Living With Insect Art

beeswax lamp

Collaborative Bee Art
Artists: Aganetha Dyck, William Eakin and Honeybees

Artist Aganetha Dyck has been working with honeybees for 20 years. Her honeybee art involves placing objects in bee hives where they are covered with wax by the bees. Unfortunately, her exposure to bees has led to an allergy to bee stings. She continues to work with bees by enlisting a collaborator, photographer William Eakin. Dyck directs the placement of objects in the bee hive by Eakin and Eakin photographs the results. The result is an aesthetically appealing work of art that is a collaboration between humans and insects.

Their work is part of an exhibit: Animal Intent at the Apexart in New York City. The exhibit is a celebration of collaborations between humans and animals. The exhibition is open through March 18.

Posted in Art, by jjneal, Insect Inspired | 1 Comment

Rusty Patch Bumblebee Redux


Rusty Patch Bumblebee
Photo: Sarina Jepsen

Last month. I posted about the Rusty Patch Bumblebee being added to the endangered species list with a recovery plan from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The FWS finalized the plan before the Trump administration took office. However, the plan start date is February 10, 2017. As is often the case, new administrations will freeze regulations that are not yet effective. Mr Trump issued a memorandum freezing work on all new regulations that were not finalized and temporarily postponed the effective date for implementation of finalized rules for 60 days.  This means the plan could be postponed until March 21.

The relevant parts of the memorandum that apply to the FWS Bumblebee Protection Plan are:

1) With respect to regulations that have been published in the [Federal Register] but have not taken effect, as permitted by applicable law, temporarily postpone their effective date for 60 days from the date of this memorandum … for the purpose of reviewing questions of fact, law, and policy they raise.
2) ….consider postponing the effective date beyond 60 days where appropriate.
3) if during your review you determine a regulation raises no substantial question of fact, law, or policy, please provide your … a list of such regulations on which you plan to take no further action no later than two weeks prior to the postponed effective date for those regulations.
4) Alternately, if you determine a regulation raises a substantial question of fact, law, or policy, please … consider whether you agency should perform additional rulemaking or take other further actions.

The plan has been postponed for review and a political decision will be made.
1) The Administration will disapprove the plan and work to reverse it.
2) The Administration will approve the plan and allow it to go forward.
3) The Administration will not approve the plan but considers it too much work to reverse and allows it to go forward.
We should know the decision by Spring 2017.

Posted in by jjneal, Endangered Species, Environment, Policy | 1 Comment

Welcome Aethiocarenodea

Aethiocarenus burmanicus

Aethiocarenus burmanicus
Bar = 1.5 mm
Photo: George Poinar*

100 Million years ago, in what is now the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar, an insect was trapped in tree sap and died. It was preserved as a fossil in amber. This insect has many unusual features that exclude it from all of our extant Orders of insects. A new order, Aethiocarenodea, was created for this new species, Aethiocarenus burmanicus.  

Presumably this insect is adapted to exploring crevices in the bark of trees. This specimen is a wingless female with long legs and antennae. It has cerci on the tip of the abdomen found in many of the Neopteran orders. Perhaps future research and fossils will shed more light on its place among the insects.

*George Poinar, Alex E. Brown. An exotic insect Aethiocarenus burmanicus gen. et sp. nov. (Aethiocarenodea ord. nov., Aethiocarenidae fam. nov.) from mid-Cretaceous Myanmar amber. Cretaceous Research, 2017; 72: 100
DOI: 10.1016/j.cretres.2016.12.011

Posted in by jjneal, News, Taxonomy | 1 Comment

Food For Brood



Bees depend on pollen as their primary source of amino acids. For colony growth and development it is not only important to have enough amino acids but also to have a good amino acid balance. Human diets mix combinations of foods. Plants low in some amino acids are eaten together with plants that are high in those same amino acids. Bees are faced with a similar challenge. Plant pollens differ in their amino acid content. Do bumblebees choose a mixed pollen diet and do they perform better on a mixed diet than on a single pollen?

