Cold bug

Nights below freezing.  Days not warm.  Resting in perpetual shade.  Yet still alive.

Pulling out of my garage around 5:30 the other morning, I immediately noticed something.  Something large.  Something large enough to catch my attention in the mirror before I could see it directly.  It hung on the wall outside the garage door.

I stopped as I reversed the car, then I rolled down the passenger window for a non-tinted look.  A bug.  A true bug, not just an insect.  A rather sizable critter, too: about 40mm/1.5in in length.

Certainly it’s dead, I thought, frozen from the snow and cold and lack of sunlight.  I’ll check it when I get back.  And so I did, though I waited until daylight gave me some ability to capture a few photos.

A leaf-footed bug (Acanthocephala declivis) hanging on the outside wall (2009_12_27_047525)

A leaf-footed bug (Acanthocephala declivis).  I grabbed a ruler and measured it, surprised at its size given reference material that stated a 25mm-30mm length.  Sure enough, it sailed beyond the paltry guides and landed at a healthy Texas-sized measurement.

A leaf-footed bug (Acanthocephala declivis) hanging on the outside wall (2009_12_27_047529)

It never moved as I slipped and slid on ice trying to get some photos of it.  Yep, it’s dead alright.

I reached out and touched it.  It immediately extended its antennae and shuffled its feet.  Um, OK, not so dead after all.

A leaf-footed bug (Acanthocephala declivis) hanging on the outside wall (2009_12_27_047528)

Given hard freezes each night, I assumed it had only just crawled up the wall and in fact would die the next night.  What have we been taught about assumptions?

It’s now four days after I discovered it.  Not only is the bug in the same general area, but it’s still alive—albeit sluggish, especially early before temperatures warm above freezing.

A leaf-footed bug (Acanthocephala declivis) hanging on the outside wall (2009_12_27_047518)

It must be at the end of its life, already mated or too late to mate, sitting in the cold waiting for darkness to take it.

Its longevity on the wall gives me a sense of familiarity, a kinship of sorts.  I check it each day, if not several times per day, and each time I look it has moved to a slightly different position, sometimes with antennae out and sometimes with them retracted, folded as it were alongside the front of its body.

Nothing about insects in winter surprises me.  In fact, our quirky weather makes it possible for all sorts of surprising critters to make appearances when it seems unwise or unhealthy for them to do so.  River cooters bathing on logs when it’s freezing?  Yep, as long as the sun’s out.  Flies and beetles running about when the wind blows cold?  Yep, as long as the air is warm enough or there’s plenty of sunshine to bathe in.

Yet this one surprises me.  It never gets sun in its position.  That said, it’s right there, right now, still kickin’ and still hangin’ on.

19 thoughts on “Cold bug”

  1. That is a really impressive bug, both visually and physiologically. I suppose that’s one of the advantages of being cold blooded: being able to slow down one’s metabolism to wait out the cold.

    1. I keep thinking the same thing, Amar. Sure, it doesn’t get all that cold down here–but a freeze is a freeze. Still, this bug was alive and kicking this morning when I checked on it. That’s six nights of freezing temperatures. I’m astonished!

    1. Thank you, Katy! These insects are harmless despite their menacing appearance. But there are some this size and larger who can do a great deal of damage. Even more troubling, there are some much smaller–black widow for instance–that are nothing short of anguish in an exoskeleton.

    1. Janet, I use a Canon 450D (Rebel XSi) dSLR camera. For these photos, I used a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. It’s not a macro lens unfortunately, so the photos could have been better had I had the right lens. When I win the lottery…

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    1. You’re too funny, Ted! I really think that whole “bigger in Texas” things comes from our weather: stuff just lives longer down here since it doesn’t get terribly cold and doesn’t stay cold for long. Keep in mind Florida’s roaches are bigger than ours–which is a VERY frightening thought.

  3. Hope the bug can last a while longer. Well documented.

    And nice phrase, “anguish in an exoskeleton”. No anguish here, I like ’em all.

    A bit of inspirational determination to end the year.

    1. Thanks, Rick! And the bug is still around and still alive (now 9 days and counting). I doubt it will get through this week, though, as we’re expecting some very cold weather (well below freezing for several days with wind chills below zero). But we’ll see. It’s surprised me thus far.

  4. Fabulous bug. I love that triangulated head. I’m always moved when I cross paths with species that follow such different life cycles. It is amazing that it’s surviving a cold snap, especially at the end of its life span, when you think it would succumb to any extreme.

    1. Thanks, Liz! I’m still watching it with equal parts intrigue and awe. It’s been more than two weeks and the bug remains in the same place. It’s so strange. We just spent several days below freezing, yet there it is, still there, still alive. It sure has surprised me with its stamina.

  5. Wow, I’m surprised you still have this guy hanging on! I did a double-take when I saw a honeybee last week. It wasn’t moving fast, and it did not have any pollen on its legs – but it gets points for moving around at all!

    1. Well, Amber, I’m sorry to say this morning I found the poor thing frozen solid–dead. Which doesn’t surprise me given we were below freezing for several days, but I’d had such hope that this bug was going to prove my assumptions wrong (assumptions about how much cold it could withstand and how long it could survive without food when it was obviously near the end of its life to begin with). Still, two weeks living through freezing nights, ice and snow, less than warm days: I’m impressed it lasted into the new year, but I’m also a bit sad to see it go; this was becoming a fascinating study in life living well beyond its expiration date.

    1. I’m right there with you, Mary. I have such a personal investment in nature, even in things as simple as insects. Unfortunately the poor thing didn’t survive the recent bitter temperatures. No surprise in that it was at the end of its season, but still…

    1. Thanks, Rick. Nature takes its course, I know, but my stupid human emotions always seem to make it more complicated than it needs to be. I felt rather attached to this bug. What a survivor!

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