A new genus of plant bug and four new species have been discovered in Australia

A new genus of plant bug and four new species have been discovered in Australia. The newly discovered insects, which belong to the family Miridae and the subfamily Phylinae, are described in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

Stephanie Leon and Christiane Weirauch, two entomologists from the University of California, Riverside, examined 761 specimens from museum collections and determined that some were mislabeled and were actually species that were not yet known to science.

The new genus is called Restiophylus. “Restio” comes from the host-plant association of most of its members with the plant family Restionaceae, and “phylus” indicates that it is classified in the subfamily Phylinae.

The four new species are R. hypolaenae, R. leptocarpi, R. lyginiae, and R. meeboldinae. R. hypolaenae is named for its association with plants in the genus Hypolaena. R. leptocarpi is named for its association with plants in the genus Leptocarpus. R. lyginiae is named for its association with plants in the genus Lyginia, and R. meeboldinae is named for its association with plants in the subgenus Meeboldina of the genus Leptocarpus.

Phylogenetic analysis of  Restiophylus  spp. based on parsimony (TNT), showing one of the six equally parsimonious trees. White numbers in black circles are jackknife support values (only values ≥ 40 shown), numbers above branches character numbers, and numbers below branches character state numbers. Tree statistics: L = 320, CI = 36, RI = 58. The classification indicated on the right is from Menard et al. (2014). Habitus images from various sources as mentioned in materials and methods. (From Leon and Weirauch 2015.)

Phylogenetic analysis of Restiophylus spp. based on parsimony (TNT), showing one of the six equally parsimonious trees. White numbers in black circles are jackknife support values (only values ≥ 40 shown), numbers above branches character numbers, and numbers below branches character state numbers. Tree statistics: L = 320, CI = 36, RI = 58. The classification indicated on the right is from Menard et al. (2014). Habitus images from various sources as mentioned in materials and methods. (From Leon and Weirauch 2015.)

Restiophylus species are currently the only arthropods that are documented to be closely associated with Australian restiid clade (Poales).

Habitus images, illustrations of male genitalia, scanning micrographs, an identification key, and distribution maps for the new species are provided in the article, as well as digital images and distribution maps for the hosts.

Source Entomology Today

Citation S. Leon, C. Weirauch, Restiid-Feeding Semiini (Hemiptera: Miridae: Phylinae) From Western Australia: Description and Phylogenetic Analysis of the New Plant Bug Genus Restiophylus, n. gen, Annals of the Entomological Society of America Nov 2015, DOI: 10.1093/aesa/sav105

This week in Zoology, Entomology and Science

It's been a very busy week in the world of zoology and entomology and science in general.

Here are some hand-picked snippets of stories that caught my attention in the last seven days, covering a range of topics including Chagas disease, the grasslands of Santa Cruz, sex determination in ants, flight stability in fruit flies, the etiquette of insect identification, monarch butterfly migrations, gifts for science geeks, "participation points", how ants avoid collisions, pollination is more than bees, describing new moth species, how trap-jaw ants jump, how parasitic tapeworms influence ants, replacing pesticides with plants' chemical defences, Sir David Attenborough's butterfly, co-authorships, fellowships, conserving Antarctica, building better and making the most of PhDs, and Neonicotinoids and butterfly declines.


New Report on Chagas Disease Causes Storm of Concern

There has been a great increase in concern, and spread of misinformation recently in response to a press release and policy paper earlier this month. The publication advocates for more research into Chagas disease, caused by a parasitic organism, Trypanosoma cruzi, carried by assassin bugs in the subfamily Triatominae. The result in social media especially has been the misidentification of nearly every indoor "bug" or assassin bug as a "kissing bug" carrying Chagas.

Trypanosoma cruzi crithidia  by Photo Credit:Content Providers(s): CDC/Dr. Myron G. Schultz - This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #613.Note: Not all PHIL images are public domain; be sure to check copyright status and credit authors and content providers.English | Slovenščina | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trypanosoma_cruzi_crithidia.jpeg#/media/File:Trypanosoma_cruzi_crithidia.jpeg

Trypanosoma cruzi crithidia by Photo Credit:Content Providers(s): CDC/Dr. Myron G. Schultz - This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #613.Note: Not all PHIL images are public domain; be sure to check copyright status and credit authors and content providers.English | Slovenščina | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trypanosoma_cruzi_crithidia.jpeg#/media/File:Trypanosoma_cruzi_crithidia.jpeg

Source/read more Bug Eric

Through the Grasslands of Santa Cruz County

I love those grey-golden expanses of grass that role and wave under the low standing winter sun, and those mountain ranges with names like Mule and Mustang that cast their deep shadows. So when I had to deliver art work to my little Patagonia gallery (Creative Spirits Artists) I took my time on southbound Highway 83. I did not stop for every Hawk that perched on the power lines, but a whole heard of Pronghorns was too good. There were at least two dozens of them, grazing not too far from the road side.

