At the first sight, it might look like an innocent, frosted moth, but this particular species of lacewing has a malodorous secret.
One of the most formidable species in the New York Times Bestseller, “Does It Fart? The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence,” is the beaded lacewing, Lomamyia latipennis. In the book, authors Dr Nick Caruso and Dr Dani Rabaiotti reveal the gas expelling potential of everything from herrings to dinosaurs and describe this species of lacewing as having “one of the few genuinely fatal farts known to science.”
While adult lacewings are delicate and lovely, they actually begin life as ferocious tiny predators lurking in the nests of termites. These larvae live unmolested in the termite nest, silently striking down its original residents from behind – with their wind.
After an adult beaded lacewing conveniently lays her eggs in the vicinity of a termite’s nest, the larvae will sneak into after hatching. One would think a legless larva wouldn’t stand much of a chance against an army of termites, but these little guys have evolved to practice a unique and highly effective means of attack.
When a baby lacewing gets hungry, it stuns a termite with a “vapor-phase toxicant” released from its anus. That’s a fancy way of saying it farts on it. In fact, their farts are powerful enough to take down as much as six termites with one blow, according to a study published in Nature back in 1981. That’s not bad for an insect that is about 1/35th the weight of termites.
Another interesting result from the study is that the wind weapon is remarkably specific, having no effect on other insects found in the corridors of a termite’s nest such as wasps, flies and booklice. To make things even more gruesome, the termites are not actually killed by the initial exposure but are paralyzed, which means they’re still alive when the larva starts feeding on them. And even those who don’t get eaten tend to die from the exposure.
The exact contents of the lacewing fart that proved so deadly have not been identified and, since no one has been able to repeat the original experiments, remain a mystery.
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