My ambient light bug portraits are nowhere near as good as those by the amazing Rick Lieder. But I’m working on it. Here’s a coenagrionid damselfly:

photo details: Canon EOS 7D camera
Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens
ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/800 sec

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.

In the wake of the Scienceblogs fiasco I have been thinking about the conundrum faced by bug bloggers who decide to offset the costs of their hobby by selling ad space. I’ve noticed a pattern.

All- not just some- but ALL the bug blogs that are supported by advertising serve those godawful Terminex ones. You know the ones I’m talking about, with the scurrying roaches and the scare quotes about Salmonella. It’s as if Terminex decided to take half their PR budget and buy up the blogosphere.

It doesn’t matter if every blog post is about the beauty and wonder of insects, and how each is a splendid marvel of nature. It doesn’t matter if the readership is like-minded buggy folk who cringe at the very thought of pesticides. Terminex will plaster a scare ad across the top.

There is a valid role in our society for pest control companies. It just happens to fill 10% of the space the current industry inhabits. The rest is snake-oil salesmen scaring homeowners into needlessly throwing money at them for imaginary problems. While I do know some excellent pest control people, much of the business- and especially the large internationals- is populated by the ignorant, the money-grubbing, and the ethically-challenged.

Judging from the current blog ads, it seems bug bloggers don’t have a choice. If you run ads, you get Terminex. Surely there must be other companies whose products intersect with an entomologically-literate readership.

[editor’s note: we are not about to start serving ads here at Myrmecos. This is merely an observation stemming from what we’ve seen on other blogs.]

Monday Night Mystery

We’ve pointed and laughed at iStockphoto enough already. Let’s pick on Getty instead:

This ant is misidentified. The horror!

To collect all ten points for tonight’s mystery, be the first to provide the correct genus-level identification. Breaking with tradition, you’ll also need to explain which character(s) support your answer. No exply, no pointsy.

The cumulative points winner for the month of July will win their choice of 1) an 8×10-sized print from my photo galleries, or 2) a guest post here on Myrmecos.

Our garden beehives have been growing quickly. The afternoon’s orientation flights- where young bees try out their wings and learn to recognize landmarks around the hive- were especially busy so I pulled out my video gear:

This just in….

Andrea Lucky and Milan Janda are seeking specimens of the following ant taxa in 95% EtOH for a study of biogeographic patterns in Melanesian/Pacific ants:

Nylanderia (Paratrechina) vaga (Forel)
Odontomachus simillimus
Smith F.
Oecophylla smaragdina
Solenopsis papuana
Tapinoma melanocephalum
Tetramorium pacificum
Mayr (Also of interest are Tetramorium insolens (F. Smith) and Tetramorium tonganum Mayr)

If you are willing to donate any of these species to this project, please contact Andrea Lucky (alucky@ncsu.edu) or Milan Janda (mjanda@oeb.harvard.edu) for details about identifications and shipping.

Thank you!

Oecophylla smaragdina

I know, Myrmecos Blog has been horribly boring the last few weeks. Except for the occasional Beetle Blog, that is.

That’s because I’ve been spending most of my time preparing lectures, grading midterms, and other sundry tasks associated with teaching an introductory beekeeping class. I can’t complain, though. The students are a fantastic bunch- and fearless,  judging from all the short sleeves. And playing with handfuls of bees is just plain old-fashioned fun. So the blog has languished more than I would have liked.

Anyway. Here are images from the class.

Continue Reading »

I suppose I should say something about the mess over at Scienceblogs.

If you haven’t been following the story, earlier this week Scienceblogs sold a valuable piece of blogging real estate to PepsiCo. A paid-for corporate blog was suddenly and without prior announcement dropped into the middle of our lineup of independently contracted blogs. It was a spectacular failure of management both in its execution and in its failure to anticipate the obvious reaction from the scienceblogging community. Several bloggers resigned- particularly the science journalists- and several others went on hiatus, including this blog.

