Beetle Byte (29 August 2014 edition)

As another summer, woefully, comes to a leaf-reddening and freedom-rending end – and I (hopefully) get back to regular-ish blogging – I’m equally hopeful that I’ll get around to regular-ish weekly Beetle Bytes as well. Here’s a start.


Sympatric speciation

At the center of the new findings is an evolutionary concept called sympatric speciation, the possibility “for a species to split into two species without any geographic separation,” Schultz says. “That’s usually been criticized and usually been rejected. It’s a very hard thing to prove.”

But Rabeling and Schultz believe they’ve done it.


Mites! On your face! And on mine too!!

They live in our hair follicles, buried head-down, eating the oils we secrete, hooking up with each other near the surface, and occasionally crawling about the skin at night.


Project Wild Thing

Stop buying iPads. Take your children outdoors. You’ve bought enough iPads now.

(Perhaps somewhat ironically, iOS and Android apps are available.)


Speaking of the internet…

…there is currently no evidence to suggest that Internet use has or has not had a profound effect on brain development. If we want to know how this highly connected world is impacting our brains, we will need to conduct studies that investigate brain measures and their relationship to behavior, cognition, and well-being in a representative sample of the population. 


ةيلمع Operación Operation Opération 作业 Oперация

…a poem by Moez Surani consisting of the names of military operations carried out by UN member states. The poem spans 193 countries and 69 years, and in March 2014 contained the names of more than 2,300 operations.

Beetle Byte (20 February 2014 edition)

A few bytes worth chewing on.

Kids have always been kids

It’s all a great reminder that even legendary scientists had family lives, and that when we think about history, it’s important to remember that famous figures weren’t working in isolation. They were surrounded by far less famous friends, family members, acquaintances, and enemies. And sometimes, when we get lucky, we see some of their artifacts from the past too.


Another reason to treat animals well

In a study carried out at an elephant camp in Thailand, we found that elephants affiliated significantly more with other individuals through directed, physical contact and vocal communication following a distress event than in control periods. In addition, bystanders affiliated with each other, and matched the behavior and emotional state of the first distressed individual, suggesting emotional contagion.


More on including field journals in coursework

A primary goal in assigning field notes is to help students realize that there are many ways to document and present natural history. In addition, educators hope to encourage the sentiment that natural history is a much needed and topical endeavor. Increasingly, colleagues fear that students situate natural history as an outdated practice of discovery. Requiring field notes allows each student to learn that natural history is a current and critical investigatory practice for understanding the natural world and for promoting conservation (Greene 2005, 2013).


It’s never too late to become a bobsledder

Their eyes and ears are everywhere, on the lookout for athletes who might never have dreamed of careering down an ice-encrusted chute in a carbon-fibre half-capsule. They’re at rugby pitches and football stadiums and every major track meet in the country. If you’re an athlete with decent numbers—or at least with conspicuous muscle mass between the waist and knees—chances are, you’ll hear from them.


“The Sims” software patch poetry

If you are on fire,
you will no longer be forced to attend graduation
before you can put yourself out.


If you like poetry, try this

Poem Viewer is a web-based tool for visualizing poems in support of close reading. It is part of an on-going research project and is a work in progress. … You can either start creating your own visualization for your chosen poem or have a look at a collection of sample visualizations that we have created.

Beetle byte (6 December 2013 edition)

This, that, and the next thing(s) for your reading enjoyment.

The pink/blue divide in the toy aisle

No sharks here. Just dolphins. And Andrew, your shaggy-haired boyfriend or male acquaintance, on his jet ski, in his blue polo with the sailboat on it. You are only allowed into the girl aisle as a male toy if you are wearing a polo shirt. That is how they can tell you’re safe. You also have the option of being a non-human creature, like Sniffy or Nasal Congestion or whatever the dragon’s name was.


A better gift for any child

The network has therefore drawn up an “alternative Christmas list for kids” that suggests a stick makes a brilliant gift. Sticks, it helpfully suggests for baffled parents, are “easy to pick up, perform a thousand different uses and can be thrown away as easily as you found it. Great for helping with imaginary games, playing Pooh sticks, building things.”


And no smartphone gifts either (Infographic)


Maybe a gift of POEtry? (Poetic comic!)


Birds have a better grip than we do, it seems

“The bird’s foot closes and grasps automatically as the ankle and knee joints are bent,” we read. “This grasp cannot be released until the limb is straightened again.”


Monarchs are losing their grip on existence

So you get back to the philosophical aspect of it: How many natural phenomena are we going to kill off? I think the monarch is the canary in the coal mine telling us that things are beginning to go really wrong, when you can take a widespread migration of this sort and completely dismantle it as a result of human activity.

