Canadian sapsuckers help hummingbirds, video


This video says about itself:

Remarkable contribution to hummingbird survival made possible by sapsucker‘s feeding behavior in deciduous forests of North America.

A family of yellow-bellied sapsuckers seen in the footage, a type of woodpecker that lives in Eastern Canada, creates numerous tiny aligned holes in a tree deep enough to let sap out.

Trees in deciduous and broadleaf forests can sometimes be seen bearing hundred of these little holes that seem to have been made by an automated machine.

In a surprising display of the interaction between two different species in the wild, a [female ruby-throated] hummingbird is attracted to the freshly created sweet drink. It flies and hovers near it, sporadically plunging its tiny beak and visibly draining the content of the small holes. It comes in competition with a wide variety of bugs present in nature that are also attracted to the sugar-filled drink that begins leaking out of the tiny holes.

Returning sapsuckers also drink from the previously made holes while resting in place. They sometimes take advantage of the opportunistic tiny meals that are the careless ants walking around and straight to their death.

The extraordinary behavior displayed by the ruby-throated hummingbird to insure a proper diet can perhaps explain why so many nectar-drinking birds can thrive in an environment with a lack of it.

The footage was filmed in 4K Ultra High Definition in late August in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Late August is just before the ruby-throated hummingbird will be on a long autumn migration journey. The extra energy is welcome.

The yellow-bellied sapsuckers will then go south as well. I saw this species in Cuba.

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New Zealand insects discoveries


This April 2017 video says about itself:

Little Barrier Island – New Zealand’s Ark

Eighty kilometers from downtown Auckland is another world… Te Hauturu-o-Toi: Little Barrier Island. For well over a century, this has been a treasured and protected wildlife reservation. The most intact ecosystem in New Zealand. Native species such as hihi and kokako that struggle to survive on the mainland are thriving on Hauturu. There are no pests here, and the waters of the Hauraki Gulf provide protection through isolation.

Little Barrier Island: New Zealand’s Ark gives viewers unprecedented access to the wonders of this precious island. From the stony shores that are a refuge for native reptiles to high ridges, riddled with the burrows of sea birds, and deep into the primeval forest, where native birds, insects and the ancient tuatara live and thrive in peace. This is New Zealand as it once was.

From the Ecological Society of America:

New buzz around insect DNA analysis and biodiversity estimates

February 27, 2019

In the face of declining numbers of insects across the globe, scientists continue to expand our knowledge about invertebrate organisms and their biodiversity across the globe. Insects are the most abundant animals on planet Earth — they outweigh all humanity by a factor of 17. Their abundance, variety, and ubiquity mean insects play a foundational role in food webs and ecosystems, from the bees that pollinate the flowers of food crops to the termites that recycle dead trees. With insect populations dwindling worldwide, there are still new species being discovered.

Researchers on the remote forested island of Hauturu, New Zealand (also known as Little Barrier Island) have compiled a staggering inventory of invertebrate biodiversity using DNA sequencing, adding a significant number of invertebrates to GenBank — an open access database of all publicly available DNA sequences. The results are published this week in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Applications.

The number of invertebrate species that exist globally is uncertain, and it is difficult to characterize entire invertebrate communities using traditional methods that require the examination of individual specimens by an expert taxonomist.

This is where DNA sequencing comes in. This method is hailed as a tool for resolving the biodiversity of earth’s underexplored ecosystems. It allows for the identification of invertebrate specimens based on more efficient molecular analysis.

Andrew Dopheide — a researcher at the University of Auckland — and colleagues employed a combination of old-school field biology with next-generation DNA sequencing to explore the use of combined datasets as a basis for estimating total invertebrate biodiversity on Hauturu island. They collected specimens from leaf litter samples, pitfall traps, and the soil itself.

“In a New Zealand context, we are not aware of any other ecosystem-wide DNA-based surveys of terrestrial invertebrate biodiversity on this scale,” explained Dopheide. “Additionally, there was no information about invertebrate biodiversity on Hauturu, despite this being one of New Zealand’s most pristine and important natural ecosystems.”

At the end of the study, they estimated that the above-ground community of invertebrates includes over 1000 arthropod species (having an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and paired jointed appendages), of which 770 are insects, and 344 are beetles.

The soil they sequenced yielded even richer samples. Soils are a promising substrate for DNA analyses of biodiversity because they contain diverse communities of organisms as well as biological debris including DNA molecules. Scientists know much less about soil communities than about above-ground communities.

From the soil samples they were able to estimate 6856 arthropod species (excluding mites), of which almost 4000 are insects.

