Sioux Falls Zoologists endorse Life in the Undergrowth for showing
us the wide adaptability of insects to different environments.
Life in the Undergrowth
Life in the Undergrowth (2006) - 250 minutes
Life in the Undergrowth at Amazon.com
Hosted by David Attenborough
Open your eyes to the bizarre, ferocious and surprisingly beautiful world of the invertebrates. Join David Attenborough on his groundbreaking exploration into a spectacular miniature universe not normally seen, but teeming all around us. Within this remarkable world lie not just bugs and beetles, but exotic cicadas, neon glow worms, intricate silk-weaving spiders and bat-eating centipedes - not to mention a whole host of other incredible life-forms with intimate, startling behavior. Thanks to technical innovations in lighting, optics and computerized motion control, this turbulent, super-organized world is finally revealed from the perspective of its extraordinary inhabitants. These creatures may be minuscule, but they live life on a truly grand scale.
2-7-20 Fireflies face extinction risk - and tourists are partly to blame
Firefly tourism is on the rise globally but scientists are warning it may contribute to risk of the insect's extinction. "I spotted a hundred flickering lights, illuminating a palm like a Christmas tree." "Our guide waved his flashlight at the fireflies. They slowly engulfed us - we were surrounded by a shiny galaxy of glowing beetle stomachs." "I reached out a hand and captured one in my fist." Reading this travel blogger's enchanting experience in 2019 makes it clear why firefly tours are popular, but done badly, it risks killing the insects. Habitat loss and light pollution from urbanisation and industrialisation are the leading threats to firefly populations, according to research published this week. But firefly tourism, which attracts thousands of visitors in countries including Mexico, the US, the Philippines and Thailand, is a growing concern for conservationists. "Getting out into the night and enjoying fireflies in their natural habitat is an awe-inspiring experience," Prof Sara Lewis at Tufts University, who led the research, told the BBC. But tourists often inadvertently kill fireflies by stepping on them, or disturb their habitat by shining lights and causing soil erosion. Firefly festivals are organised in countries including Japan, Belgium, and India, and social media is magnifying this tourism, she adds. The tiny town of Nanacamilpa in Mexico became a celebrated firefly spot in the past decade. Some visitors post their sparkling photos on Instagram, flouting the ban on photography that many site managers impose, says local photographer Pedro Berruecos. The Mexican fireflies are especially vulnerable to tourists, Prof Lewis explains. The female insects are wingless and cannot fly, meaning they live on the ground, where visitors walking around will trample on them.
7-7-19 Obituary: Georges Brossard, the man who stuck up for insects
Georges Brossard dedicated his life to helping humans appreciate the underappreciated world of insects. Brossard, who has died aged 79, gave up a career in law to travel the world and collect more than 250,000 specimens, a collection that would eventually become one of Montreal's most visited tourist attractions. He inspired millions through regular TV appearances, raising the profile of tiny creatures he believed were misunderstood and undervalued in human society. One particular journey to find a rare insect - an extraordinary trip into the Mexican rainforest - would go on to inspire a film. Georges Brossard was born in 1940 into a farming family in La Prairie, Quebec. His father, Georges-Henri, founded the nearby city of Brossard, on Montreal's South Shore. In a 1989 interview he described the La Prairie of his childhood as "a beautiful, unspoiled place" and recalled how a school science class inspired him to start his first collection of insects. "In a cupboard at school there were two specimens for our science class, a butterfly and a chunk of asbestos," he said. "I could gaze at them for hours. I guess that's when I became attracted to insects." Even the destruction of that early collection - by ants and spiders - only inspired him to greater things. "When I saw my collection in ruins like that, it hit me like a bolt of lighting. I knew that eventually I would be a great international collector. I saw my insectarium. I saw myself standing there explaining the world of insects to people," he said. His plan took a while to come fruition. Brossard went on to study law at the University of Ottawa and became a notary - an official witness to the signing of contracts, agreements and other legal documents. But by his late 30s he had decided to devote his career to his great passions - entomology and the environment.