Spider Monday

To help to celebrate Spider Monday, here are a few spider-related papers from the archives of the Journal of Entomological Society of British Columbia.

Bennett, R.G. 2001. Spiders (Araneae) and araneology in British Columbia. J. Entomol. Soc. Brit. Columbia 98:83-90.

A fantastic survey of everything spider in British Columbia. My favorite paragraph:

Large areas and many specific habitats of BC remain uncollected and no doubt many list additions are still to come, especially from northern areas and the deep south of Be. No effort has been made to produce a comprehensive, habitat-specific spider inventory for any area in BC. That new records can be made with relative ease is suggested by the following examples: hundreds of specimens of a gnaphosid previously only known from a couple of  Washington specimens turned up in a simple pitfall study in Burnaby (see cover of Journal of the Entomological Society of BC, Vol. 96, 1999), the first specimen of a new family record for Canada came from the carpet of a provincial government office (Bennett and Brumwell 1996), and a new species record for BC came from the bathtub of an Osoyoos motel (Bennett unpublished data) in 2001.

Bennett also quotes himself, writing in another excellent article that can be found here at the Biological Survey of Canada:

…spiders are ruthless storm troops in the matriarchal anarchy that is the arthropod  world: theirs is the most diverse, female-dominated, entirely predatory order on the face of  the earth. As such, spiders are key components of all ecosystems in which they live.


And, since I already linked to the 1999 spider cover, above, I should also link to a couple of others from the covers of the 2004 and 1993 issues.


Speaking of new records, there is this paper on a new spider family record in Canada:

Bennett, R.G. and Brumwell, L.J. 1996. Zora hespera in British Columbia: a new spider family record for Canada (Araneae: Zoridae). J. Entomol. Soc. Brit. Columbia 93:105-109.

That article also contains some helpful drawings of spider genitalia. In case you didn’t know, arachnologists and entomologists are into that kind of thing.


Of course, the only way that we’re ever going to know what lives in remote locales is to go and visit those places ourselves. Nothing beats boots on the ground. This paper covers just that type of work, surveying spiders in a part of the world that very few of us will ever see:

Slowik, J. 2006. A survey of the spiders (Arachnida, Araneae) of Chichagof Island, Alaska, USA. J. Entomol. Soc. Brit. Columbia 103:61-70.


Here is an addition to a checklist of the spiders of British Columbia. The addition points back to a previous revised checklist from 1984 that we have yet to get online in the JESBC archives. Here is the addition:

West, R.C., Dondale, C.D., Ring. R.A. 1988. Additions to the revised checklist of the spiders (Araneae) of British Columbia. J. Entomol. Soc. Brit. Columbia 85:77-86.


Species checklists (and regular updates) are vital for understanding biodiversity and monitoring shifts in diversity over time. Along with that, it is important to get down to the natural history of the individual species on those checklists. Each species is, in itself, several careers-worth of work… at least. This type of work is arguably even more important when human influences (e.g. agriculture) are present. Here is a paper that outlines the emergence times of a variety of arthropods, including a mixture of spider species, in pear orchards:

Horton, D.R. 2004. Phenology of emergence from artificial overwintering shelters by some predatory arthropods common in pear orchards of the Pacific Northwest. J. Entomol. Soc. Brit. Columbia 101:101-108.


Humans (and other factors) do indeed have massive effects on biodiversity. Unfortunately we often only notice those effects when we start to see the decline in the numbers of one species or another. This, of course, assumes that we are even taking notice of some of these small creatures that are so prevalent, but often so hidden from our literal or metaphoric view. This occasional paper published by the Entomological Society of British Columbia offers an extensive coverage of likely-or-actually-at-risk spineless animals in this province that often escape notice, but which provide many of the so-called “ecosystem services” that we all rely upon. There is a long list of spiders, starting on page 10:

Scudder, G.G.E.  1994. An annotated systematic list of the potentially rare and endangered freshwater and terrestrial invertebrates in British Columbia. Occasional Paper 2.

Have a happy Spider Monday, and be sure to say hi to one of our eight-legged friends if you happen to come across one.

Beetle byte (22 November 2013 edition)

On time this week! Zounds!!

Prince Edward Island National Park

I love that Google has “street viewed” a bunch of Canadian national parks. There are so many great places that I still need to visit, but PEI National Park is one place that I really love and hope to return to again and again.


This can end anytime. Because faddish.

You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I’m late because YouTube. You’re reading this because procrastination. As the language writer Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: “‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar.”


Waste-of-time Canadian politics (that Americans love)

My dear American neighbours:

Judging from your delighted leers and the daily email links you’ve been kind enough to provide, I guess I’m supposed to be a bit sheepish about Toronto’s mayor, and what he’s doing to my country’s reputation for monotonous, self-effacing reserve.

