An Ant Spy?

In today’s day and age, blending in with the crowd is not only a talent but a necessity. It comes in handy, especially in a country as diverse as America. The way we talk, the clothes we wear, our hair styles and attitude all help us blend with our surrounding and gain acceptance into schools, associations, social clubs and careers. Believe it or not, there is new species of ant that also knows a lot about blending in.

Cephalotes specularis, also known as the mirror turtle ant, is a new species of ant that has the rare ability to infiltrate enemy lines. This is the first incident on record for ants. The mirror turtle ant was discovered by Scott Powell, assistant professor of biology at George Washington University. While researching turtle ants in Brazil’s savannah region, Powell discovered a species of ant able to infiltrate the turf of another type of ant. It wasn’t attacked for being a spy or for leeching off the colony, which is exactly what it was doing.

Powell spent the next two years trying to find out how this could be possible. After some time he concluded that this new species was able to behave like the one it was trying to fool. By imitating its body movements and keeping far enough away as not o allow its scent to be detected it was able to fool the other ant. So the clever mirror turtle ant was able to feast for free from the opposing ant’s food supply and even forage on its food trails.

According to Powell, “During rush hour, the mirror turtle ants, also colored black, dive out of their nest and rapidly merge into the high-speed traffic. Once inside the host’s foraging network, the mirror turtle ants disguise themselves among the enemy workers by mirroring their unique body movements. The impostors go largely unnoticed as they quickly weave through traffic lanes and dodge the host ants. This mimicking behavior allows the parasitic ants to successfully locate and exploit the host’s food resources.”

The mirror turtle ants are so masterful at this infiltration, that they are actually better at following chemical trails left by the host ant than those of their own workers. Powell’s study also revealed that mirror turtle ants were “embedded within a whopping 89 percent of host territories.”



Supermosquitoes? Really?

Supermosquitoes? Really?

While dengue fever or virus is not often fatal, its symptoms include fever, severe muscle and joint pain, and a skin rash similar to measles. This mosquito-borne disease not common in the continental U.S., but, according to a study published in July, ‘Brazil has reported 7 million cases of dengue fever between 2000 and 2013.’

As response to the growing concerns in South America, scientists released tens of thousands of infected supermosquitoes into neighborhoods. The supermosquitoes carry the wolbachia bacteria, a new, natural weapon in the battle with dengue fever. Wolbachia bacteria is found in 60 percent of all insects, but it cannot be transmitted to humans. Australian researchers discovered that the bacteria can serve as a dengue vaccine in mosquitoes so they cannot pass it on to humans.

Hopefully, the bacteria will be passed through generations of mosquitoes and eventually halt the spread dengue fever by mosquitoes.

According to the CDC, ‘more than one-third of the world’s population living in areas at risk for infection, dengue virus is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. As many as 400 million people are infected yearly. Dengue is caused by any one of four related viruses transmitted by mosquitoes.’

CDC also reports that, ‘dengue has emerged as a worldwide problem only since the 1950s. Although dengue rarely occurs in the continental United States, it is endemic in Puerto Rico and in many popular tourist destinations in Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands.

Ren Kimura and Susumu Hotta isolated the dengue virus for the first time in 1943. The scientists were analyzing blood samples of patients taken during the 1943 dengue epidemic in Nagasaki, Japan. A year later, Albert B. Sabin and Walter Schlesinger independently isolated the dengue virus. Both pairs of scientists had isolated the virus now referred to as dengue virus 1 (DEN-1). Is DEN-1 the only type of dengue virus?



Half-male, Half-fem Butterfly Causes Stir

Half-male, Half-fem Butterfly Causes Stir.

Imagine a person who is both male and female and not just on the inside. Literally imagine, half of this person is visibly male and the other half is female. It happens.

A rare half-male, half-female butterfly has been discovered. A condition called bilateral gynandromorphy means the butterfly is split down the middle: half male, half female. The wing on the left is typical of a male Lexias pardalis butterfly. The wing on the right is typical of a female. In addition, the butterfly’s body is also half male and half female.

The butterfly, which is no longer alive, was a resident of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Museum staff noticed the interesting features as soon as it emerged from its cocoon and spread its wings.

According to researchers, “Gynandromorphism is most frequently noticed in bird and butterfly species where the two sexes have very different coloration. It can result from non-disjunction of sex chromosomes, an error that sometimes occurs during the division of chromosomes at a very early stage of development.”

This condition is different from hermaphroditism, where the outward characteristics of only one gender would be present. The condition is quite rare. It is also difficult to spot in species where both sexes look alike.

