Author Archive

Insect Minute, where have you gone?

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

After a longer than expected hiatus, the Insect Minute will be returning after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. There will be a new addition to the posts as well, podcasts of the actual Insect Minute, as heard on NCSU’s radio station WKNC 88.1!

North Carolina Entomological Society’s annual photo contest

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Here is a guest post by NCSU’s own Colin Funaro in regards to this year’s North Carolina Entomological Society’s  annual photo contest. Read below how you can receive recognition for the awesome photos you already love taking!

I am happy to announce the North Carolina Entomological Society’s annual photo contest! Here are the details -

TO ENTER: Submit digital images (JPGs preferred) of living insects or related arthropods to cffunaro@ncsu.edu. All images must be received no later than Monday, October 19, 2012. Please include your name, a title, and category of competition for each image (category choices below). Each participant may submit a maximum of six images. Images will be displayed and judged on a screen using a LCD projector, so keep the image size and resolution appropriate (96 dpi, 2-3 MB). The contest is open both to members and non-members. Although emailed images are preferred, CD versions can be sent to:

Colin Funaro
Department of Entomology
Box 7613, North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7613, USA

JUDGING: All submissions will be reviewed by a team of judges and the top four images in each of the following five categories will be selected for final judging at the North Carolina Entomological Society Fall Banquet on October 25th, 2012 at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh.

Categories:

  1. Adult insect or related arthropod (excluding moths and butterflies)
  2. Adult Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies)
  3. Immature insect or related arthropod (caterpillars, nymphs, etc.)
  4. Unusual / Extreme / Close-up of Insect, Arthropod, or other Invertebrate (unusual or extreme invertebrates; interesting behavior; close-up photographs)
  5. Young photographer (any insect or related arthropod submitted by a
    contestant 12 years old or younger)

An image may be entered in only one category (indicated by contestant in the email submission). The criteria for judging images will be determined by the judging team.

The top four images in each category will be shown twice, category by category, at the Fall Banquet and attendees will cast votes the “Best Image” in each category and “Best in Show.”

RECOGNITION: If possible, all images submitted for the contest will be displayed in a presentation at the North Carolina Entomological Society Fall Banquet. Winners of “Best Image” in each category and “Best in Show” will receive an award certificate. Winning images will be displayed on the Society’s web page with proper credit to the photographer.

If you have questions regarding the contest or if you would like information regarding the Fall Banquet, contact Colin Funaro (cffunaro@ncsu.edu).

We hope to receive some great submissions this year! Good Luck!

Insect Minute – Ticks, what to know…

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Without fail, if you spend enough time outdoors you will encounter a tick, hopefully climbing on your clothes and not already, cleverly embedded in your skin. Despite the relatively frequent run-ins we have with them, how much do we actually know about these small animals?

This may be the “Insect Minute,” but a tick is no insect! Ticks are a part of the subclass Acari making them close relatives of mites and  distantly related to spiders. Ticks have four life stages, beginning as an egg that hatches into a six-legged larva. The six-legged larva immediately sets out to look for an appropriate host to find a blood meal. Ticks, both male and female, need blood to continue to the next stage of development. Once the larva has fed it will molt into an eight-legged nymph which, after feeding, will molt into a reproductive adult.

tick lifecycle

Tick Life Cycle from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Ticks find their hosts through detecting the breath, body odor or body heat of an animal or through questing. When a tick is questing for a host it will climb to the end of a leaf or tip of a blade of grass and hold on tightly with the last two sets of legs and stretch the fore legs out, holding this position until an animal comes by to climb on to.  Once the tick is “aboard” it will begin looking for a place of attachment, preferably a location with thinner skin. Location found, they cut the skin’s surface and insert the feeding tube. Ticks maintain attachment either by having a barbed feeding tube or secreting an adhesive like substance that sticks the tick in place.

The most common ticks found in NC are the American Dog tick, the brown dog tick, the Lone star tick and the black-legged or deer tick. The American dog tick and brown dog tick both carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The brown dog tick is entirely dark brown and the American dog tick is brown with white markings on the body and legs. The lonestar tick is named for the single white mark in the center of its otherwise brown body and carries the disease Ehrliciosis.  The black-legged or deer tick is easily recognized by its black legs and is a carrier of Lyme disease.

ticks at different life stages

from Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Ticks can be difficult to avoid, but there are methods of prevention that can be employed to protect you. If you are going into an area where you would expect to find ticks, like a wooded area or a grassy meadow, tuck your pants into your socks. It may look

‘dorky’, but it can prevent a tick from quietly latching on to your leg catching you completely unaware. If you want to increase the protection, as well as “style points”, wrap the area where your pants tuck into your socks with duct tape. New suitors may not come-a-callin’, but neither will the ticks. If you will be going camping, hunting or frequenting areas where ticks are present it is a good idea to spray your pants, socks and shoes with permethrin (allowing it to dry before donning the clothes), a chemical that has proven to be very effective in warding off ticks. WARNING*** Permethrin is toxic in its liquid form, so use gloves when applying it, do not get it on your skin or in your nose or mouth.

