Scientists To Develop Water Skimming Robot With The Help Of Water Striding Bugs

October 25th, 2016

The bugs are called “water striders,” and their ability to run and jump on the surface of water, such as lakes, ponds, and just about any body of water, has long fascinated entomologists. Engineers are also excited as many are hoping to study the bug’s natural mechanics in order to develop robots that can mimic the bugs divine strides across the water.

However, scientists have been trying to figure out the water striders trick for decades now, and they have not learned much. This traditional lack of knowledge regarding this bug’s water-striding abilities is understandable considering that the bug is so light that its weight cannot even be measured by conventional instruments.

Recently a breakthrough occurred as scientists were finally able to use advanced techniques to determine the bugs slightest changes in body angle and weight. The scientists gained a more accurate insight into the bug’s movements by studying its shadows while it moved. The shadows magnify the particular movements of the bug, and as a result of careful observation, scientists are able to use this trick to determine an accurate estimate as to how much water is displaced with each movement of its legs. Eventually, engineers want to use the water strider as a model to develop robots that can skim across water. Why it is that science wants to see this device become a reality? Other than creating the world’s coolest robot, has, so far, been largely unspecified.

What practical applications could a water-skimming robot have that would benefit mankind?






Social Sensitivity Towards Mating Behavior Is Linked To The Frequency At Which Male Beetles Mate

October 24th, 2016

Although I cannot imagine how researchers were able to ascertain this information, male burying beetles that mate more frequently than average are likely more insecure about their social status. This insecurity is rooted in the relative differences in body size among male burying beetles.

When a male burying beetle wants to mate with a female beetle, the male will select an animal carcass, most often a rodent. The male beetle will then proceed to allow the stench of the dead animal’s carcass stink up its environment. The male beetle hopes that the dead animal’s pheromones will attract a female. Unfortunately, the carcass smell often lures a male beetle into the other male beetle’s environment.

Once the two males find themselves in a shared environment, hostilities arise. It is the smaller, and therefore, the more insecure male beetle, that will become overtly aggressive towards the larger male. Also, the smaller beetle experiences a greater threat to his chance at reproduction since a larger male is now a potential competitor. Given the presence of a superior male beetle-suitor, the smaller, and more insecure beetle, will rush to reproduce with the nearest female before the larger male has a chance to. Therefore, it is the smaller sized, and naturally, more socially insecure male beetle that indulges in a greater frequency of reproductive acts in an effort to reproduce quickly.

Do you think that the smaller the body size of any animal, the more likely that animal is to indulge in defensive behavior towards larger competitors? Do you think beetles with small body sizes experience a greater pressure to reproduce?



Scientists Prevent Whiteflies From Feeding By Confusing Them With A Variety Of Different Smells

October 21st, 2016

There exists a phenomenon known as the “confusion effect,” which involves a human or an animal becoming confused or even disoriented when confronted with a plethora of different stimuli or information. The idea behind the confusion effect has been applied to whiteflies for pest control purposes, and it worked.

Biologists at Newcastle University have attempted to prevent the notorious whitefly from feeding on tomatoes, which seems to be their favorite type of food. While a group of whiteflies were collectively feeding on tomatoes inside of a greenhouse, the group of biologists pumped a variety of different aromas into the greenhouse in order to see if the whiteflies would experience a sort of sensory overload, or become disoriented and confused. Much to the satisfaction of the biologists, the whiteflies became so confused that they no longer made any efforts to feed on the tomatoes. Researchers believe that this sensory overload method of pest control could be used for short periods of time with great success.

Do you think that greenhouses could be made pest free by introducing a variety of different scents into the enclosed greenhouse in order to mentally distract pests from feeding on plant life?



Biologist Wants To Bring Arthropods And People Closer Together

October 19th, 2016

In response the misunderstanding people have towards bugs of all kinds biologist and artist Brandon Ballengee has created a museum of sorts that allows people to view live arthropods up close. This ambitious project took off twenty years ago, and the insect exhibition has been ongoing for the past ten years in places all over the world.

The exhibition consists of a large white canvas background with ultraviolet lights shone upon them. This set-up attracts everything from moths to spiders since just about all bugs seem to be attracted to UV light. Once the many bugs have gathered onto the canvass people from all over attend the exhibition and watch the bugs with fascination as opposed to fear.

The exhibition is called “Love Motel For Insects,” and its purpose is to literally bring people closer to bugs with the hopes that people may unlearn their fears of different bugs, or realize that their fears are irrational and unfounded. The exhibition has travelled internationally for the past ten years, and is currently set up in Laramie, Wyoming.

Have you ever stumbled upon an insect or spider that you had always been afraid of, but realized your fear was ill-founded after observing the creature and how it behaves?

The Zika Virus Continues to Spread

October 18th, 2016

Officials had hoped that the recent hurricane in Florida would help disrupt the spread of the Zika virus, but it looks like it’s only helped the mosquitos spread it even faster due to the rainwater left behind. A new zone in Miami has been identified as an area where the Zika virus is running rampant. This is a huge setback, as less than a month ago the nearby Wynwood area had been announced as free of the virus after some heavy mosquito spraying. Now, just three miles north of Wynwoon five people have been infected with the Zika virus. The CDC is warning pregnant women to stay away from the Miami Dade area. Hurricane Matthew seems to have hindered efforts to eradicate the virus. Citizens need to be extra careful to get rid of any standing water left by the storm, as even the smallest pool can serve as a potential breeding ground for mosquitos. Officials have asked for more funding for more mosquito control staff as well as pesticide spraying. Aggressive mosquito control efforts have proven to work to eradicate the virus in areas like Wynwood, so officials are hopeful that more of these efforts will work to stop the spread of the Zika virus.

