If you've ever watched spiders trap their prey in their sticky webs, you've probably wondered: "Why don't spiders stick to their own webs?"
We've watched countless spiders trap honey bees, syrphid flies and other hapless critters in their webs. The spiders scamper up and down the webs as their victims furiously try to escape.
Now researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, and the University of Costa Rica have discovered why spiders don't stick to their webs.
The spiders' legs are "protected by a covering of branching hairs and by a non-stick chemical coating," the scientists announced in the journal Naturwissenschaften (The Science of Nature) and on EurekAlert.
Wrote Beth King of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute: "They also observed that spiders carefully move their legs in ways that minimize adhesive forces as they push against their sticky silk lines hundreds to thousands of times during the construction of each orb."
Furthermore, the scientists recorded the webweaving behavior on video. The camera showed that "Individual droplets of sticky glue slide along the leg's bristly hair."
So now one of the most common questions (next to "Why is the sky blue?" and "Why is the grass green") has been answered.
Check out the videos on the EurekAlert website.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology's newly published newsletter, written by Lynn Kimsey, director of the museum and a professor of entomology at UC Davis, reveals the answers. She gleaned much of the information from the University of Florida's Book of Insect Records.
So, what is the heaviest insect? "We used to think that several large beetles, including the Goliath beetle and the titan long-horned beetle were the heaviest," Kimsey said. "But now the giant weta, Deinacrida heteracantha White of New Zealand is unquestionably the winner."
It weighs 2.5 ounces, or "more than a mouse," Kimsey said. "OK, so it's not even one pound, but that's still really heavy for an insect."
Indeed it is.
The longest? A walking stick, Pharnacia kirbyl, found in Malaysia and measuring 22 inches from front leg tip to hind leg tip.
The fastest runner? That would be the Australian tiger beetle, Cicindela eburneola, recorded running at 5.5 miles per hour.
The fastest flying insect? The male horsefly, Hybomitra hinei Johnson, which reached 89 miles per hour chasing an air rifle pellet.
The loudest? The North American cicada, Tibicen walkeri Metcalf, which can reach 108 decimels--"about as loud as a rock concert or power saw," Kimsey says.
The greatest wingspan? The Central American moth, Thysania agrippina Cramer (Noctuidae), also known as the white witch. Its wingspan measures up to 11 inches long.
The smallest adult? The mymarid fairy wasp, Dicopomorpha echmeptrygis Mockford. The males are 139 microns or 0.005 inches.
And if you think rabbits are highly productive, think again. Aphids win for the shortest generation time. "Female aphids are essentially born pregnant," Kimsey says. "Cotton aphids and corn aphids can complete a generation in five days at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that one female and all her offspring could produce more than 1 trillion offspring in a season. That is as many aphids as there are stars in five average-sized galaxies."
We need more ladybugs and soldier beetles!
(P.S. If you have an insect question, want an identification or want to become a member of the Bohart Museum Society, contact the Bohart Museum at email@example.com)
The story was not about a red light district or "Ladies of the Night" or even linked to humans.
It was about honey bee queens. "Ladies of the Day," if you will.
The story that raised a few eyebrows involved research titled "Characterization of the Active Microbiotas Associated with Honey Bees Reveals Healthier and Broader Communities when Colonies are Genetically Diverse," published March 12 in the PLOs One Journal.
A team headed by researchers at Wellesley (Mass.) College found that "Colonies with genetically diverse populations of workers, a result of the highly promiscuous mating behavior of queens, benefited from greater microbial diversity, reduced pathogen loads, and increased abundance of putatively helpful bacteria, particularly species from the potentially probiotic genus Bifidobacterium."
Scientists and beekeepers know that a virgin queen, on her maiden flight, will mate with 12 to 25 or more drones gathered in the drone congregration area. It's not immoral; it's just what happens.
The drones mate and then they die. All of them. Or as Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology tells bee associations: "They die happy, with a smile on their face."
The queen returns to her hive and begins laying eggs, up to 2000 a day in peak season. She'll have enough sperm for the rest of her life, which is usually around two to three years.
