Posts Tagged ‘insects’

She’s a stonefly (order Plecoptera), who came in to hang out on a loaf of bread one night at a friend’s house in the country. Note the bundle of eggs at the tip of her abdomen, which she’ll eventually deposit in water. The young are aquatic.

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Have I accumulated enough taxonomy-related links for another roundup? Am I too exhausted/lazy from field work to do any proper blogging? Yes and yes.

First, and most importantly, the NCSU Insect Museum has announced the winners of its awesome annual Hexapod Haiku contest. My favourite among the runners-up:

all the insects
I’ve killed–waiting
in the other world

The new species in this instalment are a UV-reflecting scorpion, a monstrous fossil that may or may not be called Godzillus, and a shockingly purple crab.

A short collection of goofy scientific names. I don’t understand why so few people want to do taxonomy. Think of the power you’d have, naming tiny primitive insects after Tolkien characters!

Random, related thought: describing a new species is like developing a DnD character. Except that you’ve lost your set of dice and your Player’s Handbook. (Actually, I think someone’s already indirectly made this parallel, viz. the Phylo, formerly Phylomon, card game.)

I’ve saved the best for last. This list of dinosaurs that “aren’t what they were” is frakking great. When I was just starting to be obsessed with dinosaurs, the idea that they were warm-blooded and related to birds was just becoming widely accepted. My childhood collection of dinosaur books was thus a mixture of those with illustrations of plodding stupid heavy-tailed brutes and those with lean and nimble, even graceful, beasts. But by the time I was in high school, things had changed even more: people had found fossil feathers. A lot of them. Now virtually every theropod (the predatory dinosaurs from which birds evolved), and even many non-theropods, is illustrated with at least a proto-feathery covering. The quill-like things on Psittacosaurus and Triceratops are pretty wicked. (A funny thing to note is that the Jurassic Park movies have always tended to be ahead of the mainstream idea of dinosaurs, first with the warm-bloodedness, then with the feathers and badass Spinosaurus.)

Okay, one more link, because the last one reminded me of it: T. rex trying, my favourite thing on the internet these days.

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(or at least the first to make headlines; I don’t actually pay that close attention)

The world’s smallest frogs—in fact, the world’s smallest vertebrates—are two newly described species from New Guinea, Paedophryne amauensis and P. swiftorum. What makes them particularly cool is that they are terrestrial, while the previous holders of the smallest vertebrate title were fish. It was thought that aquatic vertebrates could reach smaller size extremes because of buoyancy-related release from constraints. Apparently this is not so. Here’s the original article describing these two species and one of many media accounts.

Not a new species, but a new discovery about a known species: a Brazilian plant called Philcoxia minensis turns out to be carnivorous. It is unique in that it has underground leaves in addition to its normal leaves that capture and digest small nematode worms.

In cutesy scientific name news, just in time for the arrival of a certain baby of famous parents, entomologists named a species of horsefly Scaptia beyonceae, because its shiny golden abdomen is, as we like to say in the technical literature, “bootylicious”.

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it’s a male dobsonfly a.k.a. hellgramite! note that it’s sitting on big-sized bubble wrap. this dude’s almost as big as my hand, but actually its nasty-looking jaws are so exaggerated that it couldn’t properly bite you. i hope.

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ResearchBlogging.orgSometimes I think the biological literature needs more natural history reports. Sometimes I get to read such reports and I’m not sure that I wanted to know what they had to tell me.

To wit: there are two species of beetle, Epomis circumscriptus and E. dejeani, whose larvae eat frogs (and other amphibians). They do so in a rather unusual way: they don’t kill them and then chew them up, but rather attach to them like a leech and suck them dry. And they actively lure in their prey by twitching their antennae and mouthparts (in a manner that I assume mimics the movement of smaller insects like ants; at least, that’s what it looks like to me – see video S1 at this link). When the frog tries to chomp them—and frogs can move really fast—the beetle larva moves even faster and latches on to the  frog’s mouth or belly and just doesn’t let go. In fact, it has double-pronged mouthparts for doing so. The frog can’t get it off, and is just gradually sucked dry.

