Why are moths drawn to lamps?

According to the explanation of the phrase "like a moth to the flame" at The Phrase Finder, "the word moth was used the the 17th century to mean someone who was apt to be tempted by something that would lead to their downfall." But why do moths have this fatal attraction anyway? National Geographic explains in the above video:

The theory is that these primarily nocturnal insects have evolved to travel by the light of the moon and stars. This way of travel is called transverse orientation. An easy way to think about transverse orientation is to imagine a sailor travelling in the direction of the North Star. In theory, moths similarly follow the light source at a precise position and a precise angle to their bodies. This is how moths would navigate for millions of years … by the light of the moon. What moth evolution couldn’t account for was the proliferation of constant electric light in our modern world. When Thomas Edison patented the lightbulb on January 27, 1880 it was a bad day in moth history. These lightbulbs began to act as artificial moons, confusing moths and overwhelming their senses. Since moths are accustomed to orienting to distant light sources, they can be easily disoriented when a closer light source, like a porch lamp, comes into view.

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Bioartist is breeding flies adapted for life on Titan

Since 2011, Andy Gracie has been selectively breeding flies to thrive under the harsh environmental conditions on Titan, Saturn's largest moon: dark, cold (-179.2C), and with very low atmospheric pressure. Read the rest

Philadelphia science museum employees accused of stealing $50,000 worth of bugs

The Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion is missing $50,000 worth of bugs; the loss wasn't immediately discovered because bugs are small and the Insectarium often moves its specimens around for exhibitions, lendouts, etc. -- but when 80-90% of your collection goes missing, you notice. Read the rest

What robots can learn from fire ants

When fire ants dig out a new nest underground, a small number are actually doing most of the work while the rest dilly-dally. Apparently this is actually an effective division of labor because it prevents the insects from getting in each other's way. Now, Georgia Tech researchers suggest this approach could be help future robot swarms be more efficient in cramped areas like collapsed buildings or construction sites. From Science News:

(Physicist Daniel) Goldman’s team created computer simulations of two ant colonies digging tunnels. In one, the virtual ants mimicked the real insects’ unequal work split; in the other, all the ants pitched in equally. The colony with fewer heavy lifters was better at keeping tunnel traffic moving; in three hours, that colony dug a tunnel that was about three times longer than the group of ants that all did their fair share.

Goldman’s team then tested the fire ants’ teamwork strategy on autonomous robots. These robots trundled back and forth along a narrow track, scooping up plastic balls at one end and dumping them at the other. Programming the robots to do equal work is “not so bad when you have two or three,” Goldman says, “but when you get four in that little narrow tunnel, forget about it.” The four-bot fleet tended to get stuck in pileups. Programming the robots to share the workload unequally helped avoid these smashups and move material 35 percent faster, the researchers found.

"Collective clog control: Optimizing traffic flow in confined biological and robophysical excavation" (Science)

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Ladybugs will follow a random line as you draw it

YouTuber baileywhj and her friend figured out that a ladybug she calls Jerry would follow a line around a piece of paper it's being drawn, no matter how squiggly or irregular. Read the rest

Trippy and relaxing animated insects move to a hypnotic beat

Felix Colgrave animated this wonderful video for Nitai Hershkovits' Flyin' Bamboo. Read the rest

Why these libraries welcome the bat colonies that live among the books

In Portugal, there are two 18th century libraries where colonies of bats are invited to roam free. Why? They eat the insects that would otherwise munch on the pages of the books shelved there. From Smithsonian:

In Coimbra, a colony of Common pipistrelle bats makes their home behind the bookshelves of the university’s Joanina Library, emerging at nightfall to consume flies and gnats and other pests before swooping out the library windows and across the hilltop college town in search of water....

Whether the flittermice took up residence here 300 years ago, when the library was built, or more recently is unknown. Librarians do know they’ve been here since at least the 19th century; they still use fabric made from animal skin, imported from Imperial Russia, to cover the original 18th-century tables, protecting them from scat left by the library’s flying residents. And every morning, just as their forebears did, the librarians remove the skins and clean the library floors.

