In the forests of Brazil lives a moth that drinks tears of birds. It perches quietly at the back of an antbird at night – when the bird’s not very active – and uses its long, flexible proboscis to lap up its tears. Don’t believe me? See for yourself!
IN an encounter between a hungry frog and its insect food, at first it appears the frog is chasing after the insect but the frog’s been played by the insect all along. Find out how in my first piece for ‘Nature inFocus’.
I have a new video story up at Science magazine about an amazing moth caterpillar that fights off things that try to eat it, including beetles that are called ‘caterpillar hunters’. Check it out, folks!
The accompanying short story is available to read here.
Dying on a bed of flowers might seem like a good way to go. Except it’s not when you’re a beetle suffering a gruesome fungal infection.
Goldenrod soldier beetles (Chauliognathuspensylvanicus) feed and mate on flowers – and that’s where some of them meet their end, too. When infected with the fungus Eryniopsis lampyridarum, the beetles clamp their jaws onto a flower and die soon after.
Hours later and still stuck to the flowers, the dead beetles’ wings snap open as though ready to fly. With their wings raised, these beetles even attract mates – live males were seen having sex with zombie females.
Once a female dragonfly has mated, all she is interested in doing is laying eggs and getting on with her life. So, when stalked by an unwelcome lover (or two), she crashes to the ground and plays dead. When the duped males eventually leave, the female flies off. The behavior was reported recently in the journal Ecology.
This may seem counter-intuitive, for one “purpose” of a species is to leave as many offspring as possible. But female dragonflies “know” what’s best for them. And what’s that? Find out in my story for Live Science.
If there were a horror movie set in the animal kingdom, a turquoise-green insect named the “crypt-keeper wasp” would likely play a starring role. A new study has found that this crafty, parasitic wasp can manipulate other parasitic wasps to finish an assigned task and then become its meal.
The amber-colored victims are known as “crypt gall wasps” (Bassettia pallida). They nest in tiny cavities called “crypts” on their host tree, which provides free nutrition throughout its development. Typically, when the adult wasps are ready to leave, they chew a hole through the trees’ woody tissue and make their way out. But for some gall wasps, things don’t go according to plan.
Keep calm and carry on building. That’s the motto of 100,000 or so wood ants stranded without food in a nuclear bunker until they starve.
Wood ants (Formica polyctena) typically build a cosy mound nest on the forest floor. They seek out the sugary secretions of aphids living on trees and supplement their diet with insects. Now, scientists have uncovered a population of wood ants that has sustained for years without food and light inside a bunker where temperatures are constantly low.
The ant population was discovered in 2013 by a group of volunteers counting bats overwintering in the bunker, which is part of an abandoned Soviet nuclear base near Templewo in western Poland.
Later, Wojciech Czechowski at the Museum and Institute of Zoology in Warsaw, Poland, and his colleagues, entered the bunker to study the ants more closely. They noticed that the wood ants had built a nest on the terracotta floor of the bunker – right below a ventilation pipe. Looking up through the five-metre-long pipe, they realised where the bunker ants come from.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. As food shortages hit, European earwig babies resort to eating each other’s faeces in their underground homes, helping to keep hunger and death at bay.
In times of plentiful food, the earwig offspring, or ‘nymphs’, feast on scraps of plant and insect material that their mother brings back from her trips above ground, and on food she regurgitates.
But when faced with limited supplies, the nymphs have to make do with what’s around them to survive.
Unlike many other insects that live in groups, European earwigs don’t clear their nest of faeces. Availability of faeces in hard times keeps the nymphs alive for about two more days on average than without them, researchers have now found.
In the lab, researchers deprived 56 five-day-old nymphs of food, and offered 28 of them faeces from their siblings. Nymphs with nothing to feed on survived for an average of 14 days, but those with access to their siblings’ faeces lived for an average of 16 days.
This ant weaves a nest out of tree leaves high up in the canopy. To build one, a group of workers forms live ant bridges to bring the leaves together, while another fetches larvae from an existing ant nest.
Worker ants hold these larvae in their jaws and squeeze them while moving along the leaf edges. On squeezing, the weaver ant larva produces a fine silk fibre that glues the leaves. As more and more leaves are pulled along, a lump of fresh green leaves lined with a white silk mat is formed.
In a dry, open field in New Mexico, US, a hungry lizard spots a brightly-coloured, hairy insect scurrying across the sandy soil. Thinking it has found a meal, the lizard sprints to catch the insect. But once it has the insect in its mouth, it finds it is too hard to chew.
The lizard then moves the insect around to find a softer chewing angle but gets nowhere. Meanwhile the insect starts to squeak and finally stings the luckless lizard in its mouth. Alarmed, the lizard spits it out.
The insect, still squeaking, gets away unscathed. The lizard is left with nothing but a sore mouth and a foul taste.
This sturdy insect is a female velvet ant. These females have an arsenal of defences unmatched by their male partners, or any other insect. The question is, what terrifying predator forced the females to evolve so many defences? And if they are in such dire threat from predators, why are they brightly coloured?
Study explains how wandering ants guide a group of food gatherers back to the nest.
When out of their nest, workers of the longhorn crazy ant (Paratrechina longicornis) band together toward a common goal: to bring food back to the nest. But even when a few of these long-legged, silver-haired ants (of Ant-Man fame) team up to carry a large item—such as a wasp—they often lose their way home.
Researchers in India say they have developed a prototype of an energy-harvesting device from the cocoons of a domesticated species of silk moth. They hope to put the technology to practical use while also tackling waste materials from the silk processing industry.
The researchers found that the cocoon membranes of the mulberry silk moth Bombyx mori contain trace amounts of several elements such as sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium, sulphur, calcium and copper; as well as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.
Wetting the cocoon makes the elements form mobile charge-carrying ions, producing an electric current across the cocoon membrane. The researchers used this current to light an LED.
They attached an aluminium electrode to the inner surface of a cocoon and a copper electrode to the outer surface, and exposed the cocoon to water vapour. Three such cocoons were connected in series to light an LED.
Parasitic fig wasps of the genus Apocrypta lay their eggs inside unripe fruits of fig plants. Larvae that emerge from eggs of parasitic fig wasps feed on larvae of another species — the pollinating fig wasps. So, to ensure best nutrition and survival for its own eggs, a parasitic wasp female lays them near larvae of pollinating wasps already developing in the fig fruit.
To lay eggs inside, parasitic wasp females have to dig through the hard and woody skin of unripe figs several times in their lifespan. Evolution has gifted them with a long, flexible and slender egg-laying organ called the ovipositor, which they use to manage this feat. But there is more to an ovipositor that gives the wasps an edge…