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 -

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 -

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

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.

A suitable ode to Warren Knaus from Beetles in the Bush

By Ted C. MacRae

Last June Jeff Huether and I made a trip out to a system of sand the dunes just south of Medora, Kansas. These dunes have been a popular historical collecting site since the late 1800s, when Warren Knaus first called attention to the area as “an interesting and profitable” locality for collecting insects (Knaus 1897). Knaus was a newspaper publisher in McPherson County, Kansas from 1886–1938, but his true passion was collecting beetles—an activity that took him throughout the Great Plains and Desert Southwest for nearly 50 years and earned him stature as one of Kansas’ most highly regarded coleopterists (Dean 1938). Despite his travels, Knaus remained enamored with the sand hills near his home and eventually published an annotated account of the rarer and more interesting beetles that he had encountered there over the years (Knaus 1926). One of the beetles mentioned in that paper was a “new species of Strigodermella…taken by sweeping in 1923 and 1925″. Those specimens soon became the type series for Strigodermella knausi (now Strigoderma knausi), named such by its describer (Brown 1925) in honour of its collector.

Sand Hills State Park, in south central Kansas | a.k.a. “Medora” Dunes.

Sand Hills State Park, in south central Kansas | a.k.a. “Medora” Dunes.

I suppose it is only fitting, then, that one of the first beetles that we encountered that day was this species. Actually, we couldn’t have missed them if we tried, they were so numerous! At first I assumed they were Strigoderma pygmaea, a species I had seen only once many years ago in Florida. Fortunately, we were in the company of Mary Liz Jameson, Associate Professor of Entomology at Wichita State University and an expert on scarab beetles. Mary Liz informed us of the beetle’s true identity, noting its rarity and relatively restricted distribution and that this was the type locality for the species.

Strigoderma   knausi  males were abundant on low vegetation | Sand Hills State Park, Kansas.

Strigoderma knausi males were abundant on low vegetation | Sand Hills State Park, Kansas.

At first the beetles were merely bycatch in our sweep nets as we looked for more ‘interesting’ beetles (i.e., jewel beetles for me, blister beetles for Jeff, and longhorned beetles for both of us). I tend to have trouble remaining so singularly focused, however, especially when the jewel and longhorned beetles aren’t out in numbers, and before long I found myself observing, and eventually photographing, these diminutive little scarabs. They were especially abundant at the south edge of the dunes, where they were hanging out on grasses and other low vegetation. A closer look revealed that almost every individual was perched in a rather characteristic pose, clinging to the vegetation with the middle and hind legs but extending them so that the beetle was nearly horizontal with the front legs held free and the segments of the antennal club spread widely apart. One can only presume that these were all males and that they were adopting this pose in an attempt to “smell” sex pheromones emitted by the unseen females. Mary Liz mentioned that the females are very rarely seen, and indeed among the nearly 100 specimens examined by Bader (1992) in his revision of the genus was but a single female.

Almost every individual clung to the vegetation with the front legs free and antennae spread open.

Almost every individual clung to the vegetation with the front legs free and antennae spread open.

Bader (1992) notes that S. knausi has been taken by sweeping grasses and cotton and taken by light traps in Kansas and Oklahoma with a few records from northern Texas. I mentioned earlier the resemblance of this species to S. pygmaea (Fabricius, 1798), which, like S. knausi, also seems to prefer sandy habitats and can be taken at lights or by sweeping low vegetation (Bader 1992). That species, however, occurs more broadly across the southeastern U.S., being especially common in Florida and along the Atlantic coast as far north as Long Island, New York. The two species can be distinguished by, among other characters, the presence (S. knausi) or absence (S. pygmaea) of a median sulcus (furrow) on the front part of the pronotum (easily seen in the second photo above).



Bader, A. M. 1992. A review of the North and Central American Strigoderma (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae). Transactions of the American Entomological Society 118(3):269–330 [JSTOR].

Brown, W. J. 1925. A new species of Strigodermella. Bulletin of the Brooklyn Entomological Society 20:200–201.

Dean, G. A. 1938. Warren Knaus. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 11(1):1–3 [JSTOR].

Knaus, W. 1897. Collecting notes on Kansas Coleoptera. Transactions of the Annual Meetings of the Kansas Academy of Science 16:197–199 [JSTOR].

Knaus, W. 1926. The Coleoptera of the Sandhill Region of Medora, Reno County, Kansas. Entomological News 37(8):262–266 [Biostor].


Citation MacRae, T. C. 2011. A suitable ode to Warren Knaus. Available from Beetles in the Bush (accessed 30 October 2015).


Mandible evolution in dung beetles and adaptations to eating poo

It's no secret... I love dung beetles! So here's some hot-off-the-press research on how their jaws have evolved to feed on poo.


Mandible evolution in the Scarabaeinae (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) and adaptations to coprophagous habits

The astonishing spectrum of scarabaeine lifestyles makes them an attractive group for studies in entomology and evolutionary biology. As a result of adaptations to specific food substrates and textures, the mouth parts of dung beetles, particularly the mandible, have undergone considerable evolutionary changes and differ distinctly from the presumptive ancestral conditions of the Coleoptera and Polyphaga. The possible functions of dung beetle mouth parts and the evolution of dung feeding have been controversial for decades.

