Stories tagged insects


Bye, bye bees?: The mysterious disappearance of large portions of honey bee populations in 22 states have scientists trying to figure out where they're going. (Photo courtesy BugMan50)
Bye, bye bees?: The mysterious disappearance of large portions of honey bee populations in 22 states have scientists trying to figure out where they're going. (Photo courtesy BugMan50)
It’s not a very good time to be a honey bee.

Beekeepers in 22 states across the country have reported huge disappearances of their bees. And it’s a total mystery as to where they’ve gone.

I saw a report about this on the CBS Evening News a few weeks ago and have since seen more press accounts of the situation. And no one seems to know what’s really going on.

"Colonies are going down. The bees aren't dead in the box or aren't out front," said Jerry Bromenshenk, a bee researcher at the University of Montana in the CBS report. "They've just disappeared. Just vanished."

While parasites and disease have depleted bee populations in the past, there were traces of the dead bees left behind for scientists to analyze and figure out what’s happened. In these cases, huge numbers of bees kept by beekeepers, hundreds of hives and thousands of bees, within just a few days.

The loss of so many bees could have a huge impact on our human food chain. One of every three food items we chuck into our mouths each day is the direct result of the work of honey bees.

They’re hard work of popping from flower to flower pollinates the plants that give us vegetables and fruits we eat each day. Without the bees, and that pollinating action, those plants won’t bear their fruits.

Star-Tribune columnist Nick Coleman looked a the situation a couple days ago. Talking to a researcher at the University of Minnesota, he discovered that some of our large-scale agricultural practices may be “burning out” bees on their vital work.

Dr. Marla Spivak says that monoculture farming – the practice of planting one time of crop in a huge field for years and years – has led to a reduction in the amount of honey a bee colony produces. Over the past few years, that average has dipped from 100 pounds a year to 80.

On top of that, he points to the large-scale commercial beekeeping colonies where bees are trucked around the country to do pollination work around the country. They’re maybe being stretched too far in their work.
Also, the problems don’t seem to be impacting hobby beekeepers here in Minnesota. I didn’t know it, but Minnesota is one of the top five honey-producing states in the country, and the vast majority of those bees are tended by amateur keepers.


As I watched the praying mantis crawling on my hand, I noticed something brownish coming out of its bottom. At first I thought it was feces, but then it started wriggling around vigorously. Was it a tapeworm, or some unknown species of worm?

Praying mantis: This isn't the mantis with the hairworm. But any excuse to post a photo of a praying mantis is a good excuse to do it.
Praying mantis: This isn't the mantis with the hairworm. But any excuse to post a photo of a praying mantis is a good excuse to do it.Courtesy CatDancing

We brought the worm home in a bag and searched on the internet. It was a hairworm, a parasite that feeds on the insides of insects and brainwashes the insects into jumping into the water, where it completes its lifecycle. That makes sense because the praying mantis jumped off my hand into a wading pool just before I brought it onto land and the hairworm started coming out.
We've only found examples of hairworms coming out of grasshoppers and rarely emerging from damselfies/dragonflies. Has a hairworm ever before been observed coming out of a praying mantis? I found it on Oct. 4, 2006 at Kyodo no Mori in Fuchu-shi in Tokyo when my 4th grade class from ASIJ was on a field trip.
My name is Elsa and I am nine years old. I want to be either an entemologist or a herpetologist when I grow up.


Get Ready to Itch:: It's almost always just the female of the species of mosquito that bites you on these hot summer days. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Get Ready to Itch:: It's almost always just the female of the species of mosquito that bites you on these hot summer days. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

It’s been mighty hot and dry in Minnesota this summer. And feeling the pinch, much to most people’s delight, are moquitoes.

The dry conditions have put a squeeze on breeding grounds for the little buggers. So while their numbers are down for now, here’s some information that you can use to prepare for their inevitable return.

Did you know….

* In most species of moquitoes, it’s the female that does the biting. Female mosquitoes need proteins they can find in blood to develop the eggs that they’re going to deposit in damp areas to hatch into future mosquitoes.

* That long needle they use to poke your skin isn’t smooth and sharp like a syringe. Instead, it’s got a lot of serration, like a steak knife. Those extra points help spread around the poking sensation when a mosquito bites, and keeping your body’s nerves from detecting something is poking into you.

* How does a moquito know to bite you? Primarily through their sense of smell. They have a highly developed sense for finding carbon dioxide of exhaled breath. They also like the aroma of several chemicals found in human sweat.

* Why does a mosquito bite often itch? It’s actually nothing that the mosquito puts into you. Rather, the bite area can become inflamed and itchy within 24 hours of the bite due to reactions to the bite from our body’s immune system and antibodies. The older you get, it is possible to become desensitized to the impact mosquito bites have on you. Conversely, little children my have stronger reactions to bites than adults.

