Tag Archives: Insects

An Insect As Small As A Grain Of Sand May Destroy A Local Ecosystem


Globalization is a phenomenon that has allowed insects to travel across the world and into different environments. A United States Forest Service Research Entomologist, Andrew Liebhold, firmly believes that the increasing pest problems, which we have all been hearing about on the news is a result of globalization. This line of thought seems reasonable since there have been numerous cases in which nonnative insects traveled across the ocean by cargo ship only to arrive in a different continent. Although many experts agree that our ecosystems are in danger from rapid global travel, this is not the only reason as to why we are seeing more and more damaging non native insects in the US.  Of course, the process of global warming is playing a part in mass invasive insect migration as well.

Back during the roaring ‘20’s hemlock trees from Japan were shipped to America for landscaping purposes. Unfortunately, many of the trees that were shipped to the US from Japan were likely riddled with spiders known as the hemlock woolly adelgids (HWA). As soon as the 1980’s rolled around, it became clear that the HWA’s were destroying numerous hemlock trees at rapid rates.

Unfortunately, destroying hemlock trees results in undesirable environmental consequences. Even after a hemlock tree dies it can still have a negative impact on the ecosystem. For example, ninety bird species, forty five mammal species, and a plethora of aquatic life all use the hemlock tree for shelter. Once hemlock trees die as a result of the HWA’s tinkering, many of the above mentioned classes of animals will perish from lack of shelter.

Many different species of bird also inhabit the hemlock tree. Although the birds are lucky enough not to die while the HWA’s are destroying the tree, the birds are still forced to migrate elsewhere. An abrupt change in bird migrations can also have unexpected negative consequences on the ecosystem, as well as on other animal species living within the same environmental conditions.

Scientists have tried combating the invasive HWA insects by employing a variety of different methods. One method had researchers bring the HWA’s natural predatory enemies into the HWA’s habitat. Another method involved releasing parasites that seek the HWA as an ideal host. These two different species of organism were imported from Japan, which is also the HWA’s home country. Currently public health professionals are attempting to halt the migration of insects via human travel by restricting what types of cargo passengers can carry onto a plane or a cargo ship. Anything  that could attract invasive insects may soon be prohibited in airports and train stations. For example, wood packing material, such as wooden crates and pallets, may soon be prohibited since the HWA insect loves hitching rides on old slabs of musty wood. Instead these particularly types of wood will be outlawed at many airports around the world. Instead TSA officials will start to allow for manufactured wood, such as plywood or composite wood, which the HWA’s find repellent.

Pests like the HWA’s cause four billion dollars in damage annually, and that is in the US alone. Unfortunately, these costs are often pushed onto homeowners. Scientists are currently considering the use of strategically placed surveillance systems, so that hemlock tree smugglers can be caught before their criminality destroys the environment.

Could the HWA become eradicated after releasing the HWA’s natural predator into the HWA’s environment? Could releasing another nonnative predatory insect from Japan cause the same environmental problems that the HWA insect has caused already in the United States?

Why Are People So Afraid Of Insects And Spiders?

Why Are People So Afraid Of Insects And Spiders

According to the diagnostic manual of mental disorders, people who suffer from pathological fears of spiders and insects have what is referred to as “entomophobia.” Of course people can be afraid of creepy-crawlies without having a full-blown pathological fear of creepy bugs. It is estimated that twenty five percent of the general population actively fear spiders and insects. So what is it about bugs that makes them so scary to so many people?

One reason bugs are so scary is because many bugs actually can harm you. For example, mosquitoes cause more human deaths than any other animal. However, most people are not afraid of mosquitoes as much as, say, tarantulas. Researchers believe that humans evolved the fear of spiders, insects, and snakes in order to avoid potentially dangerous encounters with these creatures. After all, many snakes and spiders possess venom that can harm humans. Also, simply being bitten by a harmless spider can be enough to cause an infection, sometimes fatal, such as necrotizing fasciitis.

Also, people do not fear certain arthropods, such as spiders, because they pose the same sort of threats as lions and bears. We don’t think that bugs can overpower and kill us like other larger and aggressive animals. Instead our fear of bugs is closely related to the feeling of disgust. Researchers studying how disgust and fear are related use the term “rejection response” to describe the human tendency to keep something unfamiliar, and/or disgusting, far away from us. Much like how we are disgusted by feces and rotting food due to their potential to make us sick, we are also disgusted and avoid bugs for their potential to make us ill. Cockroaches, for example, are one of the most feared arthropods, and for good reason, they are disgusting. It is likely that we find cockroaches more disgusting and fear inspiring than most other bugs because cockroaches actually can spread disease due to their love of rotten food, among other reasons.

Lastly, people may fear bugs because they look so different from us. Humans and bugs do not share a close evolutionary bond, which makes many bugs appear otherworldly. In addition to their alien appearance, bugs can also scare us when we witness them operating in large swarms or colonies. The reason for this, according to some researchers, is because seeing a large amount of bugs in one place can overwhelm the human psyche and can damage the highly valued human beliefs regarding individuality. Seeing a swarm of locusts all working together can serve to undermine a person’s belief about what they can accomplish on their own. This particular theory was born out of a specific school of psychoanalysis, so this way of thinking about fear is not as common as most.

Obviously people want to stay clean and free of disease, and when we are in our homes we don’t expect intruders that may compromise our health and cleanliness. So naturally, seeing insects in your home can be quite distressing since your home is the one place where you don’t want to see potential threats to your health. In any case, bugs are here to stay, and they do much more harm than good, except for cockroaches of course.

Do you have a pathological fear of spiders and/or insects? If you do, what method, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, do you use to reduce your fear, if any?

