Tuesday, September 28, 2010

entomologist in the dunes

Admittedly a little tangential, but a good movie recommendation is 'Woman in the Dunes', based on the book by Japanese post-war novelist Kobo Abe.

"The Woman in the Dunes is the story of an amateur entomologist who wanders alone into a remote seaside village in pursuit of a rare beetle he wants to add to his collection. But the townspeople take him prisoner. They lower him into the sand-pit home of a young widow, a pariah in the poor community, who the villagers have condemned to a life of shoveling back the ever-encroaching dunes that threaten to bury the town."

Definitely some good bug shots, and a lot of subtle bug/human metaphors, especially that of the antlion, which captures prey by digging traps in the sand.



I have always loved this song. Now my added knowledge makes it a bit better. Fun listening!


The ornamentation, a protrusion shaped like a boxing glove, often appears on just one of the fly’s front legs??

In today's paper in the NY Times, under the Science section of the paper, Sindya N. Bhanoo writes about male dancing flies found in Mount Fuji and their unique way of what assumes to be a way of ornamentation.

Dancing Flies Dress Up to Lure Female Partners
Published: September 27, 2010

In the animal kingdom, it is common for males to have ornamentation, like bright feathers, to impress females of their species, but a newly identified species of dancing flies found in Japan adds something new to the game of sexual display.
The ornamentation, a protrusion shaped like a boxing glove, often appears on just one of the fly’s front legs. The flies were found in the forested regions of Mount Fuji. While some males had the ornament on both legs, and some on neither, many had it on just one leg.
The researchers describe their finding in the journal Biology Letters.
“One struggles to explain why they are asymmetric — it could mean that this thing sits down on a log and sticks one leg up in the air to attract females,” said Adrian Plant, a taxonomist at the National Museum of Wales and one of the study’s authors. “We need more in-the-field live observations of the insects.”
Of the 33 male flies collected, 14 had one ornamented leg, and the remaining had either two or none. The fact that so many were asymmetric led the researchers to believe that it was more than a freak of nature.
What does seem clear is that the boxing glove detracts from the insect’s ability to fly efficiently, which adds to the idea that its function is to attract females. “It’s just like having a wild hairdo,” Dr. Plant said.
Further research is needed, but it is possible that the gloves also contain silk-secreting glands that allow the flies to capture prey and display their catch to potential female partners.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

nutrition, the holometabolous way!

A short sequence from Man vs. Wild showing not only how large beetle larvae can get, but how you might eat one as a protein-rich snack (note: not a video for the weak stomached!)


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Shirts for the enthusiasts



Dermestid Beetle Colony?

Sae's day at the Field Museum for my
Scientific Illustration class with Peggy Macnamara.
Peggy brought us into the Preparation lab of the Field Museum, where all the stuffing and positioning of the species showed in the Field museum are done before they are actually on display. In the lab, there's a room entirely dedicated for the Dermestid Beetle Colony, w
hich belong to the family Dermestidae, also called carpet beetles or larder beetles. These beetles are commonly used by museums and taxidermists to prepare skeletal material, which was why they were in the Preparation room in the Field Museum as well.

The smell of the room was not one of the most pleasant smells I've encountered in my life. But when I googled "Dermestid Beetle Colony" I interestingly came across a website that sells Dermestid Beetle Colony starter kits.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

going out to field and forest....

This week in the fields of milkweeds were some expected (red & black ) bugs hanging out:

Of course you can also catch some in the molting of molting, and in a sense "changing clothes" between life stage...

And then there are mysterious objects, like this praying mantis egg case:

Expectant parents were not far away...

And although we love 6-legged creatures, the four-legged ones can be charming too:


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ant Death Spiral

Ants are colonial insects, meaning they are very social, and function more as a group and rarely as individuals. They seem to be exceedingly loyal to their colony, and some ant species will literally run themselves to death by exhaustion. When these ants become separated from the greater swarm, they will literally follow each other in circles until they all die. This action produces a breathtaking "hurricane" of ants that continues until no ants are left standing.



These are photos of the lepidopterans (butterflies, moths) I've been encountering recently. The top two images are the ones I saw in Kansas City on 9/10(sat). The 2nd close up butterfly was found dead in that position and its leaves seemed to be very translucent/clear. Even though it was windy and rainy, it somehow managed to stay in that position.

