Honeybees Demoted But Still Rate


Beehive at the VP Residence
Image: Twitter

Former first lady, Michelle Obama was famous for installing the first beehive on the grounds of the White House. With no champion, the beehives have left the White House grounds but have a new home and a new champion. Karen Pence, the wife of the Vice President, has installed a beehive on the grounds of their Washington, D.C. residence. The honey produced in the hives will be harvested for gifts.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue was on hand to help unveil the new hive.  He proclaimed June 19-25, 2017, National Pollinator Week and discussed the National Pollinator Health Strategy, a cooperative effort between the USDA and EPA.

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Living With Heat

Saharan Silver Ant

Saharan Silver Ant
Image: Norman Nan Shi and Nanfang Yu

Saharan silver ants, Cataglyphis bombycina, forage under conditions of extreme heat as an adaptation to avoid predators such as ant-eating lizards. Scout ants monitor the lizard activity. When the lizards take shelter from the heat, the scouts alert the ant foragers who venture outside the nest to forage without being attacked.

The surface temperature may reach 70 C, hot enough to fry and egg or damage proteins inside the cells. To prevent heat damage, the ants synthesize heat shock proteins before they venture out of the nest in anticipation of the high heat. The ants have long legs to elevate their bodies above the hot desert sand and into the cooler air of the boundary layer.  The ants travel rapidly to minimize the exposure to the heat.

The ants have a silvery color due to triangular hairs that cover the body and shade the body from heat. The hairs reflect long wave visible and near infrared light, wavelengths with the most energy that would heat the ants.   The reflected light gives them their silvery appearance.  Not only do the hairs prevent heating by reflecting infrared waves, the hairs promote cooling by enhanced infrared emissions in mid range wavelengths. These emissions transfer heat from the warm surface of the ant to the cooler sky.

These adaptations (and probably others) allow silver ants to survive hostile environments. The cooling properties of their hairs may have potential use in cooling humans and our structures.

Norman Nan Shi & colleagues. Keeping cool: Enhanced optical reflection and radiative heat dissipation in Saharan silver ants. Science 17 Jul 2015:  Vol. 349, Issue 6245, pp. 298-301
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3564

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Living With Climate Change

Pine Processionary Caterpillars

Pine Processionary Caterpillars
Photo: Asqueladd

The Pine Processionally Moth, Thaumetopoea pityocampa, has historically been restricted to regions of Europe with a Mediterranean climate. The caterpillars are active in winter. They have adaptations that prevent freezing above -7 degrees C. (Water with no salts or antifreeze will freeze at 0 C.) Between -17 C and -7 C, the caterpillars freeze solid, but are not killed. Their bodies can freeze and unfreeze depending on temperature. Temperatures below -17 C are lethal.

Cold tolerance allows the caterpillars to feed and develop throughout most of the winter. During brief cold snaps the caterpillars can survive freezing and unfreezing. Regions where winter temperatures consistently go below -17 C exclude Thaumetopoea pityocampa. In recent decades, the range of Thaumetopoea pityocampa has extended northward*. This is due to climate change and winters that no longer have temperatures below -17 C in the regions of expansion. As climate change continues, the range is predicted to expand further to the north.

*Andrea Battisti Stig Larsson and Alain Roques. Processionary Moths and Associated Urtication Risk: Global Change–Driven Effects. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 2017. 62:323–42

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Robert Evans Snodgrass

Snodgrass Illustration

R.E. Snodgrass Illustration*

R.E. Snodgrass is familiar to most entomologists as the author of The Principles of Insect Morphology. Snodgrass was interested in biology at a young age and practiced taxodermy on birds. His family sent him to a religious prep school where he studied drawing. The school forbade the teaching of evolution and biology was not taught. The rebel, Snodgrass, read Darwin, Huxley and Spenser which led to arguments with his parents and a personna non grata in the local church.

As a student at Stanford, Snodgrass was bitten by the “entomology bug” in his studies of the Mallophaga (biting lice) under VL Kellogg. His illustration abilities helped him in his studies of Mallophaga mouthparts. His illustrations were detailed, accurate and were important to making the case for the close relationship between Mallophaga and bark lice. He wrote chapters in Kellogg’s monographs about Mallophaga and in 1905 published the results of his comparative morphology studies on Mallophaga and Corrodentia (=Psocoptera). Those who have studied from his The Principles of Insect Morphology will recognize his penchant for abbreviations in his figures that require a search of the text (sometimes frustrating) to definitively determine.

