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Posts Tagged ‘entomology

“If locusts are ravenous sociopaths, cicadas are more like frat boys – clumsy, loud, and obsessed with sex”*…

… and they are, themselves, the object of other species’ obsessions…

This spring’s emergence of periodical cicadas in the eastern U.S. will make more than a buzz. Their bodies—which will number in the billions—will also create an unparalleled food fest for legions of small would-be predators, including many birds and mammals. But some animals may benefit more than others, and any boost predator populations get from the coming buffet of winged insects will likely be short-lived, researchers say.

Tiny chickadees and mice have been known to wrestle these chunky bugs for a quick snack. Raptors, fish, spiders, snakes and turtles will gulp them down when given the chance. Captive zoo animals, such as meerkats, monitor lizards and sloth bears, will do so as well if the insects show up in their enclosure. Observers have even reported seeing domestic cats trap two cicadas at once, one under each forepaw.

This spring, three species of cicadas (collectively referred to as Brood X or Brood 10) will crawl out of the ground where they have spent the previous 17 years. They will coat the limbs and leaves of trees, sing, mate, lay eggs and then die. Uneaten corpses and body parts will add nutrients to the soil, bolstering the ecosystem and its denizens long after the boisterous insects disappear. But the famous periodicity of cicada broods can set some predators up for feast-then-famine scenarios—population booms followed by food insecurity and then sudden drops in numbers.

“In response to this superabundance of food, a lot of the predator populations have outrageously good years,” says Richard Karban, a University of California, Davis, entomologist who studies periodical cicadas. “But then the next year, and in the intervening years, there’s no food for them, so their populations crash again.”

Predators could be part of the reason that these slow-flying, defenseless and colorful cicadas emerge periodically instead of perennially. Over millennia, synchronized periodic emergences as a dense mob could have led to higher adult survival rates. Thus, the insects evolved to adopt their unusual life cycle—most of which is spent feeding underground—explains University of Connecticut evolutionary biologist and ecologist Chris Simon, who studies cicadas. “The predators are really important in driving the whole story,” she says. The success of the species effectively banks on sheer volume…

Most bird species do not travel to take advantage of cicada emergences… They live and eat in the same areas year after year, picking off the insects opportunistically instead of traveling to the cicada motherlode… cuckoos are an exception: they migrate to take advantage of insect outbreaks all over the country…

Despite all the eager predators, the life-cycle gamble on high-volume emergences pays off for periodical cicadas. Most survive predation to mate and then drop dead to the forest floor. But even if they go uneaten, their ecosystem impact does not stop there. Cicada bodies contain about 10 percent nitrogen, which is more than the concentration found in dead leaves and other typical forest litter, says Louie Yang, a University of California, Davis, entomologist, who studies resource pulses and phenological shifts. Plants such as American bellflowers will take up the nitrogen from the dead cicadas, and herbivorous mammals and insects will selectively feed on the higher-nitrogen fertilized leaves, he adds.

Patterns such as this one illustrate the ecological lens that periodical cicadas can provide on biological communities and evolutionary timelines. “I love the reciprocity of the whole system,” Yang says. “I think this kind of stuff happens all the time, but it’s usually hard to see. When these pulse events happen, it makes it really obvious—we can see that pulse pass through the system.”…

Billions of emerging insects will likely trigger predator population surges: “Brood X Cicadas Could Cause a Bird Baby Boom.”

Oh, and given climate change, 17-year cicadas could become 13-year cicadas: “The cicadas are coming. And they’re changing dramatically.”

* Catherine Price, 101 Places Not to See Before You Die

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As we bear the buzz, we might recall that it was on this date in 1923 that insulin became publicly available for use by diabetics. Frederick Banting had discovered insulin in 1921, and refused to put his name on the patent. He felt it was unethical for a doctor to profit from a discovery that would save lives. He and his co-inventors, James Collip and Charles Best, sold the insulin patent to the University of Toronto for a mere $1. They wanted everyone who needed their medication to be able to afford it.

Today, Banting and his colleagues would be spinning in their graves: Their drug, which many of the 30 million Americans with diabetes rely on, has become the poster child for pharmaceutical price gouging.

The cost of the four most popular types of insulin has tripled over the past decade, and the out-of-pocket prescription costs patients now face have doubled. By 2016, the average price per month rose to $450 — and costs continue to rise, so much so that as many as one in four people with diabetes are now skimping on or skipping lifesaving doses

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Written by LW

April 15, 2021 at 1:01 am

“There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away”*…

 

BQR-Vol.-1-No.-12-1916-Bookworm

 

Nor indeed, to transport pests, it seems…

In Micrographia, a “study of the Minute Bodies made by the Magnifying Glass”, London, MDCLXVII, one of the earliest publications issued under the authority of the newly-formed Royal Society, Robert Hooke described in Observation LII the “small silver-colour’d Book-worm”, “which upon the removal of Books and Papers in the Summer, is often observed very nimbly to scud, and pack away to some lurking cranny”. The third figure of the 33rd scheme pictures a monster so formidable-looking that Blades (Enemies of Books, 1896) may be forgiven the suggestion that Hooke “evolved both engraving and description from his inner consciousness”… [source]

Hooke

Bookworm (Fig. 3, top) in Hooke’s Micrographia

But as later observation confirmed, Hooke was on the money…  Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford and one of the board of trustees of the Bodleian Library — called the Curators — of the Library reported in the first Volume of the Bodleian’s Quarterly Record

‘In October 1915 I received from a Paris bookseller, M. Lucien Gougy, three volumes of the Histoire abregie de la derniere persecution de Port-Royal. Edition Royale, MDCCL.’ In one of the volumes Osler found a living book-worm, of species Anobium hirtum, ‘not a native of England, but met with occasionally in the centre and south of France.’

