The first segment
Here's the first of what will be a regular feature on Expiscor. Each week I will highlight a few short stories, blogs, research papers or other discoveries from the world of arthropods. This will be called "segments" in honour of the how arthropods are put together - in segments.
- I attended a big entomology conference last week and heard some terrific talks. Dr. Jesse Eiben from University of Hawaii at Hilo, discussed alpine habitats in Hawaii. Yes, that's right - the high elevation areas of some of the islands are desolate, cold, and lonely places - but they are not without insects and spiders. Given that this is largely an 'empty' landscape, nutrient inputs are largely allochthonous: insects from lower elevations are a key component of these inputs. Of particular interest to Jesse is the (flightless) Wekiu bug (Nysius wekiuicola): a species endemic to cinder cone habitats in these high elevation areas, only occurring above 11,500 ft in elevation (Jesse & Dan Rubinoff have published about this species previously). In his presentation, Jesse talked about the need to continually pull out weeds from these habitats; with weeds can come ants, and ants can represent a threat to this very special bug.
- I do love pseudoscorpions.... they are among the greatest of all the Arachnids. It was great to see PhD student Garrett Hughes (Univ. Arizona) give a talk about pseudoscorpions at the entomology conference. Of the 2000+ presentations and posters at the conference, Garrett's was the only one on this order of Arachnids. Of the thousands of entomologists and arachnologists in the world, there are probably fewer than a dozen people, globally, who spend time working on this rather obscure and unusual taxon. There are close to 4,000 described species of Pseudoscorpions, and as Garrett pointed out, there has only been one recent phylogenetic analysis done using molecular characters, by Murienne, Harvey & Giribet (2008). Virtually nothing is known of the evolutionary relationships among many of the Families of pseudoscorpions in North America. Other than my own dabbling in pseudoscorpion taxonomy, Garrett is the only other person I know in North America who is actively working on this group. So, seeing a talk on pseudoscorpions is a pretty unique moment!
- On the blogging front last week, I was thrilled to see Crystal Ernst blog about the lack of monarchs this past summer in parts of Canada. Although this was certainly reported in the mainstream news, Crystal's post shows a map (with data!) and she provides some good context to the story. Her timing was good, too, since the plenary lecture at the Entomology meeting last week (by Dr. Anurag Agrawal), was in honour of Dame Miriam Rothschild. She worked on Monarchs, and did some ground-breaking work on the chemical ecology of insects. I think she, like me, Crsytal, and thousands of others, would be sad to see data about about low population numbers. Let's hope it's short-term.
- Some ants have a drinking problem. This post over at Small Pond Science highlights the results of a pretty nifty experimental study by Terry & co. The were curious about when ants drink and when they 'chomp', and how this relates to sugar and protein quantities in their food. Terry's excellent plain language summaries can be summarized in this wonderful sentence: (the ant, pondering): "If I taste protein, it must be food. So I’ll chomp at it, even though it’s a liquid". Oh, and their study species? Bullet ants. Right, you don't want to mess with these animals! Exhibit A:
- The brown recluse spider - finally vindicated? Nadia Drake, over at Wired Science, wrote an excellent piece about why we should not fear the brown recluse spider. The piece had solid facts, excellent interviews (notably with the expert on the topic, Dr. Rick Vetter), a few great photographs, and the whole thing was packaged perfectly. I suggest, however, that you do NOT read the comments. Sheesh. They illustrate unbelievable ignorance and heaps of unsubstantiated fear. Don't worry, Nadia - keep it up. We all must keep spreading good vibes about spiders.
- Ok, let's combine those last two segments into one: here's a paper about ant-mimic jumping spiders. Here, it's reported that Peckhamia picata (my favourite species, by the way!) uses multi-modal mimicry. It looks like an ant, but also uses chemical-mediated protection - a veritable 'double deception'.
- Those of you who followed Expiscor over at arthropodecology.com will know how much I enjoy finding a 'tweet of the week'. Don't worry, that will still come to you each week. This one's from Max Barclay and is SO PERFECT (oh, ah, a "Darwin beetle"):
P.S. Ted MacRae posted a story of his experience holding this lovely critter . (Andrew Smith, by the way, is a well known Entomologist in Canada, an all-round terrific guy, and a friend)
Eiben & Rubinoff (2010). Life history and captive rearing of the Wekiu bug (Nysius wekiuicola, Lygaeidae), an alpine carnivore endemic to the Mauna Kea volcano of Hawaii J. Insect Conservation DOI: 10.1007/s10841-010-9298-y
Jandt J, Larson HK, Tellez P, & McGlynn TP (2013). To drink or grasp? How bullet ants (Paraponera clavata) differentiate between sugars and proteins in liquids. Die Naturwissenschaften PMID: 24193251
Murienne et al. (2008). First molecular phylogeny of the major clades of Pseudoscorpiones (Arthropoda: Chelicerata) Mol Phylogenet Evol. DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2008.06.002
Uma et al. (2013). Double Deception: Ant-Mimicking Spiders Elude Both Visually- and Chemically-Oriented Predators PLOS one DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0079660