Tuesday, December 25, 2007

christmas in Belize

(this is just a pic i found on the internet, i'll post the ones i took when i can upload them)
As I am walking through the forest outside of Placencia, Belize (in the Toledo district), I notice very tall yet bare pine tree-looking trees scattered throughout the landscape. I ask my Belizian friend Francisco what kind of trees they are. They are in fact pine trees but they are not supposed to look like this, he says. He goes on to tell me that these trees are plagued by a beetle, Dendroctonus Frontalis, or the tree killer.
The attack starts out with the female beetle boring into the bark up to the phloem or living tissue under the bark of the tree. She then constructs a chamber and releases a pheromone which attracts the male. After he and the female mate, she then begins to construct tunnels under the bark where she lays up to 160 eggs. As she lays her eggs, she covers them with dust or frass. This is the main damage caused to the tree: she introduces a fungi called Blue Stain, which she has a mutual or symbiotic relationship with. The blue stain destroys the living tissue of the tree causing it to suffocate due to no nutrients being able to reach the upper part of the tree, and therefore causing this wonky looking Christmas tree. I haven’t yet checked Francisco’s facts, but i am choosing to accept this info untill i get time to double check them.
i looked for the beetles but couldnt find any for my collection.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cricket Fighting

While doing some research on crickets, I found a number of YouTube videos relating to the gambling sport of cricket fighting, which is ancient and is still practiced in China (and maybe other places?). Here are just a few of 'em!




Scientists Can Control The Sexuality of Fruit Flies


I found this bug news on an unexpected source, Perez Hilton. His source was Nature Neuroscience so it should be reliable. Essentially the scientists who conducted the study found that male fruit flies with a certain gene mutation would court other male fruit flies.

“Based on our previous work, we reasoned that GB mutants might show homosexual behavior because their glutamatergic synapses were altered in some way,” Featherstone said. “Homosexual courtship might be sort of an ‘overreaction’ to sexual stimuli.”

To test this, the researchers genetically altered synapse strength, independent of GB. They also gave flies drugs to alter synapse strength. As predicted, they were able to turn fly homosexuality on and off, within hours."


Monday, December 10, 2007

Radio Lab


At the above address, you can listen to or download an episode of the science radio show "Radio Lab." This episode, entitled "Emergence," focuses on society insects and synchronous behavior (focusing on fireflies, ants, and bees). Good show!

awesome close ups of insects

So my friend found this guy from Germany named Martin Amm on deviant art and he takes some really beautiful photos of insects so i'm posting them!



Sunday, December 9, 2007

Mike Libby's Insect Lab

So I picked up a magazine called "Hi Fructose" because i liked the cover and in it there was an article about this guy named Mike Libby:

"Mike Libby, the founder of Insect Lab, is known for combining nature and industry into very versatile specimens. Mixing science fact with science fiction--Libby has given physical form to ideas that others have only dreamed of.
Insect Lab is the name of the studio where Libby combines the mechanics of man with the mechanics of nature. Libby customizes real insects with antique watch parts and electronic components, offering specimens that come in many colors, sizes and shapes; each insect is individually adorned-- no two insects are ever alike. Through dedication and the lust for the fantastic, Libby has given physical life to creatures that have stalked the imaginations of authors, artists, comic book fans and moviegoers for decades.
In a sense, Libby creates cyborg insects that contain all the complexities of their natural form along with the complexity of human ingenuity. One could say that his creations also ask questions about mortality and bio ethics. Philosophy aside, Libby's creations are simply fun. His creations come in two presentation formats, custom black shadow boxes or glass bell jars with a dark wooden base. Both are archival and only acid free materials are used. Each display is signed and labeled, providing specimen name, parts and number. Mad science or art? You be the judge."
-Brian Sherwin

make sure to check out the website:


