Wednesday 14 September 2011

Science Uncovered 2011

Shameless publicity of an event I'm doing something at.

Monday 8 August 2011

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Cockroach Film Trailer

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be killed in a tragic accident, come back as a cockroach and then try to continue your romantic endeavours with your partner?

If so, then wonder no longer.....

(Thanks to Charlotte again!)

Cave Cockroaches

Thanks to Charlotte Coales (my  Natural History Museum colleague) for pointing this one out.

Charlotte and I are doing Nature Live this Friday on Cockroaches: From the Beginning (sadly without my perennial sidekick David Nicholson).

Thursday 21 July 2011

In the News: Beehives stop elephant crop-raids in Kenya, Africa

From the BBC: Beehives stop elephant crop-raids in Kenya, Africa  

Innovative beehive fences have helped a community in Kenya to successfully protect crops from elephants, according to research.
Scientists found the hives to be a very effective barrier; elephants turned away from them in 97% of their attempted raids.
Conservationists suggest that elephants' natural fear of bees could settle ongoing conflicts.
The hives' honey also produced additional profits for farmers.

Read More

In the News: Stick insects survive one million years without sex

From BBC News: Stick insects survive one million years without sex
Stick insects have lived for one million years without sex, genetic research has revealed.
Scientists in Canada investigated the DNA of Timema stick insects, which live in shrubland around the west coast of the US. 
They traced the ancient lineages of two species to reveal the insects' lengthy history of asexual reproduction. 
The discovery could help researchers understand how life without sex is possible.
Read More

Tuesday 19 July 2011

In the News: 'Singing penis' sets noise record for water insect

From BBC News: 'Singing penis' sets noise record for water insect
Scientists from France and Scotland recorded the aquatic animal "singing" at up to 99.2 decibels, the equivalent of listening to a loud orchestra play while sitting in the front row. 
The insect makes the sound by rubbing its penis against its abdomen in a process known as "stridulation". 
Researchers say the song is a courtship display performed to attract a mate. 
Micronecta scholtzi are freshwater insects measuring just 2mm that are common across Europe.
Read more

Sunday 3 July 2011

PSG Meeting (Demo Recording)

I have been thinking about recording some of the talks at the Phasmid Study Group meetings, this is a demonstration recording, the talk by Ian Bushell & Ian Abercrombie starts about 5 minutes in, following the tail end of the Q&A session.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Meditation on Odonata

"Artist Irene Moon (aka Katja Seltmann) with help (and specimens) from the North Carolina State Insect Museum ( An informative but strange introduction to the order Odonata. Video created using AfterEffects software, NCSU Insect Museum specimens, and footage from the Sandin Image Processor located at Alfred University."

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Insect Art

This Tumblr has loads of great images: Scientific Illustration

Bed Bugs & Homeopathy

The Rentokil deBugged blog has an article on how pest insects are often used in homeopathy: Bed Bugs Are Used in Homeopathy.
Given that horrific stories relating to invertebrates seem to be the order of the day on DeBugged at the moment, I thought I would float the suggestion of ingesting bed bugs to cure pain in your left ovary. No, this isn’t a new horror film, this is Homeopathy.
Read more 

Of course, my personal view of homeopaths is that they are fraudulent and/or ignorant (and sometimes the basis for good comedy).

Australia's Largest Insects

Over at BunyipCo David Rentz has made a post about the largest insects in Australia.

David is a well-known Australian entomologist with an interest in the orthopteroid insects (among others).

Saturday 11 June 2011

Scorpion babies at Elmwood Park Zoo

"Our emperor scorpion just had a bunch of scorplings! Scorpions have live babies instead of laying eggs!"
See the original post on twitpic.

More info over at ZooBorns: Friday Surprise... Scorplings! (Baby Scorpions)

Wednesday 8 June 2011

In the News: Orlando Fringe Festival review: ‘archy & mehitabel’

Image from Archy

From the Orlando Sentinel: Orlando Fringe Festival review: ‘archy & mehitabel’

Jeff Culbert skitters across the stage, blinking nervously as a spotlight finds him. He’s a cockroach, you see, Archy by name, in this quirky one-man (but two animal) show.
Archy the cockroach was created in 1916 in a series of newspaper columns by Don Marquis. He and his feline friend, Mehitabel, have also featured in a Broadway musical and animated film. 
But here, Culbert takes on both parts himself with mild good humor and light-on-his-feet movement. 
Mehitabel, a friendly female cat who can’t figure out why she ends up with so many kittens, sashays around trash piles and slinks across the stage to the sounds of cool jazz.
Archy gets more worked up, over the foibles of humanity, but even at his biggest roar, he seems more politely concerned than truly angry. 
It’s a cozy show, with plenty of chuckles — and the chance to make two unlikely friends in Culbert’s endearing performance.

