Flying animals have had a major impact on nonflying organisms. Briefly consider the ecological and evolutionary interrelationships between pollinators and flowers, or between mosquitoes, the parasites they transmit and humans. Even a cursory glance at the manifold relationships flying insects have with all other forms of terrestrial life evaporates any doubt whether the world would be a very different place if they had never evolved.
On a gloomy, mist-filled night, the life of a mouse is gently extinguished by disease. Its blood stills, its body cools, and a slight wind carries its almost imperceptible scent through the air. A faint buzzing approaches from the darkness, growing louder and louder; a flash of jet-black and red in the moonlight. Another. Then… silence. Two beetles scamper onto the carcass after their nightly flights. They are burying beetles, a male and a female, and have much to do over the next 2-3 weeks. Continue reading →
As I type, millions of Vespula vulgaris (‘common wasp’) queens are in a deep slumber within dead logs, sheds, attic spaces, burrows, and innumerable other areas out of the British elements. Because all other members of a wasp colony die over winter, the survival of the queen is vital to regenerate populations in the spring and summer. But this process is far from simple, incorporating physiological and behavioural adaptations that must be timed accurately to prevent freezing, parasitism, predation,and starvation. The journey of a queen wasp is quite an incredible one involving death, opposition, sex, family, altruism, resurrection, and prejudice, and I would like to personally recommend it as a superior alternative to the biblical prose to which we are flooded at this time of year. Continue reading →
The flight of the bumblebee is not only an excellent classical piece composed by Rimsky-Korsakov, but also the subject of another ‘fact’ about insects, which usually goes something like: “According to the laws of physics, bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly.” or a phrase of similar meaning. Indeed, the violation of the observably consistent Newtonian Laws of Motion by bumblebees and only bumblebees is not a very strong position to hold and might suggest the advocate of this belief should more fully examine how bumblebees generate lift. I shall try to provide such an examination. But first, let us delve into insect flight more generally!
The ‘well-known fact’ that “If a flea were the size of a human, it could jump over the Eiffel Tower” is an interesting misconception – one that disregards laws of scaling and structural engineering. A brief analysis of the claim can reveal some of its substantial flaws. But before we go any further, let’s use our imaginations, if only as a preliminary thought-experiment.
Picture a human-sized flea (let’s say about 170cm in length), henceforth named ‘enormo-flea’. It has the exact same proportions as an ordinary flea, but happens to be 170cm long.
Public perceptions of the vast majority of insects and terrestrial arthropods tend to be fairly negative. Indeed, the word “insect” alone can elicit a visceral response in some. Attitudes towards insects in the general public of many developed countries are dominated by Fear, where many people are afraid of insects, and Power, where they may want to control insects (The Buzz of Insects, 2007).
Fear may arise from psychologically intrinsic characteristics of humans that were adapted initially to avoid dangerous arthropoid (arthropod-shaped) species. In addition, negative views may arise, or be reinforced, by cultural cues from peers and parents, teachers and authority figures (i.e. learned). Using myself as an example,
Here we have the final scholarship essay, soon be published in the Royal Entomological Society’s members’ magazine, Antenna. Its author is Siobhan Anne-Marie Hillman. She developed her love of entomology whilst studying at the University of Derby, graduating with a BSc in Zoology. Siobhan’s main interests are in Continue reading →