Beetles (order Coleoptera) were most abundant, followed by sawflies, wasps, bees and ants (order Hymenoptera), flies (Diptera), butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), and various Amphipoda — a diverse order of small, shrimp-like crustaceans that mostly occur in the ocean, but also in freshwater and some terrestrial habitats.

In total, they added over 2500 new DNA sequences to GenBank, which houses data from more than 100,000 distinct organisms, and has become an important database for research in biological fields.

“We were surprised that so few of the invertebrates were already represented in GenBank,” said Dopheide, “which suggested that we had recovered mostly new or little-studied species despite using very traditional collection methods, and emphasized the lack of knowledge about these important organisms… It’s likely that many of the invertebrates without DNA sequences in GenBank are indeed new species, but we don’t know for sure.”

With insect populations dwindling worldwide, at least there are still new species being sequenced and documented. This work by Dopheide et al. has marked the trail, and set the bar, for mixing old-school natural science with DNA sequencing to characterize species that dominate the structure and function of ecosystems… while marveling at how many of them are beetles.

Antarctic flies protect their eggs with ‘antifreeze’


This July 2015 video says about itself:

UNT researcher studies Antarctic insect

UNT Regents Professor of Biology Jim Kennedy spent nearly a month in Antarctica as part of a team of researchers led by UNT alumna Dr. Tamara Contador (Ph.D. ’11) studying the continent’s freshwater ecosystems and climate change as it relates to native species as part of the Chilean Antarctic Institute‘s 51st Antarctic Science Expedition. This study is the first to research the ecophysiology of the Antarctic midge.

More about the research is here.

From the University of Cincinnati in the USA:

Antarctic flies protect fragile eggs with ‘antifreeze’

Temperature-resistant gel helps the eggs of wingless flies survive the extreme conditions of the southern continent.

February 22, 2019

Summary: A molecular analysis found that wingless flies protected their eggs with a temperature-resistant gel to help them withstand freezing and thawing in Antarctica.

The good thing about the short Antarctic summer is it’s a lot like a Midwest winter.

But for wingless flies, that’s also the bad thing about Antarctic summers. The flies and their eggs must contend with an unpredictable pattern of alternating mild and bitterly cold days.

University of Cincinnati biologist Joshua Benoit traveled to this Land of the Midnight Sun to learn how Antarctica’s only true insect can survive constant freezing and thawing. He found that the midges have surprising adaptations for life in their wintry realm.

Benoit and his students presented their findings in January at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology conference in Tampa, Florida.

Smaller than a Tic Tac, Belgica antarctica is the largest land animal found in Antarctica. Larvae resemble plum-colored worms. Adults are black and antlike.

At some point in their evolution, the little midges lost their wings — possibly to cope with the notorious Antarctic winds. Since they eat abundant algae and never travel far from where they’re hatched, the flies don’t need to fly.

Finding them isn’t hard.

“You crawl around on the ground and dig in dirt, algae and moss until you find them,” said Benoit, an assistant professor in UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. “And because of the penguin colonies, there’s a lot of penguin excrement, too.”

Benoit has undertaken three scientific missions to Antarctica, conducting research out of Palmer Station in the U.S. Antarctic Program. Previously, he studied Antarctic ticks that feed on penguins and other sea birds.

For his latest project, Benoit examined the molecular mechanisms underlying the fly’s reproduction. Like other midges, adult flies mate in big swarms during the brief Antarctic summer. The females lay eggs that hatch about 40 days later. Then the newborn flies spend the next two years developing as larvae, entombed for much of the year in ice.

It’s only in their last week of life that they spread their wings, so to speak, as fully formed adults. They die just days after mating.

Scientists call them “extremophiles” for their ability to survive in extreme conditions.

“It could be living at a high elevation on a mountain — that’s extreme. Or if you live in an extremely salty environment,” he said.

Few creatures can survive the hostile conditions of Antarctica, Benoit said. The continent is home to a menagerie of tiny organisms such as mites and nematodes. It’s the tiny fly’s ability to withstand cold and dehydration that makes it an extremophile of Olympic proportions.

Scientists know that the midge larvae stay sheltered from the worst of Antarctica’s blinding sun and bracing cold by remaining under a protective layer of moss and soil. Here the temperature and humidity are relatively constant.

But during the Antarctic summer, daily temperatures can soar into the 40s and dip well below freezing. UC researchers wanted to know how the midge’s eggs tolerate such big temperature swings.

