Ento-musings from the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jurassic Song

Fossils are a window to the past: but rarely are such windows clear. And looking at a thing through "a glass distorted", of course, distorts our view of that thing. Restoring the appearances of prehistory's creatures is difficult; reconstructing their behavior is often impossible. But once in a long while paleontologists find—preserved perfectly by petrifaction—easily legible evidence of a long-dead organism's daily habits.

Such was the case earlier this year with Archaboilus musicus, a 165-million-year-old katydid/bush-cricket (Tettigoniidae) found in that fount of glorious fossils, China. Its modern kin, naturally, are well-known for their males' stridulatory songs, used to attract mates: and it turns out at least some of them did the same as early as the Jurassic Period. By examining the hind angles of the forewings belonging to A. musicus' (presumably male) holotype, and comparing these stridulatory organs to those of extant katydids, researchers have deduced the precise sound of the ancient katydid's song—which was indeed musical, like the melodies of its modern kin (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC6vVmkU8i0). 

Interestingly, with a frequency of 6.5 kHz, A. musicus had a rather lower bandwidth than most of its said extant cousins. It's speculated that this reflects the different constituency of Jurassic forests: dominated not by tall, shady deciduous trees, but by thick fern bracken underneath conifers—deep acoustics would be required to penetrate this more claustrophobic sylvan environ. 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night...


Gu, J. J.; Montealegre, Z.; Robert, D.; Engel, M. S.; Qiao, G. X.; and Ren, D. (2012). Wing stridulation in a Jurassic katydid (Insecta, Orthoptera) produced low-pitched musical calls to attract females. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109 (10): 3868.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mormotomyiidae: They're Terrible, They're Hairy, & They're Flies

I now present the promised post on Mormotomyia hirsuta, the "terrible hairy fly" from a lone Kenyan cave that may be the rarest fly in the world (http://gentlecentipede.blogspot.com/). The collection of live specimens in 2010 for the first time in 62 years resulted in more than one dipterist wetting their pants with joy. (I, ahem, was not one of them.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Top Twenty Coolest Flies

I just discovered this countdown of the top twenty coolest flies, compiled by Jonathan Wojcik (http://bogleech.com/bio-flies.html). It truly gives one an excellent idea of the Diptera's incredible diversity; it even brought to my attention flies of which I was previously unaware, such as Thaumatoxena wasmanni (Phoridae), the females of which are wingless, legless, mite-like indestructible lozenges that inhabit termite fungus gardens; and Wandolleckia achatinae (also Phoridae), the females of which reside as commensals on the bodies of snails, swimming in the snail-snot itself. (I've always wanted to use that phrase.) 

The article also has the only photographs of the New Zealand bat fly (Mystacinobiidae)the only social fly known to manthat I've ever seen; and there's a fantastic image of an ant-decapitating fly (Pseudacteon) bursting from its host's head. My only complaint is that the terrible hairy fly (Mormotomyiidae; subject of a forthcoming post on my personal blog) is absent from the list.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

" ...The Claws of a Velociraptor ... " (Yes, This Is About Insects)

"[An] unusual insect, it has arms cocked like those of a [mantidfly], the ... stance of an Ichneumonid, the ... gait of a [long-legged fly], the claws of a Velociraptor, and the watchfulness of a [mantis]."
...Thus spake Stephen Luk, student at the University of Guelph, whom I respectfully quote here due to his capturing the aesthetic essence of...well, whatever he was describing. You can determine that creature's identity for yourself by reading my post (http://gentlecentipede.blogspot.com/2012/12/little-bags-of-horror-three-obscure.html) at my new blog, Life, et al.

Hope this is worth your time...