One for the kid in all of us: Origami Insects


After evaluating the heck out of a paper on gene expression in bird beaks, I feel like a creativity break. As a fan of all things handmade, I have chosen to explore insect origami. Here are a few resources.

What I found ranges from the easy to the mind-bogglingly complex. Here are a couple of kid-friendly folding diagrams for a butterfly (page 1 and page 2). Here’s the link for a simple fly project.

Here are several instructional videos showing how to fold various insects. And this site hosts some PDFs for super-complex insect origami, for the obsessive kids among us.

A cricket pollinating? Is there no end to the madness?

We’re familiar with the pollination services provided by bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, and even bats–but a cricket? They usually eat flowers, not pollinate them.

Well, the fabulous diversity of life surprises once again.  A new species of raspy cricket has been caught on camera pollinating orchids! This behavior is previously unknown in crickets. The nocturnal insect belongs to the Glomeremus genus and was found on the island of Reunion. The study has been published in the Annals of Botany.

Video is available on BBC news; take a peek! You might be surprised at how much the behavior looks like that of pollinator! Form does follow function after all! 😉

via BBC News – New cricket species filmed pollinating orchids.

Largest insect, pocket pet?

Oh! Oh! If I can’t have a pocket dog, I want one of these! Heathcliffe is so cute!

He’s a giant burrowing cockroach (Macropanesthia rhinoceros), a non-pest species endemic to Australia that is in the running as the world’s heaviest insect. They can live up to 10 years and are kept as pets.

Don’t worry, giant cockroaches are NOT close relatives of the cockroaches in your kitchen, which may be cockroaches of the American (Periplaneta americana), German (Blattella germanica), Asian (B. asahinai), or Oriental (Blatta orientalis) varieties. Rather than burgling your unsecured foodstuffs, giant cockroaches eat leaves, give live birth, care for their babies in burrows, and for all intents and purposes, seem more like teddy bears than pests.

My research indicates they’re hard to get ahold of outside of Australia, where they run around $100 a pair.

via Heathcliffe, the giant burrowing cockroach, is among | The Daily Telegraph.

Reproductive morphology and speciation in beetles

For those of you who are wondering what the heck I’m doing with my life, here’s a video about entomologist David Kavanaugh, who predicted that a new beetle species would be found on the Trinity Alps. I’m hoping to develop research somewhat along these lines, using montane grasshoppers in the sky islands of the Rocky Mountains. Let’s just hope they let me into grad school! 🙂

Unfortunately, I’m unable to embed the video, but here’s the link. At about 12 minutes, you can see some of the techniques for examining and characterizing insect genitalia. QUEST on KQED Public Media.

Insect cells provide the key to alternative swine flu vaccination

Limited supplies of chicken eggs equate to limited supplies of egg-produced vaccines–a major problem should a pandemic occur. Furthermore, many people (myself included) are allergic to a protein in egg whites and resist using vaccines grown in embryonated chicken eggs. Egg allergy is second only to milk allergy in children and adults.

What’s a health-minded girl to do? Well, insects may come to the rescue. Ta-da-da-DAH!

H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine can be produced more quickly using insect cells, scientists in Vienna have found. The team took just ten weeks to produce recombinant influenza virus-like particles (VLPs), which resemble virus particles but lack the viral nucleic acid, so they are not infectious. This outcompetes conventional production methods which take months.

The research was published yesterday in the Biotechnology Journal.

via ScienceDaily.

Catherine Chalmers: artist of small things

Catherine Chalmers

Catherine Chalmers

Catherine Chalmers rocks, in my book. She takes the artist’s approach to insects and other “less desirable” organisms, and as a result shines a spotlight on all of the preconceptions (anthropomorphism) that color our ideas about insects and other small things. Cockroaches are a major theme, and she also uses flies, mantises, and geckos–CUTE geckos licking their eyes!

So, to supplement the cockroach-robots news I just posted, I’ll share a little of her work. There’s more than one way to be inspired by nature!

Here’s a link to one of her art videos. The cinematography is wonderful–breathtaking in spots.

Here is an interview in which she explains her approach. Enjoy!

Running cockroaches inspire robotics researchers

Robotics researchers are being schooled by an unlikely teacher: the cockroach. The research team at Oregon State University is studying the insect in a quest to build the world’s first legged robot that is capable of running effortlessly over rough terrain–a process they call “bioinspiration.”

The team’s latest findings, published in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, outline how animals use their legs to manage energy storage and expenditure, and why this is so important for running stability. The work is being supported by the National Science Foundation.

“Cockroaches are incredible,” says John Schmitt, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU. “They can run fast, turn on a dime, move easily over rough terrain, and react to perturbations faster than a nerve impulse can travel.”

“A cockroach doesn’t think much about running, it just runs. And it only slows down about 20 percent when going over blocks that are three times higher than its hips. That’s just remarkable, and an indication that their stability has to do with how they are built, rather than how they react.”

If the engineers can apply cockroach principles to robots, they may be able to develop a robot that can run effortlessly. “If we ever develop robots that can really run over rough ground, they can’t afford to use so much of their computing abilities and energy demand to accomplish it,” Schmitt said.

via Cockroaches Offer Inspiration For Running Robots.

Mosquito harmony

Mosquitoes may have retained their annoying buzz in order to attract mates, says a report published online on December 31st in Current Biology.

“There’s no doubt many of us have wondered why it makes its presence so obvious,” said Gabriella Gibson of the University of Greenwich at Medway and one of the researchers on the study. “Surely, after all of these centuries of blood-feeding, selection should have favored a more stealthy approach that would leave mosquitoes less vulnerable to the defensive attacks of its unsettled host.”  However, sounds to attract a mate of the right species would be under stronger selection than the ability to silently approach a host, she said.

The study’s results help to explain how genetically diverse mosquito forms manage to reproductively isolate themselves. The complexity of malaria control is due in part to the mosquito’s genetic plasticity, which enables it to survive in a broad range of habitats.

To establish the identity of mates, male and female mosquitoes harmonize with each other.  “They can do this even if they each sing a different note, say a ‘middle C’ and a ‘G’ four tones higher,” said Ian Russell at the University of Sussex. “By listening and subtly altering their pitch to minimize the dissonance, they achieve their goal of ‘singing’ in a perfect harmony that we, but not they, can hear.”

The researchers have now shown that two mosquitoes don’t harmonize successfully if they are of the same sex or if they are not the same type of mosquito.

via To a mosquito, matchmaking means ‘singing’ in perfect harmony.