“The females secrete this clear jelly around the eggs. Essentially, it’s like antifreeze,” UC student and study lead author Geoffrey Finch said. “It acts as a temperature buffer against those fluctuations to help them survive.”

The gel also helps the eggs survive Antarctica’s other defining climate feature — its dryness. Antarctica is home to the world’s biggest desert. Belgica can survive even after losing more than 70 percent of its water content. By comparison, studies have found that people begin to suffer cognitive impairments when we lose as little as 2 percent of our water content through dehydration.

“So having all these unique adaptations is what allows them to live in this extreme environment,” Benoit said.

Zebra stripes help against flies


This 20 February 2019 video says about itself:

How Do Zebra Stripes Stop Biting Flies?

Scientists learned in recent years why zebras have black and white stripes – to avoid biting flies. But, what is it about stripes that so disrupts a biting fly’s ability to land on a zebra and suck its blood? UC Davis Professor Tim Caro led a series of unique experiments for this study to better understand how stripes manipulate the behavior of biting flies as they attempt to come in for a landing on a zebra.

From PLOS:

Zebra stripes are not good landing strips

Stripes reduce controlled landing by biting flies, supporting the leading hypothesis of their utility

February 20, 2019

The stripes of a zebra deter horse flies from landing on them, according to a new study published February 20, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS One by Tim Caro of the University of California Davis, Martin How of the University of Bristol, and colleagues.

Zebra stripes have been posited to provide camouflage, visually confuse predators, signal to other zebras, or help control heat gain, but none of these hypotheses have withstood rigorous experimentation. An alternative, that stripes somehow reduce the likelihood of being bitten by predatory flies, has gained adherents, but the mechanism has been unclear.

In the new study, the authors compared behavior of horse flies as they attempted to prey on zebras and uniformly colored horses held in similar enclosures. Flies circled and touched horses and zebras at similar rates, but actually landed on zebras less than one-quarter as often. When horses wore a striped, black or white coat, flies landed far less often on the striped coat, but just as often on the uncovered head. The authors found that while flies decelerated prior to landing on horses, they approached zebras at a faster clip and failed to slow down as they closed the distance, often bumping into the zebra before flying away again.

Additionally, zebras were at greater pains to keep flies off through tail swishing and running away.

Taken together, these results indicate that stripes do not deter flies from approaching zebras, but do prevent effective landing, and thus, reduce the number of flies successfully feeding. This finding provides further support for the hypothesis that the evolutionary benefit of zebra stripes is to reduce biting by predatory flies.

The authors add: “Zebra stripes are now believed to have evolved to thwart attack by biting flies. We observed and filmed the behaviour of horse flies near captive zebras and horses and found that flies failed to decelerate close to stripes preventing controlled landings. Combined with zebras’ anti-parasite behavior, few flies landed successfully or probed their hosts for blood.”

Flowers and insects in Canada, video


This 2018 video says about itself:

One hour video footage compilation in 4K Ultra High Definition of closeups and macro shots of flowers, bugs and insects present in mixed and deciduous forests of Eastern North America in the summer.

Exact filming locations are in Southern Ontario and Southern Quebec during the months of April through September.

Dinosaur age malaria mosquitoes discovered


Priscoculex burmanicus, a newly identified genus and species of anopheline mosquito, preserved in amber. Credit: George Poinar Jr.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Mosquitoes that carry malaria may have been doing so 100 million years ago

February 11, 2019

The anopheline mosquitoes that carry malaria were present 100 million years ago, new research shows, potentially shedding fresh light on the history of a disease that continues to kill more than 400,000 people annually.

“Mosquitoes could have been vectoring malaria at that time, but it’s still an open question,” said the study’s corresponding author, George Poinar Jr. of Oregon State University’s College of Science. “Back then anopheline mosquitoes were probably biting birds, small mammals and reptiles since they still feed on those groups today.”

In amber from Myanmar that dates to the mid-Cretaceous Period, Poinar and co-authors described a new genus and species of mosquito, which was named Priscoculex burmanicus. Various characteristics, including those related to wing veins, proboscis, antennae and abdomen indicate that Priscoculex is an early lineage of the anopheline mosquitoes.

“This discovery provides evidence that anophelines were radiating — diversifying from ancestral species — on the ancient megacontinent of Gondwana because it is now thought that Myanmar amber fossils originated on Gondwana,” said Poinar, an international expert in using plant and animal life forms preserved in amber to learn more about the biology and ecology of the distant past.

Findings were published in Historical Biology.