* How can you best keep mosquitos away from you? One of the most effective repellents is a fan. Mosquitoes don’t like moving air and you can keep them at bay with a gentle breeze.

* Among the spray-on repellents, the most effective ones include at least one of the following ingredients: DEET, catnip oil extract, nepetalactone, citronella or eucalyptus oil extract.

* There is debate over the concept of using vitamins to keep away the pests. In know of people who go on trips to the Boundry Waters Canoe Area who swear that beefing up their B1 intake for a week before the trip helps keep away mosquitoes while they’re there. But there’s no credible scientific information backing up those assertations.


I've had some too-close encounters with wood ticks lately. (None were feasting, however. Thank goodness!) And not while hiking around in brushy places, either. Some of them were right out in the open.

Tick2: aka wood tick, or American dog tick. Yuck.

I wondered if this meant that Minnesota was experiencing a tick population boom? And if there was a corresponding increase in tick-borne disease?

So I asked around. David Neitzel, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health's Acute Disease Investigation and Control Division, told me:

"This is the time of year that wood ticks are really abundant in Minnesota. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats from wooded areas to grassy areas, and sometimes very open areas (i.e., lawns). Wood ticks don't transmit disease in Minnesota, but deer ticks (also called blacklegged ticks) transmit Lyme disease and a couple other diseases. Deer ticks are only found in wooded or brushy areas.

Please check out our website and click on 'diseases and conditions' then 'Lyme disease' for more information."

Science Buzz also did a feature on ticks and tick-borne disease. We want to hear your gross tick stories!

Ick. Just thinking about it makes me feel all itchy, like one is crawling on me.


Monarch butterfly: Courtesy Matt Stratton
Monarch butterfly: Courtesy Matt Stratton

The number of butterflies migrating through California has dropped to a forty year low, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis. One-half of the usual species of butterflies have not appeared this season, and other species have been observed in very low numbers. Climate change related to global warming and habitat destruction may be the cause.

Global warming is the increase in the Earth’s average temperature over recent decades primarily attributable to human activities.

Habitat destruction is a change in land use in which one habitat is replaced with another. The plants and animals which previously used the site are destroyed or displaced in the process.

A mild winter in Northern California has caused many species to not end their winter dormancy at the right time. This means that many butterflies emerged too late in the season. The proper climate for breeding was disrupted by a wet spring.

In Southern California, an unusually dry desert left little food for caterpillars of some species to feed on. A late snow in the Sierra Nevada may have killed many insects used for food.

Some species of butterflies that breed several times a year may rebound from these events, but for other species the effects may be devastating for up to a decade.

Read the original press release here.


Dragonfly: Courtesy Charles Lam

The common housefly or even an octopus might inspire the next generation of optical gadgets. Bioengineers are looking to the animal kingdom for ideas for the next high-tech cameras, motion detectors, and navigation devices. It does not come as any surprise that bioengineers wish to replicate the advanced light catching structures in animal eyes. Stated in an article from AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) “natural selection has produced at least ten animal vision systems, each tailored to fit the specific needs of its owner. Eyes for different species are adapted for seeing in the day or night, short or long distances, with wide or narrow fields of view, ect.”

In some cases, animal systems are less complex and more efficient when compared to synthetic counterparts. Nanotech researcher Luke Lee at the University of Berkeley with college Robert Szema are trying to better understand and imitate animal eyes in hopes of creating the next cutting edge optical gadget. Lee and Szema described their attempts in the November 18 issue of the journal Science. Now lets gain a better understanding about animal eye structure.

Animals have two main types of vision systems: camera-type eyes and compound eyes. Humans have camera-type eyes, as do many fish, birds and reptiles. Camera-type eyes utilize a single lens focusing images onto a light detector termed a retina. Lee and other researchers have only created gadgets using the principles of the camera-type eye. However, scientists are getting closer in constructing gadgets based on compound eyes.

Compound eyes, such as in dragonflies, use up to 29,000 lenslets per eye. Lenslets or ommatidia function independent of each other producing remarkable fast-motion detection. Biology professor and dragonfly-vision expert Robert Olberg at Union College in Schenectady, New York stated, “The dragonfly’s field of vision is actually 360 degrees.”

Lee has gone as far as creating 180-degree hemispheres with ommatidia, like the dragonfly, though the hemispheres might not display all the possible pictures. Lee hopes to bond two 180-degree hemispheres to create a 360-degree view. Practical uses could be outstanding surveillance cameras or perhaps scoping the inside of our digestive tract. Would you like to own a gadget having 360-degree vision? If so, what would it be?