Sioux Falls Zoologists

"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent!"

The mirror test is an experiment developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. to determine whether an animal possesses the ability to recognize itself in a mirror. It is the primary indicator of self-awareness in non-human animals and marks entrance to the mirror stage by human children in developmental psychology. Animals that pass mirror test are: Humans older than 18 mo, Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Orangutans, Gorillas, Bottlenose Dolphins, Orcas (Killer Whales), Elephants, and European Magpies. Others showing signs of self-awareness are Pigs, some Gibbons, Rhesus Macaques, Capuchin Monkeys, some Corvids (Crows & Ravens) and Pigeons w/training. (Sorry Kitty!)

The World of Insects Movies
Endorsed by Sioux Falls Zoologists

Sioux Falls Zoologists recommends the following documentaries that describe the world of insects and their behavior.

Insects have been around for 400 million years. They also were once quite large. Dragonflies once had a wingspan of over 2 feet. Their individual intelligence isn't much to speak of, but they do exhibit swarm intelligence (see Gathering Swarms ) which has obviously been incorporated in their genetics.

Bees seem to be on the high end of insect intelligence. They communicate locations using fairly complicated "waggle" dances and seem to "vote" on where to locate new hives. It's amazing what 40 million years of evolution (or more) can incorporate in a species' genetics.

The movies are all available from Amazon.com but you are free to obtain them from many other sources. Amazon offers them on their website along with many alternate sources, often less expensive. Many are probably also available on NetFlix.com and elsewhere for online viewing. You are free to choose whatever source you please. The movie links provided on the following pages point to the movie location at Amazon.

Documentaries on Insect behavior, including Butterfly and Bee behavior, are described on the following 7 pages:

8-3-20 Some spiders may spin poisonous webs laced with neurotoxins
Droplets on the silk strands contain proteins that subdue prey, a study suggests. Orb weaver spiders are known for their big, beautiful webs. Now, researchers suggest that these webs do more than just glue a spider’s meal in place — they may also swiftly paralyze their catch. Biochemical ecologist Mario Palma has long suspected that the webs of orb weavers — common garden spiders that build wheel-shaped webs — contain neurotoxins. “My colleagues told me, ‘You are nuts,’” says Palma, of São Paulo State University’s Institute of Biosciences in Rio Claro, Brazil. No one had found such toxins, and webs’ stickiness seemed more than sufficient for the purpose of ensnaring prey. The idea first came to him about 25 years ago, when Palma lived near a rice plantation where orb weavers were common. He says he often saw fresh prey, like bees or flies, in the spiders’ webs, and over time, noticed the hapless animals weren’t just glued — they convulsed and stuck out their tongues, as if they’d been poisoned. If he pulled the insects free, they struggled to walk or hold up their bodies, even if the web’s owner hadn’t injected venom. Palma had worked with neurotoxins for many years, and these odd behaviors immediately struck him as the effects of such toxins. Now, thanks in large part to the work of his Ph.D. student Franciele Esteves, Palma thinks he has found those prey-paralyzing toxins. The pair and their colleagues analyzed the active genes and proteins in the silk glands of banana spiders (Trichonephila clavipes) — a kind of orb weaver — and found proteins resembling known neurotoxins. The neurotoxins may make the webs paralytic traps, the team reports online June 15 in the Journal of Proteome Research. The prey-catching webs of other species probably have similar neurotoxins, Palma says.

7-26-20 Why are scientists creating genetically modified mosquitoes?
Creating these "Trojan horse" bugs could save human lives. But is it moral? Scientists plan to release altered mosquitoes designed to sabotage the species' ability to reproduce. Is this safe? Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Who's doing this? The federal Environmental Protection Agency has approved a plan by a British biotech company called Oxitec to release about 1 billion genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in the Florida Keys and, next year, Texas. The mosquitoes (code-named OX5034) will only be male — the gender that does not bite humans — and will carry a new gene that will be passed on to their female offspring and cause them to die while they're still larvae.
  2. How does this technology work? Scientists first genetically modified an animal — a mouse — in 1974. But the process remained cumbersome and slow until the development of the CRISPR technique and other "gene-editing" technology this decade.
  3. Where do the plans stand? n May, the EPA greenlighted Oxitec's plans for both Florida and Texas, issuing the company an experimental use permit. Florida state authorities followed suit with their own approval.
  4. What could go wrong? Some geneticists, including Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher of EcoNexus, a public-interest research organization, have raised alarms that Oxitec's altered mosquitoes haven't been adequately studied. The researcher said "the underlying mechanism(s) leading to cell death" in the larvae aren't "fully understood" and thus can't yield "precise and predictable results.
  5. What's the upside? Some see world-changing possibilities. Florida witnessed its first mosquito-to-human transmission of the Zika virus (which causes serious birth defects) in 2016, and West Nile is a perennial problem.
  6. Oxitec's modified moths: South Florida and Texas aren't the only places that Oxitec is testing its genetically modified insects. Earlier this year, Cornell University scientists announced the results of a project they had conducted with the company involving its genetically modified diamondback moths, or Plutella xylostella.

