3-D Scans Reveal Caterpillars Turning Into Butterflies
For a long time, scientists wishing to observe the stages of a caterpillars metamorphosis into a butterfly had to dissect the insects pupae. While this provided valuable insights, the dissections only acted a snapshots of the process. Now, scientists have taken 3-D scans of the same caterpillars as they undergo holometaboly inside their cocoons. This provides a more complete, linear tale.
Jan. 24, 2013 — An insect with a tiny brain and minimal computing power has become the first animal proven to use the Milky Way for orientation. Scientists from South Africa and Sweden have published findings showing the link between dung beetles and the spray of stars which comprises our galaxy.
Although their eyes are too weak to distinguish individual constellations, dung beetles use the gradient of light to dark provided by the Milky Way to ensure they keep rolling their balls in a straight line and don’t circle back to competitors at the dung pile.
“The dung beetles don’t care which direction they’re going in; they just need to get away from the bun fight at the poo pile,” said Professor Marcus Byrne from Wits University.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
For over one hundred years, millions of tourists have flocked to the ancient limestone Waitomo Caves on New Zealand’s North Island, where stunning species of fungus gnat called Arachnocampa luminosa live. The genus is unique to New Zealand and Australia, and they are found in caves, grottoes, and other sheltered places. Arachnocampa means ‘spider-worm,’ as the gnat is known for the way their larvae hang strong vertical silk threads from the ceilings of their underground habitats. The threads are from one to fifty centimetres long and are studded with evenly spaced drops of sticky mucus, acting like fishing lines to lure in prey. Since the larvae are luminescent, the thousands of tiny threads light up cave ceilings like a starry sky. Other insects are attracted to the light and fly up—but then become ensnared in the sticky mucus, which contains proteins that researchers think may act as an anaesthetic. The larvae live this way for many months, trapping and devouring their prey, before becoming a shot-lived adult gnat.
(Image Credit: 1, 2)
If I ever get married, I want to be able to go to these caves and later witness the southern lights.
ScienceDaily (Aug. 3, 2012) — Predatory beetles can detect the unique alarm signal released by ants that are under attack by parasitic flies, and the beetles use those overheard conversations to guide their search for safe egg-laying sites on coffee bushes.
Azteca instabilis ants patrol coffee bushes and emit chemical alarm signals when they’re under attack by phorid flies. In an article published online July 27 in the journal Ecology and Evolution, University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues show that pregnant lady beetles intercept the ants’ alarm pheromones, which let the beetles know that it’s safe to deposit their eggs.
The findings, which may have practical implications for pest management on coffee plantations, are the first documentation of a complex cascade of interactions mediated by ant pheromones, according to the authors.
This enlarged image shows a jeweled beetle Chrysina gloriosa. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology studied the surface structures on the beetle’s shell and discovered that the iridescent colors are produced from liquid crystalline material that self-assembles into a complex arrangement of polygonal shapes.
Parasite zombie flies and a honeybee; courtesy of SF State University.
Zombie bees are not science fiction. They are real—and real threat to already-threatened U.S. honeybee populations.
Honeybees (Apis mellifera) in California and South Dakota have been observed acting zombielike, wondering away from their hives at night and crawling around blindly in circles.
These insects have been rendered insensate by a parasitizing fly that lays eggs in the bees’ bodies. After the bee dies a lonesome death, pupae crawl out and grow to adult flies that seek new bodies to infect.
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Ecology is, at least to me, an absolutely breathtaking field of study. It’s hidden levels of complexity serve to fascinate and improve our understanding of the world at large. Ok, enough of that.
A new study published in the journal Science looked at the intricate relationship between decomposers, predators, and prey. Under normal conditions grasshoppers prefer nitrogen rich grass as a source of food in order to stimulate growth and reproduction. When the grasshopper dies, microbes make quick work of the carcass, provided the soil with nitrogen rich fertilizer. Under the influence of predation, however, the grasshoppers switches to an energy rich carbohydrate based diet. With less nitrogen in the body, microbes have a more difficult time decomposing the dead insects, leading to a drastic change in plant composition. This slight change in the grasshoppers biochemistry greatly affects the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, and has a significant impact on the global carbon cycle, much to the surprise of researchers.