A note on death in insects – pretending, surviving, and living

My undergraduate student that I’m mentoring this semester asked me a question about when an insect is dead. He pondered this because we read a paper were researchers infected carpenter ants with a fungus were considered dead after no movement was detected. This got us thinking, if a brain is completely damaged or missing, is an insect alive? My thoughts immediately went to questions we’ve received here at Ask an Entomologist – specifically, the questions that asked, “why does a cockroach stay alive after its head is removed?” OR “why does a cockroach’s legs still move after its head is removed?”

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Why Do Zipper / Writing Spiders Make “Zippers? / Writings” in Their Web?

This question popped up in my learning community The SciHive and I thought to myself … what a wonderful question. So here we go.

We run #SpiderSunday where we post pictures of spiders and generally just learn about their biology when one of my members posted this cool shot of a zipper spider. Well … I’ve always called them Zipper Spiders. Apparently they’re also called “Writing spiders, black and yellow garden spiders, golden garden spiders, zigzag spiders ….” you get the idea.

A rant about common names another day…

large Black and yellow spider in a web with a zipper shape in the middle.
A Argiope aurantia Spider
Photo by Hillary Jufer

To which Jared asked … “why do they make those little zippers?”

Jared asks “Why do they make those litter zippers?

Well … the short of it is “we don’t know” and the long of it is “we don’t know but we have some good guesses.”

I wanted to take the approach today of looking at some of the various hypothesises that have been put forward and look at them with a critical eye. Is this likely? What evidence do we have to support these? What evidence do we have not to? I think – especially – in the age of Covid people think that scientists come up with an answer and then it’s fact. Forever. The end.

When in reality we propose a bunch of different ideas, test them, retest them, use new evidence, use more logic, and settle upon an idea. Usually after a decent amount of back and forth. Sometimes the idea that’s settled upon finally isn’t the initial hypothesis. And that’s okay. Science is all about fact checking and then re-fact checking.

So here we go.

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Why are burying beetles covered in mites?

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Sometimes, when writing for this blog, I learn new things about bugs as well. This is one of those times when I have to admit that I didn’t know the answer, and got curious enough to read up on the topic.

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Email question: are fireflies attracted to CO2?

Back in June we received an email that stuck with me. A person had a question about CO2 attraction in fireflies. Their question pertained to an insect trap that emits CO2 to attract and capture insects. They were concerned about the trap attracting fireflies. The trap claims that it’s safe for honeybees and butterflies because they aren’t attracted to it. At Ask an Entomologist we cannot give pest control advice because we aren’t licensed pest control operators; however, we are entomologists that have a broad knowledge base on insect science. CO2 attraction in insects is complex. What I mean by this is that insects use many stimuli to find their nest, a potential mate, or food. What signals insects use to find food or whatever highly depends on their biology.

So, let’s answer question, “[…] are Fireflies attracted to CO2?”

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Gamified Entomology Workshops & Ecuador EcoTourism. Hai – I’m Nancy

                              Written by Nancy Miorelli

You know – I was supposed to write an introduction after we got back from our hiatus in May. But then there were “murder hornets“, and the BLM movement, and then people putting up fake wasp decoys, and well … it was a lot to cover. So Now we’re in August and …

So here I am!

Hai – my name is Nancy. I’m an entomologist with my Master’s from the University of Georgia, living in Ecuador.

I normally conduct ecological tours in Ecuador focused on insects, ecology, conservation, and also Ecuadorian local culture. through my business SciBugs.

A girl sitting on a front of a small boat in a lake with tree tops coming out of the water. It's called the "Floating Forest"

My Ecuador, Entomology, EcoTours are 100% personalized! You tell me where you wanna go – and I get you there. And do all the translation. And connect you to cool locals. And toss you bug facts from the back of canoe.

But, Ecotourism is kind of not a thing that is happening in 2020, so I’ve started working on my YouTube channel again and have started working on gamified entomololgy workshops.

This is the Entomology Workshop in Question.
Chem-Tales: The Stories of Arthropods, their Chemical Weapons, and their Every Day Lives!
Psst: Signup closes August 14th, 2020.

Gamified Entomology Workshops

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What’s so special about periodical cicadas?

So. Short and easy question.

Why do people love the periodical cicadas?

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Bugs With Fuzzy Butts: What are They?!

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Question from Sam asking what bug this is and why it has a fluffy butt. May 2020.

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@Earth2Meekus asked about these on Twitter. May 2020.

Spring and summer time bring out all the interesting bugs! Over the years (and recently) we’ve had a few people ask what these insects are and why they have “fuzzy butts.” These insects are broadly called planthoppers. Why do they have these fluffy projections out of their abdomen? Let’s look closer at their group.

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Do Wasp Nest Decoys Work?

                            Written by Nancy Miorelli

Summer is upon us (in the Northern Hemisphere) and that means the wasps are out in full force. They’re doing their best work killing off pests and feeding their families but sometimes – their homes are a bit to close to ours.

You’ve seen the hubbub of wasp nest decoys on your Facebook and Twitter. Sounds simple – just put some sort of fake wasp nest around your home and BAM – no other wasps will want to build their nest there.

So does it actually work?

Well – not to burst your bubble, but probably not.

Image of a wasp nest. 
Claim: Adding a decoy wasp nest around your home will prevent wasps from building their nest in that area. 

Ruling: FALSE
Wasps are likely undeterred by false nests as active wasp nests have been found in close quarters.
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Posted in Ecology, Pest Management | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Do new species always happen because of reproductive isolation?

So, I really like this question from Zach Weinersmith:

He later followed up the query with a further clarification:

This is a fantastic question, because there’s a lot of REALLY weird biology when it comes to how lineages diverge. Sometimes, it happens gradually. Sometimes, it happens instantly.

Sometimes, animals can even undergo speciation while still mating with each other.

Let’s start breaking this down…

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Sophie Lutterlough: The One Woman Information Bureau

                                     Written by Nancy Miorelli

As we bring our celebration of Black Entomologists Who Shaped Entomology to a close, the Ask an Entomologist team is continuing the conversation about how we can help provide support, inclusivity, and diversity in our science communication and Entomology. But more on that and what YOU Can do to help will be at the end. For now, let’s give the spotlight to our next amazing entomologist!

Sophie Lutterlough: 1910-2009

An African American woman sitting in a white lab coat in front a microscope

Sophie was a determined lady! Wanting a curation job at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History she was denied, as in 1943 as it was still possible to discriminate candidates based on their race. So she did the next best thing.

Got a job as an elevator operator (the first woman to hold that position mind you!) and decided to learn everything she possibly could in her free time. That free time mainly being her lunch break.

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