Monthly Archives: November 2013

Insects could provide key clues to understanding humans

The human body is similar to the bodies of other animals in ways most people would never expect.

Although it might sound strange, UA neuroscientists said animal research is one of the best ways to begin understanding the human body.

Leslie Tolbert, a regents’ professor of neuroscience who studies the interactions between cells in the brains of moths and flies, said the genes of other animals have been found to function the same way as those of humans.

“You can study genes and gene products in any species,” she said, “and find that at a fundamental level, they’re working the same way in humans.”

A large percentage of the genes that play a role in human diseases were first discovered in fruit flies, according to Tolbert. Though the creatures are small, their actual body systems are relatively much larger than the complex systems found in humans, making their bodies easier to observe and manipulate in the lab.

According to Tolbert, researchers can use a process called “gene knock-outs and knock-ins” to observe changes in gene expression in an animal when certain genes have been added or removed from its system.

In this way, Tolbert can manipulate different genes in moths and compare their results to the genetic patterns seen in humans. The next steps would involve looking at possible treatments for diseases and applying them to other animals, seeing how the animals are affected and producing medicine for humans based on the findings.

Tolbert said she recognizes that it is not always so simple when it comes to finding a cure for a disease, but that she believes animal research serves as the basis of modern medicine.

“You simply cannot do these types of experiments in humans,” she explained. “But we’ve got this amazing opportunity to do experiments in an insect that give us insights to development in mammals, including humans.”

Alan Nighorn, head of the neuroscience department, said he credits many medicinal advancements to animal research.

“It really has saved lives,” Nighorn said. “The kinds of things that we understand about the nervous system have helped us treat people.”

Although certain animals are often treated as models for humans, they are also studied for reasons that have nothing to do with making medicine.

Konrad Zinsmaier, a professor of neuroscience and molecular and cellular biology, as well as the chair of the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, said curing diseases is just one aspect of medical advancements.

“If we understand how the brain works, it will radically change society and how we interact with each other,” Zinsmaier said. “The brain makes us human, and understanding that means that we may understand ourselves.”

The latest findings in animal research were discussed in depth Nov. 9-13, when more than 30,000 people convened at the San Diego Convention Center for the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting.

One of the key topics was related to research done on animal species. Five speakers were elected to explain why certain species are being studied and what the implications might be.

As far as a specific future for this research, it remains somewhat of a mystery.

“The thing about research is you never know what’s around the next corner,” Tolbert said. “Every experiment you do may answer a couple questions, but it always generates more.”

Tolbert added that she believes without animal research, the world would not be as advanced as it is today.

“The point is that you would not want to be alive in a world today that hadn’t benefited from animal research,” Tolbert said. “The vaccinations, surgical procedures, so much of the medication that we take for granted was only developed because of the possibility to do animal research.”

Cool Bugs!

Order Plecoptera  Stonefly adult, its immature stages develop in the water, usually cold flowing streams

Order Hemiptera Family Membracidae Nymphal & adult stage present in photo Platycotis vittata associated with oak, many times nymphs tended by ants for the honeydew they produce.

Order Araneae Family Lycosidae (wolf spiders) Hogna probably carolinensis one of the commoner wolf spiders, great predator, not a people eater.

Order Diptera Family Tipulidae Crane fly

Roomate issues? Think Again

The next time you are having a problem with your roommate, be happy you aren’t living with Brown Recluse Spiders. One woman in Brentwood Tennessee is finding out just how horrifying a brown recluse infestation can be. “I was leaning over my sink, and I grabbed my towel. And there was just this ginormous spider in my towel that I was about to put on my face,” Artrip said. “These are my roommates,” she said. “So nasty.” To read the full story click HERE.

Colorful Inks Using Insects

Graphic design graduate Evelien Crooy has created her own organic ink using female cochineals. These tiny beetles are often found in South America and have been used for centuries to produce a red-colored dye called carmine. Carmine is often used as a coloring agent and it’s what gives Aperol that bright reddish orange color.

The tiny insects were mixed with salt and natural acids to produce various shades of red. Crooy also ensured that the consistency of the paint was suitable for silkscreen printing.

Crooy played with the notion of screen printing the cover of her book using the special inks. The book itself features photos of products that contain cochineal, including sweets, cosmetics and beverages.

Recently, a Dutch design studio used squid ink to produce a book that would bring nautical stories to life continuing on this trend of art supplies created by nature.

