Olympics Are Over: One Arthropod Comes Out A Head

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The Olympics are over, but that doesn't mean we can't still keep the spirit of competition and record-breaking alive.

Arthropods are the gold medalists for the most successful life forms, in numbers, biomass and diversity. In fact, 90% of all animals are arthropods. They have proven themselves for over 550 million years on earth. The aftermath of the Cambrian explosion gave rise to some champs.jpgamazing creatures such as the diverse trilobites (17,000 species!), the 7 foot long sea scorpions (euryptigids) and others. The diagram below shows one of these non-stinging but still get-out-of-the-water scorpions along side an adult male human. That's the one with the claws and thick body, furthest away from the man (as it should be).

Next to the man, another ancient arthropod called Arthropluera was a gargantuan terrestrial millipede of sorts, larger than one meter in length and up to 30 inches wide - this thing actually made forest trails that have recently been found in the fossil record!

The other one is a Japanese spider crab. This one? It's still around. Yep. You can go to the Pacific side of Japan and take a dip with an 13 footer. I'll leave it to you to come up with the spicy RĂ©moulade jokes.

As far as more living species, there are a few more runners up - here with an honorable mention.

Lineus longissimus is a species of ribbon worm. Normally these living spaghetti  are only a few inches long. However one individual was found on the coast of Scotland that measured 55 meters - that's over 180 feet - making it the longest animal in the world.

In comparison the largest giant squid only measures up to 13 m but can weigh in at 275kg (600lbs)! Oh, what a chance for a calamari pun.

Then there's the Lion's Mane Jellyfish - a semi-transparent mass of potential pain that has a bell diameter of 7.5 feet making it larger than some city apartments.

Those are some of the records for largest and heaviest, but not perhaps not the most frightening. In my opinion fear is the factor when considering the champs. Now onto the medal winners.

BRONZE: goes to hookworms. The adults live in your intestine where they mate and release eggs in feces. The eggs hatch in moist soil and the microscopic larvae await a tender foot to wriggle into. Once inside the skin the larvae find their way into the circulatory system. In the lungs they wriggle into the airway where they are coughed up then swallowed - a three system tour into your intestines where the whole cycle starts again.

Next winning the SILVER for sickening would be the the bot fly Dermatobia humanus. This little bug really gets under your skin. The female fly catches a mosquito, lays an egg on the mosquito's mouth parts and flies off. The mosquito zooms in for a human blood meal the warmth stimulates the egg to hatch as a little maggot squirms into the microscopic would left by the mosquito's beak. The little worm gets bigger and bigger until a boil forms. The breathing apparatus can be seen from a hole at the top of the boil as this immature worm rolls around as comfy as a bug in a rug. Secreting an anesthetic to dull the pain and an antibiotic to selfishly keep from being overrun with bacteria the larva eventually forms a pupa and drops out of your skin to become an adult.

Cymothoa_exigua.jpgSo, now, without further ado - the most disgusting arthropod I know and clearly a GOLD-medal winner is a parasitic marine isopod called Cymothoa exigua. We've all seen isopods in our garden or under leaves - the cute ones are called rolly-pollies or pill bugs. Imagine one of those - but swimming in the ocean with sharp claws and a taste for blood. Fish are attacked when the isopod enters its oral cavity through its gills then digs into the flesh at the base of the fish's tongue. The circulation to the tongue is cut off and it shrivels - but don't worry - the parasite is still there, allowing the fish to stay alive by replacing the tongue with its body. Guess this arthropod's got the rest licked (sorry).

Diagram modified from BurningHammer. Disgusting photo by Dr. Nico Smit. Good for him.

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5 Comments

Craig said:

And here I thought nothing could be worse than a bot fly. I stand corrected. Thanks?

Doug S. said:

That fish thing is disgusting--I am going to puke. On the other hand, it's a great way to keep the weight off!

Thanks Mike!!

Stace said:

You fill me with digust - but that's nothing new.

Doug S. said:

Where's the blog? We need you now more than ever! Arthropods '08, for the Change We Need.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael published on August 27, 2008 12:05 AM.

Skin so soft: Can you Ditch the DEET? was the previous entry in this blog.

Bong Caterpillars Attack Coffee, Chocolate; Reminds Me of Gypsies is the next entry in this blog.

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About "Bugs in the News"

I'm naturalist and teacher Michael McAloon. I have been studying invertebrates (spineless animals) for a number of years now and I specialize in mites and insects. My studies have brought me to remote forests in India and China, as well as some not-so-remote cities in Europe  and elsewhere around the world. I have trapped, netted, collected, preserved, cataloged, touched, smelled, eaten, been stung by, bivouac'd with, awed, and astonished by the little creatures most of us just step over every day.

Seeking to share some of my expertise on insects and other crawlies I hope to translate and enhance popular and interesting articles on said creatures in this blog - hopefully entertaining you while learning something myself along the way.

Have a story, image or news clip you would like to share? Please send it along in a comment!


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