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

Sex Determination in Ants

Yin and Yang, Venus and Mars, the Moon and the Sun, however you want to describe it, becoming a female or a male can make a big difference in your life, and not just for human beings. Dr. Misato O. Miyakawa, a former post-doc at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and Professor Alexander S. Mikheyev, leader of the Ecology and Evolution Unit have discovered the two ancient genetic components of sex determination in ants. This paper has just been published in PLOS Genetics

Source/read more Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University

Citation Misato O. Miyakawa, Alexander S. Mikheyev. QTL Mapping of Sex Determination Loci Supports an Ancient Pathway in Ants and Honey Bees. PLOS Genetics, 2015; 11 (11): e1005656 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005656

How Do Fruit Flies Maintain Flight Stability?

Have you ever wondered why insects move in the funky ways they do? Or how physical laws shape the design of animals' sensors and neural computation for locomotion?

Source/read more Newswise

Insect Identifications and Etiquette

I’ve been a student of insects for most of my life, and of the many aspects of entomology that interest me, field collecting and identification remain the most enjoyable. My interest in beetles first began to gel during my days at the university (despite a thesis project focused on leafhoppers), and early in my career I settled on wood-boring beetles (principally Buprestidae and Cerambycidae) as the taxa that most interested me. To say that species identification of these beetles can be difficult is an understatement, but I was fortunate to have been helped by a number of individuals — well-established coleopterists — who freely shared their time and expertise with me during my early years and pointed me in the right direction as I began to learn the craft.

Source/read more Beetles in the Bush

Seasonal monarch butterfly migrations may help lower infection levels

Seasonal migrations may help lower infection levels in wild North American monarch butterfly populations, according to a study published November 25, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Sonia Altizer from the University of Georgia, and colleagues.

Danaus plexippus  |  Kenneth Dwain Harrelson/Wikimedia Commons  [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Danaus plexippus | Kenneth Dwain Harrelson/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Source/read more Eureka Alert

Citation Sonia Altizer, Keith A. Hobson, Andrew K. Davis, Jacobus C. De Roode, Leonard I. Wassenaar. Do Healthy Monarchs Migrate Farther? Tracking Natal Origins of Parasitized vs. Uninfected Monarch Butterflies Overwintering in Mexico. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (11): e0141371 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141371

The Best Gifts of 2015 for Science Geeks

Want to find the perfect holiday gift for the science fan in your life? No need to experiment—we've done the research and selected some of the most electrifying goodies, from Plutonic pendants to mossy home décor, to fascinate your favourite brainiac.

  1. Pluto Pendant Necklace
  2. "Adventures in the Anthropocene"
  3. Women in Science Tee Shirts
  4. Planetary Glass Set
  5. Ernst Haeckel Science Illustration Pillows
  6. Marimo Moss Ball Light Bulb Terrarium
  7. Pandemic Legacy Board Game
  8. MEL Chemistry Sets
  9. Petrified Wood Cheese Tray
  10. Edison Touch Lamp

Source/read more Smithsonian Mag

Why I don’t use “participation” points

Do you think giving students “participation” points is a good idea? I don’t.

I’ve been promising for over two years that I’d be writing about why class credit for participation is a Bad Idea. So here’s the post!

People put “participation” points* in the syllabus for a variety of reasons. In my experience, professors count 5-10% of the total grade towards “participation,” and sometimes more. It seems that a student’s level of “participation” can make the difference of a whole letter grade, by making an otherwise-B into a C if a student gets a poor participation score, or can lift a B into an A if they get full credit for participation. In most of the syllabi I’ve reviewed, these participation points are rarely calculated quantitatively. A student could go into the final exam without having any idea what their participation grade is. That seems wonky, doesn’t it?

Source/read more Small Pond Science

Avoiding collision leads to common routes

Ants, when walking around in cluttered environments, are known to follow a limited number of common routes. Researchers show that similar routes emerge when an algorithm for collision avoidance, based on the apparent motion of obstacles, is combined with a target direction.

Source/read more Science Daily

Citation Olivier J. N. Bertrand, Jens P. Lindemann, Martin Egelhaaf. A Bio-inspired Collision Avoidance Model Based on Spatial Information Derived from Motion Detectors Leads to Common Routes. PLOS Computational Biology, 2015; 11 (11): e1004339 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004339

Pollination is more than bees

Other creatures visit more flowers than bees do, and may be almost as important in pollinating crops.

Romina Rader at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, and her colleagues analysed data from 39 field studies of pollination by honey bees, other bees and other insects, including flies, beetles, moths and ants. They found that other insects carried out 25–50% of all visits to crop flowers. Although these 'non-bees' were less effective at pollinating on each visit, their increased visits made them roughly as effective as bees.