Comparison of several bee species for amino acid content of their collected pollen, found that the content was similar even though the spectrum a plants visited differed.** Which pollen was collected depended largely on the availability of pollen nearby. In another study**, bumblebees were fed diets consisting of a pollen from a single plant or pollen from several plants. In most cases, the bees colony developed better with multiple pollen types. This may be in part due to balancing the amino acids in the diet but also minimizing the presence of toxins than may be accumulated if feeding on a single pollen type.

*Linda Kriesell, Andrea Hilpert & Sara D. Leonhardt. Different but the same: bumblebee species collect pollen of different plant sources but similar amino acid profiles. Apidologie February 2017, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 102–116

DENIS MICHEZ. Pollen nutrients better explain bumblebee colony development than pollen diversity. Insect Conservation and Diversity (2017)
doi: 10.1111/icad.12213

Posted in by jjneal, Environment | 1 Comment

Monarch Milkweed Math

Monarch Butterflies

Mating Monarch Butterflies

John Pleasants* estimates the numbers of milkweed plants lost to changes in agricultural practices and the extent of the conservation effort required to replace them. Almost 900 million milkweed plants have been lost from corn and soybean fields (mostly) and from grassland conversion to crops. The decline from 1999 to 2014 is about 40%, from 2.2 billion to 1.3 billion milkweed plants. Plants in corn and soybean fields can produce more monarchs than plants in other habitats.  Thus, more than one plant must be added to grasslands for every one lost from a corn field.

Pleasants calculates that the current population of 1.3 billion plants can only support about 3.2 ha of overwintering population in Mexico, about half of the 6 ha goal of conservationists. 425 million addition milkweeds in grasslands would support an additional hectare of overwintering population and an additional 1.6 billion would be required to reach the 6 hectare goal. A massive effort would be required to meet this goal.

JOHN PLEASANTS. Milkweed restoration in the Midwest for monarch butterfly recovery: estimates of milkweeds lost, milkweeds remaining and milkweeds that must be added to increase the monarch population. Insect Conservation and Diversity (2017) 10, 42–53.
doi: 10.1111/icad.12198

Posted in by jjneal, Endangered Species, Environment, Policy | 1 Comment

Living In California


Squirrel Eating a Monarch
Photo:  Connie Masotti

The Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, California is a gathering site where Monarch Butterflies congregate to spend the winter.  The Monarchs are protected from harassment by humans.  Congregating is a defense against predation by birds who find the monarchs distasteful due to toxic cardenolides that are concentrated in the wings.  Volunteer docents explain the natural history to visitors and help with census of the monarch population.

One of the docents, Connie Masotti, found dying Monarchs that were missing their abdomens.  Search for the cause, she noted a fox squirrel (an invasive species in this area of California) was capturing Monarchs, eating the abdomens and discarding the rest.  Presumably, the abdomens are less well defended than the wings.  Connie has posted photo documentation of the squirrel on her weblog, CapturedByConnie that features her exquisite nature photos.

In addition to eating the monarchs, the squirrel disturbs resting adults causing them to take flight and use extra essential energy.  Efforts to trap and relocate the squirrel are needed to protect the overwintering monarchs.  This is one more example of invasive species having detrimental affects on native species.

Posted in by jjneal, Environment, Invasive Species | 1 Comment

Living With Museum Gags

Beetle Display

Beetle Display, Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Photo: Muppaphone

With a display featuring insect biodiversity, the effect of hundreds of pinned specimens of insects can be overwhelming. Dedicated fans spend hours delighting in the details of each specimen. Some people will pass on after a short glance. Museum curators know this and sometimes insert subtle humor into their displays that are overlooked by most, but rewarding to the more studious.

The picture (above left) is of a display by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Hiding in plain sight among the beetle diversity is a toy Volkswagen Beetle that has been part of the exhibit since 2002.

Money quote from museum director of communications, Glenda Bogar:

It serves as a fun way to engage our visitors. There are a handful of other hidden surprises in displays around the institution. Visitors are always excited when they uncover these humorous and unexpected objects.

Posted in Art, by jjneal, jokes | 2 Comments