Monthly Archives: March 2013

Word of the day: Panic

Not really! But… well… yeah really.

Tomorrow is our department’s Graduate Student Symposium, where we volunteer to present in front of our peers/professors/family/random people who wander in. The talks can be formal or informal, scientific or just for fun. Last year I talked about my Acronicta project. And while I have done a lot of work since then, I don’t have any impressive results (other than a much more filled-in data matrix). So instead of rehashing that talk, I will be discussing the experience of describing a species for the first time (not an Acronicta, but a moth in the family Noctuidae).

My advisor and I are this close >< to finishing and submitting the species description we have been writing, we mostly have to deal with little issues like fixing image captions and ensuring we conform to the journal’s format. So I feel confident talking about the work we have done.

I won’t give too much away to the world at large, though, until the paper is actually published. Hopefully that will happen sometime this year. When it does, you can expect much fuss and celebration.

Here is a sneak peak of the new guy!

sympistis_adult copy

I am currently practicing my talk to my rabbits, but they keep falling sleep, all snuggled up on the floor like this:

snuggle_2At least Rascal looks like he is listening (on the left), but Appledot likes to ignore me. Oh well. Hopefully the audience tomorrow will be more receptive.


Digital dissections

Someone passed along this link to me, and I think it is brilliant!

The University at Buffalo has some digital dissections on their website, labeled and unlabeled. Here is the grasshopper:

They have a variety of vertebrates and invertebrates, all very well done. Each includes internal anatomy as well. You learn the most by doing dissections yourself, but if you need a refresher (or just want to see the inside of a squid), check it out!

Escaping the pupal shell

Life is getting more exciting here in the Wagner lab – moths are emerging! Every year we raise hundreds and hundreds of caterpillars for various projects. I am only directly involved in rearing my own specimens, but we have an army of undergraduates who help Dave rear caterpillars for his books and research. We have a “rearing room” in the lab where they are kept as caterpillars during the summer, and as pupae during the winter. Lately we have been increasing the photoperiod, heat, and humidity in order to encourage the moths to emerge a bit early. We are going to kill them to become specimens, and it’s nice to get all the pinning done before the field collecting season starts.

Today some lab members alerted me to this moth, a cute fuzzy species in the genus Cucullia (family Noctuidae). It had created its pupal chamber directly against the bottom of the plastic container amidst some paper towel. We thought this would make it easier for it to emerge, but it couldn’t seem to figure out what to do.



Its head appeared to be stuck, and it could not manage to break apart any other section of the pupal shell. We were about to cut it open to help, when…

Hurray! It emerged! It had to do some interesting yoga moves to flip around, but it got out of there in the end. It then took a few minutes to inflate its wings with hemolymph, and after a short time started looking like a regular moth.




Usually moths emerge at night in order to fluff up their wings out of sight of birds… so we had never seen a dramatic emergence such as this. Maybe it just needed some encouragement.

Zombies are cool, right?

I bought this shirt from EscapePod on Etsy. It’s what all the cool entomologists are wearing these days, featuring an ant infected with the cordyceps fungus.


Basically, the fungus controls the behavior of the infected ant, causing it to climb to an ideal spot and clamp down with its mandibles… and die. Thus allowing the fungus to grow a fruiting body and spread its spores.  Infected ants are sometimes called “zombie ants”, not because they rise from the dead, but because of the mind-controlling behavior of the parasite. I’ll let Sir David Attenborough tell you more:

And if you can handle really terrible narration, you can’t miss out on snail zombies:

If you need some fun lunch-time reading, here is an article by Carl Zimmer on “How to control an army of zombies“.



Ryerson Lab

Functional Morphology, Sensory Biology, Behavior, Biomechanics

I spell it nature

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