Singapore’s Elusive and Peculiar Insects

Creepy-crawlies? Eek!

Would that be your reaction if you saw a beetle on your wall, a mosquito on your arm, or a cockroach in your kitchen? If so, you’re not alone. To this day, I’m still fighting my fear of insects. To help me with that, I’ve decided to get curious about insects in Singapore – in particular, 5 of the more peculiar ones.

The insect species I’ll be writing about, however, are a mere fraction of the 1.5 million insect species that have been discovered. Despite the amount of biodiversity they give to our Earth, insects are not at all in the spotlight when it comes to animal conservation efforts. This could be due to their small size that makes them less noticeable, as well as a lack of understanding regarding their role in our ecosystems. 
Insects are pivotal to all of Earth’s ecosystems – they pollinate (without which, reproduction of many plant species cannot occur), help in decomposition processes, aid in population control of other species, and are of course, necessary in maintaining food chains. In this post, we’ll explore other reasons why  insects are so special, and crucial for the environment.

1. The Trilobite Beetle

This might be the most bizarre beetle you’ve seen. Just as the name suggests, its appearance is reminiscent of the Trilobites, a group of extinct arthropods (found in many fossils) that dominated oceans until about 251 million years ago. Its body is separated into distinct lobes of hard armour.

Apart from its already extraordinary appearance, however, the trilobite beetle still boasts a number of interesting features. 

Firstly, females are ten times the size of a male, and they look worlds apart. Females are the ones with the distinct shell-like appearance described above, and this is because females stay in their larval form for life. Secondly, juvenile females seem dead (for several days) when curling up to molt into their adult form. A sexual opening is formed after this process, and the female then exposes her abdomen (where the opening is) to indicate that she is ready to mate. Thirdly, they have the ability to retract their heads, just like tortoises! Lastly, they come in several different colours – black with orange dots, green, and purple.

However, despite their unique and sometimes colourful appearance, spotting them in our forests won’t be easy. These beetles, unsurprisingly, are a rare sight. 1925 and 1993 were the only two instances mating pairs were observed, and there is still much to learn about this extraordinary beetle. 

2. Lace Bug

Corythucha spinosa. Photograph by Alice Abela (2014). [URL]

The second peculiar insect we’ll be spotlighting is none other than the lace bug! It is part of the Tingidae family, a group of insects that range from 2 to 8 mm in length

Again, just like its name, the lace bug has wings with rims and transparent sheaths in between them that resemble lace patterns. The upward-facing surface of its body also has the same texture and appearance (pictured above). Its young, however, are spiny, smaller and dark in colour – they do not, in the least, look like adult lace bugs.

Apart from being found in Singapore, it is also found all around the world, especially throughout North America. Its diet consists of leaves from various trees and shrubs. Usually, the leaves of plants that have been fed on by lace bugs appear to have yellowish spots, followed by browning and sometimes, the death of the leaves.

3. The Lanternfly

Photograph from Wildcreatures Hong Kong [URL]

This Pinocchio-looking lanternfly (family: Fulgoridae) is a plant hopper that can be found in tropical and sub-tropical regions. It is quite large (6 to 9 cm including its protrusion) and usually colourful

The long protrusion from its head serves a digestive function; It is used to extract sap from more than 70 species of plants, especially grapevines, birch, maple trees, willow, and black walnut. While feeding, the lanternbug excretes a sugary substance that attracts bees and other insects.

Precisely because of its diverse diet and intrinsic ability to adapt, however, this bug has become a well-known invasive species, especially in Pennsylvania. It is native to Asian countries, however, where it likes to feed on fruit trees such as the longgan and lychee.

Being named the lanternbug, it is no surprise that the elongated structure on its head can light up. However, this is a rare occurrence that may be a sign of being ready to mate

4. Scale Insect

Armoured scale insect. Photograph by Jon Sullivan. [URL]

Scale insects are indeed peculiar-looking. They appear to have circular and flat bodies, making them look similar to fungi. Their superfamily (Coccoidea) is made up of 8000 different species and are split into soft and armoured scale insects. They are relatively small, ranging from 0.16 to 0.95 cm in length.

Young scale insects are very mobile (hence, they are also called “crawlers”) and not armoured. Adult females, on the other hand, do not have wings and have shorter antennae and legs, making them more immobile. Males have wings and legs and antennae of normal length.

They can be found all across the globe, and feed on a great diversity of food crops, grasses, trees and ornamental plants (aided by long mouthpieces) – making them another well-known pest. 

Although the picture above wasn’t taken in Singapore, rest assured you can find these in our forests!

5. Dead Leaf Mantis

The Dead Leaf Mantis. [URL]

The Dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys Dessicata) is home to Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia, and of course, Singapore. The dessicata, out of the Deroplatys genus, is the largest sub-species, reaching a maximum of 9cm.

It goes without saying that this mantis is a master of camouflage, looking like dead leaves or decomposing matter. They thrive in high humidity and temperature (80% and around 30oC respectively), and feed on many large insects, such as locusts, crickets and mealworms. They also feed on flying insects. Just like other praying mantises, they are great predators who stay still and wait patiently for their prey. Surprisingly, the Dead leaf mantis can even feed on amphibians, birds and reptiles.

The males and females can be told apart from their relative sizes. The male is smaller and more slender than the female Dead leaf mantis – this aids the females in eating their male mating partners after mating.

That’s all for now. Can you believe that these beautiful bugs can all be found in Singapore? Furthermore, there’s a countless amount that we haven’t learned about. Learning more about these 5 special bugs while doing my research for this post, to be honest, has helped me develop a newfound appreciation for our creepy-crawly friends. It certainly will make me think twice about running away from insects the next time I see them. 

More importantly, this has made me more concerned about insect conservation, because I now see how beautiful and intrinsically valuable each and every insect species is. With that, I carry a small hope that conservation efforts will, as much as they can, be more inclusive of the biodiversity of insects that is so crucial to our natural ecosystems.

Written by: Hope

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