Read More

Tuesday 7 June 2011

In the News: Stick insects destroy 24ha of forest

HAI PHONG — Stick insects destroyed nearly 24ha of forest in Cat Ba National Park of the northern city of Hai Phong during the past week. 
The insects appeared in the park in 2007. They have six long legs and can move quickly, making them difficult to catch. The insects' density in the park is as high as dozens of thousands on each tree. 
The Hai Phong Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has sprayed plants to prevent the insects from spreading.
I've been working on a paper surveying this sudden population explosions of stick insects, but have found it quite hard to find contact details for anybody in Vietnam who might be able to provide more info - any ideas gratefully received, either leave a comment or e-mail me.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The exhibition is currently at the Natural History Museum, London. The winning photograph is below.

Monday 6 June 2011

NHM: Identify a Cockchafer

The Natural History Museum has a guide to identifying the Cockchafer (or Maybug) along with a video and lots of interesting facts.

In the News: Jumping cockroach heads new species list

From The Sydney Morning Herald: Jumping cockroach heads new species list
Some scientists peer into ocean depths and explore jungles in search of new species. South African scientist Mike Picker made his discovery - a new species of cockroach - in the middle of a top tourist destination. 
Cape Town's Table Mountain National Park is home to the world's only jumping cockroach, which this week was named one of the top 10 species discoveries of the year by an international panel of experts. 
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Picker, a co-author of the Field Guide to Insects of South Africa and a zoology professor at the University of Cape Town, said his discovery shows how little is known about the world's insects and other animals.

Read more

There are a few more links to this story:
However, some people seem to think that looking for new species is a bit of a distraction from more important things: SA Freezes To Death While Capetonians Name Their Cockroaches (NewsTime).

Sunday 5 June 2011

In the News: Smallest Insect Filmed in Flight

From ScienceDaily: Smallest Insect Filmed in Flight
The Flight Artists team from Wageningen University, the Netherlands, has been the first to make high-speed camera footage of parasitic wasps of about 1 mm wingspan. The team made films of the tiny flying insects at 22,000 frames per second. That is almost 900 times faster than a TV-screen can show. In the time between two TV images, the wasp has beaten its wings 14 times. 
This is the first time the flight behaviour of the parasitic wasp is observed, which is used as biological crop protector that kills the eggs from which harmful caterpillars grow. It was known that parasitic wasps hitchhike on top of larger insects, such as butterflies, but until now nobody had seen how the wasps were able to fly to the butterflies and their eggs.

Read More

In the News: Money eating Termites

From Helium: Termites devour piles of cash in Uttar Pradesh bank
How safe is your money in banks anyway? Not very, it seems, if the bank in question happens to be the Fatehpur branch of State Bank of India where termites have reportedly feasted on currency notes worth more than ten million Indian rupees. That is equivalent to $225,000 or £137,000 worth of money turned to dust.
Read more

A few years ago there was a similar case of termites eating money in an Indian bank: Termites feast on trader's money (BBC News).

Thursday 2 June 2011

Sexual Nature stick insects: Volunteer Report

A report by one of the volunteers looking after our Sexual Nature stick insects at the Natural History Museum, London. Click on the image to go to the Phasmid Study Group site where you can download a PDF.

In the News: Ants found living inside girl's ears

From The Mirror: Ants found living inside girl's ears

DOCTORS have found almost 30 ants living in the ears of a teenage girl who loved snacking in bed. 
Fallen crumbs from the 16-year-old’s night-time treats tempted the insects into nesting in her ears. 
Medics found six in her left ear and more than 20 in her right after she went to a hospital in Taiwan with pain and itching. 
The ants were successfully removed and doctors said she was lucky to have no ­permanent damage. They also told her to stop eating in bed.
Link to Article

The first comment on this article is priceless:

Thank goodness she had them removed. I recently read that Kevin Maguire and Jason Battie had the same problem a couple of years ago. Unfortunately they weren't treated in time and the ants ate most of their frontal lobes. They both now write for The Mirror under the Care In The Community Program.

Although in at least one study ants were not in the top six arthropods removed from ears. The 'winners'? Cockroaches.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Monday 23 May 2011

Identification key to the European genera of bees

As a bit of house-keeping I have just moved this website from the old ICZN (= NHM hosted sites) server and into a Scratchpad. It can now be found at:

In the News: Making art is a bug’s life

From the Norwich Evening News: Making art is a bug’s life

Close up, out of context, they look like highly decorative pieces of jewellery. Except these sparkling pieces of gold, pearl and gem stones aren’t the work of a jeweller, rather they have been produced by a particularly industrious insect who will draw on whatever it finds to create a cocoon.
Caddis fly larvae are known to incorporate bits of whatever they can find into their cocoons, be it fish bone or bits of leaves. However when placed in a tank with flakes of gold and gemstones, the caddis flies simply create their protective sheaths from these materials instead.