The last photo of a moth mimicking the ground was taken on 9/6 (Monday) near Wilmette, IL, where the Baha'i Temple is located. I ended up touching it because I couldn't tell if it was dead or alive. After I touched it few times it tweaked a little but didn't make much movement. I assumed it was asleep and left it alone :)


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jo Whaley: Butterflies and Photography

Interesting photography work by Jo Whaley
Artist's website here: http://www.jowhaley.com/index.cfm?bhcp=1

From The New Yorker:
The Theater of Insects” (Chronicle) is a cabinet of curiosities for your pocketbook. The photographer and avid lepidopterist Jo Whaley stages beetles, butterflies, and caterpillars in hand-crafted scenes. I can imagine these teensy stages piled on a dusty bookshelf, each featuring their own performance. As the insects’ wings blend into the background—old daguerrotypes, corroded metal, bits of paper and cardboard—the plot of unlikely coincidences unfolds.

Whaley is fascinated by melanism, the way that insects, like butterflies, evolve to blend into their surroundings, which in the industrialized world are often dreary and industrial. And yet, with graphic compositions and colors that illuminate the pages, the images seem playful, containing worlds in which beetles, metals, photographs, music sheets, and more make unlikely bedfellows. Like any good Wunderkrammer, the book aims for scientific display and stops somewhere near surreal folly.
posted by Wesley

Monday, September 13, 2010

Playing Tag with Royalty (monarchs)

Right now in northern Illinois the monarch butterflies are at their peak on their journey southward towards Mexico to overwinter.

This year, the Insect World class is participating in the Monarch Watch program of tagging and releasing these travelers in hopes of gathering data about their epic migration.

This weekend out the forest preserve
we had quite some luck, seeing a greater density of monarchs than I'd personally seen in the past five years.

We caught and tagged many - sticking the tracking numbers to the underside of their bright orange/black hindwings and letting them go.

We look forward to more in the coming two weeks....


The Romance of Ants

temporary exhibit at the Field Museum all about ants by the Field Museum scientist Dr. Corrie Moreau. Talks about interesting facts about ants, and how one spends his/her time to study them. (The illustrations at the show, in comic book style, are done by one of SAIC Alumni who took Insect World when she was an Undergraduate.)
Check out the blog for the exhibit: http://romanceofants.ning.com/


Friday, September 10, 2010

Ants and Sluggards

Folk artist, pastor, and self-proclaimed "man of vision" Howard Finster made supposed over 40,000 works of art in his lifetime, starting his artistic pursuits well into adulthood.

If you can't make it to his museum / homestead in Georgia, Paradise Gardens, it is hard to see a nice collection of this work. The Chicago Cultural Center right now has a fine show of his work, Stranger in Paradise.

Walking through I noticed this ant piece done nicely and shimmering upon a mirror and quoting the Proverbs 6:6 verse: "Go to the ant though sluggard, and be wise..."

Finster has another piece along these same lines.

Of course there is almost too much to say about the role of ants as model and metaphor throughout history and across cultures... suffice to say, think twice about squashing the next one you see. It may be trying to tell you something.


insect art


Brian Burkhardt makes some really cool sculptures that look like insects. My favorites are his insects made out of high fashion logos - butterflies out of burberry patterns, etc. (These are under the 'Fauna' part of his website). He is certainly a meticulous craftsman - up close, you can see how detailed the 'insects' were constructed.

I met him once and he told me that he used to be a commercial farmer. I imagine that that experience has influenced his use of materials and irony in his art. I think of these sculptures as a pseudo-apocalyptic taxonomy of artifice. They cleverly question ideas of 'naturalness' utopian/dystopian capitalist ideology, and our innate (?) desire for order.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bedbug updated - Cook them or fool their hearts?

An article from today's news: more updates on research on combating bedbugs - in this case via pheromones. They call this a "new method" although it is one that been utilized for other insect pests as well...

here is a video on the going method of ultra-heating living spaces up to kill them off:


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Unfortunately, bed bugs.

If you live in NYC, Chicago, or Cincinnati you already know that bed bugs are back. In fact they were gone so long that many weren't even aware of their blood-sucking existence.

Recently though the US press has picked up on it, with several articles appearing in big papers. This article gives a nice overview; another article warns people like me they need to be careful picking up furniture at flea markets or in alley-ways because of these lurking pests. But a recent BBC report also points out that it seems to in fact be a global resurgence (yikes!)

So read up a little - best to know the enemy and hopefully avoid - as much as we can - these pesky and gross Hemipterans. This New York Times site actually has a wonderful resource of all its articles and multimedia content on the matter of late, including how dogs are coming to the rescue!