Why Do Some Worker Insects Occasionally Kill Their Queen?

Why Do Some Worker Insects Occasionally Kill Their Queen? Most people probably assume that worker insects cannot possibly commit matricide against their birth-giving queen leaders. Well, most people are wrong because it happens all the time. There are indeed some rare circumstances in which matricide, committed by the dead queen’s offspring, does indeed take place. But why? Researchers at the University of California at Riverside have attempted to shed more light on the phenomenon of matricide among social insects. The researchers eventually determined that worker wasps will become much more likely to kill the queen of the colony if worker wasps find themselves sharing the colony with a large amount of their siblings. However, if the worker wasps are surrounded by a mix of half and full siblings, the worker wasps will avoid killing the queen. If a wasp is surrounded by other wasps that are composed of nearly identical genetic makeup, then the behavior of the worker wasps will be more predictable and more given to collective cooperation by virtue of their similar genetically predisposed behaviors. The worker wasps are more likely to kill the queen if the worker wasps are able to sense that they have a substantial amount of egg-laying sisters present in the colony. The idea is for the sister-worker-wasps to bear the responsibility of egg laying for the colony instead of the queen. This preference on the part of the male wasp is due to the queen’s willingness to resort to destructive and violent behaviors, such as eating the eggs. Also, So, in other words, the worker-wasps will kill the queen in favor of the sister siblings laying the eggs for the colony since the eggs are safer with the sister than with the queen. Why would the queen of the wasp colony consume her own eggs, what advantage would that bring to the queen and/or the colony?

Insect Colonies Share Brain Power

Insect Colonies

Scientists recently performed a study comparing the complexity of brain function in social insects as opposed to solitary insects. They found that unlike vertebrate species, which evolve to have increasingly complex brains the more complex the society becomes, social insects that share information among the members of the colony reduces their need for complex brain function and the complexity of their cognitive brain functioning actually decreased as the complexity of their societies increased.

In vertebrate animal societies as the social environment grows more complex over generations the cognitive abilities of the individuals in that society are forced to adapt and also become more complex. More complex social societies tend to have an increased amount of competition between their individuals. As individuals have to navigate more and more challenges such as conflict over resources, their cognitive abilities are forced to evolve in order to continually sharpen their intelligence so they can continue to survive in more and more complex societies.

However, in social insect species the colony tends to be made up of family groups, with the children staying to help their parents, and while there may be some conflict in these colonies, the survival of the group depends on their ability to work together as a cohesive unit. The more cooperative structures of social insect colonies end up affecting the evolution of the brain differently.

Researchers studied the brains of 29 related species of wasps from Costa Rica, Ecuador and Taiwan. They studied both solitary and social species that had varying colony sizes and structures. They found that the solitary species had evolved to have larger brain parts associated with complex cognition used for such things as spatial memory, associative learning, and multi-sensory integration. On the other hand, the social insect species had less complex cognitive function. The researchers believe that this is because social insect colony members are able to rely on group members, meaning they don’t have to invest as much energy in more complex individual cognitive functions. These social species evolved to survive cooperatively, utilizing such things as sharing information among colony members, which reduces the need for individual cognition.

Do you think humans could have evolved in this manner if we had more cooperative societies, or is that impossible due to our conscious brains? How might our humans society be different if our brains had evolved in the same way as our societies became more complex?

A Colorectal Surgeons Love for Odd Bugs

A prominent colorectal surgeon named Dr Francis Seow-Choen is already fascinated with bugs of the parasitic sort found in the human gastrointestinal system.  However, he grew up fascinating over other types of creep-crawlies–Stick and Leaf Insects.

The surgeon has just completed his fourth and most comprehensive book covering the vast species of these types of insects.  So comprehensive in fact that the doctor dedicated twenty years of his life to studying the species found in his book, and the book itself took three years to complete.  His book looks extensively at fifty-two different and new species of leaf and stick insects located in Borneo.  Even the director of Natural History Publications of Borneo has found the doctors book to be a major advancement in entomological science.

What makes the good doctors discoveries so unique to bug-science is that finding these particular species of bugs is incredibly dangerous as locating them for study normally involves spending several days and nights in the harsh south east Asian jungles.  Also, stick and bug insects are, as you would assume, very difficult to find in the wild, as these bugs are known for their evolutionarily advanced forms of camouflage.  The doctor has risked his life in the harsh and dangerous wilderness to indulge his love for these unique bugs, or, just maybe, he needs a break from examining people’s rectums, you make your own call.

Do you have a labor of love similar to this? What is it?

Why So Many Insects Are Named After Celebrities

Why So Many Insects Are Named After Celebrities

You may have already known that it is not difficult for entomologists to discover new species of insects.  Many insects that inhabit this planet have yet to be discovered and named.  And it turns out that whenever a new insect is discovered, which is quite often, scientists have a tendency to name the newly discovered insects after famous people.  Why is that?  Perhaps the scientists choose a celebrity whom they do not like, or the opposite.   Actually it is most often just a way to get the public interested in insects.

By naming a new species of insect after a celebrity, scientists increase the likelihood that certain fans of the celebrity will take an interest in insects.  And most often there exists no connection between the species found and the celebrity the species is named after.  When it comes to naming insects scientists can name them whatever they please.

For example, a species of insect recently discovered in California has been named after our current president Barack Obama.  The entomologist that discovered this species dedicated the bug to President Obama because of his funding of science.  Other examples include our previous president George W. Bush, Stephen Colbert and Darth Vader.

Do you know of any insects named after celebrities? What kind of insects are they and why are they named after that celebrity?