Sunday, December 14, 2008

award winning photo of fairy fly

this image has received acclaim for the photographer capturing this fairy fly's wings. national geographic released a short article about it here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Secret Society Of Superorganisms

NPR recently did a nice very interview of E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler on their new book on "superorganisms."

Beyond the audio, they also have a nice slideshow that they put together for the peice!

As many of you know, I am a big proponent of the superorganism concept; if you'd like to read a recent paper on the topic I wrote, feel free to check it out, available HERE.


Sunday, December 7, 2008


As the semester finishes up and you are getting your insect collections together, something to think a bout more long term: pet management. Yes, even though your insects are dead, your collection can still (most unfortunately) generate insect pests.

Why mothballs in the insect cases? We talked about how dermestid beetles might try to infiltrate and eat your specimens - last night I found some first hand evidence of this phenomenon in a collection box I had neglected to protect. The pictures below show the damage:

my poor bee mimic! You can see the pupal cases littered around as little yellow flecks...

my carpenter bee too.....

the monarch as well!

And here is the culprit, at least one of them, that was sitting on the outside edge of the box. Protecting your insects from thee guys is something to consider if you want your lovely collections to survive in perpetuity...


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ants at Work

Some remarkable footage of what ants can do - in this case recycling the biomass of a dead garden gecko in a matter of hours.


Friday, December 5, 2008

super ants taking over world

the ant species lasius neglectus is taking over Europe and wiping out native ant species as well as local plants.
The species originated in the black sea region has invaded more then 100 areas across Europe and is on the move. read more at


Sunday, November 30, 2008

LinkIf you'll recall much earlier in the semester we talked about the recent research showing the gold medal for the fastest mandible strike in nature goes to trap-jaw ants (video).

Now it seems my friend Marc Seid and his colleagues have found a termite has bested the record!

As Marc is quoted :

"Ultimately, we're interested in the evolution of termite soldiers' brains and how they employ different types of defensive weaponry," says Seid. Footage of the soldier termite's jaws as they strike an invader at almost 70 meters per second was captured on a high speed video camera in the laboratory at 40,000 frames per second. "Many insects move much faster than a human eye can see so we knew that we needed high speed cameras to capture their behavior, but we weren't expecting anything this fast. If you don't know about the behavior, you can't hope to understand the brain," Seid adds.

There is always a faster gun out their in the Wild West in the insect world....


Leafcutter flag wavers (Donna Conlon)

Just a follow up on the artist I mentioned in class (Donna Conlon) that played with the leaf-carrying on leafcutter ants. To see an excerpt of the video:


Leafcutter bacterial symbiosis update

As we've been exploring the complex web of mutualisms, predation, and parasitism in the fungus-gardening leafcutting ant system here is a research update straight from the lab of Cameron Currie, providing more detail on the coevolving "arms race" between
the baterical that produce anti-pest compounds which wad off pest-fungal species from taking over the garden.

The article also clarifies a point we didn't discuss uly in classbut wshich is an imporant one in therm so thinking about the bacteria/ant mutualism - is it only a place to grow that the bacteria get in exchange for teir anti-pest activites? Apparently not:

So what do the bacteria get out of producing pesticides for the ants? "For starters, they get food. Many species of fungus-growing ants have evolved special crypts on their bodies where the bacteria live and grow. Scientists believe that the ants feed the bacteria through glands connected to these crypts," said Dr Garret Suen, a post-doctoral fellow in Professor Currie's lab. "Also, the bacteria get a protected environment in which to grow, away from the intense competition they would face if they lived in other environments such as the soil."


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dinosaur that specialized in devouring termites

The smallest dinosaur known to live in North America had a particular fondness for termites. With stubby little arms, long claws and tweezer like mouth parts the little guy was specialized in ripping apart termite mounds to feast the colonists.

News Flash: Ants can make drawings and destroy flags

Artist Yukinori Yanagi utilizes ants and ant farms to make some spectacular work
check it out

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Video Proof of Wasp Face Recognition!

"Video of a wasp choosing between two patches of food. The wasp chooses based on the facial patterns of the guards, preferring the patch guarded by the opponent with fewer black facial spots."

