Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

New Publications on Buprestidae and Cerambycidae

Crossidius hirtipes allgewahri

I’ve been busy processing photos and a preparing a write-up of an insect collecting trip to New Mexico this past June—look for a series of posts about the trip in the near future!

In the meantime, I’ve had a couple more publications come out since the end of last year—both as part of joint efforts to document beetle diversity at the state level. The first of these came out in vol. 71, no. 4 of The Coleopterists Bulletin (published 18 Dec 2018) and presents a checklist of the Cerambycidae of Idaho with notes on selected species. The citation is:

Rice, M. E., F. Merickel & T. C. MacRae. 2017. The longhorned beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) of Idaho. The Coleopterists Bulletin 71(4):667–678 [pdf].

The photo of Crossidius hirtipes allgewahri LeConte, 1878 (see above—which was actually photographed in Moffatt Co., Colorado and is, I think, the very first species of the genus that I photographed) also appeared in that article.

The second paper was just published a couple of weeks ago (20 June 2018) in vol. 72, no. 2 of The Coleopterists Bulletin (I am still waiting for my hard copy in the mail!). It presents an annotated checklist of the Buprestidae of Louisiana.

Carlton, C. E., T. C. MacRae, A. Tishechkin, V. L. Bayless & W. Johnson. 2018. Annotated checklist of the Buprestidae (Coleoptera) from Louisiana. The Coleopterists Bulletin 72(2):351–367 [pdf].

As always, a complete list of my publications with links to abstracts or pdfs can be found under “My Publications“.

© Ted C. MacRae 2018


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  – with ecological implications that can spread through a food web

Not interested in your new favorite band. TJ Gehling, CC BY-NC-ND

Despite being one of the best-selling albums of all time, ideology from AC/DC’s “Back in Black” album has gone unchallenged for nearly 40 years. The album’s closing track posited a testable hypothesis, asserting with rock-star confidence that “Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution.” Opinions may vary from person to person, but little scientific evidence has been evaluated to determine if rock music is noise pollution … until now.

AC/DC – ‘Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’

My research group recently tested the “AC/DC hypothesis.” Sadly, we report that, at least in some situations, rock ‘n’ roll in fact is noise pollution.

OK, yes, our experiment may sound silly or frivolous. But our hope is to focus a little more attention on how sounds – whether Angus Young’s guitar licks or the steady drone from a busy highway – can affect ecosystems. Our work demonstrates that the effects of noise pollution are not restricted just to the animals directly affected by the sounds, but can alter their behaviors and interactions with other animals and plants, spreading the effects throughout an ecosystem.

Noise and nature

Noise pollution has been recognized as an increasing threat for wildlife. For instance, scientists have shown that the sounds of mining can affect deer behavior. Noise from ocean drilling affects marine life. And sounds from recreational vehicles are a particular concern in natural places – spawning an industry of quieter electric alternatives.

Most existing studies focus largely on the direct effects of noise – an animal hears the noise in its environment and is affected. But of course, animals don’t live in isolation. They’re embedded within a tangle of food web interactions with other species. So by affecting even one species, noise pollution – or any other environmental change – may generate indirect effects that spread from individual to individual, and eventually may affect entire communities.

Studying noise pollution and its cascading indirect effects is difficult, especially on large free-roaming animals. To test these interactions, my research group will often scale-down our experiments and use smaller model systems.

Specifically, we study lady beetles, including Harmonia axyridis, the multi-colored Asian lady beetle. Unknown to many, lady beetles are among the most important predators of agricultural pests such as soybean aphids. By voraciously consuming aphids in soybean fields, lady beetles provide natural biological control of pests and minimize the amount of pesticides needed on crops. Lady beetles provide an important ecosystem service – anything that disrupts their ability to attack aphids could be perceived as having a negative effect on society.

The plants in their listening setup. Brandon Barton, CC BY-ND

Firing up the hi-fi in the ecology lab

With the help of colleagues – and fellow AC/DC fans – Vince Klink and Marcus Lashley, my team of undergraduate and graduate students sought to determine if noise pollution would decrease lady beetle effectiveness at controlling aphids. Further, we suspected that reducing predation rates on aphids would allow the pest population to explode, which would in turn reduce soybean yield.

First we wanted to figure out what sounds affected lady beetle feeding rates. We placed lady beetle larvae within small enclosures with a known number of aphids to eat, and allowed them to forage either in silence or under loud conditions. We played sounds through computer speakers at maximum volume: 95-100 decibels, approximately equal to a lawn mower or outboard motor.