4 biggest jumpers in the world of insects

The NBA’s best dunkers have nothing on these masters of the leap. Check out 4 of the biggest bug jumpers around.
Thu, Nov 07 2013 at 7:39 AM

Photo: John Tannflickr

Being able to jump is a hugely advantageous skill out in the wilds of nature. Being able to quickly propel yourself into the air means you can jump away from something that’s trying to eat you or towards something you’re trying to eat. Kangaroos use jumping as their primary way of getting around, while cats use it to pounce on their prey.
In the insect world, some species have evolved remarkable abilities to accurately hurl themselves vast distances. Some of the jumping bugs I’ve highlighted here throw themselves the equivalent distance of a human jumping hundreds of feet in the air over the length of a football field. Engineers have learned a lot about the mechanics of robotic jumping from insects (case in point, the “Sand Flea“) but they haven’t begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible when the mechanics of insect jumpers are translated to human-engineered devices.
Here are four insects that have mastered the art of the jump. Enjoy!
In 2003, researchers from the University of Cambridge in England declared a new champion in the world of insect jumpers: the froghopper. The small bug (0.2 inches long) uses a unique propulsion system to jump more than two feet in the air. Froghoppers use their bounding leaps to avoid predators and to search for food.
What’s maybe even more remarkable than the length and height of their jumps is what they have to endure to make them — froghoppers accelerate from the ground with a force that is 400 times greater than gravity. (Humans jump with a force that is two to three times that of gravity, and we pass out around five G’s.
The froghopper uses two large muscles to catapult itself around, literally locking its back legs down in such a way that they hold until their jumping muscles have generated enough energy to break the lock and send the insect flying through the air. This release of energy happens so fast that it proved difficult for scientists to capture it using a video camera capable of shooting 2,000 frames per second. The froghopper’s jump took up exactly two of those 1/1000th of a second frames.
Flea, the guitarist
The guitarist shares a name with an insect rock star. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Fleas — the real ones — are one of the more well-known jumping insects and are not creatures that most people like having around. Fleas are parasites that make a living sucking blood from their host. They use their mighty jumps to get around and to hurl themselves onto new host animals. It was discovered in the ’70s that fleas store up energy in their body to make jumps, but the exact mechanism wasn’t actually known until recently when faster, high-speed cameras showed that they actually push off with their “toes,” not their “knees,” as many entomologists had believed.
Photo: Orange Leaf/flickr
The grasshopper is the insect that jumps to mind when most people think of leaping bugs. Grasshoppers have long, hinged legs that they use to both walk around and jump when needed. Although the froghopper can jump farther than the grasshopper, relative to its size, the grasshopper is still highly respected (among those who respect insects for their jumping ability) for its prodigious leaps. The muscles they use to make their jumps have been shown to have 10 times the raw power than the strongest human muscle cell. The only known muscles in the world that are stronger are the ones used by clams to shut their shells, and even then the grasshoppers muscles fire more rapidly.
Photo: Challiyan/flickr
Katydids look a lot like grasshoppers but they are more closely related to crickets. Like grasshoppers, katydids have large hinged legs that they use to make enormous jumps. Unlike the grasshopper, katydids typically have long antennae that can grow longer than the rest of their body. There are hundreds of species of katydids and many combine a great leaping ability with masterful camouflage, perfectly blending into their green and leafy surroundings, ready to jump away if necessary.

Moth that looks like a poodle has Internet abuzz (Bizarre photos)

The first word that comes to mind when casting your eyes upon this photo of a bedazzling insect labeled the Venezuelan Poodle Moth is Photoshop. Really? A moth that looks like a poodle? Eyelashes that Lady Gaga would envy? Seriously?

As it turns out, yes, it is real. The image that has been buzzing around the Internet in the past week–and has been greeted with a measure of skepticism–is very much authentic and comes to you via a zoologist from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Dr. Karl Shuker, a zoologist, science writer, and cryptozoologist (one who studies animals in order to evaluate the possibility of their existence), investigated the photo that is taking the Web by storm and discovered Dr. Arthur Anker, NUS, and his legitimate collection of 75 photos from Gran Sabana national park in Venezuela.

From the ShukerNature blog:

These photographs formed just one set of numerous spectacular images that Art has taken while visiting tropical rainforests and other exotic locations worldwide, and which he has placed in photosets on the Flickr website (his Flickr user name is artour_a).

The photo of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth–someone likened it to a Pokemon character–had been in mothballs since 2009 until someone plucked it out of Anker’s Flickr account and posted the funny-looking insect online within the past week or so. Not surprisingly, it subsequently took off in cyberspace.

Fortunately, Dr. Anker agreed to allow us to show you some of the other bizarre and funny-looking moths in that Gran Sabana collection, with his descriptions and our comments:

“This one is very funny looking.”

Comment: It’s the Rickie Fowler of moths. You know, the PGA player who dresses like this.

Description: Psychophasma erosa.

For some reason (the name, maybe?), this moth reminds us of Lady Gaga.

Description: Arctiidae.

Comment: Believed to have had a cameo role in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Description: Copiopteryx semiramis.

One wonders how this moth with a skeletal hipbone-like frame ever gets off the ground, let alone finds a way into an old suit hanging in the closet.

Description: Trosia.

Comment: The Santa Claus moth.


If an ordinary housefly looked this good, we might not be so quick with the fly swatter.

Pretty geometrid moth.

Each year, children worldwide wear these angel wings during Christmas pageants.

Butterfly wings are what talented artist Vadim Zaritsky needs to make unusual paintings

Meet artist Vadim Zaritsk. He is like nay other artist except for the fact that he uses a very unusual material for his paintings – butterfly wings. He is well known for using butterfly wings to paint pictures of various politicians, landscapes, fellow artists, landscapes, and still life’s.  To see some of Vadims pieces of work check out: Butterfly wings for politicians’ faces