Category Archives: Word of the day

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.

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.

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)

Word of the day: laterostigmatal

(The word of the day is taken from the Torre Bueno Glossary of Entomology… usually related to lepidoptera in some way).
laterostigmatal, of or pertaining to the side, immediately above the spiracle
I opened up the book and this was on the first page I saw. At first it seems strange to have such a specific word for that area, but I can see how it would be useful in describing features isolated to that part of the body, like a stripe or a spot. Heck, I might use this in a species description I am working on, since the caterpillar has several lateral stripes, one of which goes right above the spiracles.

The spiracles are openings through which insects breathe, connected directly to tracheae which bring oxygen to the rest of the body. They are usually easy to find on caterpillars – they are present on the first thoracic segment, and abdominal segments A1 through A8. Some may be hidden by hairs or wrinkles on the body, but they are always there.

This photo, by D. Wagner, is of a caterpillar in the family Sphingidae. The spiracles are orange dots, and there are white stripes in what could be called the laterostigmatal area.

Word of the day: Hypognathous

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

Hypognathous, having the head vertical and the mouth directed ventrad, e.g., most exophagous Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera larvae

Like this!

Acronicta falcula

Word of the day: Sericulture

(Who am I kidding, these words aren’t random. I pick words that relate to Lepidoptera – from the Torre-Bueno Glossary of Entomology)

Sericulture, commercial raising of silkworms, Bombyx mori, for their silk.

There are many direct and indirect ways that insects benefit our lives. Silk is one of them – that amazingly textured fabric is the product of the domesticated “silkworm”, not a worm but a caterpillar. Sericulture refers to how the caterpillars are raised and farmed for their silk.

Why do caterpillars produce silk, anyway? And how?

Caterpillars have a pair of spinnerets behind their mandibles, which are connected to silk glands. Caterpillars produce silk for a variety of reasons – safety lines, shelters, ballooning, molting mats, cocoons, decorating themselves, and probably more! If you ever see a caterpillar suspended in mid air, it is connected to the tree above from a line of silk. If you watch carefully, you might observe it rolling the silk into a little ball as it pulls itself back up. Some caterpillars will lay down silk wherever they go, so they will never drop too far from their host plant.

When caterpillars are in their first couple of instars and quite small, they may use silk for ballooning. Spiders do this too – releasing some silk fibers into the wind, they can be blown to a new locality. This is helpful if you have a hundred hungry siblings to compete with.

Shelters can be made by silking together two leaves. Molting mats are a layer of silk that a caterpillar can hook its crochets into in order to pull out of its old skin. Cocoons are an enclosure made by some moths to protect their pupa, often made of silk and hairs. And some caterpillars will try to blend in by attaching bits of plant matter to their bodies with silk.

Humans have been taking advantage of the silk production of B. mori for about 5,000 years now. Interestingly, the species no longer exists in the wild, and is perpetuated only for the silk trade and for scientific research. The silk is obtained from the cocoon, which is made of one long strand. The pupa is then discarded or eaten. Yum!


Here is an awesome blog with pictures illustrating the whole process.

Word of the day: Thamnophilous

(The word of the day is a random word on a random page of the Torre-Bueno Glossary of Entomology)

Thamnophilous, living in thickets or dense shrubbery.


When I see or hear the word shrubbery I can’t help but think of Monty Python.

Word of the day: caltrops

(The word of the day is a random word on a random page of the Torre-Bueno Glossary of Entomology)

Caltrops spines, in larval Limacodidae (Lepidoptera), the branched and otherwise specialized irritating spines.

Limacodids are the slug caterpillars… aptly named because they look like slimy colorful slugs. They have reduced legs and prolegs, and they appear to “ooze” along leaves. They are also adorned with a variety of sharp spines.

Hint, these are unpleasant to get imbedded in your skin. I ran into Euclea obliqua, one of the most striking species here in the northeast, and my hand was swollen and itchy for days.

This is my plush interpretation of the creature, with pom poms instead of clusters of spines.

Ryerson Lab

Functional Morphology, Sensory Biology, Behavior, Biomechanics

I spell it nature

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