Several theories exist that explain how this rare oddity occurs in animals such as birds. One theory is that bilateral gynandromorphs are chimeras, two separate embryos that fuse together in early development. They are essentially the opposite of identical twins where one embryo separates into two. Another hypothesis is that gynandromorphism in birds happens when the sex chromosomes are unable to separate in the first cell division after fertilization. Still others suggest that the error occurs in the formation of the egg itself. The egg accidentally ends up carrying two chromosomes, one of each sex, rather than the single chromosome it should possess.

Flies and Flight

Flies and Flight

The next time a fly or mosquito goes buzzing by your head and you risk throwing out your back again or swatting great grandma’s ancient antique vase off the counter and smashing it into a thousand and one pieces, consider this. Most flies’ wings flap over 200Hz or 200 cycles per second. A fruit fly beats its wings faster than neurons can fire. In addition to speed their ability to change directions, stop on a dime, hoover and land upside down is not only mind boggling but fun to watch.

Recently published research investigates how flies pull their speed and high flying antics. For some time researchers have known that all flies have a “gearbox” but had no idea where it was. Finally, the location of phantom gearbox has been found. This discovery is important not just from a biological sense but also because engineers often turn to insects for technical inspiration for biomimetic (synthetic methods that mimic biochemical processes) robots, drones, and other machines.

The question researchers needed to answer was how do wings and halteres (drumstick-like organs that function as gyroscopes to help flies orient themselves in flight) maintain precise coordination at such rapid frequencies?  The researchers put forth two hypotheses. One possible explanation was that the wings and halters, although driven by independent sets of muscles, were mechanically coupled. A second explanation was that sensory feedback influences wing motor neurons.

To pinpoint where the mechanical coupling or “gear box” was controlled, researchers sliced through various parts of flies’ thoraxes, and filmed how it affected flight. When the researchers cut the sub-epimeral ridge (a bump on the lower side of a fly thorax), the fly’s transmission fell apart.

Learning the Language of Pests

Insects rely heavily on chemical signals probably more than on any other form of communication. These signals, called semiochemicals or infochemicals, serve as a “language” that mediates interactions between organisms. Insects may be highly sensitive to low concentrations of these chemicals.

At the University of California, Riverside, entomologists and chemists have developed a technique for replicating complex chemical mixtures of the chemical signals insects use to communicate. This development could result in new “green” methods for controlling pest like ants by disrupting the organization of their colonies.

Most insects use chemical signals for communicating with species and sex. Social insects such as ants living in colonies also differentiate castes (workers, queens, and drones) based on chemical cues. Insects employ their sense of taste or smell in order to detect the presence of semiochemicals. Specialized receptors may be located anywhere on the body, but are commonly found on the feet, antennae, palps, and ovipositor. “Insects that live in large colonies, such as ants and bees, these chemicals have additional functions,” said co-author Jocelyn G. Millar. “The queen in these colonies, for example, uses the chemicals to prevent her workers from laying eggs of their own and ensuring that she remains the only reproducing female in the colony.”

The researchers devised a technique that allowed them to isolate 36 pure hydrocarbon molecules from the complex chemical blends of 20 randomly-chosen insect species. After the compounds could be conclusively identified, the effects of the individual chemicals could be tested. Their technique is described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If these chemicals could be isolated, they could utilized to enhance pest control efforts and may one day replace insecticides. However, isolating these chemicals and determining their absolute configurations and functions has been challenging because the chemicals occur in complex mixtures which are hard to separate.

Ebola Origin Might Have Been from Insect-Eating Bat

Ebola Origin Might Have Been from Insect-Eating Bat


When a disease such as Ebola begins to spread all over our world, scientists are focused on two main things. The first is how to cure it. The second is to find where the outbreak exactly occurred, in order to help them acquire a little more information about it. Until recently, there hasn’t been any hints towards where exactly Ebola originated from, other than the large area of South Africa. However, studies are now showing that the disease actually may have originated from an insect-eating bat. What’s interesting about this is that the bat doesn’t target humans – so why did we suddenly become infected?

Researchers from Robert Koch Institute in Berlin went to the field in order to find the whereabouts of the origination point. They started by going to the hometown of the first victim, a two-year-old boy named Emile Ouamouno. What they discovered is that the young boy often played near a tree infested with the fruit bats. Earlier in the year, the locals had burnt the tree down, as they often eat the bats as a source of protein. It’s expected that this is how the young child was first infected.

Humans must keep in mind that even if it may seem that we coexist peacefully with other animals, we must always be ready to combat any unforeseen circumstances. Luckily, thanks to our Pest Control companies today, we are able to keep our dangers in check, and are always ready to protect our species in case the need arises.


The Ocean? Scorpions?

The3055358_s Ocean? Scorpions?

