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.

Female grasshopper lays eggs

This 27 October 2017 video shows a female grasshopper. First, she makes more space between two tiles. Then, she lays her eggs there.

Janny Rijkse made this video in her backyard in Utrecht city in the Netherlands.

Insects decline in Germany

This video says about itself:

5 September 2017

Due to a reduction in biodiversity, insect populations have declined in Europe by as much as 80%. Educators in South Africa predict the same fate for their country.

From PLOS one:

More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas

Published: October 18, 2017


Global declines in insects have sparked wide interest among scientists, politicians, and the general public. Loss of insect diversity and abundance is expected to provoke cascading effects on food webs and to jeopardize ecosystem services. Our understanding of the extent and underlying causes of this decline is based on the abundance of single species or taxonomic groups only, rather than changes in insect biomass which is more relevant for ecological functioning.

Here, we used a standardized protocol to measure total insect biomass using Malaise traps, deployed over 27 years in 63 nature protection areas in Germany (96 unique location-year combinations) to infer on the status and trend of local entomofauna.

Our analysis estimates a seasonal decline of 76%, and mid-summer decline of 82% in flying insect biomass over the 27 years of study. We show that this decline is apparent regardless of habitat type, while changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics cannot explain this overall decline. This yet unrecognized loss of insect biomass must be taken into account in evaluating declines in abundance of species depending on insects as a food source, and ecosystem functioning in the European landscape.

Lord Howe Island stick insects survive near-extinction

This July 2015 video says about itself:

Rarest bug in the world! Until recently the Lord Howe Island stick insect was thought to be extinct. Ben will take you on a journey to see the renewal of the rarest bug in the world and how they saved this insect. These bugs are very special!

From ScienceDaily:

Once declared extinct, Lord Howe Island stick insects really do live

October 5, 2017

Summary: Lord Howe Island stick insects were once numerous on the tiny crescent-shaped island off the coast of Australia for which they are named. Now, biologists who have analyzed the DNA of living and dead Lord Howe Island stick insects have some good news: those rediscovered on Ball’s Pyramid, which are now being bred at the Melbourne Zoo and elsewhere, really are Lord Howe Island stick insects.

Lord Howe Island stick insects were once numerous on the tiny crescent-shaped island off the coast of Australia for which they are named. The insects, which can measure up to 6 inches in length, don’t resemble sticks so much as tree lobsters, as they are also known. After ships accidentally introduced rats to the island about a century ago, the Lord Howe Island stick insects quickly disappeared. They were later declared extinct, only to be found again decades later living on Ball’s Pyramid, a sheer volcanic stack about 12 miles away. But those newfound insects didn’t look quite the same as older museum specimens, raising doubts about the nature of their true identity.

Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 5 who have analyzed the DNA of living and dead Lord Howe Island stick insects have some good news: those rediscovered on Ball’s Pyramid, which are now being bred at the Melbourne Zoo and elsewhere, really are Lord Howe Island stick insects. The findings greatly increase the likelihood that the insect’s re-introduction on Lord Howe Island could be done successfully, the researchers say.

“We found what everyone hoped to find — that despite some significant morphological differences, these are indeed the same species”, says Alexander Mikheyev at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan.

Using DNA sequence data from the Ball’s Pyramid population, the researchers assembled a draft genome of the captive bred insects along with their complete mitochondrial genome. The effort revealed a massive genome, which appears to have been duplicated more than once to contain six copies of each chromosome.

The researchers also re-sequenced mitochondrial genomes from historic museum specimens collected on Lord Howe Island before the extinction event. Comparisons between living and dead insects found a divergence of less than one percent — well within the range of differences expected within a species. The findings suggest that the rediscovered populations are indeed Lord Howe Island stick insects. Dryococelus australis really has evaded extinction so far.

The work highlights the importance of museum collections for taxonomic validation in the context of ongoing conservation efforts, the researchers say. The findings come just as the Lord Howe Island community has backed a plan to drop poisoned grain on the island in hopes of eradicating the rats. If successful, the next chapter of the Lord Howe Island stick insect’s story will take place on its ancestral island.

“The Lord Howe Island stick insect has become emblematic of the fragility of island ecosystems,” Mikheyev says. “Unlike most stories involving extinction, this one gives us a unique second chance.”

A species of New Zealand stick insect that was thought to produce only females has hatched a rogue male in the UK countryside – and scientists say the rare event could mean the animal is ready to start having sex: here.

Comes naturally? Using stick insects, scientists explore natural selection, predictability. Though evolution appears random, multiple mechanisms at play suggest natural selection: here.