Saturday, December 8, 2007

Flies Evasive Move Traced to Sensory Neurons

ScienceDaily (Dec. 6, 2007) — When fruit fly larvae are poked or prodded, they fold themselves up and corkscrew their bodies around, a behavior that appears to be the young insects' equivalent of a "judo move," say researchers. They now trace that rolling behavior to neurons resembling those that sense pain.
The larvae display the same rolling behavior when attacked by tiny parasitoid wasps, the new report also shows, occasionally even managing to flip their assailants onto their backs. Those parasitoid wasps will lay eggs inside fly larvae. When the eggs hatch, the larval wasps devour the fly young from the inside out.
"We have identified a specific set of sensory neurons in the fly larva whose function is to protect the animal from injurious things in the environment," said W. Daniel Tracey of Duke University Medical Center. "These neurons look a lot like our own sensory neurons that trigger painful sensations when we encounter potentially tissue-damaging heat, mechanical or chemical stimuli."
Nonetheless, Tracey said, they "really don't think" that insects feel pain. Rather, it reveals that the larval nervous system has circuitry that encodes an innate escape behavior--probably more akin to a reflex, as occurs when a person touches a hot stove. In that case, the hand pulls away before any pain is actually felt.
The researchers earlier found that noxious heat or mechanical stimulation triggered the larvae to roll, a motion completely distinct from that the insects otherwise use to get around. In the new study, Tracey's group used a "genetic trick" to turn neurons on and off by using pulses of blue light. That allowed them to zero in on the specific sensory neurons that triggered the escape behavior--which have very fine, highly branched nerve endings just beneath the larvae's outer surfaces.
Surprisingly, the larvae initially roll toward the offending heat or prodding, they found. That led them to suspect the move might be a defense against prevalent parasitoid wasps. Consistent with that theory, they document that larvae can escape attack of one wasp species by rolling.
The findings are a useful reminder, Tracey said: "Biologists that spend their days in the lab often view their organisms as laboratory animals. We need to remember that they come from nature. They didn't originate in plastic vials on the shelf."

-" insect equivalent of a judo move"- i thought this was clever -lol alex

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

silkworm factory

just a video on a silkworm factory...making silk. :)


Insect Artists

He Lets Creepy-Crawlies Get Their Feet Wet as Painters
By Nick Thomas
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 19, 2007; Page N01

This article is about Steven Kutcher. He is a man who started out as a "bug wrangler" for movies and came up with the idea to let his insect paint for him. We all need a gimmick and it sounds like he's got it made in the shade.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Your very own Dragonfly Robot

Sharper Image has now brought technology to the task of giving us what we all have wanted: flying insect companions!:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Termite Guts to the Biofuel Rescue!

"Biofuel" is seen by many as the answer to our growing and voracious fuel needs. The US is pushing corn as a source of ethanol for vehicles, but the actual environmental benefits of this have been questioned by many...

What if we could instead use material that is already considered waste - lie used paper of scrap wood? The article below shows have termites and their lovely symbionts may point towards a solution of this kind:

ScienceDaily (Nov. 25, 2007) — Termites -- notorious for their voracious appetite for wood, rendering houses to dust and causing billions of dollars in damage per year -- may provide the biochemical means to a greener biofuel future. The bellies of these tiny beasts actually harbor a gold mine of microbes that have now been tapped as a rich source of enzymes for improving the conversion of wood or waste biomass to valuable biofuels.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

British Scientists Find Ancient Fossil of What Once Was the World's Biggest Bug

The term "bug" is being used liberally here, but what were are talking about are:

"Eurypterids, or ancient sea scorpions, are believed to be the extinct aquatic ancestors of today's scorpions and possibly all arachnids, a class of joint-legged, invertebrate animals, including spiders, scorpions, mites and ticks."

This fossil find is truly remarkable. Giant Carboniferous dragonflies have some competition in town!

The full article is here:


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Robot 'pied piper' leads roaches

On the heels on me mentioning th robot bee used to test the Waggle Dane Hypothesis in class, here is another interesting robo-insect interactions! An excerpt:

"A robotic cockroach can act as a 'pied piper' to its flesh-and-blood counterparts, persuading the real insects to hide in unusual places.

