Fifteen new South American wasp species discovered


This 2009 video says about itself:

A parasitic wasp has injected her eggs into a caterpillar — and now they’re ready to hatch.

From the University of Turku in Finland:

New parasitoid wasp species discovered in the Amazon — can manipulate host’s behavior

January 14, 2020

A research group from the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku studies the diversity of parasitoid insects around the world. Parasitoid wasps (Hymenoptera) are one of the most species-rich animal taxa on Earth, but their tropical diversity is still poorly known. In the latest study, the group discovered 15 new, sizeable species that parasitise spiders in the lowland rainforests of the Amazon and the cloud forests of the Andes.

The researchers from the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku have studied the diversity of tropical parasitoid insects for almost 20 years already. During their research, they have discovered large numbers of new species from different parts of the world. In the newest study, the research group sampled parasitoid wasps of the genus Acrotaphus, which parasitise spiders. The diversity of the insects was studied in e.g. the tropical Andes and the lowland rainforest areas of the Amazon. The research was conducted in cooperation with the Brazilian INPA (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia) research unit.

Acrotaphus wasps are fascinating because they are very sizeable parasitoids. The largest species can grow multiple centimetres in length and are also very colourful. Previously, only 11 species of the genus were known, so this new research gives significant new information on the diversity of insects in rain forests, tells postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the new study Diego Pádua, who has worked both for the INPA and the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku.

The parasitoid Acrotaphus wasps parasitise on spiders. A female Acrotaphus attacks a spider in its web and temporarily paralyses it with a venomous sting. After this, the wasp lays a single egg on the spider, and a larva hatches from the egg. The larva gradually consumes the spider and eventually pupates.

The Acrotaphus wasps we studied are very interesting as they are able to manipulate the behaviour of the host spider in a complex way. During the time period preceding the host spider’s death, it does not spin a normal web for catching prey. Instead, the parasitoid wasp manipulates it into spinning a special web which protects the developing pupa from predators. Host manipulation is a rare phenomenon in nature, which makes these parasitoid wasps very exciting in terms of their evolution, tells Ilari E. Sääksjärvi, Professor of Biodiversity research from the University of Turku.

The University of Turku and INPA continue to study the diversity of the parasitoid wasps in collaboration in the west Amazon area and in the Andes. On each research trip, the researchers discover many new species with unknown habits.

British insects and foreign plants, new research


This 2017 video is called ★ 10 Beneficial Insects You Want in the Garden (Insect Guide).

From the University of York in England:

UK insects struggling to find a home make a bee-line for foreign plants

December 16, 2019

Non-native plants are providing new homes for Britain’s insects — some of which are rare on native plants, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of York discovered that foreign plants — often found in our gardens and parks — were supporting communities of British insects, including pollinators like butterflies, bees and hoverflies as well as beetles, bugs, and earwigs. For example, native Loosestrife weevils were commonly found consuming the non-native European wand loosestrife, and solitary bees were found visiting the flowers of non-native agave-leaved sea holly plants.

Lead author PhD student Roberto Padovani, from the Department of Biology, said: “We are rapidly altering the face of our planet, and creating more and more human-made habitats which are providing unexpected homes for nature, and in this case, it is foreign plants supporting the UK’s insect communities.”

“It was fascinating to observe the diversity of insects on non-native plants, from pollinators to bugs like crickets and lacewings and beetles like ladybirds and weevils.”

Professor Chris Thomas, Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity at York and one of the co-authors, added: “The movement of plants into new regions has been a defining feature of the past few centuries, and non-native plants are now present in very high numbers in most countries across the globe.”

“This trend is almost certain to continue, and so it is vital that we understand the processes that determine how insects associate with these non-native plants.”

The work represents a collaboration between the University of York, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the Royal Horticultural Society. They observed that insects were associated with both native and non-native garden plants in a highly controlled experiment that ran for six years. They additionally tested the data within a national-scale database that details a century of insects associating with plants in the UK.

The largest numbers of insect species were found on non-native plants that are closely related to native British plants, and on plants which today grow over a larger geographical area, and hence have become more fully integrated into the British flora.