The Tibbetts Lab page, and the videos and pictures page.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Locust Swarms Plague Australia

From the BBC News:

Vast swarms of locusts have been spotted in Condobolin, Wagga, Gundagai and Narrandera - some up to six kilometres long.

New South Wales Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald talks about the government's preparations to deal with them.

Locusts feed mainly on green vegetation. New South Wales is approaching its harvesting season, and in some areas, this is the first successful crop after years of drought. 

See the Video HERE!

Also check out the video on the spread of the "Toxic Moth"!

Spiders in Outer Space

Apparently, yes, on the international space station as we speak!  Part of some on-broad experiments, including seeing how their webs turn out in zero-gravity. 

When you read the article you'll notice a little error that gave me the latitude (altitude?) to feel like this news item belonged in the insects news, even if in taxonomic error....

Apparently these spider experiments were done some 30 years before - perhaps the scientists felt it was time for a replicate? Let's hope.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hexapod dance, dance, dance......

Given our devotion to living hexapods it is wonderful to see these robotic ones prance around. Interesting out of all the costumes only one or two picked an insect motif!
Maybe too obvious..?


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Oh, what a feeling - dancing on the ceiling!

Electron Microscope Image of a Fly Foot
Ever wondered how flies are able to walk on the ceiling without falling off? Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart (Germany) are investigating this James Bond-style ability of insects to hang upside down from a ceiling. In the future such knowledge could lead to the design of tiny machines that mimic this phenomenon of nature.

The team led by Stanislav Gorb used optical sensors to measure the forces applied by each leg of a fly whilst walking freely on a smooth ceiling. They found that the best attachment force occurred when at least one leg from each side of the fly's body was in contact with the surface. These principles were then proven using artificial polymer tape to simulate the adhesive pads found on the feet of insects.

"Walking on a ceiling is very different from normal walking because the gravity tends to pull an inverted insect away instead of pressing it to the surface", explains Dr Gorb. "Our results, in combination with the knowledge on the microstructure of pads, provide important inspiration for mimicking locomotion of wall and ceiling walking machines, which use micropatterned polymer feet for generating adhesion".


Friday, November 7, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Truth About Your Fig Newtons

In the wild, the mutualistic relationship between figs and the fig wasps that pollinate them leads to figs full of tiny, tiny dead wasps. Cultivated figs are a different story. Most fig varieties grown in the U.S. ( mission figs, kadota figs) do not require pollination for the figs to ripen, and thus contain no wasp parts at all. There is one exception: The calimyrna fig. Fig growers attach paper bags containing fig wasps gathered from wild fig trees to their calimyrna trees, and the female wasps pollinate the figs while attempting to lay their eggs. The flowers inside the fig are too long for the fig wasp's ovipositer, and the wasp either moves on or dies within the fig without laying any eggs. If the wasp dies there, its body is quickly dissolved by enzymes in the fig.
At worst, your fig might contain the completely dissolved remains of one tiny wasp. For more detailed information:
Calimyrna figs

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bee home invasion in the Sunshine State

Local news in Riviera Beach, FL reported two dogs killed in what appears to be a major bee infestation in a house.

"The critter control is hauling away the honeycomb material" they report: 50 pounds of honeycomb in a large nest in the walls of a house!

I recall a news peice last year that I believe described 200 pounds of honey removed from a house somewhere in the South....

a little clip of a removal in progress.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Corpus Clock and the Chronophage

The Corpus Clock, unveiled on Sep. 19th by Stephen Hawking, is the £1 million 24-carat-plated-gold stainless steel invention of John C. Taylor and sits outside the Taylor library at Corpus Christie College, Cambridge.

The Chronophage is the creature that sits on top, so named because he is the 'devourer of time'. He's modeled like a giant terrifying grasshopper/locust, after the grasshopper escapement, a low-friction mechanism for converting pendulum motion into rotational motion, invented in the 18th century by John Harrison, to whom the clock is dedicated. The Chronophage occasionally blinks, and appears to be creeping forward across the rim of the clock, biting down with a loud mechanical crunching noise every second.