Well, first of all, my country’s reputation is largely an American invention; most of you don’t realize it, but we had some pretty darned wacky politicians long before Rob Ford showed up.


More important Canadian politics

If the ruling Conservatives had presented a credible climate change plan of their own rather than be content to demonize that of their rivals back then they might have had to tone it down in the face of deteriorating economic circumstances.

But the green credentials of such a government would have continued to be a defining feature at home and abroad. Its first order of business would not have been the dismantling of the country’s environmental oversight infrastructure along the lines of that undertaken by the Conservatives since they have won a majority, or the waging of a counterintuitive war on the environmental movement.


Those politics are important because injustice

Six days after it was struck by one of the largest storms ever recorded, the Philippines is scrambling to get aid to hundreds of thousands of typhoon victims and may be looking at billions in damage repair. In the wake of the disaster, perhaps we should be asking whether it’s fair to have the country bear the brunt of the cost of this devastating storm.


On a happier note, a weird insect, because crazy “hair”

As for that spectacular fountain of Don King plumage, the scientists say it’s a waxy secretion many planthoppers excrete from their abdomen, which may protect the bugs against predators and parasites.

Beetle byte (2 November 2013 edition)

A day late, but surely all the better for it…

Also late for Hallowe’en… but still fascinating

Perhaps it’s just the old, faded photos but it seems to us from looking at these vintage photographs that Halloween costumes used to be much much creepier and weirder than it is now.


Seamus Heaney’s last poem

Heaney was invited by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, to contribute to a memorial anthology marking the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war. She asked poets to respond to poetry, letters and diary entries from the time.

Heaney chose Edward Thomas’s great poem, As The Team’s Head Brass, which he wrote in 1916 shortly before he asked to be posted to the front – a decision that led to his death at Arras the following year.

In response Heaney wrote In a Field, completed in June, two months before his own death and now published for the first time.


Don’t expect human service at restaurants in the near future

As if struggling actors didn’t already have it hard enough. In Japan, changing times have given rise to a new breed of mercilessly efficient automated restaurants that can easily service an entire busy day’s worth of hungry patrons without the need for a staff of waiters, chefs or even dishwashers.


And don’t bother talking to anyone while eating either

If you typically spend your nights alone at home digging into a bowl of hot ramen noodles while wishing you had someone to hang out with, then we’ve got some good news. You never again have to eat your noodles in solitude thanks to an ingenious new product! The anti-loneliness ramen bowl (that’s the actual name) comes with a built-in iPhone dock so you can browse your social networks, watch videos, or listen to music while enjoying your favorite cheap dinner.


Yes, I’ve been editing all week

Some people seem to think love for language means memorising the longest possible list of grammar rules and style shibboleths. This is too often coupled with smug self-congratulation. But a real understanding of language acknowledges which rules are truly ironclad, which ones are in dispute and which ones are mere style choices.


Please get me this calendar for Christmas

In collaboration with photographers Charlie Naebeck and Jordan Matter, creator of the New York Times bestseller “Dancers Among Us,” we’ve produced a 2014 wall calendar featuring 13 powerful portraits of climate scientists and their research.

Beetle byte (25 October 2013 edition)

After a great week at the 2013 ESC JAM, a few bites for the upcoming weekend.


Of course, we humans don’t have dye coursing through our brains. We have a substance far more sinister: amyloid plaques, proteins that build up over time and that, for years, have been the prime suspect for what causes Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid plaques must be removed from the brain, or they gradually clog healthy pathways, degrade the neural connections within the brain and collapse the neuron’s transport system. Scientists now believe sleep is the only way to adequately fight beta-amyloid buildup.


Are you an editor?

An illustrated guide to achieving grammatic nirvana.


Vampires, just in time for Hallowe’en

In 1997 a Brazilian man claimed that while he was urinating in a river, a candiru swam up and into his urethra. Doctors removed a 13-centimeter-long specimen, but the account has been met with extensive skepticism.


Maybe wait for the DVD

The filmmakers have cleverly removed those criticisms with the origin story of their giant spider: “DNA crossbreeding from a Martian microbial fossil.” You don’t “crossbreed” DNA, and DNA degrades in fossils, but hey, you get the idea. It’s an ALIEN GMO SPIDER.


Monarch worries

Rather than the dozens of monarchs I typically see feeding by day on the inn’s asters, goldenrods and other fall-blooming plants—and the hundreds clustering for warmth on yew, holly and hackberry branches once the sun starts to go down—I spotted just a handful of monarchs in total and never more than one individual at a time.


