Author Archives: Bekka Brodie

9 out of 10 Noble Chafers Agree…

Romania is the place to be!

Now, I can’t comment the nobility of Noble chafer, Gnorimus nobilis, (Family Scarabaeidae) and whether it belongs to a hereditary class with high political or social status. However I can confirm that the Noble chafer has high principles and ideals when it comes to choosing its natural environment and home, traditionally managed orchards and woodlands.

The Noble chafer can often be found in traditionally maintained cultural landscapes and develops in decaying wood within the hallows of live trees throughout Europe. The adults emerge in early summer and live for 4-6 weeks dining on high nectar flowers such as hogweed, elder, and meadowsweet.  Unfortunately, over the last century these beetles have been losing their habitat due to the rural to urban human exodus, urbanization, and rural development programs (Hartel et al. 2013) and consequently have become rare in parts of Europe, such as Great Britain; (Hampshire Biodiversity Partnership). However, in Romania, many people still practice traditional land practices such as manual hay mowing, tree pollarding, low intensity grazing. These practices create a mosaic of habitats in which many species, including the Noble Chafer, thrive.  So, these beetles still seem to be abundant in Romania…. at least for now.

[Photo] Beetles geographic Range includes the palearctic ecozone (Europe: Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, Servia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania, Ukraine, Belarus, Switerland)

Noble beetles geographic range includes the palearctic ecozone (Europe: Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, Servia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania, Ukraine, Belarus, Switzerland) [Photo: Wikipedia]

Noble chafer habitat, Iron Gates Natural Park, RO

Noble chafer habitat in Iron Gates Natural Park, RO. (Although, in the UK Noble chafers found in Orchards.)

I discovered the Noble chafers while surveying longicorn beetles using pheromone trapping in a sub-Mediterranean forest of the Iron Gates Natural Park in Southwest Romania, as part of the Romanian Beetle Project.  At first, I thought it was a fluke!  I figured the first Noble chafer captured must have been merrily going about its daily business and accidentally flown (undamaged) into my trap.  Oops!  But then I continued to find Noble chafers throughout the month and a half of our trapping expedition. In total, we captured 24 Nobel Chafers!

The Noble chafer is a beautiful metallic green beetle (approximately 2cm or, if you are American, Liberian or Burmese that is 3/4 inches in length).  But the most telling feature to identify these beetles is their scutellum, which is the small triangular shield-like structure between their hardened wings (elytra).  Noble chafers have a scutellum that is shaped like an equilateral triangle (all three sides are equal).  But be careful when making the identification because they can be easily confused with the Rose chafer, Cetonia spp., (Family Scarabaeidae) which have an isosceles triangle (2 out of the three sides are equal) shaped scutellum.

The Rose Chaffer is similar to the Noble beetle with the exception that its scutellem is shaped like an isoseles triangle. The Noble beetle is rare and has a scutelum shaped like a equalateral triangle.

The Rose Chaffer is similar to the Noble Chaffer with the exception that its scutellem is shaped like an isoseles triangle. The Noble beetle is rare and has a scutelum shaped like a equalateral triangle.

I needed to learn more about the Noble chafer, if scientists were working with it and what conservation initiatives were being taken… So, I contacted The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species. It is an UK-based organization that bridges that gap between science and real-life conservation initiatives.  They consider this beetle vulnerable in the UK, which means that is at high risk of extinction. I told them about all the Noble beetles I captured in Romania and they immediately put me in touch with Dr. Deborah Harvey.  Dr. Harvey is a Post Doctorate at the Royal Holloway University of London and has been working on the Noble  beetle as part of a wider project in conjunction with the Universities of Birmingham and Aberstwyth, funded by Leverhulme.  She is investigating the use of pheromone attractants to manage, survey, and ultimately conserve the Noble chafers.  So, she was obviously intrigued and excited to hear about my discovery (and especially to learn about the pheromones I am using)!

In essence, pheromones have been “playing with insects heads since the 1950’s” when they were first applied to control moth pests. A pheromone is a chemical compound produced by an organism that sends a signal or message to a member (or members) of the same species, causing a change in their behaviour. In this case, we hope that a pheromone will attract Noble chafers looking for romance (a potential mate)!  Similar to the Romanian Beetle Project with longicorns, a pheromone would help conservationists survey and monitor the number of Noble chafers (without harming them) and inform about their community and ecology.

Dr. Harvey is an Insect Conservationist and has been working with Noble chafers (among other vulnerable beetles) for a few years now. In addition trying to find pheromones for attracting adult Noble chafers, she will also be studying the larvae (baby beetles). She explained that in the UK the current method for identifying the presence of chafers is to look for signs of larval frass (beetle poop!). The larvae develop in decaying wood and probably feed on fungi. But that’s the thing… we do not know exactly what they are eating or how they develop. And the frass could have been there for a really long time after the beetles have left the tree. So, in fact, frass may not actually be the best method for determining if beetles are really there. …And this is where Dr. Harvey comes in, she will be conducting scientific experiments to learn how the larva develop, what they eat, and the kind of natural home environment they prefer. With knowledge on the Noble beetles biology and ecology, we can better identify and safeguard Noble chafers habitat.

I always tell people that Romania is the “wild wild west”… of Eastern Europe!  It is one of the few European countries with intact wild forests with a diverse array of ecosystems.  And it is because of this that it is home to many species that cannot be found anywhere else in Europe and many of them are threatened or are in danger of becoming extinct. So, it was no surprise that it would be home to Noble chafers but whether or not they prefer Romania?  …Well, we will have to wait and see if Dr. Harvey and I have stumbled upon a pheromone to find out for sure!

What can you do?  Please keep an eye out for these beetles and if you see one this summer, contact The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species or Tweet, Dr. Deborah Harvey @deborahjharvey, #ROBeetleProject #conservation

 

Citations:

Hartel, T., Dorresteijn, I., Klein, C., Máthé, O., Moga, C.I., Öllerer, K., Roellig, M., von Wehrden, H., Fischer, J. (2013): Wood-pastures from a traditional rural region of Eastern Europe: characteristics, biodiversity and threats. Biological Conservation, 166: 267-275.

Noble Chafer, Gnorimus nobilis: Species Action Plan (2001) Hampshire Biodiversity Partnership. 2: 1-6.

Noble chafer, Gnorimus nobilis, (Family Scarabidae), Iron Gates Natural Park, Romania

Noble chafer, Gnorimus nobilis, (Family Scarabidae), Iron Gates Natural Park, Romania

The Case of the Mysterious Mesosa Longicorn Beetle

Entomology Today

A white-clouded longicorn (Mesosa nebulosa) with all of its tiny hairs (pubescence) intact. Photo by Szczepan Ziarko.
By Bekka Brodie

It was a beautiful, sleek, black beetle with long antennae. Immediately, I knew it was different than any other longicorn beetle I had seen, but its identity eluded me.

Bekka Brodie

Solving mysteries may be “elementary” for Sherlock Holmes, but for entomologists, trying to identify an unknown insect requires more than careful examination of trace evidence to reveal information about a mystery insect — especially when there are more than 400,000 different species of beetle worldwide! Identification requires a systematics key, careful examination of the beetle’s habitat, and a review of the scientific literature. And in this case, a team of entomologists from all over the world.

I discovered the mystery beetle while trapping deep in a sub-Mediterranean forest of the Iron Gates Natural Park in Southwest Romania. I had been checking traps for…

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Beetle Trapping Expedition

It was a beautiful, hot, Spring morning, and 3 out of shape committed scientists set out to bait and trap beetles in a mountainous and rugged sub-Mediterranean area of Romania.  Enthusiastic, we were carrying 50 traps, anxious to see what surprises will wait for us in those 50 cups over the next several weeks. We wanted to survey threatened and endangered longicorn beetles that live in the unique habitats that make up the Iron Gates Natural Park (IGNP) but we would have been excited to find even the most common of them all!  This was a brand new territory for us and one that has never been systematically surveyed. We were looking for one beetle in particular, the endangered European Maple Longicorn Beetle (Ropalopus ungaricus), but found more then we ever expected!

Pheromone Factory Line

The “Pheromone Factory Line”, here Gabriel Vanau, Viorel Popescu and I are tying multiple generic pheromone lures together in preparation for deployment in the field. The pheromone lures were provided by David Wakarchuck at Synergy Semiochemicals.  (Yes, we are wearing socks!  The lab is inside someones home… so, no shoes allowed! Next time I will be prepared and bring/wear slippers.) .