If you do find a tick on your person and it has latched on, it is important that you move it properly. Not only do ticks carry bacterial diseases they transfer to you through their bite but they also carry different types of staphylococcus bacteria that can cause an infection at the site of the bite. Once you locate the tick, do not bother with trying to suffocate it with oils or fingernail polish in attempt to make the tick release your skin, it should be removed immediately. Remove the tick by grasping it, with tweezers, as close to your skin as possible and then squeeze the tick tightly and pull upwards, being careful not to twist or jerk the tick. Once the tick is removed sterilize the area with rubbing alcohol or by washing the area with soap and water.

Now, what to do with the tick? DO NOT THROW IT AWAY! We recommend taping the tick to a calendar on the day in which you found it. If you begin to exhibiting a rash or flu-like symptoms, visit a doctor immediately and bring the tick with you. It may aid the doctor in properly diagnosing you more quickly.

Do you want to have a guide to ticks in your pocket? Check out this really cool app that was developed by a professor and his students here at North Carolina State University!

http://web.ncsu.edu/abstract/technology/tp-got-ticks/

http://itunes.apple.com/app/tickid/id531348104?mt=8

Transcript of Insect Minute 5 – Ticks

Hi this is Heather with your Insect Minute brought to you by WKNC and the NC State Insect Museum.
We have a special report on ticks this week! We go to Buzz Beesome in the field to find out more!

Buzz…

Buzz: We have here Miss Henrietta Hemophile. Now madam, you are a tick are you not? So, you’re not a true insect is that right?  You’re a member of Acari?

Tick: Yes, that’s right, our closest relatives are mites (mites)

Buzz: and you’re getting ready to add to the family I see.

Tick: I am indeed! Soon I will lay my eggs in the grasses around my habitat

Buzz: and you just ….. leave them in the grass?

Tick: They’ll be fine! Soon adorable little six-legged larvae will hatch and immediately begin searching out an appropriate host for a blood meal.

Buzz: uh….Blood meal?

Tick: Yes, ticks, male and female, need blood to continue development.  (like milk for mammals) Once the larva feeds it molts into an 8-legged nymph which, after feeding develops into an adult.

Buzz: And how do you FIND this……blood?

Tick: In two ways, either through detecting the breath, body odor or body heat of the animal or through questing.

Buzz: Questing?

Tick: We climb to the top of grasses or leaves
and
hold on, with our front legs
outstretched until an animal comes along to climb on to. It can take a while to
find the right host. It takes some of us up to 3 years to complete development.
In fact, a lot of us don’t make it.

Buzz: I am saddened, really,  but that IS hard to believe with all the ticks I’ve carefully removed using tweezers and sterilized with alcohol! Back to you in the studio, Heather

Thanks Buzz!

If you would like to find out more about ticks, how to identify them and the diseases they carry visit the museum’s website at insectmuseum.org where you also find information about our museum and read our blog where we talk about interesting stuff going on in the world of entomology.

Insect Minute – Cicadas

Friday, July 27th, 2012

If there is an insect that represents the feeling of summer, I would argue it is the Cicada. At an afternoon baseball game or cook out, a chorus of male cicadas are there providing a soundtrack, doing their most animated singing at the warmest point of the day. This association between summer and cicadas is not unique to North Carolina or North America for that matter. Cicadas are found on every continent, with the exception of Antarctica.  In fact, there are 2,600 described species in the world ranging from very large (110 mm) to relatively small (14 mm), most of which are members of the family Cicadidae. The other family of cicadas, Tettigarctidae, is a very small and relictual group that is represented by two species present only in Australia. These Australian cicadas are known as the hairy cicadas and communicate by transmitting vibrations through vegetation instead of singing like the Cicadas we are familiar with.

The members of the family Cicadidae sing using organs called tymbals which are located on the abdomen of the males. The tymbal is like a drum. A complex membrane with taenidia-like striations running parallel along the surface and as the membrane vibrates and the enlarged chambers within the trachael system in the insects body act as a resonating chamber.

Image from Cicada Mania

Image from what-when-how

The males use the tymbals to attract females and have distinctive calls to ensure that they attract the females in their species. Males and females have tympana on the underside of their abdomen which the females use to hear and orient toward potential mates, while the males use the tympana to identify competeing males.