European scientists introduced tiny autonomous robots into an "arena" where cockroaches were allowed to run free.

They wanted to see whether the robots would be accepted by the insects and whether they could influence their collective decision-making process.

The results were reported in the academic journal Science.

The robots - built by Jose Halloy, from the Free University in Brussels, Belgium, and colleagues - do not look at all like cockroaches.

But by covering the robots in filter paper infused with cockroach pheromones, the researchers were able to fool the

animals into thinking the automatons were genuine members of their group."

The rest of the article can found here:


Monday, November 12, 2007


From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm
Published: November 13, 2007

An interesting article in the New York Times about studying swarms. The two parts I found most interesting were the parts where they got computer models to correctly mimic insect swarms, and when they were able to do the same thing with humans.

Here is an excerpt:

"In the case of army ants, Dr. Couzin was intrigued by their highways. Army ants returning to their nest with food travel in a dense column. This incoming lane is flanked by two lanes of outgoing traffic. A three-lane highway of army ants can stretch for as far as 150 yards from the ant nest, comprising hundreds of thousands of insects.

What Dr. Couzin wanted to know was why army ants do not move to and from their colony in a mad, disorganized scramble. To find out, he built a computer model based on some basic ant biology. Each simulated ant laid down a chemical marker that attracted other ants while the marker was still fresh. Each ant could also sweep the air with its antennas; if it made contact with another ant, it turned away and slowed down to avoid a collision.

Dr. Couzin analyzed how the ants behaved when he tweaked their behavior. If the ants turned away too quickly from oncoming insects, they lost the scent of their trail. If they did not turn fast enough, they ground to a halt and forced ants behind them to slow down. Dr. Couzin found that a narrow range of behavior allowed ants to move as a group as quickly as possible.

It turned out that these optimal ants also spontaneously formed highways. If the ants going in one direction happened to become dense, their chemical trails attracted more ants headed the same way. This feedback caused the ants to form a single packed column. The ants going the other direction turned away from the oncoming traffic and formed flanking lanes."


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bites Recruit Wasp Workers
March 27, 2006
By Joel Schwarz, University of Washington

If you think you’ve got a bad boss, one who loves to chew people out, or if you work with backstabbing co-workers, be thankful you are not a wasp.

If you were, chances are your nestmates might bite you to communicate that it is time to leave the nest and forage for the colony, according to research by a University of Washington animal behaviorist. Biting is a way that workers in a colony of the social wasp Polybia occidentalis recruit new foragers to gather water, food and building material in a time of need, said Sean O’Donnell, a UW associate professor of psychology.

O’Donnell previously found that biting appears to be an important way of regulating the division of labor among these insects. Now, in the March 2006 issue of the journal Animal Behaviour, he describes an experiment in which he artificially removed active foragers from four wasp colonies to see how new foragers are recruited.

He found that biting was directed at certain individuals, who previously hadn’t left the nest, to induce them to begin foraging. The rate of being bitten increased by an average of 600 percent for these recruited foragers, while biting rates did not increase for other workers.

“The fact that biting was specifically directed at recruited foragers shows that biting is the mechanism that the colonies used to activate new foragers,” said O’Donnell. “With no water, food and building material coming in to the nest, the colonies needed to ramp up their foraging workforce. This study shows that these biting interactions play a central role in recruiting foragers and that biting has a role in communication that affects task performance in a colony.”

To study the wasps, O’Donnell first collected and anesthetized an average of about 300 workers from each of the colonies. He then marked each wasp’s thorax with a color-coded system that made it possible to identify individuals and returned the insects to their nests. A day later, all foragers returning to a nest were removed for at least two hours and until none arrived for at least one hour of continuous monitoring.

“The rate of foraging slowed down and stopped completely, placing stress on the colony because materials the colony needs, primarily food, are not coming in. So the colony needs to recruit new workers to make up for the loss,” O’Donnell explained.

