The internets have been abuzz with this photo today:
It’s a photo of an aluminum cast of an ant nest made by Walter Tschinkel, a Florida entomologist–but there haven’t been a lot of additional details.
The nest you are looking at is one of a Florida harvester ant, and appeared with many other photos and casts in a 2004 paper about nest architecture in the Journal of Insect Science. They are things of great beauty, and tell us a lot about how ants build.
This series of photos, for example, shows how the complexity of the nest structure grows as the colony adds workers. You can find more amazing photos of different types of ant nest casts here in a 2012 article.
There is even a video of the process of making these casts! And yes, don’t do this at home. Even if Dr. Tschinkel did publish detailed instructions on all the different ways to make an ant nest cast. I am looking at you, Mr. Treelobster.
I would be remiss if I did not also link to this older video that uses ten tons of cement to discover the extent of a much larger
African South American ant nest. (I am told it’s Atta vollenweideri, and it was dug up in South America. Thanks for the correction!)
Tschinkel W.R. (2004). The nest architecture of the Florida harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex badius., Journal of insect science (Online), PMID: 15861237
Tschinkel W.R. (2010). Methods for Casting Subterranean Ant Nests, Journal of Insect Science, 10 (88) 1-17. DOI: 10.1673/031.010.8801
“Dr Freud could not have conjured a more disturbing fantasy. Yet all these male members are real. These are insect penises – magnified, modelled, photographed or rendered in glass and resin.
Creepy, beautiful and seemingly wildly impractical for the job, their diversity suggests that sometimes, Dr Freud, a cigar is most definitely not just a cigar.
All have been created by Sydney artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso….Cardoso is also creating what she calls her Museum of Copulatory Organs – or MoCO – for the Sydney Biennale this year.
I love it when art and science meet up! You can see a gallery of Cardoso’s sculpures on her website.
If you aren’t an entomologist, you may not understand our obsession with genitalia. It’s not because we are all pervs. Well, it’s not just because we are all pervs. Insects made us interested in gonads.
There are lots of very similar looking insects. There are millions of little brown moths and little black beetles. Sometimes the only way to tell similar looking insects apart is to look at the naughty bits. Because species are defined by reproductive isolation, similar looking outsides may hide radically different-looking innards.
For at least 100 years, entomologists have been hunched over insect nether parts, trying to figure out what species they were looking at. To make things more complex, male insect parts are stored inside the body. Since there is …..shrinkage….after death, the squidgy bits are commonly removed from specimens and stored in in tiny vials full of preservative.
The study of insect genitalia is so important, all sorts of devices have been invented and devised for just that purpose. For example, the phalloblaster. Some clever Aussies invented a device to…Err. Apply pressure in the proper spot? This allows expansion of the male genitalia to see important details.
“The Phalloblaster inflates the genitalia with a stream of pressurised alcohol to create the same shape as when the insect was alive.”
The alcohol dehydrates and hardens the structure, so that once the process is over the genetalia remain inflated rather like miniature balloons. It makes them easier to study.”
Of course, this device is properly called the vesica everter. But who the hell would call it that when you can say PHALLOBLASTER? (You can visit this page and see a post-mortem insect “erection” in action.)
If you would like to look at more photos of bug dongs studied using the Phalloblaster, you can check out this article on bumpy beetle penises.
Also, for Earth Day, you can get a Bug Girl t-shirt or mug 22% off! Use code ZAZZLESALE22.
Citation to prove that the Phalloblaster is serious science:
Matthews, M. (1998). The CSIRO vesica everter: a new apparatus to inflate and harden eversible and other weakly sclerotised structures in insect genitalia Journal of Natural History, 32 (3), 317-327 DOI: 10.1080/00222939800770161
I had a good time at the Eastern Branch ESA meeting Bug fair this weekend–and I discovered a new artist! Dinah Wells works in watercolors, and does amazing work. Here she is painting away on a portrait of a cicada killer wasp.
