Saving field crickets in Britain


This video from England says about itself:

26 April 2018

RSPB Farnham Heath work with Back from the Brink to help translocate Field Crickets.

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Eocene insect fossils and ancient Russia-Canada connection


A new species of scorpionfly fossil from 53 million years ago at McAbee, British Columbia named Eomerope eonearctica. This insect is very similar to a fossil species that lived at the same time north of Vladivostok on the Asian Pacific coast, highlighting connections between Canada and Russia in ancient times.. Credit: Simon Fraser University

From Simon Fraser University in Canada:

Fossils highlight Canada-Russia connection 53 million years ago

March 29, 2018

A new 53 million-year-old insect fossil called a scorpionfly discovered at B.C.’s McAbee fossil bed site bears a striking resemblance to fossils of the same age from Pacific-coastal Russia, giving further evidence of an ancient Canada-Russia connection.

“We’ve seen this connection before through fossil plants and animals, but these insects show this in a beautiful way”, says Bruce Archibald, a research associate in SFU’s Department of Biological Sciences and the Royal BC Museum. “They are so much alike that only the wing colour of the new McAbee species tells them apart.” Archibald and Alexandr Rasnitsyn, of Moscow’s Russian Academy of Sciences, described the find and its significance in this month’s The Canadian Entomologist.

“I’m not aware of any case where two such species so much alike and so close in age have been found in both Pacific Russia and Pacific Canada, and that’s pretty great”, said Archibald. He notes that the insect’s only living relative is found in the temperate forest of central Chile, which has a climate that is similar in ways to B.C.’s 53 million years ago.

The new Canadian species was named Eomerope eonearctica, and its Russian doppelganger is Eomerope asiatica, described in 1974. The McAbee fossil site has been designated a provincial heritage by the province of B.C. for its spectacular fossil record. Archibald and Rasnitsyn also described a second new scorpionfly species that was found near Princeton, B.C.

Wasps get backpacks for study on animal altruism


This video says about itself:

Paper Wasps Get Tiny Backpacks for Study on Animal Altruism | National Geographic

22 March 2018

How do you track the location of thousands of wasps? A dab of super glue, and tiny radio transmitter backpacks.

New research shows wasps have their own way of communicating to each other about mealtimes — drumming on their gaster (or abdomen) to let each other know that there’s food nearby. For nearly five decades, researchers thought the gastral drumming was a signal of hunger. These findings are the first evidence that wasps have complex communication about food, just as ants, bees, termites, and other social insects: here.

Fruit flies like familiar songs


This 2017 video is called An introduction to Drosophila melanogaster.

From Nagoya University in Japan:

Even flies like a familiar song

How auditory learning shapes fly behavior

March 20, 2018

Summary: The process that allows sounds experienced during infancy to shape language is poorly understood. Researchers have found that courtship behavior in Drosophila melanogaster can be shaped by earlier auditory experiences. Their findings allowed them to develop a novel and simple neurological model to study how experiences of sound can shape complex modes of communication in animals.

The ability to learn and speak language depends heavily on the sounds and language we experience during early infancy. While this may sound self-evident, we still do not understand exactly what happens neurologically as a developing infant learns how to speak. In a study published in eLife, researchers at Nagoya University devised a new neurological model in fruit flies that may illuminate this process — and made some key discoveries about insect mating along the way.

“Higher mammalian species such as humans learn how to vocalize by listening to sounds from their own species”, lead author Xiaodong Li says. “Much of the research on how this occurs has been done in songbirds, which have much simpler neural circuits than humans. Even in songbirds, though, our understanding of how auditory inputs translate into vocalized outputs is still very rudimentary.”

To get around this intractable problem of complexity, the research team focused on Drosophila melanogaster. This unassuming fruit fly is commonly used in research as a model organism, because its biology is much simpler than humans — but surprisingly similar in fundamental ways. As fruit flies are unable to vocalize, however, the team studied a different mode of communication often shaped by auditory experience: courtship.

