Monday, November 07, 2005

Animal of the Week November 07, 2005 -- Flightless midges from the freezer

Greetings Animal Fans
Sorry for the lateness, but I was on holiday yesterday you see, I had the good fortune to catch a little daytime tv and watch Mary Queen of Scots with Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson, what a film!

This week's animal of the week is Belgica antarctica (Antarctic wingless midge). As the weather refuses to turn properly cold in the UK and athletes ran the New York marathon wearing sunglasses and sunscreen and in danger of overheating, I thought I'd invoke some chilly thoughts by doing one of the world's hardiest animals. This midge is, improbably, Antarctica's largest land animal (penguins and seals spend more time in water than on ice or land -- Belgica is confined to the land).

Other permanent animal residents of the southernmost continent include mites, lice, springtails, and tardigrades but this behemidge dwarfs them all at 12 mm in length. They are able to survive 70% dehydration and temperatures below –50 centigrade for months on end. They spend 2 years as larvae building up reserves for their 10 day adulthood in which they enjoy the pleasures of the chitin and ensure the continued existence of their species.

Like their extended larval stage and dark colouration, winglessness is an adaptation to their environment in which animals foolish enough to take off are likely to be blown out to sea by violent winds. Few people are ever going to see such a creature; but, unpreposessing as they are, chufties to Antarctic wingless midges, the most sotherly living of all the true insects. In this week's picture the ickle-wickle larvae are huddling together, not for warmth, but to prevent moisture loss.... aaaaahhhhhhhhhhh.


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