Rebecca Recommends #7

Have you ever wondered why fruit fly sperm are giant? Or why honeybees do the 'waggle dance'? Or what it's like to let yourself be stung by insects (on purpose) all in the name of science? These are just some of the interesting stories I've included in this week's round-up of zoological, entomological, and scientific news.

For those with a watery bent: growing hydropower threat to migratory fish; study finds nanoplastics to negatively affect aquatic animals; and in changing oceans, cephalopods are booming. For those with an interest in arthropods: scent guides hawk moths to the best-fitting flowers; scorpions choose their mates by dancing with them; a peachy defence system for seeds; Carmenta mariona, a very pretty, rarely photographed Sesiid moth; study of fungi-insect relationships may lead to new evolutionary discoveries; tiny wasp sniffs out, picks up 'good vibrations' to battle ash borer; native insects embrace invader; and biological control in Brazil is used on an area that is larger than Belgium. For those with an interest in vertebrates: new research confirms continued, unabated and large-scale amphibian declines; welcome to the meerkat's world of competitive eating; and oldest well-documented Blanding's turtle recaptured at University of Michigan reserve at age 83.

Nature takes a close look at reproducibility in science with two articles: (1) 1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility and (2) reality check on reproducibility - both are well worth reading and the former includes a video and some pretty nifty infographics.

Then there are articles about using blogs for sharing negative results, using drones without disturbing wildlife, reconciling networks and hierarchies, and how global warming will hit the poorest first.

Growing hydropower threat to migratory fish

Hydroelectric dam development is increasingly affecting the fate of migratory fish by slicing their migration routes in half, writes Ian Harrison of the IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group ahead of World Fish Migration Day.

Hydroelectric dam |  Tomia/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC-BY-SA-3.0 ]

Source/read more IUCN 

Scent guides hawk moths to the best-fitting flowers

That the morphology of many pollinators corresponds strikingly to the shape of the flowers they pollinate was observed more than 150 years ago by Charles Darwin. He described this perfect mutual adaptation of flowers and pollinators as the result of a co-evolutionary process. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, have now provided further proof of the famous naturalist’s theory. They were able to show that Manduca sexta moths acquired the highest energy gain when they visited flowers that matched the length of their proboscis. The moths were supported in their choice of the best-fitting nectar sources by an innate preference for the scent of matching flowers. The results of this study have been published in the journal Nature Communications (Nature Communications, May 2016, doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS11644).

Source/read more Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology 

What's the Waggle Dance? And Why Do Honeybees Do It?

Honeybees search high and wide for the best flowers. And when they find them, they go back to the hive and "tell" the other bees how to get there.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Using blogs for sharing negative results

I’ve now been blogging for a little over three years. I’m no longer a newbie, but clearly am not an old-timer. Nonetheless, I’ve seen the standard topics of the scientific “blogosphere” (for lack of a better word) get cycled through again, and again. These are topics that are often important to our community, dealing with equity, justice, accessibility, and leadership. That said, I feel like blogs can do more, and serve our own academic communities better.

Source/read more Small Pond Science 

Study finds nanoplastics to negatively affect aquatic animals

Plastic accounts for nearly eighty per cent of all waste found in our oceans, gradually breaking down into smaller and smaller particles. New research from Lund University investigates how nanosized plastic particles affect aquatic animals in different parts of the food chain.

Source/read more Lund University 

Scorpions Choose Their Mates by Dancing With Them

Before a female scorpion chooses a mate, she must test the strength of her potential suitor. The only way to be certain it's the right match is to dance.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

This Guy Got Himself Stung 1,000 Times For Science—Here’s What He Learned

Justin Schmidt has been stung more than 1,000 times by nearly 100 different insect species. Some would call that madness. He calls it science.

Schmidt, an entomologist at the University of Arizona, is the author of a new book called The Sting of the Wild, which seeks to quantify every one of those stings and rank them on a scale of 1 to 4. At the low-end of the scale you have creatures like sweat bees and Southern fire ants. At the top, you meet beasts with names like the warrior wasp and the bullet ant.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Using drones without disturbing wildlife

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more popularly known as drones, are increasingly employed to monitor and protect wildlife. But researchers writing in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 23 say that steps should be taken to ensure that UAV operations are not causing undue stress to animals.

Source/read more Cell Press 

New research confirms continued, unabated and large-scale amphibian declines

New U.S. Geological Survey-led research suggests that even though amphibians are severely declining worldwide, there is no smoking gun – and thus no simple solution – to halting or reversing these declines.

“Implementing conservation plans at a local level will be key in stopping amphibian population losses, since global efforts to reduce or lessen threats have been elusive,” said Evan Grant, a USGS research wildlife biologist who led the study published in Scientific Reports today. “This research changes the way we need to think about amphibian conservation by showing that local action needs to be part of the global response to amphibian declines, despite remaining questions in what is causing local extinctions.”

Source/read more USGS 

In changing oceans, cephalopods are booming

Humans have changed the world's oceans in ways that have been devastating to many marine species. But, according to new evidence, it appears that the change has so far been good for cephalopods, the group including octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid. The study reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 23 shows that cephalopods' numbers have increased significantly over the last six decades.

Australian giant cuttlefish ( Sepia   apama ) |  Peter Southwood/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 4.0 ]

Australian giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) | Peter Southwood/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Source/read more Cell Press 

A peachy defence system for seeds

Don’t eat the core, it’s poisonous: it's something parents often say to their children before they eat their first peach. Peach pits, which are hidden inside the nut-like husk, do in fact contain amygdalin, a substance which can degrade into hydrogen cyanide in the stomach.

But peaches, apricots and almonds didn’t develop this defence system to keep children from enjoying their fruit. It is actually nature’s way of protecting plant seeds from being eaten by insects.

Source/read more ETH Zurich 

Carmenta mariona, a very pretty, rarely photographed Sesiid Moth

I was, and am, too busy to write extensive blogs about all my excursions this spring. So here is just a very short note about our Madrean Discovery Expedition Sierra Elenita, Mexico,  April 30 to May 4 2016.

On a sunny, but rather cool morning in this pine-oak area not very many insects were flying. But Chris Roll still succeeded in netting a very nice one whose identity quickly changed from presumed beetle to Sesiid Moth. I kept it overnight in my cooler and photographed it in the morning in my tent before it went to our moth expert John Palting to be carefully pinned.

Source/read more Arizona: Beetles Bugs Birds and More 

Study of fungi-insect relationships may lead to new evolutionary discoveries

Zombie ants are only one of the fungi-insect relationships studied by a team of Penn State biologists in a newly compiled database of insect fungi interactions.

"I couldn't find a place with broad information about all groups of fungi that infect insects in the same study," said Joao Araujo, graduate student in biology. "When we organized the information, we started to understand things we wouldn't see before, because the literature was so spread."

Camponotus   leonardi  infected with  Ophiocordyceps   unilateralis  | D avid P. Hughes & Maj-Britt Pontoppidan/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY 2.5 ]

Camponotus leonardi infected with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis | David P. Hughes & Maj-Britt Pontoppidan/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.5]

Source/read more Penn State 

Heterarchies: Reconciling Networks and Hierarchies

Social–ecological systems research suffers from a disconnect between hierarchical (top-down or bottom-up) and network (peer-to-peer) analyses. The concept of the heterarchy unifies these perspectives in a single framework. Here, I review the history and application of ‘heterarchy’ in neuroscience, ecology, archaeology, multiagent control systems, business and organisational studies, and politics. Recognising complex system architecture as a continuum along vertical and lateral axes (‘flat versus hierarchical’ and ‘individual versus networked’) suggests four basic types of heterarchy: reticulated, polycentric, pyramidal, and individualistic. Each has different implications for system functioning and resilience. Systems can also shift predictably and abruptly between architectures. Heterarchies suggest new ways of contextualising and generalising from case studies and new methods for analysing complex structure–function relations.

Source/read more Cell Press

Tiny wasp sniffs out, picks up 'good vibrations' to battle ash borer

With the emerald ash borer beetle devastating ash tree populations throughout the United States - from locations as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Louisiana - solutions to help fight the insect are critical.

Thanks in part to research from the University of Delaware and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a host-specific parasitic wasp so new and obscure that it doesn't even have a common name - known only by its scientific name Spathius galinae - has been approved for release to help control the invasive beetle.

Source/read more University of Delaware 

Warming will hit the poorest first

As the climate warms over the coming decades, the poorest 20% of the world's population will see frequent temperature extremes sooner than the richest 20%.

Luke Harrington at Victoria University of Wellington and his colleagues used climate models to simulate the effect of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide on daily temperature extremes for the rest of this century. Low latitudes, where most of the world's poorest people live, will experience these changes in climate first. This is largely because these regions have less natural variability in temperature than mid-latitude regions, which are home to more of the world's wealthy.

Moving to a low-carbon economy will help poor communities the most, the authors say.

Source/read more Nature 

Native insects embrace invader

An invasive plant has been gradually folded into an ecosystem's food webs.

Menno Schilthuizen at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands, and his colleagues sampled insects from native bird cherry trees (Prunus padas) and exotic black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) in a Dutch national park. They found that the non-natives had around one-quarter of the number of insects on them, but almost twice the species diversity, compared with the native trees. The team also looked at preserved leaf specimens and found that the proportion of insect-eaten bird cherry leaves has remained stable at about 35% over the past 170 years, but that the proportion of invasive black cherry leaves consumed has increased from 18.8% to 40.6%.

This adaptation could slow the exotic plant's aggressive spread — and efforts to control this by removing a proportion of the population may delay this process, the authors say.

Source/read more Nature 

1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility

More than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist's experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce their own experiments. Those are some of the telling figures that emerged from Nature's survey of 1,576 researchers who took a brief online questionnaire on reproducibility in research.

The data reveal sometimes-contradictory attitudes towards reproducibility. Although 52% of those surveyed agree that there is a significant 'crisis' of reproducibility, less than 31% think that failure to reproduce published results means that the result is probably wrong, and most say that they still trust the published literature.

Source/read more Nature 

Reality check on reproducibility

Is there a reproducibility crisis in science? Yes, according to the readers of Nature. Two-thirds of researchers who responded to a survey by this journal said that current levels of reproducibility are a major problem.

Source/read more Nature 

Welcome to the Meerkat's World of Competitive Eating

Many animals live in groups governed by social hierarchies, but meerkats take social stratification to an extreme. Those small southern African carnivores live in communities of up to 50 individuals, but 90 percent of reproductive privileges belong to a single dominant pair — usually, the largest and more senior animals in the group. The pair’s children assist with raising young, and daughters queue up to assume dominance following their mother’s death, with older and larger ones typically taking the lead.

Meerkat | [public domain]

Meerkat | [public domain]

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Biological Control in Brazil is Used on an Area that is Larger than Belgium

Some biological control programs involve large-scale rearing of millions insect predators that are released near agricultural crops. In Brazil, researchers have implemented of a number of successful biological control programs.

Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugarcane, which has one of the oldest biological control programs. The crop’s most important pest is the sugarcane borer (Diatraea saccharalis), which is controlled by the release of the larval parasitoid Cotesia flavipes. Another natural enemy used for this pest is the egg parasitoid Trichogramma galloi. This program started in the 1970s, and today C. flavipes are released in an area that is larger than 30,000 square kilometers, while T. galloi are released in another 5,000 square kilometers — a combined area that is larger than Belgium.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Oldest well-documented Blanding's turtle recaptured at University of Michigan reserve at age 83

A female Blanding's turtle believed to be at least 83 years old was captured at a University of Michigan forest reserve this week. Researchers say it is the oldest well-documented Blanding's turtle and one of the oldest-known freshwater turtles.

Blanding's turtle ( Emydoidea blandingii ) |  Andrew C/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY 2.0 ]

Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) | Andrew C/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

Source/read more University of Michigan 

Why fruit fly sperm are giant

The fruit fly Drosophila bifurca is only a few millimeters in size but produces sperm that are almost six centimeters long. An international team of researchers lead by the University of Zurich now provides the first conclusive explanation for the evolution of such giant sperm. On the one hand, larger sperm are able to displace their smaller competitors from the female reproductive tract, generating a competitive advantage in fertilizing the eggs. On the other hand, female promiscuity increases the success of fertilization by larger males, which can afford to produce more of the longer sperm than their smaller counterparts.

Source/read more University of Zurich 

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 

Rebecca Recommends #5

This week's summary includes stuff from the CSIRO, IUCN, Nature, Smithsonian, Journal of Zoology, Small Pond Science, and many other sources. Enjoy my latest curation from zoology, entomology, science and life in general!

  • Shipboard stories from Investigator
  • Virtual plaster cast: digital 3D modelling of lion paws and tracks using close-range photogrammetry
  • Beneficial beetle diversity blooms on strip-tilled farms
  • Happy anniversary! Our Ningaloo research project turns one
  • What is press-worthy scholarship?
  • Recommended reads #77
  • Swift parrot critically endangered
  • Deadly fungus threatens African frogs
  • Lion proximity, not moon phase, affects the nocturnal movement behaviour of zebra and wildebeest
  • Self-funding your research program
  • Tiger moths use signals to warn bats: toxic not tasty
  • This photographer shoots sharks to save them
  • The science behind nature's patterns
  • Helping bring spoon-billed sandpipers back from the brink of extinction
  • Breathing new life into malaria detection
  • The world’s carnivorous bats are emerging from the dark
  • Big bad banksias standing up to climate change
  • Google Images 'as good as fieldwork' for studying animal colour
  • Population recovery highlights spatial organisation dynamics in adult leopards
  • What mountain gorillas reveal with their teeth
  • Highway noise deters communication between birds
  • The Black Sea is dying, and war might push it over the edge
  • Natural history: restore our sense of species
  • Data sharing: access all areas
  • Peer review: close inspection
  • Low-cost headsets boost virtual reality’s lab appeal
  • The pressure to publish pushes down quality
  • Fox squirrels’ tell-tail signs of frustrations

Shipboard stories from Investigator

It’s 2 am Investigator time, which is halfway between Australian and New-Zealand time, loosely related to our geographical position. Half the clocks on the ship read Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) though, for consistency in the data we’re recording, which means I’m almost always confused about what time it is!