The contribution of different insect groups to flower visitation across the 37 crop studies for which visitation data were available. Crops are ordered, left to right, from mostly bee-dominated to mostly non-bee–dominated. (From Rader et al. 2015.)

The contribution of different insect groups to flower visitation across the 37 crop studies for which visitation data were available. Crops are ordered, left to right, from mostly bee-dominated to mostly non-bee–dominated. (From Rader et al. 2015.)

Source/read more Nature

Citation Romina Rader, Ignasi Bartomeus, Lucas A. Garibaldi, Michael P. D. Garratt, Brad G. Howlett, Rachael Winfree, Saul A. Cunningham, Margaret M. Mayfield, Anthony D. Arthur, Georg K. S. Andersson, Riccardo Bommarco, Claire Brittain, Luísa G. Carvalheiro, Natacha P. Chacoff, Martin H. Entling, Benjamin Foully, Breno M. Freitas, Barbara Gemmill-Herren, Jaboury Ghazoul, Sean R. Griffin, Caroline L. Gross, Lina Herbertsson, Felix Herzog, Juliana Hipólito, Sue Jaggar, Frank Jauker, Alexandra-Maria Klein, David Kleijn, Smitha Krishnan, Camila Q. Lemos, Sandra A. M. Lindström, Yael Mandelik, Victor M. Monteiro, Warrick Nelson, Lovisa Nilsson, David E. Pattemore, Natália de O. Pereira, Gideon Pisanty, Simon G. Potts, Menno Reemer, Maj Rundlöf, Cory S. Sheffield, Jeroen Scheper, Christof Schüepp, Henrik G. Smith, Dara A. Stanley, Jane C. Stout, Hajnalka Szentgyörgyi, Hisatomo Taki, Carlos H. Vergara, Blandina F. Viana, and Michal Woyciechowski. Non-bee insects are important contributors to global crop pollination. PNAS, November 2015 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1517092112

Get to know them faster: Alternative time-efficient way to describe new moth species

Having collected thousands of moth and butterfly species from across Costa Rica, famous ecologist Daniel Janzen, University of Pennsylvania, and his team were yet to find out many of their names. When they sought help from Dr. Gunnar Brehm, the taxonomist realised he needed too much time to describe species in the framework of an extensive revision of the genus, especially as there are still only a few biologists skilled to do this.

Source/read more Eureka Alert

Citation Gunnar Brehm. Three new species of Hagnagora Druce, 1885 (Lepidoptera, Geometridae, Larentiinae) from Ecuador and Costa Rica and a concise revision of the genus. ZooKeys, 2015; 537: 131 DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.537.6090

Trap-Jaw Ant Jumps with Its Legs or Its Mandibles

Trap-jaw ants have powerful mandibles that they use to capture and crush prey, and to fling themselves from danger. Now new research shows that a species of trap-jaw ant jumps with its legs, a previously unseen jumping behaviour, rather than its jaws. The discovery makes this species, Odontomachus rixosus, the only species of ant that can jump with either its legs or its mandibles.

Odontomachus rixosus  |  Bernard Dupont./Flickr  [ CC BY-SA 2.0 ]

Odontomachus rixosus | Bernard Dupont./Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Source/read more Entomology Today

Parasitic tapeworm influences the behaviour and lifespan of uninfected members of ant colonies

Aggressive behaviour of entire ant colony reduced / Lifespan of uninfected nest-mates curtailed but increased in infected ants.

Ants are quite often infected by parasites. For example, tapeworms use ants as intermediate hosts for a part of their development phase before they complete their life cycle in their main host. Researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have now discovered that such parasites not only change the appearance and behaviour of infected ants but also have an effect on the behaviour of uninfected members of the colony. The overall aggressiveness of an ant colony diminishes if it contains members who are infected with a parasite. The investigations being undertaken by a team of Mainz-based evolutionary biologists headed by Professor Susanne Foitzik are designed to uncover the effects that parasites have on animal societies and to find out how the parasites manipulate the behaviour of their hosts in order to better survive. Their findings have recently been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Source/read more Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Citation Sara Beros, Evelien Jongepier, Felizitas Hagemeier, Susanne Foitzik. The parasite's long arm: a tapeworm parasite induces behavioural changes in uninfected group members of its social host. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2015; 282 (1819): 20151473 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.1473

Chemicals That Make Plants Defend Themselves Could Replace Pesticides

Chemical triggers that make plants defend themselves against insects could replace pesticides, causing less damage to the environment. New research published in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters identifies five chemicals that trigger rice plants to fend off a common pest – the white-backed planthopper, Sogatella furcifera.

We used the relative induction of GUS activity as a screening tool for identifying new chemical elicitors that induce resistance in rice to the white-backed planthopper  Sogatella furcifera . (From He et al. 2015.)

We used the relative induction of GUS activity as a screening tool for identifying new chemical elicitors that induce resistance in rice to the white-backed planthopper Sogatella furcifera. (From He et al. 2015.)