In addition to AC/DC, we queued up one of our favorite country music albums – “Wanted! The Outlaws” featuring Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and others. We DJ’d a mix of rock music, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Guns ‘n’ Roses, The Supersuckers, the British folk band Warblefly, and a mix of city sounds such as jackhammers, car horns, and so on.

Our results were good news for country and folk fans – lady beetles agreed that those songs were not noise pollution and continued to attack aphids with the same vigor when serenaded by these genres as they did in silence. However, lady beetles were not fans of AC/DC, the rock mix or city noises, even when played at the same volume as the country and folk treatments. In fact, listening to the “Back in Black” album cut the amount of aphids being eaten during a 16 to 18 hour period almost in half.

At least according to lady beetles, it seemed that rock ‘n’ roll was noise pollution and indirectly benefited agricultural pests. But could it have an effect on soybean plants?

Many researchers have investigated how music affects plant growth with mixed results. However, when we blasted soybean plants with two weeks of nonstop “Back in Black,” we didn’t see any effect on growth. Similarly, we found no effect of continuous AC/DC on pest abundance when we grew aphids on plants without their predators.

But we were interested in whether there was an interactive effect of rock music and predators on pest and plants. So for two weeks, we watched lady beetles attack aphids, while aphids reproduced and plants grew.

When the plants were grown without music, the predators reduced aphid density to nearly zero. As a consequence, the plants grew strong and healthy in the absence of their pest. In contrast, when plants were grown with “Back in Black” blaring, the lady beetles did not control aphids and the pests’ population size was more than 40 times larger than in the silent condition – from an average of about 4 aphids per plant to more than 180. As a consequences of high pest abundance, the plants in music treatments were 25 percent smaller.

Without predators to keep pests in check, crops like soybeans would need to be sprayed more. United Soybean Board, CC BY

Cascading effects of noise pollution

While others have shown that noise pollution can have direct effects on organisms and alter their predation rates, our study uniquely demonstrates that these effects can cascade throughout a food web.

We also showed that insects are affected by noise pollution, too. Most previous work in this area focused on large, “sexy” megafauna. But insects provide many ecosystem services that are essential for the healthy functioning of our planet. Disrupting insect behaviors such as pollination or predation can have drastic consequences.

Finally, our work empirically evaluated the AC/DC hypothesis for the first time since its inception in 1980. As fans of AC/DC and rock music, we sadly must disagree with the band and concede that rock ‘n’ roll is noise pollution, at least for lady beetles. Of course, rock music is not really a threat to ecosystems. But because loud music is similar to other real-world instances of noise pollution such as the hum of snowmobiles and the buzz of drones overhead, our results serve as a proof-of-concept that sound pollution can have pervasive effects throughout an ecosystem.

What about AC/DC’s other hypothesis, that “rock n roll ain’t gonna die?” As rock lovers, we’re happy to report there’s no evidence to contradict that one.

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The Sting of Defeat: A Brief History of Insects in Warfare

Paederus fuscipes rove beetle and Skeeter drone modelThe rove beetle Paederus fuscipes (left), when crushed, emits a chemical that causes dermatitis and blistering on human skin, and it is an early example of an insect used in human warfare. The “Skeeter” unmanned aerial vehicle prototype (right), meanwhile, is a modern example of insect-inspired military technology. (Photo credits: (left) Merle Shepard, Gerald R.Carner, and P.A.C Ooi, Insects and their Natural Enemies Associated with Vegetables and Soybean in Southeast Asia, Bugwood.org; (right) Animal Dynamics)By Ryan C. Gott, Ph.D.

Humans have waged entomological warfare, the use of insects and other arthropods as part of wartime tactics, in myriad ways for thousands of years. The long history of entomological warfare makes it a fascinating subject with many interesting examples from both entomological and sociological standpoints. This brief review is not meant to make light of this serious subject but rather to encourage reflection on sometimes regrettable actions of the past and inspire hope for positive humanitarian applications of entomology in the present and the future.

Ryan C. Gott, Ph.D.

Entomological warfare (EW) has manifested through human history in three main forms: insects directly used as weapons, insects used to destroy crops, and insects used as vectors to inflict disease. More recently, though, insects have become sources of innovation for advanced military technology.

