Do other bugs have anything similar to a hymenopteran’s stinger?

Question: I know that stingers on wasps, bees, ants, etc., are modified ovipositors, which helps them out in terms of defense […] this got me into thinking. Do other bugs have anything similar? 

This question emailed to us is quite intriguing and complex. Do other bugs have anything similar to a hymenopteran’s (e.g., wasps, bees, ants) stinger? 

Red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta with its stinger displayed. It’s being used defensively against the decapitating fly, Pseudacteon curvatus. Photo by Joanie (Me).
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Do insects get fat? Everything you ever wanted to know about the fat body.

Written by Joe Ballenger

So this is a fantastic question, especially if you’re trying to shed those extra pounds after Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So do bugs get fat?

Yeah, they do. Sometimes it’s adorable, and sometimes it’s…not.

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So why DOES anesthesia work on plants?

Written by Joe Ballenger

I was on Twitter recently, and one of my colleagues found a rather cool article by Luke Hollomon about plants and anesthesia.

When we’re working with insects in the lab, we often have to knock them out. There’s ethical reasons for this, but it’s also because we don’t want them moving. Either to prevent escape, or to keep them from thrashing when we perform surgery.

It’s not as important in the plant world, but anesthesia is potentially an important method of probing the biological responses in plants. I’m currently studying a type of plant movement, the motion of leaves when plants are exposed to other plants. I’ve toyed around with the idea of using anesthesia as a probe to determine what pathways are involved with this motion; an idea I got from my years of studying insect biology.

I’d definitely reccomend Holloman’s article, because it’s interesting and well written. However, the framing of some of these conversations centered around the article gave me a little bit of a cause for concern. There’s a lot of unknowns about how anesthesia works, but it’s not a complete biological mystery. We know enough about it to keep folks alive, what medications to avoid, and all of that.

While we need to acknowledge that no medical intervention is without risk, we understand anesthesia well enough to use it safely.

So this is a really interesting topic to explore: Why does anesthesia work on plants AND animals?

To answer this, we’re going to need to discuss why they work on bacteria.

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What is the Difference Between Dragonflies and Damselflies?

I get this question in person more than I see it online. So let’s break it down shall we? What are dragonflies and damselflies? How are they similar? How are they different? And take a deeper dive than you might find normally with a quick google search.

Let’s take a closer look at them shall we?

First, we’ll want to look at where they came from and their common ancestor. Looking at how they’re similiar will help us notice the subtle differences that help us tell them apart.

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So let’s talk about how insects have helped make the Coronavirus vaccines.

Written by Joe Ballenger

In December 2019, the world changed forever. I know that’s a bit of a heady way to begin this article, but it’s true. The current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has changed a lot of the way people live, and exposed a lot of societal inequalities in the US. Over a quarter-million people have died, and in The West (where Joe is currently living), more than a handful of states have had 1 in every 1000 citizens or more die from the disease.

With the announcement of several promising vaccine candidates, I do think there’s hope on the horizon…which is why I waited until Thanksgiving week to write this. There’s a good reason to be thankful to insects, and in a weird way, we can be thankful for the field of insect pathology for making some of these candidates a possibility.

COVID-19 numbers as of November 26, 2020. Data courtesy of the COVID Tracking Project.

Baculoviruses are kind of famous for making “zombie caterpillars”. The way they kill insects is admittedly pretty gruesome. The caterpillar eats the virus, and when the infection is almost ready to kill the insect, the caterpillar crawls up to the highest point it can find. The virus then releases enzymes which kill the caterpillar and almost completely dissolve it, and rain infectious particles down on the forest below to start the cycle over.

It’s definitely a bit shocking, but the viruses are harmless to people. For that reason, they’re really important biological control agents in a lot of agricultural systems.

While they’re important for agriculture, they’re arguably more important in the field of medicine. These viruses have been a boon to the field of biochemistry, because they’re really important tools we can use to make proteins…like the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

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November – Time for the Entomological Society of America National Meeting

Every year, November is an especially busy month for Nancy, Joe, and I. This is because it is time for the national Entomological Society of America (EntSoc or ESA) meeting, in addition to our other responsibilities. This meeting is a conference were entomologists and other scientists communicate and network with each other through professional presentations, workshops, mixers, student events, professional meetings in various entomological research areas, and more. Since November has been an exceptionally busy time for the three of us, for the past several years, we decided that from now on November will be a time where we post about our events EntSoc, unless something changes in the future.

Right to left: Me, Nancy, & Joe at EntSoc in Denver, CO 2017.
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Asian Giant Hornets: What comes next?

Nancy has a new project called the SciHive on Facebook, and it’s a great resource if you want to interact with professional entomologists (like us!). In light of the Washington State Department of Agriculture exterminating a Asian Giant Hornet nest, I thought this question was worth a full discussion:

So I just read a newspaper talking about the giant Asian hornets that were caught , and it claims it was a nest of 85? Is that a normal nest size , seems low to me? Not there long enough to increase numbers maybe? Someone who knows wasps educate me please 😊

Eliminating invasive species requires you to act fast and act early, because finding and eliminating a handful of nests is easier than finding and eliminating a lot of nests. So it helps to really understand what the WSDA is up against.

So let’s talk about the nesting biology of V. mandarinia and what the WSDA is potentially anticipating for next season.

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Deathwatch Beetles – Spooky Sounds

Tick, tick. Tap, tap, tap. These sounds are produced by a deathwatch beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum). Old buildings can sometimes give us spooky vibes. However, for the deathwatch beetle, they are quite welcoming. This is because these beetles are woodboring and oftentimes infest lumber of old buildings. Woodboring beetles comprise of many different species of beetles that eat wood. This can be the larval or adult stage (beetles go through complete metamorphosis like butterflies do). The natural history of woodboring beetles varies depending on the species in question, however, many species of these beetles tend to select dying or dead trees. For the deathwatch beetle, very old wood is preferred and only the larvae feed. The adults do not feed and are short lived.

The deathwatch beetle, Xestobium rufovillosum (Coleoptera, Anobiidae). Location: Hameau de Mons, Assier, Lot, France. Photo by Gilles San Martin
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Poll for next week’s blog post – Halloween Theme

Howdy y’all. We wanted to try something a little different. For next week’s post, I have a couple of topics in mind – but I’m only going to write about one. Which topic would you like to read about next Tuesday (10/27/20)?

  1. Deathwatch beetle biology
  2. Forensic entomology
  3. Zombie behavior in various arthropods

Answer in the comments by Friday, 6:00pm CT!


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Do Insects Have Taste Buds?

This question came in to me through my Twitter and I thought it was so interesting! Yes insects can and do taste. Yes it’s different than smelling for them. But do they actually have taste buds?

MaxDWolf asks “Do insects have anything akin to taste buds”
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