Master’s Research Project: methods of sampling ant-associated beetles – Jack Weatherington

The ecological dominance of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) is striking across a very wide spatial scale, reaching its pinnacle in the rainforests and savannahs of the tropics (Hölldobler and Wilson, 1990). The jurisdiction of this Queendom reaches Britain too. Red wood ants (Formica rufa), where found, can constitute a vital part of the local ecology of forests, feeding on aphid honeydew and pretty much any invertebrates they can overpower, like the little myrmidons they are. Jack Weatherington, a fellow MSc student boasting an impressive knowledge of insect taxonomy, has chosen the red wood ant as the focus for his Master’s Research Project (MRP). However, he faced a dilemma! Continue reading

Master’s Research Projects: gut analysis of coprophagous dipteran larvae – Alex Dye

The first in a series of posts detailing some of the Master’s Research Projects (MRPs) being undertaken here at Harper Adams University features the dipterist, head our MSc twitter page, and all-round good guy, Alex Dye! Continue reading

Insect flight – an evolutionary development that shaped the world

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.

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Parenting for Dummies (feat. burying beetles)

Festive greetings readership,

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

Night takes Queen: where do all the wasps go in winter?

Season’s greetings readership,

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

How do bumblebees fly?

Greetings readership,

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!

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A bumblebee ‘defying the laws of physics’

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If a flea were the size of a human could it really jump over the Eiffel Tower?

Greetings readership.

Quite a lengthy one for you this time.

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.

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