Insects as Weapons

During the Second Parthian War, King Barsamia used scorpion-stuffed pots thrown at the enemy to defend the ancient Middle Eastern city of Hatra from the Romans. It’s possible that these literal bug bombs also contained rove beetles in the genus Paederus. These small rove beetles’ hemolymph contains the compound pederin. Pederin causes dermatitis and blistering when contacting skin, a likely scenario when panicked warriors began smashing beetles thrown onto them. King Mithridates VI of Pontus also enlisted arthropods in his wartime maneuvers but favored those of the hymenopteran persuasion. During the Third Mithridatic War, Mithridates ordered grayanotoxin-laden honey created by rhododendron-foraging honey bees to be left along roads for pursuing Roman invaders. Warriors eating this honey as part of their pillaged loot experienced intense sickness and hallucinations, giving it the name “mad honey.” The incapacitated Romans were then easy targets for Mithridates’ army. Mithridates also ordered the release of hornets and bees into sapper tunnels dug beneath battlefields. Clearly, applied entomology has a very long, if brutal, history.

Insects as Crop Pests

Deploying insects to destroy enemy crops is an odious act of EW of which many countries have accused one another, but it also one that is rarely proven. In 1944 Germany was accused of slipping Colorado potato beetles into Britain to decimate crops. After the Vietnam War, North Korea accused the United States of releasing insects in its agriculture (though any plant loss may have actually been caused by the defoliant Agent Orange). And in 1997 Cuba accused the U.S. of aerially dropping thrips onto the island during the Cold War. It’s near impossible to prove if these claims are true, but they certainly served their purpose of elevating one country’s complaints against another onto the world stage. Modern EW like the use of insects to destroy crops would be banned under the Biological Weapons Convention of the Geneva Conventions. Of course an individual country can ignore these conventions at any time, and not all countries subscribe to them in the first place.

Insects as Disease Vectors

Mosquitoes and yellow fever, lice and typhus, fleas and plague: Such insects may be most infamous as vectors of debilitating diseases. From Napoleon’s conquests to the American Civil War, battles and wars have been decided by these insect-initiated illnesses, whether accidentally or intentionally (such as the catapulting of plague-ridden corpses over city walls). Many countries have investigated the efficacy of insects and their associated diseases as biological weapons, including the United States, which has tested insect-based tactics on American citizens, notably in Operations Drop Kick, Big Buzz, and Big Itch. But the case of Dr. Shiro Ishii is perhaps the most disturbing example of vectors being used for entomological evil.

Dr. Shiro Ishii was a microbiologist and a Japanese army medical officer during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. As he rose through the ranks, Ishii was placed in charge of building and running Unit 731, a top-secret biological weapons research and development facility. Unit 731 was established in northeast China in a Japanese puppet state on nearly 6 square kilometers of land. Officially, Unit 731 operated as a water purification plant and lumber mill, part of the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army. Ishii and others working at Unit 731 would eventually kill well over 10,000 Chinese citizens and prisoners of war over the years. They referred to their victims as maruta or “logs,” which both referenced the cover story of being a sawmill and revealed their complete disregard for the lives of these people. Unit 731 investigated, among many deplorable things, the best disease and vector combinations to attack an enemy and the best way to introduce that vector, via water supply, air, on so on. For an in-depth account of the work of Ishii, and more on EW in general, the book Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War by Jeffrey Lockwood is a highly recommended read.

Insects as Inspiration

More recently, our ever-adaptable insects have a new role in warfare, one of bioinspiration rather than weaponry. An alloy capable of returning to its original shape, based on the cuticle of the ironclad beetle, is being developed for use in military vehicles. An engineering firm in the United Kingdom is developing a defense surveillance drone called the Skeeter with flight capabilities based on those of dragonflies. And many people have heard of the RoboBee, a tiny flying robot with mechanics based on insects that could also have covert surveillance applications. With these as just a few of the ways insects continue to inspire innovation, entomology clearly has a bright future. As all entomologists know, there is still so much to learn from and about insects.

Ryan C. Gott, Ph.D., is an entomologist interested in ecotoxicology, pesticide resistance, and pest management. He is currently the Associate Director of Integrated Pest Management at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter@Entemnein and Instagram@ryangott.

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Pest lens 1

Thursday, June 28, 2018 Notification

New planthopper species, Sogatella unidentata (Hemiptera: Delphacidae), described from Argentina
Source: Revista Brasileira de Entomologia
Event:  New Description/Identification

A recent publication describes a new planthopper species, Sogatella unidentata (Hemiptera: Delphacidae), from Argentina. Sogatella unidentata was collected from cultivated Oryza sativa (rice) and Zea mays (corn) plants. The genus Sogatella is listed as reportable in the PEST ID database (queried 6/27/18).


  1. Mariani, R. and A. M. Marino de Remes Lenicov. 2018. A new species of Sogatella (Hemiptera: Delphacidae) from temperate Argentina. Revista Brasileira de Entomologia 62(1):77-81. Last accessed June 28, 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0085562617301620.

