Wasps deserve love, like bees

This 3 September 2018 video from Germany is about wasps and a (bigger) hornet.

It says about itself:

Nature observations with the camera. Almost every day I am out and about, mostly in the vicinity of my place of residence in the Eifel and document our fascinating nature on the videos shown here.

From University College London in England:

Why do we love bees but hate wasps?

September 18, 2018

A lack of understanding of the important role of wasps in the ecosystem and economy is a fundamental reason why they are universally despised whereas bees are much loved, according to UCL-led research.

Both bees and wasps are two of humanity’s most ecologically and economically important organisms. They both pollinate our flowers and crops, but wasps also regulate populations of crop pests and insects that carry human diseases.

“It’s clear we have a very different emotional connection to wasps than to bees — we have lived in harmony with bees for a very long time, domesticating some species, but human-wasp interactions are often unpleasant as they ruin picnics and nest in our homes”, explained study author, Dr Seirian Sumner (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment).

“Despite this, we need to actively overhaul the negative image of wasps to protect the ecological benefits they bring to our planet. They are facing a similar decline to bees and that is something the world can’t afford.”

For the study, published today in Ecological Entomology and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the European Commission through the Marie Curie fellowship, 748 members of the public from 46 countries were surveyed (70% of respondents were from the UK) on their perceptions of insects, including bees and wasps.

Responses revealed that wasps are indeed universally disliked by the public and this is most likely due to a low-level interest in nature and a lack of knowledge about the benefits wasps bring to our planet’s health and function.

How much research is being done to better understand these misunderstood creatures was also investigated. The team found that wasps are an unpopular choice of insect for researchers to study which likely compounds their negative image as little effort is being made to comprehend and communicate their positive role in the ecosystem.

The scientists discovered this by quantifying the number of scientific research papers and conference presentations for bees and wasps over the last 37 years and 16 years respectively.

Of 908 papers sampled, only 2.4% (22 papers) wasp publications were found since 1980, compared to 97.6% (886 papers) bee publications.

Of 2,543 conference abstracts on bees or wasps from the last twenty years, 81.3% were on bees.

Our dislike of wasps is largely shaped by a small number of species of social wasps — the yellowjackets and hornets — which represent less than 1% of stinging wasps but are most likely to come into contact with humans. There are 67 species of social wasps, but the vast majority of wasps — in excess of 75,000 species — are solitary.

The bothersome nature of social wasps fuels the perception that wasps are more dangerous than bees, although each elicit a similarly painful sting.

Survey respondents were asked to provide three words to describe bees, butterflies, wasps and flies, and to rank how seeing each insect made them feel regardless of their importance in ecosystems and the environment.

Analysis showed that butterflies receive the highest level of positive emotion, followed closely by bees, and then flies and wasps. Overall, bees are more liked than butterflies. The researchers also found that personal interest in nature explained whether people understood the importance of wasps as natural pest controllers and predators.

All insects are under threat from climate change and habitat loss, so the team say that maintaining insect abundance and diversity should be a priority.

“Global concern about the decline of pollinators has resulted in a phenomenal level of public interest in, and support of, bees. It would be fantastic if this could be mirrored for wasps but it would need a complete cultural shift in attitudes towards wasps”, added co-author, Dr Alessandro Cini (UCL and the University of Florence).

“The first step on the way to this would be for scientists to appreciate wasps more and provide the required research on their economic and societal value, which will then help the public understand the importance of wasps.”


Prehistoric parasitic wasps discovered

This 6 September 2018 video says about itself:

New Species of Parasitic Wasps Found in Fossil Flies | National Geographic

When scientists scanned 35 million-year-old fly pupae, they discovered a hidden intruder—fossilized parasitic wasps.

Out of 1,510 ancient fly pupae that were discovered at a site in France, 55 housed the parasitic invaders. Several species of parasitic wasp injected their eggs into the pupae as the maggots transformed into flies. The wasps hatched inside the fly pupae and ate the young flies. Scientists identified four new wasp species among the cache of fossils.

Read more here.

Insects and spiders, David Attenborough video

This video says about itself:

PREDATORS || Micro Monsters With David Attenborough – 2of7 || HD 1080pI.

23 July 2018

The broadcaster continues his bug-eyed view of the world of creepy-crawlies, revealing how predators defuse the defences of their prey. Highlights include the cockroach wasp, busy preparing a tasty – and very live – treat for its young, the whirligig beetle, which employs a water-based radar system, and the jumping Portia spider, which feeds on other arachnids.

Hungarian sand martins catching mayflies for their chicks

This video, recorded in Hungary, says about itself:

Birds [sand martins] Hunt Mayflies for their Chicks | BBC Earth

24 August 2018

Mayflies only have a matter of hours to mate and lay their eggs before becoming food for hungry chicks. Experience all details in beautiful slow motion.

Asian pitcher plants, American pitcher plants and mosquitoes

This January 2017 video says about itself:

While the carnivorous cravings of most flesh-eating plants are limited to small insects, one exception is the pitcher plant. It can consume anything that fits in its mouth–including a mouse!

