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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Which of these arthropods is an ant?


Here is a video I did a while back on ant mimics. In the video I say that you can type “MIMIC” to recieve the free PDF; however, that only works on facebook. You can also download the PDF from here: Ant Mimic Bug Quiz Answers

So, how can you tell mimics apart from ants? Here is a list of characters you can use to tell if a critter is an ant:

  • Three pairs of legs (six legs total). Ants have six legs, while spiders have eight legs.
  • Ants have geniculate antennae (“kneed” antennae).
  • The second and/or third abdominal segment has a/have hump(s).

Why do other arthropods mimic ants?

Myrmecomorphy (a fancy word for “ant mimicry”) provides protection from a lot of predators or is a great way for predators to fool their ant prey. Therefore, the form of mimicry is either protective or aggressive. Most organisms do not want to eat ants (of course, there are some exceptions) because many (although not all) ants sting and/or bite, are aggressive, and/or taste bitter. In the case of a few predators, they have evolved to look and/or smell like their ant prey that they hunt. Ants are fierce, so being able to get close is an advantage to those organisms that want to eat them.

These are the ways in which organisms can mimic ants:

  • Smelling like an ant (Wasmannian mimicry)
  • Behaving like an ant (running around like one)
  • Visually looking like an ant (Batesian mimicry)

They are many examples of ant mimics! Many spiders, treehoppers, mantids, stick insects, katydids, etc. mimic ants. Happy hunting!

Photo credits: Top (A) & bottom (C) left = Alex Wild. Top right (B) = Daniel Llavaneras. Bottom right (D) = Muhammad Mahdi Karim.

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Don’t Get Choked Up Over It! Can Insects Choke?

Written by Nancy Miorelli

This brilliant gem came from a five year old. Kids ask the best questions, don’t they?

And here’s the thing. We have covered spitting and vomiting which insects definitley can do.

But insects can’t actually choke – and here’s why.

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Can you hatch eggs taken out of a female katydid?

This is a pretty cool question:


I killed a large green grasshopper-like bug, only to find several reddish- brown rice-shaped things inside. Are they eggs? Can they still hatch?

I’m not sure what type of insect it was, but my best guess after an Internet search is… conehead/katydid.

Also, why might I find these insects in my home? Surely bright green bugs feed on vegetation?

Katydid Eggs

In this case, it sounds like a Katydid which got inside a house by accident. It’s common for bugs to get inside a house, and katydids just kind of keep looking for a way to get out when this happens. Here, the katydid was smashed and some eggs popped out…which led to the above question.

If you crush a bug, and eggs come out, they’re not going to hatch. The eggs need to be activated before they can develop, and taking the eggs out of the female without them being laid bypasses that process.

…but how are the eggs activated?

What, exactly, has to happen while the eggs being laid for them to start to hatch?

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Help us out by taking a survey!

We’ve written about scientific conferences before, and we’re happy to announce that all of our writers will be together at ESA 2017 in Denver, Colorado!

As always, we’ll write a post summarizing our experience…but our talk is a bit different this year. We’d like some information on our audience for the talk.

Here’s a link to the survey, and we’ll post a short bit of information for further context below the fold.


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