Archive | December, 2010

New Year’s Babies — Maternal care in earwigs

31 Dec
An earwig mother guards her clutch of eggs (Forficulidae).

An earwig mother guards her clutch of eggs (San Diego, California).

 When most people think of earwigs–if they think of them at all–they think of them as creepy little bugs that turn up in leaf litter, along the foundations of houses, or occasionally in bathrooms or basements.  Few people realize that these insects can also be excellent mothers.  Female earwigs in the family Forficulidae (latin for ‘earwig’, originating from the word for scissors) carefully tend their clutch of eggs, guarding and caring for the youngsters after hatching. 

In the extreme example of the hump earwig, these mothers make the ultimate sacrifice, allowing their children to kill and eat them at the end of their care.  This phenomenon is giving the charming name of ‘matriphagy’ and increases the offsprings’ chance of survival.  A mother’s love?

A mother earwig watches over her eggs.

A mother earwig (Forficulidae) watches over her eggs.

Acrobat ants, arboreal ninjas

27 Dec
Arboreal acrobat ants suspending their caterpillar prey in a tree.

Acrobat ants (Crematogaster) suspending their caterpillar prey in a tree.

I spotted this impressive sight early this summer.  A dozen or so acrobat ants gripped and suspended a huge caterpillar upside down from a tree branch above me, as other workers started to pick it apart.  As arboreal ants, acrobat ants have some of the most impressive gripping ability I have encountered.  I judge this by the time I have spent aspirating ants from trees for various projects for the lab–in particular the day I helped the post-doc collect several groups of 50 of these guys.  These guys can really hold on.  By the end of an hour I was light-headed from the aspiration attempts, and reduced to using the tube to try to pry the ants loose.

In fact, as Myrmecos author Alex Wild brought up a while back, a number of plants have adapted to take advantage of arboreal predators by providing wooly footholds to help them hold on.



Spider Waits

24 Dec
A spider waits on a flower.

A spider waits on a flower in Argentina.

Here is the traditional holiday spider for your enjoyment.  Merry Christmas, all.  May delicious prey come your way.


In Defense of Caterpillars

20 Dec
A swallowtail caterpillar everting its osmeterium.

A swallowtail caterpillar everting its osmeterium.

Here’s an immature form of the swallowtails we saw in the last post.  Late instar swallowtail caterpillars like the one above have aposematic coloring, warning of the toxic chemicals they have gradually sequestered from the plants they eat.  Swallowtail caterpillars also have another unique defense mechanism–an organ called the osmeterium, located in the head.  When threatened, caterpillars evert the osmeterium, which resembles two brightly colored fleshy ‘horns’ on the caterpillar’s head.  The osmeterium emits foul-smelling terpenes which, along with the startling appearance and the caterpillar’s thrashing movements, helps to ward off predators.


17 Dec
A pipevine swallowtail (Papilionidae) feeds at a flower.

Pipevine swallowtail feeding at flowers at Presidio la Bahia

Just got back from the ESA conference in San Diego!  It was fun.

Here’s some pictures I took last spring at the gorgeous flower field outside La Bahia (Goliad, Texas).  Two common varieties of Texas swallowtail butterflies, family Papilionidae, feeding in the flowers.  Swallowtails take their name from the long ‘tails’  common on the wings of butterfly species in this family.  Butterflies feed through siphoning mouthparts in the form of a long, coiled tube, called a proboscis.  As lepidopterans metamorphose from caterpillars to butterflies their mouthparts change drastically from leaf-chewing mandibles to a nectar-sipping tube.  This change is mirrored in their digestive tracts, which in caterpillars take the form of a fairly simple tube, and in butterflies becomes much more complex.

Giant swallowtail feeding at flowers (Papilionidae)

Giant swallowtail in the flowers at La Bahia, Texas.

Things That Are Not Fire Ants

6 Dec


(Updated 6/20/17)

The picture below started this post.  It is a picture that shows up prominently high on a google image search for ‘fire ant.’  It is also, very clearly, not a fire ant.

Frontline's Not a Fire Ant

Not A Fire Ant

Granted, I spend an unhealthy amount of time getting stung by researching fire ants, and might be presumed to be a bit more familiar with fire ants than the layperson.  However, the people who oh-so-proudly and prominently displayed this picture next to a guide for identifying and controlling fire ants were a pest control company, and one could wish that these people would also be a bit more familiar with fire ants than the layperson, particularly as they have taken it upon themselves to educate the public.

I tested my theory that this was clearly not a fire ant by showing it to a non-ant-person, Collin McMichael, a labmate of mine who works on caterpillars and aphids and happened to wander into the room at the right moment.  “That’s not a fire ant,” he said.

identifying fire ants

Here’s another example:

One of these things is not like the others.

(Not-a-fire-ant brought to you by Pest Mall.  Is-a-fire-ant via Fischer Environmental.  Thumbs up, Fischer!)

So, I present to you, my collection of ‘Things That Are Not Fire Ants’, as brought to you by the pest control companies of America.

