Rebecca Recommends #6

This week's summary is a veritable treasure trove of fascinating tidbits from the world of zoology, entomology, science, and life in general!

My three favourite articles (all from Smithsonian, funnily enough) would have to be:

  • that time an entomologist, Harrison D. Dyar Jr (1866-1929), was married to two women and dug elaborate, electric-lit tunnels connecting his two residences, rumoured to enable him to shuttle between his lovers;
  • that time a photographer, Levon Biss, created insect portraits made up of 8,000 - 10,000 individual images each (watch video below);
"When I saw an entomologist excited about these images - and they see a lot of pictures of insects - I knew I was onto a good thing."
  • that time Sir David Attenborough narrated an episode of Micro Monsters that showed how Australian green ants weave their nests together with silk produced by their newborn larvae (watch video below).

But, to pique your interest, especially for the beetle lovers... I have also included a couple of articles about longhorn beetles, plus a weevil that was named after a country musician, and research on same-sex sexual behaviour in seed beetles; for the bird lovers... in not-so-good news: Arctic springs are killing birds in Africa, plus even though male birds sing, females are faster at discriminating sounds; for the carnivore lovers... humanity's dual response to dogs and wolves, and how wolf culling can make poaching worse; in conservation news... England’s hedgehog population is feeling the squeeze, a day in the life of an eco-guard in Cameroon, laws need reshaping to protect sea turtles, sea otters in decline (again); then there are the sawflies in Arkansas and a website dedicated to insects in Yellowstone National Park; let's not forget giant squid for those of you who are fond of cephalopods; and last but not least: Eleanor Roosevelt on science.

New Longhorned Beetle Species Gives Live Birth

A new wingless longhorned beetle species has been found in the mountains of northern Borneo, and instead of laying eggs, the females give live birth. The new species is described in the journal ZooKeys.

Generally, insects are oviparous, which means that the females lay eggs, where the embryonic development occurs. On the other hand, ovoviviparous species retain their eggs in their genital tracts until the larvae are ready to hatch — a relatively rare phenomenon in insects and even rarer within beetles.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

How Arctic spring kills birds in Africa

Having analyzed the data collected for more than three decades, scientists managed to show that the effects of climate changes in the Arctic may come out on a completely different continent, a few thousand kilometers away from the Arctic ice. One of the authors, Eldar Rahimberdiev, researcher at the Biological faculty of MSU, says that the work is unique, as earlier scholars did not consider these problems so complex.

Source/read more Lomonosov Moscow State University 

Male birds may sing, but females are faster at discriminating sounds

It may well be that only male zebra finches can sing, but the females are faster at learning to discriminate sounds. Leiden researchers publish their findings in the scientific journal Animal Behaviour.

Taeniopygia guttata  |  Peripitus/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

Source/read more Universiteit Leiden 

Hedgehogs are indeed not so widespread in England anymore

There’s now more than just anecdotal evidence that England’s hedgehog population is feeling the squeeze. In the past 55 years, there has been a moderate decline of up to 7.4 percent in the areas they frequent, says Anouschka Hof of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US and Paul Bright, previously of the University of London in the UK. This is after they resampled two sets of data collected by members of the public as part of citizen-science projects. Their findings are published in Springer’s European Journal of Wildlife Research.

Source/read more Springer 

A day in the life of an eco-guard in Cameroon

Daily challenges abound for Stéphane Marel Madjaye, one of the dedicated guards who protect the forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, pangolins and other wildlife in the Dja Biosphere Reserve from poachers – writes Paul de Ornellas of the Zoological Society of London, a grantee with IUCN’s SOS – Save Our Species initiative which implements two projects in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Source/read more IUCN 

New Weevil Species Named after Country Musician Kevin Fowler

A new species of weevil found near Austin, Texas has been named Lymantes fowleri after Kevin Fowler, a country musician based in the area.

The scientist who chose the name is entomologist Dr. Robert Anderson, Director of the Centre for Species Discovery and Change at the Canadian Museum of Nature. A keen country music fan, Anderson considers Fowler an appropriate source for inspiration.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Conservation laws need reshaping to protect sea turtles, research finds

An illegal trade in marine turtles is continuing despite legislation and conservation awareness campaigns, a pioneering study has shown.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter in the Cape Verde islands, 500 km off the West Coast of Africa, and one of the world’s leading nesting sites for the protected loggerhead species, found that the biological impact of the trade has been previously underestimated and that turtles are still being harvested and consumed.

Loggerhead turtle ( Caretta caretta ) tracks |  Jean-Lou Justine/Wikipedia  [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) tracks | Jean-Lou Justine/Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Source/read more University of Exeter 

The Bizarre Tale of the Tunnels, Trysts and Taxa of a Smithsonian Entomologist

A new book details the sensational exploits of Harrison G. Dyar, Jr., a scientist who had two wives and liked to dig tunnels.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Humanity's Dual Response to Dogs and Wolves

Dogs were first domesticated 31,000–41,000 years ago. Humanity has experienced ecological costs and benefits from interactions with dogs and wolves. We propose that humans inherited a dual response of attraction or aversion that expresses itself independently to domestic and wild canids. The dual response has had far-reaching consequences for the ecology and evolution of all three taxa, including today's global ‘ecological paw print’ of 1 billion dogs and recent eradications of wolves.

