Young Bug Lover Helps Write Scientific Thesis

Kids these days are ditching Playstations for programming tools, priding themselves on being the smartest generation yet. However, there are some who prefer going back to basics. Classmates bullied 8-year-old Sophia Spencer for her obsession with bugs. The young bug lover got back at her tormenters, co-writing a paper in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

“I really thought loving bugs wasn’t the best hobby,” [said Sophia] “But after I realized bugs are for girls I thought to myself, ‘Well, I think I should start loving bugs again, because just because people say they’re weird and gross doesn’t mean I shouldn’t like them.’”

This kid is more self-aware than I am. Sophia’s passion inspired mom Nicole to contact the Entomological Society of Canada for advice. The group tweeted Spencer’s plea, garnering replies from bug enthusiasts all over the world. Eventually, Ph.D. candidate Morgan Jackson invited Sophia to help compose a scientific thesis promoting women in science.

“It felt good to have so many people support me, and it was cool to see other girls and grown-ups studying bugs,” she wrote. “It made me feel like I could do it too, and I definitely, definitely, definitely want to study bugs when I grow up, probably grasshoppers.”

Sophia’s contribution to a cool scientific thesis at age 8 is living proof that one’s interests are never age nor gender-specific. So a word to parents — encourage your children’s passions, even when it seems “weird” or “gross” or “not for boys/girls.” The era we live in nurtures a plethora of possibilities, and so should you.

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Type of “Exploding Ants” Discovered in Borneo

Sometimes, biological discoveries are inexplicable, except somehow by serendipity — or perhaps how the ecological balance of the world makes way for good things — as seen in the resurfacing of the supposedly extinct crest-tailed mulgara in Australia or the resurgence of the starfish population in South California. Sometimes, much-studied and long-awaited breakthroughs happen, as seen in the unearthing of 215 dinosaur eggs in China.

Other times, scientific research takes a backseat for almost a century due to a lack of progress, until certain individuals bring it upon themselves to finally answer some questions. Such is the case when an interdisciplinary research team did an expedition to Borneo, Thailand, and Malaysia to study “exploding ants” again — the first time since 1935.

The team from the Natural History Museum Vienna, Technical University Vienna, and other contributing institutions published the results of their studies where they were able to identify 15 separate species of exploding ants, including one new discovery.

The new species is called Colobopsis explodens, but the researchers like to call it “yellow goo” on account of its bright yellow grand secretion. The researchers consider C. explodens to be a model species of exploding ant, which means it’ll now serve as a reference point, or an exemplar, for future research. The new species earned this designation because it’s particularly prone to self-sacrifice when threatened.

When threatened, the newfound species of Southeast Asian exploding ants intentionally rupture their own abdomen to release a sticky and toxic substance that can kill the enemy. Called “autothysis,” this suicidal mechanism can only be found in super-social organisms like ants, who work towards the preservation of their colony rather than the life of any individual insect.

[I]n addition to documenting the ants’ exploding behavior in more detail, the researchers also studied their eating habits; these insects like to munch on algae, moss, fungi, dead insects, fruit, and fish.

The discovery itself of an interesting species should already be lauded as a great contribution to biology. But what’s more important about the work of these scientists is how they laid the groundwork for future research involving these insects.

We must have missed a lot of scientific opportunities in the past. This is why being very proud of rediscovering them is the farthest thing from making a mountain out of an anthill.

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Wildflower Strips Act As Natural Pesticides

The detrimental effects of pesticides have many scrambling for alternatives. Be it through pest-sniffing dogs or banning the substance altogether, there has yet to be an affordable and simple solution. With an abundance of arable land in its countrysides, England is taking a different approach. Farms are experimenting with wildflowers, hoping to naturally boost pest predators and alleviate the need for chemical pesticides.

Using wildflower margins to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles has been shown to slash pest numbers in crops and even increase yields.

Harvesters will use GPS technology to monitor their crops throughout full cycles. Where nature may falter, machines step in — primarily to avoid predator outbreaks. We all know plagues are better off immortalized in history books.

“There is undoubtedly scope to reduce pesticide use – that is a given,” said Bill Parker, director of research at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. “There will be probably quite a lot of years when pests are not a problem and pesticide use could be vastly reduced.”

