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!
I love this video for the peek over an artist’s shoulder! Art that was seventeen years in the making.
Artist James Gurney paints a portrait of a 17-year cicada which rested alongside its empty larval exoskeleton. He uses a DIY tripod-mounted painting rig that holds his sketchbook above a palette for mixing casein paints.
You can see the finished painting here. Lovely.
Thanks to Mindy Weisberger for finding this!
The Pachanga collection was created by Ecuadorian artist Belen Mena when she became captivated by the intense colors and intricate patterns of several moths during one moonlit evening (Pachanga means a festive party in Spanish). The Pachanga collection boasts over 300 different species of moths , each umiquely beautiful and features a photograph on a contrasting background, along with a vector representation and a series of inspired patterns and designas of each moth.
Some patterns have a clean geometric feel while others feature intricate details. The book has received numerous awards including the prestigious Gold Award at the International Forum of Design competition.
This is an exquisite Art book. The careful recreation of the moths patterns through computer tools is one of the most remarkable uses of artistic creativity.
I have looked at lovely moths thousands of times, but I never would have made the jump to these designs.
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