Arts: Swiss Artist Catalogs Mutant Insects Around Nuke Plants

Illustrations by Cornelia Hesse-Honegger

Arts: Swiss Artist Catalogs Mutant Insects Around Nuke Plants

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First pigment-making animal is an aphid!

How cool is this? A species of pea aphid appears to have picked up the genes for making carotenoids from fungi–making it the first known animal to manufacture their own. This adds to the evidence that DNA can transfer laterally from bacteria, yeast, or fungi to animals. The evolutionary story is just getting more and more interesting!

N.A. Moran and T. Jarvik, “Lateral transfer of genes from fungi underlies carotenoid production in aphids,” Science:328:624-7, 2010.

More on lacewing eggs and mystical flowers

A friend of mine commented on my previous post regarding the lacewing eggs mistaken for a “rare Buddhist flower” by referring me to this article on EnvironmentalGraffiti.com, which unfortunately demonstrates some bad journalism. The article purports to “dig deeper” into the issue, but it merely muddles it with some incorrect assertions. My take on it: they want to keep all their readers happy, including those who believe in miracles–an unfortunate trait for an environmental publication.

Ficus racemosa, one of the plants traditionally considered an udumbara flower.

First, the article does little to debunk the idea that tiny flowers can grow on nun’s washing machines. It proposes several types of real flowers that are traditionally called udumbara, all of which are trees or lotuses (see above photo). Somehow, however, the author misses that that small “flowers” growing off of metal surfaces or Buddha statues could not be any of these udumbara. The bottom line: plants need accessible nutrients to grow. Washing machines are not generally a good place to grow roots and absorb nitrogen. To believe otherwise demonstrates, in my mind, a lack of any sort of desire to use rational thought. The Hindu concept of Maya applies here–humans’ fundamental illusion is that we are somehow separate from the universe (and nature). This separation, reinforced by a lack of education, is what makes us believe in the necessity of miracles. The irony is the world is plenty fabulous without magical thinking.

Second, the author’s assertion that lacewings are not common in China is simply not true. There are at least two lineages, each with multiple species, that occur in China. For instance, the Chinese green lacewing (Chrysopa sinica) is an important predator for aphids affecting the Chinese cotton crop.

OK, enough of my rant. For your reading pleasure, here’s a link to some interesting lacewing information, including more about the properties of the egg stalks and research about whether they could be used to produce silk: http://biocontrolbeat.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/lacewing-silk/ . Cool, huh?

Rare Buddhist flower?

News items have popped up purporting the blossoming of the rare Udumbara flower, which, according to Buddhist legend, only blooms every 3,000 years. According to followers of the Falun Gong, Buddhist scripture describes the Udumbara as a “product of supernatural phenomena…a celestial flower (that) does not exist in the mundane world.” Some sources that I’ve found say it’s a sign that a new Buddha has come to the world.

The problem is that it’s not a flower at all. It’s….lacewing eggs.

Here’s a picture published in the article Rare Buddhist flower found under nuns washing machine in the London Telegraph on March 1, 2010.

A rare Buddhist flower? No! These are lacewing eggs!

Here are some purported udumbara on a Buddha’s face:

For comparison, here are a couple of pictures of lacewing eggs. The eggs are laid atop the silken stalks to keep the the hungry larvae from eating one another.

Green lacewing eggs

Lacewing eggs

Lacewings are certainly wonderful predators to have in your garden for aphid control, and they’re available for sale (here’s one online source). Perhaps to the chagrin of the Buddhists, they will “bloom” again next year, and every year after as well. It’s too bad that the lacewing’s real story–and usefulness to humans–can be so easily obscured by a little superstition. This spring, look around you and see if you can catch a glimpse of the aphid lions patrolling your garden. Treat them well; your roses will thank you!

Lacewing larva, a.k.a. an aphid lion

Lacewing larva attacking an aphid

Lacewing adult

2010 “deadline” missed for reversing loss of biodiversity

The United Nations has declared the International Year of Biodiversity–a year that was supposed to be a milestone. The 193 nations participating in a treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had agreed to “achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.”

But in a statement released early this year, Ahmen Djoghlaf, the executive secretary of CBD, states that we’re a long way off. He writes “The more than 100 national reports received so far from Parties have demonstrated that we continue to lose biodiversity at an unprecedented rate.”

While this is serious news on many fronts, it has also provided scientists with the impetus to better understand the benefits of biodiversity and the ramifications of its loss. Here’s a great feature article written by Susan Milius that covers the topic in detail. If you don’t read anything else this year, read this.

via Losing Life’s Variety – Science News.

Make your own gummi insects!

gummi dung beetleKids of all ages like gross-out food, especially if it’s sweet. A Japanese company, Megahouse, aims to please with a DIY insect kit: the Gummi-X kit. It’s sure to up the ick factor at your next slumber party or Halloween get-together.

For  around 4,300 yen (just under $50.00), you can order the kit from Amazon Japan. The “mother center” gives you a base mold, beakers, tweezers, and a measuring spoon.

pillbugs

The molds allow you to create two different beetles, pillbugs and crayfish. Expansion kits include molds for a tree frog and another beetle, going for 1,529 yen (about $17.00) each.  If only it had botflies!!!

Check out this Japanese TV commercial for the kit – even the young actors can’t hide their “Eeeeeew!”

More pictures of the kit in use are available at this Japanese blog.

Bee dance may be more complex than thought

Bees use a complex “waggle” dance to communicate with hivemates about the direction and distance to sources of food. Through a sequence of waggles and vibrations, the dance communicates direction relative to the sun, distance from the hive, and quality of the food source–all in the complete darkness inside a hive.

Discovery and decoding of this remarkable form of communication won Karl von Frisch the nobel prize in 1973. Now, UCSD professor James Nieh has built on this research by finding that some members of the bee audience may stop the dancer if they know about predators or other risks at the food source. By doing so, the hive improves its collective intelligence.

Studies of bee waggling have led to discoveries about the complex communication patterns of true social insects such as bees, wasps, and ants. The “stop” signal is only the second known example of a sophisticated insect society using “negative feedback” — signals that tell others to stop a behavior.

Sources: The Nieh lab at UCSD

http://www.physorg.com/news185115064.html

Hives stayin’ alive – SignOnSanDiego.com.