Not surprisingly, the greatest numbers and diversity of insects were typically found on native plant species. However, non-native plants supported unique communities of British insects, including many species that were rare on native plants.

Roberto Padovani added: “A balance of both native and non-native plants may help provide a home for the widest variety of insects in our gardens. It is important to ensure that at least a third of plants are native, as the research suggests that these plants provide the best home for most insects. However, the presence of some non-native plants may help provide a home for unusual or rare British insects that may be struggling to find a home on our native plants.”

Saving insects from light pollution


This 2 May 2014 video from the USA says about itself:

Light pollution — it’s not just the bane of light sleepers and frustrated astronomers. It also is tinkering with the biological cycles of all kinds of living things, including us! SciShow takes you behind the glare to understand the effects of artificial light and how we can fight this pollution of the night sky.

From Washington University in St. Louis in the USA:

Four ways to curb light pollution, save bugs

Insects have experienced global declines. Flipping the switch can help

November 18, 2019

Artificial light at night negatively impacts thousands of species: beetles, moths, wasps and other insects that have evolved to use light levels as cues for courtship, foraging and navigation.

Writing in the scientific journal Biological Conservation, Brett Seymoure, the Grossman Family Postdoctoral Fellow of the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University in St. Louis, and his collaborators reviewed 229 studies to document the myriad ways that light alters the living environment such that insects are unable to carry out crucial biological functions.

“Artificial light at night is human-caused lighting — ranging from streetlights to gas flares from oil extraction,” Seymoure said. “It can affect insects in pretty much every imaginable part of their lives.”

Insects and spiders have experienced global declines in abundance over the past few decades — and it’s only going to get worse. Some researchers have even coined a term for it: the insect apocalypse.

“Most of our crops — and crops that feed the animals that we eat — need to be pollinated, and most pollinators are insects,” Seymoure said. “So as insects continue to decline, this should be a huge red flag. As a society of over 7 billion people, we are in trouble for our food supply.”

Unlike other drivers of insect declines, artificial light at night is relatively straightforward to reverse. To address this problem, here are four things that Seymoure recommends:

1. Turn off lights that aren’t needed

The evidence on this one is clear.

Light pollution is relatively easy to solve, as once you turn off a light, it is gone. You don’t have to go and clean up light like you do with most pollutants,” Seymoure said.

“Obviously, we aren’t going to turn off all lights at night,” he said. “However, we can and must have better lighting practices. Right now, our lighting policy is not managed in a way to reduce energy use and have minimal impacts on ecosystem and human health. This is not OK, and there are simple solutions that can remedy the problem.”

Four characteristics of electrical light matter the most for insects: intensity (or overall brightness); spectral composition (how colorful and what color it is); polarization; and flicker.

“Depending on the insect species, its sex, its behavior and the timing of its activity, all four of these light characteristics can be very important,” Seymoure said.

“For example, overall intensity can be harmful for attracting insects to light. Or many insects rely upon polarization to find water bodies, as water polarizes light. So polarized light can indicate water, and many insects will crash into hoods of cars, plastic sheeting, etc., as they believe they are landing on water.”

Because it is impossible to narrow down one component that is most harmful, the best solution is often to just shut off lights when they are not needed, he said.

2. Make lights motion-activated

This is related to the first recommendation: If a light is only necessary on occasion, then put it on a sensor instead of always keeping it on.

3. Put fixtures on lights to cover up bulbs and direct light where it is needed

“A big contributor to attraction of light sources for most animals is seeing the actual bulb, as this could be mistaken as the moon or sun,” Seymoure said. “We can use full cut-off filters that cover the actual bulb and direct light to where it is needed and nowhere else.

“When you see a lightbulb outside, that is problematic, as that means animals also see that light bulb,” he said. “More importantly, that light bulb is illuminating in directions all over the place, including up toward the sky, where the atmosphere will scatter that light up to hundreds of miles away resulting in skyglow. So the easiest solution is to simply put fixtures on light to cover the light bulb and direct the light where it is needed — such as on the sidewalk and not up toward the sky.”