Hanging flight intercept traps and recording habitat data.

The pheromone lures are used in combination with flight intercept traps (above) provided by Joseph A. Francese at USDA APHIS.  …Here’s how it works, the pheromones are chemical compounds that transmit a seductive message to the beetles (i.e. “happy hour” or “ladies night”) and attracts members of the same species (often the opposite sex) to the trap location.  The responding beetle flies toward the pheromone message in search of a mate, bumps into the panel, and slides into the white cup below (trapped!).

The pheromones we are using are generic (many species of longicorn beetle produce the same or very similar pheromones) and we hope that they will attract a variety of beetle species (Hanks and Miller 2013, Wickham 2014). The pheromones and traps will help shed light on the diversity and community of beetle species, which is critical since the deciduous forests in Romania are among the last remaining habitat in the European Union suitable for the survival and persistence of a variety of endangered species and because knowledge about them is relatively scarce.  Additionally, the pheromones we are using have yet to be tested in Europe. So, what we find in the trap cups will be a great big surprise (like Christmas morning… but for insect nerds)!

We walked over 3 kilometres setting up traps, up steep mountains and through open fields. The elevation in Eselnita Valley increased from just under 200 meters above sea level to almost 500 meters in less than 1 km!  Within this landscape, there is a temperature inversion causing the Beech trees (which prefer a colder climate and usually grow at higher altitudes) to grow near the valley bottom (200-300 meters), where the river maintains a cooler microclimate.  The higher we climbed, the warmer it got, the Beech trees disappeared and were replaced by Oak trees.  In the open fields (Mala Valley) it is sunny, hot, and full of wildlife, including wild boar, deer, snakes (vipers!), and insects (lots of ticks!).

Vipera_ammodytes ammodytes_VGavril

Baby corn viper posing for the camera, Vipera ammodytes, IGNP, RO [Photo: Viorel Gavril]

While setting up our traps in Mala Valley, we just about walked into a barbed wire… and looked like we trespassed on someone’s land!  We had to be careful about setting up our traps because we didn’t know if our presence would be welcome, and didn’t know how serious people are about trespassing.  Carefully, we proceeded onto the property in hopes that we would be permitted access to continue our work… And we were greeted with kindness!  We met an old couple, Ion and Veta Jianu, who not only welcomed us, but they gave us coffee and homemade cheese (which became my staple food for the next several weeks), and also gave us permission to trap beetles on their land.  (In fact, Ion greeted me by hand-kissing without making eye contact, which I learned is a traditional way for a gentleman to greet a lady in Eastern Europe!)  Throughout the field season, I would continue to meet Ion every day (no hand-kissing since). Ion spoke no English, but he patiently waited while I strung together a few Romanian words (thanks iPhone data and Google translate!), and we made conversation for hours at a time.  We chatted about the beetles captured, the trees and plants I came across in the woods, our families, and the weather (always up to date with weather conditions in the area, as well as in the town where my in-laws were babysitting my son, at the other end of the country).  I would often bring leaves from trees where I was catching beetles and Ion would teach me the Romanian name of the tree and its traditional use (scythe handle, cane, etc.).  …So, as it turned out, on the other side of that barbed wire was a very good friend!

Ion Jianu

Ion Jianu waiting for us to finish our work for the day (Mala Valley, Eselnita, RO)

There are many vulnerable, threatened, and poorly understood beetles in the IGNF.  (I will post stories about many of them in the future.)  However, there is one beetle in particular that we were interested in finding, the endangered European Maple Longicorn Beetle, Ropalopus ungaricus.  This beetle has an endangered IUCN status due to severe destruction Ropalopus_ungaricus_copyright_Petr_Zabranskyof mixed forest habitat for intensive agriculture and urbanization, and because of deficient forest management, and most importantly, the abandonment of traditional land uses (fewer people like Ion and Veta). The Maple Longicorn develops in living and dying Maple trees (Acer spp.) with a preference for pollarded or open trees. Pollarding is a form of traditional forest management in Central and Eastern Europe used to produce more branches and foliage for use as animal feed or firewood. Pollarding also has a side effect of increasing the amount of light that enters the tree canopy, as well as its undergrowth, allowing for optimal conditions Maple Longicorn.

