Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Beetle I Found

Y'all! So many exciting things have happened in my life since the last time I blogged. 

One of the main things I’m excited about is that I’ve been given a tool to feed my obsessive nerdyness. This tool happens to be a company that makes microscopes and I totally tricked someone into hiring me there. Suckers. 

SO ANYWAY. I found this Beetle. I found it on the black top of some airport. It was all dead and dehydrated. I picked it up because I thought I could glue it to a canvas and make a cool painting around it. It looked like this:

Photo Credit to JJ Blackwood

But I happened to be hanging out with a coworker who suggested we take it to work and look at it. 

So then, I cut off it's leg and I cut off it's head and my friend Marc stuck it into his Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). It looked FREAKY. I'll show you in a sec but first you need to know that it was a pristonychus terricola (I think) based on a picture I found in a library book called The Anatomy of Insects & Spiders by Claire Beverly and David Ponsonby. 

This is a really cool book because not only is it full of historical drawings that are from as far back as 1255 but it also talks a lot about uses for these bugs in ancient cultures. Turns out, Egyptians were really into Beetles and their traditions around it are fascinating and worth their own blog which I might get to someday. 
Ok, so first of all...let's look at it's leg. 

We are about to look at this part.

This is the hook at the end of it's foot. I was playing with the cutest june bug that I found when I was in Tennessee last weekend. It was crawling all over me and I kept thinking about how it's digging it's little micro-hooks into my skin but they can't cause me pain because they are too small.
That scale bar in the bottom right hand corner says 500 microns. To give you a frame of reference, a strand of human hair can be 17-50 microns for people of European descent and 56-181 microns for people of African descent. If you want to measure the diameter of your own hair, it's really easy! All you need is a laser. Follow these steps. If you are using one of those red laser pointers then it's a helium neon laser and the wavelength, λ, is around 633 nanometers. 

This is what I like to call the leg vertebrae! See in the drawing above how beetles have a whole bunch of joints on the leg? You know what I just found out about these joints? They work like screws! Instead of a ball-and-socket joint like humans have, beetles joints have threads that screw into place. They can do a full 360 rotation and are much harder to dislocate than human joints. 
Here is a close-up of one of the leg vertebrae. It's a beetle-knee!  I think the spikes are for defense based on the fact that they kind of look like medieval armor. I don't know what enemies beetles have besides birds and things that could just swallow their little 10-micron-wide knee weapons whole...but it probably makes them look tough to other bugs.
The schmutz all over it is probably dirt or dust specks. 
This is one of the coolest pictures in here, in my opinion. It's looking into the inside of the leg from where we cut it off. That's right...EXOSKELETON. Besides the support structures, it's totally hollow on the inside! If this beetle hadn't been dehydrating in the sun when it found me, it would have been full of goo.
Exoskeletons are made out of chitin, which is a long-chain polysaccharide. According to Wikipedia, "chitin has some unusual properties that accelerate the healing of wounds in humans". The Egyptians totally knew about that, fyi. As I learn more, I'm starting to suspect that beetles are actually magical. 
Ok, next we are going to look at this long antennae here.
Look at all the little hair follicles! Antennas are for sensing, and are insects' primary olfactory senses. In other words, these are the smellers. I tried to figure out how they work but then got really confused by all the jargon. Maybe one of you bio people can explain it to me? Thaddaeus, I'm looking at you. 

OK, compare the texture of the big antennae to the smaller one.
This one.
Super smooth! They must have two entirely different functions. Like, one for sensing and one for collecting particles...or, something like that. I'm not really sure. 
This is the end of one of the long antennas. The antennas are jointed just like the knees and this one was broken off at one of the joints when I found it. This is really cool because you can see those screw threads I was talking about where their joints come together! See them?
I think the stuff on the end of it is a little speck of pollen.

This is that pollen up close. It's also got this thread stuff all over it. Seems too small to be spider web....maybe a bacteria?
This is that same thread stuff that was all over it. I have no idea what this is.  I looked up SEM images of bacteria and spider webs and they don't really look like this. What do you all think? 
Here it is close-up. See how it's kind of braided like rope but then it's got this gooey part like snot? 
Here is part of it's head. It's got a chunk of dirt and also a little crawly thing. 
Here's the crawly thing up close. Maybe a little bacteria? It's got those little leg-looking things. I actually have no idea what this is. It's hard to put "5um long wormy thing with legs" into google and get meaningful results. I wish I knew more about this stuff so I knew what I was looking at!
Ok, I guess that's enough nerding out for now. See ya next time!

UPDATE: My friend Jessyka told me that the crawly thing might be a nematode. Here is a picture I found online of a nematode:
Yep....looks like it. Nematodes are a parasite to beetles and are used as organic pest control. Maybe that's what killed my beetle. Check out nematode pest control

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