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.


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.

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