Source/read more CSIRO 

Virtual plaster cast: digital 3D modelling of lion paws and tracks using close-range photogrammetry


The ecological monitoring of threatened species is vital for their survival as it provides the baselines for conservation, research and management strategies. Wildlife studies using tracks are controversial mainly due to unreliable recording techniques limited to two-dimensions (2D). We assess close-range photogrammetry as a low-cost, rapid, practical and reliable field technique for the digital three-dimensional (3D) modelling of lion Panthera leo paws and tracks. First, we tested three reconstruction parameters affecting the 3D model quality. We then compared direct measurements on the paws and tracks versus the same measurements on their digital 3D models. Finally, we assessed the minimum number of photographs required for the 3D reconstruction. Masking, auto-calibration and optimization provided higher reconstruction quality. Paws masked semi-automatically and tracks masked manually were characterized by a geometric deviation of 0.23 ± 0.18 cm and 0.50 ± 0.33 cm respectively. Unmasked tracks delineated by means of the contour lines had a geometric deviation of −0.06 ± 0.39 cm. The use of a correction factor reduced the geometric deviation to −0.03 ± 0.20 cm (pad-masked paws), −0.04 ± 0.35 cm (pad-masked tracks) and −0.01 ± 0.39 cm (unmasked tracks). Based on the predicted error, the minimum number of photographs required for an accurate reconstruction is seven (paws) or eight (tracks) photographs. This field technique, using only a digital camera and a ruler, takes less than one minute to sample a paw or track. The introduction of the 3D facet provides more realistic replications of paws and tracks that will enable a better understanding of their intrinsic properties and variation due to external factors. This advanced recording technique will permit a refinement of the current methods aiming at identifying species, age, sex and individual from tracks.

Paw and track sampling. (a) During the paw sampling, the motionless paw is positioned on a stand with a clamp holding the ruler and orientating the paw upward. (b) A vernier calliper was used for the direct measurements of paws and tracks. From  Marchal et al. (2016)

Paw and track sampling. (a) During the paw sampling, the motionless paw is positioned on a stand with a clamp holding the ruler and orientating the paw upward. (b) A vernier calliper was used for the direct measurements of paws and tracks. From Marchal et al. (2016)

Source/read more Journal of Zoology 

Beneficial Beetle Diversity Blooms on Strip-Tilled Farms

Biodiversity of insects has become an important issue in agriculture. Large-scale, intensive agricultural practices involve mechanically tilling the soil, managing pests with chemicals, and the use of plastic mulches and covers. While these practices control pests and increase crop yields, they can also reduce the populations of beneficial insects.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Happy anniversary! Our Ningaloo research project turns one

During the first year of the CSIRO-BHP Billiton Ningaloo Outlook research partnership, our science team tagged 60 animals (turtles; reef sharks and whale sharks) with three different types of tags, surveyed fish, corals and macroalgae along 7 kilometres of the reef, and 12,000 hectares of deep habitat!

Fish in the Ningaloo Reef |  Angelo DeSantis/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY 2.0 ]

Fish in the Ningaloo Reef | Angelo DeSantis/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

Source/read more CSIRO 

What is press-worthy scholarship?

As I was avoiding real work and morning traffic, there were a bunch of interesting things on twitter, as usual. Two things stood out.

First was a conversation among science writers, about how to find good science stories among press releases. I was wondering about all of the fascinating papers that never get press releases, but I didn’t want to butt into that conversation.

The second thing was a series of tweets that were poking fun at a university press release about some non-news. It was mean-spirited enough in nature that I’m not linking to it.

I get it, you’re thinking right now: breaking news: people are mean on twitter.

Source/read more Small Pond Science 

Recommended reads #77

“Natural history: an approach whose time as come, passed, and needs to be resurrected.”

A reconsideration of “new conservation.” Also, if you’re not familiar, this has an explanation of what “new conservation” is. Man, conservation biology is an ideological and theoretical and practical mess. Holy crap. I’m not a fan of Mongabay for a variety of reasons, but this seems worthwhile.

This has really made the rounds because it’s fascinating, if not a surprise: In the “reality” TV show The Biggest Loser, people were given substantial dietary and exercise regimens to lose a lot of weight in a short period of time. This story explains how not only did the contestants mostly gain the weight back, but after they lost the weight, their basal metabolic rate was crazy low. If you talk to anybody who is working to lose weight to something more healthy, you’ll know that the body fights like heck to keep that weight back on. Not only does the body tell you it is starving, but it also works way more efficiently.

How to handle an idiotic review.

A comparison of Toddler vs. CEO.

Source/read more Small Pond Science 

Swift parrot critically endangered

The Australian Government has listed the iconic Tasmanian swift parrot as critically endangered, lifting its status from endangered, following research by The Australian National University (ANU).

Dr Dejan Stojanovic from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society is part of a team that published the 2015 research which found the swift parrot could be extinct in as little as 16 years.

He welcomed the reclassification, which he said should provide greater protection for Tasmanian bird.

Swift Parrot ( Lathamus discolor ) |  Frank Wouters /Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY 2.0 ]

Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) | Frank Wouters /Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

Deadly fungus threatens African frogs

Misty mountains, glistening forests and blue-green lakes make Cameroon, the wettest part of Africa, a tropical wonderland for amphibians. The country holds more than half the species living on the continent, including dozens of endemic frogs — an animal that has been under attack across the world by the pervasive chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). Africa has been mostly spared from the deadly and rampant pathogen that wiped out entire species in Australia, Madagascar and Panama — until now.

Source/read more University of Florida 

Lion proximity, not moon phase, affects the nocturnal movement behaviour of zebra and wildebeest


Moon phase affects nocturnal activity patterns in mammals. Among ungulates, a number of studies have found animals to be more active over full moon nights. This may be because increased luminosity provides increased opportunity to forage and/or increased ability to detect predators; known as the visual acuity hypothesis. Here, we use GPS-derived movement data to test for the influence of moon phase on plains zebra Equus quagga and blue wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus activity in Kruger National Park, South Africa. We compare animal movement (rate and displacement) over full and new moon nights, and consider the effect of lion proximity. We found that lion proximity largely determined the nocturnal movements of zebra and wildebeest, not moon phase. When lions were >1 km away, there was no difference in the nocturnal movement activity of prey animals over full and new moon conditions, contradicting previous findings. When lions were within 1 km of these animals, however, the movement of zebra and wildebeest greatly increased over the new moon, the relatively dark period when lion were most likely hunting. Although we could not explicitly test for predator detection here, our findings suggest that the visual acuity hypothesis does not hold for zebra and wildebeest in Kruger National Park (KNP) given that there is no evidence for increased foraging activity over the full moon. The influence of moon phase on the nocturnal activity of African ungulates may be more complicated than anticipated, and we suggest that this cannot be estimated unless predator proximity is accounted for.

Source/read more Journal of Zoology 

Self-funding your research program

In the last few months, something has been on my mind. I’ve brought up the topic a few times, with some research scientists who hold tenured faculty positions. It would go along these lines:

I’m thinking of funding all of my research out of my salary. If I imagine a scenario in which…

  • I take a 20% cut in salary
  • I get that money in research support
  • I don’t spend any more time writing grants

… it just makes me happy.

Every time I’ve brought it up, this was the response.

“I’ve been thinking about doing this, too.”

Source/read more Small Pond Science 

Tiger moths use signals to warn bats: Toxic not tasty

Acoustic warning signals emitted by tiger moths to deter bats - a behavior previously proven only in the laboratory - actually occur in nature and are used as a defense mechanism, according to new research from Wake Forest University.

Field research of free-flying bats conducted in their natural habitats by biology graduate student Nick Dowdy and colleagues shows that tiger moths produce ultrasonic signals to warn bats they don't taste good. This behavior - called acoustic aposematism - was previously proven in the laboratory by biology professor Bill Conner and Jesse Barber, who earned his doctorate at Wake Forest in 2007.

Source/read more Wake Forest University 

This Photographer Shoots Sharks to Save Them

Michael Muller is a legend in Hollywood. His work is seen by millions of moviegoers each year, though most of them probably don’t know who he is. Muller is one of the preeminent movie-poster photographers in the business. This year alone, Muller’s artistry can be seen in the promotions for X-Men: Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War and Zoolander 2. He was also responsible for the hazy Wes Wilson vibes of the poster for Inherent Vice and the action-packed Guardians of the Galaxy one, among dozens of other memorable advertisements. When he’s not photographing Hollywood’s biggest names, however, Muller finds himself drawn to the big predators of the oceans: sharks. His startling, intimate portraits of these beasts of the oceans have more to do with his action heroes than one might think.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

The Science Behind Nature's Patterns

The curl of a chameleon's tail, the spiral of a pinecone's scales and the ripples created by wind moving grains of sand all have the power to catch the eye and intrigue the mind. When Charles Darwin first proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection in 1859, it encouraged science enthusiasts to find reasons for the natural patterns seen in beasts of the land, birds of the air and creatures of the sea. The peacock's plumage, the spots of a shark must all serve some adaptive purpose, they eagerly surmised.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Helping bring spoon-billed sandpipers back from the brink of extinction

Marking World Migratory Bird Day 2016, Rebecca Lee of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), an SOS – Save our Species grantee, reflects on the transformation in survival prospects for this Critically Endangered and diminutive migratory bird. Thanks to a sustained and innovative ‘head-starting’ programme, 40% more adult birds are making the 8,000 km round-trip from breeding grounds to wintering grounds. Ambitious conservation goals can be achieved provided collaboration among conservationists along the bird’s flyway continues, she advises.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper ( Eurynorhynchus   pygmeus ) |  JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) | JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Source/read more IUCN 

Breathing new life into malaria detection

It goes without saying that breathing is pretty darn important. Aside from the obvious benefits of filling our lungs with oxygen every couple of seconds, your breath can say a lot about you.

We’ll not get into the garlicky kebab after a night out kind of breath, but food, drink and even disease can be detected in a single breath.

Breath tests have been around for a while. It is about 34 years since random breath testing for alcohol was introduced in New South Wales. Recently, a study in the Journal of Breath even showed that conditions including Type 1 Diabetes, colorectal cancer and lung cancer could potentially be detected by breath testing.

Source/read more CSIRO 

The World’s Carnivorous Bats Are Emerging From the Dark

Around 70 percent of the world’s 1,240 known bat species feast on mosquitoes, roaches, flies and other insects, while much of the rest prefer nectar, fruit or blood. But there is also a fifth dietary option: In tropical regions around the world, around a dozen mysterious bat species subscribe to a carnivorous menu of lizards, frogs, birds, rodents, fish — or even other bats.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Big bad banksias standing up to climate change

Banksia plants are Australian emblems, famous for their colourful flowers and dark, knobbly seed pods — the inspiration of May Gibbs’ big bad banksia men. Just like those banksia men, unerringly creepy after all those decades, their real-life counterparts may be just as resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Researchers from The University of Western Australia (UWA) and Department of Parks and Wildlife (WA) surveyed six iconic banksia to assess the impact of climate change in south-west Western Australia. Since the 1970s, south west Western Australia – one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots – has become warmer and significantly drier. In addition, the science of biodiversity has gone digital, through Australia’s largest online biodiversity resource, our Atlas of Living Australia (ALA).

Yellow flower spike of  Banksia media  | [public domain]

Yellow flower spike of Banksia media | [public domain]

Source/read more CSIRO 

Google Images 'as good as fieldwork' for studying animal colour

Studying photographs of animals posted online by the general public has proven to be as valuable as traditional fieldwork in research on the locations of species that have evolved with different colours.

Colour polymorphism - the occurrence of two or more colour types in the population of a species - has long fascinated biologists. These different colour types often vary geographically, providing a useful way of studying how different colour morphs evolve.

Source/read more The Guardian 

Population recovery highlights spatial organization dynamics in adult leopards


Polygynous species follow sex-specific spacing patterns to maximize reproductive success, and changes in population density under otherwise stable environmental conditions likely provoke sex-specific responses in spacing patterns. A classical dual reproductive strategy hypothesis posits that female home range size and overlap are set by habitat productivity and remain stable under increasing population density, whereas male home range size and overlap decrease with increased mate competition. An alternative dispersal-regulated strategy predicts that females relinquish part of their home range to philopatric daughters and form matrilineal clusters, while adult male spacing is stable with density-dependent subadult male emigration rates. We used 11 years of telemetry data to assess the response of adult leopard Panthera pardus spacing following the release of harvest pressure. Female annual home ranges and core areas were smaller than in males. Intersexual overlap was larger than intra-sexual overlap in males or in females. As leopard density increased, female home range size and inter-annual fidelity in home range use decreased, and females formed matrilineal kin clusters. In contrast, male leopards maintained large home ranges, and did not track female home range contraction. Spacing dynamics in adult leopards was consistent with dispersal-regulated strategies, and did not support a classical dual reproductive strategy. Our study suggests possible hidden lag effects of harvest disturbance on spacing dynamics that are not necessarily apparent when only assessing demographic recovery of harvested populations.

