Archive | February, 2012

Maggot Art Live

24 Feb

Here’s a video I put together of the “maggot art” I talked about earlier this week.  Enjoy!


Entoblitz 2012

21 Feb

Relaxing and collecting in the woods at Entoblitz 2010

It’s time for Entoblitz 2012, April 27th-29th.  Be sure to check this out.  Entoblitz is a yearly collecting weekend that brings together entomology students, professors, and hobbyists from across the southern US.

This year Entoblitz is being hosted as a joint effort between Texas A&M and Oklahoma University, so we’re looking forward to lots of new faces.  The location will be right on the border between the two states, in beautiful Fobb Bottom Wildlife Management area, as well as Buncombe Creek.  Beds are available at the OU Biological Station, and there are camping and RV options as well.

It’s been a lot of fun every year!  It’s a great opportunity to visit limited-access collection sites, take photos, visit with colleagues, and generally have an excellent time entomologist-style.

Registration closes February 28th, so don’t delay!

For more information visit:

OU Entoblitz Website

A&M Entoblitz Website

Entoblitzers insect collecting at a light sheet.

Maggot art, etc.

20 Feb

Maggot art with Chrysoma rufifacies, the hairy maggot blow fly

Two new pages up today in the Techniques section.

I’ve started a collection of cool insect-related techniques as I happen across them around the internet:

Techniques from Around the Web

I also had a lot of fun doing maggot artwork at an outreach event and I put together a “how to” post on that.  Check it out!  The pics are all taken with my iPhone but they turned out great:

How to Paint with Maggots

Maggot art makes a nice item to sell or give away at events, and it also provides a fun, hands-on outreach opportunity that people of all ages can enjoy. It’s great to watch people go from “Ew!” to “Ooh!” as they see a disfavored insect make something pretty and interesting. Don’t forget to talk to people about the role of maggots in the ecosystem, the life cycle of flies, and the usefulness of maggots in cleaning wounds. The maggot artwork also makes for a nice souvenir to take home, and hopefully encourage people to talk about what they learned with even more people.

10 Weird Things About Bugs

17 Feb

Running this blog has been a learning experience for me.  (Graduate school, too.  Who’da’thunk?)  Whenever I take a new picture and want to share it I first have to figure out something to say about it.  So I dive into web searches and the literature and talk to people and in the process I get to find out more about how bizarre and wonderful nature can get.  I thought I’d take a moment and highlight some of the weird (and awesome!) bug things I have learned in the past two years.  So, in the style of Bill Nye:

Did you know…?

There is a family of grasshoppers that disguise themselves as sticks.

Tent caterpillars cooperate and lay down foraging trails like ants.

Argentina is home to hordes of  large gregarious spiders.

Earwig moms sometimes feed themselves to their babies.

Mantisflies pupate in spider egg sacks?

Sexually dimorphic yellow and black garden spiders on a web in Texas.

Male garden spiders play love songs for their mates.

There’s a reason “ladybug” is one word and “lady beetle” is two.

Exotic dung beetles were introduced to Australia because nothing there would eat cow poop.

Two tortoise beetle larvae with dimorphic coloration.

Tortoise beetle larvae often make elaborate shields out of poop.

Fire ants can virtually halt decomposition of bodies by picking off the maggots.

Now you know.

Squeaky Beetles

10 Feb
Bessbug (Passalidae) on dead wood.

Bess beetle (Passalidae) on decaying wood.

My labmate Paul brought me a box of bess beetles (family Passalidae) left over from a live insect lab.  I love these little squeakers, so I was pretty pleased.  I am not the only one who thinks the beetles are adorable.  BugGuide attributes the common name “bess beetle” to the French word baiser, “to kiss,” apparently due to the squeaky “kiss” noise these beetles make when disturbed.  This stridulation is produced by rubbing the top of the abdomen against the hind wings.  In fact, bess beetles produce at least fourteen distinct acoustic signals (Schuster 1983), giving them a pretty complex repertoire for an insect.

Less cute story:  when I was a kid, my brothers and I caught one of these for somebody’s science class.  We put it in a jar with some acetone and had to take it out again because it sounded like it was screaming.  (Anybody seen the Fly?)  Now that I’ve shared that adorable story, let me go back to talking about my awesome new pets.

A bess beetle eating moist decaying wood.

Bess beetle chewing dead wood.

Bess beetles employ a fairly elaborate vocabulary because these beetles are subsocial.  Adults excavate galleries in the dark recesses of rotting wood where they live together in family groups, cooperatively caring for their brood.  Larvae are fed pre-chewed wood by the adults.

There’s an extra twist.  Unlike termites, bess beetles don’t have endosymbionts in their guts to digest wood for them.  Instead, they process the wood and excrete it, wait for microflora to further digest the wood, and then eat it again.  (Rabbits, as ruminants, employ a similar “eat it twice” tactic.  If I have destroyed your image of bunnies, I apologize.)  Both adults and larvae starve if they are not allowed feces as part of their diet.  Yum yum!

Bathroom Bugs – The Silverfish

3 Feb
Toilet paper and silverfish (Thysanura)


Today we have a little insect I collected in the wilds of my own bathroom.  Silverfish belong to the order Thysanura, or “fringe tail”, which takes its name from the three caudal filaments which fan out from the abdomen.  (This is distinct from members of Archaeognatha, which have three caudal filaments that extend in parallel from the abdomen.)  Silverfish enjoy cool, damp enviroments and starchy foods, making them common pests in bathrooms, basements and libraries.  Although they do not bite or sting, they may do minor damage by nibbling on paper products, the glue of book bindings and wallpaper, and the starch in cotton or rayon fabrics.  Outside of human homes they generally live in dead wood or leaf litter and eat lichens.

Head on view of a silverfish's small lateral eyes and three caudal filaments.

Head on view of a silverfish's small lateral eyes and three caudal filaments.

These little critters are impressively hardy:  When I taught the introductory entomology lab a few semester ago I found a live silverfish living in a vial in the student collection.*  The little silverfish had evidently been turned in several months before and had been surviving by devouring its own ID label.

A silvery silverfish on a white background

The caudal filaments of silverfish are delicate and break easily.

*This is just one of many exciting and novel encounters I have had while overseeing student insect collections.  One collection box I graded had a live wasp in a jar.

See also: Fire ant symbiotes: Nicoletiid silverfish