A bit of MacGyver-ing

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I’ve a lifetime association with MacGyver. That show about the special agent/forces guy who fights evil by combining common materials into ingeniously simple means of saving the day. I didn’t watch the show directly, but my dad did. He’s been MacGyver-ing things in, around, and on our home for as long as I can remember. I was frequently his helper, and while I can’t claim to have directly inherited his intuition, I did develop a fascination with the process.

Fortunately for me, as a behavioral ecologist-in-training, MacGuyver-ing has become an increasingly large part of my life. In fact, the prospect of piecing together intuitive solutions to sudden, pressing problems is one of the main things that pulled me into the field in the first place. In my brief time, I’ve cobbled together leech traps and made cafeteria trays to feed caterpillars to paper wasps in nest boxes, but when Andrés Rojas and I came across this creature:

parasitzed macro close-up

We knew something else was in order.

This amblypygid (also known as a whip spider or tailless whip scorpion, a type of arachnid) is absolutely SLATHERED in the pupae of parasitoid flies. Flies that (as described by Carlos Viquez and Luis F. De Armas [2009]) lay their eggs into the amblypygid’s egg sac, which then hatch into larvae which eat the amblypygid’s eggs, and then, mimicking the behavior of the whip spider-lings, climb onto the amblypygid’s back. The fly larvae then pupate, emerge, and spread the love/misery. I’ve seen photos, but to see this in person was, well, horrific and disgusting and fascinating all at once. Hopefully you feel the same.

But, what are we to do with a find like this? Well, try to capture it and rear the flies for identification, of course! That’s where some MacGyver-ing comes in, courtesy of Mr. Rojas (our esteemed OTS course TA). Behold his creation:

IMG_6439

I can claim to have helped a little, but the credit goes to Andrés. Our subject is cozily housed in a rice container filled with leaf litter, covered with a trail map to keep it dark (because amblypygids are nocturnal). The hand-sewn net at the top is held up by a trail flag and fastened by clothes pins. Since most insects travel towards light, we expect the flies should, er, fly upward into the net. We’ll see what comes of it! Hopefully we’ll have a batch of horrid parasitoid/parasitic flies to ID soon. I’m confident in this MacGyver-ing venture. And I expect it’ll inform future ones.

-Tyler B. Corey

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