Ento-musings from the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tobacco Hornworm Locomotion

There was an interesting article in the New York Times on Tobacco Hornworm Locomotion. Here is the link:


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

2010 Raven Run Night Insect Walk

The 2010 Raven Run Night Insect Walk is coming up this week: 8:30pm, Friday, July 30. This is a free family event, hosted by the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology and the Raven Run Nature Sanctuary. Bring a flashlight and join us for a trek into the woods. We'll see all kinds of cool insects and spiders. And before the hikes begin we'll have free activities including an insect petting zoo, temporary tattoos, cockroach races, and other fun stuff.

Here are the details:
Annual Night Insect Walk
Friday, July 30, 2010 | 8:30pm - 10:30pm
Raven Run Nature Sanctuary
5888 Jacks Creek Road, Lexington, KY

Here is a recent news article about the event:

And here is the official webpage for the event:

We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Icebox Cave Beetle

by Devin Kreitman, High School Student and 2010 KFELP Alumnus

Today, I found a beetle native to Kentucky that the government is considering putting on the endangered species list. The beetle is called the Icebox Cave Beetle. Here is a link to where I found the information:


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fun with scorpions

I purchased a scorpion after getting a Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula (Grammostola Rosa), because I realized that having only one arachnid just wasn't enough. After recieving my scorpion, I began to construct a terrarium with the scorpion's specific requirements in mind.Emperor Scorpions are rarely seen because they tend to hide under whatever they can, leaving their hiding place only to hunt. However, a few weeks ago I began to see the scorpion alot more often because it had constructed a burrow, with two of the sides of the burrow being the walls of the terrarium. This was very exciting, but couldn't compare to the excitement I felt the morning when I noticed that my Emperor was covered in what looked like white foam, which on further inspection, turned out to be none other than a little over a dozen baby scorpions (or “scorplings”).
I know a little bit about this large species of scorpions (pandinus imperator), and specifically, that the babies cling to the mother, who feeds them. From birth, they change from a ghostly white to the deep black of their parents. When they grow to adulthood I will have to break them up in to groups of two and keep them separated, or else risk cannibalism. Emperors have a 9 month gestation period (or 7 to 12 months depending upon temperature and humidity), which is a fact I find very interesting.For an aspiring entomologist such as myself, this is a great opportunity and I look forward to watching these amazing arthropods grow and flourish from tiny scorplings to adult scorpions.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

New Things Discovered!

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

I am the kind of person who pathologically clicks on CNN.com several times a day. I'm not sure what I expect to find there; all I get is reiterations of horrible news. My CNN fix: a habit that I would like to break. Except when they post one of their semi-monthly slideshows of newly discovered critters! I love these!

Usually, no matter where on earth these discoveries occur, there are some arthropods involved. This makes sense, since there are more kinds of arthropods on earth than all other organisms combined. And this time is no exception.

The geographic area: the deep ocean below the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Here's the slideshow:

There are several marine arthropods on the list, including some isopods and amphipods. My favorite is a very unusual isopod that has a typical pillbug-type body, but is also equipped with long spider-like legs. Isopods, by the way, also live in Kentucky: the familiar roly-polies that live around homes are examples of isopods. We also have amphipods in Kentucky: they are sometimes called "scuds" and they live in freshwater streams and ponds.

Thanks for the good news, CNN.com!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lepidoptera Rap

by Megan Parker, Laurel County Water Pioneer

Float like a butterfly, don't sting like a bee
the lep-i-DOP-ter-A is easy to see

Butterflies, moths, caterpillars too
there's all kinds of colors, they could even be blue

Plants love caterpillars and moths galore,
make sure to listen up, and we'll rap some more

Coiled sucking mouthparts, scales on their wing,
they flyin' all around as me and Joe sing.

Thread-like antennae, knobbed at the end,
this rap is dope, we're sure to win

The Annotated Lepidoptera Rap: This rap was written by Megan for a contest that occurred during Water Pioneers. During the contest, each team was assigned one of three insect orders: Coleoptera (beetles), Hymenoptera (wasps, ants, bees), or Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Each of three teams was responsible for capturing three members of their order. They also had to become experts on their order and prepare and deliver a brief presentation to the other students. For their presentation, the kids could use almost any means of communication, including drawings, sculptures, skits, posters, and, of course, hip-hop. So this was another opportunity for Megan to write some lyrics for her MCs.

This rap does a good job of reminding the audience about some of the key Lepidoptera characteristics. Such as this key line: "coiled sucking mouthparts, scales on their wings." These are two of the most important features that distinguish butterflies and moths from other insects. And "they can even be blue" is a reference to a whole group butterflies commonly known as "blues" (one of them is pictured on the logo for this blog in the upper right-hand corner).

This activity is a good way to introduce students to the concept of scientific orders, by the way.

Oh, and Megan's group won the contest!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why "Bug Brain" isn't an insult...

Insects are capable of some amazing behaviors, despite their tiny, tiny brains. Some researchers even argue that these behaviors and the success of insects in general are possible because of their tiny brains. A friend of mine sent me this interesting article about Dr. Jeremy Niven, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University who uses locusts to study the connections between the brain and behavior.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cicada Killers are Flying

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

In Kentucky, annual cicadas are currently singing. For me, cicada-song is the sound of heat, humidity, and summer and I love it. Annual cicadas also mean the return of one of Kentucky's most amazing insects, the Cicada Killer Wasp. I just saw two of them this week. We are bound to see more of them as July progresses.

With a body length of about 1.5", the cicada killer is one of the largest wasps that live in Kentucky. They are easily confused with one of our other large wasps, the European Hornet. Cicada Killers do not live in colonies, though, like hornets do. Cicada Killers are solitary and they are much less likely to sting humans than a hornet. Generally, colony-dwelling bees and wasps (like honey bees, bumble bees, paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets) are much more likely to sting humans than solitary wasps and bees. So if you see these huge cicada killer wasps flying around in your yard, don't worry about them: they will only sting if provoked.

Cicada killer wasps don't actually kill cicadas: their larvae do. A female cicada killer will catch and sting an adult cicada (paralyzing it, but typically not killing it) and return it to her underground burrow. Their, she will lay an egg on the paralyzed cicada. The larva hatches from the egg and then devours the cicada.

I suppose it is ironic, but cicada killer wasps tend to miss-out on the mass periodical cicada emergences that occur in the United States. Periodical cicadas emerge every few years, and they tend to emerge in huge numbers. But they emerge early in the summer, before cicada killer wasps are flying. Because of this, at least in Kentucky, cicada killers specialize on annual cicadas--these are the slightly larger cicada species that emerge every year, typically later in the summer.

Read more about cicada killers and their relatives in our Critter Files section, Narrow-Waisted Solitary Wasps. And: Cicadas.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Architecture of Insect Wings

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

As I mentioned in a previous blog post (Arts & Sciences), I love it when entomology and the plastic arts collide!

Beverly Pearce let us know about a project that she is working on which takes a close (and artistic) look at the amazing intricacy of insect wings. In particular, she is interested in dragonfly wings. Dragonflies have incredibly complicated wing-venation, so there is a LOT to look at. Vein patterns in insect wings are also important for insect identification, as you can see in our Critter Files entry about Green-Eyed Skimmers (which are a type of dragonfly).

You can take a look at Beverly's project here: