‘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.

New parasitoid wasp species discovered in Costa Rica

The new parasitoid wasp species, Dendrocerus scutellaris. Credit: Carolyn Trietsch

From ScienceDaily:

New parasitoid wasp likely uses unique saw-like spines to break out of its host body

January 31, 2018

Summary: A newly discovered parasitoid wasp species from Costa Rica might be only slightly larger than a sesame seed, yet it has quite vicious ways when it comes to its life as an insect developing inside the body of another. Most likely, it uses its unique saw-like row of spines on its back to cut its way out of its host.

About the size of a sesame seed, a new species of wasp from Costa Rica, named Dendrocerus scutellaris, has elaborate branched antennae that could be used for finding mates. Or hosts.

The new insect is described by PhD candidate Carolyn Trietsch, Dr. István Mikó and Dr. Andrew Deans of the Frost Entomological Museum at Penn State, USA, together with Dr. David Notton of the Natural History Museum in London, UK. Their study is published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

The wasp is a parasitoid, meaning that its larvae feed on a live host insect. There are two types of parasitoids: ectoparasitoids, which lay their eggs on or near the host, so that the hatchling larvae can attach to and feed on the insect from the outside; and endoparasitoids, which lay their eggs directly inside the host, so that the larvae can eat them from the inside out.

Unfortunately, to puzzle out the new wasp’s lifestyle, the researchers could only rely on specimens collected back in 1985, which had spent the past few decades stored in the collections of the Natural History Museum of London before being loaned to the Frost Museum at Penn State for research.

What can you learn about a wasp’s lifestyle from specimens that are over 30 years old? Even though the new species has never been observed in the wild, researchers managed to learn a lot by looking at the wasps’ morphology, concluding that the species is likely an endoparasitoid.

The larva of an endoparasitoid wasp needs a safe place to develop and mature, so when it is done feeding on its host, it may stay inside the host’s body where it can develop undisturbed. Once it is fully grown, the adult wasp either chews or pushes its way out, killing the host if it isn’t already dead.

Unlike its close relatives, the new species does not have pointed mandibles for chewing. Instead, it has a series of spines along its back. While the wasp is emerging, it may rub these spines against the host and use them like a saw to cut open the body. Once emerged, it flies off to mate and continue the cycle.

“While their lives may sound gruesome, parasitoid wasps are harmless to humans and can even be helpful,” explain the scientists. “Depending on the host they parasitize, parasitoids can benefit agriculture by controlling pest insects like aphids that damage crops.”

It is currently unknown what the new species feeds upon, but naming the species and bringing it to attention is the first step in learning more about it.


Flies’ dinner at mushroom

This 23 November 2017 video from the Netherlands shows flies having dinner at a common stinkhorn mushroom.

This way, the fungus’ spores stick to the flies’ legs, spreading them.


Fly diving in toxic lake

This video from California in the USA says about itself:

A tiny fly can ‘scuba dive’ in a salty and toxic lake

21 November 2017

Alkali flies plunge into the salty and alkaline Mono Lake, to feed and lay their eggs, but until now it has been unclear how they manage to survive. Read more here.


Grasshopper discovery on Vincent van Gogh painting

This video from Missouri in the USA says about itself:

7 November 2017

The 127-year-old grasshopper found by crews at the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is the buzz of the art world.

Translated from Dutch daily De Volkskrant today:

He has become world-famous for his sunflowers and self-portraits. But Vincent van Gogh also liked to paint olive trees. The Dutch painter made at least eighteen works between May and December 1889 about the olive groves in the vicinity of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. In one of these paintings, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art curators in Kansas [no, Missouri] in the USA have now discovered a real grasshopper.

‘Landscape with olive trees’ is a painting from June 1889. It was painted in a period when Van Gogh, often plagued by illness and emotional depression, finally could come outside the walls of the hospital. Van Gogh also preferred painting outdoors. He was captivated by the whimsical growth patterns and ever changing colors of the ever-present olive trees. So much so that Van Gogh probably never noticed that the grasshopper ended up on his canvas. …

But it was curator Mary Schafer who recently discovered with a magnifying glass the grasshopper between the green and brown colours in the foreground of the painting. A paleo-entomologist then knew that the animal missed his abdomen and chest cavity and that no traces of movement were visible in the paint. Conclusion: The grasshopper was already dead when it landed on the Van Gogh painting, presumably by the wind. …

And Van Gogh himself talked about similar things in his letters to his brother Theo. “When painting outside, many things happen. I think I removed one hundred flies from my four canvases that I sent you”, wrote the painter in 1885.

Remarkable detail: British behavioral scientists at Queen Mary College in London let bumblebees in 2005 fly around variegated reproductions of paintings by Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Fernand Léger and Patrick Caulfield. During the research, the bumblebees appeared to fly more often to Van Gogh’s sunflowers than to the works of the other painters. Also the bumblebees stayed longer at Van Gogh’s paintings.

And the grasshopper? The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has decided to keep the animal in the painting.

See also here.


Beewolf wasp buries bee alive

This 4 August 2017 shows a beewolf wasp burying a bee alive.

The female wasp does that to provide food for her youngsters. The smaller male wasps of this species don’t do that, they feed on nectar.

Albert Jacobs made this video near Venhorst village in North Brabant province in the Netherlands.