book demonstrates that the relationship between the eaten and the eater is a central—perhaps the central—aspect of what goes on in the community of organisms. By explaining the many ways in which insects avoid becoming a meal for a predator, and the ways in which predators evade their defensive strategies, Gilbert Waldbauer conveys an essential understanding of the unrelenting coevolutionary forces at work in the world around us.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95246-1
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)

    All animals must eat. If they don’t, they cannot fulfill the three basic imperatives of life: togrowand tosurvivelong enough toreproduce.But who eats whom, and why? Except for climatic factors such as droughts or freezing temperatures, predators are probably the most pervasive and dangerous threat to the survival of most animals. Because all organisms require food, the relationships between the eaten and the eaters are a—perhapsthe—central aspect of what goes on in a community of organisms, which, together with their physical environment, constitute an ecosystem.

    In almost all land and freshwater ecosystems,...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. ONE Insects in the Web of Life
    (pp. 1-10)

    Insects constitute by far the largest amount of animal food available to flesh eaters both on dry land and in freshwater. The one quarter of the earth that is not covered by the oceans and seas is inhabited by an immense and not yet completely censused population of insects. The 900,000 currently known insect species (at least three million are yet to be discovered and named, according to reasonable estimates [Stephen Marshall]) constitute about 75 percent of the currently known 1,200,000 animal species on land, in freshwater, and in the oceans. The Canadian entomologist Brian Hocking made the daring but...

  6. TWO The Eaters of Insects
    (pp. 11-34)

    In the middle of the night, a little bolas spider hangs from a plant by a few threads of silk. When a flying moth comes close enough, the hungry spider flicks at it a length of silk thread with a droplet of very sticky glue at the end. This is its bolas. With a bit of luck, the glue catches the moth, which the spider reels in and makes a meal of. The bolas spider’s weapon is unique among animals—except for humans, who have invented similar weapons, the lasso and the Argentine gaucho’s bolas, for which the spider is...

  7. THREE Fleeing and Staying under Cover
    (pp. 35-53)

    A well-hidden insect will be safe from many, if not most, insect-eating predators. But since natural selection is inexorable, predators will inevitably evolve with the anatomical and behavioral specializations needed to find and capture even the most thoroughly concealed insects. For example, if you hear what sounds like the blows of an ax in a winter woodland, it may well be a pileated woodpecker, the largest of our surviving North American woodpeckers, using its powerful, chisel-like bill to chop out chips of wood the size of a child’s hand as it works to get at the larva of a long-horned...

  8. FOUR Hiding in Plain Sight
    (pp. 54-69)

    My first and most impressive experience with a camouflaged animal—still indelibly etched on my brain—happened more than sixty years ago. It was an encounter with a snake rather than an insect, but it is a convincing example of how deceptive camouflage can be. Sam Silver, one of my teachers, and I stood on a rocky slope at the base of a tall cliff in Trumbull, Connecticut, our binoculars focused on a wood thrush. My left foot rested on a dished-out rock covered with the usual forest floor litter, mainly dead leaves of various shades of brown and reddish...

  9. FIVE Bird Dropping Mimicry and Other Disguises
    (pp. 70-77)

    The caterpillars of some of our common swallowtail butterflies are disguised as bird droppings, as are some other insects. For example, larvae of the familiar black swallowtail, called parsleyworms when they invade our gardens, have a special resemblance to bird droppings in their first two instars (subdivisions, separated by molts, of the caterpillar or any other larval stage) but are camouflaged in their last two instars.

    In 1892 in India, Colonel A. Newnham was reaching across a bush to collect a beetle and, as he said, “nearly touched what I took to be the disgusting excreta of a crow. Then...

  10. SIX Flash Colors and Eyespots
    (pp. 78-92)

    No defensive tactic is perfect. Even the most deceptively camouflaged insect may be spotted by a hungry bird. Some, as we have seen, beat a speedy retreat by running or flying away when a predator comes too close for comfort. Among them are the underwing moths (Catocala), which we met in chapter 4. These moths, like many other insects, augment their retreat with another tactic. Before fleeing, an underwing disturbed by an experimenter or a keen-eyed bird, perhaps a noisy gray jay, the “camp robber” of the north woods, suddenly raises its front wings to expose its broadly banded, vividly...

  11. SEVEN Safety in Numbers
    (pp. 93-107)

    Insects and other animals in groups are less likely to be taken by predators than are lone individuals. Some insects, including most insect eaters—mantises, aphid lions, dragonflies—are solitary. (Except for some ants, I can think of no predaceous insects that hunt in groups.) A lone mantis, for example, will probably escape the very real threat of cannibalism. There is no doubt that mantises are inclined to eat one another; after all, the females sometimes devour their mates. But many insects that are not predaceous—and therefore less likely to be cannibalistic—such as aphids, tent caterpillars, and cockroaches,...

  12. EIGHT Defensive Weapons and Warning Signals
    (pp. 108-137)

    Sturdy armor plating, like the iron suits of medieval knights, protects many insects and other arthropods and serves as their supporting framework. This exoskeleton, unlike our endoskeleton, is a more or less rigid body wall, which might be thought of, very loosely, as the insect’s skin. Other insects, especially larvae such as caterpillars, have a body wall that is soft and flexible except on the head and legs. But the body wall of most insects consists of rigid plates joined by narrow areas of flexible membrane that make movement possible.

    If you have had a gastronomic encounter with the delectable...

  13. NINE The Predators’ Countermeasures
    (pp. 138-155)

    As we saw in chapter 2, insectivores have evolved over the eons and are still evolving new and sometimes bizarre adaptations and tactics to not only counter the evolving strategies of defensive insects but also minimize competition from rival insectivores. A few birds, as we will see below, feed on toxic monarch butterflies by ingesting only the least toxic parts of their bodies and discarding the rest, while other birds disarm stinging wasps and bees by beating them against a perch until the abdomen, which bears the sting, falls off. Soaring swallows and chimney swifts both pursue flying insects but...

  14. TEN Protection by Deception
    (pp. 156-178)

    One of the best ways not to be eaten is to resemble something that isn’t good to eat. In South Africa there are plants that escape the notice of grazers because they look like rocks lying on the ground. Many animals, most of them insects, mimic other animals that bite, sting, or are unpalatable because they contain a sickening chemical substance. Nonvenomous snakes mimic the deadly coral snakes; many harmless insects—flies, moths, and even beetles—mimic stinging bees and wasps; the viceroy butterfly mimics the toxic monarch butterfly. There are even, improbable as it seems, caterpillars that mimic venomous...

    (pp. 179-184)

    The ways in which insects protect themselves against insectivores and the ways in which insectivores get around these defenses are cogent examples of the reciprocal evolution of interacting groups of organisms. Not only that, they give us a look at the tactics and complexities of predation, one of the most important limits on the increase of populations and a central and necessary function in all ecosystems. Predation, parasitism, and disease are unique in being ecologically responsive, because they are, unlike climatic factors such as droughts or storms, self-limiting population regulators. As predator populations increase, for example, prey populations decrease. This...

    (pp. 185-204)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 205-221)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 222-222)