7-24-20 Spiderwebs gather DNA that can help us monitor insects in forests
Spiders may build their webs to catch prey, but trials in Slovenian forests have shown they can also moonlight as a way for humans to monitor the biodiversity of ecosystems. Recent years have seen a growing interest in detecting species by collecting the fragments of DNA they shed in an environment, an approach that is often less invasive and quicker than traditional surveying with nets, trays and other equipment. Matja? Gregoric at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts turned to an unusual tool to collect such environmental DNA: the orb webs of garden spiders (Araneus diadematus) and sheet webs of common hammock-weaving spiders (Linyphia triangularis). The webs act as a passive filter for the air, capturing DNA from insects, fungi and bacteria – and providing an elegant alternative to the air filtering machines ecologists use, which need to be powered by heavy generators. “The results are fantastic, much more than I hoped for. From 25 webs, I found [DNA from] 50 families of animals, from nematodes to butterflies, moths, wasps, bees, beetles and flies, everything. The richness of information surprised us a lot,” says Gregoric. He and his colleagues got the idea from a 2015 trial in the highly controlled environment of a zoo, but Gregoric says their research is the first proof of concept in the wild. The approach could complement traditional ways of surveying pollinators, which are suffering major declines, or be used for the early detection of pests and invasive species. The use of environmental DNA to monitor ecosystems is growing, with the technique being deployed by regulators in English rivers and lakes. The approach doesn’t require years of taxonomical knowledge to identify species, which instead have their DNA matched against databases. “You don’t have to be a spider expert to use spider webs,” says Gregoric.

5-13-19 Nature crisis: Moths have 'secret role' as crucial pollinators
Long seen as annoying creatures that can leave holes in your clothes, moths have been badly misjudged, say scientists. New research suggests they play a vital role as overnight pollinators of a wide range of flowers and plants. The study says that the moths' transport networks are larger and more complex than those of daytime pollinators like bees. The authors believe there is an urgent need to stem declines in moth numbers. Over the past decade, public anxiety about the role of our pollinators has focused squarely on bees. The fall-off in their numbers, linked to changes in land and widespread use of pesticides, has helped raise environmental awareness of the critical role these creatures play in the food chain. Moths, though, have not evoked similar sympathies. "There's this big misconception that all moths come and eat my clothes. That's not what happens at all," said Dr Richard Walton, from University College London (UCL), the lead author of the new study. "Some of them happen to be visiting flowers and can be an important part of the pollination process." To find out how vital a part the moths play, Dr Walton and colleagues monitored moth activity around ponds in agricultural areas of Norfolk. They found that 45% of the moths they tested were transporting pollen, which originated from 47 different plant species, including several that were rarely visited by bees, hoverflies and butterflies. The scientists found that while bumblebees and honeybees are critically important, they tended to target the most prolific nectar and pollen sources. Not so with moths. "From what we see from our work, moths tend to be generalists, meaning they're not specifically visiting a narrow group of flowers," said Dr Walton. "They're kind of visiting any type of flower that they can access. These tend to be the open cup-shaped flowers like bramble, they can access things from the legume family, the clover family was also very important."