Source/read more Elsevier

Citation Xingrui He, Zhaonan Yu, Shaojie Jiang, Peizhi Zhang, Zhicai Shang, Yonggen Lou, Jun Wu. Finding new elicitors that induce resistance in rice to the white-backed planthopper Sogatella furcifera. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters, 2015; 25 (23): 5601 DOI: 10.1016/j.bmcl.2015.10.041

New Butterfly Species Named after Sir David Attenborough

Add another item to the list of insects that have been named after the British naturalist and filmmaker David Attenborough. Last year a 20-million-year-old pygmy locust was named after him, as was a new species of beetle.

Now, for the first time, a butterfly has been named after him. It’s a black-eyed satyr that it is known only from lowland tropical forests of the upper Amazon basin in Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil. In fact, Euptychia attenboroughi has such a restricted distribution that all of its known sites lie within 500 kilometres from each other in the northwest of the upper Amazon basin.

Source/read more Entomology Today

Researchers wrestle with co-authorship

The prickly topic of how to assign credit to scientists flares up on social media.

Questions of paper authorship have been plaguing scientists on social media recently. Who should come first? And who deserves to be listed at all? When it comes to papers with numerous authors, the publishing process can get messy. For instance, when Dorothy Bishop, a psychologist at the University of Oxford, UK, found herself trying to review a paper blemished with mistakes, she tweeted:

Source/read more Nature

Fellowships are the future

Postdocs need a level of autonomy to get the best out of their position, say Viviane Callier and Jessica Polka.

Much scientific research could not function without postdocs. They do the research outlined in a grant — moving the work of the principal investigator (PI) forward, producing papers and helping to win grants. Yet too many postdocs end up doing work that does not benefit their scientific and intellectual development. They are shut out of developing ownership of a research programme, a step that is crucial for launching the next stage of their career.

Source/read more Nature

Conservation: It is rational to protect Antarctica

We are dismayed that the international commission that oversees the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources has voted against establishing marine protected areas (MPAs) around Antarctica for the fifth consecutive time. These MPAs are designed to protect wildlife hotspots of world significance.

Source/read more Nature

How to build a better PhD

There are too many PhD students for too few academic jobs — but with imagination, the problem could be solved.

“Since 1977, we've been recommending that graduate departments partake in birth control, but no one has been listening,” said Paula Stephan to more than 200 postdocs and PhD students at a symposium in Boston, Massachusetts, in October this year.

Source/read more Nature

Make the most of PhDs

The number of people with science doctorates is rapidly increasing, but there are not enough academic jobs for them all. Graduate programmes should be reformed to meet students’ needs.

It is hard to argue against the idea that a workforce should be highly educated. The media, politicians and universities all believe that a scientific background will not only benefit individuals, but also drive science, innovation and the economy. As a result, the number of people entering higher education in the sciences and engineering has been on the rise for decades. Between 1995 and 2012, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported an overall increase in university graduation rates of 22 percentage points. In the same time frame, the PhD production rate has doubled, even though PhDs account for only a small percentage of higher-education graduations.

Source/read more Nature

Neonicotinoid pesticides linked to butterfly declines in the UK

The use of neonicotinoid pesticides may be contributing to the decline of butterflies in the UK, a new study by the Universities of Stirling and Sussex in partnership with Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has revealed.

Thymelicus lineola  |  Korall/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

Thymelicus lineola | Korall/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Source/read more University of Stirling

Citation Andre S. Gilburn, Nils Bunnefeld, John McVean Wilson, Marc S. Botham, Tom M. Brereton, Richard Fox, Dave Goulson. Are neonicotinoid insecticides driving declines of widespread butterflies? PeerJ, 2015; 3: e1402 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1402

Entomologists talk about their favourite insects and why collections are important

Our planet is teeming with multitudes of fascinating insects and there’s simply no time to study them all! Having a favourite one (for whatever reason) often helps narrow the choice down. In the following video, which was shot at the 2015 meetings of the Entomological Collections Network (ECN) and the Entomological Society of America, Derek Woller asks a diverse group of entomologists to name their favourite insects.

Why Collect Insects?

In the following video, Derek talks to Max Barclay, curator and collections manager of Coleoptera (beetles) at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. Dr. Barclay has traveled the globe collecting insects, describing numerous new species, and educating others through the power of public speaking (including a 2013 TED talk) on the many merits of insect collections. Listen in at 3:30 as he describes a really cool find on a beetle collected by Alfred Russell Wallace, Charles Darwin’s contemporary and co-inventor of the theory of natural selection.

Source Entomology Today

Derek A. Woller is a PhD candidate in the Song Lab of Insect Systematics and Evolution at Texas A&M University. His research is focused on attempting to better comprehend the speciation process in a fascinating group of scrub-lovin’ grasshoppers confined to xeric habitats in the southeastern U.S. He has aspirations of working as a curator or collections manager in a museum someday. Until then, in his spare time (of which he typically has none), he makes videos like these and enjoys doing outreach events with the public.