Myrmecos is not a nutrition blog, and I am not a journalist, so on the surface I shouldn’t  be so conflicted by sharing a server with a Pepsi-sponsored corporate blog. And I am not, at least not on the basis of some sort of anti-capitalist sentiment. After all, many sciencebloggers rather transparently use the medium for hawking their own wares. Lots of folks promote their own books. We all get paid for pageviews. And I’ll be honest- I use the visibility of Scienceblogs to drive traffic to my image galleries.

So why did I suspend my activity at Scienceblogs?

The Pepsi fiasco was not an isolated incident. Scienceblogs has systemic organizational flaws that the kerfuffle revealed in grand fashion. I recognize all organizations have their weak spots, and all people make mistakes. But the errors made by management last week reflected not just little problems but rather large ones both in the long-term vision department and in the nitty-gritty implementation department. Pepsi was just the fizzy drink that broke the camel’s back.

Next week CEO Adam Bly has scheduled a conference call to discuss our concerns. I have not decided whether to keep Myrmecos at Scienceblogs- I will wait to hear what Mr. Bly has to say before making any final decision. At this point, though, it’s going to take an honest commitment to structural- and ethical- reform to convince me to stay on.

That’s all I have to say. If you’d like additional reading on the whole sordid soap opera I recommend these fine links:

[the following is an invited post by coleopterist Ted MacRae]

Ted MacRae from Beetles in the Bush here, and today it is my privilege to present this week’s post for the Friday Beetle Blogging series here at Myrmecos Blog. For what reason was I bestowed this great honor? I’d like to say it was because of my witty prose, my stunning photography, or even my all around niceness.  In truth, however, it was simply because I was the June winner of Alex’s Monday Night Mystery contest – so he had to let me!

These are some of my most recent photographs of Cylindera celeripes, or the Swift Tiger Beetle.  This tiny (6-8 mm in length), flightless beetle and I have become good friends over the past couple of years, which is saying something since the species has been dealt a rather bad hand by man over the past century.  Once abundant in the central and southern Great Plains, its numbers have declined drastically as the native prairie habitats it depends upon have been converted to row crops and exotic grasses.  It was last seen in Nebraska nearly 100 years ago, and only small numbers have been seen in the Loess Hills of Iowa during the past half century.  The Flint Hills of Kansas seemed to be its last stronghold, but last year I found robust populations in the Red Clay/Gypsum Hills of northwestern Oklahoma and extended its known range in the Loess Hills south into Missouri.  Since then, I’ve been monitoring these two populations and perfecting laboratory rearing techniques for this never-before-reared species.  Just yesterday (big announcement!), the first individual reared completely from egg to adult emerged from its pupal chamber.  The photos shown here were taken last weekend in Oklahoma’s Glass Mountains – the first shows a female in the act of ovipositing into a small hole she had dug in the soil, and the second is a closer view of the same individual after she had finished her business.

photo details: Canon 50D camera
Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens
ISO 100, f/14 (top) f/13 (bottom), 1/250 sec
Canon MT-24EX flash (1/8 power, double diffusion)

A recent PLoS One paper by Dejean et al documents a novel predatory behavior of Azteca andreae. Rather than waste words explaining it, here’s a video:

The key innovation is that the plant is woolly.  That is, the underside of the leaves are covered in fibrous hairs not unlike the fuzzy side of Velcro®. When paired with tarsal hooks on the tips of ants’ feet, the whole assembly behaves as such, and the ants can snare heavy prey without becoming dislodged from the leaf.

By growing structures for the ants’ footholds, the plant helps the ants catch insects that might otherwise consume it. It’s an ingenious form of self-defense.

source: Dejean A, Leroy C, Corbara B, Roux O, Céréghino R, et al (2010) Arboreal Ants Use the “Velcro® Principle” to Capture Very Large Prey. PLoS ONE 5(6): e11331. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011331