Living With Gi-ant Sculptures


Florida Museum of Natural History Installs Giant Ant Sculptures
Photo: Kristen Grace

The Florida Museum of Natural History installed new insect art in early July 2015. Ants are a good choice as a symbol of natural history because they are so numerous and ubiquitous. As an added bonus, the museum showed the 1954 movie “Them” about giant ants that invade the sewers of Los Angeles.

The sculptures are the work of Susan P Cochran of Palm Beach, Florida who is renown for her bronze sculptures. The ants are only on loan, so you have about 1 year to see them in their current location. Perhaps it could be a spring break destination.

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Moths With Mandibles

Heterobathmia pseuderiocrania

Heterobathmia pseuderiocrania
Photo: Paul Jenkins

My previous post discussed the Micropterygidae, one of three families of Lepidoptera that have adults with mandibles instead of a proboscis. Another family with adult mandibles is the Heterobathmiidae, a South American family of Lepidoptera consisting of a single genus with 3 described species. The caterpillars of these moths are leaf miners, feeding in the moist environment between the upper and lower surface of leaves. The adults are adapted for feeding on pollen of Southern Beech (Nothofagus). The maxillary palps have specialized structures for collecting pollen. The mandibles contain a toothed surface that in conjunction with other mouthparts can grind pollen to a powder. Most species that followed this evolutionary path have gone extinct while their more successful Lepidopteran relatives developed a long proboscis for feeding on nectar rewards that plants offer to pollinators.

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Living With Lepidoptera

Epimartyria auricrinella

Goldcap Moss-eater Moth
Image: Davis and Landry*

Early in the evolution of the Lepidoptera, the order split into two groups, one in which the adult mouthparts were modified to form a long proboscis for drinking nectar and other liquids. This adaptation contributed to the success of the Lepidoptera as the vast majority have this adaptation. Only 3 families of moths have members with a chewing type of mandible as adults.  In the largest of these families, Micropterygidae, all 110 described species worldwide have chewing mouthparts as adults. Only 3 species of Micropterygidae are present in North America, all in the genus, Epimartyria. Davis and Landry* reviewed the genus in 2012. There are two west coast species and an eastern species, Goldcap Moss-eater Moth Epimartyria auricrinella.

Epimartyria auricrinella is found in the Appalachian Mountains, the Northeastern US and Eastern Canada. It has not been reported in Indiana. It inhabits moist, swampy forests with liverwort, the host plant of the caterpillars. The caterpillars develop slowly, sometimes requiring two years to complete development.   The adults feed on pollen or the spores of ferns.

Donald R. Davis Jean-François Landry. 2012. A review of the North American genus Epimartyria (Lepidoptera, Micropterigidae) with a discussion of the larval plastron. ZooKeys 183: 37–83.
doi: 10.3897/zookeys.183.2556

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Living With Window Screens

Mosquito Mouthparts

Mosquito Mouthparts

Dengue is a mosquito transmitted disease that causes great suffering among people in tropical areas where it is endemic. Research into a vaccine for dengue is ongoing, but one is still unavailable. Efforts to prevent dengue focus on controlling mosquito species that vector the disease and prevention of mosquito bites through the use of repellents and physical barriers. Historically, window screens have been a simple and effective tool against mosquito borne diseases. In the 1930s, programs to install screens on windows in the rural south of the US are credited with elimination of malaria in those areas. It is possible to impregnate netting with insecticides or repellents that can increase their effectiveness. Window and doorway screens made from netting are being tested in Mexico. Screens made of netting reduced the number of houses infested with Aedes aegypti (a dengue vector) and the numbers of mosquitoes per infested house. Physical barriers are a potentially low cost method of dengue reduction.

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Living With Chikungunya

Mosquito Bite

Mosquito Bite

Chikungunya is on the move again. In 2013-14, Chikungunya became widespread in the Caribbean. In 2015, it is rapidly spreading among the Pacific Island nations. Chikungunya is now in 11 of 22 Pacific Island countries and territories. The CDC is listing advisories to travelers. For a long time Chikungunya was confined to Africa. Now it has broken through barriers to its spread. Efforts to stop the spread have not worked. It is likely to spread to all countries that have competent mosquito vectors. In the South Pacific, over 100,000 people have been affected including 50,000 to 60,000 in French Polynesia, over ten thousand cases in Tonga, and 10,000 to 20,000 cases among American Samoa and Samoa and Tokelau and 15,000 cases in Papua New Guinea, where the first major outbreak started in the region. Chikungunya is a painful and debilitating disease. The good news? Few deaths have been reported.

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Living With Yellow Fever Vaccine



Yellow Fever Vaccine is recommended for travelers to areas where Yellow Fever is epidemic. This year (2015) the Advisory Committee on Immune Practices made new recommendations based on studies of the persistence of yellow fever vaccine.   The vaccine produces long term immunity that obviates the necessity of a booster shot. The benefits of a booster shot are so slim, they are outweighed by low probability side effects.  Good News.  One shot and you are set for life.

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Living With Turmeric

Eastern Subterranean Termite

Reticulitermes flavipes, Eastern Subterranean Termite

Chemicals in spices are often noted for deleterious effects on insects. However, these natural chemicals rarely are deployed as commercial insecticides. The insecticidal chemicals in spices are often at low doses making extraction impractical. Many have complex structures that are difficult and expensive to make synthetically. They often degrade too rapidly for long term effect. They may have deleterious effects on beneficial insects or be toxic to plants. The greatest utility of insecticidal plant chemicals is to serve as models for chemists. Chemists can make modifications of a chemical structure to produce new synthetics with more desirable properties such as better efficacy, low environmental impact, appropriate selectivity and minimal adverse human health effects. Many of our modern synthetic insecticides are based on plant toxins.

Turmeric, a spice noted for insecticidal properties has been studied for its toxicity to termites and the insecticidal chemicals elucidated. The toxins are turmerone and curlone which are responsible for the flavoring properties. The mode of action is unknown. Will these lead to new types of commercial insecticides? The odds are against it and it typically requires a decade or longer to go from initial characterization to practical application.

Kapil R. Raje, Gabriel P. Hughes, Ameya D. Gondhalekar, Matthew D. Ginzel, Michael E. Scharf. 2015. Toxicity of Turmeric Extracts to the Termite Reticulitermes flavipes. Journal of Economic Entomology

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