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Posts Tagged ‘entomology’

This week, Public Radio International is hosting a forum whereby you- the fine people of the General Public- get a chance to converse online with eminent entomologist May Berenbaum about all things DDT.

The forum accompanies a piece from last week’s “The World”.  For background, you can read Berenbaum’s recent Washington Post essay about the DDT-malaria problem here:

What people aren’t remembering about the history of DDT is that, in many places, it failed to eradicate malaria not because of environmentalist restrictions on its use but because it simply stopped working. Insects have a phenomenal capacity to adapt to new poisons; anything that kills a large proportion of a population ends up changing the insects’ genetic composition so as to favor those few individuals that manage to survive due to random mutation. In the continued presence of the insecticide, susceptible populations can be rapidly replaced by resistant ones. Though widespread use of DDT didn’t begin until WWII, there were resistant houseflies in Europe by 1947, and by 1949, DDT-resistant mosquitoes were documented on two continents.

Aedes albopictus - Florida, USA

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Update on the oddity

mystery2aI hadn’t anticipated that my keen readers would try to guess the *species* of the aforementioned oddity, but since the guessing has headed in that direction I’ll post this hint, which shows the much more commonly seen worker caste of our little mystery bug.

Stakes are now at, um, 15 points. Yeah.

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An oddity

mystery2

This odd little beast crawled out of a leaf litter sample from a mesic oak/pine forest in Florida. Ten points to the first person who picks what it is.

(Not sure what you’ll do with ten points.  But hey.  You’re all a creative lot.)

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Alaus1Alaus oculatus (Elateridae) – The Eyed Elater
Illinois

One of North America’s largest beetles, the eyed elater is more than an inch long.  Alaus oculatus is widespread in the deciduous forests of eastern North America where their larvae are predators of wood-boring beetles.  Other species of Alaus occur in the south and west.  This individual was attracted to a pheromone trap intended to bring in longhorn beetles as part of a University of Illinois study on beetle pheromones, a ready demonstration of how predators may exploit the chemical signaling of their prey.

This particular beetle has been around the block already, apparently. Many of the hairs have worn off and both antennae are missing segments. Still, a striking insect.

Alaus2

photo details: Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 100, f/11, 1/160 sec (top) 1/125 sec (bottom), indirect strobe in a white box

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phantasma1

Paratrechina Nylanderia phantasma
Archbold Biological Station, Florida

Here’s an ant I almost didn’t notice.  Paratrechina Nylanderia phantasma is one of the least known insects in North America, active at night and restricted to a particular type of sandy soil in Florida.  Workers are only a couple millimeters long and the color of sand.  In the field they appear as ghostly little shapes skirting across the ground, scarcely visible even to those looking for them.

Incidentally, N. phantasma was named and described by James Trager, a frequent commentator here at Myrmecos Blog. Perhaps, if we’re really nice to him, James will tell us something more about this little ant.

[update 1/12/10, taxonomic change to Nylanderia]

photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D
ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f13, flash diffused through tracing paper

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sessile10

In California, the pesty ant that invaded our kitchen was the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile).  In Tucson, we had South American rover ants (Brachymyrmex patagonicus). Here in Illinois, our kitchen ant is a native species, Tapinoma sessile.  At any given moment we probably have two or three wandering about our countertops.

(more…)

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Eli

The summer insect season is upon us here in temperate North America, and with it comes the need for good identification guides.

Before I begin, a cautionary note.  We have so many species on our continent that were we to create a bird-type guide that listed all the insects, with their ranges and identifying characteristics, the full set would span at least 30 volumes.   Any book small enough to carry into the field necessarily omits more than 95% of the relevant animals.  Insect guides are understandably neurotic and overwhelmed compared to the corresponding bird and plant guides, and it’s worth remembering that guides represent the author’s judgment about which species are the most likely to be encountered.  With no guarantee, of course, that the mysterious bug in your hand is common.  Proper identification to species normally requires examination of a preserved specimen under high magnification with reference to the original taxonomic literature.

Having said all that though, let’s throw caution to the wind.  Here is my completely biased opinion* of the most prominent North American insect guides.

Kaufman1Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America.  The Kaufman guide was only published in the last couple years, but in that short period has become the first book I consult.   The reason is simple. This guide, written by Eric Eaton and Kenn Kaufman, makes no bones about being strictly an identification tool.  The pages are packed with stylized photos, stripped from their habitats and laid out next to each other for easier identification.  By skimping on the amount of text provided for each species, Eaton & Kaufman cover a broader array of species than competing guides- more than twice the number as the NWF guide, in fact.  An insect is more likely to show up in the pages of this guide than any other. Of course, the lack of accompanying biological detail is frustrating, but that’s the price of achieving both the smallest size and the greatest coverage. Highly recommended.

nwf1National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America. This handsome volume, authored by Art Evans, stands out for the depth of information provided for the illustrated species.  The photographs- many taken by the author- depict animals in their habitat, and the guide is among the most aesthetically pleasing books on the market.  The inevitable trade-off of providing more text per species is that fewer species are covered.  The NWF guide is not as likely to lead the reader to an identified insect as is the Kaufman guide, but the natural history detail in the text is much more satisfying for those insects that are included. Highly recommended.

nas1National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders. Decades out of date, riddled with creative misidentifications, and arranged in an utterly nonsensical manner, this book will provide hours of surreal amusement.  Some bugs are included with the beetles.  There are moths in the wasps, and flies in the bees, except for the ones placed with the ticks.  Or spiders.  In the book’s defense, the faux-leather binding is flexible and durable in the field, perhaps the most field-worthy of the lot, so you’ll be able to abuse this book for years and still be able to misidentify your insects just as easily as when it was new.  My advice?  Don’t bother.  Not recommended.

peterson1Peterson’s A Field Guide to Insects.  Peterson’s is the grandaddy of insect guides, now several decades past the original printing and slipping out of date, and digestable only by the already entomologically literate.  The vocabulary is technical, some of the characters arcane, and the illustrations are based on preserved specimens rather than live insects.  Non-specialists may lack the technical chops to properly use this guide. Or is it another sign that today’s kids just aren’t as smart as they used to be?  But I digress. For the persistent naturalist, the Peterson’s Guide offers the best hope for identifying rare and unusual insects short of consulting the original taxonomic monographs.  It’s a rigorous, professional, and satisfying guide.  If you’ve already passed Ent 101, that is.  Recommended only for more advanced users.

*disclaimer: The Kaufman and the NWF guide both licensed images from myrmecos.net in exchange for fistfuls of cash.

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From National Geographic’s In the Womb:

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…well, not really.  But an exchange I had at Photo Synthesis with Andrew Bleiman of Zooillogix got me thinking about all the different insects that have charmingly envenomated me at one time or another.

Myrmecia piliventris, Australia

Myrmecia piliventris, Australia

So I’m starting a meme called Things That Have Stung Me.  The rules are simple:

  1. List all the things that have stung you.
  2. Bites don’t count.
  3. Pass the meme to 3 or more other bloggers you suspect have also been well-zinged.

Here are mine.

Things that have stung me: (more…)

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Eastern Treehole Mosquito

Eastern Treehole Mosquito

My commercial gallery now has flies!

Diptera photographs at alexanderwild.com

I feel sort of embarassed at how few fly images I have, considering the importance of the group. That’s something I’ll try to remedy as we get into this summer’s photography season.

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