A "wolf beetle" overpowering a longicorn beetle, Hungary, Gerence Highlands. [Photo: Sig]

A “wolf beetle” overpowering a longicorn beetle, Hungary, Gerence Highlands. [Photo: Sig]

Over the next month and a half we checked the traps daily.  We wanted to ensure that none of the beetles were harmed… especially the Maple Longicorn beetle.  We were worried about them getting harmed because we caught more then just beetles responding to pheromones for romance (a mate), we also caught beetles looking for a meal!  We caught hundreds of checker beetles (Clerus mutillarius) daily (about 10-20 per trap)!  The Romanian people I spoke to called these beetles ‘gândacul lup’, or wolf beetles, because they’re amazing hunters and eat everything!    So, we had to check the traps daily to reduce the number of Longicorn beetles that would have been on the “wolves” menu.

After an entire month and a half of hiking 1.5 kilometers of rugged terrain daily, we decided to wrap up the project and take down the traps.  The pheromones were quickly depleting from the heat and we hadn’t caught any new beetles species in a week.  And, although we hadn’t found our target beetle, the endangered Maple Longicorn Beetle (Ropalopus ungaricus), we still had plenty of data for a great story!  (As it turns out it’s so elusive that even the Grigori Antipa Natural History Museum in Bucharest, RO, does not have one in their vast collections).  However, (and quite ironically) on the very last day we captured a similar species of Maple Longicorn beetle (Ropalopus insubricus), a cousin of our target beetle (and featured on the header this post).  So, we are getting closer!  We will be back in August to scope out better habitat to trap for the elusive Maple Longicorn Beetle.

Overall, we managed to collect 40 different species of Longicorn beetles and of those approximately 10 are rare, vulnerable, and threatened beetles.  One species of beetle was unidentified, possibly a new species or invasive species??  Many beetles were captured in specific habitats within our trapping areas or at different times of the day.  I will write more detail about the beetles, their identification, habitat, and behaviour in future posts… So, please stay tuned or “follow” this blog.

In the mean time, for more details on the project, please visit my new page “RO Beetle Project“!

Removing traps from the Eselnita Valley with Akis and Laurentiu Rozylowicz.

Removing traps from the Eselnita Valley with Alexandru Gavrilidis Athanasios (AKA “Akis”) and Laurentiu Rozylowicz [Photo: Laurentiu Rozylowicz).

The spot where the Maple Longicorn Beetle "should be" in the collection at the Antipa...

The blue arrow shows the empty location for the Maple Longicorn Beetle in the collection at the Grigori Antipa Natural History Museum, Bucharest, RO

Citations:

Hanks LM and Millar JG (2013) Field bioassays of cerambycid pheromones reveal widespread parsimony of pheromone structures, enhancement by host plant volatiles, and antagonism by components from heterospecifics. Chemoecology 23:21-44.

Wickham JD, Harrison RD, Lu W, Guo Z, Millar J, Hanks LM, and Chen Y (2014) Generic lures attract cerambycid beetles in a tropical montane rain forest in southern China. Journal of Economic Entomology 107(1):259-267.

Featured imageRopalopus insubricus 

The Beginning of the End: How Blow Flies find Corpses

In the spirit of Halloween…

“I see dead people”, whispers  Haley Joel Osment in M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Sixth Sense”… and he is very convincing. That’s just a movie, but for blow flies, seeing and smelling dead people, or any decomposing corpse for that matter, is what adult life is all about. Unlike Osment, blow flies want and need to see and smell dead things! They have to be able to find decomposing corpses quickly in order to lay their eggs and propagate their kind. In fact, they are so good at finding dead things that we use their progeny (read maggots and pupae) in forensic sciences for determining time of death (TOD), and ultimately putting criminals behind bars.

Haley Joel Osment in M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Sixth Sense” (Photo: Huffington Post) and blow fly (Photo: Mike Hrabar)

In a recent article published in Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, my collegues and I explain how fertile blow flies rapidly locate a recently deceased corpse.  Reproductively mature female blow flies use very low concentrations of dimethyl trisulfide (DMTS) in combination with dark animal pelt mimicking colours (black and reddish brown) to rapidly locate the corpse.