Collared wolf from the Druid pack, Yellowstone National Park | [public domain]

Collared wolf from the Druid pack, Yellowstone National Park | [public domain]

Source/read more Cell 

Why animals court their own sex

Same-sex sexual behaviour is common in animals but puzzles evolutionary biologists since it doesn't carry the same obvious benefits as heterosexual courtship behavior that leads to mating and production of offspring. A study from Uppsala University sheds new light on the pervasiveness of same-sex sexual behaviour in the animal kingdom.

Source/read more Uppsala University

Each of These Insect Portraits Is Made From More Than 8,000 Images

These spectacular images have modest roots: a photographer's son finding bugs in the garden.

Levon Biss is known for his breathtaking portraits, from filmmaker Quentin Tarantino to Olympic track star Jessica Ennis-Hill. But his work keeps him traveling, so the London-based photographer was in search of a compact side project that he could dip in and out of during his short stints home.

His son's insect collection proved the perfect subject. “And it all went from there, really," says Biss. "I didn't have a big master plan to create this project, it was something that happened quite organically.”

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Scientist collects 30 sawfly species not previously reported from Arkansas

Sawflies and wood wasps form a group of insects that feed mainly on plants when immature. Field work by Dr. Michael Skvarla, which was conducted during his Ph.D. research at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, USA, has uncovered 30 species of these plant-feeding wasps that were previously unknown in the state. The study is published it in the open access journal Biodiversity Data Journal.

Source/read more Pensoft Publishers 

Eleanor Roosevelt on Science

“What we must learn to do is to create unbreakable bonds between the sciences and the humanities.”

“Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions and pass them on,” modern science patron saint Richard Feynman wrote in contemplating the central responsibility of scientists. A generation earlier, Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884–November 7, 1962) offered a counterpart in considering the scientific responsibility of the non-scientist in Tomorrow Is Now (public library) — her altogether magnificent farewell to the world, containing Roosevelt’s searing, timeless, and acutely timely case for our individual responsibility in social change.

Source/read more Brain Pickings 

New Website Features Insects of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Robert Peterson, a professor at Montana State University, has created an online collection of his photos showcasing the insect world of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). Peterson hopes the online photobook — which includes more than 120 images taken over a period of 14 years — will be used and appreciated by the public.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Unleashing the Kraken: on the maximum length in giant squid (Architeuthis sp.)

Giant squid are among the largest invertebrates known, but a consensus on their maximum size is lacking. Statistical investigation of various measures of body length and beak size in Architeuthis suggests that squid of at least 2.69 m (99.9% prediction interval: 1.60–3.83 m) mantle length (ML) may be handled by large bull sperm whales but perhaps not females. Given the relationship of squid ML to standard (from tip of mantle to end of arms) and total (from tip of mantle to end of tentacles) length, the observed spread of individual lengths, along with a longest reliably measured ML of 2.79 m, purported squid of 10 m standard length and even 20 m total length are eminently plausible.

Kraken attacking merchant ship | [public domain]

Kraken attacking merchant ship | [public domain]

Source/read more Journal of Zoology 

The sea-otter whisperer

The sea otter (Enhydra lutris) has had a turbulent history. A cultural icon for tribes living around the coast of the North Pacific Ocean, it became an irresistible target for fur traders who almost drove it to extinction, triggering an international hunting ban in 1911. Then, as the species began to recover in parts of its former range, it became a magnet for tourists, a symbol of hope for marine conservation and the equivalent of Darwin's finches for one scientist: ecologist James Estes. Sea otters are now in decline again in most areas. Estes has relentlessly unpacked insights into the species' history and ecological complexities for more than four decades, in one of the most remote places on Earth.

Source/read more Nature 

Wolf cull makes poaching worse

Government-approved killing of wolves increases illegal hunting in parts of the United States.

State-sanctioned culls are thought to be an effective conservation tool for reducing poaching of large carnivores. Guillaume Chapron at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Riddarhyttan and Adrian Treves at the University of Wisconsin–Madison studied wolf populations in Michigan and Wisconsin between 1995 and 2012. During that time, policy shifts meant that wolves experienced periodic stages of protection and legal culling. The authors found that population growth slowed during periods of culling, regardless of the number of wolves culled.

Source/read more Nature 

Still surprises in my backyard: the Longhorn Beetle Chrotoma dunniana

This week's theme in our Facebook group SW U.S. Arthropods was the beetle family Cerambycidae. Cami Cheatham Schlappy, a  group member, looked it up: the name is derived from Greek mythology: When the shepherd musician Cerambus told an insulting story about nymphs, they transformed him into a large wood-chewing beetle with horns. No freedom of expression in antiquity! Our southern neighbors, more familiar with cattle than sheep, call any longhorn beetle 'el torrito', little bull.

Source/read more Arizona: Beetles, Bugs, Birds and More

Magnificent Leaf Homes Woven by Australian Green Ants

Green ants build their grand nests out of leaves, which they pull and join together with silk. Amazingly, this silk is produced by their newborn larvae.

Source/read more Smithsonian