“As part of their courting ritual, male fruit flies vibrate their wings in pulses,” Li explains. “Every species of fruit fly is attracted to a unique wing pulse pattern. Attraction to a specific pulse is an evolutionary trait that promotes copulation while dissuading inter-species mating. Importantly, what we discovered was that this attraction is a learned behavior in fruit flies, contrary to the prevailing view that it happens innately.”

After emerging from their pupae as young adults, fruit flies spend a lot of time around their peers before they become mature enough to mate. The researchers hypothesized that exposure to these wing pulse “songs” during this time may teach them to prefer their species’ own pulse.

To test this idea, the team clipped the wings of young flies and put them in isolated chambers. The flies were either left alone to mature, or exposed to a sound that mimicked their species’ wing pulse. Males and females were then put together and another pulse was played, this time from a different species. If sexual preference was purely innate, the team reasoned, then the early exposure to their own species’ mating song would have no impact on the ‘dating’ that eventually commenced.

The result? When flies were first exposed to their own species’ song, subsequent mating went on in a typical fashion. Without the prior auditory training, however, the courtship ritual became notably less courtly: untrained females copulated in response to another species’ song, while untrained males began to chase one another (a behavior in the insect world known as “chaining”).

Though an intriguing discovery on its own, the researchers went one step further, seeking out the neurons responsible for this learned behavior. By experimentally manipulating levels of the neurotransmitter GABA and its receptor in the brain, the team pinpointed female pC1 neurons as crucial players in the courtship learning process. The discovery that fruit fly neurons can turn sound into sexual preference makes it possible to study how learning can shape communicative behaviors.

“The pC1 neuron cluster is known to be involved in evaluating sexual cues, but what we’ve found is that this cluster can be molded in response to auditory experiences during development,” lead investigator Azusa Kamikouchi says. “This finding opens up an entirely new research field. It allows us to use a highly tractable and simplified model in flies to study how auditory learning translates, at the neurological level, into sensorimotor behaviors that in many ways resemble the phenomenon of language.”

How termites recognize queens, kings


This 2009 video says about itself:

Her Majesty, The Termite Queen | National Geographic

Journey to the center of the…termite nest? Hard to believe this termite queen will produce almost 165 million eggs in her lifetime!

From North Carolina State University in the USA:

Termite queen, king recognition pheromone identified

March 19, 2018

Summary: Forget the bows and curtsies. Worker termites shake in the presence of their queens and kings. New research explains how these workers smell a royal presence.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have for the first time identified a specific chemical used by the higher termite castes — the queens and the kings — to communicate their royal status with worker termites. The findings could advance knowledge of termite evolution, behavior and control.

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that a wax-like hydrocarbon — a chemical consisting of only carbon and hydrogen atoms called heneicosane — on the body surface of subterranean royal termites is used to enable worker termites to recognize and care for them. Termites live mostly underground or in wood and are generally blind, necessitating the use of chemical signals to communicate.

“This is the first report of a queen recognition pheromone in termites and the first report of a king recognition pheromone in insects”, said Coby Schal, Blanton J. Whitmire Distinguished Professor of Entomology at NC State.

Schal and NC State Ph.D. graduate Colin Funaro, the paper’s co-corresponding authors, used gas chromatography to isolate specific chemicals from the exoskeletons of royal and worker Reticulitermes flavipes termites and found heneicosane on the royal termites, but not on workers.

When heneicosane was placed on glass dummies serving as royal termite proxies, workers did not bow or curtsy, but instead started shaking — an action that seemed to reflect the termite version of royal recognition. Workers shook even more when the royal pheromone was blended with other hydrocarbons from the colony’s workers that represent the colony’s odor.

“Termites use a two-step recognition process — the colony’s odor gives workers a ‘home’ context and heneicosane within this context denotes ‘royals are in the home'”, Schal said.

“The royal-recognition pheromone lets workers know that there is a queen or a king present and that everything is stable in the colony”, Funaro said. “Worker termites shook more when realizing that the royals were also nest mates.”

Schal said that the study upends the commonly held belief that queens of the insect order Hymenoptera — ants, bees and wasps — were the first to use these wax-like hydrocarbon pheromones for royal recognition.