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Watch 3,000 insect specimen photos turned into a stunning animation

In 2004, Paul Bush released When Darwin Sleeps, 3,000 digital stills of insects in the Walter Linsenmaier in the Lucerne Nature Museum. They flash by so quickly they feel animated, or as if evolution itself is happening on screen. Now he's released a better quality copy than has been previously available online. Read the rest

Earwigs' incredible "origami" wings inspire robotic gripper design

Earwigs can fly but they mostly live underground, intricately folding their wings into a surface area that's 10 times smaller than when they're opened up. According to new research, the folds "cannot be sufficiently described by current origami models." The earwigs manage the marvelous by incorporating a bit of stretch into the joints where the creases occur, leading to a new design for a robotic gripper. From Science News:

(The earwig's wings are) an example of a bistable structure — something like the slap bracelets, popular in the 1980s and 1990s, which switch from a flat conformation to a curved one when whacked against a wrist, says study coauthor André Studart, a materials scientist at ETH Zürich. When locked open, earwig wings store energy in the springy resilin joints. When that strain is released, the wings rapidly crumple back to their folded position.

Such constructions can inform robotics design. Inspired by the wings, the researchers created a prototype gripper. Its rigid pieces are held together by rubbery, strategically placed joints. Within fractions of a second, the structure can snap from its mostly flat conformation to one that can grip a small object and hold it without constant external force.

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This orchid has at least 7 camouflaged predators on it

Imagine being a bug or small bird who spots a beautiful orchid, only to learn upon closer inspection that it's covered in bugs who want to eat you. Read the rest

Some fireflies have a dark side

From Deep Look:

Females of one firefly group, the genus Photuris, have learned to copy other fireflies’ flashes to attract the males of those species. When one arrives, she pounces, first sucking his blood, then devouring his insides...

Firefly light is biochemical. But fireflies like the Big Dippers do much more with chemistry than just make light. They can mix together an array of other compounds, including invisible pheromones for mating, and others called lucibufagins (“loosa-BOOF-ajins”) that ward off predators like spiders and birds.

At some point, the Photuris “femme fatale” fireflies lost the ability to make their own lucibufagins. So instead of chemistry, these bigger, stronger fireflies became adept at imitation, and evolved to turn into insect vampires to take these valuable compounds from other fireflies to boost their own defenses.

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Mantis squad activate! Watch praying mantises get aggressive in unison

InsecthausTV is a channel dedicated to all sorts of wonderful insects, and this collection of mantises all frozen in attack mode is no exception. Read the rest

Beautiful insect sculptures made of flowers and plants

Montreal-based clothing designer and artist Raku Inoue has been populating his Instagram with plants and flowers crafted into colorful insects. Read the rest

These remarkably intricate insect models are crafted from bamboo

Noriyuki Saitoh creates these delightful life-sized insects from carved bamboo. Read the rest

Watch a praying mantis watching videos

Turns out it's not just cats who like to watch videos on smartphones. InsecthausTV played one for a praying mantis, who responded in quite a catlike manner. Read the rest

The psilocybin in magic mushrooms is an insect repellant

The psilocybin in magic mushrooms is a potent psychedelic for animals. But what good is the psilocybin for the shrooms? New genetic research from Ohio State University suggests that the psilocybin might act as an insect repellant, protecting the mushrooms. From New Scientist:

The gene cluster (linked to psilocybin production) is found in several distantly related groups, suggesting that the fungi swapped genes in a process called horizontal gene transfer. This is uncommon in mushrooms: it is the first time genes for a compound that is not necessary for the fungi’s survival – called a secondary metabolite – have been found moving between mushroom lineages.

Since these genes have survived in multiple species, Slot thinks psilocybin must be useful to the fungi. “Strong selection could be the reason this gene cluster was able to overcome the barriers to horizontal gene transfer,” (researcher Jason Slot) says.

Hallucinogenic mushrooms often inhabit areas rich in fungi-eating insects, so Slot suggests psilocybin might protect the fungi, or repel insects from a shared food source, by somehow influencing their behaviour.

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Watch the President of Costa Rica swallow a wasp

At a recent press conference, a wasp flew into the mouth of Costa Rica's President Luis Guillermo Solís.

"I ate it," he said in Spanish with a smile. "I ate the wasp."

As Weird Universe points out, it's similar to this memorable and unscripted moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark:

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