Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Pipette Hero

Given that the current crop of video games is not nearly science-nerdy enough, my friend Rob Mitchell made this graphic as a helpful suggestion to anyone looking to design a new one. I’m just passing it along…

Read Full Post »


Here’s a story about a parasitic nematode that turns black ants into ripe red berries. What’s this about?

The parasite needs to get its eggs from an infected ant to healthy ants. Apparently it hasn’t been successful the old-fashioned way, just broadcasting its eggs about the environment. Instead, these little worms have figured out a far more effective egg delivery vehicle: birds.

Ants of the genus Cephalotes often feed from bird droppings (for instance, see here). If a parasitic egg can get itself into a bird’s digestive system, it’ll wind up in a juicy fecal pellet where it may be inadvertently picked up by hungry ants.

The manner in which the nematode reaches a bird is particularly clever: parasites of reproductive age make the infected ant look like bird food. The rounded end of the ants’ abdomen (the gaster) turns from black to red, and infected ants raise their gasters high in the air where they appear like ripe berries. Bird eats ant, bird poops out parasite eggs, ants eat egg-laden poop, ants begin to resemble bird food, and the cycle continues.


photos by Steve Yanoviak

Read Full Post »


Technomyrmex fisheri Bolton 2007
Madagascar, line drawing by Barry Bolton

Last month, British myrmecologist Barry Bolton published the first ever global synthesis of the ant genus Technomyrmex. The tome describes 37 new species, including Technomyrmex fisheri from Madagascar, named after Brian Fisher of Antweb. I’m always keen to try out new taxonomic keys, so I tested Bolton’s out on several unidentified African and Australian species in my collection. As is nearly always the case with Bolton’s meticulous work, the key worked flawlessly. I only wish I had more Technomyrmex to key.

Perhaps the most notable finding of the study, aside from the plethora of new species, is one that might upset the Pest Control folks. Bolton has discovered that the infamous White-Footed Ant, previously thought to be the single species T. albipes, is a complex of similar species, only one of which is T. albipes. In the long run, the knowledge that there are multiple pesty species in the group will better help us determine where they came from and how to control them, but of course in the short term these are the sorts of discoveries that make people hate taxonomists. Changing names makes literature retrieval more difficult, and it’s always tricky to have to remember a new name.

The Technomyrmex causing problems in Florida can no longer be referred to as Technomyrmex albipes. It is now Technomyrmex difficilis. Perhaps appropriately, we can now call this pest the “The Difficult Ant”. In any case, it looks like this in the field.

Source: Taxonomy of the dolichoderine ant genus Technomyrmex Mayr (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) based on the worker cast. Barry Bolton. 2007. 150 pp. Contributions of the American Entomological Institute Volume 35, No. 1.

Read Full Post »


Idioneurula donegani Huertas & Arias 2007



Huertas, B. and J. J. Arias. 2007. A new butterfly species from the Colombian Andes and a review of the taxonomy of the genera Idioneurula Strand, 1932 and Tamania Pyrcz, 1995 (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Satyrinae). Zootaxa 1652: 27-40.

The online journal Zootaxa has hosted the publication of 6723 new animal species since its inception in 2001, averaging over 2.8 new species per day. And that’s just a single journal- there are scores of taxonomy journals out there. Taxonomy is an old science, but it remains on the frontiers of biological discovery.

Read Full Post »


PZ Myers gives an excellent holiday gift suggestion for aspiring scientists: a microscope.

To fully appreciate the small animals around us, they must be visualized on their own scale. For the uninitiated, the first glance of live insects through a microscope can be shocking. My favorite description comes from myrmecologist Deby Cassill, recalling her introduction to fire ants: (more…)

Read Full Post »