Posts about insects

The Billion-Bug Highway In the Sky

Listen to Bug Highway In The Sky

there are 3 billion insects passing over your head in a summer month, he was talking about his survey in Great Britain. Closer to the equator, he says, the numbers should rise. He wouldn’t be surprised, for example, that in the sky over Houston or New Orleans there could be 6 billion critters passing overhead in a month.

Related: Monarch Butterfly MigrationGuadalupe Mountains National Park: Ladybug CityLeaf-footed Bug

White House Bee Hive

The White House added a bee hive last year. An Excellent White House Bee Adventure

On Tuesday, March 24, [2009] the first known hive of bees at the White House arrived at their location on the South Lawn. You don’t have to count on my crummy photo to see them: just stop by the fence on the Ellipse (south) side: two deeps and a medium of Maryland mixed breed bees, with known Russian and Caucasian genetics.

During the 2008 campaign, Michelle Obama emphasized healthy, local food, and since arriving here has tasked her family’s personal chef, Sam Kass, with putting a garden in to supply fresh produce for the Executive Mansion and educational events for the community. Charlie realized that this was a chance to include bees, and to show their important role in putting one of every three bites on your plate. Charlie allocated (free of charge, people!) one of his own hives for the White House Victory Garden, and it will both provide hive products and an teaching opportunities.

Related: Bee Colony Collapse ContinuesVirus Found to be One Likely Factor in Bee Colony Collapse DisorderPresident Obama Speaks on Getting Students Excited About Science and EngineeringBye Bye BeesThe Great Sunflower Project

Engineering Mosquitoes to be Flying Vaccinators

Mosquitoes Engineered Into Flying Vaccinators by Emily Singer

Researchers in Japan have transformed mosquitoes into vaccine-carrying syringes by genetically engineering the insects to express the vaccine for leishmaniasis–a parasitic disease transmitted by the sandfly–in their saliva. According to a study in Insect Molecular Biology, mice bitten by these mosquitoes produced antibodies against the parasite. It’s not yet clear whether the immune response was strong enough to protect against infection.

“Following bites, protective immune responses are induced, just like a conventional vaccination but with no pain and no cost,” said lead researcher Shigeto Yoshida, from the Jichi Medical University in JapanYoshida, in a press release from the journal. “What’s more continuous exposure to bites will maintain high levels of protective immunity, through natural boosting, for a life time. So the insect shifts from being a pest to being beneficial.”

Researchers consider the project more of a proof of principle experiment than a viable public health option, at least for now.

Very cool.

Related: New and Old Ways to Make Flu VaccinesTreated Mosquito Nets Prevent Malariare-engineering mosquito so they cannot carry disease

Ants Counting Their Step

Ants That Count!

Most ants get around by leaving smell trails on the forest floor that show other ants how to get home or to food. They squeeze the glands that cover their bodies; those glands release a scent, and the scents in combination create trails the other ants can follow.

That works in the forest, but it doesn’t work in a desert. Deserts are sandy and when the wind blows, smells scatter.

It’s already known that ants use celestial clues to establish the general direction home, but how do they know exactly the number of steps to take that will lead them right to the entrance of their nest?

Wolf and Whittlinger trained a bunch of ants to walk across a patch of desert to some food. When the ants began eating, the scientists trapped them and divided them into three groups. They left the first group alone. With the second group, they used superglue to attach pre-cut pig bristles to each of their six legs, essentially putting them on stilts.

The regular ants walked right to the nest and went inside. The ants on stilts walked right past the nest, stopped and looked around for their home…

I posted about this back in 2006: Ants on Stilts for Science, but the webcast by NPR is worth a new post.

Related: E.O. Wilson: Lord of the AntsHuge Ant Nestposts showing the scientific method of learning in action

Undergraduate Student Discovers Herbivorous Spider

Herbivory Discovered in a Spider

A jumping spider from Central America eats mostly plants, according to new research. Spiders were thought to be strictly predators on animals. The spider, Bagheera kiplingi, was described scientifically in the late 1800s, but its vegetarian tendencies were not observed until the 21st century.

“This is the first spider in the world known to deliberately hunt plant parts. It is also the first found to go after plants as a primary food source,” said lead author Christopher Meehan.

