The world of Zoology, Entomology and science moves so quickly!
It's been a busy week, so I've been scanning my Feedly account for interesting tidbits and filing them away for future reference until I had time to summarise them all here, including links to sources for you to read more at your leisure.
It's all here: insects in ancient Egypt, tiger rehabilitation, rewilding, Henry Beston, blowfly guts, research collaboration, the soul of an octopus, Chagas disease, a new book called Butterflies, right whales entangled in fishing gear, 60 new species of dragonflies, forest elephants in South Sudan, "extreme" jewel beetles, the colours of arthropods, gut bacteria in insect-to-insect communication, coffee berry borers, how skates and rays got their wings, Indian wild pigs, insect taxonomy, the electric camouflage of cuttlefish, future-proofing, red palm weevils, army any living bridges, glenofingers, trends in insect research, carnivorous hippos, cockroach poop, and caterpillars, parasitic plants and nectar-drinking ants.
Interview with Gene Kritsky on Insects in Ancient Egypt
Caroline Wazer, a staff writer at a website called History Buff, recently interviewed Gene Kritsky about his new book, The Tears of Re: Beekeeping in Ancient Egypt. Dr. Kritsky is professor and chair of biology at Mount St. Joseph University, an adjunct curator at the Cincinnati Museum Center, and he is editor-in-chief of American Entomologist.
Read the entire interview transcript here: This Entomologist is Fighting to Bring History and Science Together
Source/read more Entomology Today
For the First Time Ever, a Rehabilitated Tiger Has Birthed Cubs in the Wild
Found as a cub, starving and frostbitten in Russia's Far East by a pair of local hunters, the Siberian tiger Zolushka - Russian for Cinderella - is a conservation success story. As covered by Matt Shaer in a February 2015 cover story for Smithsonian, she was brought to Dale Miquelle, the director of the Russia Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society, an American nonprofit. He, in turn, brought Zolushka to a newly opened rehabilitation and reintroduction center, where scientists were developing a new approach to caring for captured tigers, so that they might release them to reclaim their ever-dwindling territory. Zolushka became the first tiger to arrive at the center - “the test case,” Shaer wrote.
Call of the wild: ecologists call for more research on rewilding
Ecologists are calling for more research on rewilding, warning that without greater clarity on the term's meaning and desired outcomes, the opportunities that rewilding offers could be jeopardised as the debate becomes increasingly polarised.
More than 1,000 ecologists gather in Edinburgh this week for the British Ecological Society's annual meeting, where Dr Nathalie Pettorelli of the Zoological Society of London is organising a session on rewilding.
With some 16 rewilding projects underway in the UK, the meeting will hear from those involved in reintroducing beavers to Scotland, rewilding schemes in Wales, as well as lessons we can learn from mainland Europe.
Source/read more British Ecological Society
Henry Beston on Whimsicality, the Limits of Knowledge, and What Science Is and Isn’t
The general term “Science” is very much with us these days, and I often find myself wondering if those who use it have much idea of what they mean. What is “Science” and more particularly, “a Science”? As I muse upon my own question, I am certain of one thing, to wit, that a share of our present troubles comes from our being led by the nose by a number of completely bogus sciences. Not all the king’s horses would get me to name them! To my mind, however, the pretensions to being “sciences” now being put forward by certain departments of knowledge have just about as much authority as the pretensions of phrenology or the scrying of tea leaves. It is to be noted, moreover, that the use of the scientific method does not make a study a “science.” My own definition? I stick to the hint given by Descartes - a science is a part of knowledge able at any time to consider its given realm and make with foreknowledge and certainty a prophecy concerning the working of its laws.
Source/read more Brain Pickings
Blowflies blow the minds of conservationists: a new mammal monitoring tool
Mammal DNA detection in invertebrate guts has been proposed to study mammal diversity but certain concerns remained. The concerns were addressed by showing mammal DNA persists in blowfly guts for 1-4 days post-feeding and developing primers that bind to mammal DNA barcodes that can distinguish lookalike mammal species, but do not bind to blowfly DNA.
According to the Global Mammal Assessment, a program that collects data on the status and threats of mammal species worldwide, most mammal species in the tropics are either threatened or poorly known. The lack of knowledge about tropical mammals could be attributed to the inefficient and labour-intensive tools used for their detection and study. The traditional tools for mammal detection include deciphering footprints and scat encountered while trekking through the forest, and also using wire cages and nets. The latter are becoming less acceptable from an ethics perspective. A recent addition to the mammal monitoring toolbox is camera trapping. But camera traps need clear photos. Unlike humans, some other animals can find other mammals in the forest much more easily especially when those mammals are their prey. With modern advances in DNA sequencing technology, detecting the presence of forest mammals based on DNA detection in the guts of invertebrates has become a potential approach to study the diversity of forest mammals.
