So You’re In the Tropics, Named a New Species Yet?

Written by Nancy Miorelli

The short answer is “No.”
The long answer is “No.” but with with a bit more explanation. The first is that I’m a communicator, an ecologist, and don’t have a lot of the proper equipment.

Have I seen a new species to science? I have absolutely no doubt. Did I know it was a new species when I saw it? No, probably not. There’s just so much diversity here it hasn’t even been quantified.

Our moth sheet in Ecuador. So yeah there's probably a dozen or so new species on it. Anyone want to look at really tiny brown moths?

Our moth sheet in Ecuador. So yeah there’s probably a dozen or so new species on it. Anyone want to look at really tiny brown moths?

For example. There’s about ~20,000 species of butterflies in the world. Ecuador has close to 4,000 butterfly species. Maqui, the reserve that I’m in, has close to 200 butterfly species. So our one little 6,000 hectare (15,000 acre) reserve has 0.5% of the butterfly species of Ecuador!  And that’s just butterflies – a big charismatic group that has a lot of identification work in it. Beetles, moths, and little wasps on the other hand are a whole nother animal(s). There’s a lot more of them, an there’s a lot more little ones, and a lot more that live in tropical areas that are hard to get to.

Continue reading

Posted in Taxonomy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cockroach milk is not the next superfood. It could be a lot more important than that.

Written by Joe Ballenger

Diploptera bicolor, a species closely related to D. punctata. Image Credit: Lund University Entomological Museum, via Flickr. License info: CC-BY-NC2.0

A number of articles circulating everywhere online are claiming that a new ‘superfood’ has been found in cockroaches, and although I’m happy popular culture is focusing on the fact cockroaches are good moms…they’re missing a far more important story.


To put this research into context, the Pacific Beetle Roach (Diploptera punctata) gives live birth and nourishes its young inside her body until they’re big enough to defend themselves. It’s an interesting evolutionary story, and one that’s kind of important. However, nobody has really seriously thought about using this species for food. People become allergic to cockroaches very easily. The Milk proteins secreted by these roaches also lack Methionine and Tryptophan…amino acids humans need for survival but which we can’t make.

However, this is a protein which does some pretty cool things…and could be used to design new drugs.

So let’s explore what’s really going on with cockroach milk.

Continue reading

Posted in Chemistry, Culture, Developmental Biology, News, Physiology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Do insects have personalities?

Written by Joe Ballenger

After our spider post, I thought it would be nice to tackle this question because these questions open one of the biggest rabbit holes in the field of insect science:

Since you are the experts, my question is this:  Since some species of birds are more bold (or smarter?) than others, is it possible for insects (if a mantis is in that classification) to be bold or shy also?  Especially since they are mostly at the bottom of the food chain for a lot of species further up that chain, I would have expected the mantis to abandon his perch at my approach.
Hmm!  Glad nobody saw that or I’d be labeled the Mantis Whisperer!

This person is essentially asking whether different individual insects within a species display different behaviors. Put another way, do insects have personalities?

The short answer is yes, for a reason that’s almost anticlimatic.

That being said, insects are being used to tackle  some fascinating questions about the role of nature, nurture, development and genetics in describing personality.

Continue reading

Posted in Behavior, Developmental Biology, Ecology, Physiology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How similar is Entomology to Pokemon? Do scientists ever make bugs fight?

Written by Joe Ballenger

The release of Pokemon Go has been great for us entomologists, because we have been able to get people to realize why we love our jobs so much. The creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri, actually got the idea for the game because he liked to collect insects as a child. Consequently, virtually every aspect of the game relates to the jobs biologists do with some very striking parallels.

Entire books could be written on this topic, but the most common question I received over Twitter in the last few days has been this:



There are YouTube channels where people pit random assortments of insects together in fights, but I’m not going to link them here because I view that as meaningless violence. I’m not a fan of this sort of thing, even though it is frequently mentioned in these conversations.

That being said, however, scientists do frequently pit insects against one another for scientific reasons. Insects fight in the wild for a number of reasons, and insect fighting is very important in some cultures. There are some very valid reasons to watch insects fight, and study how they do it.

So let’s explore the world of insect fighting!

For…you know, science.

Continue reading

Posted in Behavior, Culture, Developmental Biology, Ecology, Insect Rearing, Physiology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can Spiders Learn From Each Other?

Written by Joe Ballenger

Your Name: Mark
Your Bug Question: I have spiders in and around my house.  I eventually get around to removing their webs from hard to reach places like living room chandelier.  It takes so long that i doubt I ever bother the same spider twice.  Yet after a year or so the spiders seem to know not to build webs on the chandelier.  It is as if they could be passing their learning along to other spiders.  That seems unlikely, but I cannot come up with a better explanation.  Can you explain what is happening?

I found this question interesting, because it’s really two questions in one. The first, is whether disturbance influences where spiders build webs. The second, and more interesting, is whether this information can be transferred between different spiders of the same species.


Spiders like to build their webs in locations which promise a lot of food, without the hassle of rebuilding the web. Image credit: Puamella, via Flickr. License info: CC-BY-SA-2.0

The answers to these questions depends on the ID of the spiders in question, and there are several species of web-building spiders which can be found in houses. The most common species found in homes, Pholcus phalangoides, is the one I’ll focus on. Not only is it the most common, I think it gives the best answer to the question because of it’s life history.


Pholcus phalangoides, more commonly known as the ‘cellar spider’, is actually a very interesting spider. It’s semi social, with juveniles sometimes cooperating to build webs. It’s also a pirate, frequently taking over the webs of other spider species after eating the occupants.

So let’s explore this idea, because it’s interesting territory.

Continue reading

Posted in Behavior, Ecology, Pest Management, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

What are carpet beetles doing on my cilantro?

Written by Joe Ballenger

Dear Entomologist,

Could you please help with a bug question. I found many small bugs on my cilantro flowers which look like carpet beetles.

Anthrenus on flowers
Should I be worried about them in my vegetable garden and or getting in the house?
Many thanks!!

As a scientist, one of my favorite things about writing this blog is getting the opportunity to watch people make their own observations about the world around them. I think the observation Marina made here was a very cool one.

The beetles in the picture are in the genus Anthrenus, although I’m not sure which species. This group of beetles is known as the carpet beetles, due to their tendency to be found in carpets feeding on shed skin cells.

If you know a little about carpet beetles, this picture might not make sense. After all, these are insects which feed mainly on animal matter. They’re pests of insect collections, live on stuff in carpets, in old wasp nests, in bird nests eating feathers, and the occasional mummified corpse. You know…animal stuff.

So what are they doing on flowers?

Continue reading

Posted in Behavior, Ecology, Pest Management, Physiology, Pollination, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

If I am allergic to honeybees, am I also allergic to other bees?

Post written by Joe Ballenger

    Does the allergy to honeybee stings carry over to other bees like the bumblebees and carpenter bees?

Allergies are very complicated, but they also effect a lot of people. So this is a topic we really should tackle. We’ve talked before about how entomologists become allergic to stinging insects, but it’s not just entomologists who have allergies to bees and the like. Allergies, especially to stinging insects, are a constant fact of life for many people. So it pays to understand them really well.

Bee stung dog

Pets can also suffer from allergies. While occasionally adorable, it’s also really serious. Image Credit: Oakley Originals. License info: CC-BY-2.0



This is a short question, but the answer is complicated. To understand the answer, we’ll explore a lot of things. We need to know how allergies work, what insect venom is made of, and how it interacts with the human body.

Continue reading

Posted in Chemistry, Physiology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment