Saturday, January 5, 2013

The soldier bug - a common insect

Soldier bug (Spilostethus pandurus)

The soldier bug is a common insect that can be seen running on the ground or at the base of several species of plants. It belongs to the suborder Heteroptera (true bugs) which forms part of the order Hemiptera.  In the Heteroptera we find a large variety of insects some of which are aquatic. These insects have a sharp tough proboscis which they insert into plants to suck liquids, usually sap. Some species suck blood from livestock as well as humans.

The word hemiptera is from Greek ‘hemi’ (half) and ‘pteron (wing) referring to the forewings of many members of this order which are hardened near the base but soft and transparent at the end. This structure makes it easy for one to distinguish true bugs from beetles, which have completely hardened forewings, which cover the delicate transparent hind-wings.

Hemipterans do not undergo metamorphosis between the larval phase and an adult phase. The young, which are called nymphs, resemble wingless adults. In the last transformation they develop wings and functioning sexual organs without a pupal stage as in most other insects.

At first glance the soldier bug, known in Maltese as suldat, could easily be mistaken for a fire bug another common insect known in Maltese as seffud tal-ġamar.

Several families of Hemiptera are adapted to an aquatic lifestyle. These include the lesser water boatman (qaddief ta’ l-għadajjar), the water cricket (żgiġġ) and the greater backswimmer (mqass ta’ l-ilma). They are mostly predatory, and have legs adapted as paddles to help the animal move through the water.

This article was published in The Times on 18.03.09

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