4-24-20 Earthy funk lures tiny creatures to eat and spread bacterial spores
Master chemist soil bacteria can waft a scent appetizing to springtails. The master chemists known as Streptomyces bacteria have turned a compound rich with the tangy odor of moist soil into a hitchhiking scam. This group of bacteria, the inspiration for streptomycin and other antibiotics, can release a strong, earthy whiff of what’s called geosmin. It’s not just an everyday scent for them. Some bacterial genes that regulate spore-making also can trigger geosmin production, an international research team reports April 6 in Nature Microbiology. When bacteria start making spores, geosmin wafts into the soil and attracts hungry little arthropods called springtails. They feast on the bacteria, inadvertently picking up spores that hitchhike to new territory, says Klas Flärdh, a microbiologist at Lund University in Sweden. Geosmin floats off many environmental microbes, including virtually all Streptomyces. People as well as many other animals can detect low concentrations of it. For instance, the common Drosophila lab fruit fly dedicates a circuit in its sensory wiring just to detecting geosmin, which the flies find repellant. That kind of disgust might help animals avoid microbially contaminated food. Various springtails, however, flock to the smell. Springtails abound in soil (SN: 1/19/14). The “spring” part of their name comes from a prong latched against the body that snaps loose to smack the ground in a crisis, bouncing the springtail up and away from danger. Scuttling specks of springtails showed up in unusual numbers when coauthor Paul Becher set out bits of Streptomyces bacteria forming spores under shrubbery at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp. A springtail can smell the bacterial geosmin, Becher, Flärdh and colleagues say after testing the antenna sensitivity of a pale, all-female kind popular in labs, Folsomia candida.

4-24-20 The ‘insect apocalypse’ is more complicated than it sounds
Freshwater arthropods trended upward, while terrestrial ones declined, decades of data suggest. Taking a big view of the so-called Insect Apocalypse finds some possible winners among the losers, plus a lot of things we don’t know yet. Overheated end-times terms have popped up during the last few years conveying fear that the bounty of Earth’s butterflies, beetles, bees and many other insects has started slipping away. The worry is not just about species likely to go extinct. Even species that will probably survive might be shrinking in population so much that their skimpy numbers no can longer fill their current roles in ecosystems. Now a new look at insect abundance, slanted toward North America and Europe, hints that freshwater residents are overall increasing. Data mostly gathered since the 1960s suggests that beetles, mayflies, dragonflies and other creatures that spend a good part of their lives in water have increased about 11 percent per decade, says a study in Science April 24. In contrast, land-dwelling insects shrank in abundance by about 9 percent per decade, the study says. “Insects will not disappear,” says coauthor Roel van Klink, an entomologist at the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig. He and colleagues found, however, “a lot of reason for concern” overall, he says. Van Klink first started thinking about the project in 2017, when careful, long-term monitoring of the biomass of insects flying in 63 protected nature preserves in Germany had dropped more than 75 percent over 27 years. “I doubt that’s a general phenomenon,” van Klink remembers thinking. After two months without hearing about anybody else starting a worldwide search for data, he says he realized, “I’ve got do it.” Van Klink and colleagues found 166 surveys of abundance (numbers of individuals and/or the absolute mass of insects and occasionally spiders mixed in) that ran for at least 10 years at 1,676 sites around the world. The oldest data went back to 1928, but data are most abundant from the 1980s. Researchers compared how steeply or gently the populations were falling and rising. Many of the sites already were affected heavily by humans when surveys began. For instance, he speculates that the rise in freshwater arthropod abundance may reflect some recovery as environmental laws improved water quality in the United States.

4-23-20 Reports of an insect apocalypse are overblown but still concerning
Reports of the death of insects may have been greatly exaggerated. Research out today finds that while an alarming 9 per cent of land-dwelling insects are being lost each decade, the state of the world’s insects is much more nuanced than warnings of an “insect apocalypse”. The issue came to the fore in 2017, when a study found a 75 per cent decline in flying insects across parts of Germany due to environmental pressures such as intensive farming. But fears of an insect meltdown – and the impact on the food we all rely on – really took off last year with a study by Francisco Sánchez-Bayo at the University of Sydney and his colleagues that hit front pages suggesting 2.5 per cent of insect biomass is being lost each year. Without action, the team cautioned: “Insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades.” A backlash ensued, with at least seven criticisms published in journals. A simple one was the authors had conducted keyword searches of literature for the “insect” and “decline”, but not for “increase”, which would bias their literature review. So what is the true state of the world’s insects? Entomologists say a new analysis published in the journal Science today gives a much more realistic, but no less concerning, picture. Roel van Klink at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig and his colleagues compiled data on the long-term abundance of thousands of insect species from 166 studies in 41 countries, covering declines and increases. Gergana Daskalova at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who was not involved in the study, says it is the most comprehensive to date. The analysis concluded that the number and biomass of insects is declining at 0.92 per cent a year. While much lower than the number in last year’s paper, van Klink notes that out over the course of a human generation, or 30 years, it is a decline of a quarter. “I find that quite severe and quite alarming,” he says. “The most important thing for people to realise is it’s not going bad for insects everywhere, that it’s variable.”

