Insecty goodness from the past week

I've been pretty busy over the last week or so, and here is some insecty goodness I missed in that time that you might be interested in, too:


On Funding for Agricultural Research

One of the most important problems of our day is the interaction between human population growth and the maintenance of sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change. I am currently sitting at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) near Manila where I am told they are responding to a 15-20% reduction in funding for their work. I have found this funding situation to be so ridiculous that I have decided to write this blog. Please stop reading if you think agricultural research already has too much funding, or that climate change and sustainable agriculture are not very important issues in comparison to our need for economic growth and increased wealth.

Source Ecological Rants

Earwigs raised without parents demonstrate limited maternal care of their own offspring

For young animals depending on maternal care for survival, the loss of parents often leads to serious consequences and even death. The effect of the loss of parents among animals that could, in principle, survive without maternal care has now been researched by scientists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) using the example of the earwig – with surprising results. Contrary to expectations, earwigs raised without mothers became even larger as mature adults compared to those that were raised by their mothers. But when they produced their own offspring, they were less liable to care for them. Astonishingly, the loss of the mother had transgenerational effects which became apparent in the characteristics of the offspring of the orphaned animals. In other words, the loss of the mother in the case of earwigs was associated with a short-term advantage but with long-term cost. Observing and investigating earwigs is enabling scientists to study how social behavior and family life have evolved. This newly completed study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Forficula auricularia  |  Hectonichus/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

Forficula auricularia | Hectonichus/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Source Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Citation J. Thesing et al., Short-term benefits, but transgenerational costs of maternal loss in an insect with facultative maternal care, Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282:1817, 21 October 2015, DOI:10.1098/rspb.2015.1617.

Flowers that point to the sky may attract more moth pollinators

Plants that have flowers that point towards the sky may be better at attracting moth pollinators than plants that have 'shy' flowers that point sideways.

Researchers discovered this when they studied two species: Zaluzianskya natalensis, whose flowers point upwards, and Zaluzianskya microsiphon, whose flowers point sideways. Hawkmoths are the main pollinators of Z. natalensis flowers and showed a preference for its flowers. Long-tongued flies are the main pollinators of Z. microsiphon.

While Z. natalensis has a stronger scent to pollinators, artificially adding more scent to Z. microsiphon flowers had no effect on the numbers of hawkmoths that visited. Also, manipulating the flowers of Z. microsiphon to point upwards increased their appeal to hawkmoths, while manipulating the flowers of Z. natalensis to point sideways reduced their appeal. The white portion of the petals was more visible when flowers pointed upward.

"The results show that orientation of flowers can result in reproductive isolation between closely related species," said Dr. Diane Campbell, author of the New Phytologist study. Reproductive isolation refers to a situation where different species may live in the same area, but their properties prevent them from interbreeding.

Source Wiley

Citation Diane R. Campbell, Andreas Jürgens, Steven D. Johnson. Reproductive isolation betweenZaluzianskyaspecies: the influence of volatiles and flower orientation on hawkmoth foraging choices. New Phytologist, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/nph.13746.

2016 BugShot Insect Photography Workshop: May 12-15 in Austin, Texas!

I am extremely pleased to announce the 2016 BugShot Insect Photo Workshop! The event will be held for the first time in Austin, Texas, and will be instructed by Piotr Naskrecki, John Abbott, and myself. Our 3 1/2 day event will cover basic techniques in macrophotography in the field and in the studio, methods for working with live insects, and advanced techniques in focus-stacking and high-speed flash.

Source Myrmecos

2015 YouTube Your Entomology Contest Finalists

Starting in 2009, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) has held an annual “YouTube Your Entomology” contest. The contest gives ESA members the opportunity to showcase their talents and creativity through video.

The winner and the runner-up each receive a “Stinger” award, as well as cash prizes of $400 for the winner, and $200 for the runner-up.

This year there were 25 video submissions, and the judging committee has chosen five as finalists. The winner and runner-up will be announced Sunday, November 15 at the Plenary Session of Entomology 2015 in Minneapolis.

Source Entomology Today

Ancient Bees Were Voracious Snackers on Their Pollen-Gathering Treks

Fossils from Germany could help researchers better understand modern bee eating habits and better protect the beloved pollinators.

When scientists want to know where a honeybee has travelled, they usually just look in its pollen basket. That's the dense region of sticky hairs on their legs where bees shove pollen grains, compacting them until they have enough to take home to feed their offspring.

“Sometimes [the basket] gets into absurd proportions,” says David Grimaldi, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History. “You see them with these huge balls of pollen, and they can hardly fly.”

Source Smithsonian Mag

Citation Torsten Wappler, Conrad C. Labandeira, Michael S. Engel, Reinhard Zetter, Friðgeir Grímsson. Specialized and Generalized Pollen-Collection Strategies in an Ancient Bee Lineage, Current Biology, Available online 12 November 2015, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.09.021.

Open-Access Article Takes a Closer Look at Crop-Damaging Greenbugs

Aptly named for their bright lime color, greenbugs (Schizaphis graminum) have been a major vexation for growers of wheat and sorghum for more than half a century, especially in the Great Plains. As decades of research into the little aphids have accumulated, the time has come for an overview of the little aphid and a summary of control methods, according to Dr. Tom Royer, professor and IPM coordinator at Oklahoma State University. He is the lead author of a new paper on these insects in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management.

Source Entomology Today

Citation Tom A. Royer, Bonnie B. Pendleton, Norman C. Elliott, Kristopher L. Giles. Greenbug (Hemiptera: Aphididae) Biology, Ecology, and Management in Wheat and Sorghum. Journal of Integrated Pest Management Jan 2015, 6 (1) DOI: 10.1093/jipm/pmv018.

