Category Archives: Insects and people in the news

News Roundup: The first week in April

Insects in art: the google-doodle highlighting an insect artist

The google-doodle (the visual that you see when you go to googles homepage, which commonly changes) on Tuesday  was in the style of Maria Sibylla Merian, a famous entomologist and artist, in honor of her day of birth, and in turn lots of news sources picked up stories about her (an example). A woman truly passionate about insects, Maria gained fame after publishing a book of beautiful drawings, highlighting her mounting body of evidence from the life cycles of 186 insect species demonstrating the metamorphosis of caterpillars into moths and butterflies. Apparently, the commonplace notion at the time was that butterflies were spontaneously generated from mud, and Merians research helped to dispel this notion. Much of this work came from the time that she spent in the tropical forests of Suriname (which is why I include a particularly interesting looking beetle from a trip so Suriname below). I was very pleasantly surprised that google honored Merian in this way, and hopefully if younger (and especially female) aspiring scientist saw this, they would be inspired by how a passion for science can change the way we view the world.

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Urban heat-islands and insects

Scientist have long noted that due to heat produced by traffic from cars in cities, urban areas tend to be hotter (at extremes up to 10 degrees fahrenheit) hotter than areas just outside of the city limits. So how might these urban heat islands, as they been termed, affect animals that might live in the city? Certain insects do better in urban areas, especially certain insect herbivores which outbreak in cities, and there has been debate in the scientific community about whether these insects perform better because of warmer temperatures, or some other factor like low predation from potential predators that cant live in urban areas. News sources this week picked up on a  recent study in PLOS one that sought to look why one insect species (an herbivorous scale insect) is more abundant in cities by manipulating temperature, and keeping other factors constant. They found that the insect responds favorably to warmer temperatures, and that insects from trees in the warmer cities are actually acclimatized, and possibly adapted, to these higher temperatures. Although urban living for these organisms is quite different than life in more natural areas, results showing how organisms respond to warmer temperatures in cities might foreshadow how insects will respond to predicted warming temperatures in the future.

Dragonfly-watching as a form of recreation?

A story about an increase in dragonfly watching at on national lands caught my attention this week. This news story was inspired by a blog post on the US Fish and Wildlifes Open Spaces blog. Although there isnt any quantitative data on whether or not people visit places to watch insects in particular, which was what I was interested in finding, it is interesting to note that on particular wildlife refuges, rangers lead tours soley to look at odonates (that is, dragonflies and damselflies), and that people actually take these tours. One focus of our recent Biological Reviews paper was actually quantifying the amount of revenue generated by recreational activities generated by insect-related activities (e.g., insect-watching, hunting supported by insect prey, etc). We estimated the amount spent on invertebrate (mainly insect) related recreation in the United States to be around $77 billion / year!! With a number as high as this, maybe it should be a surprise that the USFW notes dragonfly watching to be an especially important activity on their lands. With lots of dragonflies hatching right now as the weather warms up, maybe it would be worth checking out a good insect-watching spot near you.

A pretty purple dragonfly I observed at my field site in Puerto Rico.

A pretty purple dragonfly I observed at my field site in Puerto Rico.

Insects and People: News Roundup (March 29)

A few news stories from the past few weeks:

Locust Outbreaks in Madagascar, Egypt, and Israel

About half of Madagascar is currently experiencing the largest locust plague since the 1950’s (news reports here and here).  Because locusts consume large amounts of food plants of people and livestock, the plague could cause hunger in up to 60% of the population.  Managers estimate that $41 million dollars over the next three years will be needed to combat the locust plague.

This site has amazing photos of another locust plague moving from Egypt to Israel.

 Insect Pollination

Two articles (here and here) discuss several new scientific publications about insect pollinators.  Researchers find that wild bees do a better job of pollinating than managed bee colonies.  Other papers find that pollinator diversity is important to effective pollination, but that pollinator diversity has declined since the late 1800’s.

NPR has a related story about beekeepers in California suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to protect bees.   The beekeepers claim that the EPA has been too slow to evaluate and regulate chemical pesticides that harm bees.

Edit:  After posting this news roundup, I can across a New York Times article on declining bee populations.  It discusses the potential harmful effects of pesticides on bees.

Insects and People: News Roundup (March 4)

Just a few stories for this week:

Studies of insect vision used to build robots

Our last news roundup included a story about scientists using moths as a model for building robots that can smell.  This week, we have a story about scientists using locusts as a model for building robots that can see.  Scientists in the United Kingdom have built a computerized system that can drive robots.  This system is based on their studies of locust vision.  They hope to use their research to eventually build sensors into vehicles that can prevent car collisions.