Caribbean praying mantises’ African ancestry

This 2013 video from the USA is called Florida Bark Mantis (Gonatista grisea). Camouflage.

From the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Caribbean praying mantises have ancient African origin

Researchers uncover the lineage of three praying mantis groups

September 26, 2017

Three seemingly unrelated praying mantis groups inhabiting Cuba and the rest of the Greater Antilles actually share an ancient African ancestor and possibly form the oldest endemic animal lineage on the Caribbean islands, Cleveland Museum of Natural History researchers have determined.

Mantises from the African lineage landed on the Greater Antilles islands more than 92 million years ago, likely hitching a ride on floating ocean debris. They were present tens of millions of years before other mantis groups arrived from Central and South America, and also before animals such as land snails, lizards and shrews got to the islands.

Although the ancestral mantis lineage in Africa went extinct, its descendants in the Greater Antilles have evolved in drastically different directions and have endured there. They even survived the massive comet or asteroid impact in the nearby Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago that is thought to have helped exterminate most life on Earth.

“It’s extraordinary that a single lineage of mantises has been able to persist for more than 90 million years within a small island system,” says Museum Curator of Invertebrate Zoology and Assistant Director of Science Gavin Svenson, Ph.D., the study’s lead author “Never have these three endemic mantises been linked as close relatives, since they look so different from each other. Discovering that they came to the islands from an African ancestor was remarkable. It speaks to how much more there is to learn, even for animals we think we know a lot about.”

Dr. Svenson and Ph.D. candidate Henrique Rodrigues, a biology graduate student at Case Western Reserve University, report their findings in a study published online September 27, 2017, in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Dr. Svenson is an internationally recognized praying mantis authority. His lab at the Museum contains more than 13,000 mantis specimens from his own field research and on loan from other museum collections. It is the largest such assemblage in the Western Hemisphere.

To trace the Antilles mantises’ history, Dr. Svenson and Rodrigues collected specimens of the three endemic mantis groups and used DNA analysis and computer-based methods to reconstruct the timing and location of their origins.

Previous efforts to explain how living things colonized the Greater Antilles have been hampered by the islands’ complex geographic history. The islands’ locations have shifted as Earth’s continents and tectonic plates moved around.

In the distant past, the Greater Antilles were close to — or sometimes connected with — Central and South America.

The island chain’s changing location relative to larger land masses makes it hard for scientists to determine when and how various animals arrived there, and whether individual species are related. Most studies have focused on vertebrates and plants, even though there are more than two times as many native terrestrial arthropods on the Greater Antilles as there are plants and vertebrate animals combined.

Deciphering the origins of the three main praying mantis groups on the islands is made more complex by their appearance.

Mantises of the Callimantis, Epaphrodita and Gonatista genera don’t look or act like each other, even though they live in the same, relatively small, geographic area. Instead, they resemble nonrelated mantises from South America and Africa.

Despite their appearance differences, the three Greater Antilles endemic mantis groups actually are connected by a common ancestor, the Museum researchers’ analysis showed. They likely descended from a single western African praying mantis lineage that dispersed to the Greater Antilles more than 92 million years ago. Although it’s possible the insects flew across the ocean, the more probable scenario is that flotsam transported pregnant females or hardy egg cases.

Once present on the Greater Antilles, the African mantises embarked on distinctly different evolutionary paths, adapting their body features and lifestyles to specific habitats and conditions within the island chain. Members of Epaphrodita, for example, camouflage themselves by mimicking dead leaves, while Gonatista camouflage as bark and dwell on tree trunks.

The three Greater Antilles mantis groups’ resemblance to various mantises from outside the Caribbean isn’t due to close kinship; instead, it’s an example of convergent evolution, where different lineages independently evolve similar traits because they occupy similar environments.

It’s a reminder that the praying mantis family tree shouldn’t be organized based solely on appearance. Dr. Svenson has spent much of his career revising mantis classifications and relationships using modern genetics techniques.

Although the African emigrant mantises have done well in their adopted home, they have not spread beyond the Caribbean islands, with the exception of a single Cuban species, Gonatista grisea, that has become established in the southern United States. Otherwise, the Greater Antilles mantises may not be adaptable to mainland conditions, or perhaps can’t cope with the larger mix of competitors and predators beyond the islands.

The mantises’ newfound origins and long-term persistence on the Greater Antilles add an important chapter to the islands’ evolutionary history, Dr. Svenson says.

“Studying older insect groups, such as praying mantises, can greatly expand our knowledge of early island history and uncover unique lineages important to global biodiversity, not to mention Caribbean biodiversity“, he says. “Evidence from early insects can also inform or corroborate our ideas of Caribbean ecosystem formation or geologic history.”