4. Use different colors of lights

“The general rule is that blue and white light are the most attractive to insects,” Seymoure said. “However, there are hundreds of species that are attracted to yellows, oranges and reds.”

Seymoure has previously studied how different colors of light sources — including the blue-white color of LEDs and the amber color of high pressure sodium lamps — affect predation rates on moths in an urban setting.

“Right now, I suggest people stick with amber lights near their houses, as we know that blue lights can have greater health consequences for humans and ecosystems,” Seymoure said. “We may learn more about the consequences of amber lights. And make sure these lights are properly enclosed in a full cut-off fixture.”

Prehistoric insect evolution in the Eocene


This 17 July 2018 video says about itself:

The Mystery of the Eocene’s Lethal Lake

In 1800s, miners began working in exposed deposits of mud near the town of Messel, Germany. They were extracting oil from the rock and along with the oil, they found beautifully preserved fossils of animals from the Eocene. What happened to these Eocene animals? And why were their remains so exquisitely preserved?

Two additional notes!

-At 00:56, we incorrectly labelled a Darwinius fossil as Thaumaturus. Thaumaturus was a fish and the fossil we show is definitely not a fish.

-Also, an additional image credit is required: Dmitry Bogdanov illustrated the fish we used to show scavengers.

From the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München in Germany:

Insect evolution during the Eocene epoch

October 25, 2019

Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought. The new finds shed light on insect evolution and the ecology in the Baltic amber forest during the Eocene epoch.

In the Eocene epoch — between 56 and 33.9 million years ago — much of Northern Europe was covered by a huge forest, now referred to as the Baltic amber forest. The forest was probably dominated by pines and oaks, but also comprised representatives of many other deciduous species and conifers, including tropical taxa. The resins produced by the forest account for all of Europe’s amber, including the samples in which the LMU zoologists Viktor Baranov, Mario Schädel and Joachim T. Haug have now discovered many examples of entrapped midge and fly larvae. In a paper published in the online journal PeerJ, they point out that these finds refute the widespread notion that amber is devoid of such fossils. Their analysis also provides new evidence in relation to the ecology of the amber forests of Eocene age, which supports a new interpretation of this habitat as a warm to temperate seasonal humid forest ecosystem.

Flies and midges (Diptera) make up one of the most diverse groups of insects found in Germany. Their larval forms are an important element of many ecosystems and play a significant role in, for example, the decomposition and recycling of biomass. In spite of their ecological prominence, little is known about the evolution of dipteran larvae, and the fossilized specimens that have so far come to light — in particular those characteristic of terrestrial ecosystems — have so far been little studied. The authors of the new study have now identified more than 100 larvae in amber inclusions assembled by collectors in Northern Germany. The samples described come from either the Baltic or the Bitterfeld section of the amber forest. Most of the dipterans identified, belong to the group known as Bibionomorpha, whose evolutionary history extends over a period of more than 200 million years. With a total of 35 specimens, the group most frequently represented is the genus Mycetobia, which belongs to the Family Anisopodidae (whose members are commonly known as window gnats). Thanks to the abundance of this material, the researchers were able to reconstruct the relative growth rate of these larvae based on the length and width of the head capsule. The results confirmed that these gnats went through four larval stages, just like the present-day representatives of the same group. In addition, their overall morphology is very similar to that of extant window gnats. “Since the morphologies of the other fossil bibionomorphan larvae are also very reminiscent of their recent relatives, we can safely assume that they occupied habitats similar to those of our contemporary forms,” says Baranov, first author of the new paper. The presence of large numbers of Mycetobia larvae among the specimens examined therefore implies that Europe’s amber forests were characterized by moist conditions and an abundance of decaying organic matter. Moreover, the researchers also discovered the first fossilized larva that could be assigned to the [genus] Pachyneura (Diptera, Pachyneuridae) … Recent [species] are associated with dead wood in undisturbed woodland.