Blow flies lay their eggs on recently deceased animal corpses.  The eggs quickly hatch into maggots which consume and break down the corpse. After approximately 1 week of consuming the rotting flesh, they will leave the corpse and pupate in the soil nearby.  But blow flies aren’t the only organism scavenging the corpse; they face a lot of competition with other insects, bacteria, fungi, and vertebrates.  In order to reduce competition with these organisms, blow flies need to get there first, and they do!  Often, they get there within the first few hours after death!  This means that they can smell a corpse long before our noses can; very intriguing!

Working with one of the first species of blow fly to arrive on the scene, Lucilia sericata, we show that blow flies can detect ‘death’ volatiles, and respond faster to a recently dead and wounded rat carcass than they do to an intact rat carcass.    Our next step was to identify the odour using a variety of lab equipment including a gas chromatograph electro-antennal detector (GC-EAD) which is a fancy name for a process with a easy explanation… the antenna acts as a filter for all the smells and we only identify the odours that excite the antenna.  Using this process we identified 9 compounds that excited the antenna.

Using a series of laboratory and field experiments, we concluded that DMTS was the key compound that attracted flies, but not just any flies… female flies laden with eggs!

Like most insects blow flies use antenna to smell odours and locate resources, like the corpse, but unlike many insects blow flies have huge eyes that take up 70% of their head.  So we paired visual cues with DMTS and found that dark animal pelt mimicking colours accentuate the response of blow flies.

Ultimately these findings will be developed into a lure for trapping blow flies, both industrially and residentially.  But more importantly, the lure can be used to monitor blow flies for the impending Zombie Apocalypse.  Due to the fact that the rotting flesh of zombies is likely similar to the rotting flesh of a recently deceased corpse (although, arguably, my dead experimental rats were far from being undead), Metro Vancouver (one of the safest Canadian cities in case zombies decide to finally take down us humans) will be able to use our lure in a trapping and monitoring system, part of their “Zombie Preparedness Campaign“.

…No, but really, BC really does have an emergency zombie preparedness Campaign!  Deal is: If you are ready for zombies, you are ready for the inevitable Megathrust Earthquake, which is due every 70 years or so in the Pacific Rim. Anyway, zombie preparedness is probably one of the things that makes Vancouver one of the best places to live in the Solar System.  I swear I didn’t make any of this stuff up!

Read the full article:

Brodie, B.S., R. Gries, A. Martins, S. Vanlaerhoven, and G. Gries. 2014. Bimodal cue complex signifies suitable oviposition sites to gravid females of the common green bottle fly. Entomologia Experimentalis et applicata. 153(2) 114-127

Citations:

McCann, S. feeding and ovipositing blow flies. [Cover Photo] 2012. Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Ten reasons why blow flies are stink’n awesome!

…And not just stink’n!  All joking aside though, blow flies don’t really smell, it’s the resources they are associated with (garbage, poop, carrion, etc.) that smells. The purpose of this post is to make you fall in love appreciate blow flies!  Blow flies are in the Family Calliphoridae and are considered filth flies because they are a terrible nuisance to people and are thought to be disease vectors. Overall, blow flies have a bad reputation because of their less than socially approved eating habits.  So just for a moment, try to look past their gross peculiarities and you will learn how important these insects are to us and the environment.

1. Recycling.  Blow flies are natures recyclers!  They are notorious for being able to quickly locate a dead body and lay their eggs in it.  The eggs hatch into maggots which, by eating dead flesh, break-down and recycle the nutrients back into the environment.  Other filth flies share in the blow flies ability to recycle. In Europe, house flies (Family Muscidae) are reared on pig farms and are used to decompose and reduce the amount of manure (Čičkova 2012).  Flies are a crucial step in the global nutrient recycling process.  It’s a dirty job… but someone’s gotta do it!

2. Art. John Knuth is a contemporary artist that allows blow flies to create paintings.  He provides the flies with water colour paint diluted in their food, sugar water.  Through their digestion process, the flies regurgitate (also known as bubbling) and defecate the watercolour onto canvas.

As part of our outreach program, to teach people about blow flies and related research at Simon Fraser University (SFU), we paint with maggots.  Below is a picture of my friend and colleague, Antonia Musso, holding maggot art at SFU’s science spectacular (a Halloween event).

Antonia Musso prepares the maggot art with some acrylic paint (Photo: Sean McCann).

Antonia Musso prepares the maggot art with some acrylic paint (Photo: Sean McCann).

Maggots crawl through paint to create the masterpiece (Photo: Sean McCann).