If you have any questions or comments for us about this article, please e-mail us at PestLens@aphis.usda.gov or log into the PestLens web system and click on “Contact Us” to submit your feedback.

To access previous PestLens articles, please log into PestLens.

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Plant of the week: Deadly mushroom historically used to take out rivals

Plant of the week: Deadly mushroom historically used to take out rivals

Name: Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

Otherwise known as: Deadly Agaric

Habitat: A deadly fungi member of the Agaricaceae family, growing up to 10cm with a cap of 8cm in woodland and bordering meadows in Europe. The cap is flesh like and hemispherical with a pale lemon yellow tinge sometimes with a darker brown centre. It is distinguished by white spores and gills with a ring on the stem and a volva – a pocket – that encloses the young plant; the remains of this can be observed at the base. It is claimed that up to 90 per cent of all deaths from fungi poisoning can be attributed to the Death Cap.

What does it do: The word Amanita derives from the Greek and described the Field Mushrooms which are abundant in the northern parts of the country and are still referred to as the Manitari: yet another example of the contrary nature of the Hellens. Two other members of this group have proven equally fatal – A. verna; and the strangely named Destroying Angel: A. virosa – the latter considered even more dangerous as it is white and easily mistaken for edible varieties.

The Romans were attracted to the plant as a method of removing rivals. It is reported that Caesar Claudius, a man mightily fond of his mushrooms, was dispatched by his wife Agrippina by way of including a Death Cap in a breakfast dish to ensure the succession of her son, Nero, who referred to Fungi as being ‘food for the gods’, an ironic reference to the deification of his late step-father, Claudius, post mortem.

According to John Ramsbottom, former Keeper of Botany at the British Museum… ‘to know if a species is edible or poisonous it is necessary to recognise it and to learn its reputation’. No folk rule of thumb method is safe. If one applied some of the recommended ways of ensuring safety, such as poisonous fungi grow only under trees and not in fields, then the three most dangerous varieties would be considered safe, and the Field Mushroom dangerous. Some medieval herbalists made purges from dried and stored Amanitas with mixed results.


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Success Stories

Novel DNA-Based Methods for

A devastating pest, the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), has become a growing threat to the use of transgenic corn technology in the Western Hemisphere and more recently the African continent. The fall armyworm is the insect pest with the highest number of field-evolved practical resistance cases to Bt crops. In fact, Bt-resistant fall armyworms are now in Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Argentina.

University of Tennessee Professor Juan Luis Jurat-Fuentes led a team of researchers who identified a particular DNA mutation in a gene that provides fall armyworms with field resistance to Bt corn. The team was also able to track changes in the mutant gene frequency in fall armyworm populations in Puerto Rico, the first successful case of DNA-based detection of insects exhibiting emerging field-evolved practical resistance to a transgenic Bt crop.

NIFA supports this research through the Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grant program (BRAG) and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).

Read more at the University of Tennessee Ag Research. USDA photo.


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Inside Science

An Inconvenient Spoof

Environmental scientists are so fed up with being ignored they are using satire.


Image credits: Abigail Malate, Staff Illustrator

Rights information: Copyright American Institute of Physics (reprinting information)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018 – 14:30

Nala Rogers, Staff Writer

(Inside Science) — No more coddling Mother Nature. Instead, we should let her fight for her own survival, competing against industries that can provide the same services, argue ecologist Guillaume Chapron and his colleagues in a recent article. For example, they write that instead of changing farming practices to protect bees and other pollinators, “we will let bees disappear and replace them by AI-powered microdrones — which create many jobs and do not sting.”

The article was satire, intended to shock readers out of complacency and inspire action on environmental issues. But more than that, it was meant to model to scientists an alternative way of getting their message across. Now in a series of follow-up letters and articles in the same scientific journal that published the satire piece, frustrated researchers are discussing whether they should reach out to nonscientists with strategies more typical of late-night comedians.

“If people do not listen to us conservation scientists when we speak in a sober scientific way, maybe we just need to find a different way,” said Chapron, who is at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Riddarhyttan.

A final warning to planet Earth

Chapron got the idea to write a satire article after endorsing a paper titled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” which appeared in the journal BioScience in November 2017. That paper laid out in blunt terms how humanity has failed to heed scientists’ warnings, with nearly all environmental crises growing worse in the 25 years since the Union of Concerned Scientists released an appeal entitled “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.”