4-23-20 Nature crisis: 'Insect apocalypse' more complicated than thought
The global health of insect populations is far more complicated than previously thought, new data suggests. Previous research indicated an alarming decline in numbers in all parts of world, with losses of up to 25% per decade. This new study, the largest carried out to date, says the picture is more complex and varied. Land-dwelling insects are definitely declining the authors say, while bugs living in freshwater are increasing. Reports of the rapid and widespread decline of insects globally have caused great worry to scientists. The creatures are among the most abundant and diverse species on the planet and play key roles, from aerating the soil to pollination and recycling of nutrients. Case studies, such as one from nature reserves in western Germany, indicated a dramatic fall, with around a 75% decrease over 27 years. Many other, similar reports have followed. But many of these were specific to a region or a species. This new study, the largest on insect change to date, aims to give a more complete understanding of what's really happening to bugs worldwide. Drawing on data from 166 long-term surveys across 1,676 sites, it paints a highly nuanced and variable picture of the state of insect health. The compilation indicates that insects like butterflies, ants and grasshoppers are going down by 0.92% per year, which amounts to 9% per decade, lower than many published rates. This is not as bad as previous reports but the authors stress that it is still substantial. "That is extremely serious, over 30 years it means a quarter less insects," said lead author Dr Roel Van Klink, from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research. "And because it's a mean, there are places where it is much worse than that." Many people have an instinctive perception that insects are decreasing - often informed by the so-called "windscreen phenomenon", where you find fewer dead bugs splattered on cars. The researchers say it's real.

3-18-20 Wasps may benefit us as much as bees. Could we learn to love them?
We love to hate wasps, but they pollinate flowers, kill off pests and their venom might even help us treat cancer. EVERYBODY loves bees. They are celebrated for their glorious honey, cooperative work ethic and commercially valuable pollination services. In a 2019 survey, 55 per cent of respondents chose bees as the species they most wanted to save, above the likes of elephants and tigers. How differently we see wasps. These most unwelcome picnic guests have been reviled for millennia. Ancient Greek essayist Plutarch described wasps as degenerate bees. The very word “waspish” summons up ideas of irritability, implying they are quick to anger, spiteful and vindictive. And that’s just the regular wasp or yellow jacket. Our attitudes to the largest wasp species, hornets, are even more negative. The tabloids hawk horror stories about how the invasive Asian hornet, Vespa velutina, threatens honey production and native pollinators in the UK. Meanwhile, persecution of the huge but docile European hornet, Vespa crabro, continues, fuelled by fear and ignorance, even though its numbers are declining. Few people seem to care. But are we judging this diverse group of insects unfairly? Certainly, our perceptions are ill-informed. There are whole institutes dedicated to studying bees, while wasp research is in the doldrums. Limited funds attract few projects, the results of which are often misconstrued in the press, bolstering an already negative stereotype. In fact, what we have learned about wasps tells a different story. Far from being bothersome and vindictive, they make valuable contributions to ecosystems, the economy and even our health. Take ecosystem services – a buzz phrase of our time that means the quantifiable benefits nature provides for us. Honeybees may be the prime pollinators of many cultivated fruit crops, but wasps and other insects pollinate most wild flowers. Indeed, some plants rely exclusively on wasps. Among them are almost 100 species of orchids, including helleborines. These widespread but scarce plants of woodland edges have a cunning trick to entice pollinators. Their flowers produce the sort of volatile chemicals that other plants emit when under attack from caterpillars, which lure predatory wasps hoping to find prey. The wasps then sip the nectar in the orchid flowers, which contains soporific agents – possibly alcohol from fungal contaminants – that slow them down, increasing the likelihood they will pick up pollen. Without their tipsy wasp pollinators, these elegant plants would become extinct.

3-4-20 What if all the wasps disappeared?
Wasps are not exactly the most-loved creatures, but they are hugely important to the eco-system - and us all.