Panthera pardus  | [public domain]

Panthera pardus | [public domain]

Source/read more Journal of Zoology 

What mountain gorillas reveal with their teeth

Mountain gorillas from Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda eat up to 30 kilos of plants a day and their diet is highly varied in a habitat that is becoming increasingly fragmented as a result of illegal hunting and deforestation. For the first time, a study shows how dental morphology adapts to the food that is available. The information from the wear on their teeth is used to identify specimens that disappear.

Source/read more SINC 

Highway Noise Deters Communication Between Birds

New research from University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers shows birds may be avoiding habitats near noisy highways because they can’t hear fellow birds’ alarms that warn them of attacking hawks or owls.

Source/read more University of Florida 

The Black Sea Is Dying, and War Might Push it Over the Edge

It was a little before 11 a.m. on a breezy mid-April morning when the Crimean coastline finally hove into view. Rising sharply from the water, its sheer cliffs and distant jagged peaks cut a stunning sight amid the Black Sea’s otherwise unrelenting grayness. As our ship, the Greifswald, drew closer to shore, a few stray dolphins emerged from the depths and danced along in the foamy wake.

The Black Sea | [public domain]

The Black Sea | [public domain]

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Natural history: Restore our sense of species

Klaas-Douwe B. Dijkstra has named a new dragonfly after David Attenborough to mark the broadcaster's 90th birthday — and to honour the importance of knowing the natural world.

Source/read more Nature 

Data sharing: Access all areas

Advocates say that open science will be good for innovation. One neuroscience institute plans to put that to the test.

Source/read more Nature 

Peer review: Close inspection

To improve your own papers, learn how to evaluate other scientists' work.

Source/read more Nature 

Low-cost headsets boost virtual reality’s lab appeal

A wave of user-friendly devices is making the technology an attractive research tool.

Source/read more Nature 

The pressure to publish pushes down quality

Scientists must publish less, says Daniel Sarewitz, or good research will be swamped by the ever-increasing volume of poor work.

Source/read more Nature 

Fox squirrels’ tell-tail signs of frustration

Fox squirrels flick their tails when they can’t get a cherished nut in much the same way that humans kick a vending machine that fails to deliver the anticipated soda or candy bar, according to new UC Berkeley research.

Source/read more UC Berkeley 

Rebecca Recommends #4

I missed last week's summary of all things zoological, entomological, sciency and other general stuff, so here it is in all its glory:

  • Insect outbreaks reduce wildfire severity
  • Bearded dragons show REM and slow wave sleep
  • Trauma in a bee
  • Sexual dimorphism of Centris bees
  • Snow days, slow days
  • How climate change could make office work even unhealthier
  • Hydropeaking of river water levels is disrupting insect survival, river ecosystems
  • Fishery models and ecological understanding
  • Methane production reduced in ruminants
  • Super duper June bugs
  • A new parasitoid wasp from Russia may help the fight against emerald ash borer
  • Estimates of cheetah numbers are 'guesswork', say researchers
  • This bug wears its victims' carcasses as camouflage
  • Evolutionary history and conservation significance of the Javan leopard Panthera pardus melas
  • A fecal pellet’s worth a thousand words
  • New species of fly is first in its family to parasitize ants
  • Nine years of censorship
  • Australia: engagement upgrade
  • Assessment: academic return
  • Cashing in on science
  • Research commercialization
  • Academies: diversity drive
  • Faculty positions: tenure figures tumble
  • Conservation: debate over whale longevity is futile
  • Ethology: intrepid translator of the hive
  • Camera traps may aid conservation
  • Knowledge alters public perception
  • How tree crickets tune into each other’s songs
  • New evidence connects dung beetle evolution to dinosaurs

Insect outbreaks reduce wildfire severity

Forest scientists have found an unexpected 'silver lining' to the insect outbreaks that have ravaged millions of trees across western North America. While insect outbreaks leave trees looking like matchsticks, a new University of Vermont-led study finds these hungry critters significantly reduce wildfire severity. The findings contrast sharply with popular attitudes - and some U.S. forest policies - which connect tree-eating insects with increased wildfire activity.

Source/read more University of Vermont 

Bearded dragons show REM and slow wave sleep

Behavioural sleep is ubiquitous among animals, from insects to man. In humans, sleep is also characterised by brain activity: periods of slow-wave activity are each followed by short phases of Rapid-Eye-Movement sleep (REM sleep). These electrical features of brain sleep, whose functions are not well understood, have so far been described only in mammals and birds, but not in reptiles, amphibians or fish. Yet, birds are reptiles — they are the feathered descendants of the now extinct dinosaurs. How then did brain sleep evolve? Gilles Laurent and members of his laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, describe for the first time REM and slow-wave sleep in a reptile, the Australian dragon Pogona vitticeps. This suggests that brain sleep dates back at least to the evolution of the amniotes, that is, to the beginning of the colonisation of terrestrial landmass by vertebrate animals.

Central Bearded Dragon  Pogona vitticeps  (Ahl, 1926) | [public domain]

Central Bearded Dragon Pogona vitticeps (Ahl, 1926) | [public domain]

Source/read more Max-Planck-Gesellschaft 

Trauma in a Bee

Twisted-winged parasites of the species Stylops ovinae reproduce using so-called traumatic insemination. Entomologists of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena and the Christian Albrechts University of Kiel published on this phenomenon in the new edition of the science magazine 'Scientific Reports'. To inseminate the eggs, the males injure the endoparasitic females with their hook-shaped penis and inject the seminal fluid directly into their body cavity.

Source/read more Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena 

Sexual dimorphism of Centris Bees

For Arizona, this April morning  (4/26/2016) was rather cool and very windy. At 72 degrees Fahrenheit and gusts up to 40 mi per hour, the only insects flying seemed to be big, strong Centris bees visiting our Foothills Palo Verdes (Parkinsonia microphylla). The big bees were actually flying in wind so strong that it ripped one of our swamp coolers off its foundation.

At around 8 am, many Centris bees were actively collecting among the bright yellow flowers that are just beyond their prime by now. Other bees were still asleep, clinging to twigs with their tarsi, but more firmly with their strong mandibles.

Snow Days, Slow Days

I feel the need to apologize for the relative lack of content here lately, but several circumstances are conspiring to reduce the frequency with which I have been posting. Some are beyond my control, others a function of having differing current priorities. For once, these are valid explanations, not merely excuses.

Source/read more Bug Eric 

How Climate Change Could Make Office Work Even Unhealthier

As the world heats up around us, many people take solace in the idea that their indoor lives may not be affected much by climate change.

But a number of experts say that hotter outdoor temperatures and extreme weather events like drought or storms may cause unhealthier conditions and less productivity in offices, schools and other buildings.

“When it comes to climate change and office work, I think that the reality is that our built environment, the buildings we work in and all of our systems, were built for a climate that we’re no longer living in,” says Aaron Bernstein, the associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health. “From any number of angles, climate change can increase the risk for potentially harmful environments.”

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Hydropeaking of river water levels is disrupting insect survival, river ecosystems

A group of researchers concluded today in a study in the journal BioScience that “hydropeaking” of water flows on many rivers in the West has a devastating impact on aquatic insect abundance.

The research was based in part on a huge citizen science project with more than 2,500 samples taken on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and collaboration of researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon State University, Utah State University and Idaho State University. 

It raises serious questions about the current practice of raising river volumes up and down every day – known as hydropeaking – to meet hour-by-hour electricity demand, which has nearly wiped out local populations of some insects that feed local river ecosystems.

Noninsects dominate below hydropeaking dams. A photo collage showing genus-level invertebrate richness for three well-studied Western US rivers. The Green River below the Fontenelle Dam (left) has a low hydropeaking index value, and invertebrate assemblages comprise 54 unique genera, including many insects. The Green River below the Flaming Gorge Dam (middle) has a moderate hydropeaking index value and contains 47 unique invertebrate genera. The Colorado River below the Glen Canyon Dam (right) has a high hydropeaking index value and supports only 12 unique invertebrate genera, most of which are noninsects | From  Kennedy et al. (2016)

Noninsects dominate below hydropeaking dams. A photo collage showing genus-level invertebrate richness for three well-studied Western US rivers. The Green River below the Fontenelle Dam (left) has a low hydropeaking index value, and invertebrate assemblages comprise 54 unique genera, including many insects. The Green River below the Flaming Gorge Dam (middle) has a moderate hydropeaking index value and contains 47 unique invertebrate genera. The Colorado River below the Glen Canyon Dam (right) has a high hydropeaking index value and supports only 12 unique invertebrate genera, most of which are noninsects | From Kennedy et al. (2016)

Source/read more Oregan State University 

Fishery Models and Ecological Understanding

Anyone interested in population dynamics, fisheries management, or ecological understanding in general, will be interested to read the exchanges in Science, 23 April 2016 on the problem of understanding stock changes in the northern cod (Gadus morhua) fishery in the Gulf of Maine. I think this exchange is important to read because it illustrates two general problems with ecological science – how to understand ecological changes with incomplete data, and how to extrapolate what is happening into taking some management action.

Source/read more Ecological Rants 

Methane production reduced in ruminants

Researchers at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) have taken part in a study of the effect of one molecule, 3-nitrooxypropanol, in inhibiting methane production in ruminants. The work has been published in the magazine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Ruminants are animals which digest their food through fermentation carried out by microorganisms living in the rumen. This process produces organic acids: acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid, all of which are absorbed and metabolized by the organism as a source of energy. But, in addition, it also produces methane, which escapes into the atmosphere in the form of gas.

Source/read more Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) 

Super duper June bugs

Last June, after spending the day collecting insects at Sand Hills State Park in south-central Kansas with Mary Liz Jameson, Jeff Huether and I setup our blacklights at the edge of the dunes. We were hoping to attract males of the genus Prionus, following a hunch that maybe the dunes — a popular historical collecting site — would prove to be the habitat for the enigmatic Prionus simplex (known only from the type specimen labeled simply “Ks.”). We knew it was a long shot, made even longer by a bright moon and the unseasonably cool temperatures that settled over the dunes as the sun dipped below the horizon, and in the end no Prionus would be seen. We did see, however, some other interesting insects, one of the more interesting being males of Hammond’s lined June beetle — Polyphylla hammondi. Almost immediately after sunset a number of these large, chunky-bodied beetles resembling super-sized versions of their far more diverse and commonly encountered relatives in the genus Phyllophaga (May beetles) began arriving at the lights — each one noisily announcing its visit by its loud, buzzing, flight and bumbling thud onto the ground nearby.

Source/read more Beetles in the Bush 

A New Parasitoid Wasp from Russia May Help the Fight Against Emerald Ash Borer

Scientists working on environmentally friendly ways to combat insect pests continually quest for biological control’s version of a better mousetrap: natural enemies of a harmful species that outperform those already employed against it. In the case of invasive pests, the hunt may take scientists far afield, even to remote corners of the globe. So it was that Dr. Jian J. Duan, an entomologist at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Delaware, trekked twice into the vast forests of Russia’s Primorsky Krai region, a magnificent wilderness of mixed hardwoods and conifers so wild that it is a last stronghold of the majestic Siberian tiger.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Estimates of cheetah numbers are 'guesswork', say researchers

In the early 1900s it was believed that around 100,000 cheetahs roamed the Earth. The most recent estimate by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) puts the figure at 6,600 – mainly in eastern and southern Africa – amid fears that the fastest land mammal is racing to extinction.

However, a team of scientists from the Kenya Wildlife Trust’s Mara Cheetah Project, the University of Oxford and the Indian Statistical Institute says this number is simply a best guess, given the difficulty of counting cheetahs accurately.

The researchers have now developed a new method to accurately count cheetahs, which in time will help determine the magnitude of the threats they face and assess potential conservation interventions.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Cheetah in Masai Mara NP Kenya |  Benh Lieu Song/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 2.0 ]

Cheetah in Masai Mara NP Kenya | Benh Lieu Song/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Source/read more University of Oxford 

This Bug Wears Its Victims' Carcasses as Camouflage

The assassin bug is one of the most cunning predators in the micro world, gluing the exoskeletons of its prey to its back as camouflage. While disturbing, it's a very effective survival strategy.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Evolutionary history and conservation significance of the Javan leopard Panthera pardus melas


The leopard Panthera pardus is widely distributed across Africa and Asia; however, there is a gap in its natural distribution in Southeast Asia, where it occurs on the mainland and on Java but not on the interjacent island of Sumatra. Several scenarios have been proposed to explain this distribution gap. Here, we complemented an existing dataset of 68 leopard mtDNA sequences from Africa and Asia with mtDNA sequences (NADH5 +  ctrl, 724 bp) from 19 Javan leopards, and hindcasted leopard distribution to the Pleistocene to gain further insights into the evolutionary history of the Javan leopard. Our data confirmed that Javan leopards are evolutionarily distinct from other Asian leopards, and that they have been present on Java since the Middle Pleistocene. Species distribution projections suggest that Java was likely colonized via a Malaya-Java land bridge that by-passed Sumatra, as suitable conditions for leopards during Pleistocene glacial periods were restricted to northern and western Sumatra. As fossil evidence supports the presence of leopards on Sumatra at the beginning of the Late Pleistocene, our projections are consistent with a scenario involving the extinction of leopards on Sumatra as a consequence of the Toba super volcanic eruption (~74 kya). The impact of this eruption was minor on Java, suggesting that leopards managed to survive here. Currently, only a few hundred leopards still live in the wild and only about 50 are managed in captivity. Therefore, this unique and distinctive subspecies requires urgent, concerted conservation efforts, integrating in situ and ex situ conservation management activities in a One Plan Approach to species conservation management.

