Taginsects

These tiny scorpions would like to perform an important inspection of your old book collection, please

Book scorpion

Scientific American reports on the horrifying ecosystem of old books:

Book scorpions are the best/worst thing to happen to books, because book scorpions! But also book scorpions…

Properly known as pseudoscorpions, these tiny, tiny creatures have a fondness for old books, because old books also happen to contain delicious booklice and dust mites. And they’re really not book scorpions… at all because they can’t hurt us, and they’ve basically been performing a free pest control service since humans started stacking excessive numbers of dusty, bound-together piles of paper along our walls and nightstands. This arrangement works because old book-makers used to bind books using a starch-based glue that booklice and dust mites love, so without a healthy population of book scorpions patrolling your collection, those gross parasites are probably having a horrible, silent field-day chewing them all apart.

Full Story: These tiny scorpions would like to perform an important inspection of your old book collection, please

(via Matt Staggs)

An Open Source Kit for Growing Edible Insects

silkworm-burgers-660x495

My latest for Wired:

The world’s population is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, according to a World Resources Institute report published last year, and that means we’ll need to increase food production about 60 percent in the coming decades — a task made all the more difficult by expected shortages in water, fuel, fertilizer, and arable land. One solution could be entomophagy. Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggested that insects could be an increasingly important and sustainable food source in the future, and Imrie-Situnayake agrees. Insects are high in protein. They require little space to raise. And they don’t produce much methane or other greenhouse gases.

Two million people around the world already eat insects on a regular basis, and many consider them a delicacy. But here in the West, the situation is very different. Entomophagy is largely taboo, and our culture just isn’t geared towards finding and raising insects for food. That’s why Imrie-Situnayake and Tiny Farms have created what they call Open Bug Farm — a high-tech kit for raising your own edible insects. They’re trying to hack the Western agriculture world, and in true hacker fashion, they plan on open sourcing the kit’s basic design, so that anyone can build their own for free.

Full Story: Wired: Out in the Open: Raise Your Own Edible Insects With This Free Kit

Reign of the Crazy Ants

crazy-ants

It sounds like something out of a horror movie, but it’s real:

Outside, dead ants began pooling around the base of the house in heaps so high that they looked like discarded coffee grounds. (It’s common in Texas these days for a person who is shown one of these heaps of dead ants to take several seconds to realize that the solid surface he or she is scanning for ants actually is the ants.) Mike laid out poison, generating more heaps of dead ants. But new ants merely used those dead ants as a bridge over the poison and kept streaming inside.

“They literally come in waves of just millions,” Mike told me. (One Texas A&M entomologist confessed, “You figure these stories are laced with hyperbole, but when you get in there, it’s unreal.”) People don’t want to visit the Foshees anymore, and if they do, they leave quickly, before the ants can stow away in their cars and accompany them home. This summer, Mike had to cancel Therapy Through the Outdoors. Recently, he and his wife were sitting outside, watching a pair of bald eagles settle into a pecan tree for the evening, when Mike looked down and saw one of his bare feet overtaken by ants. He remembers thinking, No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, running inside and running back out with his AR-15, the assault rifle he uses to take out hogs. He was about to open fire on the ants until his wife chuckled and he realized how ridiculous the situation had become.

“The distressing part,” he told me, “is having the feeling of something always crawling on you. Like, if you get around somebody who has lice, and now you’re always itching because you know they have lice.”

“So it’s psychological,” I said.

“It’s psychological,” he said. “And yet, you actually do have them on you.”

He tried leaving different foods on his floor overnight, to figure out how he might bait and kill the ants, as he did with the feral hogs. He tried doughnuts, crushed-up Cheerios, bread crumbs — “anything a normal ant would be attracted to,” he told me. He claims they touched none of it.

He can’t fathom what the ants want — why they’ve come. They are frightening because they make no sense, because of the utter disarray of their existence. “They run around the floors like they’re on crack, and then they die,” he said. “They’re freakin’ crazy, man.”

Full Story: New York Times: There’s a Reason They Call Them ‘Crazy Ants’

(via Tim Maly)

Scientists Plan To Upload Bee Consciousness To Robots

A bee

George Dvorsky writes:

A new project has been announced in which scientists at the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex are hoping to create the first accurate computer simulation of a honey bee brain — and then upload it into an autonomous flying robot.

This is obviously a huge win for science — but it could also save the world. The researchers hope a robotic insect could supplement or replace the shrinking population of honey bees that pollinate essential plant life.

io9: New project aims to upload a honey bee’s brain into a flying insectobot by 2015

Previously: Can You Imagine a Future Where London Police Bees Conduct Genetic Surveillance?

Photo by Steve Jurvetson / CC

U.S. Army Funding Research To Control Living Insects To Use As Drones

grasshopper

Haaretz reports:

In a Technion aeronautics laboratory, a pair of scientists are conducting experiments funded by the U.S. Army that would allow them to control the flight of insects from afar, as if they were mechanical flight vehicles. […]

Research in this field has developed considerably over the past decade thanks to advances in electronic equipment. The Technion lab is one of some five laboratories around the world conducting similar research. The University of Michigan team has been particularly successful, having managed to control the flight of insects from afar, for allotted periods of time. In the Haifa laboratory, researchers have gained control of the flight of insects that are connected to a simulator. They can give a series of commands that control the flight movements of insects for a few minutes. […]

Do the insects suffer? “I don’t know, and I don’t know whether anyone knows for sure,” says Ribak. “But the experiments which we conduct are extremely non-invasive. In comparison to experiments conducted on animals, this is child’s play,” he says. “The Helsinki agreements for experimentation on animals do not apply to insects. Insects are not regarded as important,” says Weihs. “After the electrodes are implanted, we don’t think there can be any pain, since the electric signal is a natural sign produced by the insect itself. We just tell the insect when it should make a movement, using these signals.”