Source/read more University of Malaya
Citation Ping-Shin Lee, Kong-Wah Sing, John-James Wilson. Reading Mammal Diversity from Flies: The Persistence Period of Amplifiable Mammal mtDNA in Blowfly Guts (Chrysomya megacephala) and a New DNA Mini-Barcode Target. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (4): e0123871 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123871
Collaboration keeps your research program alive
If you look at scientists in teaching-focused institutions who have robust research programs, there’s one thing they tend to have in common: They have active collaborations with researchers outside their own institution.
What is the traditional measure of a strong research program? The bottom line is that a PI who produces peer-reviewed research is productive, and one that doesn’t produce papers isn’t productive*. (That’s so self-evident, it’s tautological.)
If you’re shooting to build and maintain a productive lab in a teaching institution, what is the most necessary ingredient? I would say: Collaboration.
There are a lot of reasons why collaboration is so important to maintain productivity.
Source/read more Small Pond Science
The Soul of an Octopus: How One of Earth’s Most Alien Creatures Illuminates the Wonders of Consciousness
While stroking an octopus, it is easy to fall into reverie. To share such a moment of deep tranquility with another being, especially one as different from us as the octopus, is a humbling privilege. It’s a shared sweetness, a gentle miracle, an uplink to universal consciousness.
Source/read more Brain Pickings
Using public surveillance to study insect vectors of Chagas disease in Texas
Chagas disease is caused by a parasitic protozoan (Trypanosoma cruzi) and transmitted via triatomine insects known locally in Texas as "kissing bugs". Due to the success of community-based triatomine surveillance and collection in Central and South America, researchers from Texas A & M University set up a citizen science program to gain insight into the distribution and infection prevalence of triatomine insects in Texas.
The researchers used printed pamphlets, phone communication, an educational website with a dedicated email address and local news station announcements to provide public information about the program. Citizens were encouraged to submit triatomine insect specimens. Submitters were informed of the risk of Chagas disease and cautioned not to touch the insects with bare hands. Each submission was required to include the date, time and location of capture and whether the insect was alive or dead.
Source/read more PLOS
Citation Rachel Curtis-Robles, Edward J. Wozniak, Lisa D. Auckland, Gabriel L. Hamer, Sarah A. Hamer. Combining Public Health Education and Disease Ecology Research: Using Citizen Science to Assess Chagas Disease Entomological Risk in Texas. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 2015; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0004235
Butterflies: A Great Gift Book, But...
First of all, may I say how genuinely flattered I am that publishers think so highly of this blog that they are now offering to send me new books to review here. Let me also say that this sometimes puts me between a rock and a hard place. There is seldom a direct conflict of interest, but it is sometimes difficult to be as objective as I would like. Take for example the new book Butterflies, written by Ronald J. Orenstein, with photographs by Thomas Marent.
Source/read more Bug Eric
Drag from Fishing Gear Entanglements Quantified: Study Focused on North Atlantic Right Whales
Entanglement in fishing gear is the leading cause of death for North Atlantic right whales - one of the most endangered of all the large whale species. Their migratory routes take them through some of the busiest commercial fishing areas along the East Coast of the United States and into Canada.
Entangled whales can tow fishing gear for tens to hundreds of miles over months or even years, before either being freed, shedding the gear on their own, or succumbing to their injuries.
The need to name all forms of life: 60 new species of dragonflies described from Africa
Only a fifth of the nine million species of animal, plant and fungus thought to occur on earth
is known. Dragonflies (which include damselflies) are seen as well-known. Nonetheless
researchers describe 60 newly discovered species, the greatest number of new dragonflies
in about a century. As dragonflies are good indicators of water quality, knowledge of these
insects is important. The discoveries were published by three odonatologists (dragonfly
experts) led by guest researcher KD Dijkstra of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in a 230-
page issue of the journal Odonatologica on December 1st 2015.
All dragonflies are bound to freshwater, which occupies less than 1% of the planet’s surface.
Nonetheless, it harbours 10% of all animal species. As water is used so intensively, life is
most threatened there. The beauty and sensitivity of dragonflies provides a perfect symbol of
freshwater health and biodiversity. As freshwater is critical to both nature and mankind, so is
knowledge of its dragonflies.
Source/read more Naturalis Biodiversity Center
Read even more Entomology Today
Rare Forest Elephants Seen for the First Time in South Sudan
The world's youngest country is now home to Africa's smallest and most endangered elephants.
Wild forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) have been scientifically documented for the first time in South Sudan, researchers from Bucknell University and Fauna & Flora International (FFI) announced this week.