Power up: cockroaches employ a “force boost” to chew through tough materials

New research indicates that cockroaches use a combination of fast and slow twitch muscle fibres to give their mandibles a “force boost” that allows them to chew through tough materials.

The study, published today in PLOS ONE, shows that cockroaches activate slow twitch muscle fibres only when chewing on tough material such as wood that requires repetitive, hard biting to generate a bite force 50 times stronger than their own body weight.

Source University of Cambridge

Citation Tom Weihmann, et al. Fast and powerful: Biomechanics and bite forces of the mandibles in the American cockroach Periplaneta Americana, PLOS ONE, 11th November 2015.

Immaculate white: New moth species preferring dry habitats is a rare case for Florida

Spreading its wings over the sandhills and scrub of peninsular Florida, a moth species with immaculately white wings has remained unnoticed by science until Mr. Terhune Dickel brought it to the attention of Dr. James Hayden of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. As a result of their research, published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, the authors have also included a key to facilitate the recognition of different pale-winged moths and their close relatives.

Source Pensoft Publishers

Citation James Hayden, Terhune S. Dickel. A new Antaeotricha species from Florida sandhills and scrub (Lepidoptera, Depressariidae, Stenomatinae). ZooKeys, 2015; 533: 133 DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.533.6004

Atypical mating in a scorpionfly without a notal organ

Firm coupling of genitalia is critical for copulation in most groups of insects. To counter female resistance that usually breaks off genital connection, male scorpionflies (Mecoptera: Panorpidae) usually provide nuptial gifts for the female and seize their mates with grasping devices. The notal organ, a modified clamp on tergum III of male scorpionflies, plays a significant role in seizing the female wings and helping maintain mating position during copulation. The mating behaviour remains unknown for the scorpionfly Furcatopanorpa longihypovalva (Hua and Cai, 2009) whose male lacks a notal organ. In this paper, we first attempt to study the mating behaviour of F. longihypovalva. The results show that the male provides liquid salivary secretion through a mouth-to-mouth mode for the female, and maintains copulation mainly by continuous provision of salivary secretion rather than by seizing the female with grasping devices. Thus the male copulates with the female in an atypical O-shaped position, with only their mouthparts and genitalia connected to each other. The salivary glands exhibit remarkable sexual dimorphism: short and bifurcated in the female, but well-developed and multi-furcated in the male. The extremely developed salivary glands of the male lay a structural foundation for the male to continuously provide liquid salivary secretion, and to help the male to mediate female resistance, being likely to serve as a compensation to his absence of the notal organ. We also investigated the functional morphology and copulatory mechanism of the male and female genitalia. The evolution of the atypical mating pattern of F. longihypovalva is putatively discussed as an adaptation in the context of sexual conflict.

Source Contributions to Zoology

Biologists find keys to driving a cockroach

When I was younger and prior to developing my interest in entomology, cockroaches used to petrify me. When I lived in Sydney, I'd lay awake in bed at night, cockroach spray at the ready on my beside table, waiting for the scuttling giants to emerge from dark crevices. I'm fairly certain the species that tormented me was the large American cockroach (Periplaneta americana). These days I'm no longer scared of this group of insects and have kept Australian native giant burrowing cockroaches (Macropanesthia rhinoceros) as "pets" for the last few years, although my numbers are down from three to now only one lonely specimen.

I think knowledge, experience and understanding are key to overcoming our fear of "creepy crawlies", so I'd like to share these recent findings with you. Researchers have identified neurons in a cockroach's brain that control whether the insect walks slow or fast, turns right or left or downshifts to climb. Electrical stimulation selectively applied to these central-complex cells alters reflexes and consistently causes the insects to replicate movements.


Central-Complex Control of Movement in the Freely Walking Cockroach


To navigate in the world, an animal’s brain must produce commands to move, change direction, and negotiate obstacles. In the insect brain, the central complex integrates multiple forms of sensory information and guides locomotion during behaviours such as foraging, climbing over barriers, and navigating to memorized locations. These roles suggest that the central complex influences motor commands, directing the appropriate movement within the current context. Such commands are ultimately carried out by the limbs and must therefore interact with pattern generators and reflex circuits that coordinate them. Recent studies have described how neurons of the central complex encode sensory information: neurons subdivide the space around the animal, encoding the direction or orientation of stimuli used in navigation. Does a similar central-complex code directing movement exist, and if so, how does it affect changes in the control of limbs? Recording from central-complex neurons in freely walking cockroaches (Blaberus discoidalis), we identified classes of movement-predictive cells selective for slow or fast forward walking, left or right turns, or combinations of forward and turning speeds. Stimulation through recording wires produced consistent trajectories of forward walking or turning in these animals, and those that elicited turns also altered an inter-joint reflex to a pattern resembling spontaneous turning. When an animal transitioned to climbing over an obstacle, the encoding of movement in this new context changed for a subset of cells. These results indicate that encoding of movement in the central complex participates in motor control by a distributed, flexible code targeting limb reflex circuits.

Blaberus   discoidalis  |  Acrocynus/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

Blaberus discoidalis | Acrocynus/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Source Science Daily

Citation Joshua P. Martin, Peiyuan Guo, Laiyong Mu, Cynthia M. Harley, Roy E. Ritzmann, Central-Complex Control of Movement in the Freely Walking Cockroach, Current Biology, Available online 22 October 2015, ISSN 0960-9822,