Army ants act like algorithms to make deliveries more efficient

The marauding ants know just where to place living bridges to create short-cuts without sacrificing their food-gathering prowess.

To optimize its delivery drones, maybe Amazon could take inspiration from the actual Amazon.

Army ants in Central and South America aggressively seek out the shortest path over the forest floor to bring home enough food and ensure the future of their colony. This focus on efficiency led the insects to develop a clever trick: They link their bodies together to fill potholes and build living bridges.

As more ants join in, the bridges shift locations to span larger and larger gaps, shortening the path ants have to take when carrying food back to the nest. But because each brick in the bridge is also a lost forager, the ants reach a point where a slightly better short-cut just isn’t worth the cost, according to new analysis of this insect construction work.

“Overall, that cost-benefit trade-off is reached, but without any ants really knowing,” says study leader Chris Reid of the University of Sydney.

Source/read more Smithsonian Mag

Citation Chris R. Reid, Matthew J. Lutz, Scott Powell, Albert B. Kao, Iain D. Couzin, and Simon Garnier. Army ants dynamically adjust living bridges in response to a cost–benefit trade-off, PNAS, Published online before print November 23, 2015, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1512241112 

Global weather and local butterflies: variable responses to a large-scale climate pattern along an elevational gradient

Understanding the spatial and temporal scales at which environmental variation affects populations of plants and animals is an important goal for modern population biology, especially in the context of shifting climatic conditions.

The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) generates climatic extremes of interannual variation, and has been shown to have significant effects on the diversity and abundance of a variety of terrestrial taxa. However, studies that have investigated the influence of such large-scale climate phenomena have often been limited in spatial and taxonomic scope.

Researchers used 23 years (1988–2010) of a long-term butterfly monitoring data set to explore associations between variation in population abundance of 28 butterfly species and variation in ENSO-derived sea surface temperature anomalies (SSTA) across 10 sites that encompass an elevational range of 2750 m in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California.

Their analysis detected a positive, regional effect of increased SSTA on butterfly abundance (wetter and warmer years predict more butterfly observations), yet the influence of SSTA on butterfly abundances varied along the elevational gradient, and also differed greatly among the 28 species.

Migratory species had the strongest relationships with ENSO-derived SSTA, suggesting that large-scale climate indices are particularly valuable for understanding biotic-abiotic relationships of the most mobile species. In general, however, the ecological effects of large-scale climatic factors are context-dependent between sites and species.

The results illustrate the power of long-term data sets for revealing pervasive yet subtle climatic effects, but also caution against expectations derived from exemplar species or single locations in the study of biotic-abiotic interactions.

Citation Nicholas A. Pardikes, Arthur M. Shapiro, Lee A. Dyer, and Matthew L. Forister 2015. Global weather and local butterflies: variable responses to a large-scale climate pattern along an elevational gradient. Ecology 96:2891–2901. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/15-0661.1

Wild Pollinator Count

Today, I participated in Wild Pollinator Count.

It took about an hour to conduct my four observations and record/submit the results online.

I sighted a blue-banded bee (Amegilla cingulata) buzz pollinating my tomato plant; a red and blue beetle (Dicranolaius bellulus - pictured) on a daisy flower that was also visited by a hoverfly (Ischiodon sp.); and the Callistemon sp. was visited by three small ants and one larger ant - pretty sure they were Ochetellus sp. and Iridomyrmex sp., respectively - and a European honey bee (Apis mellifera); but sadly no insects visited the cluster of flowers I was watching on my wattle Acacia deanei subsp. paucijuga - but any scientist worth their salt will tell you that 'zero' is still a result! As the Wild Pollinator Count FAQs explains: "We can’t fully understand distributions and flower preferences of pollinators just from positive results. If we have records of flowers that have no insect visitors whatsoever, they can still provide important information on what pollinators don’t like."

PS And it was all done from the comfort of my own backyard!

Dicranolaius bellulus  | Rebecca Di Donato

Dicranolaius bellulus | Rebecca Di Donato


About the Project

Australia has lots of wild insect pollinators that are often overlooked. European honey bees get a lot of attention because they are an adaptable, generalist forager, which means they are happy to visit almost any flower, in most climate zones. They are also a social species, so their hives are easy to domesticate and manage.

However, many native insects also contribute to pollination in crops and gardens all around the country. We still need to do a lot of research to identify all our insect pollinator species, understand their ecology and how they are affected by human activities. So far, we know that Australia has around 2,000 native bee species, all of which are important pollinators. We also know there are a couple of thousand butterfly, wasp, fly, moth, beetle, thrips and ant species, some of which are documented pollinators. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of information on the ecology of many of these insects, what flowers they pollinate, or where they are found.