2-21-20 Bumblebees in dire trouble
Climate change is pushing the much-loved bumblebee to the brink of extinction, new research has found. The fuzzy, buzzy insects are among the most important pollinators in the Northern Hemisphere, helping to spread pollen and fertilize many wild plants, as well as important crops such as tomatoes, blueberries, and squash. But their numbers have been dropping for years, and to understand why, scientists looked at a database of 550,000 records detailing where the bees have been spotted since 1901. It showed that bumblebee populations had crashed by 46 percent in North America and by 17 percent across Europe in recent years when compared with the base period of 1901 to 1974. The biggest declines were in areas that have experienced the most extreme temperature swings, suggesting that climate change is a significant factor. High temperatures can cause bumblebees to overheat and can also kill the flowers on which they depend. Adding to the problem is that bees aren’t migrating to cooler areas. “They’re simply not able to colonize new regions at the same rate that they’re disappearing from old ones,” lead author Peter Soroye, from the University of Ottawa, tells NPR.org. The authors stress that climate change isn’t the only cause of the bees’ decline; pesticide use and habitat loss also play a role. They say people can help the troubled insects by planting native flowers in their gardens and leaving out leaf piles and fallen logs to create shade for the bees on scorching days.

9-25-19 Crypt-keeper wasps can control the minds of 7 other species of wasp
A recently discovered parasitic wasp appears to have extraordinary mind-controlling abilities – it can alter the behaviour of at least seven other species. Many parasites manipulate the behaviour of their victims in extraordinary ways. For instance, sacculina barnacles invade crabs and make them care for barnacle larvae as if they were their own offspring. If the host crab is male, the parasite turns them female. It was thought each species of parasite could manipulate the behaviour of only one host, or at least only very closely related species. But the crypt-keeper wasp Euderus set is more versatile. It was known to parasitise Bassettia pallida, a species of gall wasp. Gall wasps lay their eggs in plants, triggering abnormal growths – galls – inside which the wasp larvae feed and grow. Adult gall wasps chew their way out of the gall and fly off. The crypt-keeper wasp seeks out oak galls and lays an egg inside them. The crypt-keeper larva then attacks the gall wasp larva. Infected gall wasps still start chewing their way out of the gall, but they stop when the hole is small and then remain where they are with their head blocking the exit, thus protecting the larva growing inside them – “keeping the crypt”. How the crypt-keeper larva makes the gall wasp stop chewing at such a precise point isn’t clear. “I’d love to know how they do it,” says Anna Ward at the University of Iowa. When the crypt-keeper larva turns into an adult wasp after a few days, it then chews through the head of the gall wasp to get out of the gall.The crypt-keeper wasp, which was only described in 2017, was thought to parasitise just one species of gall wasp. But when Ward’s team collected 23,000 galls from 10 kinds of oak trees as part of a larger study, they found that at least 7 of the 100 species of gall wasp they collected were parasitised by the same crypt-keeper wasp. “What we found is that it is attacking different hosts that don’t seem to be closely related,” says Ward.

9-18-19 Radio waves from electric devices may affect the body clock of insects
Weak radio frequency fields seem to affect the body clocks of cockroaches. If the finding is confirmed, it could mean that weak radio waves – which are already known to disorient birds – are capable of affecting a wide range of animals. However, Martin Vacha of Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, who conducted the study, says he is “very cautious” about his team’s results. In normal conditions, there might not be any effect on insects, he says, and the team isn’t making any claims about possible effects on people. Other scientists are sceptical, and say the study needs to be independently confirmed. Many claims have been made about possible effects of electromagnetic fields on humans and other animals. In particular, it is been claimed that the radio waves from mobile phones could cause cancer. But radio waves are much less energetic than, say, X-rays and don’t cause the damage to DNA that leads to cancer. Nonetheless, some researchers think they could have more subtle effects on living tissue. A couple of recent studies, for instance, have suggested that static magnetic fields affect the body clock of fruit flies. Vacha and his colleagues decided to look at whether they affect cockroaches too. His team kept cockroaches in constant dim UV light, with no clues as to whether it was night or day, and measured the animals’ activity using image analysis software. From that they worked out what time their body clocks were keeping. When they exposed the animals to either static magnetic fields or weak radio frequency broadband noise, the cockroaches’ periods of activity became an hour or two longer. In other words, their body clocks were running more slowly. Vacha says the team tested frequencies much lower than those from mobile phones. But many electric devices, such as computers, produce this kind of broadband noise.

