Archive for the ‘Insects and bugs’ Category

From the dungheap to the stars

January 25, 2013
Dung beetle

A scarab beetle – photo by Udo Schmidt

What a great way to end the week – with the discovery that scarabs (dung beetles) navigate by the stars to make sure their precious spheres of poo don’t get stolen. Finding this paper (by Marie Dacke of the University of Lund and her colleagues) on Twitter today made me unreasonably happy – because it perfectly encapsulates everything that’s great about science.

Who couldn’t be impressed by the contrast between a beetle rolling a ball of dung, guided by the enormous arm of a spiral galaxy? It’s lovely that these two vastly different things are connected – a link revealed by a brilliant experiment that involved beetles wearing hats and wandering around in a planetarium. (more…)


Face it: wasps are intelligent too

February 3, 2012
Polistes fuscatus - paper wasp

Nice antennae.

We humans like to congratulate ourselves on the many ways in which we’re ‘superior’ to other animals, but it seems like every week a new piece of research chips away at this idea. The most recent example that caught my eye was a paper in the journal Science showing that a species of wasp can recognise the faces of its fellow insects.

As some commenting scientists pointed out in last week’s Nature magazine, ‘the finding that a small-brained insect shares the ability to recognise faces with humans and other primates may come as a surprise’, especially if you think that this sort of intelligence requires a large brain. But should we really be shocked by this? (more…)

The strange and beautiful science of decay on BBC4

December 14, 2011
Slime mould

Slime mould - just one of the many stars of 'After Life' on BBC4

A few weeks ago I had a moan about how the BBC’s flagship nature series Frozen Planet struck me as being a bit content-light. But I’m happy to say I’ve had my confidence restored – thanks to an amazing documentary on BBC4 called After Life: The Strange Science of Decay.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single programme that packed in so much fascinating science. Centred around a ‘model home’ filled with food that gradually decayed over 8 weeks, the show touched on insects, bacteria, fungi, slime moulds, military sandwiches, forensic science, and the evolution of life on Earth. And it was all held together by Dr George McGavin, a really charming and down-to-earth presenter who expertly conveyed how exciting and important decay actually is. (more…)

Counting butterflies on a bug safari

August 8, 2011
Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly - photo by Lewis Collard

Sometimes living in the UK gets me down. It often seems like we’ve destroyed a lot of our lovely native wildlife, and you have to be quite determined to find a genuine wilderness. But every so often I’m reminded that ecosystems come in all shapes and sizes.

A couple of weeks ago my dad remembered that it’s time to start counting butterflies – part of Butterfly Conservation‘s Big Butterfly Count. The charity organises the count to find out how butterfly populations are doing – a good way to measure biodiversity because butterflies react quickly to changes in their environment. We were down on the south coast and our tally wasn’t high, but a short walk to a field that had run wild reminded me that you don’t need much habitat to house a lot of critters.