Source/read more Journal of Zoology 

A Fecal Pellet’s Worth A Thousand Words

Scat, dung, guano, frass, manure, night soil. We have a lot of fancy words for feces, don’t we? Perhaps it’s because even uttering the word poop somehow feels unclean.

But for scientists, poop is not something to recoil from — it represents unexplored data. Each nugget, cow patty and meadow muffin is brimming with information that can be used to divine all sorts of interesting things about not only the animal that left it, but also the world in which that animal lives.

For instance, a fresh splat of bear scat full of berry seeds and fruit stones might be used to predict how cherry trees will adapt to climate change.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

New Species of Fly is First in Its Family to Parasitize Ants

Researchers in Panama have discovered a new species of fly in the family Chloropidae. The name of the new species is Pseudogaurax paratolmos, as reported in a recent paper published in Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

While a new species is interesting enough by itself, the researchers discovered something unique about this fly: it is the first known member of its family to parasitize ants. With this discovery, there are now four fly families that are known to parasitize ants (the other three are Tachinidae, Syrphidae, and Phoridae).

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Nine years of censorship

Early one Thursday morning last November, Kristi Miller-Saunders was surprised to receive a visit from her manager. Miller-Saunders, a molecular geneticist at the Canadian fisheries agency, had her reasons to worry about attention from above. On numerous occasions over the previous four years, government officials had forbidden her from talking to the press or the public about her work on the genetics of salmon — part of a broad policy that muzzled government scientists in Canada for many years. At one point, a brawny ‘minder’ had actually accompanied her to a public hearing to make sure that she didn’t break the rules.

Source/read more Nature 

Australia: Engagement upgrade

It is often said that when it comes to research excellence, Australia punches well above its weight. Despite a population of only 23 million, the country ranked 12th in the global Nature Index (see, which tracks the contributions of countries and institutions to high-quality scientific journals. This impressive performance can be partly attributed to a research-output measure introduced in 2010 to encourage quality over quantity. The Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) metric looks at the breadth of research from universities and evaluates the quality against international standards. “The ERA exercise, focusing on quality of the outputs at universities, has been very beneficial to the university system in Australia,” says Aidan Byrne, chief executive of the Australian Research Council in Canberra, which administers the framework. “It has been a focus that all of the universities in Australia positively responded to, and it added to the strength of the Australian university system.”

Source/read more Nature 

Assessment: Academic return

When Julia Lane began working in scientific-funding policy she was quickly taken aback by how unscientific the discipline was compared with the rigorous processes she was used to in the labour-economics sector, “It was a relatively weak and marginalized field,” says Lane, an economist at New York University.

Source/read more Nature 

Cashing in on science

University research powers innovation and economic development. Countries with intensive research and development (R&D) programmes differ in their approach to turning lab studies into commercial enterprises.

Source/read more Nature 

Research commercialization

A thirst for a fuller and more nuanced understanding of the Universe is a powerful motivation for research. But pursuit of commercial success is also a compelling driver. The ability of these forces to interact and reinforce one another is propelling scientific enterprise forward.

Source/read more Nature 

Academies: Diversity drive

Women represent an average of 12% of the memberships of academic science societies worldwide, finds a report from the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP): The Global Network of Science Academies. Women for Science: Inclusion and Participation in Academies of Science examined the membership of 69 national science societies around the world, and found that women comprise 14–16% of academies whose members are concentrated in the biological, medical and social sciences. In maths and engineering societies, women average 5–6% of membership. Female representation on academy governing boards, however, average 20%. Just 40% of the societies said that they have a gender policy or strategy to increase female participation in academy activities. The report recommends that IAP member academies collect and report data annually on membership and activities. It also suggests that academies create committees to establish strategies that will boost gender equality in membership and governance.

Source/read more Nature 

Faculty positions: Tenure figures tumble

The number of US faculty members who have tenure or are on the tenure track is falling, according to a report by the American Association of University Professors in Washington DC. Over the past 40 years, the proportion of the academic labour force that is in a full-time tenured position has shrunk by one-quarter, and the proportion in tenure-track posts has halved, reports Higher Education at a Crossroads. In 2014, the study found, 21% of faculty appointments were full-time tenured and 41% were part-time. On average, male professors earned more than female professors in full-time positions at every rank and across all types of institution. Overall, positions in New England paid the most, whereas those in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota paid the least. The report also found that part-time appointees were less likely to conduct long-term research and experiment with teaching methods and course content. Citing a correlation between lower student-graduation rates and increases in the number of part-time and non-tenure-track positions, the association calls for institutions to convert part-time, non-tenure positions into tenure-track posts.

Source/read more Nature 

Conservation: Debate over whale longevity is futile

The unquestionable importance of ethical animal husbandry aside, I doubt whether the ongoing dispute over the respective lifespans of captive and wild killer whales (Orcinus orca) will contribute anything to our long-term efforts to save the species (see Nature 531, 426–427; 2016).

The days of keeping killer whales in captivity are in any case numbered for marine parks such as SeaWorld in the United States. And the conservation value of breeding the tiny number of captive killer whales worldwide is negligible.

Source/read more Nature 

Ethology: Intrepid translator of the hive

One of the most remarkable scientific discoveries of any century was honeybee dance language. Foragers and scouts run and turn to communicate the distance, direction and quality of flowers or nest sites to other worker bees. Many scientists were involved in elucidating the dance's sophisticated communicative functions, but Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch (1886–1982) delivered the main results during the 1940s, for which he won the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Excellent observations, painstaking experimental designs, laborious research and some controversy made von Frisch's work novelistic in its drama. Brilliance was required to discover and translate the language of an invertebrate as behaviourally complex as the bee.

Source/read more Nature 

Camera traps may aid conservation

A study using motion-triggered cameras in the wild has revealed that grasslands and floodplains are home to the most diverse communities of mammals in northern Botswana.

Source/read more Nature 

Knowledge alters public perception

An awareness of the causes of climate change, rather than its consequences or physical characteristics, can increase the public's concern about global warming.

Source/read more Nature 

How tree crickets tune into each other’s songs

It’s known as the cocktail-party problem: in the cacophony of sound made by insects in a spring meadow, how does one species recognize its own song? Insects such as the tree cricket solve this problem by singing and listening at a single unique pitch.

Source/read more University of Toronto 

New evidence connects dung beetle evolution to dinosaurs

Researchers have found an evolutionary connection between dinosaurs and dung beetles. An international team of scientists uncovered the first molecular evidence indicating that dung beetles evolved in association with dinosaurs. The findings place the origin of dung beetles (Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) in the Lower Cretaceous period, with the first major diversification occurring in the middle of the Cretaceous. This timeline places their origins approximately 30 million years earlier than previously thought. The research explores the potential of a co-extinction with dinosaurs 66 million years ago. The study published May 4 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Rebecca Recommends #3

It has been a busy seven days in the worlds of zoology, entomology, science and life in general. My weekly curation includes:

  • Feed the world and keep the trees
  • Zoology: in the museum with Roosevelt
  • Varroa mites and associated honey bee diseases more severe than previously thought
  • Jumping into jobs with Ribit
  • Fossils may reveal 20-million-year history of penguins in Australia
  • Despite their small brains – ravens are just as clever as chimps
  • Hybrid forms of the common house mosquito may serve as vectors between birds and humans
  • Study provides insights on evolution and diversity of dung beetles
  • Secondary invasion: the bane of weed management
  • The joy of swimming: an illustrated celebration of the water as a medium of bodily, mental, and spiritual movement
  • Rising carbon dioxide is greening the Earth – but it’s not all good news
  • On statistical progress in ecology
  • Adult bed bugs prefer red and black, but avoid yellow and green
  • Parade of professors or solo scholar?
  • A synthesis of transplant experiments and ecological niche models suggests that range limits are often niche limits
  • New study investigates the environmental cues dolphins use to migrate on the Atlantic coast of North America
  • Old-growth forests may provide buffer against rising temperatures
  • Field museum expedition captures animal selfies in amazon rainforest
  • Island foxes may be 'least variable' of all wild animals
  • Twelve new scuttle fly species found in Los Angeles
  • A trick of the light may help diseased plants attract greenfly
  • Shining light on Brazil’s secret coral reef
  • Five cool critters that find comfort in the dark
  • Deceiving no-see-ums, pollination of the pipe vine
  • How a macaque's brain knows it's swinging
  • Muskoxen hair analysis shows diet suffers during snow-heavy arctic winters
  • What does a dying forest sound like?
  • New research shows how different strains of bed bugs are able to resist insecticides

Feed the world and keep the trees

A worldwide switch to vegetarian diets could allow the planet's estimated 2050 population of 9.7 billion to feed themselves without cutting down any more forests.

Karl-Heinz Erb and his colleagues at the University of Klagenfurt in Vienna created a model of the global agricultural system that forecasts the next 34 years, based on predictions of crop output per hectare, cropland expansion, efficiency of raising livestock, changes in the human diet and other variables. The team reports that given greatly increased crop yields and grazing intensity, global diets could stay much as they are without deforestation. A switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet could, however, allow sufficient expansion of even organically grown crops into former grazing land, without the need to boost yields.

Increased trade between areas of high production and high food demand will be needed to make any of these scenarios feasible.

Source/read more Nature 

Zoology: In the museum with Roosevelt

The head of a Cape buffalo presents itself just inside the door of Theodore Roosevelt's historical home, Sagamore Hill, on Long Island, New York. A few steps further in are mounted rhinoceros horns, then a trophy room framed by elephant tusks. This is, in effect, the personal natural-history museum of the explorer, soldier and 26th US president. Roosevelt also donated hundreds of specimens to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Between these two kinds of museum — the private and the public — we find the Roosevelt of The Naturalist by Darrin Lunde, manager of the Smithsonian's mammal collections.

Theodore Roosevelt standing next to dead elephant | [public domain]

Theodore Roosevelt standing next to dead elephant | [public domain]

Source/read more Nature 

Varroa Mites and Associated Honey Bee Diseases More Severe than Previously Thought

Researchers from the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently completed the first comprehensive, multi-year study of honey bee parasites and disease as part of the National Honey Bee Disease Survey. Key findings, which are published in the journal Apidologie, show that the Varroa mite, a major honey bee pest, is far more abundant than previous estimates indicated and is closely linked to several damaging viruses. Also, the results show that the previously rare chronic bee paralysis virus has skyrocketed in prevalence since it was first detected by the survey in 2010.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Jumping into jobs with Ribit

Interested in buying your own home? What about living without debt? Or maybe finding full time employment after graduation is your thing? Whichever one you choose (and let’s face it, we’d like all three), Australia’s youth are facing an uphill battle to secure one or more of these increasingly elusive life goals. With a quick Google search you can find a whole list of articles and books going into great length about the bleak outlook for young people, and most of us can rattle off statistics to back these claims up (youth unemployment is currently sitting at 20% — the highest percentage since 1997, in case you need one in your arsenal).

Source/read more CSIRO 

Fossils May Reveal 20-Million-Year History of Penguins in Australia

Multiple dispersals of penguins reached Australia after the continent split from Antarctica, including 'giant penguins' that may have lived there after they went extinct elsewhere, according to a study published April 26, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Travis Park from Monash University, Australia, and colleagues.

Stratigraphically calibrated phylogeny of Sphenisciformes correlated with tectonic movements and changing ocean circulation in the southern hemisphere showing how: (1) the Australian taxa are dispersed across the phylogeny temporally; (2) the Australian continent becomes progressively more isolated from other southern continents; and (3) a strengthened ACC (indicated by the black arrows) provides a new dispersal vector to Australia despite the presence of a strengthening Antarctic Polar Front (APF). Penguin silhouettes show verall trend for decreasing body size in penguin evolution: Top, archaic giant stem penguin taxa; middle medium-sized stem penguin taxa; bottom, smaller crown penguin taxa. Palaeoceanographic abbreviations: EAC = East Australian Current, pEAC = palaeo-East Australian Current, pRG = palaeo-Ross Sea Gyre/Tasman Current, RG = Ross Sea Gyre. The relative strength of the ACC and APF is shown by thickening arrows and lines through time. Black arrow = cold currents, red arrows = warm currents | [ CC BY 3.0 ]

Stratigraphically calibrated phylogeny of Sphenisciformes correlated with tectonic movements and changing ocean circulation in the southern hemisphere showing how: (1) the Australian taxa are dispersed across the phylogeny temporally; (2) the Australian continent becomes progressively more isolated from other southern continents; and (3) a strengthened ACC (indicated by the black arrows) provides a new dispersal vector to Australia despite the presence of a strengthening Antarctic Polar Front (APF). Penguin silhouettes show verall trend for decreasing body size in penguin evolution: Top, archaic giant stem penguin taxa; middle medium-sized stem penguin taxa; bottom, smaller crown penguin taxa. Palaeoceanographic abbreviations: EAC = East Australian Current, pEAC = palaeo-East Australian Current, pRG = palaeo-Ross Sea Gyre/Tasman Current, RG = Ross Sea Gyre. The relative strength of the ACC and APF is shown by thickening arrows and lines through time. Black arrow = cold currents, red arrows = warm currents | [CC BY 3.0]

Source/read more PLOS 

Despite their small brains – ravens are just as clever as chimps

A study led by researchers at Lund University in Sweden shows that ravens are as clever as chimpanzees, despite having much smaller brains, indicating that rather than the size of the brain, the neuronal density and the structure of the birds’ brains play an important role in terms of their intelligence.

