Try Your Hand at Introductory Entomology


Looking for a challenge? Here are a few questions from the midterm examination of my current Entomology course.

29. Which of the following animals’ life cycles is most likely to include a puparium?
a. house fly
b. silkworm moth
c. monarch butterfly
d. rove beetle

30. Sclerotization is the process by which:
a. spiracles close to prevent water loss
b. coremata release pheromones as a sexual attractant
c. the exocuticle hardens following ecdysis
d. the wax layer is formed as a barrier to water loss Continue reading →

Copyright Chronicles: A Viral Encounter With Landon Dowlatsingh


It’s been a few months since I’ve posted a rollicking internet copyright yarn. Not that there haven’t been infringements. Those are constant. It’s just that most are overly pedestrian- a pest control coupon that’s removed on request, for example. Not worth blogging. This one, however, involves a barely literate YouTube host pretending to be a lawyer, and his messages are simply too bizarre to pass up sharing.


A screen capture of Mr. Dowlatsingh presenting my photographs.

I won’t bore you with the details of the infringement beyond the basics: 6 photographs of driver ants, most with my name cropped out, uploaded twice to a popular YouTube tabloid without being credited or licensed. The infringer responded to my formal copyright notice by committing perjury, claiming to Youtube that he had rights to my work and that my notice was mistaken.

Thinking the rights grab a bold move, I emailed him. Our correspondence follows:

Continue reading →

The Ant Daisy Chain, Described


You may remember a recent viral video showing an undescribed predatory ant behavior. It turned out that myrmecologists Christian Peeters and Stéphane de Greef had observed these ants in the field, but they’d not assembled enough data to publish, leaving us all in the dark about how the ants coordinated the amazing millipede-hauling chains.

With a bright internet spotlight on the behavior, Christian and Stéphane returned to the project and have just published a detailed description in Insectes Sociaux. The video alone is worth a thousand words:


source: Peeters C, De Greef S. 2015. Predation on large millipedes and self-assembling chains in Leptogenys ants from Cambodia. Insectes Sociaux doi: 10.1007/s00040-015-0426-2

What Does A Bullet Ant Sting Feel Like?


I was stung by a bullet ant last week in Costa Rica. On purpose.

Paraponera clavata



How did it feel?

Bearable. Given this species’ fearsome reputation, I was expecting worse. It certainly hurt, though.

It wasn’t just the initial sear from the sting’s penetration, imparting all the sharpness one would anticipate from a relatively large hymenopteran, but the way the pain sank beneath the skin.

The bullet ant has a reputation for feeling like a firearm wound. Having never been shot, I can’t make much of the comparison. I imagine an actual shooting would be far more traumatic, but all the same I understand where the name comes from. A Paraponera sting feels more profound than the average insect sting. Like tissue or bone damage, it is a deep throbbing ache that crescendos over several hours. Unlike a honey bee sting, whose sharpness gives way quickly to a dull itch, the bullet ant’s sting is the gift that keeps on giving. Less a gunshot, I suppose, than the lasting pain following a solid crowbar to the arm. Although bearable, mine still ached when I went to bed 8 hours later. All pain was gone in the morning.

We tend not to make much of where on the body we’re stung, but stings are like real estate. Location, location, location. The forearm is a relatively mild substrate, a safe place to experiment with stings. I was once zinged on the tip of the nose by a common honey bee. Holy bejeezus. I’ll take twelve bullet ants to the arm before I wish to relive that one.

(Special thanks to Andrés Rojas and Erica Parra for planning the session and wrangling the ants! For more gruesome bullet ant entertainment science, see them and others getting zinged at StingFest 2015).


Ringo the Cottonwood Borer


Plectrodera scalator – Austin, TX



The postdoctoral researchers in Nancy Moran’s lab here at UT have adopted a local longhorn beetle and, for reasons that remain mysterious, named it “Ringo”. I can only hope they weren’t punning on Beetles/Beatles.

Ringo was kind enough to pose for me in the most makeshift of photo studios. Lacking time to assemble a proper studio whitebox, I took the beetle to a small, white-painted room and fired a couple off-camera strobes at the ceiling.

Photo details: Canon 6D, 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, two off-camera strobes.

National Pollinator Week Print Sale


All prints from Alex Wild Photography’s pollination gallery are up to 70% off during Pollinator Week.

June 15-21 is Pollinator Week.

We should not have to designate a week for this. Coffee, chocolate, raspberries, almonds, melons, tequila, blueberries, and countless other delectables require floral visits by certain species of animals. Usually, insects. If you like any of these things, you should already appreciate the importance of healthy, diverse ecosystems.

But apparently not many people recognize where food comes from, or even that flowers only exist because of insects. So here we are: Pollinator Week.

The best way to celebrate Pollinator Week- while sipping coffee & enjoying raspberry-melon tart- is to draw up plans to rip out your boring lawn and replace it with pollinator-friendly native flowers. You may also write your congressperson (if you have moved on to tequila at this point, I wouldn’t blame you) to demand protection of the vanishing natural habitats where pollinators live.


The prairie garden I begrudgingly left behind when moving from Illinois to Texas. We did take the cat, though.


Of lesser impact, I have priced my entire pollination gallery at near-cost sale rates for the week. If you’d like to pick up a 5×7″ print for as little as $3.99, have a look:

Alex Wild Photography 2015 Pollinator Week Print Sale

Anyway. Happy Pollinator Week. Get your hands dirty.






Myrmecos Industries global headquarters is moving across Austin this week to a more permanent location. It’s not a huge move, but if you email me I may be slower to respond than usual.

Anyway. Carry on.

What Are “Indian Harvester Ants?”

 This is an image of the entrance to the nest of a species of Indian Harvester Ant. This was spotted in the hills approximately 30 km North-West of Pune, Maharashtra, India. CC BY-SA 3.0

A nest of an Indian Harvester Ant, approximately 30 km North-West of Pune, Maharashtra, India. Image by “Rushil”, shared under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

On the Indian subcontinent there is a species of ant with a distinct nest entrance flanked by a raised series of concentric clay rings, as though to prevent flooding. The ant seems reasonably common- at least, it is commonly photographed (see here). Locals call it a “harvester ant”. I have not seen any photographs where the ants are visible enough to identify.

The internet has two different ideas about the identity of this mystery mini-architect. One is Pheidole sykesii, which is possible, but I fear that idea may be one of those self-reinforcing internet citation circles with no verified literature behind it. The other is that this is a species of Trichomyrmex, a suggestion on twitter from several others, including at least one professional myrmecologist.

My Google-Fu has run dry, though. Do any of you know what makes these lovely mounds?

***Updates from facebook: Himender Bharti, an Indian myrmecologist, is sending students out to collect specimens. And Marek Boroweic points out older literature references to Pheidole sykesii.

***Update 2:


A Gallery of Pollinators



It probably shouldn’t have taken ten years, but I’ve finally corralled a few of my better pollination photographs into a coherent gallery. Check it out at the link:

A Gallery of Pollinators and Pollination

The astute observer will notice I’ve put flies at the top. This is no accident. Flies are important pollinators, but as Morgan Jackson recently pointed out, they are unjustifiably neglected in favor of the more popular bees.