Non-stick Bugs


In South Africa, special “mirid bugs” make their homes in sticky, living-flypaper plants, feeding on other insects that get trapped in the plants’ leaf-secreted glue. How do they avoid getting stuck themselves?

German researchers at the Max Planck Institute conducted a study to find out, and the results from their investigations recently appeared in The Journal of Experimental Biology.1 All insects have a thin outer film coating, but the scientists found that the mirid bugs have a coat of non-stick grease that counteracts the plant glue and is 30 times thicker than that of a blowfly.2 Upon microscopic inspection, tiny droplets of the plant glue easily ran off of the mirid bug, but adhered to the blowfly.

Mirid bugs are integral to the cross-pollination of their flypaper plants. These woody plants, named Roridula gorgoneus, have specially-designed flowers that the mirid bug’s needle-shaped mouthpart activates. “One species [of mirid bug] for each Roridula species, pierce and feed from the anther.…The piercing causes the anthers to spring up through 180°, dusting the insects with pollen.”3

How does such a symbiotic system develop wherein a plant relies on one species of insect for cross-pollination, and that insect in turn depends on the plant to provide food? Further, how did the plant glue and the correct quality and quantity of the insect’s “anti-glue” arise, both of which were necessary preconditions for their interdependent living relationship? Such a specific balance demonstrates a fully-formed design, rather than an imaginary proto-status or transitional state.

Similar precisely-calibrated features characterize other plant and animal relationships. Apparently, when God created these living things to reproduce “after their own kinds,”4 he also created them to reproduce in concerted harmony with specific but unrelated other kinds.

References

  1. Voigt, D. and S. Gorb. 2008. An insect trap as habitat: cohesion-failure mechanism prevents adhesion of Pameridea roridulae bugs to the sticky surface of the plant Roridula gorgonias. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 211 (16): 2647-2657.
  2. Phillips, K. 2008. How Nonstick Bugs Avoid Natural Flypaper. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 211 (16): i. Posted on jeb.biologists.org August 8, 2008, accessed August 14, 2008.
  3. Kubitzki, K. 2004. The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants, Vol. 6. New York: Springer-Verlag, 340.
  4. Genesis 1:11-12, 21-25.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer.

Article posted on August 21, 2008.