“Absolute brain size is not the whole story. We found that corvid birds performed as well as great apes, despite having much smaller brains”, says Can Kabadayi, doctoral student in Cognitive Science.

Source/read more Lund University 

Hybrid forms of the common house mosquito may serve as vectors between birds and humans

Researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna for the first time collected quantified data on hybrid forms of two species of the northern house mosquito in eastern Austria. The reproductive hybrid feeds – in contrast to the two known species of house mosquito – on the blood of both birds and humans. Hybrid mosquitoes could therefore serve as a vector for the transmission of avian diseases to people. Identification of the three forms is only possible through molecular biology. Morphologically they are indistinct. The study was published in the journal Parasites & Vectors.

Source/read more University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna 

Study Provides Insights on Evolution and Diversity of Dung Beetles

One of the largest and most important groups of dung beetles in the world evolved from a single common ancestor, and relationships among the various lineages are now known, according to new research by an entomologist from Western Kentucky University.

The study by Dr. T. Keith Philips, recently published in the open access journal Zookeys, provides important insights into the evolution and diversity of these dung beetles, which make up about half of the world’s dung beetle fauna.

A, B Cladogram found using Piwe weighting with K values of 8-10. This topology is considered to be the best supported in this study. Bootstrap values above 50% found for nodes indicated. A Oniticellini. B Onthophagini. * = no taxon image | From  Philips 2016

A, B Cladogram found using Piwe weighting with K values of 8-10. This topology is considered to be the best supported in this study. Bootstrap values above 50% found for nodes indicated. A Oniticellini. B Onthophagini. * = no taxon image | From Philips 2016

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Secondary invasion: The bane of weed management

The Editors of Biological Conservation have selected this article as their must-read choice for May. The article is free to download until 25 April 2017. Richard Primack elaborates on this selection with: “Removing invasive plant species needs to be done in a way that favors native species, or the result may be that other invasive species may become dominant.”

Download the article here for free from ScienceDirect 

Source/read more Elsevier 

The Joy of Swimming: An Illustrated Celebration of the Water as a Medium of Bodily, Mental, and Spiritual Movement

“The truth is an abyss,” Kafka asserted in contemplating the nature of reality. “One must — as in a swimming pool — dare to dive from the quivering springboard of trivial everyday experience and sink into the depths, in order later to rise again … to the now doubly illuminated surface of things.” Alan Watts once explained the tenets of Taoism through swimming. More than a philosophical metaphor, the swimming pool is a place of great psychological potency — Oliver Sacks saw swimming as an essential creative stimulant for writing. Indeed, there is something primordially powerful about immersing yourself into the water and propelling yourself into motion and silent thought, the daily bustle of the world left to the land. “As you swim,” Anaïs Nin wrote in her beautiful meditation on leisure and the art of presence, “you are washed of all the excrescences of so-called civilization, which includes the incapacity to be happy under any circumstances.”

A very brief history of the swimming pool | Lisa Congdon

A very brief history of the swimming pool | Lisa Congdon

Source/read more Brain Pickings 

Rising carbon dioxide is greening the Earth – but it’s not all good news

Dried lake beds, failed crops, flattened trees: when we think of global warming we often think of the impacts of droughts and extreme weather. While there is truth in this image, a rather different picture is emerging.

In a paper published in Nature Climate Change, we show that the Earth has been getting greener over the past 30 years. As much as half of all vegetated land is greener today, and remarkably, only 4% of land has become browner.

Our research shows this change has been driven by human activities, particularly the rising concentration of carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the atmosphere. This is perhaps the strongest evidence yet of how people have become a major force in the Earth’s functioning.

We are indeed in a new age, the Anthropocene.

Source/read more CSIRO 

On Statistical Progress in Ecology

There is a general belief that science progresses over time and given that the number of scientists is increasing, this is a reasonable first approximation. The use of statistics in ecology has been one of ever increasing improvements of methods of analysis, accompanied by bandwagons. It is one of these bandwagons that I want to discuss here by raising the general question:

Has the introduction of new methods of analysis in biological statistics led to advances in ecological understanding?

Source/read more Ecological Rants 

Adult Bed Bugs Prefer Red and Black, But Avoid Yellow and Green

Researchers from the University of Florida and Union College in Lincoln, NE wondered whether bed bugs preferred certain colors for their hiding places, so they did some testing in the lab. The tests consisted of using small tent-like harborages that were made from colored cardstock and placed in Petri dishes. A bed bug was then placed in the middle of the Petri dish and given ten minutes to choose one of the colored harborages. A few variations of the test were also conducted, such as testing bed bugs in different life stages, of different sexes, individual bugs versus groups of bugs, and fed bugs versus hungry bugs.

The results, which are published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, showed that the bed bugs strongly preferred red and black, and they seemed to avoid colors like green and yellow.

Bed bug nymph ( Cimex lectularius ) | [public domain]

Bed bug nymph (Cimex lectularius) | [public domain]

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Parade of professors or solo scholar?

There are two basic models for teaching courses and the norm varies a lot depending on the type of ecology course. A single professor was responsible for the majority of classes I took as an undergraduate. However, these days the courses I’m involved with are done by a series of professors for particular subtopics. The contrast has me thinking about the pluses and minuses of these approaches.

Source/read more Small Pond Science Small Pond Science 

A synthesis of transplant experiments and ecological niche models suggests that range limits are often niche limits

Global change has made it important to understand the factors that shape species’ distributions. Central to this area of research is the question of whether species’ range limits primarily reflect the distribution of suitable habitat (i.e. niche limits) or arise as a result of dispersal limitation.

Source/read more Ecology Letters 

New study investigates the environmental cues dolphins use to migrate on the Atlantic coast of North America

Little is known about common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) seasonal migration along the United States southeastern Atlantic coast, or what factors influence migratory patterns. Therefore, our objectives were to: 1) document evidence for seasonal movement of dolphins in this region (that would indicate migratory behavior) and 2) determine if seasonal changes in abundance and temporary emigration (i.e., migration indicators) for dolphins along South Carolina and Georgia coasts are related to changes in water quality variables.

Tursiops truncatus  | [public domain]

Tursiops truncatus | [public domain]

Source/read more Animal Migration 

Old-growth forests may provide buffer against rising temperatures

The soaring canopy and dense understory of an old-growth forest could provide a buffer for plants and animals in a warming world, according to a study from Oregon State University published today in Science Advances.

Comparing temperature regimes under the canopy in old-growth and plantation forests in the Oregon Cascades, researchers found that the characteristics of old growth reduce maximum spring and summer air temperatures as much as 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to those recorded in younger second-growth forests.

Source/read more Oregan State University 

Field Museum expedition captures animal selfies in Amazon Rainforest

If you've been on the Internet lately, you've probably seen a cat selfie. Now, a Field Museum expedition to the Peruvian Amazon has elevated the animal selfie phenomenon to a whole new level. Earlier this year, a team of 25 scientists trekked to the unexplored reaches of Medio Putumayo-Algodón, Peru and spent 17 days conducting a rapid biological and social inventory of the area. As part of their efforts to document the region's biodiversity, the team set up 14 motion-activated camera traps and used a drone to capture aerial footage of the rainforest. The results are amazing.

Ocelot ( Leopardus pardalis ) |  The Field Museum

Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) | The Field Museum

Source/read more Field Museum 

Island foxes may be 'least variable' of all wild animals

In comparison to their relatives on the mainland, the Channel Island foxes living on six of California's Channel Islands are dwarves, at two-thirds the size. The island foxes most likely evolved from gray foxes brought to the northern islands by humans over 7,000 years ago. Some think island foxes may have been partially domesticated by Native Americans. Like many island species, they have little fear of humans.

Now a new study reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 21 finds that the foxes also show a surprising absence of genetic variation. The study offers the first complete genome sequences of an island species that is a model for long-term conservation of small, endangered populations, the researchers say.

Source/read more Cell Press 

Twelve New Scuttle Fly Species Found in Los Angeles

A team of three entomologists have discovered twelve new scuttle fly species that were found in Los Angeles. Their study is published in Biodiversity Data Journal.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

A trick of the light may help diseased plants attract greenfly

Scientists from the University of Bristol have shown for the first time that plant viruses alter the surface of leaves, influencing how light is polarized and helping insects to potentially 'see' infected plants.

The majority of vector-transmitted plant viruses are spread between host plants by insects, in particular by sap-sucking aphids – more commonly known as greenfly – which are thought to be sensitive to polarization patterns.

Source/read more University of Bristol 

Shining Light on Brazil’s Secret Coral Reef

Ask anyone to picture a coral reef and they almost certainly think of sun-dappled aquatic communities in clear, turquoise waters. While that is the norm for the majority of the world’s reefs, there are striking exceptions—one of which can be found in the muddy waters off northern Brazil’s coast, where the Amazon River meets the sea.

Researchers previously had a vague idea of the reef’s existence, but until now they had no inkling of just how large and diverse it truly is. The most extensive study to date, published today in Science Advances, reveals that the reef covers an area larger than Delaware — some 3,600-square miles, stretching from the French Guiana border to Brazil’s Maranhão State — and likely supports many species previously unknown to science. The reef is so odd, in fact, that its discoverers believe it may constitute an entirely new type of ecological community.

Oceanapia   bartschi , a sponge found in the Brazilian reef system |  Moura et al. 2016

Oceanapia bartschi, a sponge found in the Brazilian reef system | Moura et al. 2016

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Five cool critters that find comfort in the dark

Are you a bit of night owl – sleeping all day and awake all night? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. There are plenty of other creatures stirring in the wee small hours.

Some animals prefer the cover of darkness and so, although widespread, are rarely seen. Thankfully a new book from our publishing team is shedding some light on those that go bump in the night.

Source/read more CSIRO 

Deceiving No-see-ums, Pollination of the Pipe Vine

Our most common desert Swallowtail is called after it's foodplant Aristolochia, the Pipe Vine. Supposedly the flowers reminded earlier botanists of the pipes that Dutch sailors used. As the great grand daughter of a German pipe smoker, I can see the similarity.  By the way, the Swallowtail lays its eggs on the plant, but it does nothing to pollinate the flowers. Pollination is left to much less obvious little insects.

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

How a macaque's brain knows it's swinging

Any organism with a brain needs to make decisions about how it's going to navigate through three-dimensional spaces. That's why animals have evolved sensory organs in the ears to detect if they're rotating or moving in a straight line. But how does an animal perceive curved motion, as in turning a corner? One explanation, published April 21 in Cell Reports, from researchers looking at macaques, is that curved motion is detected when sensory neurons in the brain receiving converging information about linear and rotational movement are activated.

Source/read more Cell Press 

Muskoxen hair analysis shows diet suffers during snow-heavy Arctic winters

Analysis of hairs from muskoxen in the Arctic tundra indicates they had limited amounts of forage available and relied heavily on body stores during snow-heavy winters, according to a study published April 20, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jesper Bruun Mosbacher from the Arctic Research Centre at Aarhus University, Denmark, and colleagues.

Adult musk ox bulls animals | [public domain]

Adult musk ox bulls animals | [public domain]

Source/read more PLOS 

What Does a Dying Forest Sound Like?

You can actually hear a tree dying.

No, it doesn’t scream in pain as a denim-clad lumberjack joyfully chops its trunk. However, during the increasingly common periods of extreme drought and heat, a tree’s slow desiccation becomes audible through a microphone pressed to its trunk.

“It sounds a little like popcorn popping — little cracks and pops,” says William Anderegg, a biologist at Princeton University.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

New Research Shows How Different Strains of Bed Bugs are Able to Resist Insecticides

The wellness industry is booming, but it’s not just people looking for the latest “detox” diet. Some of our closest parasitic foes are well ahead of us in mastering the art of detoxification.

Bed bugs are one of the most loathsome of all pests that attack and bite humans. Their resurgence in recent decades has caused heartache to many a suffering victim. Eliminating an infestation can be time consuming and, more significantly, extremely expensive. This is of increasing concern as bed bug infestations are often hitting the least well-off members of our community.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Rebecca Recommends #2

In this week's edition of Rebecca Recommends:

  • A new resource for fighting the Mexican rice borer
  • New technology could improve insect control in cotton
  • Asiagomphus reinhardti: a newly discovered insect is named after a TU Dresden researcher
  • Swarming red crabs documented on video
  • Offspring for Sumatran rhinos
  • City moths avoid the light
  • Animal behaviour: some begging is actually bragging
  • Pollinators: Europe must block hornet invasion
  • Modelling: climate costing is politics not science
  • Fears rise over yellow fever’s next move
  • New beetle species named after Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Mark Twain
  • Coral bleaching on the great barrier reef may get a lot worse in the future
  • Surface mutation lets canine parvovirus jump to other species
  • Scorpion toxin insights may lead to a new class of insecticides
  • Study argues ‘winner-winner’ behavior may shape animal hierarchies
  • Right whales threatened by planned seismic surveys along mid- and southeastern Atlantic seaboard, say scientists
  • Viruses hitch a ride to greater infectivity in insects
  • Rewilding the African scimitar-horned oryx
  • Pioneering astronomer Vera Rubin on women in science, dark matter, and our never-ending quest to know the universe
  • Anthony Fauci is waging war against Zika, and preparing for other epidemics to come
  • Don’t heed the haters: Albert Einstein’s wonderful letter of support to Marie Curie in the midst of scandal
  • Feeding the world without further deforestation is possible
  • Impatience with the peer review process
  • More than 1,000 species have been moved due to human impact
  • New black fly species found on the island of Borneo
  • Ecology: change is in the air
  • Video reveals mosquito antics
  • Expect knowledge

A New Resource for Fighting the Mexican Rice Borer

A moth caterpillar called the Mexican rice borer (Eoreuma loftini) that has already taken a heavy toll on sugar cane and rice crops in Texas has now moved into Louisiana and Florida, and continues to spread through the Gulf Coast region. A new article in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management provides a more complete picture of the pest and offers suggestions about how to manage them.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

New Technology Could Improve Insect Control in Cotton

A new biotech trait currently in the development stage could provide improved control of thrips and plant bugs in cotton, according to researchers with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

The new Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) technology, which is being developed by Monsanto, is commonly referred to as the “Lygus trait” because it was originally developed to protect cotton from tarnished plant bugs (a Lygus species). However, during field-testing, researchers also noted effects on thrips injury. Tarnished plant bugs and thrips are the two most damaging insects in Mid-South cotton production.

