Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

THE ASSASSIN DOCK

(originally posted two years ago)
I'm devoting today's post to a very unusual arthropod that's rather common in the immediated vicinity of my home, although I've never seen it anywhere else. The Assassin Dock (Lappazoon sarcophagus) displays an extreme sexual dimorphism: the small, flying males live but a few days, fluttering weakly upon the breeze. The much larger females are sessile, saprophagic, plant-like creatures anchored to the soil by their rootlike heads.
Every other year, these females, which can reach over a meter in height, "flower," giving rise to numerous burr-like sexual bodies. Attached weakly to their stalks, the mature sexual bodies break away if snagged on the fur or feathers of a passing animal, and begin growing "feeding tubes," which pierce the skin of the victim, secreting a potent toxin, while extracting nutrients. The injection kills the host in a few days, and the sexual body, after being fertilized, scatters eggs about the corpse. The larval Assassin Docks feed on the flesh of their host, and overwinter as cysts. Most larvae metamorphose into mature males the following summer. Female larvae live in the enriched soil for two seasons before metamorphosing, and "sprouting" from the ground.
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illustration: "ASSASSIN DOCK" (2004) watercolor 24" x 18"

5 Comments:

OpenID Kiggavik said...

Wow, its almost unbelievable. To think I was a fool to never know about this before.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous bev said...

An oldie but goodie. Gotta love the life cycle of this organism!

10:33 PM  
Anonymous mary said...

Have a similar critter here called the Range Maggot. Crops plants down to ground level and leaves small balls of wool on greasewood branches which develop into their young.
Happy March 32!

12:45 AM  
Blogger Matt Mullenix said...

Well that's just hideous.

Bravo!

4:53 AM  
OpenID underthemagnifier said...

Note to self... never hike with Carel on April first!
This was great and what's sad is that you had me "fooled" into believing this horrible organism was real, until wes started laughing at me!
Thanks for putting all of the effort into this.
Rachelle :-)

8:47 AM  

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