“Termites appeared some 150 million years ago while the social Hymenoptera appeared about 100 million years ago, so this discovery of a hydrocarbon as a royal-recognition pheromone in termites appears to predate its use in [other] social insects“, Schal said.

R. flavipes termites are major pests in North Carolina and the Southeast, causing billions in damage, Schal added. In recent years they have spread to the west coast of the U.S., and into Canada, South America, Europe, and Asia.

‘Termites, cockroaches more closely related than thought’


This 2015 video is called Termites Are Probably Evolutionary Descendants Of Cockroaches.

By Susan Milius, 7:00am, March 1, 2018:

It’s official: Termites are just cockroaches with a fancy social life

Reordering demotes one infamous insect group to being a mere branch of an equally infamous one

Termites are the new cockroach.

Literally. The Entomological Society of America is updating its master list of insect names to reflect decades of genetic and other evidence that termites belong in the cockroach order, called Blattodea.

As of February 15, “it’s official that termites no longer have their own order”, says Mike Merchant of Texas A&M University in College Station, chair of the organization’s common names committee. Now all termites on the list are being recategorized.

The demotion brings to mind Pluto getting kicked off the roster of planets, says termite biologist Paul Eggleton of the Natural History Museum in London. He does not, however, expect a galactic outpouring of heartbreak and protest over the termite downgrade. Among specialists, discussions of termites as a form of roaches go back at least to 1934, when researchers reported that several groups of microbes that digest wood in termite guts live in some wood-eating cockroaches too.

Once biologists figured out how to use DNA to work out genealogical relationships, evidence began to grow that termites had evolved as a branch on the many-limbed family tree of cockroaches. In 2007, Eggleton and two museum colleagues used genetic evidence from an unusually broad sampling of species to publish a new tree of these insects (SN: 5/19/07, p. 318). Titled “Death of an order”, the study placed termites on the tree near a Cryptocercus cockroach.

Cryptocercus roaches live in almost termitelike style in the Appalachian Mountains, not too far from chemical ecologist and cockroach fan Coby Schal at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Monogamous pairs of Cryptocercus roaches eat tunnels in wood and raise young there. The offspring feed on anal secretions from their parents, which provide both nutrition and starter doses of the wood-digesting gut microbes that will eventually let the youngsters eat their way into homes of their own.

Termites are “nothing but social cockroaches”, Schal says. Various roaches have some form of social life, but termites go to extremes. They’re eusocial, with just a few individuals in colonies doing all of the reproducing. In extreme examples, Macrotermes colonies in Australia can grow to 3 million individuals with only one queen and one king.

After several years of debate, the common names committee of the American entomologists’ organization voted it was time to switch to the new view of termites. At a February meeting of the society board, there was no objection.  The common names of individual termite species, of course, will remain as something-something “termite.”

Considering whether to demote a whole order of insects is an uncommon problem, says Whitney Cranshaw of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, a longtime member of the society’s naming committee. “Probably some of us, including myself, didn’t want to make the change because we liked it the way it was”, he says. Termites and cockroaches as separate orders were easy to memorize for the undergraduates he teaches.  Yet, he voted yes. “It’s what’s right.”

Beewolf wasps’ health, from dinosaur age till now


This video says about itself:

Lifecycle of the European Beewolf wasp – short story with narration

22 August 2017

A short story on the European Beewolf Wasp (Philanthus triangulum) showing how it preys on others and what it does to improve the success of its offspring.

From the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany:

Beewolves have been successfully using the same antibiotics for 68 million years

The antibiotic cocktail produced by symbiotic bacteria changed very little in the course of evolution and its antipathogenic effect remained unaltered

February 14, 2018

Summary: Scientists have now found that beewolves, unlike humans, do not face the problem of antibiotic resistant pathogens. These insects team up with symbiotic bacteria which produce up to 45 different antibiotic substances to protect their offspring against mold fungi. This antibiotic cocktail has remained surprisingly stable since the symbiosis emerged, about 68 million years ago.

