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Collective Intelligence

Within ant colonies, nobody’s in charge. There’s no central control. No one, not even the queen, gives orders in the colony. The queen can:

But she doesn’t give orders for the other ants to follow. Instead, each ant walks around in her own world and operates on feedback from her environment.

These individual actions result in a collective intelligence, where the seemingly uninformed interactions of individuals can add up to a group dynamic that shapes the world.

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Ants aren’t alone with their collective intelligence. Individual decisions are how:

Our choices in the buffet line, our electing of leaders and even our internet search results all represent the presence of collective intelligence at work.

It’s easy to squash an ant. Pretty easy to catch a fish or knock down a bird. But to wipe out the insect society? Capture the school or flock? Smash our culture? Each individual choice, that ant reacting to the smell of a chocolate chip cookie, makes a world of difference.

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By Roar. Illustrated by Christin Hardy.

 Christin Hardy grew up in a teeny, tiny place called Seven Springs, North Carolina, where livestock outnumber people. Her father is a farmer and her mother is an artist, so naturally Christin turned out to be an artist who loves nature, infusing it into her work and life. Currently she works for the NCDOT designing posters, banners and brochures, but her heart lies in explaining science through illustrations and graphic design. […]

By |June 17th, 2015|Backbones, Bugs|1 Comment

Bugs are Shiny, but How? And Why?

Like Katy Perry’s halftime star ride, some bugs just beg to be seen. Some flash and glimmer to attract mates while others show off to tell you to back off. Whether they’re blending in with a little bling or wowing with disco-ball bodies, insects use amazing engineering feats to play tricks with light. Here’s how they do it:

Piled sheets of exoskeleton create stunning colors in beetles and harlequin bugs, as well as the mirror-like golds and silvers found in chrysalises.

Some insects take reflecting to the next level with added features. Morpho butterflies’ tree-shaped structures work like LEDs. They trap light and force it back out in a straight line. Morphos are even more impressive than LEDs, reflecting 80 percent of the light that enters their wings.

 

Another type of reflector uses dishes that reflect light with a colorful effect. Different dish thicknesses, widths, and depths result in different color and shine outcomes. These structures not only produce regal brown in the bronzed tiger beetle but also help the gaudy Madagascar sunset moth strut her stuff.

Weevils and some butterflies use complex 3D, crystal-like structures in their exoskeletons to reflect light, like opals. Light bounces off the indentions in all directions.

 

Cooler still: Some insects use their powers of reflection to hide from selected audiences. The green hairstreak butterfly’s wings reflect polarized light to its mates while camouflaging its wings against new spring leaves.

 

 

Some Morpho butterflies flash shiny blue or green signals to mates from the sidelines while appearing […]

By |May 28th, 2015|Bugs|1 Comment

Things that get under your skin: Parasitoids

Your worst enemies can really get under your skin. Insects known as parasitoids do just that, getting into other insects’ bodies and eating their hosts alive from the inside out.

More than 100,000 described parasitoid species of wasps, flies and other insects lurk the globe, hoping to turn nearly every type of insect’s life into a horror show.

The following parasitoids master the horrifying art of living inside an all-you-can-eat buffet.

1. Aphidiinae
BHR-parasitoid-illo-2Aphidiinae wasps are aphid specialists. These tiny terrors find unsuspecting aphids and jam their waspy eggs directly into the aphids’ abdomens with needle-like egg-laying devices. Our poor aphids die slowly as wasp larva slurp their nutritious aphid guts. Meanwhile, the aphids’ outsides turn into a papery, brown protective husk, from which Aphidiinae burst triumphantly as adults.

Don’t get too comfy inside that aphid husk, Aphidiinae!

2. Asaphes vulgaris
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Hyperparasitoids, like the even smaller wasp Asaphes vulgaris, attack parasitoid wasps already infecting hosts. Hyperparasitoids of Aphidiinae, for example, will seek out parasitized aphids. The hyperparasitoid inserts an egg into the first parasitoid, and after its own gobblefest, the new larvae pupates before chewing its way out of the aphid, like the tiniest doll in a horrific babushka.

Some parasitoids don’t have an only child complex.

3. Copidasoma

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Copidasoma takes a “DIY, babies!” approach to child rearing by depositing a few eggs into moth eggs. The moth caterpillars hatch, unaware that they’re stuffed with flesh eating aliens. While the young caterpillars grow up, the wasp eggs rapidly divide, and the original few become up to 2000 eggs, a […]

By |May 13th, 2015|artist in residence, Bugs|5 Comments

Blast from the Past: Animals in Space!