Beetle trade in Cameroon

Insect collecting can be lucrative business and beetle collecting has become more and more common in Cameroon.  Researchers and managers are hoping to use the beetle trade to provide sustainable incomes to local people in Cameroon as well as providing motivation for conservation efforts.  Currently, there is no legislation dealing the insect trade in Cameroon, but regulation could increase revenues.  For example, there are no permits required for foreigners to collect beetles in Cameroon and take them out of the country.  Conservation efforts to preserve beetle populations and the habitats they live in will not only provide a sustainable income to local people through the beetle trade, but will also protect habitats that provide food and other services to locals.

Mosquitoes become less sensitive to deet over time

A recent study shows that mosquitoes become less responsive to deet after repeated exposures!

Insects and People: News Roundup (Feb. 6th)

A few news stories about insects from the past week.

More entomophagy: Eating insectsyou do it anyway

There are stories about people eating insects on an almost daily basis. In this one from the BBC, a chef argues that, since you eat insects unknowingly anyway, why not eat them purposefully?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/0/21260185

Exploiting insect guts for use in the biofuel sector

Scientists have been looking for enzymes to effectively break down lignin in biofuel facilities in the guts of insects. It turns out the microbes in the guts of grasshoppers may be potential candidates for future use in this manner.

http://www.scidev.net/en/climate-change-and-energy/biofuels/news/insects-gut-microbes-hint-at-biofuel-breakthrough-.html

Insects as pets

In a post about singing insects, I talked about how people in China keep crickets and katydids as pets. USA today published an article recently about people in the US keeping insects as pets. Ill admit that I did have hissing cockroaches for a time when I was in high school. But I am glad to see that others in this country do this as well!

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/02/05/pets-bugs-roaches/1893707/

CSI insects: Museums highlight using insects to fight crime

Forensic entomology is a branch of science that uses insects to indicate things about crimessuch as how long a body has been dead, or if a corpse may have been moved. A few museums have exhibits about this branch of scienceI wish I were in the area of one, Id definitely check it out.

London: http://azdailysun.com/lifestyles/columnists/london-zoo-crime-fighting-insects/article_6acd52df-8148-52ec-b80d-91a1e41e98a9.html

Las Vegas: http://downtown.8newsnow.com/photo-gallery/crime/147055-using-insects-solve-crimes

Insects and people: News from this week

Weekly, well be posting news stories about how insects affect people. Here are a couple of stories from the last few days.

Crickety energy

Many people have been suggesting now that one way to make our food source more sustainable is for people to eat insects. Theyre cheap and a good source of protein. Its not uncommon in other countries, but most people I know are still freaked out about in the US. Theres even a TED talk about it. And a very well-done blog devoted to it. And even Dr. Oz recommends it! (So it MUST be good, right?) This movement has been growing some momentum, and its even considered in to eat insects right now, according to The List of whats supposed to be in/out this year. Although lots of different companies market things like insects in candy as novelty items, this week, there was a news story about a company using cricket-enriched flour in their energy bars. The crickets are milled, so youre not going to bite into a crunchy leg. The company hopes this is a way to ease Americans into eating insects. I, personally, really like this idea. So, maybe a meal of mealworms isnt that far away for you!

Waxing and endangered crabs? (Not the delicious kind.) 

A bloomberg news report (and subsequently, many other news outlets) suggest that waxing will cause crabs to be endangered. (Not the kind you had for dinner last night.the itchy, pubic lice variety.) Make sense, right? No hair, no place for these itchy insects to live. But making an appointment at your local waxer is not likely to completely eradicate this species. A well-reasoned (and hilarious) response from @bug_girl shows there really no data to support this. The paper thats often cited in these news stories shows a decline in pubic lice from a certain area in England, yes. But they dont show data on waxing rates. From anywhere. They tell anecdotal stories about it. Bug Girl dug into the topic a little more, and shows that baldness is the least used pubic hairstyle, even for college-age women, who are more likely to groom in this manner. And if theres hair around, there is the potential for crabs! So, in short, waxing may get rid our your crabs (ewwyou have crabs?), but the species isnt likely to be wiped off the planet anytime soon. BUTwhat if it was? Slate News reported a satirical piece on if this happened, and it involves Sex in the City, dinosaurs, crabs and asteroids.

Corpse eating flies help reveal hidden species

Insects are often used as bio-indicator speciesan organism that is used to signal something about the environment. For instance, the composition of insects in a stream can indicate pollution levels in a stream because only a few insects can live in a very polluted stream.  Last year, scientists reported that they are able to detect rare animals living in the forest of Vietnam by sequencing DNA found in blood from leech guts. It is hard to study rare species simply because theyre hard to find, and mammals, like other animals, often try to avoid detection by potential predators by making them selves hard to see in the thick forest. This week, scientists published data showing that they are also able to use DNA sequences from gut contents of insects, flies that feed on corpses of animals, to detect rare mammals in the rain forests of Côte dIvoire. Sampling carrion-eating insects may prove a valuable tool in the future for studying endangered species, and ultimately, understanding how best to conserve these species. Yay, flies!