Birds and insects of Voorne island, video


This 7 May 2020 video shows birds and insects of Voorne island in the Netherlands. Sequence: kestrel, goldfinch, sedge warbler, northern shoveler duck, redshanks, northern lapwing with chick, robin, wren, whitethroat, brimstone butterfly, common scorpionfly, green-veined white butterfly, hoverfly, peacock butterfly and firebug.

How insect colours evolved, new research


This 2017 video is called Amazingly Colourful Insects and Snails 🐞.

From Yale-NUS College in Singapore:

Fossil record analysis hints at evolutionary origins of insects’ structural colors

April 14, 2020

Researchers from Yale-NUS College in Singapore and University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland have analysed preserved scales from wing cases of two fossil weevils from the Late Pleistocene era (approx. 13,000 years ago) to better understand the origin of light-scattering nanostructures present in present-day insects.

The researchers, led by Yale-NUS Assistant Professor of Science (Life Sciences) Vinod Kumar Saranathan and UCC paleobiologists Drs Luke McDonald and Maria McNamara, found that the wing cases of the fossil weevils contained preserved photonic ‘diamonds’, one of the many types of crystal-like nanoscopic structure that interacts with light to produce some of the brightest and purest colours in nature.

The outer coverings of many insects comprise repeating units arranged in a crystalline formation that interact with visible light to produce structural colours, which typically have a metallic, iridescent appearance. For many of these insects, the iridescent colours perform a variety of functions including camouflage, signalling potential mates, and warning off predators. To date, the evolutionary history of these complex tissue structures has not been clearly defined. This study highlights the great potential of the fossil record as a means to unearth the evolutionary history of structural colours, not only in weevils but also in other insects, and paves the way for further research on the development of these light-scattering nanostructures and the vibrant colours they give rise to.

The researchers used powerful electron microscopes and state-of-the-art synchrotron X-ray scattering and optical modelling techniques to identify and characterise a rare 3D photonic crystal nanostructure in the fossil weevil scales — whose blue and green hues are very similar to those of modern weevils from the same genus — revealing a diamond-like arrangement. Instances of 3D nanostructures are extremely rare in the fossil record. This study marks the second time such nanostructures have been found. The only other instance of such nanostructures found in the fossil record of another weevil was also discovered by Asst Prof Saranathan and Dr McNamara.

The fact that very similar substrate-matching green colours have been maintained over hundreds of thousands of generations suggest that the same selective pressures for camouflage have been acting on these weevils. This is consistent with a recent study by Asst Prof Saranathan and weevil systematist Dr Ainsley Seago that suggests the weevils’ colours evolved initially for camouflage amongst their leafy background, before diversifying for other functions such as to signal potential mates or deter predators.

Asst Prof Saranathan, who holds a concurrent appointment at the National University of Singapore’s Department of Biological Sciences, said, “It is very interesting to discover that insects first seem to evolve complex 3D nanoscale architectures in order to escape predators by blending in with their background (usually brown or green). Only later do these colours diverge for other uses, such as signalling potential mates or as a warning to predators that the insect is not worth eating.”

Cicada wings are unique


This 2013 video from the USA is called Magicicada cassini cicadas molt (shed their skin) + Slow Motion & Fast Motion.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau in the USA:

Unique physical, chemical properties of cicada wings

April 14, 2020

Biological structures sometimes have unique features that engineers would like to copy. For example, many types of insect wings shed water, kill microbes, reflect light in unusual ways and are self-cleaning. While researchers have dissected the physical characteristics that likely contribute to such traits, a new study reveals that the chemical compounds that coat cicada wings also contribute to their ability to repel water and kill microbes.

The scientists report their findings in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces.

The researchers looked at the physical traits and chemical characteristics of the wings of two cicada species, Neotibicen pruinosus and Magicicada casinnii. N. pruinosus is an annual cicada; M. casinnii emerges from the soil once every 17 years. Previous studies have shown that both species have a highly ordered pattern of tiny pillars, called nanopillars, on their wings. The nanopillars contribute to the wings’ hydrophobicity — they shed water better than a raincoat — and likely play a role in killing microbes that try to attach to the wings.

“We knew a lot about the surface structure of cicada wings before this study, but we knew very little about the chemistry of those structures,” said Marianne Alleyne, an entomology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who led the study with analytical chemist Jessica Román-Kustas, of the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Donald Cropek, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Construction Engineering Research Laboratory; and Nenad Miljkovic, a professor of mechanical science and engineering at Illinois.

To study nanopillar chemistry, Román-Kustas developed a method to gradually extract the compounds on the surface without damaging the overall structure of the wings. She placed each wing in solvent in an enclosed chamber and slowly microwaved each one.

