Exploring morphospace

I especially like insects because of their incredible diversity in bodies. Imagine all of the potential body shapes that could be achieved on a segmented, six-legged frame – flying, walking, burrowing, small, large… nearly all of it has been tried by some species. An interesting evolutionary question is to ask why some parts of this morphological space are better explored than others, and if any regions are not explored at all – why do we see the forms we do, in the places we do? This work has been done before for seashells and for plants, but these clades are much simpler than insects!

Here are a few examples of insect diversity. First, a clearwing butterfly – probably genus Cithaeria.

Second, the chicharra machaco, or ‘peanut head bug’ or Fulgora laternaria. The Spanish name roughly translates to poison cicada, and it does emit an odd smell when perturbed. It flies, but badly. There is a legend associated with this insect – something interesting may happen if it bites you – but fortunately it is a Hemipteran and cannot bite!

And finally, some stingless bees (Apidae) congegrating on a plant. I don’t know what they were doing but there were at least a hundred bees flying around this one flowerless plant!

All insects, all with different sizes, colors, and shapes. Amazing what evolution can do!

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