The discovery of penicillin about 90 years ago and the widespread introduction of antibiotics to combat infectious diseases have revolutionized human medicine. However, in recent decades, the increase in multidrug-resistant pathogens has confronted modern medicine with massive problems. Insects have their own antibiotics, which provide natural protection against germs. A team of scientists from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena have now found that beewolves, unlike humans, do not face the problem of antibiotic resistant pathogens. These insects team up with symbiotic bacteria which produce an antibiotic cocktail of up to 45 different substances within a single species to protect their offspring against mold fungi. The researchers not only discovered that the number of antibiotic substances is much higher than previously thought, they also proved that the cocktail has remained surprisingly stable since the symbiosis emerged, about 68 million years ago.

Beewolves are solitary digger wasps that carry paralyzed bees into their underground brood cells; these serve as a food supply for their offspring. After the larvae hatch from the eggs, they feed on the bees and then hibernate in a cocoon in the ground. While hibernating, they are constantly endangered by fast-growing mold fungi whose spores are omnipresent in the soil. To protect their young, beewolves have not only developed their own defense mechanisms, they also rely on the chemical arsenal of microorganisms. Adult females breed bacteria of the genus Streptomyces in their antennae and deposit these bacteria to the walls of the brood cells in which their larvae develop. When a larva spins its cocoon, it weaves the Streptomyces into the cocoon silk. Because the bacteria produce a cocktail of different antibiotic substances, a protective layer is formed which prevents mold fungi from entering the cocoon and infecting the larva.

In the present study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists from Mainz and Jena showed that the protective symbiosis between beewolves and their bacterial partners has not only existed since the Cretaceous (see also our press release, moreover, the antibiotic protection offered by the bacteria against pathogens has changed very little since it evolved about 68 million years ago. All of the studied beewolf species use very similar mixtures of antibiotics — basically, modifications of only two structures: streptochlorine and piericidin. “We had expected that some beewolf symbionts evolved new antibiotics to complement their arsenal over the course of evolution in order to help their hosts combat new or resistant mold fungi”, Tobias Engl from Mainz University, the first author of the study, said. However, the original antibiotic cocktail must have been so effective that it did not need to change. An especially important property from the start was possibly that the mixture was effective against a wide variety of fungi, as no specialized pathogens in beewolves are known to have evolved resistance to these antibiotics.

The broad protection offered by the antibiotic cocktail against a variety of mold fungi is probably related to the large number of substances produced by the bacterial symbionts. Because most of these substances can be traced back to a single gene cluster, the scientists also studied the molecular reasons for the diversity of products. They identified several key biosynthetic steps and discovered that the enzymes of the symbiotic Streptomyces worked less selectively than those of free-living bacteria. This lack of specificity allows the enzymes to bind to different chemical precursors, which is the reason for a larger number of products. In addition, the direct end-product of the piericidin biosynthesis is modified in multiple ways. The result is a multitude of antibiotic substances which are found in varying amounts in the different beewolf species. The geographical pattern of the relative amounts of single substances suggests that the antibiotics allow beewolves to adapt to a certain degree to local mold communities.

Beewolves and their symbiont-produced antibiotics are likely exposed to different selective pressures than humans. Human pathogens gain enormous advantage by becoming resistant to common antibiotics. They can use this advantage effectively, because they are transmitted from person to person and, in our globalized world, even from country to country. They spread easily in hospitals, where many people, often with compromised immune systems, live together in close proximity. “Beewolves, in contrast, are usually found in small populations and frequently relocate, because they rely on open sandy grounds to build their burrows”, Martin Kaltenpoth, who headed a Max Planck Research Group in Jena until he became Professor of Evolutionary Ecology in Mainz in 2015, explained. “Hence resistant pathogens have little opportunity to spread within or between populations.” Perhaps this is the reason why no resistant microorganisms are known to have specialized on beewolves. It seems most important for beewolves to have a defense which is efficient against a broad and constantly changing spectrum of mold fungi. The selective process that favored broad-spectrum activity over adaptation to specialized pathogens likely influenced the development of the antibiotic cocktail and led to it remaining mostly unchanged for millions of years.