Of the approximately 40,000 species of spiders known, Bagheera kiplingi is the only species known to be primarily herbivorous. Ironically, the vegetarian spider is named after the panther in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” The spider inhabits several species of acacia shrubs involved in a well-known mutualism between the acacias and several species of ants.

Previously, very few spiders had been seen consuming plants at all. Some spiders had been observed occasionally eating nectar and pollen, although the bulk of their diet was insects and other small animals.

Related: Leafhopper Feeding a GeckoBunny and Kittens: Friday Cat Fun #5Symbiotic relationship between ants and bacteria

Researchers Work to Protect Bats Against Deadly Disease

Researchers work to protect Wisconsin bats against deadly disease

Redell, who studies bats for the Department of Natural Resources, lives every day now with the threat of a disease called white-nose syndrome hanging over his head. The disease, though not yet in Wisconsin, has killed more than 90 percent of the cave bats in Eastern states such as New York and Vermont. Experts predict it could make its way to Wisconsin, with its eight species and hundreds of thousands of bats, in as little as two years.

One female little brown bat – with a body less than the length of your thumb – can eat its body weight in insects in one evening, Redell said. Such is the insect-hunting prowess of the bats that they are thought to save farmers billions of dollars in crop losses, according to Sheryl L. Ducummon, with Bat Conservation International.

In a recent scientific article on the ecological and economic importance of bats, Ducummon reported that, in one summer, the 150 bats in an average colony of big brown bats can conservatively eat 38,000 cucumber beetles, which attack corn and other farm crops. Damage from the beetle and their larvae cost corn farmers as much as $1 billion a year.

The loss of such an insect-eating force could be devastating, Redell said. The approximate 1 million bats that have already died of white-nose syndrome in the last three years on the East Coast would have eaten 700,000 tons of insects were they still hunting the night skies, he said.

Bats perform other important tasks, too. Several Western species serve crucial roles as pollinators for desert plants such as agave and as seed dispersers for dozens of species of cacti.

“I mean, this is like a mouse that flies, but it has the predatory capabilities of a polar bear,” Blehert said. “They are physically adapted to command the night sky. You’re talking about a little thing with a body less than half the size of your thumb whose heartbeat can get up to 1,000 beats a minute when they are flying but that can slow when they are hibernating in the winter to 4 beats a minute. And they live 20 to 25 years!”

Bats really are amazing and very valuable animals.

Related: Bats Are Dying in North-East USANectar-Feeding BatsMoth Jams Bat Sonar

Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Ladybug City

Ladybugs crawling on rocks in Guadalupe Mountains National Parkphoto of ladybugs covering the bark of a tree near the Guadalupe Peak, by John Hunter, Creative Commons Attribution.


At Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet in Guadalupe Mountains National Park I found a huge city of ladybugs. They covered the bark of many bushes and trees and crawled over rocks (as seen in the photos). They were everywhere. It seems odd to me that they would have such a huge concentration since it would seem like food would then be a problem, but there they were.

Related: Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, Ohio PhotosBackyard Wildlife: Great Spreadwing DamselflyNorth Cascades National Park PhotosMount Rainier National Park Photos

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Moth Controlled Robot

photo of moth controlled robotPhoto of moth controlled robot from Ryohei Kanzaki’s bio-machine page. The moth is on top of the ping pong ball in the middle of the robot.

Japanese scientists to build robot insects

Ryohei Kanzaki, a professor at Tokyo University’s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, has studied insect brains for three decades and become a pioneer in the field of insect-machine hybrids.

His original and ultimate goal is to understand human brains and restore connections damaged by diseases and accidents – but to get there he has taken a very close look at insect “micro-brains”.

Insects’ tiny brains can control complex aerobatics such as catching another bug while flying, proof that they are “an excellent bundle of software” finely honed by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, Prof Kanzaki said.

In an example of ‘rewriting’ insect brain circuits, Prof Kanzaki’s team has succeeded in genetically modifying a male silkmoth so that it reacts to light instead of smell, or to the odour of a different kind of moth.

Such modifications could pave the way to creating a robo-bug which could in future sense illegal drugs several kilometres away, as well as landmines, people buried under rubble, or toxic gas, the professor said.

It is nice to be reminded of the cool research being done by professors all over the globe.