*Robert E. Snodgrass. (1905) A Revision of the Mouth-Parts of the Corrodentia and the Mallophaga. Transactions of the American Entomological Society. Vol. 31, No. 4 pp. 297-307

Posted in Art, by jjneal, Taxonomy | 1 Comment

Living With False Beliefs

Pine Processionary Caterpillars

Pine Processionary Caterpillars
Photo: Asqueladd

The Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain contain a diversity of ecosystems including forests. The Spanish government has a Forestry Management Service that is responsible for the care and maintenance of forested areas. The forests are known for the Holm Oaks, majestic trees that are sometimes called “Holly Oaks” because they maintain leaves year round. Holm Oaks are not the only tree species native to the islands. Native pine trees, Pinus halepensis, are not as majestic but are the most numerous tree on the islands. The Forest Management Service manages pine trees for timber and as part of the natural ecosystem. However, in the public eye the pines are considered undesirable.

A study by a group of scientists found that many local residents maintained shockingly false beliefs about the pine trees. Some of the misinformation could be traced to textbooks used in schools. Other beliefs are related to misinterpretation of personal experience. The most prominent of the false beliefs is that the pines are not native to the islands, that they crowd out the Holm Oaks, that they are responsible for forest fires and that pine forests in general are unhealthy.  The belief that pine forests themselves are unhealthy may be related to personal experience people and their acquaintances have had with an insect, the pine processionary caterpillar. These caterpillars inhabit the pine forests of the island where they on occasion, produce substantial populations. The pine processionary caterpillars only feed on pine, are mostly encountered in the pine forests and rarely found elsewhere.. Contact with the caterpillars or the urticating hairs they shed into the environment can result in unpleasant allergic reactions. The hairs are small and difficult to see. People do not associate their allergic symptoms with the difficult to see hairs, but with the general forest habitat where they encountered the caterpillars or their hairs. Thus the belief that the pine forests are unhealthy. The conclusion of the report is that much education was needed for the population to appreciate the pine trees and the pine forest ecosystem.

Sureda-Negre J, Catala ́ n-Ferna ́ ndez A, Comas-Forgas R, Fagan G, Llabre ́ s-Bernat A. 2011. Perception of pine trees among citizens of the Balearic islands: analysis and description of some mistaken ideas. Appl. Environm. Educ. Commun. 10:31–42

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Friday Cat-erpillar Blogging: Pine Processionary Caterpillars

Pine Processionary Caterpillars

Pine Processionary Caterpillars
Photo: Asqueladd

Caterpillars of the Pine Processionary Moth, Thaumetopoea pityocampa, have ruined many a vacation in the French countryside. These caterpillars produce urticating hairs that can elicit an allergic reaction in people and animals who contact them. The setae on the posterior segments of these caterpillars are held in place by structures called mirrors. The setae are attached to an internal gland that produces a liquid stored inside the setae. Setae have barbed hooks and sharp ends that penetrate the skin and prevent their removal. The hooks allow the setae to move through the skin and lodge in the vicinity of blood vessels.

The fluid inside the setae is released under the skin. The combination of the physical damage by the setae, the components of the outside of the setae and the liquid components inside the setae can cause an allergic reaction, pain and itching. A group of scientists* investigated the liquid inside the setae and found 70 proteins present. Seven of the proteins elicited allergic reactions in laboratory tests. One of the proteins was found in 61% of patients who experienced and allergic reaction to the caterpillar setae. Perhaps the identification of the allergens will lead to new treatments of these reactions in the future.

*AI Rodriguez-Mahillo & colleagues. 2012. Setae from the pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) contain several relevant allergens. Contact Dermat. 67:367–74

Posted in Biomaterials, by jjneal, Caterpillar Blogging, Health | 1 Comment

Living With Gazalina

Gazalina transversa Image: Frederic Moore

Gazalina transversa

Adult female moths in the genus Gazalina produce urticating hairs that can have profound human health effects. These tussock moths in the family Notodontidae are found in South Asia including India, Nepal and China. Populations increase during the monsoon season in September to early October. The moths are attracted to lights where they can come in contact with people.

Urticating hairs from the female moths can dislodge, come in contact with the eyes and can cause blindness. In 1978, an outbreak of endophthalmitis in Pokhara, Nepal resulted in 13 cases of blindness in one eye. The blindness is the result of acute inflammation of the eye caused by the urticating hairs. Steroids that suppress inflammation can have a therapeutic effect and prevent blindness. Gazalina spp. moths are best avoided and should be handled with caution.

E. Shrestha. A profile and treatment outcome of seasonal hyper-acute panuveitis. Nep J Oph 2010;2(3):35-38

Posted in Biomaterials, by jjneal, Health | 1 Comment