Are there invasive insects from North America? The political consequences of our invasive species.


Written by Joe Ballenger

This question about invasive species caught my eye, mostly because I’m not sure I can give a complete response.

A lot of the insects I deal with are agricultural pests, and most of our agricultural pests have come from other parts of the world because of shipping activities. A lot of invasive species, however, have also come from America as well. Fall Armyworm, native to North and South America, has started cutting large and destructive swaths across Africa after it was introduced. Western Corn Rootworm, a billion-dollar pest, has been introduced to Europe and threatens agricultural supplies there as well.

Unfortunately, I’m just not familiar enough with this topic to give a super complete list…but I do want to talk about this topic because I want to highlight not only the economic ramifications but also the political ramifications that introduced species have. Instead of giving a complete list of North American introduced species, I’m going to focus on the one I believe to be the most important…not only economically but politically.

The pest species is the Colorado Potato Beetle, and it’s probably the best documented invasive species from North America. It’s expanded it’s population from Mexico, into North America, and has spread across the world over the past 150 years. It’s extremely hard to kill, and because of this, it’s played a prominent role in every major world conflict since WWI.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What’s the Difference Between a Butterfly and a Moth

Written by Nancy Miorelli

We’ve been having a lot of fun and games on our Facebook Page! Literally. Games. Like our new bug quiz series!

Which of the lettered insects is a butterfly?

Which do you think is the butterfly?
Scroll to the bottom to find out.
PC: Nancy Miorelli

So have a quick look a the Bug Quiz and watch the video below about what the difference between a butterfly and a moth is. (Hint: People have been arguing about it for the past 250 years) In the video I say that you can type “MOTH” to recieve the free PDF. That only works on the video inside facebook . If you just want to download the pdf from here – look no further!!

Continue reading

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

Storytelling in Science: How do Stories Work?

Written by Joe Ballenger

Throughout my SciComm career, I’ve told a lot of stories about science. I’ve been active in online science outreach for 10 years, and I’ve written hundreds of blog posts across about a dozen different websites.

However, I’ve never considered myself an expert in the topic. In school I had a lot of writing classes, but they always focused on the type of writing that was perceived to be beneficial to a career in science. Things like grant writing, and scientific paper writing were on the top of the list…but I never got any training in creative writing.

I feel like this is really important. I’m going to be writing a post about invasive species soon, and in this post, I’ll be telling the story of how this species spread across the world and what it means to people. These sorts of stories are really important to writing about science, and I’ve always wanted to improve my storytelling. I’ve been doing my own research, but I wanted to ask someone who knows a lot more about this then I do.

This desire to become a better writer convinced me to reach out to a professional filmmaker, Michael Tucker. Tucker runs a YouTube Channel called Lessons From the Screenplay. We had a short conversation about how scientists tell stories, and I wanted to take this as an opportunity to review what I learned.

You can watch the video above, or read my reflection, and I’ll also post some of the videos we mentioned specifically.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

White eyes, black body. Why do insect eyes turn white after they die?

Written by Joe Ballenger
Wasp Picture

Wasp picture, via AaE FB inbox

Some of the more interesting questions we get aren’t even about living insects. People have lots of questions about dead bugs, too.

Hey there, I just had a quick question, I was in my backyard when I came across this little guy in the dirt. I’m not sure if the coloration is because of it being dead, or it was like that to begin with. I was hoping you could shed some light for me!

This question is neat, because it combines two of our previous posts. Nancy has written before on how insect eyes work, as well as structural coloration.

So why did the eyes of this bug turn white after it died?

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How long will it take a dead bug to decay?

Written by Joe Ballenger

We got this question in our Facebook inbox, and it was one of those questions which kind of nerd-sniped me.

Hello, so I have a rather odd question. I understand bugs have exoskeletons. So the decaying process can take a long time. I have a gnat fly who is now dead and stuck inside me television. The TV gets hot so, you think it would help the process. So what will happen to this gnat. Will it decay or will he be inside my TV forever. Thanks!


Pinned beetles. Image Credit: Nancy Miorelli

Even though this is a fly stuck in a TV, this brings up a really important question that I had never considered before today.

We currently live in a world where much of our data has a finite lifespan. Information stored on digital media will decay after awhile, and will eventually disappear after a few decades. Eventually the raw data I generated last week will no longer be around, no matter how important it ends up being.

Taxonomists, the scientists who catalog new species, store their data in a physical manner. Everything we know about insects are contained in collections, like the pinned beetles above. To document insects, we need physical specimens, and these are preserved by sticking pins through them and keeping them in the optimal environment which prevents decay…kind of like the example of the fly in the TV.

So how long will an insect last, if kept in the optimal conditions?

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Announcment – New Writer – Joanie Mars

Written by Nancy Miorelli

I am so excited and honored to introduce Joanie Mars as our new writer. When Joe and I started this little project about three years ago, we had no idea that it was going to grow into what it has. We now have over 8,800 followers on Facebook, we receive between 50-100 of your emails a week, and over 10,000 views a week on the blog. We just can’t keep up anymore! So we’re incredibly excited to introduce Joanie.

Joanie will be full time with us in August after she defends her thesis and moves to Texas.

Watch our live video below!


Continue reading

Posted in News | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Wait…predatory bees?

Written by Joe Ballenger

Since it’s summer, and bug season is in full swing, we get a lot of neat observations in our inbox. I wanted to highlight one such observation in this week’s post, because it involves one of my favorite bugs:


My name is Curt and I live in southeast Wisconsin. I saw these bees and thought it looked kinda odd. What exactly am I looking at?

Curt bee

So let’s unmask this mystery!

Continue reading

Posted in Identification, Taxonomy | Tagged | 1 Comment