Antennas Two – What’s On Top Stays On Top

I think I have made a scientific breakthrough! I have bred an owl with a mouse and, in a triple whammy of genetic science, threw in a few genes of a moth – or a beetle – or something from Mars. His name is Mr. Whatzit and he has a unique set of antlers – or antennae. Note that the flagella end in a three-part flattened comb; also, notice the structure of the lower segment.

Mr. Whatzit with his flabulous Flabellate antenna.

Excuse the retreat to scientific jargon, but we need to learn the segment names of what appears to be a handle sprouting from above the eye. That handle is known as a “scape”. The very next connection which appears to be a ball joint to the segmented flagella is referred to among eminent entomologists as a “pedicel”. Note that the pedicel is a little different from the flagella to its right as you look at the right antler (I couldn’t help it!). This antenna system type is called “Flabellate”., and they are simply “flabulous”! I shared that “new adjective” because that is how I remember their name. Now let’s break the riveting eye contact with Mr. Whatzit and move on to our subject – the second five types of insect antennae.

            The Cedar Beetle (shown below) is another example of an insect with flabellate antennae. She lays her eggs on tree bark but when the larvae hatch, they drop to the ground, burrow in, and hunt for cicada larvae which is their primary food. The flabellate antenna must assist in a unique male-female sensing system, which, of course, leads to those eggs, and eventually to a few less cicada.

A Cedar Beetle doesn’t feed on Cedar trees but on Cicada. Note the Flabellate antenna – somewhat resembling moose antlers.

  Our next antenna adventure is with the “Clavate” group. Clavate means “resembling a club” and a clavate antenna increases in size from the scape to the distal end. There are several sub-types of clavate antenna, but let’s confine our review to the basic baseball bat variety. If you are an NCIS fan, you may recognize Mr. Necrobia below as Abby’s favorite bug. His claim to fame is in forensics where he feeds on blowfly larvae. You may encounter him in the garden if a mouse or bird has fallen afoul of your last pesticide over-application. Our interest today is his hockey stick antennae. What a perfect clavicle pair!

Abby from NCIS uses a necrobian beetle to judge the time of death of a fallen gangster as the above guy doesn’t appear until a certain time after blowfly larvae begin their nefarious work.

Note all the parts of the antenna in the previous picture. The scape (brown), then the pedicle (black), then the flagella brown progressing to black as we approach the distal clavate end-piece. He wears his antenna as a badge of pride as he scavenges for the nefarious blowfly larva. The clavate antenna makes his similarity with a ground beetle more reconcilable. Here is our Ground Beetle. See the difference in the antennae? See the difference between filiform and clavate? See Jane run?

Filliform have uniform antenna segments. See how we can use antenna to identify bugs?

One more clavate example is necessary. Why do we all love Ladybugs? It must be because they have such cute clavate antennae – correct?

A Ladybug or Ladybird Beetle with clavate or clubbed antenna.

            We are all familiar with the children’s story of Little Green Riding Aphid. As the mild and meek, cherry-cheeked girl aphid confronts the wolf-like ladybug in grandma’s 4-poster bed, she exclaims “Wow Grandma, what big clavate antennae you have!” The reply we all remember as “Better to find, smell, and taste you with, my dear.” We will leave the next scene for NCIS Abby and Mr. Necrobia to piece together.

The demise of an aphid egg.

                This is the final scene from the Broadway hit musical “Little Green Riding Aphid”.

                  Please look at the clavate antenna not at the tearful aphid mom in the lower left corner although the “sulphery” eggs being consumed appear to be a bit larger than those oviposited by most aphids.

Aren’t antennae fun? The most fun, by far, is our next group – “Plumose”.

The moth is a prime example and what better moth antennae to examine than the Luna Moth!

A Luna Moth with plumose antenna.

            Despite the fingerprint, “Luna” has nothing to do with forensics. If ever there was a cuddly moth, here she is. Look closely at the antennae. The word “Plumose” means feathered and can you imagine with Luna’s plumminess (that is a real word), how a foot tickle must feel? The thought sends shivers up my spine. Other bugs have plumose antennae and here is one to reckon with.

The male mosquito has plumose antennae; the female does not.

The female bites; the male does not.

Time for another type of headdress and here is a familiar one we have all seen and occasionally wish we hadn’t – “Geniculate”.  The dictionary meaning is “bent knee” and to church-goers, the term genuflect may be familiar.

            Geniculate antenna – “elbow” or “bent knee” – is a characteristic identifier of ants, wasps, and bees – oh my! We are familiar with ants and wasps but what about other geniculated insects?

A Boll Weevil is a geniculated antenna beetle with an interesting set of antennae emanating from his (her?) snout.

            Mrs. B. Weevil has classic geniculate antennae elbowed forward in relentless pursuit of a cotton boll. What is interesting is that the antennae are on the snout, not next to the eyes as are most insects. Why? If I don’t get a response, I assume there are least two of us who have absolutely no idea why. Note the upper geniculate antenna and see the elongated scape with a thickened pedicel at the elbow and the distal end culminating in a thickened flagellum. Isn’t the scientific verbiage becoming more comfortable to say and understand?

            Our next antenna subject word is “Aristate” which means “having a slender, spine-like tip”. I tried finding a linguistic relationship with “aristocratic”, but any similarity between aristate and Queen Elizabeth escapes me.

A queen bee, perhaps? Note the aristocratic antennae.
A dipteral fly with aristate antenna.

Can you see the difference? The dipteral fly has a spine-like appendage on a sack-like scape whereas the Queen Bee has a distinctive plumminess to her head dressing.

A variation and similarity to aristate appendages is the “Stylate” form. Both have a spine on the end but the stylate antennae project in a straight line while the aristate are angled off the main branch. The Snipe Fly is a prime example. He is just as likely to run as fly away from you and snipers do prey on other flies. There are reports of Snipe Flies biting people, but the Native Americans started the “Man Bites Dog” stories by collecting masses of water-edge Snipe Fly larvae for lunch. Really!

A snipe fly by any other name, is still lunch to some.

Look very closely at the Snipe and below the eye is a stylate antenna. Since it is very small, one wonders if the large eyes are the primary environmental sensor. There are over 100,000 varieties of Dipteral flies and entomologists estimate that another 100,000 species await discovery.

It is time to review and wouldn’t Socrates be proud of the words we have added to our working vocabulary!

            Aristocratic aristate, laminated lamellate, saw-like serrate, “flabulous” flabellate, uniform moniliform, genuflecting geniculate, feathery plumose, comb-like pectinate, bristle-like setaceous, spine-tipped stylate, and baseball bat clavate are now common words in our vocabulary. (see the previous article on antenna for types that may not be familiar to you.)

            Sorry, your highness, and I apologize for including you in this discourse, but you must admit, your plumage is fascinating!

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