“Within the scientific community, a new interpretation of Europe’s amber forests is currently emerging. This is based on paleobotanical and isotope evidence which suggests that these woods constituted a warm-to-temperate seasonal ecosystem. Our findings provide further support for this picture,” Baranov explains. He and his colleagues argue that it is quite conceivable that, under the climatic conditions prevailing in Europe during the Eocene, a subtropical, seasonal forest would have supplied abundant amounts of decaying organic matter in the form of leaf litter and dead plants and animals, as well as bacterial biofilms and fungi. In any case, the dipteran larvae provide an independent source of information that can be used to reconstruct the nature of the paleohabitats. “Perhaps our most surprising find is a larva which we identified as a representative of a previously unknown group,” says Baranov. While this larva belongs among the march flies (Diptera, Bibionidae), it exhibits a very unusual combination of morphological characters which finds no parallel among modern representatives of this group.” In Baranov’s opinion, the specimen may document an experimental phase of their evolution, during which different lineages independently “discovered” similar sets of morphological traits.

New praying mantis species discovered in Peru


This 17 October 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Dr. Gavin Svenson, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Director of Research & Collections and Curator of Invertebrate Zoology, discovered a new species of praying mantis on an insect survey expedition in the Amazon Rainforest. The mantis, named Vespamantoida wherleyi, is brightly colored and mimics wasps in an effort to ward off predators—a combination that has never been seen before. The discovery and analysis have had widespread implications for the Mantoididae family.

From the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Scientists discover new species of wasp-mimicking praying mantis

Peruvian mantis represents the first known example of a praying mantis species conspicuously mimicking a wasp

October 17, 2019

Cleveland Museum of Natural History Director of Research & Collections and Curator of Invertebrate Zoology Dr. Gavin Svenson and former Case Western Reserve University graduate student, Henrique Rodrigues, have discovered a new species of praying mantis, described as the first known mantis species to conspicuously mimic a wasp. In addition, the new species joins one previously described species within a newly erected genus Vespamantoida. The results of the team’s findings were published today in the online journal PeerJ.

The new species, named Vespamantoida wherleyi, was discovered near the Amazon River in Peru in 2013 during a general entomological survey of the field site. The male specimen was attracted to a light trap, and its bright coloration and wasp-like shape and behavior immediately caught the team’s eye.

“Typically, the majority of species differentiation is discovered and confirmed within a lab or collection setting,” explains Dr. Svenson. “To have that rare eureka moment where you know you have found something new in the field is incredibly exciting.”

The mantis exhibited a bright red-orange coloration, as well as the body structure, erratic locomotion patterns, and even antennae behavior typically associated with most wasp species. This apparent style of mimicry, known as Batesian mimicry, is a strategy in which a mostly harmless organism adopts the appearance, and occasionally the behaviors, of an organism known to pose a greater threat to would-be predators.

“In nature, when you are intentionally conspicuous, you are advertising something,” says Dr. Svenson. “When you are a species that can be easily taken as prey, you advertise because you want predators to think that you are poisonous, or could injure them, or any combination of unpleasant factors that tell the predator to think twice before pursuing you.”

In the mantis world, mimicry of vegetation is a fundamental strategy, but wasp mimicry in adults is unique, and limited to just one family, of which Vespamantoida is now a part. Until the discovery of V. wherleyi, however, mantis mimicry strategies were theorized to aid the mantis primarily in hiding from predators, and occasionally in luring prey. The conspicuous appearance and behavior of V. wherleyi represent a novel form of defensive mimicry whereby the mantis imitates a harmful organism’s natural defense signals to warn predators away. It is a strategy that is unique among known mantises.

“There are about 2,500 species of mantises described,” says Dr. Svenson. “I’d put a bet on there being about 5,000. So, I think we’re just halfway there. I think the most interesting thing about this family of mantises is the fact that most of the adults do mimic wasps, and that is quite unique for praying mantises. I think the next natural thing is to study the evolutionary biology of the lineage. If wasp mimicry is successful in this lineage, why has it not evolved in the other lineages as well? Why have no other species within the family evolved brightly colored wasp mimicry? We’re just not sure.”