What would it be like to have 6,500 silkworms spin a house for you?
Mediated Matter Group used a combination of art and mathematics to create a unique structure made by computers and silkworms.
MMG studied silkworms spinning their cocoons and silk on different hexagonal platforms. You can watch some of the videos of those tests; time lapse photography of caterpillars spinning silk at high speed is kind of hypnotic. Inspired by silkworms’ ability to generate a 3-dimensional cocoon out of a single silken thread, the researchers created an algorithm to make a computer think like a silkworm. They then used that model to instruct a robot to weave a structure.
The language they use to describe this really cool project is…well, pretty dry academic speak, actually. Here’s an example:
The primary structure was created of 26 polygonal panels made of silk threads laid down by a CNC (Computer-Numerically Controlled) machine. Overall density variation was informed by the silkworm itself deployed as a biological “printer” in the creation of a secondary structure…. Specifically, we explored the formation of non-woven fiber structures generated by the silkworms as a computational schema for determining shape and material optimization of fiber-based surface structures..”
Skip that. Just watch. I love the idea of caterpillars as 3D printers. Make sure you watch all the way to the credits, because it’s way cool.
In this video and the one I linked earlier, you might notice that the caterpillars themselves appear to be sort of strobing. What you are seeing is their heart beating!
All insects have one long “heart” that runs along their back. These caterpillars are more transparent than the adult insect shown in this diagram, so we can actually see inside. When the video is sped up, the rhythmic contractions of the heart turn into a rapid flicker. You can even see how the contractions pulse up the back of the insect in a wave!
The latest internet Meme is the Harlem Shake, and I think this is one of the best versions. A little background:
“Harlem Shake” (not the hip hop dance style) is the title of a 2012 heavy bass instrumental track produced by Baauer. In February 2013, the song spawned a series of dance videos that begin with a masked individual dancing alone in a group before suddenly cutting to a wild dance party featuring the entire group.
And here you go: Harlem shake of the butterflies.
What you are looking at is a bunch of chrysalids, or the pupal stage of a butterfly where it transitions from a caterpillar into an winged adult. They are still able to move and respond to stimuli in this stage, even though they lack functional legs. They are commonly reared like this in butterfly houses.
A really nice example of how to communicate some fascinating evolutionary biology. Illinois Natural History Survey ornithologist Kevin Johnson describes his research on the history of feather lice. Anyone who works with birds knows they are lousy–as in, usually covered in lice.
But how did all those lice evolve? Did they share a common louse ancestor, and then diverge as their bird hosts diverged? Bird winglice from a parrot look a lot like bird wing lice on a duck–but those are very different and unrelated hosts. What does that tell us about the history of lice?
You can read the paper this work is based on here:
Johnson, K.P., Shreve, S.M. & Smith, V.S. (2012). Repeated adaptive divergence of microhabitat specialization in avian feather lice, BMC Biology, 10 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1741-7007-10-52
(Looking for a text transcript of the video; you can get most of the content text here)
It is finally starting to reliably warm up in spring, although we still have a few cold evenings. Bumblebees are one of the first pollinators out in the spring, and the fuzzy adorableness of their bodies does help retain heat.
With the help of a thermal camera, David Attenborough shows us some other clever tricks that let these “cold-blooded” insects warm up and fly on cold days.
I Could Not Make This Shit Up If I Tried.
I’ve mentioned before that the nickname Bug Girl is occasionally used by people that are not me. But this one is a new and unusual twist.
I think they look remarkably like my avatar.
What do you think?