9-15-19 Wasps: If you can't love them, at least admire them
Want to know the best way to kill a cockroach? Well, first inject some powerful neurotoxins directly into its brain. This will make the bug compliant; it won't try to fly away and will bend to your will. Second, slice off one of its antennae and drink the goo that comes out. For snack purposes, you understand. And then lead it off to your lair by the stump, like a dog on a leash. You're going to bury this zombie in a hole in the ground. But just before you close up the tomb, lay an egg on the bug. Your progeny can have the joy of eating it alive. Dr Gavin Broad relishes these stories about how wasps will parasitise other critters. He's the principal curator in charge of insect collections at London's Natural History Museum, which means he's got plenty of material to work with. He has drawer after drawer of wasps, gathered from all corners of the globe. Ok, I can already hear you saying, "I hate wasps even if they kill roaches". But spend just a few minutes with Gavin and I promise you your views will evolve. You'll marvel at their skill and in quite a few cases you'll be stunned (not stung) by their beauty. That destroyer of cockroaches, for example - Ampulex compressa - has an extraordinary iridescent exoskeleton. You can see why they sometimes call it the jewel wasp. "But every wasp is glorious," says Gavin, as he urges you to move beyond the PR spin that's got us to prefer beetles and bees instead ("Bees are just furry wasps that turned vegetarian"). Wasps have their role in Nature and it's not to pester humans in the autumn. Ignore those "yellow jackets" getting drunk on cider in September orchards; they'll soon be gone. No, wasps have very useful functions, one of which is to keep other insects in check. Every insect you can think of probably has some wasp that will attack it. If that wasn't the case, we'd almost certainly be using more pesticides than we already do on our farms.

8-30-19 More aggressive spiders
Parts of the U.S. where hurricanes occur most frequently may have another problem to worry about: the evolution of more-aggressive spiders. During last year’s hurricane season, researchers examined more than 200 colonies of Anelosimus studiosus spiders before and after three big storms in the Southeast. Anelosimus studiosus colonies are either relatively docile, with mothers working together to rear offspring, or much more combative, with a higher ratio of aggressive females. The researchers found that about 75 percent of the colonies survived the storm—and that the more-aggressive ones were much more likely to do so, probably because they outcompeted other spiders for the food and resources made scarce by the storm. The obvious evolutionary implication is that over time spiders will adapt to harsher weather events by becoming more aggressive—and that other species may also evolve in the same way. “As sea levels rise, the incidence of tropical storms will only increase,” lead author Jonathan Pruitt, from McMaster University in Canada, tells CNN.com. “We need to contend with what the ecological and evolutionary impacts of these storms will be for nonhuman animals.”

8-9-19 The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator
Never underestimate that tiny insect whining in your ear, said Keith Johnson in Foreign Policy. “The mosquito, far and away mankind’s deadliest enemy, has killed half of all the people who have ever lived.” Per the calculations of historian Timothy C. Winegard, 52 billion people in all have died of malaria, yellow fever, and other mosquito-borne diseases, making the tiny pest the malevolent Zelig to our own species’ long journey through the ages. Winegard “finds no shortage of pivotal events to pin on the little critter.” The rise of Rome into an empire was aided by the invader-proof malarial swamps that surrounded the city. Mosquitoes also ended Alexander the Great’s campaigns. And they were major contributors to the British defeat at Yorktown. Though Winegard’s book is sometimes florid and sometimes repetitive, it “serves up an eye-opening, deeply alarming, and absolutely engrossing view of humanity’s most tenacious foe.” “There is very little of human history mosquitoes have not touched,” said Brian Bethune in Maclean’s. Though we’ve only known for a century that it is the mosquito, not “bad air,” that spreads malaria, humans have been in a fierce battle with the disease since the dawn of agriculture. About 8,000 years ago, when Bantu farmers in West Central Africa expanded their territory, the malaria parasite was waiting for them, and it proved so deadly that our bodies developed emergency genetic defenses, including sickle-cell anemia, a disorder that defends blood cells against the parasite but regularly results in death at about age 23. Five centuries ago, mosquito-borne diseases carried from the Old World to the New helped wipe out 95 percent of the Americas’ indigenous population. And because Africans had greater immunity to the illnesses than white indentured servants, millions of Africans were enslaved to serve as the New World’s labor class. Winegard sometimes gives the mosquito too much credit, said Brooke Jarvis in The New Yorker. His case for the mosquito’s role in the drafting of the Magna Carta, for example, relies on “a cascade of contingencies” stretching back centuries. But we who live in rich, temperate corners of the world are foolish if we presume that the mosquito has had its day in the human story. Climate change is expanding the reach of the genus and the diseases it carries. Though we think we are in control of our future, “the entire time that humanity has been in existence, the mosquito has been proof that we are not.”