This scientific research in the PLoS One Journal is important in that it has led to increased interest in microbial communities and hope for the declining bee population.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of UC Davis and Washington State University has advocated genetic bee diversity for years.
"The primary perceived problem for beekeepers is a diminished quality of queens, and recent survey results from beekeeping operations in the U.S confirm this view," she and her colleagues write in a chapter of the newly published Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions.
Beekeepers have long complained of "poor queens."
Cobey and co-chapter authors Walter "Steve" Sheppard of WSU and Dave Tarpy of North Carolina State University write: "The poor queens category encompasses many different problems but most of these reports document premature supersedure (queen replacement), inconsistent brood patterns, early drone laying (indicative of sperm depletion), and failed requeening as indicative of low queen quality."
So the next time you see a headline screaming "immoral" honey bee queens, it was probably written by someone who has no clue about honey bee reproduction.
Or someone trying to be funny...
Some 200 freshmen at the University of California, Davis will present their research posters on career explorations from 3:10 to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13 in Freeborn Hall.
The students will stand by their posters and answer questions from interested persons. At the end of the event, the audience will vote for the best poster, along with the second- and third-place winners.
“The students enjoy presenting their posters to interested viewers,” said entomologist Diane Ullman, associate dean for undergraduate academic programs in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES) and professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Ullman, known for innovative teaching strategies, has played a fundamental role in developing CDG. In addition to her many other roles, she advises graduate students in both entomology and plant pathology.
Ulllman said the CDG students will present their research on a variety of topics, including animal/wildlife, food science/nutrition, biotechnology, and ecology/environment. The posters are part of the Career Discovery Seminar course led by the Internship and Career Center and Career Discovery fellows (graduate student mentors in the CDG Program).
David Rizzo, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, directs the Science and Society Program.
The CDG program is geared for:
--Undeclared/exploratory students who want to explore an array of career pathways and gain decision-making skills.
--Students with a declared major in CA&ES who want a head start on career development skills in their area of interest.
In the past, students have expressed a wide range of interests from becoming a forensic entomologist to becoming a super model (textiles and clothing program), Ullman said.
What better way to explore those careers with a poster and tell others what they've learned?
Speaking of careers, we remember when UC Davis student Heather Wilson entered her original video, "I Wanna Be an Entomologist," in the 2011 Entomological Society of America's You Tube Contest. Wilson, a UC Regents scholar and a technician/researcher in Frank Zalom's integrated pest management lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, meant it to be a parody of Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars' (I Wanna Be a) "Billionaire" video.
It didn't win, but it drew lots of attention! And so will the posters displayed tomorrow in Freeborn Hall.
Cobey is the lead author of a chapter in the newly published Honey Bee Colony Health: Challenges and Sustainable Solutions, a 21-chapter book edited by research entomologist Diana Sammataro of the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, Tucson, Ariz., and professor Jay Yoder of Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio.
Just as stock improvement has served the poultry, dairy and swine industries well, the beekeeping industry needs access “to stocks of origin or standardized evaluation and stock improvement programs,” said Cobey, who has a dual appointment at the University of California, Davis and Washington State University (WSU).
“The many problems that currently face the U.S. honey bee population have underscored the need for sufficient genetic diversity at the colony, breeding, and population levels,” wrote Cobey and colleagues Walter “Steve” Sheppard, professor and chair, WSU Department of Entomology, and David Tarpy, associate professor and Extension apiculturist North Carolina State University.
“Genetic diversity has been reduced by three distinct bottleneck events, namely the limited historical importation of a small subset sampling of a few honey bee subspecies, the selection pressure of parasites and pathogens (particularly parasitic mites) and the consolidated commercial queen-production practices that use a small number of queen mothers in the breeding population,” Cobey pointed out.
The honey bee, Apis mellifera, originated in the Old World where it diverged into more than two dozen recognized subspecies, they related. However, only nine of the more than two dozen Old World subspecies ever made it to the United States and only two of these are recognizable today.
What with colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the declining bee population, there's definitely a crying need for genetic diversity in honey bees. Read more about what Susan Cobey has to say, and what this important book is all about, on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.