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Sometimes insects don't look and act the way you'd expect.


Take termites. Here in the Southwest, subterranean termites are common, but you don't see them very often. They are tiny insects that spend most of their time hidden inside tunnels in wood or within the mud tubes they build.

The workers are soft and white, like a cooked piece of rice. The soldiers are heftier, with large mandibles and longer yellowish-brown heads.

Still, you don't see them unless you break into their homes.

We also have desert encrusting termites, which make patches of mud over the surface of grass or the bark of trees.

They are also white and soft bodied, and stay out of sight.

In fact, you might think that all termites are like this if you only saw southwestern ones.

So, let's move to Malaysia for a minute. What are the insects in this video?

(Thanks to Steve Naranjo for the video.)

The insects are actively running on a log. They are colorful. In fact, at first they look like ants, but these are processional termites. Rather than munching inside or on wood, they graze on lichens that grow on trees. If you look closely, you can see some of the workers carrying clumps of lichen in their mandibles.

Talk about defying expectations. Aren't processional termites mind-blowing?

Insects are not always easy to identify.

Take this cute little guy. Is it a beetle or is it a bug?

Because it has a shield shape in the middle of the back and a beak (the mouthparts you see tucked under the head), it's a shield bug (also called stink bug).

Now comes the hard part. Some shield bugs, like harlequin bugs for example, feed on plants. Some are predatory and feed on soft-bodied insects like caterpillars. How do you tell which is which? A rough rule of thumb is if the beak is thicker than the bug's antennae, then it is a predator. If the beak is about the same thickness as the antennae, then it is a plant feeder.

This little guy is a predatory kind in the genus Perillus. Best to let it go about its business.

Let's take a look at a couple of photographs sent in by my cousin.

(Photograph by Karen Gibson, used with permission)

How did she ever spot this mostly green grasshopper hiding on a green plant?


(Photograph by Karen Gibson, used with permission)

Looks a lot different close up! Can you see the bright yellow semi-lunar process at the "knee joint" of the hind legs? (See previous post about grasshoppers for details).

This species has an unusual common name:  obscure bird grasshopper,  Schistocerca obscura.

Turns out the plant is unusual, too. Called the citronella plant or mosquito plant geranium, Pelargonium citrosum, it is a scented geranium that smells like another plant, citronella. Citronella is supposed to chase away mosquitoes, although there's some question whether the scented geranium has the same effect.

In any case, a scented geranium that smells like citronella evidently does not chase away grasshoppers.


Thanks to Karen for permission to use her photographs.