Posts about insects

Scientists Learn More About Spider Evolution

Tangled web of spider evolution

It seems that Attercopus is a missing link, capable of producing silk but not of weaving it. “The thing that had been called the oldest known spider we have now shown is in fact more primitive than a true spider,” Professor Selden told BBC News.

“They’re all microscopic fragments. What you’ve got is a jigsaw puzzle, with half the pieces and no picture on the box lid,” Professor Selden said. “You don’t know what it’s going to be if you haven’t got all the pieces, so having these additional pieces means it changed the idea of what it was.” The finding is important for evolutionary biologists trying to unravel the origin of spider silk.

“The puzzle about silk was this: we knew that it wasn’t used for making webs initially, for catching insects, because there were no flying insects when the earliest spiders were around,” Professor Selden said.

“Here we clearly have a spider-like animal that could produce silk but didn’t yet have these flexible spinnerets for weaving it into webs; we think that this sort of spider would leave a trail of silk as it moved along, using it to find its way back to its burrow.”

Another great example of scientists incorporating new information and adjusting their understanding of what they are studying.

Related: 60 Acre (24 hectare) Spider WebSpider ThreadDinosaur Remains Found with Intact Skin and TissueSecrets of Spider Silk’s Strength

Vampire Moth Discovered

Vampire Moth Discovered

Entomologist Jennifer Zaspel at the University of Florida in Gainesville said the discovery suggests the moth population could be on an “evolutionary trajectory” away from other C. thalictri populations.

In January, she will compare the Russian population’s DNA to that of other populations and other species to confirm her suspicions. “Based on geography, based on behavior, and based on a phenotypic variation we saw in the wing pattern, we can speculate that this represents something different, something new,” Zaspel said.

Only male moths exhibit blood feeding, she noted, raising the possibility that as in some species of butterflies and other moths, the Russian moths do it to pass on salt to females during copulation.

“There is no evidence it prolongs the life of the male, or anything like that,” she said. “So we suspect that it is probably going to the female.” The sexual gift, she said, would provide a nutritional boost to young larvae that feed on leaf-rich, but sodium-poor, diets.

Related: Darwin’s Orchid PredictionWhy Insects Can’t Fly Straight at NightEat Less Salt to Save Your Heart

Backyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing Damselfly

photo of Dragonfly

If you know the what type of dragonfly is in the photo, please add a comment (update: a comment indicates it is not a dragonfly but a Great Spreadwing Archilestes grandis damselfly – I really enjoy getting feedback like this. It appears the most common way to differentiate the two is how the wings are at rest but the Spreadwing is an exception). I had a small preying mantis drop on my head, and then the ground, a month ago in my backyard. But when I got my digital camera I couldn’t find it again. The variety of insects you can see can be amazing, especially if you don’t use poisons and chemicals in your yard.

Photo by John Hunter, creative commons attribution license.

Related: Backyard Wildlife: Sharpshinned HawkBackyard Wildlife: Foxposts on insects

Life in a bubble

Life in a bubble

Hundreds of insect species spend much of their time underwater, where food may be more plentiful. MIT mathematicians have now figured out exactly how those insects breathe underwater.

By virtue of their rough, water-repellent coat, when submerged these insects trap a thin layer of air on their bodies. These bubbles not only serve as a finite oxygen store, but also allow the insects to absorb oxygen from the surrounding water.

“Some insects have adapted to life underwater by using this bubble as an external lung,” said John Bush, associate professor of applied mathematics, a co-author of the recent study.

Thanks to those air bubbles, insects can stay below the surface indefinitely and dive as deep as about 30 meters, according to the study co-authored by Bush and Morris Flynn, former applied mathematics instructor. Some species, such as Neoplea striola, which are native to New England, hibernate underwater all winter long.

Related: Swimming AntsFish Discovery: Breathes Air for Months at a TimeGiant Star Fish and More in Antarctica

Huge Ant Nest

[Google broke the original link when they trashed Google Video in poor way, which has become their habit. There history now shows they create very unreliable web services that are an embarrassment to any engineer. Still YouTube is difficult to avoid, Vimeo while not suffering from being a Google product and therefore unreliable based on Google's history, Vimeo offers only a small fraction of the content found on YouTube.]

Very cool webcast. The ant nest goes 8 meters into the earth. The nest is engineered with vents to promote the flow of air, bringing in fresh air and expelling carbon dioxide created by the large fungus gardens. The scientists filled the ant next with concrete to excavate it: 10 tons of concrete were needed.

Related: Symbiotic relationship between ants and bacteriaAnts on Stilts for ScienceGiant Nests of Yellow-jackets

2 Mysterious Species in the UK

Plane Bug - UK

Mystery insect found in Museum garden

This mystery bug has not been seen in the UK before and has made the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden its home. The tiny bug is baffling insect experts at the Museum who are still trying to identify the mystery newcomer. The almond-shaped bug is red and black and about the size of a grain of rice

Experts checked the new bug with those in the Museum’s national insect collection of more than 28 million specimens. Amazingly, there is no exact match.

The bug closely resembles the fairly rare species Arocatus roeselii, which is usually found in central Europe. However, the roeselii bugs are brighter red than this new bug and they are usually associated with alder trees rather than plane trees.