More links:

Thursday 19 May 2011

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

This looks like a must-see film: Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (it's a documentary). I think I'll order myself a copy......

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Chronophage Clock

Clock built using a grasshopper escapement on display at the Science Museum. The "demonic" creature on the top represents a time-eating grasshopper.

Originally posted at Cabinet of Orthopteroid Curiosities: The Midsummer Chronophage where there are also links to other information about the clock. 

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Bloody-nosed Beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa)

As part of the eMonocot project's outreach activities Paul Wilkin (Kew), Ian Kitching (NHM) and I led two monocot walks as part of the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival.

As well as finding around 30 different monocot species in the undercliffs, there were a few invertebrate finds as well.

The bloody-nosed beetle is a large (for the UK) chrysomelid beetle that can often be seen walking rather clumsily along the ground. When disturbed it puts of potential predators by exuding a bright red/orange secretion from its mouthparts (seen here staining my hand).

In the News: How a book about flies cost $23.7 million on Amazon

From Digital Life on Today: How a book about flies cost $23.7 million on Amazon
If you were shopping for a new copy of Peter Lawrence’s The Making of a Fly — a classic work on developmental biology — on Amazon recently, you might've gotten quite a shock. The book was priced at $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping)! What happened?
Michael Eisen, an evolutionary biologist at UC Berkeley, first noticed the strangely high book price.

Read more

Monday 16 May 2011

In the News: Bryozoans may look like coral but the similarities end there

From the Star Advertiser: Bryozoans may look like coral but the similarities end there

During the recent marine debris conference in Hono­lulu, I overheard an artist explain to a student that coral grew on drifting plastic. The piece they were examining had a splotch of cementlike growth stuck to it. That white stuff, however, was not coral.
"Those are bryozoans," I said.
As soon as I said it, I wished I hadn't because the artist, of course, said, "What's a bryozoan?" And I didn't have a good answer.
Even as I write, with three zoology textbooks, a field guide and the Internet in front of me, I'm still struggling with how to describe the little creatures called bryozoans.
Part of the problem in describing these animals is the variety of forms and lifestyles they take. Bryozoans can be upright and branching, thin and encrusting, lacy and fragile, tangled and bushy. A few bryozoans walk on sand using rowing movements of whiplike appendages. A freshwater, jellylike species creeps over plants like a snail.

Read more

"And God Was A Fly"

Surreal artwork by Joe MacGown

Maybe we have it all wrong, perhaps the great mother is a fly. why do we always consider ourselves to be the dominant species anyway?

See on the artist's site: "And God was a Fly"

In the News: Wasp hounds to beat bed bugs

From ajc: Georgia scientists prove wasps best bed bugs

Toothpaste? Check.
Pajamas? Check
Wasps? Say what?
Two South Georgia scientists have invented the Wasp Hound, a carry-along bedbug detector that relies on stinger-less wasps to determine whether the malicious mites have infested a hotel’s beds, pillows or sheets. All they need is $500,000 to bring the Wasp Hound to market.

Read more

In the News: U.S. states braced for invasion of cicadas as they hatch after 13 years underground

From The Daily Mail: U.S. states braced for invasion of cicadas as they hatch after 13 years underground

Their haunting chirrup strikes fear into the heart of every gardener.  
For thirteen years this cicada hoard has lain dormant in its underground lair, awaiting the right time to strike. And it appears that that time has come.
Even at this very moment, billions of the winged insect are crawling from their exoskeleton cages, ready to suck the sap out of every plant, tree and bush that gets in their way....

Read More

Thursday 12 May 2011

Pretty Orthopteroid Pictures

More random orthopteroid/polyneoptera stuff at: Cabinet of Orthopteroid Curiosities.

Links to scientifically useful Orthopteroid Internet Resources.

Entomophagy: Ants

IBA, Colombia — Emerging from the soil this time of year is something Colombian farmers covet more than anything they can grow: big-butt ants.

Known in Spanish as "hormigas culonas," the brown, cockroach-size insects are roasted, salted and eaten like peanuts. Considered a delicacy, they can fetch more than 10 times the price per pound of Colombia’s world-famous coffee.

In northern Santander department, about the only place in Colombia where they flourish, the ants are sometimes used as pizza topping. One enthusiastic chef serves beef tenderloin and pork cutlets drizzled in ant sauce.

The notion of eating ants may trigger the gag reflex so first-timers are advised to instead focus on their earthy, nutty taste and day-old-popcorn texture.