(If you’d like some tips for identifying fire ants, look for a 2-segmented pedicel–the “waist” of the ant–and 10 segmented antennae, the last two segments of which are slightly enlarged to form a club.  Their relatively small eyes also set them apart from many of the ants on this page.  Also make sure it’s an ant.)

34. Bugsperts Pest Control


33.  Structural Termite & Pest Control (this one’s a twofer! neither the big ants nor the little ant are fire ants!)


Bonus: These are probably not fire ant nest mounds, since the funnel shape is acharacteristic, and more common in other genera such as odorous house ants and pyramid ants.  Fire ant mounds will usually be rounded (soil & weather permitting) since they build tunnels up into the mound itself to use for thermoregulating their brood.


32. StopPestInfo


31. PestWiki


30. Mosquito Squad


29. Spencer Pest Control


28. ThoughtCo “How To Identify Fire Ants:  Are Your Ants Really Fire Ants?”



27. Terminix



26. Healthline


25. Terro


24. Damn Bugs LLC  (this one’s tricky – note the spikes on the back of the gaster and the lack of the 2 segmented antennal club)


23. Noosa Pest Control


22. Heron Lawn & Pest Control

Heron Lawn and Pest's Not-a-Fire-Ant

21. Florida Lawncare and  Rove Pest Control – Nashville

Florida Lawncare's Not A Fire Ant

20 & 19.  Green Pest Services

Green Pest Service's Not-a-Fire-Ant


See also below, this company has about four different ants pictured as “fire ants.”  It’s impressive.  Also, since these are from a list of “common pests of Long Island” and there are no fire ants in New York I really just have no idea what they’re talking about.  I’d give them the benefit of the doubt and generously assume they’re using “fire ant” to refer to a whole different type of ant all together (or, you know, four different types) but the biological description is pretty clearly trying to describe S. invicta.

18. Dayton’s Pest Control and  Green Pest Services (again!)

Dayton's Pest Control's Not-a-Fire-Ant

17. Fireantswers

Fireantswer's Not-a-fire-ant

16 & 15. Clark’s Pest Control (a two-fer!) and  Innovative Pest Control

Clark's Pest Control's Not-a-fire-ant

Clark's Pest Control's Not-a-fire-ant 2

14. Sterling Pest Control and Technical Pest Services – Houston

Sterling Pest Control's Not A Fire Ant

13.  Falcon’s Pest Control

12. Culpepper Pest Control and Advanced Pest & Weed Management

Culpepper Pest Control's Not-a-fire-ant

11. Grandma’s Home Remedies

10. Barrier Termite & Pest Technologies

Barrier Termite & Pest Technologies Not-a-fire-ant

9. Arista Pest Solutions and  Peckitt Pest Solutions and  A-Zap Pest Control and  Pest Patrol Pest Control

Arista Pest Solution's Not-a-fire-ant

Plus, special mention to non-pest control company, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

8. EnviroCon Termite & Pest

Envirocon Termite & Pest's Not-a-fire-ant

7. Frontline Pest Control and Aspect Home & Pest and  Orlando Pest Control and  Home Protection Pest Control

Frontline's Not a Fire Ant

See also: “This is not a harvester ant” and “This is not an Argentine ant.”

(Aspect has not only borrowed most of its incorrect images from Frontline, but they have also used the same image twice for ticks and fleas.)

6. Adam’s Exterminators

Adam's Exterminators' Not A Fire Ant

5. Lenny’s Pest Control and  John Moore Services and Rush Termite & Pest Control

Lenny's Pest Control's Not a Fire Ant

4. Treasure Coast Pest Control and Mist Pro Outdoor Insect Control

Not A Fire Ant by MistPro and Treasure Coast

3. Raleigh Pest Control

Raleigh Pest Control's Not-a-Fire Ant

2. ESI Oscala

ESI Oscala's Not-a-fire-ant

1. (And my personal favorite) PestMall

Pest Mall's Not-A-Fire Ant

Actually, all the fire ant pictures at PestMall are pretty suspicious but this one’s far and away the best.  Look closely.  That’s not a fire ant.  That’s not even an ant.  In fact, let’s hop right out of Hymenoptera altogether.

That, my friends, is an earwig.  10 points and a cookie to anyone who uses Alex Wild’s formula to calculate the Taxonomy Fail Index.

And finally, I’ll leave you with my favorite picture that I stumbled across in my Google image search:
This is a fire fire ant.
This is a fire fire ant.  (

(Let’s be clear, though.  Adding flame decals to an ant will not make it a fire ant any more than it will make your car go faster.  Nice try Montgomery Pest Control.)

(Bonus: New Orleans pest control has a fire ant that is Not an Argentine Ant.)

Mantis Massacre – Hand feeding a Chinese mantis

3 Dec
Adult Chinese mantis devouring a cricket.

Adult Chinese mantis devouring a cricket (Tenodera sinensis).

I promised pictures of the adult Chinese mantises from last week, so here you go.  And to start off we have some lovely horror-movie-esque imagery of a mantis tearing into its cricket meal.  Enjoy!

Hand feeding a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis).

Hand feeding a Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis).

Chinese mantis taking a cricket from a pair of forceps.

Chinese mantis taking a cricket from a pair of forceps.