Monday, April 4, 2016

Post-Easter Special:The Fractured Ecosystem of Easter Egg Land

The last time we analyzed toy bugs, there were actually more than 3 or 4 orders involved and most of them were actually arthropods. This time, we're analyzing Easter eggs we bought at 75% off at Walmart.

Background Information

For the SAVE THE FROGS! event, we were stockpiling discounted eggs for the Frog Egg Hunt, although most of them were things frogs eat. But we figured that we might as well analyze them before they went in the bag for the egg hunt. So, we return to our faithful order cards. This time, I picked the most common orders or the orders we observed as I don't think we'd need all the orders because it's hard to make cute Easter eggs of fleas (Siphonaptera) or mantids (Mantodea). But this is what we observed.

Observations

Easter Egg Land has just about the least arthropod diversity I have ever seen. Despite very interesting animals, such as bunnies that lay eggs, very few orders were found. Hymenopterans had an astounding bias, surprisingly, considering that in Easter Egg Land, until recently, I thought there were almost no stinging insects or ants that invade Easter candy. (Don't ask about the ant thing. I've experienced it almost every year.) Yet, surprisingly, various varieties of brightly colored ants and very fat bees and wasps were observed.

Coleoptera or the beetles had many individuals, but they were all the same species, namely a variety of very brightly colored Easter Egg Land ladybug. I don't quite understand what the ladybugs eat, given that there are absolutely no aphids in Easter Egg Land, but somehow they survive. Perhaps they have turned to eating leaves, or each other. This means that perhaps these ladybugs are only ladybugs morphologically. Easter Egg Land is a harsh place, with normally beneficial insects becoming pests as there are no insects that are their preferred food source. Why do we never see this and think of Easter Egg Land as a utopian place, where everything in nature eats candy and lives in harmony? 


Obviously, given what we observed, lepidopterans and their larva are the dominant species in Easter Egg Land. We have observed very few predators of these insects and they can't even all fit on a single order card. Due to the low diversity and the absence of many kinds of plants essential for Earth's butterflies to survive, my prediction is that Easter Egg Land's lepidopterans are predatory, eating other insects due to the absence of many plants. Especially with the absence of predators, a single species of predatory butterfly thrives in Easter Egg Land, eating almost everything. This fractured ecosystem has little research done on it, and almost all the information we know about it is false. But there is hope. There are other species, namely large dragonflies that may compete with the butterflies.
Unfortunately, probably due to the introduction of invasive species, such as egg-laying bunnies, the order Odonata is highly endangered, with only 3 examples in 3 boxes of Easter eggs. Their niche is probably as competition against the predatory butterflies, competing for food, shelter, and what little plant life exists. They seem to be approximately the same size as the lepidopterans, but perhaps they aren't members of Odonata at all, but another variation of the predatory lepidopterans of Easter Egg Land. Perhaps diversity is even worse than I thought it was, with only 3 orders of insects. 





In some cases, I have found that selections of species from Easter Egg Land, labeled to all be Arthropoda, contain different, non-arthropod species. Frogs are very common in other sets we've observed, but none of them were present in the sets used in this study. Instead, Gastropoda or snails were found, with two individuals, probably occupying the niche of prey for the predatory butterflies. Chelonia or turtles had many individuals, providing hope for the idea that at least as larvae, the predatory butterflies and dragonflies have predators. However, once they become adults, I have discovered that given the wingspan of the butterflies and the weight of the turtles, and knowing the niche of the butterflies, that once they become adults, the butterflies and dragonflies can easily carry off the turtles into the air, bringing them into their dens and eating them alive. 


Conclusion

Easter Egg Land has serious problems. If we want to conserve the ecosystem and hopefully restore it, we will have to make sure to control the invasive egg-laying bunnies and introduce large animals that can eat the predatory butterflies. It is possible that Easter Egg Land's fractured ecosystem is a result of the yearly removal of thousands of animals from Easter Egg Land for the holiday. With enough conservation efforts, we might be able to restore order to Easter Egg Land. The main thing Easter Egg Land needs is awareness. So I encourage you to advocate for the conservation of Easter Egg Land's native species and the control of egg-laying bunnies.

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