Insect Tall Tales

6a00e553a80e108834017c3826dd8e970b-800wiAs long as there have been photographs, there has been “trick” photography. In the early 1900s, E. D. Conrad superimposed images of people and insects in ways that made the insects look gigantic. Travelers sent thousands of these cards to friends and relatives back home. What made the cards so popular?

1. Price. It’s the thought that counts, and a postcard is an inexpensive way say, “I have not forgotten you”.
2. Entertainment value. The pictures are absurd and amusing. They associate the message and messenger with a pleasant thought.
3. Pique Interest. Small photos many times fail to convey the grandeur of landscapes. The perspective is inadequate. A picture of an apparent giant insect is compelling even if it is just to try to detect evidence of the trick.
4. No one wants to see vacation pictures. They are boring. You had to be there to appreciate it. Most people would rather look at a giant grasshopper than a friend’s vacation pictures.

Posted in Art, by jjneal, Insect Inspired | Leave a comment

Head Hunting Flies


Fly Decapitating an Ant
Image: Brown & Colleagues*

In the tropics, competition among insects for food can be intense. Brown & Colleagues* report in Biodiversity Journal some interesting interactions between flies in the Genus, Dohrniphora and ants in the Genus Odontomachus. The flies seek injured ants. A fly that goes too close to a healthy ant can be caputured and eaten by the ant. The flies explore carefully to determine if an ant is suitably incapacitated before the final approach. Flies were observed to probe the heads of the ants multiple times, apparently feeding on the contents. After probing for 8 minutes or longer and by pulling on the head, the head detached from the ant and was carried away by the fly. The head of an ant would contain enough nutrients for a single fly larva to develop. However, the flies consumed the head and did not have mature eggs. It is suspected that the flies may feed on the ant heads to gather nutrients required for egg laying. The paper has some very interesting photos and videos.

*Brian V. Brown, Giar-Ann Kung, and Wendy Porras. 2015. A new type of ant-decapitation in the Phoridae. Biodivers Data J. 2015; (3): e4299.
doi:  10.3897/BDJ.3.e4299

Posted in by jjneal, Environment | 1 Comment

Sleeping Flies

Fruit Flies

Drosophila Flies

People often ask do insects sleep? For the Drosophila fly, the answer is yes. Drosophila has periods of inactivity that are characterized as sleep. The fly remains motionless and becomes less responsive to stimuli. Drosophila can enter periods of deeper sleep similar to humans. Biologists have created methods for the study of sleep in Drosophila. Drosophila has many mutants that differ in sleep characteristics. The use of mutants has allowed key genes that are involved in the sleep process to be identified. The results from Drosophila can be applied to animals that are more difficult to study. The study of sleep in Drosophila is contributing to our understanding of our own sleep.

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Deer Fly Traps

Fly Trap

Fly Trap
Photo: dancour

I used to be annoyed by deer flies at my old house. I wore a hat in summer and smacked at my head to chase off the deer flies. Courtesy of unclesam at I have found a solution. The tip is to mount a plastic bowl (preferably blue) upside down on a hat and and coat the bowl with tanglefoot. The wearer becomes a walking fly trap baited with breath. I know nothing about the specificity of the trap. I will have to create my own and test it this summer.

Posted in behavior, by jjneal, Pest Management | Leave a comment

Spring Pollinators


Left: A fly samples the petals of a crocus
Right: A honey bee collects pollen from a crocus

The first warm days of spring bring out flowering bulbs such as crocuses and hyacinth. These flowers attract pollinators that are active in early spring, primarily species that overwinter as adults. Many of the early spring flowers are fly pollinated. Honeybees become active when the weather warms and do not find as many sources food in early spring as they will later in the season.

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Mosquito Bite Allergy

Mosquito Bite

Mosquito Bite

Mosquitos do not sting; they bite. Mosquitos inject salivary proteins under the skin when they feed. The proteins elicit a response from the immune system that is typically local, consisting of swelling, redness and itching near the site of the bite. Occasionally, people will have more severe systemic reactions to mosquito bites. McCormack and colleagues* describe two patients who had systemic reactions to mosquito bites that led to anaphylaxis. This is a serious condition due to the widespread occurrence of mosquitoes during warm weather.

Two patients received immunotherapy, which involves exposure to the allergen under controlled conditions. The treatment was partially effective, reducing the severity of reaction in one patient, and resolved the condition in the other. Repeated exposure to insect bites or stings can eventually lead to increasingly severe allergic reactions. The use of repellents to minimize insect bites is a good precaution.

*McCormack DR, Salata KF, Hershey JN, Carpenter GB, Engler RJ. 1995. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 74: 39-44.

Posted in Biomaterials, by jjneal, Health | Leave a comment

Invasive Ants & Allergies

Samsum Ant

Pachycondyla sennaarensis
Image: Nikbakhtzadeh & Colleagues*

Ants species that nest in items involved in world trade are greatly increasing their distribution. Some have established or become invasive in their new homes. Ants in the genus Pachycondyla have been reported to cause allergic reactions in some sting victims. A previous post discussed allergic reation to Pachycondyla chinensis stings in Korea and its more recent home, the United States. Another species in the same genus, Pachycondyla sennaarensis, the Samsum Ant, is a native of Sudan that has spread throughout the Arab Gulf States and into Iran. The ant will inhabit residences where it can come in contact with humans. Cases of anaphylactic reactions to the stings of this ant have been reported in multiple countries. People and cultures who lack experience with ants that can deliver such potent stings are required to adapt to the challenges of these invasive species.

*Nikbakhtzadeh MR, Akbarzadeh K, Tirgari S. 2009. BIOECOLOGY AND CHEMICAL DIVERSITY OF ABDOMINAL GLANDS IN THE IRANIAN SAMSUM ANT Pachycondyla sennaarensis. J Venom Anim Toxins incl Trop Dis. 15:509-526.

Posted in by jjneal, Health, Invasive Species | Leave a comment