I should say, she’s peacefully painting at a table between an exhibit of marmorated stink bugs on one side, and a hyperactive bearded lizard on the other side. And a bunch of very excited children milling around everywhere else. Never missed a beat, just kept right on painting. I wish I could focus that well!
Richard from the ESA made a really nice video summarizing the Bug World event–many cute kids and bugs, in addition to photos of Ms. Wells at work. Enjoy.
Anshul Fernando is an interesting guy. He’s an artist based in Canada that creates very lovely pieces with butterflies and other exotic insects. In this video, he walks you through the process of “relaxing” and spreading a dead insect specimen. Towards the end he also discusses the cost of a butterfly, supply and demand, and the use and farming of endangered species:
We’ve had some really interesting discussions here about the use of dead insect specimens in art. Fernando is actively involved in sourcing his insects, including setting up a foundation that promotes the production of birdwings in captive breeding programs. (Although the exact status of that foundation is a bit murky; I wasn’t able to find much info about it).
Is getting people to think about and value pretty insect species from far away worth promoting a trade in dead insects?
(i.e, Promote biodiversity!….um, by killing lots of things and displaying their bodies.) Does it really reduce poaching of wild populations to encourage insect breeding projects?
I think it balances out. You?
(Can: Open. Worms: Everywhere)
It’s time once again for the NCSU Insect Museum’s Hexapod Haiku Contest!
hexapod haiku -
short poems that celebrate
The goal of this contest is to encourage people to think about the myriad ways in which insects and other terrestrial arthropods interact with their environments and other organisms (including humans!) and to express these thoughts through short poems. Despite the name of this contest we actually encourage any short poems you’re inspired to write, including (but not limited to!):
- Haiku (of course): An elegant medium, traditionally focusing on seasonal changes and nature and with a relatively standard format and objective.
- Senryū: Similar in structure to haiku but focused on the foibles of of humans and, in our case, insects, rather than seasons and nature.
- Haiga: A haiku that is accompanied by an illustration. Include a photo or draw a picture!
- Any other short poem you want to write!
We offer four awards with (small) prizes: 1) best in show, 2) runner-up, 3) best entry from poet under the age of 13, 4) runner-up from poet under the age of 13. Poems from any of the categories listed above are eligible to win any of the awards and therefore are judged together.
We also have honorable mention categories that change every year depending on the submissions we get (most traditional, funniest, best IPM-themed poem, etc.)
Visit the NCSU Insect Museum website for details on how to enter.
You can also browse through the past 5 years of winners with the tag “haiku” for inspiration and enjoyment. A favorite of mine from 2011:
rousts them from their slumber
— bacon for bees
Some time ago, I got an email from a student in the UK working on an Entomophagy project:
“I’m a postgraduate design student studying at the Royal College of Art in London, who is currently knee deep in a project on Entomophagy. Myself and 3 other students have spent the last four months developing a roadmap to western acceptance of bug eating.”
I referred them to Dave Gracer as the local Entomophagy Maven, and then sort of forgot about it. And then….Lo and Behold! They produced this project, with input from Dave and entomologists.
I’m not entirely sure what a Masters Degree in Innovation Design Engineering is, but if it produces results like this, I think we need more of them. Well done!
More about the project:
“Ento is a project by Aran Dasan, Jacky Chung, Jonathan Fraser and Julene Aguirre-Bielchowsky, who are a team working together on the Innovation Design Engineering joint Masters course at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. We also collaborated with Kim Insu in producing the food, who is a chef in training at Le Cordon Bleu.
This project is the outcome of the team’s motivation to tackle the growing issue of food security in an increasingly hungry world. Discovering the environmental and nutritional benefits of insects as a sustainable alternative to the high energy required to produce other meats, we wanted to see how it could be introduced into Western cultures through design.
It’s not just about introducing a new food, it’s about understanding human perceptions and psychology, then using the design of innovative experiences and strategic thinking to drive cultural change.”
