Ento-musings from the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Crabs in the Great Garbage Patch

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

People are starting to hear more and more about the so-called Great Garbage Patch of the North Pacific Gyre. This is a massive, swirling cesspool of garbage located in the Pacific ocean north of Hawaii. It is said to be as large as the state of Texas! Whoa. Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry for the garbage patch.

The size-estimate may end up being an exaggeration, but the garbage patch is certainly big, and it looks like this phenomenon could be one of the greatest environmental disasters of all time. Much of the garbage consists of non-biodegradable post-consumer plastics, and there is concern that this stuff is turning this part of the ocean into a dead zone. It's interesting to see, though, that some life is still able to thrive in this environment, including crabs--close relatives of insects. I saw one of these crabs while watching this video about the garbage patch on CNN. You can also see a picture of some crabs crawling around on the garbage at this blog entry from Seaplex, an ocean expedition that is studying the garbage patch.

I suspect that as we learn more about the garbage patch, we will find several organisms that are able to live there.

UPDATE: Miriam Goldstein sent us an interesting message about this post in the comments-section below, but I thought I'd highlight the message here:

"There are several organisms that can make a living right on the plastic. They're part of what in the ocean is termed the "fouling community" - the macro-organisms that grow on artificial surfaces like ships and docks and little bits of plastic. By having all that debris floating around, these species (like pigeons and rats) grow much more abundant than they would have been without plastic debris to live on.

"It's not necessarily a good thing to have a huge fouling community - it's thought that many might be invasive species, or that they might alter the natural planktonic food web. Those crabs are part of the fouling community - they are what's known as epipelagic crabs, crabs adapted to living on floating wood or pumice in the open ocean, and now plastic. There are a LOT of them in the gyre, and we don't know what impact adding all those crabs has on the ecosystem."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Coach Cal and UK Entomology... So Close!

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

UK men's basketball head coach John Calipari always says that UK's fans are crazy. He's right! And the entomology department is no exception. We were thrilled to see that our department was mentioned in two recent newspaper articles just INCHES from pictures of Coach Cal.

From the Winchester Sun (9/29/09):

And from the Kentucky Kernel (2/19/10):

We know that UK's Entomology Department is successful (the 2nd article mentions our Top 10 Ranking), but to be mentioned on the same piece of copy as Coach Cal?!? Unbelievable.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Go Spiders!

We mentioned the Richmond Spiders men's college basketball team here on our blog (on this post) a few weeks ago. At the time, they had just beaten the Florida Gators. Well, more congrats to the Spiders: they are now in the top 25 for the first time in many years. Way to go, Spiders! (Florida is not in the top 25, by the way.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Invasive beetle intercepted at Louisville airport

by Julie Peterson, UK Entomology Graduate Student

Here's an article from the Louisville Courier Journal about customs agents intercepting a larval Khapra beetle from oats on a UPS shipment:

"Harmful Beetle Found in UPS Package"

Just another way that invasive pests can travel worldwide! The Khapra beetle is a serious pest of stored grains, so its introduction in the US could be very harmful. Here's a link to more information on this beetle:

Khapra Beetle

We should say thanks to all the customs, USDA, and other regulatory agents who search imported products to catch tiny little invasives like this guy!

Beekeeping Research Seminar: Feb 24

Next Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010, there will be a special seminar at the University of Kentucky campus, "Conversations on Conservation." This will occur in in Room 230 of the University of Kentucky Student Center and is a part of the new author-lecture seminar series sponsored by the Gaines Center for the Humanities. The presentation is free and open to the public.


Dr. Tammy Horn,
author of Bees in America:
How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation
& member of EKU’s
Environmental Research Institute.
with Thomas Webster, apiculturalist, Kentucky State University

Feb. 24, 2010, 7:30 p.m.
UK Student Center Room 230
Free and open to the public
Reception with refreshments to follow

Presented by: The Gaines Humanities Fellowship Program, the
UK Department of Entomology, the UK Honors Program,
& the University Press of Kentucky
For more information contact the Gaines Center at (859) 257-1537

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cute Overload: Dog and Ladybug

I love it when insects appear at Cute Overload, the all-cute, all-the-time website! This entry shows a dog (of some kind) playing with a ladybug (it's an Asian Multi-colored Ladybug, by the way: you can tell from the upside-down "W" shape on the white part of the thorax). Oh, and there are TWO invasive species in the picture. Can you find both of them?


Arts & Sciences

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

A few months ago, New York-based artist Janine Antoni asked us for some help. She was working on a multi-media project, and she needed a live spider for the piece. She was looking specifically for a spider that would build a web inside a three-dimensional installation... an installation that would include the artist herself. The final product would be a photograph of the installation (live animals... the artist... photography... now that's multi-media!). She had a lot of questions for us. Would a spider build a web next to a living person? What kind of spider would be be most likely to cooperate? Where does one find such a spider? How would one keep the spider alive and happy? This was an interesting challenge, but we were ready to help.