To most of non-biologists, the word scorpion is synonymous with desert. Indeed popular culture almost always portrays scorpions as desert dwelling micro predators with a nasty sting. However, in reality, the origins of scorpions have been a bit unclear. The oldest of these arachnids (spiders, ticks, and mites) are known from fossils found in Scottish rocks dated somewhere between 433 to 438 million years ago. Recently, well-preserved fossils from southwestern Ontario may prove that the animals originated in the seas and climbed to shore long before scientists previously thought.

According to Proceedings of the Royal Society B, these eleven fossil specimens were buried in sediments on the shores of ancient lagoons around 430 million years ago. Researchers suggest that since all of the fossils are molted exoskeletons, the remains were too fragile to be washed to their final resting place. Therefore, the remains were probably shed at the water’s edge.

In addition, anatomical characteristics of the fossils back up the theory that early scorpions climbed out of the sea. Apparently they animals didn’t possess structures that would enable them to feed on land. However, the last segment of the legs is very short. This allows the creature to plant its “foot” flat like modern-day scorpions. So instead of walking on tiptoe like other water-dwelling scorpions of the era were presumed to do.

Today, there are nearly 2,000 scorpion species. Thirty to forty of these species contain strong enough poison or venom to kill a human being. Scorpions are considered by most to be desert dwellers, but they are also found in Brazilian forests, British Columbia, North Carolina and even the Himalayas. They are resilient and can adapt to changing conditions. Researchers have frozen scorpions overnight, but when put back into the sun the next day they simply thaw out and walk away. Scorpions have existed for hundreds of millions of years. Like crocodiles and sharks, they reside among the quintessential survivors. .



Eusocial insects, the highest level of animal sociality, are among the most successful creatures on Earth. Ants, bees, wasps, termites and aphids are eusocial insects whose everyday lives have inspire and informed human ingenuity for centuries. Scientists are investigating the molecules that motivate eusocial behavior in exciting and innovative ways. This blossoming area of research, called “sociogenomics” by Gene E. Robinson in 2005 is having a tremendous impact on our understanding of the evolution of eusociality.


Eusocial insects have three common main characteristics:

  1. A single mother, with the help of others, performs cooperative care of young.
  2. A reproductive division of labor evolves from sterile castes and display characteristics associated with helpful behavior.
  3. Overlapping generations that allow older generations to help younger generations.

Sociogenomics is new, but the field is expanding rapidly.  According to Claire Asher at the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London, “This new research provides insights into how genomes interact with the physical and social environment to produce highly adapted, specialized castes with extraordinary phenotypic innovations. These findings have highlighted the importance of gene regulation and epigenetics in controlling behavioral plasticity across the animal kingdom.”

With reach methods improving at what Asher calls “breakneck speed,” the tools needed to uncover the molecular secrets behind the complex lives of eusocial insects have been realized. The ability to study any species in their natural habitat is crucial for “studying simple societies, such as those of stenogastrine hover wasps and allodapine bees, where worker behavior depends so much on the ecological constraints of the environment.”

Sociogenomics establishes an essential common ground for ecologists, evolutionary genomicists and developmental biologists to study macroevolutionary patterns and behaviors in the fine-scale detail of gene regulation. When disparate disciplines of biology are united, new ideas, new hypotheses, and a deeper understanding of the natural world invariably emerge.

Hulett Environmental Services offers advice on pest-proofing to keep spiders out

Hulett Environmental Services warns that homeowners might begin to notice more spiders in and around their home.

Much like humans, spiders seek shelter from cooler weather in warm environments. Unfortunately, our homes provide the perfect harborage site for these creepy crawlers to ride out the colder months, which can lead to a larger infestation.

Spiders prefer to spin their webs in dark, undisturbed areas around the house, so homeowners should pay special attention to basements, garages and attics. We recommend keeping these areas particularly clean and free of clutter. Experts also suggest the following tips to avoid contact with spiders:

  • Install screens and weather stripping on windows and door sweeps on doors.
  • Fix any cracks in siding and walls, especially where pipes or wires enter the home.
  • Store firewood at least 20 feet away from the house.
  • Wear heavy gloves when moving items that have been stored for a long period of time.
  • Inspect items such as boxes of decorations and grocery bags before bringing them indoors.
  • Store clothing inside plastic containers and check shoes before putting them on, as spiders often hide in these items.
  • If you suspect that a spider has bitten you, contact your primary care physician for medical advice.
  • If you have a spider infestation in your home, contact a licensed pest professional.

Spiders are a beneficial part of the ecosystem, as they provide a natural form of pest control by catching insects in their webs, but that doesn’t mean they have an open invitation to wander inside our homes.

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