5-14-19 Peacock spiders’ superblack spots reflect just 0.5 percent of light
New images reveal microscopic structures that manipulate light to create the dark patches. Male peacock spiders know how to put on a show for potential mates, with dancing and a bit of optical trickery. Microscopic bumps on the arachnids’ exoskeletons make velvety black areas look darker than a typical black by manipulating light. This architecture reflects less than 0.5 percent of light, researchers report May 15 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The ultradark spots, found near vivid colors on the spiders’ abdomens, create an “optical illusion that the colors are so bright … they're practically glowing,” says Harvard University evolutionary biologist Dakota McCoy. Male peacock spiders swing and shake their brilliantly colored abdomens during elaborate mating displays. Pigments produce the red and yellow hues, but blues and purples come from light interacting with hairlike scales (SN: 09/17/16, p. 32). Black areas on the spiders contain pigment, too. But scanning electron microscopy also revealed a landscape of tiny bumps in superblack patches on Maratus speciosus and M. karrie peacock spiders. In contrast, all-black, closely related Cylistella spiders have a smooth texture. Scanning electron microscope images show bumps, which manipulate incoming light, in superblack patches on the abdomens of two species of peacock spiders. While Maratus speciosus (left) has only bumps, M. karrie (middle) also sports spiky scales that limit reflection by scattering and absorbing light. A Cylistella spider (right) has a smoother surface, which results in an ordinary black appearance.
11-22-18 Sick ants stay clear of their co-workers to stop disease spreading
Do you wish your coughing, sneezing colleagues would stay away from the office? Unlike some humans, ants seem to understand the importance of avoiding others when they are infected. When foraging ants are exposed to a fungal pathogen, they reduce their contact with workers inside the nest. Nathalie Stroeymeyt at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and colleagues studied colonies of Lasius niger ants using an automated ant-tracking system. Workers in these colonies are split into nurses, which work inside the nest caring for the brood, and foragers, which collect food outside the nest. Foragers are most likely to pick up infections, but they interact less with other ants, and come into contact with those inside the nest infrequently. The researchers exposed some of the foragers to spores of Metarhizium brunneum fungus. The spores attach to an ant’s cuticle and after a day or two, the fungus gets inside the ant and kills it. Within one day of exposure to the pathogen — before ants became sick — the separation between work groups was reinforced. Exposed foragers changed their behaviour, spending even more time outside the nest and decreasing their contact with other workers. Foragers that were not exposed to the pathogen also took steps to isolate themselves, and nurses moved the brood deeper inside the nest. It’s not clear how the ants recognise the infection, but they may be able to detect the spores on other ants as well as on their own bodies.
8-20-18 Ants show 'lazy' approach may be best for digging
A new study on ants and robots has shown that having more workers is not necessarily better when working in confined spaces. If there are too many bodies then the workspace can get clogged. A less busy approach in which some workers are purposely idle can avoid jams. The findings might help devise strategies to avoid clumping in confined and crowded environments, such as disaster relief operations. The research has been published in the journal Science. Prof Daniel Goldman, a physicist and robotics expert at Georgia Institute of Technology, has been studying invasive fire ants for eight years, since he realised that understanding how they cooperate to dig tunnels could have real-life consequences for robot design. The new study has shown that sometimes a laid back approach can get the job done. Unlike cars that clump together or buses that arrive at the same time, ants rarely seem to have traffic jams. Prof Goldman said: "We painted the abdomens of ants with oil-based markers and by monitoring which ants showed up in the tunnel, we found that in fact about 30% of the ants in a group did about 70% of the work, because they came to the tunnel more often and they excavated more pellets." He added: "We wanted to know why only about 30% of ants were excavating, and to understand how basic laws of physics might be at work." It turned out that the inequality in ant labour is not because the hardest working individuals have a specialist "qualification" in tunnel engineering.
8-16-18 Future robot swarms should copy lazy ants who let others do the work
The optimum strategy for tunnelling ants is to leave all of the digging to just a few workers. Swarms of robots could use similar techniques for clearing rubble. Too many cooks spoil the broth, and the same goes for ants. A study into how ants cooperate has found that the optimum strategy is for most of them not to do any work. The findings may be useful for creating large swarms of robots. Ants create networks of narrow underground tunnels by excavating soil bit by bit as a team. To understand the strategies they use, Daniel Goldman at Georgia Tech and his colleagues placed 30 ants into a transparent container filled with glass soil-like particles. For 48 hours ants entered and exited the tunnels hundreds of times to extend the network, but surprisingly only 30 per cent of the ants did around 70 per cent of the work. “Only a few ants would do the majority of the work, with the rest just hanging out trying to avoid clogging up the tunnel,” says Goldman. To further understand the process, Goldman and his colleagues tested out different strategies with four excavation robots. “One dug OK. Two dug OK. Three was kind of good. But with four the robots just couldn’t get anywhere,” says Goldman. However smart his team made the robots they kept causing clogs unless some took a back seat. The results suggest when groups of individuals work together, the best strategy may be for some to hang back, he says. The work can help uncover some of the strategies that biological organisms have evolved to use, but may also help write better software for controlling swarms of robots.