“We extracted all these different compounds over different time periods, and then we analyzed what came off,” Román-Kustas said. “And we also looked at the corresponding changes in the nanopillar structure.”

The effort revealed that cicada wings are coated in a stew of hydrocarbons, fatty acids and oxygen-containing molecules like sterols, alcohols and esters. The oxygen-containing molecules were most abundant deeper in the nanopillars, while hydrocarbons and fatty acids made up more of the outermost nanopillar layers.

“Finding these particular molecules on the surface is not a surprise,” Alleyne said. “Hydrocarbons and fatty acids on insect cuticle is fairly common.”

The ratio of surface chemicals differed between the two cicada species, as did their nanopillar structures.

The study revealed that altering the surface chemicals also changed the nanopillar structure. In the N. pruinosis cicadas, the nanopillars began to shift in relation to one another as the chemicals were extracted, and later shifted back to a more parallel configuration. This also changed the wings’ wettability and anti-microbial characteristics.

The wings of the M. cassinni cicadas had shorter nanopillars and a higher proportion of hydrophobic compounds on their surface. Their nanopillar configuration orientation did not change as a result of extracting their surface chemicals.

While preliminary, the new findings offer insight into the interplay of structure and chemistry in determining function, Alleyne said. By dissecting these characteristics, the researchers hope to one day design artificial structures with some of the same surface traits. Finding materials that shed water and kill microbes, for example, would be useful in many applications, from agriculture to medicine, she said.

Alleyne is also an affiliate of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, National Science Foundation and the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology supported this research.

Indian stick insects, video


This 24 March 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Walking Sticks Stop, Drop and Clone to Survive | Deep Look

Indian walking sticks are more than just twig impersonators. They even clone themselves into a surprising variety of colors to stay hidden in plain sight from predators.

There’s that old cheesy joke: What’s brown and sticky? A stick.

But sometimes it’s not just a stick — but a walking stick. This non-native insect, originally from India, relies on clever camouflage to hide from predators. They’re so skilled at remaining undercover, you may not have noticed that they’ve made themselves right at home in your local park.

Some Bay Area researchers are studying the insects’ genetics to learn more about how they are such masters of camouflage.

“I can’t think of any other insect as effective as they are in remaining hidden in plain sight,” said Edward Ramirez, an undergraduate researcher at the University of California, Berkeley who is currently studying the genetics of Indian walking sticks.

“How is this possible? was always the question that came to mind, so I wanted to search for a more clear answer.”

— Are there male Indian walking sticks?
There’s been no observable males, most likely due to the fact females are parthenogenic and don’t need a male to mate. They can just keep laying eggs without sexual fertilization and create hundreds of female offspring, which drastically alters the ratio of males to females.

— Are there any walking stick species with males?
If the breeding conditions are right, males occur more frequently in the following three species: Australian stick insects (Extatosoma tiaratum), Jungle nymphs (Heteropteryx dilatata) and a species from Madagascar (Achrioptera fallax).

— What are some of the pros and cons of parthenogenic reproduction?
Females can spend more time and energy looking for food and shelter instead of a mate, and they can reproduce faster and thus have a larger population size compared to species that require sexual reproduction. But they can have a lack of genetic variation since they don’t pass genes from separate individuals, and asexual reproduction may not be able to remove harmful mutations that could arise in the genome.

Read more here.

Ancient Iranian insect rock art discovery


This 2015 video is called Oldest Petroglyphs In North America – Nevada.

From ScienceDaily:

Ancient mantis-man petroglyph discovered in Iran

March 16, 2020

A unique rock carving found in the Teymareh rock art site (Khomein county) in Central Iran with six limbs has been described as part man, part mantis. Rock carvings, or petroglyphs, of invertebrate animals are rare, so entomologists teamed up with archaeologists to try and identify the motif. They compared the carving with others around the world and with the local six-legged creatures which its prehistoric artists could have encountered.

Entomologists Mahmood Kolnegari, Islamic Azad University of Arak, Iran; Mandana Hazrati, Avaye Dornaye Khakestari Institute, Iran; and Matan Shelomi, National Taiwan University teamed up with freelance archaeologist and rock art expert Mohammad Naserifard and describe the petroglyph in a new paper published in the open-access Journal of Orthoptera Research.

The 14-centimetre carving was first spotted during surveys between 2017 and 2018, but could not be identified due to its unusual shape. The six limbs suggest an insect, while the triangular head with big eyes and the grasping forearms are unmistakably those of a praying mantid, a predatory insect that hunts and captures prey like flies, bees and even small birds. An extension on its head even helps narrow the identification to a particular genus of mantids in this region: Empusa.