Source/read more UT Institute of Agriculture 

Asiagomphus reinhardti: A newly discovered insect is named after a TU Dresden researcher

The Russian insect researcher Oleg Kosterin and his Japanese colleague Naoto Yokoi have traced the dragonfly in a remote mountainous border region between Cambodia and Laos and named it "Asiagomphus reinhardti". They honour his merits and achievements for the promotion of the international dragonfly research. The dragonfly, about six centimetres long, lives close to mountain streams. So far, only male examples are known: a black body with yellow spots and green eyes. As a larva they live for numerous year dug in the mud bottom.

Source/read more Technische Universität Dresden 

Swarming Red Crabs Documented on Video

A research team studying biodiversity at the Hannibal Bank Seamount off the coast of Panama has captured unique video of thousands of red crabs swarming in low-oxygen waters just above the seafloor.

Jesús Pineda, a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and chief scientist on the cruise, called the encounter unexpected and mesmerizing. The researchers describe their findings in a paper published April 12, 2016, in the journal PeerJ.

Offspring for Sumatran rhinos

Measures increasing the birth-rate can save the world’s smallest rhino from extinction.

A new study examines the decline of the Sumatran rhino in Borneo. It concludes that the remnant populations of Sumatran rhinos can only be rescued by combining efforts of total protection with stimulation of breeding activity. The researchers suggest to resettle small isolated populations and to undertake measures to improve fertility. The case of the recently captured female rhino in Kalimantan, Borneo shows the importance of immediate action. The article has been published in the scientific journal “Global Ecology and Conservation”.

City Moths Avoid the Light

The globally increasing light pollution has negative effects on organisms and entire ecosystems. The consequences are especially hard on nocturnal insects, since their attraction to artificial light sources generally ends fatal. A new study by Swiss zoologists from the Universities of Basel and Zurich now shows that urban moths have learned to avoid light. The journal Biology Letters has published their results.

Source/read more Universität Basel 

Animal behaviour: Some begging is actually bragging

A meta-analysis of 143 bird species finds huge variation in parental responses to chicks' begging signals, and shows that parental strategies depend on environmental factors, such as the predictability and quality of food supplies.

Source/read more Nature 

Pollinators: Europe must block hornet invasion

Another notable omission from the European Union's list of invasive alien species that are targeted for action is the Asian yellow-legged hornet, Vespa velutina nigrithorax (see J. Pergl et al. Nature 531, 173; 2016). Since its arrival in Europe more than a decade ago, this voracious honeybee predator has also caused human deaths from its sting (see K. Monceau et al. J. Pest. Sci. 87, 1–16; 2014).

The hornet's impact is severe in Mediterranean countries, where beekeeping is a crucial source of income. Local beekeepers have their own makeshift eradication methods (such as traps of vinegar with glue), but these also kill important insect pollinators.

Vespa velutina nigrithorax  |  Didier Descouens/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 4.0 ]

Vespa velutina nigrithorax | Didier Descouens/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Source/read more Nature 

Modelling: Climate costing is politics not science

Nicholas Stern argues that today's integrated assessment models for quantifying the economic and societal impacts of climate change are inadequate (Nature 530, 407–409; 2016). We disagree with his view on the superiority of more complex models such as DSGE (dynamic stochastic computable general equilibrium) models, which purport to account for a larger class of uncertain future events.

Source/read more Nature 

Fears rise over yellow fever’s next move

Scientists warn vaccine stocks would be overwhelmed in the event of large urban outbreaks.

As the largest outbreak of yellow fever in almost 30 years continues to spread in Angola, scientists are warning that the world is ill-prepared for what would be a public-health calamity: the re-emergence of urban epidemics of the deadly infection, which could overwhelm vaccine stockpiles.

Yellow fever virus caused devastating outbreaks in cities in the past, but by the 1970s its mosquito carrier in urban areas — Aedes aegypti — had been wiped from large swathes of the globe; vaccination programmes also helped to confine the virus to the jungle. But now, as a result of the scaling-back of control efforts, Aedes mosquitoes have re-emerged in densely populated tropical and subtropical cities where many people are unvaccinated — and the Angolan situation has renewed fears that the virus might be poised to break out from the jungle.

Source/read more Nature 

New Beetle Species Named after Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Mark Twain

Michael Ferro, collection manager at the Clemson University Arthropod Collection, recently published an article that describes 14 new beetle species, all of which belong to the genus Sonoma. With these additions, the genus now has 57 species, 40 from western North America and 17 from the eastern U.S.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Coral Bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef May Get a Lot Worse in the Future

Climate change could alter temperature patterns in a way that stops corals from preparing for bleaching events.

A massive coral bleaching event has struck the Great Barrier Reef, with at least half of the GBR’s length affected. Scott Heron, of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, calls it “the worst observed bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef.” This could lead to mass death of corals, risking the future of a unique ecosystem that stretches 1,400 miles along the coast of Australia and is home to thousands of species of fish, invertebrates and marine mammals.

The future could be even worse, though.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Surface mutation lets canine parvovirus jump to other species

Canine parvovirus, or CPV, emerged as a deadly threat to dogs in the late 1970s, most likely the result of the direct transfer of feline panleukopenia or a similar virus from domesticated cats.

CPV has since spread to wild forest-dwelling animals, including raccoons, and the transfer of the virus from domesticated to wild carnivores has been something of a mystery.

Source/read more Cornell University 

Scorpion toxin insights may lead to a new class of insecticides

In an evolutionary game of cat and mouse, predators have adapted a clever arsenal of new tricks to capture their ever-elusive prey.

Now, new research from Shunyi Zhu et al. appearing recently in the early online edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution, has identified the molecular clues driving the effectiveness of scorpion toxins.

Source/read more Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press) 

Study Argues ‘Winner-Winner’ Behavior May Shape Animal Hierarchies

Researchers have developed a behavioral model that explains the complexity and diversity of social hierarchies in ants, and which scientists believe may help us understand the nature of other animal societies – from primates to dolphins. The work was done by researchers at North Carolina State University, the University of Oxford and Arizona State University.

Right Whales Threatened by Planned Seismic Surveys Along Mid- and Southeastern Atlantic Seaboard, Say Scientists

A series of seismic surveys for oil and gas planned for the mid- and southeastern Atlantic coastal areas of the United States pose a substantial threat to one of the world’s most endangered whale species, according to a group of renowned marine mammal scientists urging a halt to the surveys in a statement released today.

Source/read more Wildlife Conservation Society 


An international research team including scientists from Spain, Mexico and the Netherlands have found evidence of a previously unknown interaction between viruses.

Scientists have discovered evidence of one virus parasitising another, improving its infectivity or ability to enter, survive and multiply in a host. Specifically, the iflavirus hitch-hikes on the back of the baculovirus, a virus used since the 1940s as the basis for biological pesticides in crop fields, meaning the work has potential implications in plague control and ecology. Their study was published in PeerJ in March.

Source/read more Asociación RUVID 

Rewilding the African Scimitar-Horned Oryx

In a historic first, an animal that went extinct in the African wild is reintroduced, giving hope for many endangered species.

Imagine the American west without the bison or Australia without kangaroos. That would approach what the African nation of Chad has been like since losing it's most iconic animal, the scimitar-horned oryx.

Sometime during the 1980s, the last wild oryx died. It has been 30 years since the animal was last seen in Chad. Working in partnership, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Sahara Conservation Fund and the governments of Abu Dhabi and Chad will release later this summer 25 oryx into the wild. The animals arrived in the country by air transport last month and are now acclimating to the area inside a large holding pen. This will be the first attempt ever to restore a large animal to Africa after it had completely disappeared.

A group of scimitar oryx at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire, Great Britain |  The Land/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

A group of scimitar oryx at Marwell Zoo in Hampshire, Great Britain | The Land/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Pioneering Astronomer Vera Rubin on Women in Science, Dark Matter, and Our Never-Ending Quest to Know the Universe

When trailblazing astronomer Maria Mitchell was hired to teach at the newly established Vassar College in 1865, she was the only woman on the faculty and according to the original college handbook of rules, female students were not allowed to go outside after dark. Although Mitchell fought to upend this absurd obstruction to the study of astronomy and became a tireless champion of young women in the field, lamentably little changed in the century that followed.

Source/read more Brain Pickings 

Anthony Fauci Is Waging War Against Zika, and Preparing for Other Epidemics to Come

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases talks about developing a Zika vaccine.

It is one thing to know the science of epidemics — why they start, how they spread, who’s at risk. But to truly understand a disease’s impact, Anthony Fauci believes you need to see its victims. And so, last year, when a health care worker who had contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone was being treated at the National Institutes of Health, Fauci often broke from his busy schedule and donned a bulky protective suit so he could personally examine the patient.

That’s all part of the job for Fauci, who has been America’s point person in confronting epidemics and other public health crises for decades.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Don’t Heed the Haters: Albert Einstein’s Wonderful Letter of Support to Marie Curie in the Midst of Scandal

Few things are more disheartening to witness than the bile which small-spirited people of inferior talent often direct at those endowed with genius. And few things are more heartening to witness than the solidarity and support which kindred spirits of goodwill extend to those targeted by such loathsome attacks.

Marie Curie | [public domain]

Marie Curie | [public domain]

Source/read more Brain Pickings 

Feeding the world without further deforestation is possible

Deforestation is necessary to feed the growing global population – this is a common belief that has now been disproved by researchers of the Institute of Social Ecology, Vienna. In a study published in NATURE Communications they present results that reveal that it is possible to produce sufficient food for the world in 2050 and at the same time maintain the current forests of the world.

Source/read more Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt | Graz | Wien 

Impatience with the peer review process

Science has a thousand problems, but the time it takes for our manuscripts to be peer reviewed ain’t one. At least, that’s how I feel. How about you?

I hear folks griping about the slow editorial process all the time. Then I ask, “how long has it been?” And I get an answer, like, oh almost two whole months. Can you believe it? Two months?!”

Source/read more Small Pond Science 

More than 1,000 species have been moved due to human impact

Animals and plants are increasingly being ‘translocated’ from their native areas to survive effects of climate change, poaching and habitat loss, says top conservationist.

More than 1,000 species have had to be relocated because of climate change, poaching and humans taking their habitat, according to a top conservationist.

Dr Axel Moehrenschlager said cases of “translocation”, such as India’s plan to relocate tigers to Cambodia or South Africa’s scheme to airlift rhinos to Australia, have increased exponentially in recent decades and will become more common due to human pressures driving species closer to extinction.

Source/read more The Guardian 

New Black Fly Species Found on the Island of Borneo

A new species of black fly has been discovered in Indonesia on the island of Borneo. The new species, which belongs to the family Simuliidae, is described in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

A team of researchers from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, discovered the new species while surveying aquatic stages of black flies in Indonesia. In total, they collected nine species, and two of them were new to science, although only one is described in the JME paper.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Ecology: Change is in the air

Reptile researcher Russell Burke saw 14 years of fieldwork nearly wiped out in a moment, when Hurricane Sandy hit the US east coast in 2012. Since 1998, he had been studying the population dynamics of two native species of turtle — their clutch size, seasonal movements and more — at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in New York City, near his workplace at Hofstra University in Hempstead.

But in 2012, storm surges breached the wall of a pond that was home to 22 snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) in his study, and all were killed when the waves turned the pond from freshwater to salt. The region's diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin), which prefer brackish waters, fared better there. Burke noted intriguing responses. “They started nesting in places they hadn't before, and stopped in others where they had,” he says. But the breach lost him easy access to the terrapins' nesting area, so his team could examine only a fraction of the nests.

Chelydra serpentina  |  Leejcooper/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

Source/read more Nature 

Video reveals mosquito antics

Video monitoring has shown that mosquitoes spend most of the time near the head of a person lying under a bednet at night.

Mosquitoes carry several human diseases but are difficult to study in the field. David Towers at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK, and his co-workers used infrared light-emitting diode backlighting to make mosquitoes visible on video. They filmed the insects with two cameras at night around a mosquito net in the laboratory and in the field in Tanzania. The team developed algorithms to track individual mosquitoes, and found that the insects focused their efforts around the roof of the net, above the person's head. The mosquito species that transmits West Nile virus (Culex quinquefasciatus) tended to be more active than the carrier of human malaria, Anopheles gambiae.

Source/read more Nature 

Expect knowledge

We are gratified when a politician shows that they know about science, but they all should.

“Swans sing before they die —” said poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “’Twere no bad thing/Should certain persons die before they sing.” Now, not everyone can carry a tune. Neither can everyone act any better than the average block of wood — which is why people at large seem to lend credence to singers, actors and other celebrities when they effuse on subjects that they know nothing about.