They did it, folks. Ants went to the International Space Station the verdict is out: even in microgravity they can still figure out how to ruin a picnic. Let’s take a minute to remember other crusading creatures who also took the trip beyond earth’s borders (originally posted 4/16/14):

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Editor’s note:

While we commend these brave creatures on their orbital journeys and appreciate the valuable job they do for us humans, we’d like to point out that many other animals went into space before and after them. Animals like monkeys, apes, dogs, mice, cats, goldfish, and chimpanzees. Some returned fine, and others suffered extreme conditions. Outer space is littered with the corpses of more than half a century of our investigations. Here’s a brief summary of some of our unfortunate animals: http://science.howstuffworks.com/dead-animals-in-space.htm, and you can read more about them online.

View/download Animals in Spaaaaaaace in poster form (PDF) 

Drawn by Hoot, written by Roar.

Check our facts!

1 http://archive.rubicon-foundation.org/xmlui/handle/123456789/9288

2 http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/fruit_fly/#.UyMX1oVPJS4

3 http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/ast.2005.5.690

4 http://jeb.biologists.org/content/209/16/3209.short

5 http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/9-12/features/F_Animals_in_Space_9-12.html

6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12528722?dopt=Abstract

7 http://www.nsbri.org/EDUCATION-and-TRAINING/Teaching-Resources/Middle-School/Butterflies-in-Space/

8 http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition22/butterflies.html

9 http://jeb.biologists.org/content/212/24/4033.full

10 http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0064793

11 http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/786.html

12 http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/world-s-first-spidernaut-lands-smithsonian

13 http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/space_spiders_live.html

 

By |April 15th, 2015|Bugs|0 Comments

Sinister Sniffles: Animals with Malevolent Mucus

Welcome to winter’s icy dread: Everywhere we look, people are miserably shuffling about, constantly sniffing back a runny nose. While the sneezing soul crammed next to you on the bus might seem adversarial toward your good health, the world is full of critters that have truly weaponized their gooey secretions. This winter, we’re jealous of these four:

1. Hagfish: These primitive, worm-like fish, with their scaleless bodies and poor eyesight, seem like easy prey for predatory fish.

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But hagfish, when threatened, release a thick slime from glands running along their sides.

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This slime quickly expands in seawater to several gallons’ worth of slippery, translucent grossness. The booger cloud clogs the gills of attackers, promptly persuading them to cough out their hagfish meal.

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2. Boxfish: When harassed, these little reef fish excrete a soapy mucus from their skin, which disperses widely into the water.

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It is loaded with pahutoxin, a potent, lethal poison that targets enemies’ gills, destroying red blood cells.

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Aquarium-residing boxfish, hours after a chance poisonous release, are commonly discovered as a lone, oblivious survivor surrounded by scores of dead tankmates.

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3. Velvet worms: These weird, plushy invertebrates are slow, but they capture their food in an amazing fashion.

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Velvet worms have two glands near their mouths that can […]

By |February 11th, 2015|Backbones, Bugs, No Backbones|2 Comments

The secret extra animals in your food

Yes, you CAN have your peanut butter and some roaches, too! In the United States, it’s legal to get served a little extra protein in your PB&J. Even vegetarians get a little extra meat, whether they want it or not.

Here are some of the FDA’s regulations regarding acceptable levels of insect parts in food. Most of these regulations were made for “aesthetic” purposes only:

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Peanut butter: You can have up to 30 insect parts or 1 rodent hair per 100 grams.

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Chocolate: If you want that Hershey bar, go for it, and get yourself up to 60 insect fragments or a big, fat rodent hair in every 100 grams.

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Canned fruit juice: Have yourself a nice glass of orange juice—with up to one maggot for FREE!

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Cornmeal: If you want to go whole-hog, may we suggest some cornmeal? You can get up to one whole insect per 50 grams and up to 1 piece of rodent doo doo per 50 grams (on average) and be juuuust fine. Tamales and hushpuppies for everyone!

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Fish: Because we like oozy things, we’d love to see the stuff we’re allowed to eat on fish. With red fish and ocean perch, we can have copepods “accompanied by pus pockets,” and for blue fin and other freshwater herring, we can have up to 60 parasitic cysts per 100 fish.

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Hops: How about a beer? With an average of more than 2,500 aphids allowed […]

By |December 17th, 2014|Backbones, Bugs, No Backbones, Other Science|2 Comments

Take 5: Notes of Greatness from the 2014 ESA Conference

Hoot traveled to Portland, Oregon last week for the Entomology 2014 conference, and had a blast! Here’s some of what she learned:

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1. Twitter takes taxonomy to the next level. Tweeps tweet life around them in places where taxonomists can’t always go. Just ask Morgan Jackson @BioInFocus.