Image from Cicada Mania

The life cycle of cicadas is pretty neat, a female cicada will lay eggs into the twigs of a woody host plant using a lance-like ovipositor. When the nymph hatches it drops to the ground and, using it’s fossorial legs, burrows into the soil where it spends the majority of its life feeding on juices it sucks from tree roots. The cicadas we are that we hear every summer are known as the dog-day or annual cicada. The latter name is actually a misnomer. Many believe that the dog-day cicada has a one year life cycle when in fact they live under ground for up to 8 years before they emerge. Because they emergence patterns are asynchronous they do not make as big of an impression. When it is time for cicadas to come above ground the nymph will dig to the surface, climb part way up the tree and molt into its adult form.

The periodical cicada get the most attention because of the grand synchronized emergence that occur every 13 to 17 years. These cicadas are in the genus Magicicada, which looks a lot like magic cicada. That is not too far off when you consider that no one knows exactly how they time their appearance. What is it that signals all the members of a brood to emerge at the same time? Some researches have hypothesized that it is a temperature shift, others believe it could be that the cicadas are tracking the seasonal changes in their host plant until they reach 13 or 17 cycles. It could be a combination of both or something else entirely but because they are so long lived it is hard to pinpoint the reason.  Regardless of how they do it, it makes an impact on anyone who is lucky enough to experience it.

photo by billy liar

If you would like to learn more about cicadas there are plenty of websites dedicated to them. They are such enigmatic little creatures it is no surprise!

  1. DrMetcalf database http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/specialcollections/digital/metcalf/cicadas.html
  2. Cicada Mania http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/
  3. Track brood emergence of Magicicadas at http://www.magicicada.org/magicicada_i.php

Transcript of Insect Minute 4 – Cicadas

Hi this is Heather with your Insect Minute brought to you by WKNC and the NC State Insect Museum.
Do you love the sound of cicadas singing on a warm summer night? Typically the serenaders you hear are Dog Day Cicadas, which have broods that emerge every year. But, if you were in Wake County in the summer of 2011 you may have heard a different sound. The sound of hundreds of thousands of periodical cicadas singing in unison! These infrequent visitors are in the genus MAGICICADA. Magicicadas have an amazing life history. They live underground as nymphs for 13-17 years feeding on the juices they suck from tree roots. Then, in a synchronized emergence they take to the trees where they molt into their adult forms, feed and mate. Magicicadas have black bodies, orange wing veins and striking red eyes. The dog day cicada has green wing veins and lack red eyes, making the red eyes a key distinguishing character.
Guess what is coming in 2013? You got it; North Carolina will see another grand emergence of magicicadas. So keep your eyes to the trees and your earplugs at the ready!
If you’d like to learn more about the cicadas visit the museum’s website at insectmuseum.org where you find out more about the museum and read our blog where we talk about interesting stuff going on in the world of entomology.

Insect Minute – What is the biggest insect?

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

When you are in a specialized career, like entomology for example, you are bound to get many questions. Some of the common questions we get are “What is the most dangerous insect?” “Which has the worst sting?” or “Who would win in a fight between place two large insects that would never cross paths here?” We’ll save these questions for future Insect Minutes. The question that we seek to answer this week is, “What is the biggest insect?”

Aggggghhhh!! That is one big insect!!

To answer this question we need clarification, how do you quantify “biggest”? Insects are very diverse and they come in many shapes which means that the longest is not the heaviest.  So to answer the question of what is the “biggest” completely there are two answers.

The longest insect is the Chan’s Mega Stick from Borneo. Phobaeticus chani is a member of the stick-insect order Phasmatodea. Our native species, Diapheromera femorata, is 3 to 4 inches long. Phobaeticus chani is 14 inches long, if you include the legs the length extends to 22 inches!! Despite its large size very few people have seen one, in fact if you searched all the insect collections in the world you would only find that 3 have been collected. All stick insects are masters of camouflage living up to the order’s prefix which comes from the Greek, phasm, meaning phantom. It may be that the Chan’s megastick is even more elusive because they typically reside in canopy of the rainforest.

Phobaeticus chani, or 'Chan's megastick,' mounted and displayed.

Image from FoxNews.com

The aptly named Goliath beetle is arguably the heaviest insect, based on the bulk of the five beetles included in this genus. The Goliath beetle, Goliathus regius, found in western equatorial Africa is the largest of the group weighing in at 3.5oz! This beetle is about the size of a small apple or bar of soap. Not big by vertebrate standards, but huuuge for an insect.

image by opacity (Anne Petersen)

People find the look and docile behavior of these beetles very attractive and keep them as pets. The grubs, or larvae, of the Goliath beetle require a lot of protein while they develop but once the beetle reaches adulthood it relies on high-sugar foods like sap and fruit making them quite easy to care for. The Goliath beetle is also often used in insect fights; a spectator sport that capitalizes on the male beetle’s natural tendency to fight other males when a reproductive female is present.

So, as you can see, these insects couldn’t be more different from one another and yet they are both contenders for the title: The WOOOORLDSSS Biggest Insect!

