Caught on camera: A wasp…party?

Written by Joe Ballenger

During the fall, we get a lot of questions about wasps…but not about wasps in nests.

Often, these are from people who work in construction or otherwise around heights. I know the sizing of the pictures below is a little awkward, but they’re sized this way to show the behavior.

I run a house framing crew and each fall i run into this same situation. We have a boom truck on site (crane), and when the boom is high in the air, wasps congregate all along the boom, but especially at the tip. They will swarm all around the boom, more so the higher it gets. As i lower the boom to ground level, the wasps dissipate rather quickly until they are completely gone within 10′ or so of the ground. If i then raise the boom again, the wasps return almost immediately.  They hang out wether the machine is running or not. Just wondering what is going on. Also, there is no nest in the boom.

Waspboom

I work in the communication tower industry and every year around late summer to early fall we tower climbers experience a phenomenon. Wasps will swarm up towers. As you can imagine, this can be very disconcerting, however they aren’t aggressive at all while they’re doing this. In 20 years of climbing I’ve never been stung. It appears they are in the mood for love and mating.

There are a lot of misconceptions about this phenomenon though — everything from the wasps being attracted to the RF (radio frequency) to being attracted to the galvanizing of the steel itself. Would you explain what they’re doing up there and speak to the hazards of climbers sharing space with hundreds of wasps?

Wasp swarm

We’ve written about wasp nests before, in a question about why wasps tend to die headfirst in their nests. To begin this story, I’d like to quote the last part of that article.

These wasps are caught out in the cold-both figuratively and literally-after their society collapsed. After the annual collapse of their society, they died looking for food.

This sort of behavior is actually very common in social insects. Honeybees do the same thing. After winter, it’s very common to see dead bees headfirst in honeycomb. They died the same way…looking for food.

While these wasps didn’t make it, some of their sisters survived the winter by finding a warm place to sleep. They’ll start nests of their own next year, and the cycle will continue anew.

It’s sad, but that’s nature for you. It’s both beautiful and cruel…all at the same time.

At the end of every year, wasp societies collapse. The workers die, the queens hibernate, and new nests appear in the spring. It’s a simple story…but it’s not quite right. As always with insects, there’s more to the story.

There’s another layer of complication to how people tell the lifecycles of wasps, and the pictures above show a part of an interesting story that few folks know about.

Before they build their nests in the spring, the future queens gather for one last party.

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Is This Asian Lady Beetle Meme True?

Written by Nancy Miorelli

This meme – floating around FB. Fact? Fiction? Mix?
I’m starting to feel like we’re the Snopes of Entomology.

This has been floating around Facebook. So fact, or fiction?

The answer?

Mostly False.  Like 98% False. And lots of misleading information. 

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What is an Arachnid?

spiderquiz

One of our most common identification requests are pictures of spiders and other arachnids. Nancy and I did a live video awhile back talking about arachnids. In the video we say that you can type the word “SPIDER” to receive a free PDF; however, that only works on Facebook. You can also download the PDF from here: Arachnid Bug Quiz Answers

What is an arachnid anyway? Like insects, arachnids are arthropods. Insects are a class of arthropods, and arachnids are also a class within Arthropoda. In biology we organize organisms based on their relationships (biological classification – think of Carl Linnaeus). A broad group is one that shares a lot of characters, while a more specific group shares unique character(s). Although insects and arachnids are related, they are different enough that they are placed in separate groups.

All arachnids have the following characteristics:

  • They possess 4 pairs of legs (8 legs total), chelicerae and pedipalps
, but they have no wings or antennae
  • Some groups have modified 1st pairs of legs that act like antennae, but are not technically antennae
  • Their main bodies are broken up into two segments:
    • prosoma/cephalothorax
    • opisthosoma/abdomen
  • There are some orders of arachnids in which these segments are fused (e.g. Acari, the ticks and mites) or are broadly connected (e.g. Opiliones, the harvestmen)

What is an order, you ask? Arachnids are organized into orders. Insects are also organized this way; for example, within Insecta (the name for the class of insects) there are beetles (Coleoptera), moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera), flies (Diptera), and so on. Check out Wikipedia to see a list of all arachnid orders!

tarantula1.JPG

Image: Big Bend Tarantula – October 2017

Bug Quiz image photo credits: Top left (A) jovengandalf, top right Daniel Llavaneras (B), bottom left Jon Richfield (C), and bottom right André Karwath (D).

