Eaten, Not Beaten


Photo by Егор Камелев on Unsplash

Nana: I see you have your nose buried in the Percy Jackson series again. Don’t you have any school work to do? Class starts in an hour, right?

Nina: This is school work Nana. The teacher asked me to write a review of my favorite book. So naturally, I must read it again to make sure I do a thorough job. I’m just at the part where the book talks about how Zeus liberated his siblings from Kronos’s digestive system by feeding him a mixture of mustard and wine.

Nana: Ugh. Gross. I’m eating breakfast for heaven’s sake. Must you?

Nina: Don’t worry Nana. Unless you’re eating beetles, you’ll be fine.

Nana: How delightful. Okay, I’ll bite. Why beetles?

Nina: The bombardier beetle, when swallowed whole by a toad, releases puke inducing acid spray in the toads stomach. When the toad pukes the beetle out, it escapes barely harmed. Even weirder, is the acid is most likely formic acid obtained from ants that it eats. Cool huh?

Nana: Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

Nina: But that’s not even the the weirdest escape story of a beetle from a digestive system.

Nana: Please feel free to keep the weirdest one to yourself.

Nina: But Nana, I couldn’t be so selfish. There are water beetles called R. attenuata that actively run through the digestive system of a frog, and get excreted alive. They just walk out of the back door. There have been examples of snails that get out alive through digestive systems by sealing their shells. But this beetle actually runs through, and can’t make it unless it’s legs are in working condition.

Nana: Ugh. How could you possibly know that?

Nina: Shinji Sugiura, an ecologist at Kobe University in Japan experimented with the beetles to learn these strange facts.

Nana: Am I glad we crush and cook our food before swallowing it! Pooh. But it is interesting how organisms evolve to evade predators. Did you know that the reverse is also true?

Nina: What do you mean?

Nana: I mean some predators also take extreme measures to ensure their prey does not escape. Ever heard of orb weaver spiders?

Nina: What about them?

Nana: You know how most spiders trap insects by getting them stuck in their webs.

Nina: Yup, like in the poem Will you walk into my parlor said the spider to the fly

Nana: But orb weaver spiders are even more aggressive. Their webs contain more than glue.

Nina: Really Nana? What do they contain?

Nana: Recent research suggests they contain neuro-toxins that paralyze the prey to prevent it from escaping.

Nina: Yikes Nana! Now I'll be too scared to clean the cobwebs in my room. No wonder Annabeth is so scared of spiders. It’s a ruthless world out there. The game of cat and mouse is so cut throat. I think I’ll retreat back in to the world of Percy Jackson. At least all the battles there are fictional and funny.

This post is a part of the #NinaAndNana series I co-host with Lavanya Srinivasan. Her posts can be found here.

Tags: evolution, insects, science, animals, Nina and Nana, biology, humor, family