martineziana1

Martineziana dutertrei Fire Ant Beetle
Texas

Any insect that can fool an ant nest’s security system gains access to rich stores of food.  Martineziana scarab beetles are found only in colonies of Solenopsis fire ants where they feed on the ants and their brood.  This beetle was collected from a red imported fire ant mound at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in Austin, Texas.

photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 20D
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec, flash diffused through tracing paper

      

Our research on Ceraphronoidea (Hymenoptera) is kicking into high gear now, especially with the addition of István Mikó to our team and the acquisition of new piece of equipment – a new microscope and 12 Mpx camera. Our existing equipment performs well when we’re shooting relatively large insects, like this ensign wasp (Evaniidae: Micrevania sp.):

lateral habitus view of Micrevania wasp

That’s certainly a useful photograph, as I can see a good level of detail necessary to diagnose this species and estimate its relationship to other ensign wasps. When we try imaging anything smaller than 3.5 mm in length, though, the images lack resolution and are not nearly as informative. Here is part of a lateral habitus of a ceraphronoid wasp, Archisynarsis mongolica Szabó, 1973 (Megaspilidae: Lagynodinae), made using that same system:

blurry lateral habitus view of Archisynarsis wasp

That scale bar is 0.2 mm, so you can see how teenie meenie this wasp is relative to that ensign wasp in the image above. You can also see that this image lacks any kind of meaningful resolution. What is the surface sculpture of that head? Are there any informative sutures or carinae? Now here’s an image of a related wasp similar in size (though slightly larger) to A. mongolica, taken using our new system:

anterior head view of a Lagynodes male

Now THAT is a piece of art. This is a male Lagynodes sp. (Megaspilidae: Lagynodinae), and the scale bar is 0.1(!) mm. The image is not perfect yet, as we are still optimizing our system for this kind of imaging, but the difference is astounding – the surface sculpture, ommatidia, toruli, carinae, atc. are all clearly visible. We are waiting on a new objective that will take to yat another level of detail for smaller insects. We’ll keep you posted!

forel

Let’s take a lesson from the Swiss.  They deem myrmecologists of such great national importance that one once adorned the face of the country’s highest currency.  Auguste-Henri Forel and his beloved ants were featured on the 1000 Franc note from 1976 to 1995.

Ponder that for a moment.

A country reknowned for finance.  Put an ant man.  On their top note.  For two decades.

For those interested in more Forel, Antweb has a photo from Forel’s extensive collectionAntbase holds Forel’s myrmecological publications.  And if you’re one of those weirdos who finds sex more interesting than ants, you can read about Forel’s contributions to sexology here.

      

giant walking stick on peach tree
While not nearly as long as Phobaeticus chani, our North American giant walking stick, Megaphasma denticrus, can certainly pass 20 cm when their legs are extended. Thanks to Country Guys for capturing this image.

The Natural History Museum in London reveled last week that a recently donated stick insect (Phasmatodea) specimen is now the record holder for the world’s longest insect. Phobaeticus chani is a lengthy 35.7 cm from head to tail and 56.7 cm long if you include its outstretched fore legs. Wow. The NHM’s George Beccaloni features in a nice video about stick insects and about this new acquisition.

What’s interesting, though, is that several news outlets claim that this species was described in Zootaxa. Yet, I don’t see the article there. So, did the researchers jump the gun and expose their name (Phobaeticus chani) as a nomen nudum? Or is this another case of sloppy journalism? [<-- Or, more likely, did I just not read through those articles carefully enough?! See comments.]

limacodid moth adult
Beautiful limacodid adult, captured by John Davis.

Well, it might be too late for this year’s class, but we desperately need adult Limacodidae (Lepidoptera) for the teaching collection – we have only one un-spread, atypical specimen. I’ve pulled these small to medium sized moths from sheets bathed in the bluish tinge of Hg-vapor and from incandescent lights against my house. They often adopt relatively bizarre postures that involve headstands, curved abdomens, and one position that can only be described as a frozen "push-up." Look for colors that span from white to brown and often have striking patterns involving green or silver blotches on the wings.

The larvae are usually covered in formidable, poisonous spines and have incredible ways to locomote – usually involving silk. Why do we have so few in our collection?!

spiny looking limacodid caterpillar
Wonderful yet menacing larval limacodid, photographed by Stephen Miller.

Cicada

Tibecen Cicada Molting

Tibecen Cicada Molting


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hemiptera
Family: Cicadidae

DESCRIPTION: Cicadas have prominent eyes set wide apart on the sides of the head, short antennae protruding between or in front of the eyes, and membranous, well-veined front wings. The adult cicada is usually 2 to 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) long, although some tropical species can reach 15 cm (6″), e.g. Pomponia imperatoria from Malaysia. There are about 2,500 species of cicada around the globe, and many remain unclassified.

HABITAT: Cicadas live in temperate to tropical climates, and are found on every continent except Antarctica.

LIFE CYCLE: A cicada nymph emerges from an egg laid in the bark of a tree and then burrows its way underground at depths ranging from about 30 cm (1 ft) up to 2.5 m (about 8½ ft). It spends most of its life in this underground nymph stage, and depending on the genus this can be anywhere from 2-17 years. When the time to molt arrives the cicada burrows its way to the surface and emerges from its shell as an adult. The adult cicada finds its way to the top of a tree where the males sing to attract a female and mate.

DIET: Nymph cicadas underground feed on root juices. Adult cicadas feed on sap and plant juices.

PREDATION: Known to eat cicadas are birds, cicada killer wasp, and Massospora Cicadina, a fungal disease that affects the 13 and 17 year Cicada.

BUG FACTS

  • Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 dB “at close range”, among the loudest of all insect-produced sounds. Conversely, some small species have songs so high in pitch that the noise is inaudible to humans.
  • Many people around the world regularly eat cicadas: the female is prized as it is meatier. Cicadas have been (or are still) eaten in Ancient Greece, China, Malaysia, Burma, Latin America and the Congo.
  • Shells of cicadas are employed in the traditional medicines of China.
  • Desert cicadas are also among the few insects known to cool themselves by sweating, while many other cicadas can voluntarily raise their body temperatures as much as 22 °C above ambient temperature.

Welcome to the Insect Education Blog! Here you will find information on all of your favorite insects, spiders, and other creepy crawlies. Learn about insect bios, lifecycles, reproduction, diet, predation, and more!