Related: Roachbot: Cockroach Controlled RobotRat Brain Cells, in a Dish, Flying a PlaneToyota Develops Thought-controlled WheelchairFlying “Insect” RobotsUnderwater Robots Collaborate

Ant mega-colony

Ant mega-colony takes over world

Argentine ants living in vast numbers across Europe, the US and Japan belong to the same interrelated colony, and will refuse to fight one another. The colony may be the largest of its type ever known for any insect species, and could rival humans in the scale of its world domination.

In Europe, one vast colony of Argentine ants is thought to stretch for 6,000km (3,700 miles) along the Mediterranean coast, while another in the US, known as the ‘Californian large’, extends over 900km (560 miles) along the coast of California. A third huge colony exists on the west coast of Japan.

While ants are usually highly territorial, those living within each super-colony are tolerant of one another, even if they live tens or hundreds of kilometres apart. Each super-colony, however, was thought to be quite distinct. But it now appears that billions of Argentine ants around the world all actually belong to one single global mega-colony.

The team selected wild ants from the main European super-colony, from another smaller one called the Catalonian super-colony which lives on the Iberian coast, the Californian super-colony and from the super-colony in west Japan, as well as another in Kobe, Japan.

Ants from the smaller super-colonies were always aggressive to one another. So ants from the west coast of Japan fought their rivals from Kobe, while ants from the European super-colony didn’t get on with those from the Iberian colony.

But whenever ants from the main European and Californian super-colonies and those from the largest colony in Japan came into contact, they acted as if they were old friends.

Related: posts on antsE.O. Wilson: Lord of the AntsHuge Ant Nest

The Great Sunflower Project

photo of sunflower (Helianthus Annuus Taiyo)Sunflower photo from WikiMedia – Helianthus Annuus ‘Taiyo’

The Great Sunflower Project provides a way for you to engage in the ongoing study of bees and colony collapse disorder. The study uses the annual Lemon Queen sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), that can be grown in a pot on a deck or patio or in a garden (and they will send you seeds).

How do bees make fruits and vegetables?

Bees help flowers make seeds and fruits. Bees go to flowers in your garden to find pollen (the powder on the flower) and nectar which is a sweet liquid. Flowers are really just big signs advertising to bees that there is pollen or nectar available – though sometimes a flower will cheat and have nothing! The markings on a flower guide the bee right into where the pollen or nectar is.

All flowers have pollen. Bees gather pollen to feed their babies which start as eggs and then grow into larvae. It’s the larvae that eat the pollen. Bees use the nectar for energy. When a bee goes to a flower in your garden to get nectar or pollen, they usually pick up pollen from the male part of the flower which is called an anther. When they travel to the next flower looking for food, they move some of that pollen to the female part of the next plant which is called a stigma. Most flowers need pollen to make seeds and fruits.

After landing on the female part, the stigma, the pollen grows down the stigma until it finds an unfertilized seed which is called an ovary. Inside the ovary, a cell from the pollen joins up with cells from the ovary and a seed is born! For many of our garden plants, the only way for them to start a new plant is by growing from a seed Fruits are just the parts of the plants that have the seeds. Some fruits are what we think of as fruits when we are in the grocery store like apples and oranges. Other fruits are vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers.

Related: Monarch Butterfly MigrationSolving the Mystery of the Vanishing BeesVolunteers busy as bees counting populationThe Science of Gardening

Continuing Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

Photo of a bee

‘I do everything… the bees still die’

The use of the term colony collapse disorder has been criticised by some scientists and other experts who say that it’s often an excuse for poor beekeeping. David sighs heavily.

“Well… I don’t abuse my bees, I kinda take offence at that, when we transport them we take great pains to make sure they arrive safely, to make sure they have water. It’s totally unexplained.

“That’s the frustrating part. There’s no reason that these bees here should be in this shape, just three months ago they were beautiful bees, they were large thriving colonies, and to have them dwindle down to one or two or frames of bees is beyond comprehension as far as I’m concerned.”

But despite the disappearance of his bees, and the lack of clarity about what’s causing it, David remains an optimist. He points to a small discreet emblem on the side of his pickup truck, a hieroglyph of an ancient bee.

“That little hieroglyph there is Egyptian it stands for a beekeeper or bees. It’s an ancient craft; it’s been around a long time. The bees will endure.”

Photo by Justin Hunter

Related: Bye Bye BeesColony Collapse Disorder ContinuesPenn State Program Promotes Pollinator-Friendly GardeningA Survey of Honey Bee Colony Losses in the U.S., Fall 2007 to Spring 2008