 

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2. In fact, there are all kinds of reasons scientists should use Twitter and other social media—to find collaborators, help fight off imposter syndrome, share a really cool story about a centipede…  Such great insight from Derek Hennen (@derekhennen)

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3. People are seriously taking a sofa safari across the U.S.A.! We’re tuning in, as the Bug Chicks (Kristie Reddick, M.S., and Jessica Honaker, M.S.) trek through some of our own backyards. Awesome photos and stories on their blog, http://thebugchicks.com/blog/. Follow them on Twitter too (@thebugchicks)

 

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4. Phil Torres is more than just a fancy TV personality! He’s a social media whiz who really knows his science. Check out his work on TheRevScience and Al Jazeera America.

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5. Yes, bug art is a thing. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is fun, and some of it just tells us what’s up. Take, for example, Chris Hedstrom (@OregonBeatSheet), Katie McKissack (@beatricebiology), Esabelle Ryngin (@wowowosh), Carly Tribull (@cmtribull), Alexander Westrich, and Ainsley Seago (@americanbeetles).

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For more awesome science on social media, be sure to follow Gwen Pearson (@bug_gwen), Marianne Alleyne (@cotesia1), Cameron Webb (@mozziebites), Leslie Allee, and Scott Meers(@ABBugCounter). We […]

By |November 26th, 2014|Bugs, News|0 Comments

Happy Halloween! Lesser-Known Vampires of the Animal World

Forget Dracula—these Nosferatus of the animal world would make our blood curdle if they didn’t seem so impossible.

Vampire finch: Somehow, the thought of adorable birds hanging around drinking blood is just about the eeriest thing ever. The sharp-beaked ground finch in the Galapagos has the annoying and creepy habit of pecking at other birds until they bleed and then sipping their blood.

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Vampire bats: Yes, yes. We all know about these sharp-teethed exsanguinators. But did we know that if the vampire bat Desmodus rotundus goes for two nights without a blood meal, it will starve to death? They need to consume at least 50 percent of their body weight in blood each night and will vomit blood into their less-fed friends’ mouths to keep them alive. We’ll keep company with fruit bats instead, thank you.

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Vampire squirrels: Okay, this is local legend, but folks say the little-understood Bornean tufted ground squirrel (Rheithrosciurus macrotis), known to us as Mr. Bushytail Deluxe, attacks larger animals, severs their jugulars, and scarfs down their innards. Go get ‘em, Bushytail Deluxe!

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Vampire spiders: The vampire spider (Evarcha culicivora) wants to drink your blood—but only if it’s in the belly of a mosquito. The small East African jumping spider looks for blood-fed mosquitoes to slurp down as its favorite meal.

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Dracula ants: Hmmm. What would make a delicious and nutritious meal for a hungry ant queen? How about her own children’s blood? When dracula ant (in the genus […]

By |October 29th, 2014|Backbones, Bugs|2 Comments

It’s Our Birthday!

This time last year, we were just opening our wee little eyes to the Great World of Blogging. In honor of our birthday, we’d like to share with you this totally unscientific list of our top 3 favorite, mostly official baby animal names. Do you have any more favorites?

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Also in honor of our birthday, we printed limited-edition BHR squirrel talk T-shirts. They’re green! They’re for sale! And, if you’re interested in drawing for us for a super-soft T-shirt with a squirrel on it, now’s your chance! Email us and let us know!

Special thanks to Matt Shipman and Julia Ellis, who give great birthday presents.

Illlustrated by Julia Rice, an educator, designer and artist based in Raleigh, North Carolina. She develops and directs design education programs for young people at the Design Lab at the College of Design at NC State University, has a master’s in art therapy and counseling, and likes to tell funny stories. Whether she’s making things or making things happen, you can see what she’s up to at http://thedotank.tumblr.com/. Follow her on Twitter @IamTheDoTank

By |October 8th, 2014|Backbones, Bugs|1 Comment

The Horrors of Your Backyard: Squirrel Warbles

It’s that time of year again. Time when squirrels come lumbering up to our windows minding their own business with their bellies looking like Quasi Modo had a baby with the Elephant Man.

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Our squirrels have warbles.

In parts of the United States, about one in four squirrels has warbles.

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Here’s what warbles are:
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Here’s what they really are:
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Check our facts!
By roar.
By |September 24th, 2014|Backbones, Bugs|4 Comments