In other words, addressing the mental hangups we have about eating insects, as well as making the food look amazing. Their video addresses some of the ecological benefits to insect eating in a very amusing way.
What do you do if you are textile artists in Madagascar and want to promote traditional Malagasy weaving techniques? You make a scarf and a golden cape spun from spider silk. Using half a million dollars of your own money.
The story has been making the rounds lately, but these videos about its creation were so captivating I had to post them! A team of people labored for years to capture spiders, and then persuade them to produce enough silk to weave a garment. It’s a rather mind-boggling process:
“The spiders are harnessed … held down in a delicate way,” Godley says, “so you need people to do this who are very tactile so the spiders are not harmed. So there’s a chain of about 80 people who go out every morning at four o’clock, collect spiders, we get them in by 10 o’clock. They’re in boxes, they’re numbered, and then as they get silked, about 20 minutes later, they get released back into nature.” (NPR interview)
The Madagascar Golden Orb Weaver Spider is the spider-goose that laid the golden…er, thread. It’s estimated that 1,063,000 spiders contributed silk. The color of the silk is amazing–I had no idea! The embroidery is also beautiful, with a spider motif.
This second video has more info about the history of trying to make textiles out of spider silk, footage of the apparatus they used to collect the spider silk, and some natural history information about the orb weavers.
I also scored a copy of the book Spider Silk:Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating, so I’ll be posting a review soon.
Oh, this is going to be really cool! You might remember Jennifer Angus–I’ve covered her work before here. Amazing art work using dried insect specimens.
I just discovered there will be a special issue of Insects (ISSN 2075-4450), an open-access journal. Edited by Angus!
Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 August 2011
Children’s literature is populated with wonderful six legged characters such as the insect companions in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach or the fabulously glamorous cockroach in La Cuchuracha Martina based on a Caribbean folk tale. In fact, what is considered the first children’s story in the English language which was not a moral tale or fable is The Butterflies Ball and The Grasshoppers Feast by William Roscoe dating from 1808. In the Victorian era, both adults and children were introduced to the natural world through a large number of educational publications in which insects were anthropomorphized so as to have greater appeal to the general reading public. Voracious collecting of all manner of plant and wildlife was extremely popular at that time.
However in this millennium, an adult’s worry of insects extends to serious diseases such as West Nile Virus, dengue fever and malaria. In fact there is a certain hysteria, as insects culturally are a sign of dirtiness and disease in the Western world.
Currently many artists play on the public’s intense dislike of insects. For example American Catherine Chalmers’ gigantic photographic portraits of cockroaches in domestic settings repulse many viewers. Yet other artists’ use of insects amazes and inspires. In 2002, Belgian Jan Fabre decorated the 19th-century Hall of Mirrors of the Brussels Royal Palace and the central chandelier with the elytra of a million Asian jewel beetles.
This issue is devoted to exploring insects in art, music and literature.
Prof. Jennifer Angus
Ok, so as a followup on the whole copyright/flamewar/widget fiasco, I have created a new group on Flickr. It’s called:
I invite everyone to add photos they would like highlighted on my blog via my Flickr Widget–the box with the pretty photos in the upper left corner of the blog. The widget displays a LINKED THUMBNAIL of your photo. It’s a great way to get more people to look at your work!
I’m setting up this group to make sure that absolutely everyone who has photos that appear on my blog is totally ok with that. I will use the RSS feed of the group’s photos, so I won’t be hosting your photo or any originals on my blog, nor will I use your photo in a post if it is marked as copyright protected.
So–Friends, Romans, Countrymen! Lend me your bugs!
What the…very creative use of insects and….stuff. The prose describing the work is a bit florid, but the idea is really interesting:
“Once the stuff of science fiction, today flying and crawling insects are used by the military, fitted with audio and video devices. This exhibition experiments using real taxidermy beetles as mechanised shells, to show how we mistreat our fellow inhabitants, forcing them to do our will.”