The US House passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that orders the Inspector General of the Department of Defense to "conduct a review of whether the Department of Defense experimented with ticks and other insects regarding use as a biological weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975." The amendment was spearheaded by New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith. From CBS News:
The theory, which sounds like something straight out of a science fiction novel, contends that bioweapon specialists packed ticks with pathogens that could cause severe disabilities, disease and death among potential enemies to the homeland. Smith said he was inspired to add the amendment to the annual defense bill by "a number of books and articles suggesting that significant research had been done at U.S. government facilities including Fort Detrick, Maryland and Plum Island, New York to turn ticks and other insects into bioweapons."
Those books, however, have been questioned by some experts who dismiss long-held conspiracy theories that the federal government aided the spread of tick-borne diseases, and federal agencies, including the CDC, may have participated in a cover-up of sorts to conceal findings about the spread of Lyme disease.
Here's the amendment.
image: "Chelicera of the sheep tick" by Richard Bartz (CC)
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A new study reveals that the Skrillex track "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" reduces mosquitos' success in foraging, host attack, and sexual activities of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever, Mayaro, and other nasty diseases. According to the researchers from the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and their colleagues, it's all about that bass. From their scientific paper published in the journal Acta Tropica:
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Sound and its reception are crucial for reproduction, survival, and population maintenance of many animals. In insects, low-frequency vibrations facilitate sexual interactions, whereas noise disrupts the perception of signals from conspecifics and hosts. Despite evidence that mosquitoes respond to sound frequencies beyond fundamental ranges, including songs, and that males and females need to struggle to harmonize their flight tones, the behavioral impacts of music as control targets remain unexplored. In this study, we examined the effects of electronic music (Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex) on foraging, host attack, and sexual activities of the dengue vector Aedes aegypti. Adults were presented with two sound environments (music-off or music-on). Discrepancies in visitation, blood feeding, and copulation patterns were compared between environments with and without music. Ae. aegypti females maintained in the music-off environment initiated host visits earlier than those in the music-on environment. They visited the host significantly less often in the music-on than the music-off condition. Females exposed to music attacked hosts much later than their non-exposed peers. The occurrence of blood feeding activity was lower when music was being played. Adults exposed to music copulated far less often than their counterparts kept in an environment where there was no music.
If you have young children, it's highly likely that at some point you will be sharing your home with lice. Best to know your enemy. From KQED:
Head lice can move only by crawling on hair. They glue their eggs to individual strands, nice and close to the scalp, where the heat helps them hatch. They feed on blood several times a day. And even though head lice can spread by laying their eggs in sports helmets and baseball caps, the main way they get around is by simply crawling from one head to another using scythe-shaped claws.
These claws, which are big relative to a louse’s body, work in unison with a small and spiky thumblike part called a spine. With the claw and spine at the end of each of its six legs, a louse grasps a hair strand to hold on tightly, or quickly crawl from hair to hair like a speedy acrobat.
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The California turret spider build tiny towers on the forest floor that extend underground into a burrow. At night, they climb up into the tower and await their dinner -- beetles, moths, and other insects. Video above. From KQED's Deep Look:
While remaining hidden inside their turret, they’re able to sense the vibrations created by their prey’s footsteps.
That’s when the turret spider strikes, busting out of the hollow tower like an eight legged jack-in-the-box. With lightning speed the spider swings its fangs down like daggers, injecting venom into its prey before dragging it down into the burrow.
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D. Allan Drummond is a a professor of biochemistry, microbiology, and human genetics who has a penchant for trilobites, the marine arthropods that first appeared more than 500 million years ago and went extinct 245 million years ago for unknown reasons. Drummond creates 3D renderings of his trilobite fossils and then has them cast in bronze. Now, Drummond has added insects to his practice, modeling jumping spiders, praying mantises, and stag beetles.
Seattle's reborn Roq La Rue Gallery is presenting Drummond's first show of his work until January 6: D. Allan Drummond: "Curiosity"
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While researchers continue attempts to build practical insect-size flying robots, engineers at the University of Washington have prototyped a backpack for real bees that outfits the insects with sensing, computing, and wireless networking capabilities. From UW News:
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“We decided to use bumblebees because they’re large enough to carry a tiny battery that can power our system, and they return to a hive every night where we could wirelessly recharge the batteries,” said co-author Vikram Iyer, a doctoral student in the UW Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering...
Because bees don’t advertise where they are flying and because GPS receivers are too power-hungry to ride on a tiny insect, the team came up with a method that uses no power to localize the bees. The researchers set up multiple antennas that broadcasted signals from a base station across a specific area. A receiver in a bee’s backpack uses the strength of the signal and the angle difference between the bee and the base station to triangulate the insect’s position...
Next the team added a series of small sensors — monitoring temperature, humidity and light intensity — to the backpack. That way, the bees could collect data and log that information along with their location, and eventually compile information about a whole farm...
“Having insects carry these sensor systems could be beneficial for farms because bees can sense things that electronic objects, like drones, cannot,” Gollakota said. “With a drone, you’re just flying around randomly, while a bee is going to be drawn to specific things, like the plants it prefers to pollinate.
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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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.
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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.
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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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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
Felix Colgrave animated this wonderful video for Nitai Hershkovits' Flyin' Bamboo. Read the rest
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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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 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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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