No one can doubt the prodigious acting talent of Robert De Niro, but does his turn as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, or the tortured Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, qualify him to opine on the link between vaccination and autism? Is he talking to me? I repeat: is he talking to me? (Clue for any readers bewildered by this: despite statements made by De Niro last week, there is no evidence for any link between vaccination and autism.)

Source/read more Nature 

Master of Environmental Science (Research)

It's been almost eight weeks since I commenced my Master of Environmental Science (Research) degree and in that short amount of time I've connected with some key people and already feel as though I've learnt a lot. At the moment, I'm still very much on a high and am very excited but, of course, I know there is much more to come, including the inevitable stress and bouts of imposter syndrome and wavering confidence. I figure that's all part and parcel of higher degree research and, while I'm aware that these emotional ups and downs are more than likely to occur, I don't think I'll be able to fully prepare myself for them, so I'll just have to ride those waves, trust my instincts and graciously accept the support provided by my colleagues, family, friends and my loving partner.

In these past few weeks, I've been exposed to so many new things and participated in workshops and discussion groups and attended a few meetings, all in a quest to keep up-to-date and expand my knowledge as quickly as possible.

Reading has been a key component of these first tentative months. Off the top of my head, I've read the abstracts of at least two dozen papers, but probably much more; two unpublished chapters/manuscripts related to my research; the grant proposal (again!); countless university rules, policies and procedure documents; and a number of papers for the Lab's fortnightly Insect Ecology Discussion Group, including:

  • Andrew et al. (unpublished manuscript draft), Thermolimit respirometry in dominant meat ants: does microenvironment temperature influence ant temperature and metabolic rate response?
  • Fox et al. (2016), Gender differences in patterns of authorship do not affect peer review outcomes at an ecology journal. Functional Ecology, 30: 126–139, doi:10.1111/1365-2435.12587
  • Vasseur et al. (2014) Increased temperature variation poses a greater risk to species than climate warming. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.2612
  • Slade et al. (2016) The role of dung beetles in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cattle farming. Scientific Reports, 6: 18140, doi:10.1038/srep18140
  • Mohamad et al. (2015) The effect of direct interspecific competition on patch exploitation strategies in parasitoid wasps. Oecologia, 177: 305–315, doi:10.1007/s00442-014-3124-2
  • Gellego et a. (2016) A protocol for analysing thermal stress in insects using infrared thermography. Journal of Thermal Biology, 56: 113–121, doi:10.1016/j.jtherbio.2015.12.006

One of my favourite websites is, and I've read about various ant taxa, such as Iridomyrmex, Camponotus, Rhytidoponera and Polyrhachis; and all about ant morphology and taxonomy – there is so much!!! And what better excuse to buy some more books? I have now added The Ants of Southern Australia: A Guide to the Bassian Fauna (Andersen 1991), The Ants of Northern Australia: A Guide to the Monsoonal Fauna (Andersen 2000), Miniature Lives (Gleeson 2016), and Ant Ecology (Lach et al. 2010) to my ever expanding collection, and am busy working my way through the latter - I'm up to Chapter 6: Ants as Mutualists.

I've also been out in the field a bit, and collected Pheidole, Camponotus and Iridomyrmex specimens, as well as in the lab practising my identification skills, which need a lot of work! Thankfully, my first proper experience of keying out an ant went very well – considering my complete lack of knowledge in this area – and I identified a specimen I had collected from my backyard down to species level: Camponotus consobrinus. I told my supervisor the other day that although I know I'm not "competent" in ant taxonomy, I am "confident" to continue honing my skills. It's not so scary...

The Life, Earth and Environment research theme (of which I am broadly a part of) also holds fortnightly seminars, and I've attended a couple of these, including Emeritus Prof. Harry Recher's "Population and Consumption: The Death of Nature and the Failure of Science" and Dr Anneke van Heteren's "How do animals evolve on isolated islands? A palaeohistological perspective."

Postgraduate student workshops are also commonplace, and so far I've attended a Research Services induction and well as a School of Environmental and Rural Science induction, plus others run by the Academic Skills Office, including Working with Supervisors, Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses, and Critical Thinking and Critical Reading.

Then there are the Dixson Library training sessions, and so far I have attended Basics of EndNote, with Exploring Scopus still to come! I had already taught myself a fair amount of EndNote via YouTube videos and Scopus looks fairly intuitive but I can always use more help!

Another important part of being a postgraduate student is the inevitable "networking", so I have made contact with some key people, such as Prof Nate Sanders (University of Copenhagen), Prof Rob Dunn (North Carolina State University), and Prof Alan Andersen (CSIRO), who are all collaborators for the project I'm working on, and Dr Israel Del Toro, who (along with various colleagues) has published some papers that just might be the springboard for my literature review. In these days of social media, nearly all have websites and blogs, as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts, which makes keeping in touch so effortless!  I also created profiles for myself on and and connected with a few academics, which should prove useful when I need copies to hard-to-find papers!

Additionally, I have become a student member of the Ecological Society of Australia, the Australian Entomological Society, and the Entomological Society of America, and I have applied for membership of the Royal Entomological Society. This gives me access to quite a few publications, as well as funding opportunities for attending and presenting at conferences, and information about awards and other potentially beneficial activities.

In amongst all of this, my first (co-authored) paper was published in Proceedings of Bhutan Ecological Society: Experimental effects of reduced flow velocity on water quality and macroinvertebrate communities: implications of hydroelectric power development in Bhutan, which was a pretty exciting moment. This paper was based on fieldwork conducted in Bhutan in November 2014 during my undergraduate degree.

But, for now, it's back to my EndNote library, which feels like it's growing at an exponential rate! There is so much literature when you search for climate change OR global warming AND ant OR Formicidae. Thankfully, I'll be focussing on ant-mediated ecosystem services and disservices, so I hope I can cull quite a few as I trawl through the 600+ references I've already added.

Rebecca Recommends #1

Welcome to the first of my (I hope) regular weekly blog posts Rebecca Recommends, in which I aim to introduce a variety of news from the world of entomology, zoology, science, and society in general that caught my attention during the past week, and to provide links to the sources so you can read more at your own leisure.

This week includes mental illness, African wild dogs, island biogeography, On the Origin of Species doodles, handling criticism, from giant rats to dwarf elephants, insect 'bones', National Museum of Natural History, insect eyes, CSIRO's RV Investigator, scale insects, the titi monkey, termite swarms, wildlife pictures, bat echolocation, large marble butterfly, stingless bees, top predators in human-dominated ecosystems, lemur extinctions, fossil fuels and sea-level rises, five new flea species, and the impact of copper and climate change on amphibians.

Mind matters

Mental illness is moving up the global agenda — but there is still much to do.

Nominally, 2016 should be a good year for mental health. On 13 and 14 April, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank will hold an unprecedented joint conference in Washington DC to discuss mental health as both a global disease and an economic problem.

It is a welcome gesture after many snubs. Mental illness was left out of the United Nations’ influential high-level meeting on non­communicable diseases (NCDs) in 2011. Almost begrudgingly, the UN gave mental health a brief mention in the entry for NCDs in its 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. As well as reducing deaths from NCDs such as heart disease by one-third, it said, the world should also “promote mental health and well-being”.

Source/read more Nature 

Hunting habits of wild dogs tracked

African wild dogs that live in woodland eschew the collaborative long-distance pursuit of prey used by their relatives on grass plains.

African wild dog pack consuming a blue wildebeest, Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa |  Masteraah  /Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

African wild dog pack consuming a blue wildebeest, Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa | Masteraah/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Source/read more Nature 

Island biogeography: Shaped by sea-level shifts

An analysis of changes in island topography and climate that have occurred since the last glacial maximum 21,000 years ago shows how sea-level change has influenced the current biodiversity of oceanic islands.

Source/read more Nature 

The Charming Doodles Charles Darwin’s Children Left All Over the Manuscript of ‘On the Origin of Species’

From fish with legs to carrot cavalries, an endearing testament to the human life of science.

In contemplating family, work, and happiness, Charles Darwin proclaimed: “Children are one’s greatest happiness, but often & often a still greater misery. A man of science ought to have none.” And yet he and Emma had ten. Adept at weighing the pros and cons of family life with equal parts earnestness and irreverence, he clearly concluded that the happiness far outweighs the misery.

There is no more endearing a testament to how this balance skews — to both the exuberant happiness that children bring and the benign misery of the innocent waywardness — than the doodles Darwin’s children left on the back-leaves and in the margins of his Origin of Species manuscript draft, recently digitized by the American Museum of Natural History in collaboration with the Cambridge University Library.

Darwin's children's doodles |  American Museum of Natural History /Cambridge University Library

Darwin's children's doodles | American Museum of Natural History/Cambridge University Library

Source/read more Brain Pickings 

How to Handle Criticism: Advice from Some of the Greatest Writers of the Past Century

Wisdom and wit from Kurt Vonnegut, Aldous Huxley, William Styron, Truman Capote, and other literary titans.

“Reading criticism clogs conduits through which one gets new ideas: cultural cholesterol,” Susan Sontag wrote in her diary. “Criticism,” artist Ai Weiwei told an interviewer, “is, in the Chinese context, a positive, creative act.” The truth, of course, is that it’s both — criticism is a technology of thought and, like any technology, it can be put to constructive or destructive use depending on the intention of its originator and the receptivity of its object. One thing is certain: For every artist — that is, for every human being who gives form to his or her inner life and shares that form with the outside world — critical response is inevitable, for every successful act of engaging with the world guarantees that the world will engage back. How to relate to criticism in a healthy way is therefore one of the essential survival skills of the creative spirit.

Source/read more Brain Pickings 

From giant rats to dwarf elephants, island living changes mammals

Island mammals evolve differently from those on the mainland - which can be clearly seen in fossils such as the giant ‘terror shrew’ or dwarf hippopotamus.

Size matters.

Well, it matters when you are a mammal. And if you’re a mammal which has has found itself on an island. Let’s make that clear before we continue.

Islands are different from the continent, aka the mainland. They are smaller in land area, and separated from surrounding landmasses, be it the mainland or adjacent islands, by a certain amount of water. The degree of isolation can take on extreme forms for oceanic islands; in contrast to islands on the continental shelf, which may have been connected to the mainland by dry land at times of low sea level, oceanic islands arose from the sea floor and have always been surrounded by water. These features have a profound effect on island ecosystems and their inhabitants, and the field of island biogeography has inspired naturalists since the days of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.

Source/read more The Guardian: Science 

How Insects Repair Their ‘Bones’

Biomechanics researchers from Trinity College Dublin have discovered how insects build internal bandages to repair their broken ‘bones’.

A DIY cuticle repair kit allows wounded insects to go about their day-to-day lives almost as efficiently as they would have done before meeting with mishap.

When an insect cuts one of its legs, it kicks into repair mode by laying a patch of new cuticle underneath the affected area. This new cuticle effectively functions as a bandage, which seals the wound and provides structural strength where it is required.

Source/read more Trinity College Dublin 

The Story Behind Those Jaw-Dropping Photos of the Collections at the Natural History Museum

The images capture only a fraction of the millions of creatures and objects that are stored away from the public eye.

Wandering the warren of collections facilities and scientific laboratories that the public rarely sees at the National Museum of Natural History is like peeking into a reconstruction of Noah’s Ark. Filling every drawer, cabinet and shelf in sight are millions of taxidermic birds and mammals, preserved worms and fishes, skeletons and fossils, and so much more.

The entomology collection |  Chip Clark/NHM

The entomology collection | Chip Clark/NHM

Source/read more Smithsonian  

Insect eyes enable drones to fly independently

After studying how insects navigate through dense vegetation, researchers at Lund University in Sweden have come up with a system that can be applied to flying robots. By adapting the system to drones, they can be made to adjust their speed to their surroundings and fly on their own– completely without human intervention and control.

Source/read more Lund University 

RV Investigator update – leaping multiple projects in a single bound

Don’t be fooled, Investigator’s mild-mannered steel exterior hides a custom-built super ship packed with enough technology to rival the Batmobile.

Demonstrating this capability, Investigator recently broke new ground in ‘blue-water’ research by tackling not one, not two, but three major projects in a single voyage.

Undertaking multiple major projects around Australia’s vast marine estate has previously not been possible, but for Investigator it’s just another busy day at sea.

The current projects include a suite of studies to collect information about Southern Ocean carbon dioxide cycles, atmospheric composition, and eddy patterns. This important research will help increase our understanding of ocean and atmosphere interactions, and the impacts of climate change.

Source/read more CSIRO 

Mexican Researchers Observe Autonomous Control of Scale Insects

Scale insects known as cochineals are major pests of prickly pear in Mexico, and pesticides are often used to control them. However, one prickly pear farmer has been controlling them without the use of insecticides since the year 2000.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Zoologists shed new light on origins of titi monkey

Scientists in Salford have shed new light on the evolution of one of the world’s most diverse primate groups – the titi monkey.

Dr Jean Boubli and PhD student Hazel Byrne, working with zoologists from Brazil and the US, used cutting-edge molecular and computer modelling techniques to investigate the genus Callicebus, first described by Oldfield Thomas in 1903.

Source/read more University of Salford 

Video: This is What a Major Termite Swarm Looks Like

In March 2016, Thomas Chouvenc, a research assistant at the University of Florida Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, noticed a major swarm of Asian subterranean termites (Coptotermes gestroi) in his neighborhood, so he busted out the video camera and shot the following:

Source/read more Entomology Today 

The week in wildlife – in pictures

Dubai’s flamingos, wolverines in Scotland and hedgehogs in a Tokyo cafe are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world.

