6 Deceptive Insects That Aren’t What They Appear

Insects often get branded with terms like “creepy” and “crawly,” prompting negative reputations for many of these creatures. For example, some insects appear to be dangerous – like the horned Hercules beetle that is incredibly strong and loves to battle with its mates – but are quite gentle in the hands of human beings. On the other hand, unique insects that radiate gentleness and beauty – like the praying mantis, glow worm, and caterpillar – are actually deceptive predators in many instances. As for other insects that look like they could barely stand on their two feet – such as the very weird yet clever antlion – they are equally ruthless when needed. And for aggressive insects with perceived blood-thirsty reputations – like the Amazon ant – the reputation is warranted in some situations but not always justified. If there’s a lesson to be learned with the following surprising insects, it’s that you shouldn’t always judge these books by their covers.

Hercules, Hercules: Intimidating Beetle

(Images via: Richard Sprague, Cranky Writer, Rick Lee Photo, McCully Heritage)

The Hercules beetle certainly boasts the strength of such a lofty, mythological name. In scientific studies the Hercules beetle has demonstrated the ability to sustain 100 times its own weight and walk with 30 times its own weight, and only require 4 percent more energy consumption for such feats. Compare this to the elephant, which can carry 25 times its own weight. With males reaching 6.75 inches in length, the Hercules beetle is also the largest of the rhinoceros beetles, which feature a horn on their heads. These horns are not used for protection against larger predators but for battling other males when feeding. And when it comes to mating, the rhinoceros beetle loves to mix it up with other males, by engaging in wrestling matches in which the winning male tosses the losers off logs in an all-for-one battle that evokes images of the good old days of the World Wrestling Federation. Talk about testosterone overdrive. With all due respect though, Hercules beetles are quite relaxed in human hands, offering an up-close-and-personal view of an amazing creature.

What’s an Antlion? Just Ask Those Helpless Ants

(Images via: Wayne’s This and That, Esperance Blog, Walk about Story)

Despite its name, the antlion is neither an ant nor a lion. An antlion is actually a type of insect known as a doodlebug. Why you may care less, ants certainly do! In its larval (baby) stage, the antlion is hardly a friend to ants but rather a vicious hunter, “the lion of ant hunters” so to speak. Despite their size and infancy, the antlions are cunning predators that set sand traps to feast on ants. Imagine an old horror movie when a hand pops out of the ground and snatches an unknowing person around the ankle. That’s kind of how antlions pounce on ants; once the ant falls slips into the trap, the antlion does whatever it takes to secure its victim, from throwing sand at the ant to pulling it into the sand hole to using its sharp jaws to secure and “drain the life” out of the helpless victim. The only thing worse for ants is the fact that antlions remain in their larval stages for three years, making them dangerous predators to ants for long periods of time.

Praying Mantis: A Beautiful Predator

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One of the most interesting insects to observe in its natural element, the praying mantis is both a survivor and a fighter. While using its camouflage to remain on the “down low” from predatory birds, the praying mantis maneuvers its front legs in a crafty position that resembles a praying motion but actually allows them to pounce on insects that get too close. With its front legs containing many sharp spines, a praying mantis typically will not lose grip once getting hold of its prey; to ensure no escape, the mantis will summon its inner vampire, bite the neck of the helpless victim and paralyze it. While these tactics are typically used on beetles, butterflies, crickets, spiders and other smaller insects, a praying mantis may employ them on much bigger creatures like frogs, lizards, mice and hummingbirds, the last of which are unsuspectingly captured by praying mantises that take the appearance of flowers. Who would have ever expected such deception from the normally respectful praying mantis?

Amazon Ants: The Big Bullies of the Insect World?

(Image via: Flickr)

Amazon ants may have the word “violent” attached to them, but the way in which they pillage other ant colonies is a bit surprising and dispels this characterization, at least in this instance. Absolutely unwilling to provide the most basic self-care at this point in their evolution and unable to feed themselves because of their sharp mandibles, Amazon ants swiftly and efficiently raid the ant colonies of the related genus Formica, steal as many pupae as possible, carry them back to their nests, and eventually utilize these ants (once they hatch) to provide them with food, nursing and many other duties. Amazingly, these raids are not vicious bloodbaths as popularly believed, in large part because the Formica are overwhelmed by a sense of panic and its own formic acid, thus causing many of these ants to retreat and let the Amazon ants take what they want. Still, Amazon ants certainly have no problems showing who is boss and resorting to killing when necessary. Stanford researchers have noted how Amazon ants kill off unwanted plants that compete with their host trees, simply by biting leaves and injecting them with their poisonous formic acid that cause the plants to die in short time.

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting like a Caterpillar?

(Images via: Mark Ju, Plumer, Flickr)

While caterpillars evoke images of soft and furry creatures who transform from “ugly ducklings” to beautiful butterflies, what is not as well-known is that certain caterpillars may sting predators and humans as a means of self-defense. Most caterpillars have spines and barbed hooks that are harmless; however, a few stinging caterpillars utilize quill-like hairs that are connected to poison sacs. When touched, the hairs pierce the skin and release poison that can cause everything from mild pain to dermatitis and intestinal problems. Just ask some birds, which have become sick after being stung by caterpillars. Generally speaking, stinging caterpillars like the buck moth, lo moth, puss caterpillar and saddleback caterpillar are brightly colored, and human contact with them is relatively scarce. But when there is contact, watch out – the caterpillar is not as defenseless as we might think.

Avoid the Bright Temptations of the Glow Worm

(Images via:, Amazon)

No, we’re not talking about the popular 1980s children’s toy but the insect larvae known as glow worms, which utilize a shining blue-green light that emanates from their abdomens and attracts insects at night. In comparable terms, glow worms can be described as the fishermen of the insect world. Glow worms create silk webs (known as snares) that resemble dewy necklaces and work like fishing lines. The visually appealing, silk webs are lined with mucus that helps trap smaller bugs and even larger insects like spiders and cockroaches. Once the insect gets caught in the silk web, the glow worm reels in its big catch with its teeth, prevents escape by attaching the prey to a mucous tube, and enjoys itself a nice meal (that is if you consider mucous-covered food fine dining).

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