What is even more cool/horrifying is how resilient the beetles are. Many beetle larvae are soft-bodied; these, instead, are tough enough to endure the frog’s pawing at them and trying to swallow them. One, in fact, does get completely swallowed. And it stays alive, squirming in the frog’s belly for two hours, before the frog pukes it up. And then it eats the frog.

There’s a video of this (it’s video S4). I watched it twice in a row, and sat there with my mouth hanging open, unsure whether to shout “holy shit that’s cool!” or just whimper. I just watched it again and I still can’t decide.

Okay, deep breaths; serious science blogging time.

I am curious to know why the frogs (apparently) eventually stop trying to dislodge the larvae and just let themselves be drained. Are the larvae injecting them with some toxin (I’ve never heard of a beetle doing that)? Or just weakening them to the point where they can’t fight back? Or, in nature, do they usually drop off before the host dies?

Also, does this really constitute “role reversal” as the paper defines it? It seems to me that the beetle larvae are mimicking some other potential frog prey, and amphibians typically look for movement when hunting, whereas the larvae are only moving their mandibles and antennae. Although some of the frog species tested eat close relatives of Epomis beetles, perhaps this is not a case of a typical prey becoming a predator (if the ancestors of these two species are sit-and-wait predators that normally eat other creatures) but rather just of the origin of a new predatory behaviour. But right now there’s probably not enough information to evaluate either hypothesis, and regardless, I don’t mean to detract from this truly cool discovery. (Yes, I’ve come down on the side of amazement rather than horror in the end.)

Wizen, G., & Gasith, A. (2011). An Unprecedented Role Reversal: Ground Beetle Larvae (Coleoptera: Carabidae) Lure Amphibians and Prey upon Them PLoS ONE, 6 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025161

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Pond withdrawal

The minor blog hiatus of the past two weeks was due to my defending my Master’s thesis. Take that, science!

This past week, I officially ended my habitat choice experiment (explained here). Yes, I continued this experiment virtually up to the day of my defence; don’t ask—like all experiments, it did not go smoothly. Anyways, I removed all the remaining fish—which will be used by other grad students for their own projects—from my ponds, took out the enclosures, washed them, and packed them away for some future scientist’s use. It was a little sad. But it was impressive to see how well those enclosures held up after more than a year exposed to the elements. What was even more impressive was how they became part of the pond environment: there were plants and algae, especially Najas flexilis, growing up through the mesh, so that the bottom edges of the enclosures were almost sewn into the pond bottom. The enclosures were also crawling with tiny tree frogs, as well as a legion of baby water scorpions, so I had a lot of fun just picking creatures off the enclosures as I pulled them out of the water.

The frogs are funny creatures: being tree frogs, they’re mostly terrestrial (okay, arboreal), and so not actually all that keen on being in the pond once they’ve metamorphosed from their tadpole form. They don’t swim very well at all—as soon as they stop actively propelling themselves, they float upright (it seems as if their heads are more positively buoyant than the rest of their bodies). And when they’re in open water they make a beeline for the nearest shoreline-like objects. This resulted in many frogs trying to climb up my legs.

Here’s a gratuitous frog picture. This little dude was sitting on top of a pole that was propping up one side of the enclosures. I thought this spot looked too hot and dry for a frog, but it seemed perfectly happy there—this funny hunkered-down pose, with legs tucked underneath the body like a sleeping cat’s, is their favoured posture.

So I guess my “Pond county almanac” is coming to an end. I have a couple of follow-up posts lined up, but I’ll no longer be at the ponds on a regular basis. This is a weird feeling, especially since it feels like summer’s only just started—as I’ve mentioned before, we’ve had unseasonably cold and wet weather this year. I think this has translated into fewer insects emerging from the ponds, although there are other variables that could explain the pattern I’ve seen. Here’s a picture of a section of enclosure from roughly this time last year: it’s covered with insect exuviae. When I took them down, there were about half as many exuviae as there were last year.

And finally, what the hell, here’s another frog picture. They’re so darn cute.

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