In true scientific fashion, Osler arranged for a portrait of the larva [the image at the top of this post] to be made by Horace Knight, natural history illustrator of the British Museum. Knight sent the picture in September 1916, apologising that he had ‘been waiting in hopes the larva would pupate, but it has not even commenced to make a case…’.

Bookworms and the Bodleian: “The Bodleian Quarterly Record, Vol. I (1914-16); and Osler’s ‘Illustrations of the book-worm’.”

* Emily Dickinson

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As we devour books, we might recall that it was on this date in 1890 that Alfred Harmsworth published the first edition of Comic Cuts, the first British weekly comic paper.  A savvy publicist, Harmsworth relentlessly advertised the then-amazing fact that his paper was only a halfpenny an issue.  Indeed in his manifesto in the first issue he wrote:

How is it possible for any one to provide an illustrated paper… for a halfpenny? Well, it is possible to do it, but that is all. I feel sure that the public will appreciate the fact that they are getting full value for their money, and will therefore buy the paper in immense numbers weekly.

And indeed his comic book was published from 1890 to 1953, lasting for 3006 issues– during which time it inspired the birth of an industry, as other publishers began to emulate him,  producing rival comic magazines.

 

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”*…

 

Deep into the Dog Days of Summer, readers are likely struggling to beat the heat… and thinking defensively about those predatory pests-of-the-season, mosquitoes (or as Bill Gate’s calls the species, “the deadliest animal in the world“).  The little-bitty buzzers just keep on coming…  And perhaps most frustratingly, they seem to bother some of us much more than others.

Smithsonian runs down the surprisingly long list of reasons in “Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others?”  (Spoiler alert:  while 85% of them are genetic, beer makes one a more attractive morsel to the little bloodsuckers.)  Happily, there is a prospect of some relief.

* Dalia Lama XIV

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As we splash on the DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1254 that the first known court case involving chess and violence was heard in Essex, England.  It dealt with a chess player who stabbed his opponent to death after losing.  But while this was the of relatively few such incidents to make it into the criminal justice system, chess violence was apparently pretty wide-spread– common enough to move French King Louis IX to ban chess.  And indeed, such violence continues to this day.

“The King is dead”

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Written by LW

August 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The Creator, if He exists, has an inordinate fondness for beetles”…

 

J. B. S. Haldane was moved to utter the quote that gives this post its title by his observation that there are more types of beetles than any other form of insect, and more insects than any other kind of animal. Cataloguing beetles, then, is a formidable challenge… But not too daunting for Dr. Udo Schmidt of Selbitz, in Germany.  Dr. Schmidt has photographed and catalogued thousands of them– which readers can find here.

(Dr. Schmidt, something of a taxonomical overachiever, has also photographed and collected thousands of mollusks.)

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As we wonder where we left that roach, we might recall that it was on this date in 1871 that the American Museum of Natural History opened to the public in New York City. Organized into a series of exhibits, the Museum’s collection–which had ben gathered from the time of the Museum’s founding in 1869– went on view for the first time in the Central Park Arsenal, the Museum’s original home, on the eastern side of Central Park. The cornerstone of the Museum’s first building was laid in Manhattan Square (79th Street and Central Park West), the Museum’s current location, in 1874; but it is obscured from view by the many Museum buildings in the complex that today occupy most of the Square.

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“Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance”*…

 

Florida is, famously, a “Stand Your Ground” state.  That ground is getting steadily dicier…

First spotted on the peninsula in 2011, Giant African Land Snails (Achatina achatina, AKA “giant Ghana snail” and “giant tiger land snail”) have taken hold in The Sunshine State, and are causing massive agricultural and social problems. Hugely destructive to crops, the creatures themselves are dangerous, in that they are able to gnaw through stucco and plastics, will eat almost any organic material, and have shells hard enough to pop tires on the freeway (and become shrapnel when run over by lawnmowers).  Believed to have migrated from Caribbean islands, over a thousand are caught each week in Miami-Dade County; and their numbers are growing as more come out of hibernation.  Oh, and they also carry a form of rat lungworm which can cause meningitis in humans, although no human cases have been reported as yet.

[TotH to Slashdot; photo sourced here]

* Lewis Carroll, “The Mock Turtle’s Song” (AKA “Lobster Quadrille”) in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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As we watch our steps, we might send send creepy crawly birthday greetings to Sir Vincent Brian Wigglesworth FRS; he was born on this date in 1899.  Perhaps the most exquisitely-appropriately named entomologist of all time, Wigglesworth pioneered in the study of insect physiology; indeed, his Insect Physiology (1934) is often considered the foundation for this branch of entomology.  Wigglesworth’s demonstration of the complexity of individual insects and their dynamic relationships with their environments paved the way for using insects – instead of mice or other laboratory animals – for some fundamental investigation of animal physiology and function.

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Written by LW

April 17, 2013 at 1:01 am

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