The Insect Awards: Wired’s Entomological Hall of Fame
1. Highest Jumper The insect world championship title for high jump belongs to the 0.2-inch long froghopper, a common agricultural pest. Some species can jump as high as 28 inches. Image: Kaldari / Wikimedia Commons.
2. Bloodiest The Dracula Prize goes to Glossina palpalis tsetse flies, which were also in the running for the Fewest Kids in a Lifetime Prize.
These bloodsuckers live in African forests and are a tremendous public health concern. They are difficult to manage and are the primary carriers of human African sleeping sickness, a central nervous system infection, prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa.
They feed feed on mammals, reptiles and birds. They don’t bother to identify their hosts by smell, as other insects do. When they see a potential victim, they go right in for the blood draw.
The Hyalomma asiaticium tick won the Blood Glutton Prize. It can suck up three-tenths of an ounce of blood, the equivalent of about a third of a small shot of tequila.
Image: Tsetse have a distinct proboscis, a long thin structure attached to the bottom of the head and pointing forward. They use these to feed. Wikimedia Commons.
3. Loudest The African cicada wins the the William Hung Prize for loudest, and consequently most annoying bugger. Entomologist John Petti, who selected the champion, limited the contenders to insects humans could hear.
Male African cicadas produce alarm calls and calling songs with an intensity of about 110 decibels from 20 inches away. By comparison, a jet flying at about 1,000 feet buzzes at just over 100 decibels and live rock music at about 110 decibels.
Males use their tymbal muscles to sing. When they contract and expand these chitinous structures, the muscles click, and the sound amplifies as it travels through the body. Males usually sing together, producing a very loud, often deafening, chorus. Bigger males tend to have louder calls, giving them a competitive advantage with the ladies and in fending off predators (by annoying them).
Image: Annual cicada, Bruce Marlin / Wikimedia Commons.
4. Least and Most (re)Productive The race was tight among insects vying for the Fewest Kids in a Lifetime prize.
The top honors went to louse flies, which have about five larvae. Each develops inside the uterus until it’s almost ready to pupate, the stage where insects go through metamorphosis. Females produce only one egg at a time because their investment in each baby tsetse is so great.
See all the winners here
Timing is everything
1. Cowboy Frog
2. Glittery Water Beetle
3. Turnip-Tailed Gecko
5. Armored Catfish
6. “Spectacular” Conehead Katydid
7. Predatory Catfish
8. Pac-Man Frog
Lost Rainbow Toad Found After 87 Years
Herpetologists at Conservation International have rediscovered the exotic Sambas stream toad (aka Borneo rainbow toad, aka Ansonia latidisca) after 87 years of evasion, and released the first ever photographs of the brightly colored amphibian.
The spindly-legged species was last seen in 1924 and European explorers in Borneo only made monochrome illustrations of it. A decade or so later, the CI and the SSC Amphibian Specialist Group added the species to its World’s Top 10 Most Wanted Lost Frogs campaign.
97 percent human
They say that little separates us from the apes and these humorously human portraits by British wildlife photographers Anup Shah and Fiona Rogers show just how close we really are. The collection of photos of apes and monkeys in the wild shows that it’s not just use humans who like to monkey around.
Image 1: Bonobo male baby ‘Bomango’ aged 10 months, puts his fists up at the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary, Democratic Republic of Congo
Image 2: A three-month-old female bonobo plays with her mother at Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary, Democratic Republic of Congo
Photo Credits: Anup Shah and Fiona Rogers
Spiders Hunt With 3-D Vision
With their keen vision and deadly-accurate pounce, jumping spiders are the cats of the invertebrate world. For decades, scientists have puzzled over how the spiders’ miniature nervous systems manage such sophisticated perception and hunting behavior. A new study of Adanson’s jumping spider (Hasarius adansoni) fills in one key ingredient: an unusual form of depth perception.
Like all jumping spiders, the Adanson’s spider has eight eyes. The two big ones, front and center on the spider’s “face,” have the sharpest vision. They include a lens that projects an image onto the retina—the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. That much is common in animal vision, but the jumping spider’s retina takes things a step further: It consists of not one but four distinct layers of light-sensitive cells. Biologists weren’t sure what all those layers were for, and research in the 1980s made them even more enigmatic. Studies showed that whenever an object is focused on the base layer, it is out of focus on the next layer up—which would seem to make the spider’s vision blurrier rather than sharper.
This story provided by ScienceNOW, the daily online news service of the journal Science.
Image: Thomas Shahan/Flickr
Riusuke Fukahori Paints Three-Dimensional Goldfish Embedded in Layers of Resin
(Source: National Geographic)
The snake whose bite can send you back through puberty
We’ve gotten used to animals having strange powers — like using sound to create ‘vision,’ seeing more colors than we do, and sensing polarized light or the magnetic field of the earth. But did you know that some animals have ‘powers’ over human physiology? The Russell’s Pit Viper can use its venom to send you back through puberty.
The Russell’s Pit Viper spends its days crawling through Southeast Asia, eating small rodents, and giving people yet another reason to fear snakes. Not because they kill thousands of people every year. That’s unpleasant, but we already knew that about most snake bites. No, this is a snake that screws with you even if you survive the bite. The mechanism of its particular brand of lasting torment lies in the effects of the bite itself. Often the bite takes out the ability of the blood to clot or coagulate anywhere. This destroys the kidneys, with kidney failure often claiming the lives of people who survive the initial bite, and hemorrhaging throughout the body. ‘Throughout the body’ includes the pituitary gland.
Although the pituitary gland is the star in puberty, it continues to play a supporting role throughout a person’s life. Damage or sufficient amount of blood loss can cause the gland to cease production of necessary hormones. The extent of damage of any snakebite depends on several factors, including how fast an antivenin is applied, but Russell’s Viper victims often have significant damage to the gland. In a study published in The Lancet, about twenty-nine percent of patients who recovered from Russell’s Viper venom had signs of hypopituitarism or Sheehan’s Syndrome. Both conditions have unremarkable symptoms, like a constant feeling of cold and an unusual amount of fatigue. What distinguishes them is a sort of reverse-puberty in adults. They lose their sex drive. They lose fertility. They lose their body hair, especially pubic hair. Men lose facial hair and muscles. Women lose curves as the condition causes them to lose weight. Some doctors even report loss of mental faculties as the condition progresses.
Doctors have success in treating viper victims with replacement hormones, but that doesn’t take away this odd, and entirely scientific power. In science fiction and fantasy fiction, people often run across creatures that can do crazy things like eating souls, mesmerizing minds, and animating dead bodies. It’s strange to think that, across our own world, crawl creatures with the ability to send our bodies, in everything but height, back to childhood with a bite. If you read that in a science fiction story, would you ever believe it could happen?
Top Image: Mark Mannetti
Crazy-Looking New Deep-Sea Creatures
The Circus Elephant Retirement Home
Elephants weigh 3 tons and eat 200 pounds of food per day. Sustaining these massive animals is an enormous (and expensive) task. So what happens to circus and zoo elephants when they grow old and can no longer earn their keep by entertaining audiences? They move to a retirement home in Tennessee. Here’s how two elephant trainers created a safe, beautiful place for these animal elders to enjoy their golden years. More »