From the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA:

An ocean apart, carnivorous pitcher plants create similar communities

August 29, 2018

After a six-hour ride over increasingly treacherous roads, it took a full day’s hike up almost 3,000 feet for Leonora Bittleston to reach Nepenthes Camp in the Maliau Basin, an elevated conservation area in Malaysian Borneo with a rich, isolated rainforest ecosystem.

After waiting three years for collecting permits, Bittleston, then a graduate student at Harvard University, entered the basin in search of one thing: pitcher plants. These carnivorous plants have evolved traps to lure, drown and digest animal prey to supplement nutrient-poor soils.

Bittleston needed samples of the liquid inside the pitchers to compare to pitcher plants from much closer to home in Massachusetts and along the Gulf Coast. Though unrelated, both plant families had converged on similar adaptations for trapping prey, and Bittleston wanted to know if the communities of microbes and small animals housed in each liquid-filled pitcher were as similar as the traps themselves.

In new research published Aug. 28 in the journal eLife, Bittleston, University of Wisconsin-Madison botany and bacteriology professor Anne Pringle, and others, reveal that the communities created inside pitcher plants converge just as the shape and function of the plants themselves do. Despite being separated by continents and oceans, pitchers tend to house living communities more similar to one another than they are to their surrounding environments.

Asian pitchers transplanted to Massachusetts bogs can even mimic the natives so well that the pitcher plant mosquito — a specialized insect that evolved to complete its life cycle exclusively in North American pitchers — lays eggs in the impostors.

The researchers say this work provides a much richer picture of how convergence can extend well beyond relatively simple functional roles, like plant carnivory, to include a network of interactions among different species that evolve under related conditions. Bittleston and Pringle collaborated with Naomi Pierce at Harvard, as well as researchers at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah, University of Malaya and Jiangsu University.

Pitcher plants are classic examples of convergent evolution, where unrelated organisms nonetheless home in on similar adaptations to their environment. Along with Venus fly traps and other carnivorous plants, pitcher plants also capture the imagination by turning the tables on animals as they devour them.

But despite that gruesome image, pitcher plants serve as more than just death traps — they are also ecosystems unto their own. Each liquid-filled pitcher houses diverse microbial life and even living complex organisms and insects that escape digestion. It’s those communities that attracted the attention of Pringle and Bittleston.

“We spent hours talking about what a convergent ecosystem would look like”, says Pringle, who began the research while she was at Harvard. “We discussed the idea that similar interactions between species could evolve over and over again.”

Pitcher plants were a natural model to test these ideas. The traps are essentially sterile before they open. Yet during the lifespan of an individual pitcher, they seemed to curate predictable communities of microbes and small invertebrates. This suggested to Pringle and Bittleston that the pitchers created consistent conditions that repeatedly selected for similar communities. Since the Southeast Asian and North American pitchers were so outwardly similar, the researchers wondered if their miniature ecosystems would be as well.

It was a taxing research project that required collecting samples in dense, often inaccessible bogs. Bittleston traveled to state protected areas around the Gulf Coast and to bogs in the Harvard Forest to gather samples from the North American species. And in addition to the trek to the Maliau Basin, she collected fluid from pitchers in Singapore’s protected parks, a comparatively easy, but memorable, venture.

“There were times I was on this very clean Singaporean subway in my field clothes, super sweaty, with these big bags full of tubes with pitcher plant samples,” says Bittleston, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “So it was a funny scene.”

With more than 330 samples from 14 species in hand, the researchers used advanced gene sequencing technology to get a snapshot of the various species making a home inside the pitchers, as well as the species found in nearby soil and water samples. When analyzed for the number and type of species and similarities in community structure, some clear patterns emerged.

While environmental samples contained a large number of different species, the liquid in both groups of pitcher plants had a greatly reduced diversity, indicating a more specialized environment. And the species that pitchers housed tended to come from the same families. Both Southeast Asian and North American pitchers greatly enriched for bacterial organisms like the Actinomycetales or Enterobacteriaceae as well as insects in the fly order and microscopic, filter-feeding animals called rotifers.

The researchers also set up a field experiment, transporting potted Southeast Asian pitchers to bogs in the Harvard Forest and looking at how the pitcher communities developed.

“And in fact, the Southeast Asian species assembled communities that looked like the North American communities”, says Pringle. “That’s cool.”

One clear example of this similarity was the presence of pitcher plant mosquito larvae, normally found exclusively in North American pitchers, in the non-native Asian pitcher plants. Only the most acidic Asian pitchers were inhospitable to this specialized insect.

Alongside the pitcher plants, Bittleston set out test tubes that mimicked the cylindrical shape of the pitchers. Like the pitchers, these test tubes collected rain water and began to develop miniature ecosystems. But the biological communities in the test tubes assembled were off a bit from the natural pitchers, and the tubes never fooled the mosquitoes, which steered away from them.

“It’s not enough to be a passive receptacle that captures rain water and some drowned insects,” says Bittleston. “There really is something that’s different about being this convergently evolved organism that creates a particular environment that curates a particular community.”

The work lends support to ideas Bittleston and Pringle developed in previous work: that the interactions between different species can converge during evolution just as the forms and functions of individual species can.

“These pitchers are independently evolved, two very different families of plants, but they interact with the microbial communities that they’re assembling within them in some similar manner,” says Pringle. “And we’re finding that those interactions are predictable in some way.”