Tag Archives: Insects

Bed bugs reach an all-time high

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According to Google Trends, that is:

Insofar as internet search interest in particular insects reflects infestation levels, it seems summer 2010 is a banner year for our little cimicid friends. Peaks occur every summer as rising temperatures increase both the reproductive rate of the bugs and their motility.

Cimex lectularius, the common bed bug

Incidentally, it’s a shame Gawker can’t seem to figure out what real bed bugs look like. I certainly wouldn’t mind an infestation of stag beetles. That’d actually be kinda cool.

Answer to the Monday Night Mystery

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Acromyrmex octospinosus

As so many of you guessed, the Getty Taxonomy Fail was not an Atta but an Acromyrmex.

JasonC- who is rapidly emerging as the Monday Night Superstar- was the first to pick it. Eight points for getting the answer right and most of the way there with a supporting explanation. Two more points to NKanakis for a more precise discussion of the difference: Atta has two pairs of spines on the promesonotum, while Acromyrmex bears three pairs.

Back when I lived in Paraguay, I learned the local Guaraní language distinguishes between the two genera. Ysaú for Atta, and Akéké for Acromyrmex. We don’t make such a distinction in English, where both lineages are called leafcutter ants.

A queen in monochrome

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A few days ago I posted a photo of a Prenolepis ant queen. It’s a decent photo, in focus and properly exposed. But probably not anything I’d print out and hang on the wall.

Check out the monochrome version above, though (click on it to enlarge). I don’t often put my images through such severe levels adjustments, but this one works rather well. I prefer it to the original.


Friday Beetle Blogging: Penthe pimelia

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Penthe pimelia (Tetratomidae)
Illinois, USA

A couple years back I was working on the Beetle Tree of Life project as a molecular phylogeneticist. My main responsibility was to gather DNA sequence data for several hundred beetles distributed across the spectrum of Coleopteran diversity.

As I’m not a Coleopterist, I spent most of my time lost in a befuddled daze of incomprehensible taxonomy. There are so many beetles. The larger families each hold more species than all of the vertebrates combined. Think about all the mammals and birds you know- the warblers, the polar bears, the shrews, the hummingbirds- and they don’t even add up to a quarter of the weevils. That’s just the weevils, too. Never mind the ground beetles, the rove beetles, and the leaf beetles.

I did what I could to learn about these insects. I started the Friday Beetle Blog during this time, for example, and I’d try to look up information about the species I was sequencing. At least so I might know what they looked like.

Nonetheless, Polyphaga defeated me. I just couldn’t stay ahead of the endless flow of incoming samples, and the list of species in our sequence database just got longer and longer.  I’d recognize the names of most of the things just from typing them out all the time, but couldn’t keep else much in my head about them.

One of the hundreds of beetles I sequenced was the polypore fungus beetle Penthe pimelia. I always liked that name, it would pleasingly emerge within the Tenebrionoidea in our phylogenies. Other than that, I couldn’t tell you a thing about it, not with dozens of other tenebrionoids to worry about, and hundreds of other polyphagans and so on.

So I’m pleased to report that, all on my own, here in Illinois, I’ve found Penthe pimelia. This is what they look like- velvety black, not quite as long as a penny, and painfully shy. This one was hiding out in a rotting log, presumably feasting on fungus.

Photo details (top): Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 400, f/13, 1/200 sec, indirect flash in white box
(bottom) Canon mp-e 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 100, f13, 1/250 sec, diffused flash

Little Fire Ants

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Wasmannia auropunctata – little fire ants
Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of the world’s worst invaders, the little fire ants have spread from the new world tropics to warmer regions around the globe, becoming especially problematic on oceanic islands. The ants above, though, are from an innocuous native population in northern Argentina. They arrived at a cookie bait at the Costanera Sur reserve, barely noticeable specks of orange just over a millimeter long.

Wasmannia has a painful sting for such a small insect, and the ants do this annoying thing where they’ll wander around on your body for an hour or two before deciding to stick it to you. So there you’ll be, relaxing at the bar long after getting in from the field, and ZAM!  Right between the shoulder blades.

Photo details: Canon mp-e 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 20D
ISO 100, f13, 1/250 sec, diffused flash

A Phylogeny for the Dolichoderine Ants

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Leptomyrmex darlingtoni, Australia

A big day for ant evolution! The Ant Tree of Life research group (AToL) has published their dolichoderine phylogeny in the journal Systematic Biology.

Dolichoderines are one of the big ant subfamilies, comprising just under ten percent of the world’s ant species. These are dominant, conspicuous ants noted for having ditched the heavy ancestral ant sting and armor in favor of speed, agility, and refined chemical weaponry. Most dolichoderines live in large colonies with extensive trail networks, and they fuel their frenetic lifestyle through copious consumption of hemipteran honeydew.

The paper is unfortunately behind a subscription barrier, but I’ve reproduced the primary finding below. Continue reading →

Monday Night Mystery

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“Ah, an easy one!” you might think.

But no. I’m only handing out 4 points for identifying this common Illinois ant species. I’m more interested in this ant’s quarry, for six points: 2 each for order, family, and genus. First correct guess in each category gets the points.

The cumulative point winner at the end of April gets an 8×10 print from the gallery, or a guest blog post on a topic of their choosing.

Introducing a Guide to the Ants of North America

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No, not really. I’m just kidding. Wouldn’t it be great to have an ant field guide, though?

Off and on for the past couple years I’ve been playing with concepts. A potential format is this (click to download pdf):


The salient features, in my opinion:

  • Targeted at the general naturalist, so less technical than the excellent Fisher & Cover guide
  • Organized around genera, as species IDs remain problematic without microscopes
  • With synopses of the most commonly encountered species
  • Containing brief chapters on ant ecology, collection, culture, etc

But that’s what I’d like in an ant book. The reason I’m posting this little teaser is to learn what you would like in an ant book.

What information should be covered? What do you like and dislike about the sample above? Would you prefer a guide that is more comprehensive and heavy, or more concise and portable? Should we sell it as an iPhone app in addition to, or instead of, a book? What do you think?

[note: Yes, I do know of the other ant guide effort. There is a significant chance that our projects will merge- in which case your feedback here will be useful to an even greater number of people].

Friday Beetle Blogging: A mealworm comes of age

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Tenebrio molitor, pupa

Tenebrio molitor is a darkling beetle known more for its immature stages than for its adults. It is the ubiquitous mealworm. You can buy these granivorous beetles at any pet store as food for fish, birds, and reptiles.

The above shot of a developing pupa requires two sources of light. A flash head positioned behind the insect backlights the subject to produce the translucent glow. A second, positioned above and in front, is powered down and provides the highlights and details of the head and appendages.

Tenebrio molitor larva and pupa

Stronger backlighting gives this shot more glow

Photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 100, f13, 1/40-1/250  sec