Happy Mother’s Day!

Rose Aphids – Macrosiphum rosae
Tucson, Arizona

It’s fair to say that without the encouragement of my mother, who allowed all manner of newts, snakes, caterpillars, tadpoles and ants into the house, I would not have gone on to become a biologist.

Thanks Mom, and happy mother’s day!

photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon 20D
f/13, 1/250 sec, ISO 100, twin flash diffused through tracing paper.

Here, read these instead

Not much posting this week.  I’ve been busy getting genetic data from a new batch of specimens for the Beetle Tree of Life project, a process that’s always slower than I expect.

Fortunately it turns out that the internet has sites other than mine, and some of those even have interesting things to read and pretty pictures to look at.  Here’s what I recommend:

Christopher Taylor discusses the follicle mites that live in your skin.

Ajay Narendra has added some new Meranoplus photos to his ant gallery.

Aydin Örstan writes that the Nautilus is still evolving.

Mike Kaspari asks about books that inspire scientists.

Antweb has this lovely photo of an Intergalactic Space Alien Ant Queen.

The BBC is reporting an intermediate snake fossil with legs.

Zooillogix blogs the coolest looking fish discovery ever.

Failed Photography: the Worst of Myrmecos

I have thousands of absolutely awful photographs on my hard drive. I normally delete the screw-ups on camera as soon as they happen, but enough seep through that even after the initial cut they outnumber the good photos by at least 3 to 1. Here are a few of my favorite worst shots.


Thinking that nothing would be cooler than an action shot of a fruit fly in mid-air, I spent an entire evening trying to photograph flies hovering over a rotting banana. This shot is the closest I came to getting anything in focus.


Here’s a new excuse…

My lovely wife Jo-anne has been in South America the last couple weeks doing field research on Argentine ants while I tend the home fires here in Tucson. I hope she finds it in her to forgive me for the post I am about to write.

Earlier today I got an email explaining why I’m not getting my much-awaited phone call:

I’d call but there aren’t any phones at this locutorio and we’re on our way out to look for social spiders.”

Excuse me? Social spiders? More important than me, your needy hubby?

Ok, I grant that social spiders are pretty cool, if a bit creepy. I remember those things from when I lived in South America. They spun massive webs that spanned tree-tops, anchored to the ground with tow lines as strong as steel cables. I nearly died from shock the first time I saw them. I had accidently walked under their tree, a large Enterolobium, and looked up to find the sky speckled with thousands of grape-sized spiders, all sharing a web tens of meters across. It still gives me the willies to think about.

A few years later I had a camera handy when a Paraguayan friend and I drove past what looked like a small body caught up in Shelob’s web. We stopped.


Turned out not to be a single body, but hundreds of little hairy bodies that had fastened several branches into a little cradle. Social spiders!


From close in:


Social spiders are something of a mystery. They don’t share all the traits that have tipped the more famously social ants, bees, wasps, and termites into cooperative living. Yet it appears that nearly a dozen independent lineages of spiders have converged on a cooperative lifestyle. There must be something advantageous in it for the spiders, and that question continues to attract inquisitive scientists like Jo-anne.

Still, which do you think is better? Me? Or that twitching arachnoid mass of legs? And anyway, wouldn’t calling me be *safer* than going out looking for those things?