7-5-19 Toxic processionary caterpillar plague spreads across Europe
Germany and the Netherlands are battling many infestations of oak processionary caterpillars, whose tiny toxic hairs can trigger allergic reactions and skin irritation. The mild winter and warm spring this year boosted caterpillar numbers. In Louvain, Belgium, firefighters had to destroy nests of the invasive species before a rock concert. The caterpillars turn into pupae, then moths in late July, and the threat diminishes. Germany's western Ruhr region is densely populated and among the worst affected by the caterpillars. Some schools and parks have been closed to allow specialists to attack the nests in oak trees. The caterpillars - measuring 2-3cm (about one inch) - march in long processions to the treetops at night, and can wreak havoc in oak trees, as they feast on the young leaves. One mature caterpillar has up to 700,000 hairs, which can be spread by the wind. The Fredenbaumpark in Dortmund was closed for three weeks, as nearly 500 trees were found to be infested there, broadcaster Deutschlandfunk reported. "The oak processionary infestation this year is very intensive - much more than last year," said the park's manager Frank Dartsch. Special teams there and elsewhere have donned protective gear and used firefighters' lifts to reach the treetops, where they have attacked the caterpillar nests with blowtorches or big vacuum cleaners. In the Netherlands, the infestations have also increased compared with 2018, with the oak-rich provinces of Noord-Brabant, Drenthe and Overijssel especially affected. A video of an elderly woman attacking the caterpillars with a heat gun in the city of Enschede has gone viral, the nltimes.nl website reports. Broadcaster RTL says the caterpillars have spread all over Luxembourg, a heavily forested country. The Luxembourg City authorities have issued a health warning, as the caterpillars are in the city too.

6-27-18 Bumblebees in cities are healthier than those in the countryside
Cities provide a refuge for bumblebees, which have been found to grow bigger colonies and store more food in urban areas than they do in the countryside. City bumblebees have been found to grow healthier colonies than those in the surrounding suburbs and countryside. They may be taking advantage of humans’ preference for flowering plants around businesses and homes. “There are a few species that are really able to exploit the urban environment – pigeons, rats, foxes. It seems like bees belong to that group,” says Ash Samuelson at the Royal Holloway University of London. She and her team raised colonies from wild-caught bumblebee queens, and placed them in 38 spots in areas with different degrees of urbanisation – inner-city London, surrounding suburbs, and rural farmland in southeast England. They tracked the size of the eventual colony, and the amount of pollen and nectar the bees stored. Both the village and city colonies produced a significantly higher number of offspring than the countryside bees. Samuelson says this suggests that queen bees in the cities and villages lived longer and were able to build up a larger troupe of worker bees. “Cities can be very good resources for bees. There are gardens and parks that have a lot of flowers available all year round,” she says. “In agricultural areas, you have mass crops that provide flowers only for a short-lived period.” The bees that lived among the crops stored less food – an indicator of colony strength – than their city counterparts.

5-3-18 Flying beetle cyborgs guided with tiny battery-powered backpacks
Beetles have been turned into autonomous flying robots. They could one day swarm through disaster zones on search and rescue missions. Buzzing cyborg beetles are taking to the skies. Just when you thought big insects were creepy enough, electronic filled bug backpacks have been used to turn them into controllable flying bio-robots. Male M. torquata beetles had electrodes implanted into four of their flight muscles. Small electric pulses were then administered to steer them left or right. Their acceleration could be increased by upping the frequency of the pulses. A 3D motion capture system tracked their position during flight. The researchers found that when a continuous pulse was applied, the beetles would eventually adapt to the intervention. However, applying two short pulses lasting 150 milliseconds, with a 50 millisecond rest in between, was most effective for controlling their route, reaching a success rate of 79 percent when the beetle’s position was reassessed every 200 ms. “This is the first demonstration that insect motion can be steered in a desired direction in a consistent way,” says Sawyer Fuller from the University of Washington in Seattle, who is not involved with the research. “It shows that truly autonomous, bio-hybrid robots the size of insects are a real technical possibility.” The beetle cyborgs were created by Hirotaka Sato from Nanyang Technological Institute in Singapore, Malaysia and his colleagues. They were interested in building tiny flying robots and by using beetles as the starting point, Sato and his team could avoid the incredibly difficult task of making small robotic bodies.