This should not happen (photos)

The minerals in our electronic devices have bankrolled unspeakable violence in the Congo.

Beetle byte (18 October 2013 edition)

Oops, two bytes in a row with no intervening “content.” Ah well, I’ve been prepping for the upcoming 2013 Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Societies of Canada and Ontario (150th anniversary!!!) starting tomorrow. So that’s enough of an excuse, right?

So, here are the weekly half-dozen…

Flying, for six months without landing?

But a year later, when three of the birds returned to the same breeding site and the scientists removed their tags to collect the data, the electronic tags revealed something unexpected. “When we looked at the data, we were totally blown away,” Liechti said. “During their non-breeding period in Africa, they were always in the air.”


Yes, I’m obsessed with bristlecone pines

From this elevated perch, these elderly trees have borne witness to the rise of a new geological age, a successor to the Holocene. This new age is called the Anthropocene, or ‘age of humans’, and it refers to the stretch of time during which we have begun to reshape the Earth’s chemical makeup. The idea of this new age arose just over a decade ago, as scientists began to realise that the geological record would likely bear the marks of human activity for aeons to come. There is still a question as to whether the term will enter the official geological lexicon, and there is fierce debate about whether the Anthropocene began with the Industrial Revolution, or with the development of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. But this much is certain: one of its signature features is massive deforestation.


Don’t wear cologne into the jungle

According to Ordeñana, a Bronx Zoo researcher once tried a bunch of different scents and discovered that jaguars really liked the Calvin Klein cologne. A researcher might spray some of the cologne on a tree branch that sits within the camera’s field of view.



Long before Amazon was bringing books to your doorstep, there was the Bookmobile! A travelling library often used to provide books to villages and city suburbs that had no library buildings, the bookmobile went from a simple horse-drawn cart in the 19th century to large customised vehicles that became part of American culture and reached their height of popularity in the mid-twentieth century. Let’s take a little trip down memory lane with this forgotten four-wheeler…


Watched any TED talks on “creativity” lately?

And that’s when it hit him: He had heard these things before. Each story seemed to develop in an entirely predictable fashion. He suspected that in the Dylan section, Lehrer would talk about “Like a Rolling Stone,” and that’s exactly what happened. When it came to the 3M section, he waited for Lehrer to dwell on the invention of the Post-it note — and there it was.


Ninja walking

With Halloween just around the corner, there’s no better time to learn how to walk silently through the night like a ninja. It’s an incredibly useful skill, allowing you not only to stealthily assassinate your archenemy, but also steal cookies from coworkers, check to see if toddlers are still sleeping without waking them, or sneak across your creaky wood floors to scare the bejeezus out of your roommate.

Beetle byte (11 October 2013 edition)

This week a few infographics, along some other mandibular tidbits.

How to resurrect extinct megafauna (infographic)


How about just halting extinctions of extant megafauna? (infographic)


Did that spider really bite you? (infographic)

On the topic of spider bites, please also read this and this.


Your weekly dose of cute

 This (video) captures the first moments of life at a windswept Spoon-billed Sandpiper nest. When the young finally hatch and emerge from the nest, after 21 days of incubation, they stumble about on well-developed legs and feet and begin to feed themselves. Females lay 4 eggs in a simple tundra nest in a shallow depression, most often in mosses, lined with a few dwarf willow leaves. Both adults incubate the nest, taking half-day shifts. The male most often incubates during the day and the female at night. After the last chick hatches, the male begins his job of leading the chicks as they grow and become independent about 20 days later. The female departs soon after hatching and begins moving south.


Click. Click. Click. Click…

We watch a 30-second ad in exchange for a video; we solicit a friend’s endorsement; we freely pour sentence after sentence, hour after hour, into status updates and stock responses. None of this depletes our bank balances. Yet its cumulative cost, while hard to quantify, affects many of those things we hope to put at the heart of a happy life: rich relationships, rewarding leisure, meaningful work, peace of mind.

What kind of attention do we deserve from those around us, or owe to them in return? What kind of attention do we ourselves deserve, or need, if we are to be ‘us’ in the fullest possible sense? These aren’t questions that even the most finely tuned popularity contest can resolve. Yet, if contentment and a sense of control are partial measures of success, many of us are selling ourselves far too cheap.



The emergent cultural prominence of this more nuanced bro has been accompanied by a rise of new coinages based on the word. With its instantly recognizable consonant cluster, bro lends itself not only to compounding, as in bro-hug (an awkward hug between bros) or bro-step (dubstep for bros), but also to blending, that favorite technique of humorous neologists, who have coined such portmanteaux as bro-down (from hoedown), bromance (from romance), and brohemian (from bohemian).