“The more you eat, the more you want to eat,” said farmer Miguel Angel Paez, 25, who has been gathering ants since he was a boy. “The butt is the best part.”
Read more 

Parasite Song

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Fruit flies 'swim' through the air

From Fruit flies 'swim' through the air

"Physicists studying the flight of the fruit fly have concluded that the tiny creature's wing motions are much closer to the movement of swimming organisms than previously thought. This surprising result lends credence to the controversial suggestion put forward by some evolutionary biologists that flight could have evolved gradually from swimming as life left the oceans.

The wings of birds and insects are structurally quite similar to the fins and paddles of aquatic animals. However, flying and swimming seem to involve completely different physical processes. Flying organisms propel themselves using the lift forces generated as a wing slices through the air, while swimming organisms paddle forward using the viscous drag of water. As a result, some biologists have doubted that flight could have evolved from swimming."
Read more 

Taxonomy Fail

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Lego Leafcutters

Found at the Lego store in Bluewater shopping centre.

Thursday 24 March 2011

Invertebrates in Ancient Egypt


This site has some references for people who may be interested in finding out about insects in Ancient Egyptian culture: Invertebrates in Ancient Egypt.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Attenborough on Mantids

AES Exhibition 2011

This years AES Exhibiton will be on Saturday, 1st October. Put it in your diary now.

A couple of photographs from the 2009 exhibition here.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Some cockroach curios

As a bit of a side project I have created the Cabinet of Orthopteroid Curiosities. Partly because whenever I find polyneoptera paraphernalia I have a habit of not being able to find it again, partly because it's interesting in its own right.

It's pretty sparse at the moment, but I will ad to it over time. If you have anything you wish to add then feel free to e-mail me or sign up for an account.

A few interesting cockroach items:

More to come.....

Saturday 26 February 2011

USC Cockroach Webcam

The University of South Carolina cockroach webcam.

Cockroaches on the radio

Judith Marshall talks cockroaches on XFM with Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington.

Shame they got her name wrong.....

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Orthopteroid Internet Resources

I have made an Orthopteroid Internet Resources page on my website. This is based on a list I wrote a while ago that was published in the AES Bulletin and Metaleptea.

If there is anything missing then give me a shout - either leave a comment on the blog, on Facebook or use the contact form.

Monday 21 February 2011

Preserving Orthopteroids using Borax

I had an e-mail exchange with a few colleagues this morning about the use of Borax powder to preserve the green colour of some orthopteroid insects. This was (I think) first described in Rentz, 1985, and has been reported subsequently by various authors (including in Marshall & Haes).

The basic procedure is as follows:

  • Dissect the majority of the internal organs, being careful not to scrape the cuticle as the outer layers are transparent.
  • Dust the inside with Borax crystals and stuff with cotton wool to retain shape.
Judith Marshall offered some pointers to do with the dissection:
With slim phasmids the abdomen may have to be slit to remove gut etc., but with saltatorial orthopteroids and chunky phasmids the best appearance is maintained by slitting behnd the headcapsule and removing contents from there. 
As well as some changes to the method suggested by Rentz:
 I find the talc too fine and dusty so use only boracic acid crystals, which are easily brushed off after stuffing.
So there you go - hopefully of use to somebody.

There are also methods involving the use of 'embalming' fluids - which are pretty nasty cocktails of chemicals and probably best avoided.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Music Ant Anatomy

Thanks to Rolf for the link.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Not Devon.....

I was rather surprised to see that this insect (it's Acrophylla wuelfingi) was found in Torquay: Monster insect invades Torquay.

 It turns out however that there is another Torquay, in Australia. Which makes a bit more sense given that this species is known from Australia.....

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Man arrested on charges of purchasing 500 illegal exotic roaches online

Female Guyana Orange-spotted Cockroach - Blaptica dubia
The topic of sending non-US native species to the states (or across state borders) comes up regularly on a variety of mailing lists.

The laws against this are there for the protection of the native ecosystems and should be respected. I have had several arguments with people over the years about how stick insects are harmless and should be allowed free transit. In fact they can cause a huge amount of damage (I have been compiling a list of the damage they can do for publication in a future Phasmid Studies).

Don't do it!

Monday 10 January 2011

The "Terrible Hairy Fly"

In another link to another blog (hey, I might actually write something soon) Erica McAlister at the Curator of Diptera's Blog has some interesting news about a rather unusual fly that may cling to bats to disperse itself: The Terrible Hairy fly.

Red-eyed Devil

Over at Beetles in the Bush Ted MacRae has some great photographs of threat displays in the orthopteran Neobarrettia spinosa. Well worth going to take a look: Red-eyed Devil « Beetles In The Bush.