My February love story is for a bug (of course). I have LOVED stalk-eyed flies ever since I saw them in a biology book as a child. How can something look so wild and still be able to move around, feed and mate? These obscure tiny critters have modified eyes that at the ends of long stalks on either side of the head. Note the tiny antennae on the end of these stalks as well. LOL, what funny, cool, amazing creatures. It always made me wonder what it would be like to have giant yardsticks coming off my head and how often would I run into stuff??
I never thought I would get a chance to see one in the wild. I can tell you that they are even more amazing to see in person. We traveled to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, Africa to teach a photography course and find amazing insects. These flies are actually really small like the size of a housefly but quite a bit thinner. They are really hard to find. We found it was best to walk through a vegetated area and hope they pop up and fly to another leaf so we could catch a glimpse and ideally a picture. We actually got REALLY lucky and there was a group of them right outside our bungalow! Each morning we could get up and search for individuals. Once you found them you had to keep an eye on them, if you blink they may just jump up and move and then they are lost and you have to start over. We were able to get several pictures of them over the course of 10 days. We even captured them mating which is actually difficult to figure out where one bug ends and the other starts.
So how and why do they have these crazy eyes on the end of stalks? The theory is that it is a result of sexual selection. So females know that it is crazy hard to run around with two giant yardsticks coming off the side of your head. If you can do it, then you probably have good genes and your kids will too! So females prefer those individuals with long eyes!
Stalk-eyed flies, as cool as they are, can be a pest to rice growers in tropical Africa. The larvae of the stalk-eyed flies prefer the best parts of the rice plants like the new growth areas or meristems of the plant. This causes the tops of the rice to turn brown and wilt or die. Each larva can destroy between 3-10 rice stems. However, in Mozambique they are not known to be pests of anything. They like the shady lowland humid areas, which is where we found this guy.
There are more cool insects on this planet than we have time to explore! I am going to try and see as many as I can.
Hope you find lots of bugs in your backyard.
P.S. I know it's not Stalk Eyed Flies in your backyard bug bu Backyard Bugs would be a great valentines gift! It comes with and identification guide to common bugs.