On the final day observers watched each colony, noted the behavior of the marked individuals to see which insects were foragers, and recorded all biting interactions.

O’Donnell said the biting did not always provoke an individual to begin foraging immediately, noting the biting seems to have a cumulative effect. Some insects were bitten multiple times for hours before leaving the nest to forage.

“Going off the nest to forage, where they are exposed to all kinds of stresses and dangers, is probably the biggest change these animals face in their lives,” he said.

O’Donnell plans future studies to learn what determines which members of a colony are doing the biting and which are being bitten. He suspects that biting recipients are recognized based on something chemical on their body surface, as well as by an age component.

O’Donnell and other scientists study social insects looking for clues about how social behavior evolved and how it is maintained since there are elements that are shared among all social animals. Social aggression is one such characteristic that is almost universal among animal groups ranging from insects to primates including humans.

The National Science Foundation funded the research, which was conducted in Costa Rica.

Press Release © 2005, Joel Schwarz, University of Washington

“Polybia wasp biting interactions recruit foragers
following experimental worker removals,” Sean O’Donnell, Animal Behaviour, Volume 71, Issue 3, Pages 709-715 (March 2006) (published online February 7, 2006)

Sean O’Donnell, University of Washington

Video of Polybia nest

Back to Research 2006

Polybia occidentalis recruits new forager (marked with pink) with a bite.

Photo © 2006 University of Washington

Polybia occidentalis workers

Photo © 2006 University of Washington

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fossilized Spider, 50 Million Years Old, Clear As Life

No, it isn't an insect, but who is counting legs anyway?

Actually, the folks who just found this fossil are - and a whole lot more. Found in some French amber, this fossil spider could be seen with the eye, but details through the golden blurry sap were more than a little hard to make out. Now through the use of some fancy 3D X-ray technologies, they were able to virtually dissect it, letting all its details shine through!

The article:

Malaria Protection (circa 1943)

funny animation that i watched as a kid.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ladybird beetles to the rescue!

Along the lines of our nice tour of the Art Institute gardens by Tom Wolf and our getting schooled on the control of potential pest insects, I saw this piece in the Red Eye - who at that paper is so into the bugs? It is a pleasant surprise....

Click on the image of the article on the left to see the readably larger version.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dragonfly or Insect Spy? Scientists at Work on Robobugs

A mechanical fly with a wingspan of less than an inch and that weighs less than a gram, being developed by the Harvard Microrobotics Lab.
(sorry, you're gonna have to copy and paste the link)

Sunday, October 7, 2007


my mantis layed her eggs!!

she is half the size and has twice the energy. the egg sac is about an inch and a half/two inches big and looks like the foamy yellow stuff you use to seal doorways.

if anyone has any pointers on how to dislodge the egg sac, they would be welcome.


Saturday, October 6, 2007

But were they "hemipterans?"

All sorts of things have been used in the illegal drug trade. Add another to the list!
An interesting tidbit from this week's "Red Eye" - purveyor of fine world news.

I suggest that maybe they should have tried hollowed out cocoons?


Friday, October 5, 2007

Insects Disrupt Yankees-Indians Baseball Game

funny story:



Yeah, I Meant to Get Stung (VIDEO)

Sorry... I'm having issues with uploading the video.

Here's the URL:



Yeah, I Meant to Get Stung.

I had mentioned briefly in class about “Bee Sting Therapy” being used to treat arthritis, as well as a few other ailments… so, here is that National Geographic Podcast about it. I recommend subscribing highly. It not only contains a slew of podcasts on insects (as you may have noticed from Erin’s post), but some excellent zoological, anthropological, ritual, and food-related videos!


Here’s a link to National Geographic's podcast page on YouTube... However, I simply download them from iTunes, under National Geographic video shorts.



Insect Candy, Maggot Medicine and Hornets From Hell

I kind of went youtube crazy...

Insect Candy:

Maggot Medicine: (viewer discretion advised!)

Hornets From Hell:


Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Oh Honey! Heal me!