The Wild Pollinator Count gives you an opportunity to contribute to wild insect pollinator conservation in Australia. We invite you to count wild pollinators in your local environment and help us build a database on wild pollinator activity.

Would you like some mealworms with that?

I like insects.

I like eating insects.

I especially love cooking with insects - particularly mealworms (the larvae of the darkling beetle, Tenebrio molitor). In fact, around the University campus I'm kind of known for it. Some of my co-workers are fascinated, and others shudder with horror at eating insects on purpose. (I stress "on purpose" because we all consume insects or parts of insects unwittingly, and probably on a daily basis, too!)

It started a couple of years ago in 2013, when Associate Professor of Entomology, Nigel Andrew, visited my table of baked goods at Australia's Biggest Morning Tea and I laughingly assured him, "No insects were harmed in the making of these things" and he said, "Funny you should say that because..." and he told me all about entomophagy.

And so began my love of eating and cooking with insects.

That same day I made a pact with myself - at the following year's Biggest Morning Tea, everything I baked would have insects in it. So Nigel directed me to the Edible Bug Shop online, where I purchased my first order of roasted mealworms.

At Australia's Biggest Morning Tea in 2014, I served mini quiches, banana bread and vanilla cupcakes, which all included mealworms in one form or another - whole, ground up or dipped in white chocolate. They were a hit! Once the word spread, I had people seeking out my table of insecty treats. "Are you the bug lady?" they'd ask, checking out my offerings and entomophagy signage. A few people refused to try them, but most were keen and a few bets were made and challenges accepted, which raised additional funds for the Cancer Council. I even made it into the local paper (online). Success!

For the past two years, I've also cooked for students studying Insect-Plant Interactions (one of Nigel's units) to coincide with the tutorial/lecture about insects as food. Last year, I enrolled in the unit myself under Dr Kirsti Abbott (who is a huge fan of my mini quiches, by the way) while Nigel was on study leave, and this year Nigel was at the helm once more and asked if I would prepare something again, which I delivered to his lab just today.

Within a few minutes, every last morsel was gone!

Roasted mealworm mini quiches | Rebecca Di Donato

Roasted mealworm mini quiches | Rebecca Di Donato

At the moment, the consumption of insects as food has a novelty value, but soon I feel it will become much more common in the Western World - a necessity, in fact, if we want to be sustainable. Perhaps the insects won't be so obvious as those in my mini quiches (pictured above), and maybe they'll be ground up into a powder/flour and added to other foods for extra protein instead, which is already happening in body-building protein bars and shakes. But personally, I enjoy the challenge of having to identify what insect I'm eating!

Bugs collected on rooftop for 18 years reveal climate change effects

A volunteer registration of insects for 18 consecutive years on the roof of the Natural History Museum of Denmark has revealed local insect community turnover due to climate change. The research suggests a pattern of specialised species being more sensitive to climate change.

1543 different species of moths and beetles and more than 250.000 individuals have been registered on a single urban rooftop in Copenhagen over 18 years of monitoring. That corresponds to 42% of all the species of moths in Denmark and 12% of the beetles. More interestingly, the insect community has changed significantly during that period. The results are published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology led by researchers from the Center for GeoGenetics and the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen.

“As temperature increases we see a corresponding change in the insect community, specifically for the resource specialists – the insects that feed on only one species of plant. Earlier studies have confirmed that specialist species also respond rapidly to destruction of their habitats, so we are dealing with a very sensitive group of animals” says one of the lead authors postdoc Philip Francis Thomsen from the Center for GeoGenetics.

The nut weevil Curculio nucum is an example of a resource specialist, feeding only on hazel. It lives further north in Europe than its close relative the acorn weevil Curculio glandium, which feeds only on acorns. While the nut weevil was only registered in the first half of the study, the acorn weevil only appeared in the last part of the study, suggesting that specialist species are moving northwards in Europe.

Using the entire dataset, the study was able to confirm this trend and highlights the increased pressure on the most northern species, which may be ‘squeezed out’ of their range in the long term. 

“We are likely to lose some specialist species as they retreat north, but more new specialist species will arrive from the south. This trend is theoretically expected but extremely rare to confirm with observations across this many species. Insects are often over-looked and under prioritised for long term studies” says the other lead author Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, PhD from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate.

Monitoring programs are not prioritised

It was two employees from the Natural History Museum of Denmark with extensive entomological expertise, Ole Karsholt and Jan Pedersen, who collected and identified all the insects. The monitoring took place every week from 1992 to 2009 through spring, summer and autumn using a light trap at the roof of the museum at 17.5 m height. What started out as a hobby based on scientific curiosity, ended up in an extensive faunal and climate change study.