More than 15,000 scientists added their names to the second Warning to Humanity in time to be included in the published author list, and thousands more have signed on since publication as part of ongoing activism efforts. But after adding his name to the list, Chapron became skeptical that the earnest plea would do much good. He has seen his own findings repeatedly ignored; once, he said, the Swedish government insisted on using an old estimate of wolf populations to set hunting limits, even though Chapron and his colleagues had found the real wolf population to be smaller and more vulnerable.

Chapron is from France, a nation with a strong tradition of using satire to inspire societal change. So in order to amplify the message of the Warning to Humanity, Chapron and his colleagues decided to write a satirical response, which they titled “A Final Warning to Planet Earth.”

The authors struggled to come up with examples that were extreme enough, said Chapron. For example, they presented robotic bees as a ludicrous idea to highlight the dangers of current policies and attitudes. Only later did they find out that such artificial pollinators are actually being developed.

Eijiro Miyako, a nanomaterials engineer at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, Japan, and one of the developers working on robotic bees, wrote in an email to Inside Science that he supports pollinator conservation and does not view robot bees as conflicting with environmental goals. But Chapron fears that once people have an alternative, they will refuse to ban the pesticides they know are killing pollinators.

“The fact that the world is able to put money into developing robots to replace what nature gives us for free, just because we refuse to limit the profits of chemical corporations, shows that things have gone crazy,” he said.

A few decades ago, he added, a satirical article might have suggested that instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we should put up some sort of giant sunshade to cool the planet. Now, that suggestion is being seriously considered as a form of geoengineering.

Publishers didn’t initially share Chapron’s enthusiasm for a satirical approach. Two journals declined to publish the satire piece, including the home of the initial warning paper, BioScience. Some editors at Bioscience and leaders of its parent organization, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, simply didn’t find the article funny, said Scott Collins, an ecologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and editor in chief of BioScience. Others feared it would be misunderstood or would trigger resentment and blowback.

But another well-regarded ecology journal, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, accepted it immediately, publishing it in a section set aside for personal essays and discussions rather than research or formal reviews.

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with only a very few feeling that there is no place for such an article in the academic literature,” wrote Paul Craze, the Bristol, England-based editor of Trends in Ecology and Evolution, in an email.

Some of that positive feedback came from the authors of the second Warning to Humanity article that inspired the satiric response.

“I thought it was very well-written, and clever, and a breath of fresh air,” said William Ripple, first author of the 2017 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity and an ecologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Satire: powerful, yet dangerous

Ripple and his colleagues sent a lighthearted response to Trends in Ecology and Evolution expressing their support for the satirical approach, and Chapron’s team followed up with an article discussing how satire might be used for conservation.

No one is suggesting that researchers abandon traditional modes of scientific communication, Chapron noted. Scientists serve a crucial role by gathering information about the world, and they must present that knowledge in the most straightforward way possible. Indeed, said Chapron, despite the cascade of letters and articles, satire should probably have little if any role in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

But when scientists have presented their findings using traditional methods and been ignored by policy makers, it may be time to speak to the public directly using satire, said Chapron. For example, they could publish satirical op-eds in newspapers, or create satirical blogs or YouTube videos.

Humorous media such as The Onion and Saturday Night Live use satire all the time, and traditional news outlets use it more sparingly. But Chapron’s impression is that most professional satirists tend to focus on political and social issues, rarely lending their powerful wit to environmental causes.

That may be because professional entertainers tend to go for low-hanging fruit, said Heather LaMarre, a media psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia who studies how satire is used and interpreted. Environmental scientists focus on long-term issues that take decades to develop, she said, while most comedians would rather jump on the most provocative thing in the news today.

“Science topics tend to not really hit the top of the agenda for comics,” she said. “That doesn’t mean they can’t, but you have to find the comic or the show that’s willing to take the audience there, rather than just going where the audience already is.”

Satire is a mighty tool, well-suited to make a difference on environmental issues, she said. But LaMarre also added some words of caution. While Chapron’s satire piece was impressively well-crafted, she said, scientists should know that satire is a difficult art form with the potential to backfire, so they may want to team up with professional comic writers.

“I think it’s fantastic they want to do it,” she said. “I just would add to their conversation, they have to tread lightly and do it right. Or it will hurt their cause.”

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Nala Rogers is a staff writer and editor at Inside Science, where she covers the Earth and Creature beats. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Utah and a graduate certificate in science communication from U.C. Santa Cruz. Before joining Inside Science, she wrote for diverse outlets including Science, Nature, the San Jose Mercury News, and Scientific American. In her spare time she likes to explore wilderness.

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