I apologize for the terrible pun in the title. Sometimes I just can’t help myself. In this pic the bug is moving down the step railing on the deck.
Back in the summer, (or spring, I forget now) I was outside on the deck preparing to light up the charcoal grill for some fantastic something or other (I don’t remember that tidbit either). As I was waiting for the freshly lit coals to attain the fully engulfed white-ness that ensures that they are ready to go, as well as assuring me they have burned off all of the lighter fluid, I noticed something. It looked like a piece of bark that was flip flopping around with the slight breeze. I didn’t pay too much attention, till I realized it was moving indepently of the light breeze blowing. So now with my curiosity engaged I had a closer look. What I saw left me amazed.
There was some kind of insect, trying to cross a point in the deck where the deck railing meets the stair rail, and over time some shrinkage had created a bit of a gap. I assure you when I built this deck, it was well measured and cut, I’m a bit anal in that regard. Anyway here was this odd looking bug, that by all appearances had built itself some very barklike camouflage on its back. It almost looked like some sort of bark paste that had been applied to its back. I have never seen a critter like this before, and I have been outside observing bugs and things since I was a young lad. So this really got my attention. I called out the family to have a look, and grabbed a camera for some pics.
The night before there had been quite a storm, with a lot of wind and rain, a deluge. The deck is under a trio of oaks, all White Oak. So I assume (and purely speculative) these bugs were washed out of the trees. Which might also explain their camouflage, as the color and texture of this camo would leave them virtually invisible if they were stationary anywhere on the bark of one of these trees. Also noted when they feel threatened they go full stop and hide underneath their camouflage.
Then I thought, I wonder if there are any more? So I started looking, and I found 2 more, both were between where the slats running up the stairs end, and the 4×4 post at the top of the stairs begins at the top of the deck. Both were caught in spider web. One was dead, the other was twirling in circles with the breeze, flailing to be free. I freed the little guy, and let him go. But not before getting a few pics as he twirled. In one of these shots you can see the earwig like pincers.
I have been trying here and there to figure out what these things are, I first thought is some sort of earwig, given the aforementioned pincers of the twirling one, and have to admit I wasn’t sure which end was front or back. I had no idea of this specific species or their numbers so I didn’t keep one. Armed with my pics I set out on the net to see if I could identify them. Still nothing solid. Here is a shot with the 2 caught in web, the one in the forefront displays the pincers, this is the underside of the critter. The other (dead one) is further back, and not a part of the closest one. A little blurred but the pincers can be seen.
Then todayI found this link that shows a similar insect with camouflage here: (adult upper left, larvae lower right) http://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/green-lacewing-larvae-use-corpses-as-camouflage/ It doesn’t look like my insect in color, though it does in design. This lacewing larvae uses dead carcasses of its victims, aphids, as cover. I have yet to see anything that resembles an earwig or a lacewing that has a bark colored camo.
Then I found this pic here: http://www.gardensafari.net/english/locusts.htm
Another lacewing larvae, this one is a really close resemblance at first glance, but you can tell what is on its back more closely resembles dead bug carcasses, mine did not have this appearance that I could see at first. But I am surely no expert, and honestly the thought never occurred to me that this camouflage could be dead aphids, so I wasn’t looking for them. After some more looking at my pics I am beginning to think that just maybe those are dead aphids, and these are indeed lacewing larvae with their trophy victims upon thier backs. Maybe the bark like color, is because the aphids they are eating have this coloration. More speculation, and honestly thats all I have at this point. So I am leaning towards the lacewing larvae, but still really am not sure. All I can say is these are the kinds of things that interest me. Which may be indicitave of my inner geeky-ness, but my failure to identify them this late after the fact surely must represent my laziness.
There are many species out there that kill and eat their victims, but I have to wonder how many of those parade around with those victims upon their backs? An even more intriguing question in my mind, is how do they stack these things on their backs? I read that they have these stiff hairs they use to impale their victims upon, but clearly these things get stacked pretty high, and it must be an amazing feat to continue stacking dead carcasses. I would like to see that done.
Guess if there is a moral to this story, it is to always let curiosity be an engine, to seek out new knowledge.