Insect Links

Finding Termites on Google Earth

Termite mounds visible in Australia's Northern Territory- I've circled three, but dozens are in the image.

Central Illinois still resembles the frozen lifeless tundra, so to get my bug-hunting fix I’ve been surfing about on Google Earth. Here at -13.066783, 130.847383 I’ve found something: Australia’s magnificent magnetic termites. The green things are trees, but the little black pimply bits?  Those are the termites.  On the ground they look like this:

A magnetic termite mound in north Queensland, Australia.

Why “magnetic”?

The mounds are shaped as thin blades along a north-south orientation as though following compass direction.  The reasons for this odd architecture are still a matter of research, but the general view is that the shape helps termites avoid the heat of the tropical midday sun, and the extra surface area allows for more efficient respiration.

The density of termite mounds can be impressive.

More insects in Google earth here and here.

2010 Insect Fear Film Festival: Prehistoric Insects

Mark this on your calendar: February 27 is the 27th annual Insect Fear Film Festival. Hosted by the entomology graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the festival showcases two (usually terrible) arthropod movies.  This year’s delectable offerings are The Black Scorpion (1957) and Ice Crawlers (2003).

If bad movies aren’t your thing, the festival also has an insect art competition, live insect displays, face painting, and other buggy entertainment.  As way of a preview, Jo-anne posted her pics of last years event here.  I’ve put the full announcement below: (more…)

NOVA follows the Monarch Migration

Tomorrow’s NOVA on PBS covers the great orange butterflies on their migration to Mexico:

Orange-and-black wings fill the sky as NOVA charts one of nature’s most remarkable phenomena: the epic migration of monarch butterflies across North America. NOVA’s filmmakers followed monarchs on the wing throughout their extraordinary odyssey. To capture a butterfly’s point of view, camera operators used a helicopter, ultralight, and hot-air balloon for aerial views along the butterflies’ transcontinental route.

E. O. Wilson writes fiction…

…and it’s about ants, of course:

The Trailhead Queen was dead. At first, there was no overt sign that her long life was ending: no fever, no spasms, no farewells. She simply sat on the floor of the royal chamber and died. As in life, her body was prone and immobile, her legs and antennae relaxed. Her stillness alone failed to give warning to her daughters that a catastrophe had occurred for all of them. She lay there, in fact, as though nothing had happened. She had become a perfect statue of herself. While humans and other vertebrates have an internal skeleton surrounded by soft tissue that quickly rots away, ants are encased in an external skeleton; their soft tissues shrivel into dry threads and lumps, but their exoskeletons remain, a knight’s armor fully intact long after the knight is gone. Hence the workers were at first unaware of their mother’s death. Her quietude said nothing, and the odors of her life, still rising from her, signalled, I remain among you. She smelled alive.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2010/01/25/100125fi_fiction_wilson#ixzz0dMMUhcTj