Maggots crawl through paint to create the masterpiece (Photo: Sean McCann).

Antonia with the maggot masterpiece (Photo: Sean McCann).

Antonia with the maggot masterpiece (Photo: Sean McCann).

3. pollination.  Although I love them, I think bees are totally over-rated when it comes to pollination.  In fact, honey bees are not native to North America!  So, before the honey bees were brought here, guess who was pollinating our wild flowers? Flies!  (Okay, credit is also due to solitary bees, beetles, and butterflies)  Blow flies are excellent pollinators and, on certain plants, are incredibly effective at transferring pollen grains onto a flower stigmas (King et al. 2013).

Blow fly covered in pollen grains (Photo: Mike Hraber).

Blow fly covered in pollen grains (Photo: Mike Hraber).

4. Measuring Biodiversity.  Scientist extract DNA samples from the guts of blow flies and use their last meal (carrion and/ or faeces) to assess exactly which animals they had been feeding from (Calvignac-Spencer et al. 2013).  The gut contents of blow flies provide essential data about species abundance and distribution.  In places where it is difficult for people to survey (dense jungle environments) or when animals are difficult to find (nocturnal, rare, shy) the blow flies do surveys and data collection for conservationists.  The information is used then to update current inventories of wild animal communities, and identify conservation strategies.

5. Beauty.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but, look closely and you will see a fly that is quite striking!  Blow flies have an shiny, metallic green/ blue colour often with bright red eyes (so why would the red-eyed green tree frog take all the credit?)

6. Forensic Entomology.  Blow flies are used to determine the time of death of a corpse.  Immediately after death, a body begins to decompose and release specific odours.  Using the odours produced, carrion flies are attracted to the corpse within minutes post mortem. The female flies deposit their eggs on the corpse.  The eggs hatch into maggots which eat and grow on the corpse.  It is the information from this life cycle, or speed of growth, that is then used to determine time of death.  The timing of the blow flies is so accurate can be used to narrow the time of death down to a matter of days.  This method is used in our legal system to put criminals behind bars.

Female blow flies and eggs on a vertebrate carcass (Photo: Sean McCann).

Female blow flies and eggs on a vertebrate carcass (Photo: Sean McCann).

7. Flying ability.  Blow flies are able to fly with such precision that we are never able to swat them.  This is because of the very tiny second pair of wings called halteres, which function like mini gyroscopes and help the fly to calculate in flight maneuver instantly.  Scientists use Blow flies to study flight muscles and split second flight maneuvers. They have discovered flies in mid-turn have the ability to roll on their sides 90º or more (flying upside down) just like a jet fighter (Hines 2014).

The halteres are the tiny drumstick-like wings. Located on this photo just beneath the large wings between the thorax and abdomen (Photo: Mike Hraber).

The halteres are the tiny drumstick-like wings. Located on this photo just beneath the large wings between the thorax and abdomen (Photo: Mike Hraber).

Blow fly coming in to land on a rat corpse (Photo: Sean McCann)

Blow fly coming in to land on a rat corpse (Photo: Sean McCann)

8. Maggot therapy.  Blow fly maggots, or ‘medical maggots’, are used in hospitals to clean wounds because they are faster and more efficient than modern technology.  The maggots of certain blow fly species are applied to chronic wounds,  like ulcers and non-healing traumatic or post surgical wounds, because they eat only dead and necrotic tissue.  The practice of maggot therapy began during World War I, surgeons used them to clean gangrene infections.  Unfortunately, at the time they didn’t know which blow flies to use (some species eat dead tissues and others eat live) and the treatment worked only 50% of the time.  Fortunately, we know more about these blow flies now and the method is now 100% effective. In Canada (as well as in Japan and European Union) the maggots are classified as drugs and require a full marketing licence.

Blow fly maggots are used to treat wounds that won't heal (Photo: Jaroslaw Wojcik)

Blow fly maggots are used to treat wounds that won’t heal (Photo: Jaroslaw Wojcik)

9. The movie ‘The Fly’.  OK, it probably wasn’t exactly blow flies hat inspired these movies, but who cares…? Arguably Jeff Goldblum is even more handsome as a fly!  The 1958 film was so popular Hollywood did a re-make in 1986.  Many people think this is one of the best horror films… average rating 7.2/10 (for the first, 1958 version) and 8.2/10 (for the 1986, Goldbloom version) on Rotten Tomatoes.  Don’t watch if you have a fly phobia (also called pteronarcophobia)!