Most malaria, especially the species that infect humans and other primates, is caused primarily by one genus of protozoa, Plasmodium, and spread mainly by anopheline mosquitoes. Ancestral forms of the disease may literally have determined animal survival and evolution, according to Poinar.

In a previous work, he suggested that the origins of malaria, which today can infect animals ranging from humans and other mammals to birds and reptiles, may have first appeared in an insect such as a biting midge that was found to be vectoring a type of malaria some 100 million years ago. Now he can include mosquitoes as possible malaria vectors that existed at the same time.

In a 2007 book, “What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease and Death in the Cretaceous,” Poinar and his wife, Roberta, showed insect vectors from the Cretaceous with pathogens that could have contributed to the widespread extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

“There were catastrophic events that happened around that time, such as asteroid impacts, climatic changes and lava flows,” the Poinars’ wrote. “But it’s still clear that dinosaurs declined and slowly became extinct over thousands of years, which suggests other issues must also have been at work. Insects, microbial pathogens such as malaria, and other vertebrate diseases were just emerging around that time.”

Scientists have long debated about how and when malaria evolved, said Poinar, who was the first to discover malaria in a 15- to 20-million-year-old fossil mosquito from the New World, in what is now the Dominican Republic.

It was the first fossil record of Plasmodium malaria, one type of which is now the strain that infects and kills humans.

Understanding the ancient history of malaria, Poinar said, might offer clues on how its modern-day life cycle evolved and how to interrupt its transmission. Since the sexual reproductive stage of malaria only occurs in the insect vectors, Poinar considers the vectors to be the primary hosts of the malarial pathogen, rather than the vertebrates they infect.

The first human recording of malaria was in China in 2,700 B.C., and some researchers say it may have resulted in the fall of the Roman Empire. In 2017 there were 219 million cases of malaria worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Immunity rarely occurs naturally and the search for a vaccine has not yet been successful.

Insects and plants, new research


This March 2015 video says about itself:

Eerie Time-Lapse of Bug-Eating Plants | Short Film Showcase

Filmmaker Chris Field captures the beautiful but deadly world of carnivorous plants in his “bio-lapse”, Carnivora Gardinum. The project took over a year to complete, with 107 days of continuous shooting on two cameras.

From Aarhus University in Denmark:

DNA traces on wild flowers reveal insect visitors

February 8, 2019

Researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark, have discovered that insects leave tiny DNA traces on the flowers they visit. This newly developed eDNA method holds a vast potential for documenting unknown insect-plant interactions, keeping track of endangered pollinators, such as wild bees and butterflies, as well as in the management of unwanted pest species.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) can provide an overview of the DNA sequences in complex samples such as water and soil, and thereby a snapshot of the species inhabiting the particular ecosystem. In previous analyses of water samples from lakes and oceans, researchers have fx found DNA traces from insects, amphibians, fish and whales.

Flowers as DNA collectors

Flower-rich grassland habitats like meadows are typically visited by hundreds of species of insects such as bees, butterflies, flies and beetles, which collect food from the flowers. However, it can obviously be quite difficult to keep track of which insect species visit which flower.

But now, Associate professor Philip Francis Thomsen and Postdoc Eva Egelyng Sigsgaard from the Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, have undertaken eDNA analyses of 50 flowers from seven different plant species.

“I have worked with DNA from water and soil samples for several years and have often thought that DNA is probably much more common in the environment than would initially imagine. With this study we wanted to test if eDNA from flowers can reveal which insects the flowers have interacted with,” says Philip Francis Thomsen, who heads a research group focusing on eDNA.

The researchers were quite surprised by the analyses, which revealed that the flowers have been visited by at least 135 different species of butterflies, moths, bees, flies, beetles, aphids, plant bugs, spiders, etc. The list goes on.

The flowers therefore function as passive DNA collectors that store data about each flower-visiting insect — a discovery that is published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

Efficient monitoring of our insect fauna

The method opens up completely new possibilities of studying the interactions between specific plants and insects. The knowledge gained can be used within many research areas, including applied research in pest control.

The new method also holds major perspectives in the management of endangered species like wild <a href="https://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/save-all-bee-species-from-pesticide-death/”>pollinators, which is an urgent task since many groups of flower-visiting insects are threatened. Thus, the populations of several wild bees and butterflies have decreased significantly in recent decades and many species have now become locally extinct.

“The eDNA method might provide a comprehensive overview of the insects involved in the pollination of various plants. Earlier the focus has almost entirely been on bees, butterflies and hoverflies, but we have found DNA from a wide range of other insects such as moths and beetles that may in fact also be important pollinators” says Philip Francis Thomsen.