This may be quite old news to some of you (as this article was created in 2000), but studies have shown that honey has excellent healing properties. I bring this up because I (being horrifically clumsy) gave myself some SWEET oil burns a few days ago, from my armpit to my mid-forearm (trying to pan sear some tuna steaks in sesame oil), and I’m unhappy with almost all of the burn products on the market so far. Thus, as an exceedingly paranoid individual and medical info junkie, I decided to sift around the inter-slice for something better…

Lo’ and behold! Here I find article, upon article about honey as one of the foremost healing agents. Woo!


So, now I am going to replace my commercial healing products with honey, and we will see how it goes. Let’s see if the bees can do for me what Johnson & Johnson can’t… or my arm may fall off.

-sidenote- As the Aussies, and UK dwellers are far more open to homeopathic medicine than we Americans, a new(ish, circa 2000, to 2005) product called “Medihoney” has been created to cure a variety of ailments…

However, it seems that using store bought honey is fine, too.


ps: I drew that dippy drawing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Chevalier Woods - Mantis Heaven~

For as close to being to one of the world's busiest airports as it is, Chevelier Woods Forest Preserve did not disappoint. We collected at least 10 different orders of insects, no problem.

This included two different species of praying mantis (as Jenny and Gracen as catching above), as well as large carpenter bees and amazing click beetles!

The weather was fine and the abundant flowers (unfortunately "weedy" and not hypo-allergenic) meant plenty of things to collect!


Monday, September 24, 2007

praying mantis

just some photos of the oh-so-prego mantis i found on the collection on sunday (and obviously decided to keep, andy) .

eating some crickets.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

morgan's madagascar sphinx moth



The first article shares a connection with the second. They support what was talked about in class last week, with the diversifcation of insects having their direct relation with the diversity of angiosperms.


Mantophasmatodea discovered 2002



Friday, September 21, 2007

Planet Earth

i found the Planet Earth video of the insest-possessing fungi.

Watch it here:


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

colourful crickets

(I'm terrible at translating, but this is kind of what the article says--)

"Three cricket-like insects coloured green, white and pink, were found at Mrs. Kana Yamaguchi's garden in the Sakai, Osaka(Japan).

A small field close to her house had just been taken down, and various insects escaped into Mrs. Yamaguchi's garden. While insect hunting with her daughter Arisa, they found the pink coloured insect, and her son Keita caught the white.

According to Mr. Itaru Kanazawa at the Museum of Natural History in Osaka, these are the larvae of insects known as "Kubikirigisu", a type of cricket.

They have the tendency of camoflauging to surrounding colours, and the pink coloured cricket is probably an extreme result of being around anything dark brown. There is a possibility that the white one is an albino, but it is uncertain until it matures into an adult."


Not an insect, but...

I just thought this was kind of interesting, it's a spider eating a bat (and according to the article I took this from, it's really rare for a spider to be eating a mammal). Picture taken in Kagoshima, Japan (www.asahi.com)

Cockroaches like you've never seen them before

Perhaps you are all already familiar with the work of Vladmaster but I hope you all enjoyed the piece Lucifugia Thigmotaxis that I showed in class. What is it like to be a cockroach? - it givies you an idea (and so much more) in 3D.

It makes me think of some of the photographic work of Catherine Chalmers on these study. Of course insects have high cultural cache, but don't you know. After all, Cabinet Magazine had a whole issue devoted to them just this year.

Insects are crawling all over culture like...well, insects.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Out and About: Jackson Park

This past Sunday was pretty good for bugs on the South Side. Despite the first bad cold snap of the season (way too early) dragonflies, damselfies, flies, bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles and all the other usual suspects were around in Jackson Park.

Mom and Jon take in an mean looking wasp Jon had jut caught, with a caterpillar in it steely jaws no less!

Finding Aquatic insects was more of a challenge, but even a couple larval damselflies were still swimming around in the water.

Hope you are collecting in your spare time - with this weather there won't be any more insects out there much longer......

- Andy