The clock is completely mechanical, has no hands, and is perfectly accurate only once every five minutes. “Clocks are fixed, whereas we all know, time is fluid. It drags and it flies. Like Einstein said, an hour sitting next to a pretty girl can be like a minute, and a minute sitting on a hot stove can seem like an hour. I wanted this clock to reflect that, to play tricks with observers.” Dr Christopher de Hamel, Fellow Librarian at Corpus Christi, said: “I wanted it to be a monster, because time itself is a monster . . . It is horrendous, and horrible, and beautiful."

Here is the Wikipedia article, and here is an excellent article from The Times.

(posted by Lyra)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Just like a stain glass window

It comes from Central America and is found from Mexico to Panama . It is quite common in its zone, but it not easy to find because of its transparent wings, which is a natural camouflage mechanism.
A butterfly with transparent wings is rare and beautiful. As delicate as finely blown glass, the presence of this rare tropical gem is used by rain forest ecologists as an indication of high habitat quality and its demise alerts them of ecological change. Rivaling the refined beauty of a stained glass window, the translucent wings of the Glasswing butterfly shimmer in the sunlight like polished panes of turquoise, orange, green, and red. All things beautiful do not have to be full of color to be noticed: in life that which is unnoticed has the most power.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mystery Insects of Japan

A student from last year, Momo, sent photos of some odd insects she came across in her family's house in Tokyo. They've got some lovely colors - guesses as to what order they are in? Leave some speculations in the "comments" box and test your taxonomic intuitions... (AY)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Simple Plan to ID Every Creature on Earth

i found this article in Wired magazine about a lepidopterist trying to build a machine that can identify any organism. he's been at it for a while.

find it at:


Thursday, October 16, 2008

World's Longest Insect

And for a tour of the stick-insect collection at the Natural History Museum with the Curator of Stick-Insects:




Thursday, October 9, 2008

Artist Miriam Wosk

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Wosk's works dazzle the viewer with the extravagance of their labor for just this effect; their excess alluding to the futility of earthly pursuits, while also reminding us of just how precious life is. Elegiac and celebratory at the same time, they reveal the artist's desire to, as she puts it, "explore the paradoxes and contradictions inherent in the human experience, life's beauty and its shadow."

Miriam Wosk at Billy Shire fine arts

Green Porno

Found these videos on the Sundance website which were hilarious as they illustrate reproduction of insects.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Perry Bible Fellowship caterpillars
-posted by scott

Praying mantis footage

Chinese Mantis, Tenodera aridifolia
(from Chevalier Woods, Chicago)

I ran and got my camera like a hysterical father because I thought my
mantis was about to give birth. Several hours and no births later, I
now attribute this throbbing abdominal behaviour to oxygen deprivation.
More air holes have been added.

-posted by scott

Ready.....? FIGHT!

A weird Japanese show where people put 2 insects (sometimes not), together and have them do it street fighter style. Below is one that I find rather amusing.

Click here

Giant Weta

Wetas are natives to New Zealand and are the world's largest kind of cricket. They weight around 20-30 gm. A female weta, when pregnant, can weight up to 70 gm, heavier than a sparrow! Their diet is mostly veggies and fruits. They tend to be not very social but are pretty passive. Who wouldn't want a cute little (well, not so little) weta as a pet?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

INSECT ART by German Artist DAIM

by Michael

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Montrose to Garfield

These fellows were hanging out on a milkweed plant at the Magic Hedge. Looking at this motley crew, what would you say - hemimetabolous or holometabolous? anybody? anybody? Seems like a quiz question....

Garfield Park had some things going on, especially back in the conservatory part. Thanks to Amanda with the chutzpa to just suggest we simply walk through the conservatory with our nets.

At the park's pond we found some various water bugs, beetles, water striders and damselfly larvae. And then these two kids found us. Clearly nature lovers from the looks of their nature-themed shirts.

Chris, as is his character, is spreading knowledge to every corner of the world, here to young minds as he busts this log open to catch some very quick irridescent beetles.

And look at all these aphids. Man , this plant is lousy (and kind of loused) with them, sucking away its planty life blood...

Alexandra won the award for "most unique" insect in catching this lacewing, Order Nueroptera. The stuff is out there!

And in closing, this installation art piece done by an anonymous fungus, perhaps a Basidomycete or "puffball." It looks like a lost prop from the Woody Allen movie "Sleeper." Nature is always stranger than anything we could dream of.