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Healthy Insect Relationships: How Insects Court Each Other

Written by Nancy Miorelli

A while back I wrote an article about how insect relationships are a bit … non consensual.
And these kinds of articles flood the internet because it’s all the hype and drama that you’d want to get from your morning dose of internet. But today, we’re writing about a few examples of insect courtship that isn’t all stabbing, stalking, hooks, and graspers.

And this is thanks to Jedidiah for asking about the more civilized and respectful insect relationships.

So let’s look at a couple of examples where it’s all about love … and presents.

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Why do ticks make people allergic to meat?

Written by Joe Ballenger

This question was very unique. We had a person in the AaE Facebook inbox reach out to us after she had been diagnosed with a meat allergy, most likely from a tick. After a conversation with her physician, she had wanted to know more about how ticks work. The physician wasn’t able to answer her questions about bugs, so she reached out to us.

Lone Star Tick

The start of this week’s post: the Lone Star Tick, Amblyomma americanum. The females can be easily ID’d by the white spot on its back.

Unfortunately, since her query contains medical information, I’m not really comfortable posting it here. However, it’s important because tick-associated meat allergies allergies appear to be on the rise, and it’s a good idea for people to have a resource to understand what’s going on from the entomological side.

Researching for this post was an unexpected treat, as well. Normally, when I do a post, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to find. This was a rare post where, even though I knew the subject was interesting, the story ended up being a lot more interesting than I thought it would be.

What I feel makes this story really unique is how it bounces around a lot of disciplines. It starts with the first organ transplants, involves a lot of cancer biology, and then ends up talking about conservation practices in the Southern US.

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Los Angeles is Burning: So What’s Happening to the Bugs?

Written by Joe Ballenger

Name: Shamus

You Question! Or Comment. =): Do you have any knowledge on insects in western Canada during/following wildfires? Do certain insects have protective measures they take during wildfire, or do they just leave the area?

For the people living in California, it kind of sucks that this is a relevant question. It sucks that a lot of people have lost their homes, or their lives…and it’s really hard to write a post like this without acknowledging their tragedies.

However, at the same time, there’s an ecological reason for this. Wildfires, in many environments, are a normal part of life. Lots of plants are well adapted to occasionally catching on fire. There’s even an entire field of study for figuring out how and why the environment depends on fire-it’s called fire ecology. Some plants, like Lodgepole pines, need fire to keep existing. Some plants, like Cogon grass and some species of Eucalyptus, have even evolved to purposely catch on fire. There’s even a scientific term for that latter type of plant…they’re called ‘active pyrophytes‘.

The reason large swaths of land occasionally catch fire is pretty easy to understand. Some plants have evolved to snuff out the competition by burning out everything around them. This means that there will be both a layer of fertile soil and no competition for the next generation of plants.

Fire ecology is pretty cool, and we could dedicate an entire blog to how and why various plants use fire to their advantage. But this is a blog about bugs, and each of these plants which have adapted to fires have bugs which eat those plants.

So…how do bugs deal with fires in their natural environment?

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Coming Out of the Woodwork: Worm Shoes, Mayflower II Restoration, and Maintaining Wood for the Long Term

Written by Nancy Miorelli
Edited by Dylan Perry

My Dad has interesting hobbies and interests. One such interest is history – specifically during the age of tall ships. Tall ships are those ships that are cruising around in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

Barque Europa
PC: Nancy Miorelli

It was an interest that I was soon dragged into – and while I’m not a history fanatic – I can be convinced to be interested in *most* things. So – one day last week Dad brought me to a lecture at Mystic Seaport in Mystic Connecticut – where three gentlemen talked about the the Mayflower II – a reproduction built from 1555-1957.

MAYFLOWER II's stern peeks out from underneath the temporary structure nicknamed "the Mailbox."

Mayflower II Restoration at Mystic Seaport in Mystic Connecticut.
The project is led by Plimoth Plantation.
PC: Mystic Seaport

Much of the wood is damaged beyond repair so  the ship is being taken apart and restored. During the little tour – I had a chance to talk to Dylan – a Maritime Artisan for Plimoth Plantation – to talk about how they’re protecting the wood from future insect damage.

So let’s start off with the worm shoe.

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