Monthly Archives: February 2013

Better than Christmas

I came home tonight to find this at my door:


I could hardly contain my excitement – the box was holding my order from Bioquip, the entomological supply company! Last year I received a small grant to purchase supplies, and with the field season approaching, I finally made up my mind on what to buy. IMG_1320

It’s better than christmas!IMG_1321

Some of the loot: field pinning box, forceps, iris scissors, 000 pins, collapsible net, AC/DC blacklight and protector tube, and a portable battery pack. IMG_1322

The jackpot – my very own mercury vapor light!

I’m tempted to get some stickers made with my name and contact info, I’m going to be protective of these bad boys. Will probably make some padded carrying cases too, might as well put my sewing skills to good use.

I’m in the process of writing several travel grant proposals, as well as some collecting permit applications. I can’t wait for the snow to melt and for the moths to come out to play! They don’t stand a chance.

Adventures in taxonomy – Part 1

I am taking a seminar this semester where we discuss the ICZN – the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. It’s basically all the rules for naming animals.

If you think naming species is a simple process, and probably not that important anyway, you are about to be proven wrong.

And if you think there is no way people could possibly get excited and have loud heated arguments about the rules regarding how to name species… well… just wait and see!

I will write posts about what we discuss periodically through the semester. But first, some history. And… why do we need a code, anyway?

I bet you can imagine that if anyone could name a species anything they wanted, we’d have at least two dozen species named “Darth vader” (and there is a beetle named Agathidium vaderi due to its black shiny head and eyes). According to the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, “The objects of the Code are to promote stability and universality in the scientific names of animals and to ensure that the name of each taxon is unique and distinct.” There are also separate codes for plants, cultivated plants, and bacteria with the same goals.

Naming a species might seem like a once-in-a-lifetime dream to a child aspiring to be a world-famous scientist (a.k.a. me when I was 10 years old), but in reality it’s commonplace for many scientists, especially those studying insects and other invertebrates. My advisor can’t even remember how many species he has named. Heck, I’m naming one right now, and I’m only a lowly graduate student. There are millions of species out there yet to be discovered, and they are not all in tropical rainforests – you probably have an undiscovered species living in your backyard. It might be a nematode or a gnat, but hey, it counts! And when you discover that species, there are rules that should be followed for the name to be stable, unique, and universal. You might also want to consult naming regulations when splitting one species into two, or when lumping two species together. These decisions are not arbitrary, but done to reflect new knowledge and understanding of the biology, ecology, and evolutionary history of animals.

Animals have been given names for as long as we have had language. However it was not until Linneaus’ binomial (two name) system that species were given permanent, universal names that everyone could use. In 1735 he published Systema Naturae, which was updated until the last edition in 1793. As taxonomy gained momentum in the 1800s, chaos was unavoidable – how do you reconcile the opinions of scientists from different fields, and from different countries around the world? Duplicate names were used, species were moved in and out of genera without realizing (or acknowledging) the work of others, and misspellings were rampant. Just imagine trying to find research from other countries without the internet!

In the 1800s several competing “codes” emerged. the British Association for the Advancement of Science created a committee (Strickland, Darwin, Owen, and Henslow) to come up with the Stricklandian Code (1843). Meanwhile the Kiesenwetter Code was created by Dresden in Germany (1858). American ornithologists created a code based on the Stricklandian Code in 1866. Each had differences and overlap in their recommendations, though no scientists were obliged to use any code in particular (or any code at all).

Finally in 1895 the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature was founded – with the goal of creating a universal code. The first commission in 1897 had five members from five countries (today they are up to 28 members from 20 countries). They started with lists of recommendations, but it took a long time for the first official code to be published, the first edition was not published until 1961! Since then there have been three revised editions; the fourth edition was published in 1999 and is still in use today. The fifth edition is due in the next year or two, in order to address concerns about online publishing.

If you want to read the code yourself, you can find it here.

The next “adventure in taxonomy” will be about types, and some of the fundamental rules in the code.

Word of the Day: Fecifork

(The word of the day is taken from the Torre Bueno Glossary of Entomology)

Fecifork, in certain larval Coleoptera and Lepidoptera, anal comb.

This is one I had never heard of before! It seems to be another awesome and useful word which doesn’t actually get used very often.

We like to talk about anal combs here in the lab, because many caterpillars use them to fling their frass. I have a longer post about frass and frass flinging here.