Despite the experiment’s promising nature, the change demands copious amounts of time and effort. Still, many advocating for a much needed cultural shift in agricultural industries are likely to see it through.

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Pest-Sniffing Dog Keeps Greenhouses Safe

As of late, dogs have been a great service both to humans and the environment. Whether participating in search-and-rescue missions or restoring entire forests, we can no longer underestimate man’s best friend. Just now stepping into the spotlight is Chili the Belgian shepherd, who has become the world’s first certified insect-detector.

“Chili is the newest member of our scouting team … she’s a registered working dog trained to find pepper weevil,” said Cam Lyons, an integrated pest management scout at NatureFresh. “As far as we know, she’s the only one in the world looking for this pest in a greenhouse.”

At only two-years-old, Chili has big shoes (or paws) to fill, as she is responsible for protecting an entire population of bell peppers. NatureFresh’s decision to fight destructive bugs with canines stemmed from a desire not to use harmful pesticides.

“We start on the outside of the greenhouse actually, I’ll take her and we’ll search the perimeter of the greenhouses,” said Tina Heide… Chili’s handler. “I’ll have her sniff out walls, sniff our floors, we do skids like packing crates, boxes anything we come across.”

Considering the highly effective detection skills of most dogs, greenhouses may want to consider hiring a four-legged farmer.

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U.K. Passes Ban On Pesticides For Bees

As a vital part of the food chain, bees deserve more attention than they are currently receiving. Though devices such as the BuzzBox are making beekeeping more efficient, they aren’t addressing the steep decline in bee populations. Stepping up to the plate, the U.K. is finally supporting a total ban on bee-harming pesticides.

“The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100 billion food industry, is greater than previously understood.

“I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.” [said environment secretary Michael Gove.]

The monetary value of pollinating insects in the U.K. has shot up to nearly £680 million per annum. At that price point, it’s difficult to believe that bees are simply an expendable asset in nature. In the long run, pesticides aren’t only a threat to wildlife, but to crop consumers altogether.

“We need to encourage farmers to move away from reliance on pesticides as the solution to the many problems that industrial monoculture cropping create.”

Looks like permaculture farming may be the way to go.

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Is Fly Larvae The Next Superfood?

Over the years, countries outside of Asia and Africa have opened up to stranger delicacies. A pub in Brussels is serving crickets in a variety of flavors. Jumping on the insect bandwagon is Entocycle, a startup attempting to turn fly larvae into a source of protein.

Not only can the larvae of black soldier flies be made into animal feed, but they also gobble down food waste during their short lives, doubling the environmental benefits of Entocycle’s automated system.

Okay, so we’re not going to be feasting on worm burgers anytime soon, but we can remain optimistic about our livestock and aquaculture. The larvae are also easy to raise.

The larvae of black soldier flies… will feast on organic waste from [a] large range of sources, including breweries and commercial kitchens. Because they are not picky [about] what they eat, black soldier flies are well-suited to being raised in an automated system.

Female black soldier flies can lay up to 1,000 eggs at a time. Harvesters use 5% of eggs to repopulate new cycles. They hatch the other 95% and turn them into feed as quickly as within a week.

The process is simple and affordable, which makes it no surprise that Entocycle has raised $1 million in grant money. Insect protein may not yet be the norm, but holds promise for the near future.

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Eliminate Mosquitoes With This Genius Bat House

Some animals have gone above and beyond to improve the lives of humans and give back to nature. They have helped restore forests and even acted as guides for other animals. Sometimes, they are indebted to us, and other times, we are to them. This genius bat house provides shelter to occasional visitors and also helps households eliminate mosquitoes.

Made of sustainably sourced, rot-resistant cedar, the four bat box models feature clean lines and angular edges.

Creators Harrison Broadhurst and Christoper Rännefors ensured that the boxes had features like grip pads, good ventilation, and appropriate spacing between interior panels.

Because bats are insect-loving mammals, you can also say goodbye to any potential mosquito problems.

Broadhurst and Rännefors founded the bat-friendly startup because of concerns over the spread of the Zika virus and an awareness that chemicals used to kill mosquitoes can also poison local wildlife. But the average bat can eat thousands of insects in a single night.

The bat house, playfully dubbed BatBnB, is a clever solution to backyard pests. And where I’m currently living? You can count me in.

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