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

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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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Public perceptions towards insects and allied taxa: why are so many people afraid of them?

Greetings readership.

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,

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It’s the final essay! Also: What can you expect to see from us in the future?

Greetings readership.

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

A new week, a new essay! (Plus, ‘Bugs’)

Greetings readership.

Below awaits another scholarship essay from a student studying the Entomology MSc here at Harper Adams Univsersity, soon to be published in The Royal Entomology Society’s members’ magazine, Antenna. But before that, a little detail on our ongoing module Biology and Taxonomy of Insects. Continue reading

Friday brings many good things. Nevermind the weekend, we love hymenopterans.

Greetings readership.

Friday brings us many things. Many good things (besides the end of the week).

Today, the students taking the Biology and Taxonomy of Insects module on the Applied Ecology suite of MSc courses here at Harper Adams University were treated to a day consisting entirely of Hymenoptera-related (wasps, bees and ants) lessons, from Dr Andrew Polaszek, of the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. Starting the day off with an overview of the Order, Dr. Polaszek went on to characterise the super-families using morphological and ecological definitions. The class later went on to try our hand at the initially daunting task of  identifying specimens to super-family, family or genus level based on various keys. The fact that the majority of students were able to identify the specimens shows the quality of the keys and the direction Dr. Polaszek gave to us. By the end of the afternoon, most students had been identifying specimens for 2h30m, with the majority actively enjoying the process, and improving over the course of the day. Continue reading