The researchers spotted the critically endangered pachyderms, which are smaller than their more famous savannah cousins, using camera traps set up in South Sudan's Western Equatoria state, a region of densely forested hills near the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
Source/read more Smithsonian Mag
North America’s most “extreme” jewel beetle
When Chuck Bellamy passed away two years ago, he left behind a remarkable legacy of study on the family Buprestidae (jewel beetles) that includes not only his insect collection - surely one of the best in the world in terms of representation of genera and species in the family - but also his extensive library of primary literature. Both of these assets, built over a period of decades, are now housed in the California State Collection of Arthropods at the CDFA Plant Pest Diagnostics Laboratory in Sacramento, California. Chuck, however, was not just a jewel beetle collector and taxonomist - he was also a skilled photographer, focusing (pun intended) largely, though not exclusively, on his beloved jewel beetles. Digital cameras were still far in the future when Chuck began photographing these beetles, and as a result the bulk of his photographic legacy exists in the form of 35mm slides. I was the fortunate recipient of his slide collection, numbering in the thousands, and have been slowly scanning his slides into digital format with the goal to eventually make them available to the larger community of buprestid workers. Some of his best photos were published in a memorial issue of The Coleopterists Bulletin (2014, volume 68, number 1), and I featured a few additional photos in this post shortly before the publication of that issue. There remain slides, however, of many additional species, a large number of which surely represent the only field photographs of live adults. As I convert his slides to digital format, I hope to share some of the more interesting here.
Source/read more Beetles in the Bush
The colours of arthropods
Evolution has produced many outrageously colorful arthropods. The driving factor may have been communication, intraspecific to attract partners or interspecific to warn or deceive predators. Many patterns and color combinations that appear outstanding when seen out of context may be very cryptic on the right, natural background. Pigments also protect underlying tissues from radiation damage and play a role in thermoregulation.
Source/read more Arizona Beetles Bugs Birds and More
Kansas State University researcher on team that identifies pivotal role of gut bacteria in insect-to-insect communication
If you've ever lived in a cockroach-infested dwelling, you know that if you see one of the pesky insects, many more are hiding just out of sight.
New research from a team including Kansas State University's Ludek Zurek, professor of entomology, is helping explain how German cockroaches, a particularly nasty species, know to gather in a certain area. Their communication system is mediated, at least in part, by the presence of certain gut microbes.
Source/read more Kansas State University
Citation Ayako Wada-Katsumata, Ludek Zurek, Godfrey Nalyanya, Wendell L. Roelofs, Aijun Zhang, Coby Schal. Gut bacteria mediate aggregation in the German cockroach. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201504031 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1504031112
Coffee Berry Borers Use Gut Bacteria to Detoxify Caffeine
Like nicotine and other compounds produced by plants, caffeine can be lethal to insects. However, the coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei) is able to feed on coffee beans and survive.
Now researchers have discovered how. The bacteria in the borer’s gut allows it to break down the caffeine, according to a study published in Nature Communications.
How Skates and Rays Got Their Wings
The evolution of the striking, wing-like pectoral fins of skates and rays relied on repurposed genes, according to new research by scientists from the University of Chicago. Studying embryonic skates, they discovered that the rear portion of the fin is built by typical limb-development genes; but the front portion develops through a different set of genes that are usually found in the shoulder areas of other species.
Source/read more University of Chicago Medical Center
Fabulous Crested Indian Wild Pigs
We’re all familiar with the idea that widespread mammal species (virtually always) consist of a whole bunch of populations that we term ‘subspecies’. And I must have said – flashback here to articles about sheep – that one of my perpetual frustrations is that it’s often quite hard to find good information on various of the subspecies that (for cultural or geographical reasons) are ‘obscure’. And this is all the more frustrating when some of these ‘obscure’ subspecies are really neat in appearance, often being weirder or more spectacular than the subspecies we’re more familiar with.
Source/read more Tetrapod Zoology
Integrative insect taxonomy based on morphology, mitochondrial DNA, and hyperspectral reflectance profiling
Integrative taxonomy is considered a reliable taxonomic approach of closely related and cryptic species by integrating different sources of taxonomic data (genetic, ecological, and morphological characters). In order to infer the boundaries of seven species of the evacanthine leafhopper genus Bundera Distant, 1908 (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae), an integrated analysis based on morphology, mitochondrial DNA, and hyperspectral reflectance profiling (37 spectral bands from 411–870 nm) was conducted. Despite their morphological similarities, the genetic distances of the cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene among the tested species are relatively large (5.8–17.3%). The species-specific divergence of five morphologically similar species (Bundera pellucida and Bundera spp. 1–4) was revealed in mitochondrial DNA data and reflectance profiling. A key to identifying males is provided, and their morphological characters are described. Average reflectance profiles from the dorsal side of specimens were classified based on linear discriminant analysis. Cross-validation of reflectance-based classification revealed that the seven species could be distinguished with 91.3% classification accuracy. This study verified the feasibility of using hyperspectral imaging data in insect classification, and our work provides a good example of using integrative taxonomy in studies of closely related and cryptic species.