In a recent study by Bai et al. (2015), 187 scarabs representing all tribes of the Scarabaeinae and the major lineages within the Scarabaeoidea, along with three major feeding types within the Scarabaeoidea (omnivory, phytophagy and coprophagy), were studied. Based on geometric morphometric and three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction approaches, morphological differences in mandibles among the three feeding types were identified. The ancestral forms of the mandible within the Scarabaeinae were reconstructed and compared with those of modern species. The most recent common ancestor of the Scarabaeinae fed on soft materials, and the ancestor of the Scarabaeinae and the Aphodiinae was in an evolutionary transition between processing more solid and softer substrates.

Coprophagy originated from omnivorous ancestors that were very likely saprophagous. Furthermore, phytophagy may also have originated from omnivory. In addition, the study addresses the integration and modularity of geometric morphometric data in a phylogenetic context.

Morphological comparison of the mandible from three feeding types (omnivory, phytophagy and coprophagy) based on 3D models. Scarabaeinae:  Kheper   devotus  ( a–h ); Dynastinae:  Allomyrina   dichotoma  ( i–p ); Trogidae:  Trox  sp. ( q–x ). Lateral view ( a, b, i, j, q, r ); dorsal view ( c, k, s ); ventral view ( d, l, t ); cross-sections in different positions ( e–h, m–p, u–x ; percentages indicate the cross-sectional area of each position divided by the top 4/6 position) (From Bai et al. 2015).

Morphological comparison of the mandible from three feeding types (omnivory, phytophagy and coprophagy) based on 3D models. Scarabaeinae: Kheper devotus (a–h); Dynastinae: Allomyrina dichotoma (i–p); Trogidae: Trox sp. (q–x). Lateral view (a, b, i, j, q, r); dorsal view (c, k, s); ventral view (d, l, t); cross-sections in different positions (e–h, m–p, u–x; percentages indicate the cross-sectional area of each position divided by the top 4/6 position) (From Bai et al. 2015).

Citation Ming Bai, Sha Li, Yuanyuan Lu, Haidong Yang, Yijie Tong and Xingke Yang, Mandible evolution in the Scarabaeinae (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) and adaptations to coprophagous habits, Frontiers in Zoology, Published online 28 October 2015, doi:10.1186/s12983-015-0123-z.

Open access - This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, and provide a link to the Creative Commons license.

I'm sexy and I glow it: female ornamentation in a nocturnal capital breeder

Brighter female glow-worms lay more eggs than their dim rivals and are more attractive to potential nocturnal mates.

Juhani Hopkins at the University of Oulu in Finland and his colleagues allowed 26 female glow-worms (Lampyris noctiluca) to mate in the lab. The glowing lanterns of the insects varied in size from 7 square millimetres to 19 square millimetres - larger lanterns produce a brighter glow. Each glow-worm laid between 25 and 195 eggs, with those perceived by the researchers to be brightest laying the most. Male glow-worms presented with fake females also preferred those with brighter lights.

The lanterns of female glow-worms may provide clues about fitness to males, who are unable to assess size - also an indicator of fecundity - in the dark.

Lampyris noctiluca  |  David Evans/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY 2.0 ]

Source Nature

Citation Juhani Hopkins, Gautier Baudry, Ulrika Candolin, Arja Kaitala, I'm sexy and I glow it: female ornamentation in a nocturnal capital breeder, Biology Letters, Published online 28 October 2015, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2015.0599.

Chauliognathus lugubris: How I managed to use the term 'indulge in group sex' in a work-wide email

Here's my email to all staff in our Directorate (my partner says it's legendary):

Good afternoon all

A few of you have asked me about the dark green and orange beetles that are amassing around our building. They are commonly known as plague soldier beetles, Chauliognathus lugubris, otherwise known colloquially as “sex beetles”.

Chauliognathus   lugubris  |  John Tann/Wikimedia Commons  [ CC BY 2.0 ]

Chauliognathus lugubris | John Tann/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

They are a native species and will not harm you or any plants they might be clinging to – aside from snapping a weak twig or two under their sheer weight. The adult form (which is what we are currently seeing) feed on flower nectar, while their larvae live underground and feed on small invertebrates.

The adults can, however, exude a white viscous fluid from their glands to repel predators. They can also secrete this same chemical in a wax form to protect their eggs against infection. This chemical has been found to have both anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties, and the CSIRO have been able to synthesise this in their labs, which might one day lead to the development of new antibiotics and cancer treatments.

The name “sex beetle” comes from the fact that they are, indeed, most likely copulating in your presence. That’s right – if you go and have a look at a cluster of these little critters, approximately 92% of the individuals are mating at any one time. They emerge in “plague” proportions for this very reason – to have lots of sex, lay their eggs and then die (or disperse). So, there’s no need to spray them or be afraid of them.

Please just let them live their brief lives, indulge in group sex, lay their eggs, and shuffle of this mortal coil in peace.