However, the National Museum in Prague discovered an exact match to the mystery bug in their collections – an insect that was found in Nice and is classified as Arocatus roeselii. ‘There are two possible explanations,’ explains Barclay. ‘That the bug is roeselii and by switching to feed on the plane trees it could suddenly become more abundant, successful and invasive. The other possibility is that the insect in our grounds may not be roeselii at all.’

The Museum is working with international colleagues to analyse the bug’s body shape, form and DNA to see whether it is a newly discovered species or if it is in fact Arocatus roeselii.

Here is a green bug from my trip to Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve that is probably easier to identify. Or how about this insect from the Forest Glen Preserve, Illinois. Or how about this one at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey, in Kentucky.

Related: posts on invasive speciesarticles on invasive plantsBallast-free Ships

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Bees, Hornets and Wasps

Photo of a bee by Justin Hunter

Bee vs. Hornet vs. Wasp

A bee can generally only sting you once, while hornets and wasps can sting multiple times.

Bees are fuzzy pollen collectors that almost always die shortly after stinging people (because the stinger becomes embedded in the skin, which prevents multiple stings). Bees don’t die each time they sting, though; the primary purpose of the stinger is to sting other bees, which doesn’t result in the loss of the stinger.

Wasps are members of the family Vespidae, which includes yellow jackets and hornets. Wasps generally have two pairs of wings and are definitely not fuzzy. Only the females have stingers, but they can sting people repeatedly.

Hornets are a small subset of wasps not native to North America (the yellow jacket is not truly a hornet). Somewhat fatter around the middle than your average wasp, the European hornet is now widespread on the East Coast of the U.S. Like other wasps, hornets can sting over and over again and can be extremely aggressive.

Photo by Justin Hunter

Related: Bye Bye British BeesWasps Used to Detect ExplosivesColony Collapse Disorder ContinuesBye Bye BeesVanishing Giant Nests of Yellow-jackets

Darwin’s Orchid Prediction

American Museum of Natural History:

Darwin first saw this astonishing orchid from Madagascar, Angraecum sesquipedale, in 1862. Its foot-long green throat holds nectar—the sweet liquid that draws pollinators – but only at its very tip. “Astounding,” Darwin wrote, of this strange adaptation. “What insect could suck it?” He predicted that Madagascar must be home to an insect with an incredibly long feeding tube, or proboscis. Entomologists were dubious: no such insect had ever been found there.

Related: High Resolution Darwin DocumentsComplete Work of Charles Darwin OnlineHow flowering plants beat the competitionWhat Are Flowers For?

Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve Photos

photo of Tree at the Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve
The Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve in Ohio is quite a nice short hike. Photos by John Hunter. If anyone knows what the green beetle is, please add a comment.

I visited the preserve last year. Other sites from the trip include: Rocky Gap State Park, Maryland and Coopers Rock State Forest, West Virginia.

More photos: North Cascades National Park PhotosMason Neck State Park, Virginiatravel photo directoryOlympic National ParkThe Cloisters Museum and the Museum of Modern Art

photo of a green beetle

Colony Collapse Disorder Continues

1.1 Million Bee Colonies Dead This Year

The information provided here was generated by a survey conducted by the Apiary Inspectors of America. They took the survey in January and February this year, and in the process, gathered information from 18% of the colonies in the U.S.

The survey found that about 35% of all the colonies in the U.S. died last winter. Of those that died, 71% died of natural causes, 29% from symptoms that are suspect colony collapse disorder. Doing the math that comes to at least 10% of all the bees in the U.S. last year died of Colony Collapse Disorder.

Considering all these factors, undue concern over IAPV detection is not warranted. While IAPV’s role in colony losses remains a priority in ongoing research, we do know that high levels of other common bee viruses, such as KBV, DWV, and ABPV, have also been linked with certain incidences of high colony mortality or decline in worker numbers. We also know that nearly all bee colonies are infected with at least one type of virus and that all these viruses are potentially pathogenic.

The research continues. As I have said before this is a great example of scientists in action trying to figure out what is happening.

Related: The Study of Bee Colony Collapses ContinuesBye Bye BeesScientists Search for Clues To Bee Mystery

Vanishing Giant Nests of Yellow-jackets

Giant wasp nest

Vanishing Nests

Only a year ago, an Auburn University research entomologist encountered a phenomenon that beggared description – 16 super-sized yellow jacket nests throughout central and south Alabama.

By the end of the summer, the number of reported nests increased to more than 80. Auburn researcher Dr. Charles Ray speculates there probably were hundreds more undetected nests throughout the state. One nest collector spotted 10 of these nests in Lowndes County alone, while an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agent in Covington County reported as many as 25 nests.

Why were these gigantic nests considered such oddities? Because entomologists such as Ray could go an entire career without seeing scarcely one of these huge nests. This year, though, the nests seem to have vanished as quickly as dissipating clouds. Working closely with Alabama Extension agents and other monitors throughout the state, Ray hasn’t turned up so much as one nest this year.

“The summer of 2006 may prove to be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” say Ray, who considers the discovery of the nests one of the high points of his career. So what accounts for this once in a lifetime occurrence? Ray speculates it had to do with an unusually mild 2006 winter. “The mid-20s was about as cold as it got that year – only about a day or two of really cold weather,” says Ray, adding that this extremely mild winter probably established optimal conditions for the yellow jackets the following spring.

Related: Giant Wasp Nests24 hectare Spider WebWasps Used to Detect Explosives

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