Strange and Delightful Creatures Part 3

​ The Panda Ant, Euspinolia militans does look a little like a small panda, except it’s not an ant. It looks like a sizable antdecorated in black and white. The sightly furry white coat covers its head except for its eyes, and has black and white spots on the rest of its body. It’s designed to be noticed, because this is a wingless wasp with a painful sting. It’s sometimes called the “cowkiller.”

​ This fellow is solitary, and eats the larvae of other insects. It gets to about 8mm, and lives in forests in Chile. The female deposits her eggs in other insects’ brood cells.

​ Unusual for a member of the large wasp family, the Panda ant makes sounds. It’s by the process of rubbing parts of legs together, called “stridulation,” similar to the way  crickets make their sounds. One unusual aspect of the sound it makes is that part of it is in the ultrasonic part of the spectrum. The purpose of that is not known.

​ Another odd name for a small creature is the Satanic leaf-tailed gecko, Uroplatus phantasticus. This gecko is found on the island of Madagascar. It’s small, 100 mm or so, and might weigh 5 grams. A small gecko has a lot of predators, including birds, rats and snakes, so it hides during the day and looks for its own insect prey at night.

It got the name “Satanic” from its large and vivid red eyes. The “leaf tailed” part is descriptive of this gecko’s trick, which is to mimic a dried leaf. The name is well deserved, because its flattened tail does look exactly like a dried leaf and the gecko also has lines on its back just like the veins of a leaf. It can hang from branches to disguise itself as a dry leaf. Also unusual for a gecko is that it can vocalize, and has a distress call that is described as scream-like. The Satanic leaf-tailed gecko has become a favorite with hobbyists but requires expert care. It can live 10 years in captivity.

The Japanese spider crab, Macrochiera kaempferi, does not have an unusual name, but it does have a highly unusual appearance. This crab has very long spindly spider-like legs, but it is far bigger than any spider that ever lived. Its leg span can be as much as eighteen feet, and can weigh 40 pounds or more, very hefty for a crab. It can live for a hundred years or more.

It lives in the seas around Japan at depths up to 300 feet. The crab eats mollusks, fish, algae, shellfish and is happy to scavenge on anything dead that it finds. The long spindly legs sometimes snap off, so it’s fortunate that the crab can regenerate its legs. It decorates itself with algae and seaweed to camouflage itself. They crowd together during mating season, and for that reason are protected until the mating season is over.

If you’ve ever seen a drawing from the classic science fiction novel War of the Worlds, or seen the movie, the Japanese Spider Crab looks a good deal like the Martians.

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