8-16-18 Here’s what robots could learn from fire ants
In tight quarters, sharing the work equally leads to traffic jams. Robots, take note: When working in tight, crowded spaces, fire ants know how to avoid too many cooks in the kitchen. Observations of fire ants digging an underground nest reveal that a few industrious ants do most of the work while others dawdle. Computer simulations confirm that, while this strategy may not be the fairest, it is the most efficient because it helps reduce overcrowding in tunnels that would gum up the works. Following fire ants’ example could help robot squads work together more efficiently, researchers report in the Aug. 17 Science. Robots that can work in close, crowded quarters without tripping each other up may be especially good at digging through rubble for search-and-rescue missions, disaster cleanup or construction, says Justin Werfel, a collective behavior researcher at Harvard University who has designed insect-inspired robot swarms (SN: 3/22/14, p. 8).
6-21-18 Moths fly 1000 kilometres with Earth’s magnetic field as a guide
Bogong moths are the first insects found to use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate long distances, during their epic migrations across Australia. An Australian moth uses the Earth’s magnetic field to help find its way across the continent. While other insects have been shown to navigate using Earth’s magnetic field, the moth is the first to do so over long distances and at night. Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa), like the famous monarch butterflies in the Americas, make an epic migration. In spring, about 2 billion of them leave their breeding grounds on the dry, flat plains of south-east Australia, and fly over 1000 kilometres to a set of around 50 caves high in the Australian Alps. There they spend the summer, dormant. In autumn, they return to the plains where they reproduce and die. Eric Warrant of the University of Lund, Sweden and his colleagues studied how the moths find their way. “When we began this study, we were convinced that the bogong moth would exclusively use celestial cues in the sky, such as the stars and the moon, for navigation during migration,” he says. But that is not what they found. The team trapped wild moths and placed them one at a time in a flight simulator where they could watch them closely. The simulator was completely blank inside except for two simple landmarks, and it was fitted with magnetic coils so the team could manipulate the magnetic field within. If the visual and magnetic cues both directed the moths to fly a particular direction, they did so. “They love the pretend mountain landmark, and love to fly towards it,” says Warrant.
3-27-18 Beetlemania: How a supergroup scuttled to world domination
Handsome, hardy and diverse, beetles are supremely successful critters with a lot to teach us – but they’re suffering from our environmental waywardness. WHEN biologist J.B.S. Haldane was asked by a theologian back in the 1940s what we could infer about the mind of the creator from the works of creation, he supposedly replied, “an inordinate fondness for beetles”. The story is almost certainly apocryphal, but it reveals both an undeniable truth and an open question. Judging by their sheer numbers, God is certainly fond of beetles. But just how fond? The number of beetle species is just one lacuna in our knowledge of these extraordinarily successful creatures. Another is what makes them quite so successful. As we slowly fill in the gaps, we are beginning to appreciate the unique insights these insects can give us. Whether we want to understand evolution, the workings of the biosphere or how plate tectonics has shaped the continents, beetles hold the answers. But let’s deal with the numbers question first. New beetle species have been described at an average rate of about four a day since 1758, when Carl Linnaeus started cataloguing plants and animals using the two-part Latin scientific names we know today. Towards the end of the 20th century, there was general agreement that the total count was heading towards 400,000 species, based on specimens housed in the world’s museums and carefully documented in 250 years of scientific journals and monographs. Compare that with 5500 mammals, 10,000 birds, 85,000 molluscs and 250,000 plant species, and it is clear that in diversity beetles far outstrip any other multicellular organisms, perhaps quietly brushing aside nematode worms.
3-27-18 Beetlemania: Five amazing beetles from around the world
Whether it is harvesting water, doing origami or hitching free rides on termite backs, the sheer diversity of beetle behaviour is the key to their success.
- Head-stander beetles
- Hazel leaf-roller
- Giraffe weevil
- American burying beetle
- [No common name]
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Life in the Undergrowth
Sioux Falls Zoologists endorse Life in the Undergrowth for showing
us the wide adaptability of insects to different environments.