Kurt Neumann's The Fly (1958) film poster

Kurt Neumann’s The Fly (1958) film poster

Daid Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) film poster

David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) film poster

10. Fish food.  Long before David Suzuki came up with the idea, Jason Drew has been using maggots to feed farm reared fish.  Farm raised salmon, trout, and shrimp need a lot of protein in their diet.  Currently the fish farming industry fishes small wild fish out of the ocean, grinds them up into fish meal, and feeds it to the farmed fish.  Drew has developed an alternative and sustainable method to fulfill their protein requirements; he has been rearing blow flies on blood left over from slaughter houses and feeding the maggots to the farmed fish (Barclay 2012).  This ideas has been so lucrative that he has opened his own business, Agriprotein, and is trying to license and expand the technology.

and lastly,

11. The Blow Fly.  The first dirty rapper (disclaimer: NOT for all audiences; very dirty rapper)!  He wrote all his songs in the 60’s and 70’s… classic.  He got his name because his Grandmother said the was, “nastier than a blow fly”.  He’s also the nemesis of my PhD, every time I Google something legitimate for my research, something undoubtedly pops up about this guy. He’s neither awesome or stink’n awesome… but I felt like he needed to be be listed.  So, he’s number 11.

The Weird World Of Blowfly (2010) Movie Poster

The Weird World Of Blowfly (2010) Movie Poster

 

Citations:

Barclay, E. 2012. How Fly Farming May Help More Fish Stay in the Sea. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/10/15/162961073/how-fly-farming-may-help-more-fish-stay-in-the-sea on 19 May 2014.

Calvignac-Spencer S., Merkel K., Kutzner N., Kühl H, Boesch C., Kappeler P., Metzger S., Schubert G., and Leedertz F. 2013. Carrion fly-derived DNA as a tool for comprehensive and cost-effective assessment of mammalian biodiversity. Molecular Ecology 22: 915-924.

Čičkova H et al. (2102) Biodegradation of Pig Manure by the Housefly, Musca domestica: A Viable Ecological Strategy for Pig Manure Management. PLoS ONE.http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0032798 . DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032798.

Hines S. (2014) Fruit Flies, Fighter Jets use similar nimble tactics when under attack. Retrieved 20 May 2014 from http://www.washington.edu/news/2014/04/10/fruit-flies-fighter-jets-use-similar-nimble-tactics-when-under-attack/

King C., Ballantyne G., and Willmer P.G. 2013. Why flower visitation is a poor proxy for pollination: measuring single-visit pollen deposition, with implications for pollination networks and conservation. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. 4: 811-818.

Wajcik J. 2014. Blow fly maggots [photograph] Retrieved 19 May 2014 from http://www.straight.com/life/hungry-maggots-crawl-modern-medicine

 

The Romanian Tarantula

Romanian tarantula, Lycosa singoriensis (Lexmann 1770)

Romanian tarantula, Lycosa singoriensis (Lexmann 1770)

The Romanian tarantula, Lycosa singoriensis (Lexmann 1770), is actually not a tarantula at all!  It’s a wolf spider! In Romania, and in most parts of Europe, the members of the family Lycosidae are commonly called tarantulas. This species is the largest spider in Romania.

For the last couple weeks my family and I have been visiting relatives in Romania.  While we’ve been here, my son (Tavi) and I have made it our mission to capture the Romanian Tarantula. It all started when we were visiting the Celic-Dere Monastery (black water in Turkish) in northern Dobrogea (or Dobrudja), Romania and found numerous large holes in the ground surrounded by a “spidery” silk. The holes were about the size of a Toonie (about 1 inch in diameter) and approximately 30 cm deep (measured with a stick). So, we just had to investigate.

Gallery entrance of the Romanian tarantula

Gallery entrance of the Romanian tarantula

After talking with the locals, it was explained to us that the best way to capture one of these spiders was to “fish” for it.  More specifically, we needed to use a skinny candlestick with the wax removed down to the last centimeter.  (So, basically 1 cm of wax and the end of a string.)  We immediately set out for our “fishing” trip…

 

Unfortunately, we had no success. After further questioning the local people, it was suggested we smoke it out… and still no success.  (One of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” plans.)  Finally, plan C, to simply dig it out.