How badly do you think hurricane Matthew set us back in stopping the spread of the Zika virus?

Insect Borne Viruses Experts Say To Watch Out For

October 17th, 2016

We are all familiar with the Zika virus and Lyme disease, but experts have recently found some lesser known viruses that they are suggesting people watch out for in the near future, as they could possibly become a problem, especially due to the increased amount of travel going on. These illnesses may be rather obscure, but as we have seen with the Zika virus, anything could become the next worldwide epidemic if we’re not careful.

Mayaro is a virus that the Aedes aegypti mosquito can transmit to humans through their bite. The disease is actually almost indistinguishable from chikungunya, another mosquito-borne virus that has boomed in recent years, with symptoms like chills, rash, fever, and joint pain that can last for over a year. In recent years the virus has turned up in urban areas, meaning it could definitely end up spreading farther just as chikungunya did.

Another illness you want to watch out for is the Rift Valley virus. Usually this means you will just have to deal with a fever and some chills. However, some cases can develop into a hemorrhagic disease, with abnormal bleeding and possible inflammation of the brain. When it crosses into this territory there is no treatment and the chance of death is fifty percent. It used to be secluded to Africa, but has spread in recent years.

Do you think that these insect-borne diseases could spread to the U.S. in the near future?

Dung Beetles Are Tougher Than You Think

October 14th, 2016

During the past decade or so researchers have noticed an invasive insect that has gone largely unstudied. The invasive insect in question is known as the “bigheaded ant.” Bigheaded ants have been observed invading territory that belongs to dung beetles, and to a lesser extent termites, and a few other insects that are attracted to feces. Typically bugs do not fare well when their environment is invaded by a notoriously invasive species of insect. So the question is: how are dung beetles fairing against their new invasive ant neighbors? Can the beetles still roll dung? Have they been forced to relocate?

Unfortunately for the bigheaded ants, dung beetles are tough, and do not take kindly to uninvited guests as dung beetles are known for being territorial. The bigheaded ants, similar to the dung beetle, also seem attached to the various mounds of animal feces littering the African savannah, but dung beetles carry on with their business as though the bigheaded ants are not even there.

Dung beetles may adapt to the presence of the hostile invader ants by laying their eggs in burrows built into the pieces of dung that the beetles find and collect. By doing this, the dung beetle is able to protect its larvae from the bigheaded ants. This is impressive since bigheaded ants are known for their aggressive behavior. For example, other aggressive and resilient bugs are quickly killed as soon as the bigheaded ant shows up. Fearsome insects such as safari ants and the stinging acacia ants can not stand up to the aggression of the bigheaded ant like the dung beetle can, and this is probably as much respect as you will ever have for a bug that spends its days burrowing in feces.

What natural defenses do dung beetles have at their disposal that could help them maintain dominance over other bugs within their environment?


Black Widow DNA Strangely Winds Up A Virus That Attacks Bacteria

October 13th, 2016

A pair of probably bored researchers decided to sequence the genome of a Wolbachia-attacking virus for fun only to discover black widow DNA hiding within the genetic makeup of the virus. This was a surprise to the Vanderbilt researchers and a very big deal to science, since animal DNA has never been found in a virus that attacks bacteria.

This was a strange finding since viral genes possess the ability to break down the defenses of bacterial cells that the virus is targeting, but in this case the DNA that resembles black widow DNA is fully intact within the virus, which is not typical. The scientists noted that the DNA was specifically identical to the toxins produced by black widows, so maybe the virus works as a sort of “insecticidal toxin,” but this is only a possibility, as more studies are needed to determine the function of the black widow DNA as it relates to the virus where it was found.

The Wolbachia virus is known for infecting many different types of insects including mosquitoes. Based on these early findings, researchers are hoping to genetically engineer the strange genetic makeup of this virus with the hopes that the possible insecticidal properties could be used against disease carrying mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia.

How could the DNA from a living organism find its way into the genetic makeup of a bacteria-attacking virus?

Special Silkworms Are As Strong As Spider Man

October 12th, 2016

A group of presumably bored researchers decided to feed a silkworm graphene and carbon nanotubes. As a result, the silkworms were able to spin silk that is much stronger than your typical silk. This stronger silk product can be used to construct more durable materials, such as clothing materials and medical implants to name a couple.

The special silk is produced by the caterpillars that will eventually become silk moths. By feeding the larvae carbon nanotubes and grapheme, silkworms were able to reinforce the silken threads themselves. The reinforced silk has been determined to handle fifty percent more stress than typical silk. After heating the super-strong strand of silk, scientists found that the new and improved silk was much better at conducting electrical currents than normal silk. The scientists working to create a super strong silk are doing so with the hopes that the strong silk can be used to create medical implants.

What type of medical implants could be created with spider silk?

A Clean Garden Will Keep The Slugs Away

October 11th, 2016

Nobody likes slugs, especially when they are laying eggs and wreaking all sorts of havoc in your garden. But it looks like there may be a method of keeping slugs and their offspring off of your vegetation. This method simply involves keeping your garden clean, and free of any old yellowing plant leaves, which is where slugs enjoy laying their eggs.

The first step to making your garden unattractive to slugs entails cleaning your garden of all old and wilting flowers as well as stems and dead dried leaves. Also, spreading seaweed onto your garden soil will repel slugs due to the high salt content in seaweed. In addition to seaweed, crushed eggs and bones provide a source of calcium and phosphorous, which releases a lime agent that also works to repel slugs from laying eggs in your beautiful garden. By following these simple instructions you can enjoy a slug free garden for all future summer seasons.

What do you do to keep slugs out of your garden?