On the Right Road

Black Swallowtail

Male Black Swallowtail Butterfly Drinking Nectar

A number of states are adopting mowing practices along the edges of roads (the right of way) that are designed to allow diverse vegetation as habitat for butterflies and other animals. These practices have been supported by lobbying from conservation groups and are acceptable if they reduce the maintenance costs of right of ways. Is there evidence that reduced mowing results in greater abundance of butterflies?

A study in Winnipeg, Canada* addressed the question of whether butterfly diversity would increase or if it would be limited by the character of the management practices of surrounding urban landscapes. In the study the largest factor influencing butterfly populations was the diversity of plant species in the right of way area. Those right of ways with introduced plant species and had greater diversity and numbers of butterflies. The character of the surrounding urban landscape had little effect on butterfly populations and does not negate the benefits of conservation mowing.  These results support the view that right of ways can be important wildlife habitat areas.

*Lionel Leston, Nicola Koper.  Urban rights-of-way as extensive butterfly habitats: A case study from Winnipeg, Canada.  Landscape and Urban Planning 157 (2017) 56–62

Posted in by jjneal, Environment, Policy | Leave a comment

Nettle-Tree Butterfly

The Nettle Tree Butterfly is a snout butterfly that ranges across Europe, Africa and Asia. Obtaining an accurate count of butterflies with humans standing on the ground is problematic. Could a drone (UAV) provide better counts?

A group of scientists tested a UAV to count butterflies in Sobaeksan National Park, South Korea. Through trial and error, they determined that 4 meters was high enough to minimally disturb the butterflies while still allowing the butterflies to be identified. The UAV would hover in flight for 5 minutes collecting data from the surrounding areas. The camera was moveable and controlled by the scientists to focus on swarms of butterflies that were present. They concluded that drones are a useful tool for population monitoring.

Bojana Ivosevic, Yong-Gu Han and Ohseok Kwon. Monitoring butterflies with an unmanned aerial vehicle: current possibilities and future potentials. Journal of Ecology and Environment. 16 February 2017. 2017 41:12.
DOI: 10.1186/s41610-017-0028-1

Posted in by jjneal, Environment | 1 Comment

Art and Entomophagy


Gingerbug House
Artist: Vanessa Cox

Entomophagy (eating insects) expands our choices of cuisine and is envisioned as a protein source of the future as the human population continues to increase. For much of western culture, entomophagy has a “yuk” factor that is a current barrier. Artists can help us envision the future and reframe how we think of insects as food.

Artist Vanessa Cox uses insects in her art and her cuisine. The artwork (pictured) is a painting of a dish that has insects as an ingredient.  The artwork contains cockroaches placed on the canvass and painted over as part of the design. The insects in the picture add texture. The insects are not the center of attention, but blend into the food as if they are supposed to be there. Her art captures the status of entomophagy. More widespread adoption of entomophagy in western cultures will likely involve insects as an ingredient rather than the whole food.

Posted in Art, by jjneal, Food | 1 Comment

Living With Insect Bites

Mosquito Bite

Allergic Reaction To Mosquito Bite Photo:

Hospitals in Warrington, UK (near Manchester) report that dozens of people every day have been seeking treatment for insect bites at hospital emergency rooms.  The insect bites are not life threatening and will go away if given time for the body to repair the damage. The numbers suggest a situation with a biting insect that is new to the area or unfamiliar to the residents.  If the bites are not serious and go away in a short time, then people who had experienced them in the recent past would not bother to go to a hospital.  Quite likely, those seeking treatment have not experienced these bites in the past.  The report makes no mention of the offending insect or whether it is a sting and not a bite.

The substantial numbers of people seeking treatment is putting a strain on the hospital system for admitting patients who truly have emergencies.  The recent surge in insect bites has prompted the hospitals to issue care sheets for insect bites and to deliver the message that those suffering from bites will be turned away.


Posted in by jjneal, Health, News | 1 Comment

Ants Attend Wimbledon


Flying Ants Invade Wimbledon
Photo: Andrew Couldridge

In the first week of July, the sports world spotlight is on the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament. This year (2017) the annual swarms of flying ants coincided with the tennis tournament. The ants invaded the courts flying into the faces of the players and causing distractions. Johanna Konta swallowed some that flew into her mouth as she played. There was no thought of halting the matches until the swarms subsided. Unlike rains which can cause a delay, the flying ant are considered part of the environment and players must play on.  2017 will be remembered as the year the flying ants shared the Wimbledon spotlight.

Posted in behavior, by jjneal, News, Sports | 1 Comment

Mosquitoes and Inequality

Aedes albopictus

Aedes albopictus, the Asian Tiger Mosquito
Photo: James Gathany

Rising income inequality is a hot topic in the US in 2017. Poor people are often congregated in neighborhoods with lower services and lower quality. A study in Baltimore found that inequality applies to the distribution of Asian Tiger Mosquitoes. Poor neighborhoods have larger populations of mosquitoes than wealthy ones. Why?

The factors with the greatest influence on mosquito population are precipitation and vegetation. Poor neighborhoods have more abandoned buildings with standing water. They have less good trash removal. These create areas where water stands for long periods. Standard sanitation measures such as removal of trash that can contain water and maintenance of unoccupied buildings can reduce standing water and mosquito populations.

In wealthy neighborhoods, containers for plantings provide temporary breeding sites for mosquitoes that can generate substantial numbers of adults. Proper containers and management could reduce population is wealthy areas. Both poor and rich neighborhoods have more vegetation than moderate income neighborhoods. Moderate income neighborhoods have more lawn and fewer plants. Wealthy neighborhoods have more ornamental plantings. Poor neighborhoods have vacant lots with unplanned plant growth. All vegetation is not equally good mosquito habitat. The study recommends more data to better define areas where treatment could be most effective.

E. Little, D. Biehler, P. T. Leisnham, R. Jordan, S. Wilson & S. L. LaDeau. Socio-Ecological Mechanisms Supporting High Densities of Aedes albopictus (Diptera: Culicidae) in Baltimore, MD.
J Med Entomol 12 June 2017.

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Living With Pollen



We can watch bumblebees enter a series of flowers and fly home with the pollen baskets on its hind legs brimming with pollen. How is pollen collected? Pollen is produced by the anthers of flowers. Upon entering a flower, a bumblebee will use its legs and mandibles to scrape the pollen off the anthers and onto the hairs of its body. It then grooms the hair with its legs and packs the pollen into the basket. If the amount of pollen is not satisfactory, the bee will buzz, rapidly vibrating its body against the anthers of the flowers. The vibrations shake the pollen from the anthers onto the body of the bee. The pollen along with nectar is the primary source of food for the bumblebee brood.

Posted in behavior, by jjneal | 1 Comment