Tavi, Gigi (my father-in-law), Sile (neighbor) and I digging for the Romanian tarantula

Tavi, Gigi (my father-in-law), Sile (neighbor) and I digging for the Romanian tarantula

And… success at last!

Success!  Tavi and I with a female Romanian tarantula and egg sack.

Success! Tavi and I with a female Romanian tarantula and egg sack.

The Romanian “tarantula” is found in central and eastern Europe.  In Romania the species appear to be quite common but are classified as critically endangered in the Czech Republic and on the current IUCN Red List other parts of Europe (Frank 2000). The spider spends most of its time in the gallery it digs in the ground.  The adult spiders are nocturnal and hunt mainly for insects but have been known to eat small lizards (locals, personal communication).

The species size and lifespan various according to their sex, males are smaller (approximately 19-25 mm) living one year and the females larger (approximately 25-30 mm) but live for two years (Iosob 2009). The spiders have an oval shaped cephalothorax and abdomen that are brown and black on the dorsal side. Their ventral side is black.

Female Romanian tarantula with egg sack.

Female Romanian tarantula with egg sack.

Egg sack

Egg sack

Black ventral side of the spider.

Black ventral side of the spider.

In late summer and early fall males court the females by performing a nuptial dance just outside the gallery entrance. When the male approaches the female he begins to swagger, his leg hair lifts and descends alternately while vibrating (Prisecaru et al. 2010). The nuptial dance varies in time but copulation takes place for up to 1-2 hours (Prisecaru et al. 2010). Shortly after mating the male dies, leaving only juveniles and females to overwinter.

As is common in the spring, we caught an adult female with an egg sack, and as Tavi pointed out, “she is a very good Mama!”  When we first dug her out of the ground she was separated from her egg sack, but when we put them together in a jar, she attached herself to them immediately. It has been reported that if the female looses her egg sack she will look for it with perseverance and even accept another spiders egg sack or a sham (Iosob 2009). Once the eggs hatch, females protect their spiderlings by carrying them on her abdomen and cephalothorax (about 4 days) until they deplete their vitelline reserves and complete their first moult (Prisecaru et al. 2010).

The name tarantula is derived from a common wolf spider (genus Lycosa) from Apulia, Italy. The folklore during the 11th century suggests that a person bit by the “tarantula” will undergo a hysterical behavior, called tarantism; that appears like violent convulsions. The only prescribed cure for tarantism was frenzied dancing; now known as the traditional Tarantella.

 

Romania has without a doubt, some of the last untouched and preserved eco-systems among the European Union countries. (In fact, taxonomists can hardly keep up with identifying new species [Cogãlniceanu 2007].)While in most parts of Europe many plant and animal species are threatened or endangered, they can be found thriving in Romania (species like bears, wolves, tortoises, cormorants)… at least for now. It is crucial that we learn more about these species while they are still common (including the Romanian tarantula), and help them remain common in the face of growing threats such as economic development, overexplotation, or poaching. (You can read about some research and conservation work here and here.)

Tavi and I enjoyed exploring Romania, especially capturing and learning about the Romanian tarantula! No spiders were injured during our escapade. At night, we safely returned our spider (and her egg sack) back to where they were dug up collected. We suggest you all visit and, as Tavi likes to say, “find the Mania in Romania!”

This post is featured on the Entomological Society of Canada blog: escsccblog.com

 

Citations:

Alin, Iosob G. Lycosa singoriensis sau Tarantula romaneasca.” Cunoaste natura si animalele din Romania!Blogspot, October 2010. Web. Accessed 01 May 2014. http://zoologysp.blogspot.ro/2009/05/lycosa-singoriensis-sau-tarantula.html

Cogãlniceanu, D., Ruşti D., and Manoleli, D. (2007) Romanian taxonomy in crisis-present status and future development. Travaux du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. L:517-526

Frank, V. (2010) Spiders (Araneae) on the red lists of European countries. EkolÓgia (Bratislava) 19: 23-28

Prisecaru, M., A. Iosob, O. T. Cristea. 2010. Observations regarding the growth in captivity of the wolf-spider species Lycosa singoriensis (Laxmann, 1770). Studii şi Cercetări: Biologie, Universitatea ”Vasile Alecsandri” din Bacău, 19: 33-38.