Transcript of Insect Minute 3 – The Biggest Insect

Hi this is Heather with your Insect Minute brought to you by WKNC and the NC State Insect Museum.
“What is the biggest insect?”  Well that depends, is the longest or the heaviest
The longest insect is the Chan’s mega stick found in Borneo.  The walking stick can be over 1 foot in length! Can you imagine finding an insect the same size as your foot-long sub? Chances are slim any of us will see one, even if we do make it to Borneo because they are well camouflaged, looking just like the limbs of the trees they reside in.
The heaviest insect is only 4 to 5 inches long but what he lacks in length he sure makes up for in mass.  The aptly named Goliath beetle weighs 3.5 oz which makes this beetle about the same size and weight as a bar of soap. Imagine trying to lather up with this guy, the last thing you’ll be is squeaky clean.
If you would like to see pictures of these insects and find out more about them please visit the museum’s website at insectmuseum.org where you also find out information about the museum and read our blog where we talk about interesting stuff going on in the world of entomology.

Insect Minute – The Arctic Woolly Bear Moth

Friday, July 13th, 2012

As a kid in North Carolina, many of us grew up with the notion that banded woolly bear caterpillars could be used to predict the severity and length of the coming winter. If the band around the center of the caterpillar’s body was wide, we knew we were in for a winter full of snow days and sledding! I am sorry to report that this is, indeed, a wives’ tale. There can be a lot of color variation within one clutch of banded woolly bear caterpillar eggs and the band width typically grows with age. Disappointed? Me too.

Banded woolly bear - Photo by graftendno1

Never the less, there is a woolly bear caterpillar that does have a very interesting relationship with winter. It is called the Arctic woolly bear caterpillar. Although their names are similar and they superficially look alike, these two are very different. The banded woolly bear caterpillar is in the family Arctiidae and is common in all of North America. The arctic woolly bear is member of the family, Lymantriidae, and is found in the Arctic Circle.  This is where is gets really interesting, folks.

The banded woolly bear has two broods in the summer, the first of which pupates and emerges in the same year, the second will pupate over winter and emerge the following spring. The life cycle is very different in the Arctic. Due to the brief growing season, the caterpillar has to feed for several summers to achieve the critical body mass it needs to pupate. As the arctic woolly bear awaits the coming summers it overwinters as a caterpillar, hiding in a hibernacula, allowing the body to freeze, relying on cryoprotectants, such as antifreeze compounds, to minimize permanent tissue damage caused by temperatures nearing -60°C. When the summer returns the caterpillar thaws, reanimates and returns to feeding. This cycle can repeat up to 14 times, meaning 14 years (!) of freezing and thawing and eating, before it pupates and becomes an adult. However a 1998 study by Morewood and Dean showed that it is more common for the cycle to continue for 7 years before pupation. Still, quite impressive!

Arctic Woolly Bear from Discovery documentary, Frozen Planet

Transcript of Insect Minute 2 – Arctic Woolly Bear:

Hi this is Heather with your Insect Minute brought to you by WKNC and the NC State Insect Museum.
The Arctic circle is an unlikely place to find an insect, right? WROOONG! Insects are everywhere and have adapted cool strategies for contending with harsh conditions. The Arctic Woolly Bear Moth is native to this extreme environment. Upon emerging from its egg, the caterpillar begins to eat voraciously. As summer comes to an end it finds a rock to hunker down on and as the arctic freezes over, so does the caterpillar. When the thaw returns the following June, the caterpillar reanimates and returns to its frantic feeding schedule. The cycle is repeated 7 times, which means this moth lives as a caterpillar for 7 years, freezing and defrosting every year. It survives by producing a kind of antifreeze in its blood which protects vital areas from freezing. In the final year the caterpillar develops into an adult, mates, lays eggs and the cycle for the next generation begins.
If you’d like to learn more about the arctic woolly bear visit the museum’s website at insectmuseum.org where you also find out information about the museum and read our blog where we talk about interesting stuff going on in the world of entomology.

Want to read more?

  1. Morewood, W. Dean & Richard A. Ring (1998). “Revision of the life history of the High Arctic moth Gynaephora groenlandica (Wocke) (Lepidoptera: Lymantriidae)“. Can. J. Zool. 76 (7): 1371–1381. DOI:10.1139/cjz-76-7-1371
  2. ARCTIC WOOLLY BEAR WEBSITE (!!!) – http://www.arcticcaterpillars.org/Site/Arctic_Woolly_Bear/Arctic_Woolly_Bear.html
  3. Bennett, V.A., Lee, R. E., Jr., Nauman, J.S. and Kukal, O. (2003) Selection of overwintering microhabitats used by the arctic woollybear caterpillar, Gynaephora groenlandica. CryoLetters 24(3): 191-200.