2-6-18 Pollinators are usually safe from a Venus flytrap
Out of the hundreds of species of carnivorous plants found across the planet, none attract quite as much fascination as the Venus flytrap. The plants are native to just a small section of North Carolina and South Carolina, but these tiny plants can now be found around the world. They’re a favorite among gardeners, who grow them in homes and greenhouses. Scientists, too, have long been intrigued by the plants and have extensively studied the famous trap. But far less is known about the flower that blooms on a stalk 15 to 35 centimeters above — including what pollinates that flower. “The rest of the plant is so incredibly cool that most folks don’t get past looking at the active trap leaves,” says Clyde Sorenson, an entomologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Plus, notes Sorenson’s NCSU colleague Elsa Youngsteadt, an insect ecologist, because flytraps are native to just a small part of North and South Carolina, field studies can be difficult. And most people who raise flytraps cut off the flowers so the plant can put more energy into making traps.

11-4-17 This robot was inspired by bees. And it can swim.
"What's better than a robot inspired by bees? A robot inspired by bees that can swim." "What's better than a robot inspired by bees? A robot inspired by bees that can swim," said Katherine Ellen Foley at Quartz. Researchers guided by a team of scientists from Harvard University have developed a tiny, bee-size bot, weighing the same as "about two feathers," to study the ocean. The robot has "insect-inspired wings that can both flap and rotate," allowing it to dive into water, swim, take off again, and land safely. It also comes equipped with its own "little chemical lab" to help it break the water's surface tension after it has taken a plunge. The bot converts water into oxygen and hydrogen, and once enough gas is generated, "a lighter sets it on fire, the force of which shoots the robot about 12 inches into the air." Scientists hope the robots will be able to "keep tabs on fish and algae populations," monitor water pollution, and even participate in search-and-rescue missions at sea.

8-3-17 Pollination threatened by artificial light
Pollination threatened by artificial light
Researchers have discovered a new global threat to pollination - artificial light at night, which was found to reduce visits of nocturnal pollinators to flowers by 62%. The impact of this is a significant reduction in fruit production. Pollinator numbers are declining worldwide so this is not good news for wild plants and crop production. Nocturnal insects are easily distracted from their pollination duties by the lure of bright lights. Fruit begins with a flower, but not every flower results in a fruit. A number of factors result in the remarkable transformation of flower to fruit and one of the most important is insect pollination. But insects are in rapid decline caused largely by an anthropogenic assault including habitat loss and disruption, pesticide use, invasive alien species and climate change. But in a new study reported in Nature, another threat is revealed - artificial light at night. Dr Eva Knop, University of Bern, Switzerland, who led the research said: "Our study suggests that it is quite common for plants to have both night and day pollinators. During night it is often the scent that attracts the nocturnal pollinators but also other cues can be important, such as visual cues as the nocturnal pollinators have often very sensitive eyes." We are all familiar with bees and butterflies pollinating flowers during the day but come sundown a parade of "night-shift" pollinators take over. "In our study, the most abundant night time pollinators were moths (Lepidoptera), followed by beetles (Coleoptera) and bugs (Hemiptera)", said Dr Eva Knop. But, owing to artificial light contamination, from street lamps for example, our nights are no longer properly dark. Artificial light at night is spreading globally at an estimated rate of 6% per year.

8-2-17 Light pollution can foil plant-insect hookups, and not just at night
Light pollution can foil plant-insect hookups, and not just at night
For cabbage thistles, daytime pollinators didn’t make up for missed after-hours seed-making. Artificial light at night upsets pollinating insects and plants, and that disruption may spread into daylight hours. For flowers, too much light at night could lead to a pollination hangover by day. Far from any urban street, researchers erected street lights in remote Swiss meadows to mimic the effects of artificial light pollution. In fields lit during the night, flowers had 62 percent fewer nocturnal visitors than flowers in dark meadows, researchers report August 2 in Nature. For one of the most common flowers, daytime pollination didn’t make up for nightly losses, says ecologist Eva Knop of the University of Bern in Switzerland. In a detailed accounting of the pollination life of cabbage thistles (Cirsium oleraceum), Knop and colleagues found that night-lit plants produced 13 percent fewer seeds overall than counterparts in naturally dark places.

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