Source/read more Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society
Cuttlefish use electric camouflage
When cuttlefish freeze as enemies approach, they are reducing their bioelectric fields, which predators can detect.
Source/read more Nature
Future-proofing: Hard decisions on issues that will affect future generations should not be sidestepped
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” Charles Dickens had it about right in A Tale of Two Cities. As Nature went to press, negotiators in Paris were edging towards a global deal to try to secure a safe ecological future for all - a few weeks after mass murder on the city’s streets. Nobody was getting too excited about the prospects, or the impact of an eventual deal, but those at the meeting seemed confident that nations would come together to agree, well - something. From a political perspective, a weak treaty that nudges action against climate change forwards is wiser than nothing at all. From a scientific point of view, of course, anything less than full speed ahead is foolishness.
Source/read more Nature
Red Palm Weevils Able to Fly 50 Kilometers in 24 Hours
The red palm weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) has been a pest of coconut palms in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines for a long time. More recently, it’s become a pest of 40 different palm species in the Middle East and North Africa after it was found there in the 1980s.
Army ants dynamically adjust living bridges in response to a cost–benefit trade-off
Complex systems, from ant colonies to stock markets, share a common property: sophisticated group-level structure emerges from simple individual-level behaviors. Using simple interaction rules, Eciton army ants construct complex bridges from their own bodies to span forest-floor gaps. These living bridges are uniquely complex in both their dynamic properties and the number of animals involved and so are of considerable interest for understanding emergent structures in complex systems. In field experiments, we show that construction interacts with traffic rate and environmental geometry, causing bridges to lengthen, widen, and migrate. Bridges provide a shortcut for foraging ants, at the cost of sequestering workers. We show that bridge location represents a cost–benefit trade-off, with potential implications for human engineered self-assembling systems.
Source/read more PNAS
This Bug Has Heard All Your Jokes About Its Head Already
This male lacewing looks like he’s wearing a dildo as a festive party hat. It’s not a sexual organ, but it is involved in sex.
It’s a glenofinger. That’s not an obscure Bond villain, but an inflatable “come hither” signal to females. The bulging gland gets bigger when the male is interested in a hookup. How does it work? “Well, we’re not completely sure,” said Dr. Shaun Winterton, Senior Insect Biosystematist for the California Department of Food & Agriculture. He was working on a “very ho-hum new description” of a lacewing from Australia when he noticed something interesting: two preserved male specimens had a strange dimple on their neck - a glenofinger.
Source/read more Wired
Article Shows Trends in Insect Research Over Past 60 Years
An important part of an entomologist’s job is to stay up-to-date with the published scientific literature. However, keeping up with it is more challenging than it used to be, and noticeable publishing changes have occurred over the past 60 years, according to an article in American Entomologist.
Could Hippos Be Meat Eaters?
People often think hippos are herbivores with big smiling faces. Every now and then, reports of a hippo of hunting down prey, eating a carcass, or stealing prey from a crocodile are heard, but they're typically considered 'aberrant' or 'unusual' behaviour.
Now, however, a collaboration among researchers from 4 continents demonstrates that carnivory, or eating meat, is not uncommon among hippos at all, and that this behaviour may increase their susceptibility to mass mortality during anthrax outbreaks. Hippos, elephants, buffalo or antelope are often affected by anthrax epidemics, but anthrax outbreaks among hippos exhibit certain unusual characteristics that could be explained by consumption of the carcasses of infected animals - especially those of other hippos.
Source/read more Wiley
The Scent of Their Own Poop Entices Cockroaches to Congregate
Interest just keeps building around the microbiome - the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the bodies of larger animals and seem to play a role in phenomena from human mood and appetite to sex determination in rolly pollies. The latest microbial trick is as icky as it is impressive: Bacteria living in cockroach guts seem to control insect get-togethers by lacing their hosts’ poop with chemical cues.
Caterpillar Depends on Parasitic Plants and Nectar-drinking Ants
Several months ago, Aaron Pomerantz was walking through the Peruvian rain forest and he found a tree with strange yellow bulbs protruding from the bark. In addition, he found caterpillars feeding on the yellow bulbs, and he noticed ants were interacting with the caterpillars in some sort of symbiotic relationship.
After doing some research, he learned that the yellow bulbs were actually a rare parasitic plant in the family Apodanthaceae. These plants live inside trees, and they burst out of the bark once a year and produce hundreds of yellow flowers.