As we face an invasion of murder hornets, we can look to our alien protectors, the praying mantis, to save us.
Dr. Adrian Smith of the Ant Lab YouTube channel recently found some little bugs on the lid of his trash can. They are called globular springtails, and as their name suggests, they use a spring-loaded tail to jump away from danger. Dr. Smith took some of the mysterious creatures into his lab to film their jumps in slow motion.
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In this 1910 film, a housefly perched (glued?) on a matchstick, demonstrates fantastic feats of insect strength and agility. From the British Film Institute:
This truly delightful (or singularly repellent) film is the work of Percy Smith, pioneer of a particularly engaging early form of natural filmmaking. 'The Acrobatic Fly' is one of a series of Smith films on similar subjects around this time, and near identical to, though briefer than, a sequence in his 1911 release 'The Strength and Agility of Insects', which also features similarly impressive accomplishments by a scorpion, a flea, a grasshopper and a praying mantis. Viewers might worry about the techniques used to secure such performances, but Smith always insisted that his stars were none the worse for their moment in the spotlight.
Learn more about Percy Smith at the British Film Institute's Screenonline site.
Fat from black soldier fly larvae is a "sustainable and healthy alternative to butter," according to scientists at Ghent University in Belgium. According their research though, you can't go with more than half bug butter before it starts to taste suspect or downright foul. From Ghent University:
“The ecological footprint of an insect is much smaller compared to animal-based food sources” said researcher Daylan Tzompa-Sosa (Ghent University). “Besides, we can grow insects in large quantities in Europe, which also reduces the footprint of transport. After all, palm fat is often imported from outside of Europe..."
“Insect fat is a different type of fat than butter” researcher Tzompa-Sosa explains. “Insect fat contains lauric acid, which provides positive nutritional attributes since it is more digestible than butter. Moreover, lauric acid has an antibacterial, antimicrobial and antimycotic effect. This means that it is able, for example, to eliminate harmless various viruses, bacteria or even fungi in the body, allowing it to have a positive effect on health.”
"Consumers’ perception of bakery products with insect fat as partial butter replacement" (Food Quality and Preference)
"Scientists make cake with butter from bugs instead of cows" (Thomson Reuters/CBC)
“Complaints of bees flying out of an apartment’s duct work led to a frightening discovery Monday in Virginia: An 8-foot-long hive was in the living room ceiling, including 100 pounds of raw honey.”
A pest control company in Richmond, Virginia claims to haves removed an 8-foot-long beehive from someone’s apartment. Read the rest
YouTube user Chave created a supercut of all the locust swarm videos being posted to social media by people in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. My favorites are "falling from the sky like hail" and "so thickly gathered on a tree they become writhing hallucinatory bark".
The Dragonfly-like Meganeuropsis was a giant insect that plied the skies from the Late Carboniferous to the Late Permian, some 317 to 247 million years ago. It had a wingspan of some 28" with a body length of around 17."
Meganisoptera is an extinct family of insects, all large and predatory and superficially like today’s odonatans, the dragonflies and damselflies. And the very largest of these was Meganeuropsis. It is known from two species, with the type species being the immense M.permiana. Meganeuropsis permiana, as its name suggests is from the Early Permian.
Fossils of the insect were first discovered in France in the late 1800s. This fine fellow, from Bolsover in Derbyshire, was unearthed in 1979.
Entomophthora muscae, the "fly destroyer," is a fungus that infects the insect and zombifies. Then, at dusk, "the fly points its wings straight up and dies in a gruesome pose so that a fungus can ooze out and fire hundreds of reproductive spores."
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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.
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.
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.
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"
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.
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