Gendarmes and their relations.
Here is a bunch of bugs which resemble each other so closely that without a sharp eye you would confuse them. The two in the centre which are mating in a manner common amongst insects are often called le gendarme from a fanciful likeness to the uniform of the gendarmes at the end of the 17th century. This insect (in Latin - Pyrrhocoris apterus) is a considerable pest on hollyhocks and mallows in the summer and most gardeners will have seen it. Bottom right is Lygaeus equestris, which feeds on dandelions and other flowers. The insect at the top left has so far defied precise identification by me, but is probably another species of Lygaeus. The Lygaeus species at this winter time enjoy hiding in the firewood logs.
All are in strict scientific terminology bugs. That is to say they eat by sucking the juices of plants and not infrequently animals (according to the species) through a syringe like snout. The gendarme has been known to diverge from its customary diet and attack other insects. They inject saliva which contains digestive enzymes then suck up the goo. This can seriously harm the leaves or the prey! [n.b. bedbugs] Further the life cycle of bugs is not nearly as complex as for example with butterflies, beetles or mosquitos. There are no maggots. The young form is similar to the adult but lacks the wings. In fact the gendarmes in the photo vary little from the young except in size, since the adults here have foreshortened wings. The wings in the bugs often form together a diamond pattern. From time to time the gendarme has adults with fully developed wings which would help its dispersal. But it seems to be an infrequent event. This species is only known in Britain from a rocky islet off the coast of Torquay. The Lygaeus equestris has been found in the UK only occasionally, probably as vagrant migrants from France.
So.. here are three bugs, one being rather distant in relationship to the others, which bear a striking resemblance to each other. Why? Striking colourations -red and black - or yellow and black - are frequently encountered in insects which are known to be unpleasant to the taste of birds. But birds will eat the gendarme. Do the birds eat the other Lygaeus species? I do not know. It seems to be a instance of mimicry in Nature, where one species has come to resemble another noxious species to gain protection. But perhaps all are mutually similar for some other reason.
natural history index | home page