Even more mysterious are the middle limbs, which end in loops or circles. The closest parallel to this in archaeology is the ‘Squatter Man‘, a petroglyph figure found around the world depicting a person flanked by circles. While they could represent a person holding circular objects, an alternative hypothesis is that the circles represent auroras caused by atmospheric plasma discharges.

It is presently impossible to tell exactly how old the petroglyphs are, because sanctions on Iran prohibit the use of radioactive materials needed for radiocarbon dating. However, experts Jan Brouwer and Gus van Veen examined the Teymareh site and estimated the carvings were made 40,000-4,000 years ago.

One can only guess why prehistoric people felt the need to carve a mantis-man into rock, but the petroglyph suggests humans have linked mantids to the supernatural since ancient times. As stated by the authors, the carving bears witness, “that in prehistory, almost as today, praying mantids were animals of mysticism and appreciation.”

Six new Dutch wasp species on Texel


Epimicta marginalis wasp, CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics Creative Commons - Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2019)

Translated from wildlife warden Erik van der Spek on Texel island today:

Six braconid wasp species new for the Netherlands have been found on Texel

Among animals I collected in the Eierlandse Duinen area in 2018, the Dutch parasitic wasps expert Kees van Achterberg found the wasps: Doryctes heydenii, Doryctes undulatus, Alysia truncator, Epimicta marginalis, Opiognathus pactus and Opius pulicariae as new species for the Dutch fauna.

Braconidae are the second family in size within the parasitic wasps. There are many species, (652 + 6 known species in the Netherlands, but this is at most half of the Dutch species), and few people who study them. …

Braconid wasps use many other insects as hosts; of the six species, both Doryctes species live on beetle larvae in wood and the other four live on fly maggots, especially leaf miners. There are species that are therefore used as biological control agents. Braconid wasps are usually 2-5 mm long and colored red-brown or black.

Nicaraguan Lady Gaga treehopper species discovery


This 11 March 2020 video is called New bug species named after Lady Gaga due to its “wacky fashion sense”.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau in the USA:

Grad student names new treehopper species after Lady Gaga

She represents a new genus and species of treehopper, one of the most diverse bug groups on the planet

March 10, 2020

According to Brendan Morris, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, treehoppers are the wackiest, most astonishing bugs most people have never heard of. They are morphological wonders, sporting bizarre protuberances that look like horns, gnarled branches, antlers, fruiting fungi, brightly colored flags or dead plant leaves. Treehoppers suck on plant juices. They sing to each other by vibrating plant stems. And they are an important food source for other forest creatures.

“I love outrageous forms and colors,” said Morris, who studies entomology at the U. of I. “It blows my mind that a group that is roughly 40 million years old has so much diversity of form — diversity, I would argue, that we don’t see in any other family of insects.”

To draw attention to this group, Morris named a newly discovered treehopper species after Lady Gaga, a musical performer who has her own flamboyant, shape-shifting style.

“If there is going to be a Lady Gaga bug, it’s going to be a treehopper, because they’ve got these crazy horns, they have this wacky fashion sense about them,” Morris said. “They’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.”

The insect, now known as Kaikaia gaga, also represents a new genus of treehopper, Morris and his coauthor, INHS entomologist Christopher Dietrich, reported in the journal Zootaxa. Her features — the bug is female — differentiate her from other treehoppers found with her nearly 30 years ago in a tropical forest near the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. She was one of about 1,000 specimens Morris borrowed from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh as part of his research.

Insect taxonomists look primarily at head and body shapes, leg and body hairs and genitalia to differentiate one bug group from another. When Morris looked at this particular specimen under a stereoscope, he noticed some unusual characteristics.

A part of the thorax — just behind the head — was horned, like many other specimens, but the leg hairs differentiated it from the other tribes of treehoppers he had seen.

“Also, the frontoclypeus, which is kind of like the face, was shaped totally different,” Morris said. “And the genitalia looked more like treehoppers from the Caribbean or this Old-World group, Beaufortianini.”

That last observation was strange, because treehoppers are believed to have originated in the Americas. More research — specifically genetic research — will begin to explain why K. gaga shares traits with Old-World treehoppers.

Morris has tried to extract DNA from his one, 30-year-old specimen, but so far has had no luck. He will travel to Nicaragua to see if he can find any living Kaikaia gaga specimens in the same forest where this one was collected.

In the meantime, he is working hard to share his enthusiasm for this largely overlooked bug group, which is found in most forested areas of the planet.

“Treehoppers are wacky, and I think that makes them especially suited to be spokesbugs for the wide range of habitats they use,” Morris said.

The INHS is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. The National Science Foundation supported this research.