This definition also covers a body part used by beetle larvae. They do not use their fecifork to fling their frass, but instead to hold it over their body as a sort of “please don’t eat me because I’m covered in poop” shield. Some species also collect their skins from past molts. Tortoise beetles (family Chrysomelidae, subfamily Cassidinae) are especially well known for this. A browse through Bugguide reveals many photos of beetle larvae adorably adorning themselves with their own frass. As you can see in the images below, they can use the fecifork to cover or uncover themselves. Click this link to see even more!



Word of the Day: Proctiger

(The word of the day is taken from the Torre Bueno Glossary of Entomology… this one was chosen by a lab member)

Proctiger, reduced abdominal segment X, bearing the anus.

Just to illustrate the maturity level in this lab.

It may also be referred to as: For ♂: anal cone, anal lobe, anal segment, harpago, harpe, lobe of tenth sternite, tenth abdominal segment, tenth segment, tenth sternites; for ♀: anal cone, anal membrane, anal protuberance, anal segment, peri-anal membrane, segment X, tenth segment; for pupae: anal lobe, anal segment, genital pouch, ninth sternite, tenth abdominal segment, tenth segment, segment X. (source)

And here is where you might find the proctiger of a fly:

The proctiger may also be found in Hemiptera (Psyllidae and Heteroptera) Raphidoptera,, Neuroptera, Trichoptera, Strepsiptera, and Coleoptera. Now you know.

Lab coat improvements

When I was in my first year of university, I had to buy my very own lab coat. I quickly decided it would not remain clean and white, and that I would draw on it with my beloved sharpie markers.

What started as a few favorite band logos (Queen and Guns N Roses, naturally), the flying spaghetti monster, and handprints on my butt, became a long term art project. Every year I have added a few more drawings. The subjects are mostly pets, colorful designs, and bizarre animals I have learned about in classes.

When I came to grad school, I no longer needed a lab coat. Sure, I wore it to a few intro bio lectures, but it isn’t required for any of the work that I do. So it has hung on the back of my door, sad and lonely, for over two years.

Feeling inspired to break out the sharpies once again, I added a few more drawings over the blizzard weekend (we got 35″ of snow here!). Since the early drawings are representative of “me” in my college years, I figured I should have some that represent “grad school me”. So I added some of my study organisms, and my pet bunnies.

Do you have any suggestions for other little drawings to add? I’d love to keep filling in the white space! I’ll take some pictures of the entire lab coat soon.

lab coat bunnies IMG_1304 IMG_1305 IMG_1306

(the Wag Lab tagline is a bit of a joke around here – “servicing the caterpillars” means feeding them and cleaning the containers, and Dave has been here since 1988)

Word of the Day – Cymbiform

(The word of the day is taken from the Torre Bueno Glossary of Entomology… this one was chosen by a lab member)

Cymbiform, boat-shaped; a concave disc with elevated margin; navicular.

I told a lab member to skim through the book and find a funny word, and he did. I can’t think of anything I deal with that I would describe as “boat-shaped”, so I took a look around the internet.

The first thing I noticed was that there are a lot of websites defining the word, but not actually using it. And a google image search brings up a lot of boat shaped plastic objects, like bowls, but no insects. A search of “cymbiform insect” doesn’t bring up much. The most common usage I have found relates to plants. Maybe it’s considered an entomological word because insects eat the plants?

Can you think of any insect part that would be described as cymbiform?

If nothing else, it could be a creative insult. “My, what a cymbiform head you have.”

Word of the Day – Hyaluronidase

(The word of the day is taken from the Torre Bueno Glossary of Entomology)

Hyaluronidase, in some predaceous insects, an enzyme injected into prey with the saliva that breaks down the polysaccharide ground substance of connective tissues, aids in the penetration of the saliva, and assists in liquefying the tissues of the victim.

I chose this word because geez, it sounds scary!

This enzyme is found in some blood-sucking insects, but not all. It has been found in some deer flies, biting midges, mosquitoes, a sand fly, and the cat flea. However it is not found in all deer flies or mosquitoes. It seems to be useful in insects which feed by creating a large lesion and a pool of blood, and might help transmit pathogens.

The first thing that comes to mind is the day when I was chased by what felt like (and might actually have been) a few dozen of these guys (same genus as the one known to have Hyaluronidase, though I’m not sure of the species). The picture was taken from inside my car.

deer fly


Volfova V, Hostomska J, Cerny M, Votypka J, Volf P (2008) Hyaluronidase of bloodsucking insects and its enhancing effect on leishmania infection in mice. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2: e294 (link)

Ryerson Lab

Functional Morphology, Sensory Biology, Behavior, Biomechanics

I spell it nature

Trying to make sense of the world through science and language.