“Long-term monitoring, even without a pre-defined purpose, can be of incredible value when trying to understand and predict biodiversity in a changing world. Species monitoring is under prioritised in Denmark and primarily driven by personal interest from committed enthusiasts. Without those individuals we would basically be in the dark about the majority of species in Denmark. The same is probably true for many other European countries. We hope this study can push nature monitoring back onto the political agenda” says Philip Francis Thomsen.

Volunteers register species new to Denmark

Seven species of moths and two species of beetles were registered for the first time in Denmark by Karsholt and Pedersen, including the multi-colored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis), which has since spread to most of the country and is now considered invasive. Also species living in habitats at least 10 km away were registered as well as some migrating moths from countries south of Denmark.

“Some insects are very mobile and only eat as larvae. It is therefore not unusual to find them further from their habitats as adults. However, it is an impressive diversity of species registered. Even though the study is limited to one site, there is no reason to believe that the trend we see here would be different at other sites” says Peter Søgaard Jørgensen.

Less than half a degree Celsius has consequences

For each group of species, the scientists calculated an index for the temperature related change across their entire habitat range in Europe for the study period. The specialist moth species experienced an increase of 0.14°C between 1993 and 2008 and the specialist beetle species 0.42°C between 1995 and 2008.

“The results confirm that climate change is impacting biodiversity right now. It is not something that will happen far into the future or only if we reach a two-degree temperature increase” says Peter Søgaard Jørgensen.

Source University of Copenhagen

Citation Philip Francis Thomsen, Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, Hans Henrik Bruun, Jan Pedersen, Torben Riis-Nielsen, Krzysztof Jonko, Iwona Słowińska, Carsten Rahbek and Ole Karsholt, Resource specialists lead local insect community turnover associated with temperature – analysis of an 18-year full-seasonal record of moths and beetles, Journal of Animal Ecology, published online 2 November 2015, doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12452.

Some like it hot: Moth and butterfly species respond differently to climate change

New research led by ecologists at the University of York shows that certain species of moths and butterflies are becoming more common, and others rarer, as species differ in how they respond to climate change.

Collaborating with the Natural Environment Research Council’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the charity Butterfly Conservation, the University of Reading and Rothamsted Research, scientists analysed how the abundance and distribution of 155 species of British butterflies and moths have changed since the 1970s.

Using data collected by thousands of volunteers through ‘citizen science’ schemes, responses to recent climate change were seen to vary greatly from species to species.

Published in Science Advances, this research shows variation among species is attributed to differing sensitivity to climate change, and also because species vary in how much the climate has changed for them (their ‘exposure’).

Sensitivity is a measure of how much species’ numbers change as a result of year-to-year changes in the weather – each species is sensitive to different aspects of the climate, such as winter temperature or summer rainfall.  Variation in how much the climate they are sensitive to has changed for them - their ‘exposure’ – is also a contributing factor in their varied responses.

Results show that species such as the treble brown spot moth (Idaea trigeminata) and the speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) which are sensitive to climate, and for which the climate has improved the most, have experienced the greatest increases in their distribution size and abundance.

Conversely, other species, such as the grizzled skipper butterfly (Pyrgus malvae), the September thorn moth (Ennomos erosaria) and the mouse moth (Amphipyra tragopoginis), have experienced deteriorating climates resulting in declines in abundance and distribution size.

Georgina Palmer, lead author and Research Associate in the University of York’s Department of Biology, said: “Species are sensitive to different aspects of the climate, which results in species being exposed to different levels of climate change. Nearly two-thirds of the changes in abundance can be explained by these species-specific differences. This means that their responses to climate change may be more predictable than previously recognised.”

Dr Tom Oliver, co-author and Associate Professor in Landscape Ecology at the University of Reading, said: “Climate appears to have a key role in determining the distributions and abundances of species. Our next steps will be to determine the role of habitat availability in influencing species responses as the climate changes.”

Dr Jason Chapman, co-author at Rothamsted Research, said: “This study utilises large amounts of long-running data collected by volunteers through schemes such as the Rothamsted Insect Survey, run by Rothamsted Research, and the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, run by Butterfly Conservation. Such data is a valuable resource to scientists, allowing us to describe the changes in distribution and abundance of species and to understand why these changes are taking place.”

Richard Fox, Head of Recording at Butterfly Conservation, said: “Butterflies and moths provide important ecosystem services such as prey for insectivorous birds, as well as being an important part of our natural heritage. These species have also long been used to study the health of ecosystems, as indicators of biodiversity.

“This research allows us to identify species likely to respond favourably to climate change, as well as those which are vulnerable to climate change. The results are surprising and significant as conservationists had assumed that most butterflies and moths in cool, rainy Britain would benefit from climate change, at least in the short term. However, this research suggests many are already declining due to the changing climate.”

Professor Jane Hill, co-author and Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of York, said: “We know that the distributions and abundances of species are affected by climate, and unless we take action to minimise climate change, for example by reducing emissions, these impacts will continue. Our study allows us to target conservation efforts on those species that are most negatively affected by climate, to help them persist under future climate change.”