The first step was to determine the type of spider. Janine was looking for a circular, symmetrical spider web--not a messy cobweb. In other words, she wanted a "classic" spider web. This narrowed our search down quite a bit: the only commonly occurring spiders in the U.S. that build these types of webs are orb weavers. There are many species of orb weavers in the U.S., and none of them are dangerous. Great! So... how does one acquire an orb-weaver spider? While it is possible to buy tarantulas and other types of spiders from pet stores and online suppliers, this is usually not the case for orb-weaver spiders: most orb weavers live for only a few months, so it is impractical to raise and sell them as pets. We suggested that she find one locally, and that's what she did. She found an orb weaver in her backyard last summer (it had made a web between the ropes on a swing-set).

So Janine and her crew moved the spider into the artwork, where it proceeded to build a web. This is a piece called Lattice (2009):

The spider was also a part of this larger piece called Inhabit (2009):

A quote from Janine in a 2009 article from Art in America:
"As I started to research the process of actualizing this image, things became complicated. Would a spider actually cooperate? How would I remain still in order to facilitate its weaving? After speaking with several entomologists, and learning about the extreme sensitivity of spiders to motion, I looked into getting a harness that would immobilize me. That led me to the world of harnesses, where I found a particular design that enabled me to be attached to a structure from many points on my torso. I realized that my body could be suspended in a way similar to a spider in its web. But I would need to build a cage around my legs in order to keep the spider in that particular area of my body. And it also became apparent that the spider would be too sensitive to build directly on my body due to body heat."

I think that art and science do not overlap often enough, so it was great to work with Janine and to have a small impact on contemporary art!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

How much would you pay to name a species?

by Kelton Welch, UK Entomology Graduate Student

I just read this archived article on ScienceDaily.com. Some researchers in Mexico auctioned off the rights to name a new species of butterfly. An anonymous donor paid $40,000 on behalf of a family from Ohio to name it after that family’s deceased grandmother.

Now, having a species named after you is a great honor; but $40,000 is a lot of money, even though, in this case, it was for a good cause (funding butterfly research in Mexico). Remember that this is a butterfly: an ant or tiger beetle would be considerably cheaper. You could probably get a blow fly or stink bug for two digits.

How much would you pay for the right to name a favorite type of insect or other arthropod?

I would rather become a taxonomist: they actually make money to name things.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Time Magazine: Top 10 Invasive Species

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

This is a follow-up to a post on this blog from Julie Peterson a few days ago, where she mentioned an article about invasive species on the Yahoo! news page. This topic is also receiving some attention from Time magazine. They have just compiled a list of the Top Ten Invasive Species.

While I am glad to see this topic getting more attention, I was a little disappointed that only one insect (killer bees) made the list. On the other hand, it's hard to argue with the creatures that did make the list, including cane toads, gray squirrels, and starlings. But where's the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has killed tens-of-millions of ash trees? And what about the Asian Tiger Mosquito, a vector of many human and animal diseases, including West Nile Encephelitis and canine heartworm? Plus, there are lots of nasty non-insect invasive species that didn't make the list. Feral house-cats, who eat native songbirds and steal habitat from native predators. Bush honeysuckle, which out-competes native trees.

Maybe this list needs to go to 11...

Letterman on Exotic Pets

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

A few posts ago, I mentioned the hazards of pet tarantulas. In general, I believe that most wild animals, including spiders and insects, don't make very good pets, and that they are best observed in the wild or in educational exhibits. This is just an opinion: I don't think it should be illegal for people to keep these pets, I just think, personally, that many of these animals are, at worst, dangerous, and at best, a little boring. Live spiders, snakes, and birds make great educational displays and they can be fun projects for people who are REALLY interested in them, but the rest of us should stick with dogs and cats.

David Letterman learned this lesson first-hand. A few days ago on his show, he talked about his toad-ownership experience. It seems that his young son Harry really loves toads and frogs. So, a person from the Natural History Museum installed a toad terrarium ($$$), complete with two toads, in Dave's home. Dave and Harry soon discovered that "having a toad and not having a toad... there's really very little difference." These toads, named Hoppy and Zoogie, like to burrow, see, so they buried themselves as soon as they were placed in their new home. Recently, Dave and Harry son decided to "inventory" the toads, so they dug them out of the soil. Luckily, both toads were still alive. But Harry dropped one of them and it fell on its back. So they stuck it back in the terrarium. As Dave said, "and as far as we know... everything's fine."

I can attest that Dave's description is generally applicable to tarantula ownership, as well. And you should NEVER drop a tarantula on it's back.

Dave and his son also own two African Clawed Frogs. He said that they are quite ugly. Dave and Harry are now watching the male slowly die because the female steals all of the food. I suppose I shouldn't find this funny...