A wolf looks into the camera at the Chernobyl nuclear site in the abandoned village of Orevichi, Belarus |  Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

A wolf looks into the camera at the Chernobyl nuclear site in the abandoned village of Orevichi, Belarus | Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Source/read more The Guardian: Environment 

Here's What Bat Echolocation Sounds Like, Slowed Down

Bats use a perceptual system called echolocation that allows them to produce high pitch sounds that bounce off nearby objects and living things. Humans can't normally hear these sounds, unless they're slowed down.

Source/read more Smithsonian 


I’m not one to get very excited about butterflies. They endear themselves to human sentimentality with little need for my literary intervention, thank you very much. Still, I am occasionally prone to bouts of surprise and effusive language when confronted by species I have not seen before. Such was the case last Monday, April 4, when my wife and I encountered a Large Marble, Euchre ausonides, while hiking in Aiken Canyon Preserve, a The Nature Conservancy (TNC) property in El Paso County, Colorado south of Colorado Springs.

Source/read more Bug Eric 

Study Shows Leaf Fertilizers to Be Toxic to Stingless Bees

There’s been a lot of focus and scientific study on the population reductions of honey bees and other pollinators. Some possible causes that have been cited are:

  • Solar storms
  • Viruses
  • Diesel Fumes
  • Bacterial pathogens
  • Selenium
  • A fungus
  • Fungicides
  • Insecticides, especially those in the class known as neonicotinoids.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Top predators play an important role in human-dominated ecosystems

Also in human-dominated landscapes large carnivores such as brown bears or wolves –so-called top predators– play a crucial role in the regulation of wildlife populations. This is the result of a joint study by scientists of the Leuphana University Lüneburg, the Humboldt University Berlin and the Charles Sturt University and the Deakin University (both Australia), which was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The study is one of few that examine the impact of human activities on natural predator-prey relationships of wild animals and the regulation of wildlife populations.

Source/read more Leuphana Universität Lüneburg 

Lemur Extinctions Are Harmful to Madagascar's Plant Life, Too

Plants and trees that once relied on a particular species of lemur to spread their seeds may also be headed for extinction.

The human-driven extinction of fruit-eating lemurs on Madagascar has created multiple "orphan" plant species with precarious futures because their primary seed dispersers are gone, scientists say.

Source/read more Smithsonian 

Burning fossil fuels is responsible for most sea-level rise since 1970

Global average sea level has risen by about 17 cm between 1900 and 2005. This is a much faster rate than in the previous 3,000 years.

The sea level changes for several reasons, including rising temperatures as fossil fuel burning increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In a warming climate, the seas are expected to rise at faster rates, increasing the risk of flooding along our coasts. But until now we didn’t know what fraction of the rise was the result of human activities.

In research published in Nature Climate Change, we show for the first time that the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for the majority of sea level rise since the late 20th century.

Source/read more CSIRO 

Five New Flea Species Discovered in Indonesia

What do the United States Navy, the famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, and bizarre genitalia have in common? They are all part of the story of a newly discovered genus of fleas from Indonesia.

Source/read more Entomology Today 

Combined effects of copper, climate change can be deadly for amphibians, research finds

Researchers at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory warn that the extinction of two amphibian species—the southern toad and the southern leopard frog—may be hastened by the combined effects of climate change and copper-contaminated wetlands.

Source/read more University of Georgia 

I'm making a promise to myself to (finally) read these books over the next two years

I have many books.

Please note that I did not write "too many" books. Just many. And I'm still collecting them and people still give them to me as gifts, but for the last several years I've been pretty busy with work, university and family, so reading purely for pleasure has taken a backseat.

That's not to say I haven't enjoyed reading some of my textbooks!

During my studies, I used (and bought!) all of the following textbooks:

  • Biology - Campbell et al. (2008)
  • A Student Handbook for Writing in Biology - Knisely (2009)
  • Chemistry: The Central Science - Brown et al. (2006)
  • SI Chemical Data - Aylward & Findlay (2007)
  • Schaum's Outline of Basic Mathematics with Applications to Science and Technology - Kruglak et al. (2009)
  • Mathematical Methods for Science and Economics - Goldstein & Haessler (2009)
  • Mind on Statistics - Utts & Heckard (2009)
  • Introductory Statistics with R - Dalgaard (2002)
  • Evolutionary Analysis - Freeman & Herron (2006)
  • Contemporary Issues in Bioethics - Beauchamp & Walters (2006)
  • A Field Guide to Insects in Australia - Zborowski & Storey (2010)
  • The Insects: An Outline of Entomology - Gullan & Cranston (2010)
  • Ecology: An Australian Perspective - Attiwill & Wilson (2006)
  • Australian Freshwater Ecology: Processes and Management - Boulton & Brock (1999)
  • Marine Ecology - Connell & Gillanders (2007)
  • Vertebrate Life - Pough et al. (2008)
  • Seeing Further - Bryson (2010)
  • Invertebrate Zoology - Ruppert et al. (2003)
  • Kangaroo: Portrait of an Extraordinary Marsupial - Jackson & Vernes (2010)
  • Wildlife Ecology, Conservation and Management - Sinclair et al. (2005)
  • Animal Physiology - Hill et al. (2008)
  • Practical Conservation Biology - Lindenmayer & Burgman (2005)
  • Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind - Quammen (2004)
  • Perspectives on Animal Behaviour - Goodenough et al. (2009)
  • Measuring Behaviour: An Introductory Guide - Martin et al. (2007)
  • Ecological Restoration - Clewell & Aronson (2013)
  • Insect-Plant Biology - Schoonhoven et al. (2005)
  • Ecology and Evolution of Dung Beetles - Simmons & Ridsdill-Smith (2011)
  • Handbook of Meta-analysis in Ecology and Evolution - Koricheva et al. (2013)

Now, I don't claim to have read every single word printed on each and every one of their pages, but some I did read from cover to cover, and others I look forward to going back to re-read/finish with fresh eyes. Some of the titles were also only "recommendations"; in other words, they weren't prescribed/mandatory but, being a salary-earning book-lover, I just had to own a copy.

These textbooks, of course, don't include the countless journal articles I also read as part of my undergraduate studies - some as mandatory parts of my weekly learning, others as suggested readings, and still more that I cited in numerous assignments. There would have been thousands, I'm sure.

Just  some  of my books.

Just some of my books.

So, with all this reading required of me, I stopped reading purely for pleasure, and my must-read list has just been growing and growing. As a result, I am making a promise to myself to read/finish these books over the next two years while I complete my postgraduate research degree.

The lists is made up of:

  • Natural Curiosity: Unseen Art of the First Fleet - Anemaat (2014)
  • Under Ground: How Creatures of Mud and Dirt Shape our World - Baskin (2005)
  • A Buzz in the Meadow - Goulson (2014)
  • Last Chance to See - Adams & Carwardine (1990)
  • Nabokov's Butterflies - Nabokov (2000)
  • Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predators in the Jungles of History and the Mind - Quammen (2004)
  • Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society - Bryson (2010)
  • Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients - Goldacre (2012)
  • The Explainer: From Deja Vu to Why the Sky is Blue and Other Conundrums - The Conversation (2013)
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic - Quammen (2012)
  • The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution - Dawkins (2009)
  • The Selfish Gene - Dawkins (2006)
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bryson (2003)
  • Tasmanian Devil: A Unique and Threatened Animal - Owen & Pemberton (2011)
  • Kangaroo: Portrait of an Extraordinary Marsupial - Jackson & Vernes (2010)
  • A Sand County Almanac - Aldo Leopold (1966)
  • An Illustrated Guide to Cockroaches - Smirnova (2011)
  • The Snake Charmer: A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge - James (2008)
  • In Quest of a Mermaid - Williams (1960)
  • The Red Centre: Man and Beast in the Heart of Australia - Findlayson (1952)

I have many more unread books on my shelves, of course, but these are the ones that have been teasing me for quite a few years now, hence this promise I'm making to myself.

Stay tuned for the odd book review!

A (very) personal account of how I eventually arrived on the doorstep of postgraduate research

In the last few weeks, I’ve received some really good news and feel like I’m on my way to becoming a real, proper entomologist. It’s be a long and sometimes emotionally draining journey to arrive at this point.

For those of you who know me personally, you’ll be aware that the last 18 months has been somewhat of a battle to maintain that so-called work/life balance. I’ve always worked full-time and studied part-time, and two years into my undergraduate degree I fell in love with a wonderful man who had two equally wonderful young boys (now 10 and 4 years old), so - BAM! - instant family. A short time later we bought a house, so - BAM! - instant domestic goddess with floors to vacuum and mop, grocery shopping to do, meals to cook, clothes, towels and linen to wash and hang on the line to dry and then fold (I’m pretty good with fitted sheets, by the way), dishes to wash, bathrooms and toilets to clean, beds to make, and bills to pay. Then I added two adorable indoor-only cats to the mix, and along came feeding time at the zoo, various litter trays to empty, accidents to clean up, and grooming to make summer-time shedding a little less horrendous.

Without the invaluable support of my very helpful partner I don’t think I’d survive. He is the reason I keep going when I feel like curling up in a remote cave and being a hermit sometimes. I’m not kidding.

My job is particularly stressful at times, and sometimes feels very thankless. I wish I could teach myself not to care, but I’m not that sort of person. I’m proactive, I’m a problem-solver and I like to go the extra mile. But I haven’t always been able to rely on receiving the support I need from those higher up to get through each day with my sanity still intact by the end of it. In the past, I have faced some pretty destabilising and distressing moments when trying to juggle my studies and work, which have sometimes left me bewildered (to say the least), considering I studied at and worked for the same institution. The worst part was, I didn’t feel there was anything “wrong” with me… just the situation I was put in. I resented being solely responsible for fixing the problem. A problem I didn’t feel I had created. I felt suffocated by bureaucracy, frustrated by the lack of innovation, helpless, unappreciated, overlooked, and outright ignored. The solution seemed so clear to me, but it seems in a large organisation solutions quickly get lost in amongst all the noise. So sometimes I’d sit at my desk crying into tissues, hoping my open-plan office colleagues thought I was suffering from hay fever, even when it wasn’t allergy season. In less public environments, I often had emotional meltdowns over the smallest things and really didn’t like the person I was in those moments, which only added to the vicious cycle of self-defeat I was in.

I found support and encouragement from particular people, and appreciated those times when they just listened and sometimes shared their own experiences. But where I needed support and acknowledgement the most - at my place of employment - I felt alone and isolated and full of self-doubt, and this really impacted on what I had always loved to do: study. I crawled to the finish line of my undergraduate degree. At one stage I didn’t even want to go to my own graduation ceremony, but my loving partner changed my mind. I got there in the end and celebrated with a wonderful group of family and friends, some of who had travelled long distances to share such a special event with me.

Graduation Day!

Graduation Day!

So, here I am now, on the verge of finally commencing my postgraduate research studies, which I honestly thought had slipped through my fingers. I’ll explain how I eventually made it here. Towards the end of last year, the Associate Professor I had planned to study dung beetles with was awarded (along with three colleagues from other organisations/institutions) a sizeable ARC Discovery Project grant to assess the effects of thermal stress (i.e. climate change) and differential resource limitation on ecosystem function providers (i.e. ants). In mid-November last year he asked if I could make some insecty treats to share with his Insect-Plant Interactions students while he gave a short lecture/tutorial about entomophagy - the consumption of insects as food. While I was handing out my entomological delicacies (mini quiches and banana bread made with mealworms), he said we needed to talk about the grant-funded projects and whether or not I was interested in taking on one of them instead of dung beetles. He mentioned a generous scholarship, but it still wouldn’t be enough to meet my financial obligations. I’d still have to work.

Over the next few weeks I thought a lot about the opportunity and knew I’d be mad to pass it up. At the end of the day, it wasn’t about studying dung beetles or ants or any other six-legged critter; it was about working with an academic who I admired and respected and whom was well-respected in his field. Additionally, being part of an ARC Discovery Project also had the potential to catapult my entomological career very quickly. All pros, really. I met with the Associate Professor in mid-December and I think I actually used the words, “OK, let’s do this!” - I had done the sums and if I worked part-time and studied full-time, with the scholarship on offer I’d be able to afford it. The tricky bit was that I needed the part-time hours to be flexible, in case I was required to head off on a week or two of fieldwork, or (later on) to attend and present at a conference.

But I didn’t like my chances of gaining that sort of support at work. 

I was wrong.

My gut instincts had told me I’d have to fight, so I was already formulating arguments in my head and finding clauses in the collective agreement and points in the shiny new strategic plan that would support my request. Thankfully, this research opportunity coincided with a restructure in our department, and I am now reporting to a different supervisor. Her response was very encouraging and sometimes, just sometimes, I think she might be a bit more excited than me about this project. With verbal approval from the Assistant Director, I’m now planning my work and study schedule for the next two years, to ensure I can meet my employer’s expectations, my academic supervisor’s expectations and, of course, my own expectations.

This experience has restored some of my faith in “the machine” that we occasionally and unwittingly become a part of.

I submitted my Master of Environmental Science (Research) application for candidature on Christmas Eve, and it’s now awaiting approval. Given the nature of the project, I’ve no reason to think it will be rejected, so it’s just a waiting game now. I’m ridiculously excited about starting the project, but it’s tempered by a few proverbial butterflies in the stomach, which I think is a pretty healthy approach for me!

The next hurdle will be how Human Resources copes with the logistics of my irregular roster… so wish me luck!