Professor Chris Thomas, in the University of York’s Department of Biology, added: “The great puzzle has been why some species of moth and butterflies have been increasing and spreading, whilst others have declined in the last 40 years.  Now we know that most of the differences arise because each species responds in a different way to the climate.  Some like it hot, some like it cold.  Some like it hot in winter but not in summer.  Some like it wet in spring, others dry in the autumn. 

“It turns out that these 155 different species of butterflies and moth have almost 155 different ‘opinions’ on how much the climate has changed, and whether it has got better or worse.  Climate change is causing massive alterations to our wildlife.”

Source University of York.

Study spells out why some insects kill their mothers

By eliminating the queen, a matricidal worker frees the way for workers to lay male eggs, explains University of California Riverside’s Kevin Loope.

One day a few years ago, while working on wasps in a rainforest in Costa Rica, entomologist Kevin J. Loope, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Riverside, began reading about the enigmatic matricidal behaviour of some social insects. In most social insects, such as bees, ants and wasps, the workers, which are all female, work their whole lives to help the queen produce new offspring.  Yet, in the literature Loope found anecdotal reports of workers killing their queen, presenting a fascinating evolutionary puzzle.

"The observations of queen-killing seemed paradoxical to me,” Loope said. “Why does it pay to help the queen in some situations but then also pay to kill her in others?  What explains why some queens get killed and not others, and why kill her at all? Most people think of social insects as workers toiling mindlessly for the good of the queen or the colony.  But it appears that workers are more calculating, and help or harm the queen depending on the circumstances they find themselves in.”

To explore the puzzle, Loope set up observation colonies of yellow jacket wasps in the lab, filmed them continuously using video cameras and then noted when matricide happened. He also collected wild colonies to increase the sample size, inferring matricide from mature, queenless colonies.  The behavioural observations and genetic analyses of wasp colonies he performed showed him that worker wasps kill queens when they are in colonies with lots of full siblings, but not in colonies with a mix of full and half siblings.

“Workers are assessing the situation in their colony and deciding to revolt against the queen only when the genetic makeup of the colony makes it favourable to do so,” Loope said. “The main advantage is to allow your sister workers to lay male eggs, rather than the queen, who typically stops worker reproduction by egg eating, attacking reproducing workers, and by laying many of her own eggs.  By eliminating the queen, a matricidal worker allows other workers and herself to lay male eggs.”

Workers do all the tasks of raising the brood. They forage for food, feed the offspring and the queen, build the nest and defend it.  Only occasionally do they attempt to reproduce.  Males are produced at the end of the year and mate with the new queens.  Then the males die.  Workers never mate but can lay male eggs due to a quirk in their genetic system.. This allows them to compete with the queen for the production of males.

“Hence the matricide,” Loope said. “Workers are not mindless automatons working for the queen no matter what.  They only altruistically give up reproduction when the context is right, but revolt when it benefits them to do so.”

The study is one of a few that suggest that workers can assess the relative proportions of full and half-siblings of their colony and respond adaptively when conflicts of interest arise over what the colony should do, for example, rear the sons of workers or the sons of the queen.

“In highly eusocial species altruism toward the queen is typically unconditional,” Loope said. “This study, however, provides the first thorough investigation of queen-killing behaviour, a common but difficult-to-observe event in the life of many bee and wasp colonies.  I figured out a way to observe colonies continuously using video, which allowed for the first video observations of this behaviour.”

Study results appear online in Current Biology.

Loope explained that the genetic makeup of a colony is determined by how many times a queen mates (usually once or twice), and by how evenly she uses the sperm of two males if she has mated twice. He found that colonies that experienced matricide had a greater proportion of full siblings (measured by the average relatedness between colony members) than those that did not experience matricide.

“This pattern is driven by the number of times the queen mates, as well as the evenness of sperm use for queens that have mated twice, suggesting workers can distinguish among these different kinds of queens,” Loope said.  “A queen-killing worker benefits from matricide in single-father colonies because she causes the colony to rear the sons of other workers, rather than the sons of the queen.  In such colonies, workers are more related to workers’ sons than queens’ sons.

“Kin selection theory, an extension of evolutionary theory, predicts behaviour to evolve that favours close over more distant relatives; half-siblings are more distant than full siblings, so matricide is less beneficial in colonies with many half-siblings,” Loope added.  “Thus, this study provides rare support of kin selection theory with variation in behaviour among colonies. Workers are responding to their colony makeup as predicted by kin selection theory.”

Loope is now working to understand how yellow jacket wasps’ interaction with other species may shape transitions in social organisation.

By Iqbal Pittalwala.

Source University of California Riverside

Citation Kevin J. Loope, Queen Killing Is Linked to High Worker-Worker Relatedness in a Social Wasp, Current Biology, October 2015, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.09.064