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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Goop offers bug repellent at 6x what a comparable product would cost.

Written by Joe Ballenger

So…I was on Twitter, and this tweet came across my feed.

I’m familiar with GOOP and had a pretty good idea of what I was in for when I clicked the link…and I was actually happy to see that they were selling something that looked like it could be useful.

…and then I looked at the price and freaked out a bit.


You should not be paying $30 for a bottle of bug spray.

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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.

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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!!

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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.

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