Haaretz: In an Israeli lab, the world’s smallest drone

(Thanks Jim)

Some Bees Are “Thrill Seekers” – Does That Mean Insects Have Personalities?

From Wired UK:

The researchers found that thrill-seeking is not limited to humans and other vertebrates. The brains of honeybees that were more likely than others to seek adventure exhibited distinct patterns of gene activity in molecular pathways known to be associated with thrill-seeking in humans.

The findings present a new perspective on honeybee communities, which were thought to be highly-regimented and comprised of a colony of interchangeable workers taking on a few specific roles to serve their queen. […]

Robinson and his team studies two behaviors that looked like novelty seeking: scouting for new nest sites and scouting for food. When a colony outgrows its living quarters, the swarm must hunt for a new home. Around five percent of the swarm goes hunting for new lodgings. These “nest scouts” are around 3.4 times more likely than their peers to also become food scouts, researchers discovered.

“There is a gold standard for personality research and that is if you show the same tendency in different contexts, then that can be called a personality trait,” Robinson said.

Wired Science: Honeybees May Have Personality

(via James Governor)

Photo by Gilles San Martin

Cicadas Wake-Up from 13 Year Slumber, Prepare to Swarm

Cicada

After a 13-year nap, cicadas are waking up in the South, and with them comes an ear-splitting mating call that will soon fill the air across the southern U.S.

The 13-year cicadas of what is known as Brood XIX (the 19th brood) have been living underground since 1998. That was the last time they held their famous two-month, above-ground mating frenzy.

Brood XIX, also known as the Great Southern Brood, is the country’s largest group of 13-year cicadas, stretching across 12 states, including Missouri, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Illinois. Already rising in some parts of Georgia, they should all be hatched by mid-May.

Mother Earth News: 13-year cicadas wake up, prepare to swarm

I’ve been using cicadas sounds in my live performances. Here’s my favorite site for cicada recordings.

Oriental Hornets Can Generate Electricity from Sunlight

Solar powered oriental wasp

The oriental hornet has built-in “solar cells” that generate electricity from sunlight—a first in the animal kingdom, according to a new study.

Scientists already knew that the hornet species, for unknown reasons, produced electricity inside its exoskeleton, according to study leader Marian Plotkin of Tel-Aviv University.

Plotkin’s late mentor Jacob Ishay made the discovery after observing that the insect is active when the sun is most intense—unusual for hornets.

Plotkin and colleagues recently went a step further by examining the structure of the hornet’s exoskeleton to find out how the electricity is produced.

Their research revealed that pigments in the hornet’s yellow tissues trap light, while its brown tissues generate electricity. Exactly how the hornets use this electricity is still not entirely understood, Plotkin noted.

National Geographic: Solar-Powered Hornet Found; Turns Light Into Electricity

Bees Can Solve the “‘Travelling Salesman Problem”

bees-complex-math

What’s interesting is that this doesn’t seem to be a result of “swarm intelligence” – individual bees can somehow make these calculations:

Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and Royal Holloway, University of London have discovered that bees learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they discover the flowers in a different order. Bees are effectively solving the ‘Travelling Salesman Problem’, and these are the first animals found to do this.

The Travelling Salesman must find the shortest route that allows him to visit all locations on his route. Computers solve it by comparing the length of all possible routes and choosing the shortest. However, bees solve it without computer assistance using a brain the size of grass seed. […]

Co-author and Queen Mary colleague, Dr. Mathieu Lihoreau adds: “There is a common perception that smaller brains constrain animals to be simple reflex machines. But our work with bees shows advanced cognitive capacities with very limited neuron numbers. There is an urgent need to understand the neuronal hardware underpinning animal intelligence, and relatively simple nervous systems such as those of insects make this mystery more tractable.”

PhysOrg: – Bumblebees can find the solution to a complex mathematical problem which keeps computers busy for days

(via Fadereu)

Latest Foodie Craze: Insects and Worms

sanos de maguey

My wife’s said that insects are the food of the future. But some are embracing that future voluntarily already. San Francisco-based “chef and artist” Phil Ross is bringing insects and worms to fine diners in San Francisco and New York, with unexpected results.

You really want to go green? Try this. “I have my month’s meat growing in my office,” Mr. Ross said. “It’s taking up almost no space, it’s organically raised, it’s as fresh as I want it to be and the waste from it is garden compost.”

Mr. Ross first brought a group of San Franciscans together to chow down on cooked insects a year ago, and he was surprised when the guests started buzzing around him for raw samples. “I was like, ‘O.K., go for it,’ ” he said. “And then that just led to this very weird erotism moment when people were practically hugging each other while eating these live insects.” The spirit of the moment overflowed, leading, in a few cases, to groping and kissing in a corner.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said.

New York Times: Waiter, There’s Soup in My Bug

(via David Forbes)

Be sure to check out the slideshow.

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