Science roundup: Insect edition

This week's most exciting science developments

In this edition of Science roundup, we bring you amorous moths,  gruesome wasps and the unintended consequences of pesticides.

Moth calls

This yellow peach moth charms the ladies and fools his enemies with a song. Photo courtesy of  John Tann.

This yellow peach moth charms the ladies and fools his enemies with a song. Photo courtesy of John Tann.*

The male yellow peach moth has an unusual capacity for multitasking during courtship, according to a recent paper in the journal Proceedings B.

Courtship songs in moths, it seems, were known to have two possible functions: to alert a female and prime her for copulation or to trick her by mimicking a predator.

The dexterous yellow peach moth, however, possesses an amorous yodel that both repulses male rivals and readies potential mates for love.

The first half of the moth’s serenade is comprised of short sonic pulses that resemble the echolocation calls of horseshoe bats. When moths hear a bat’s echolocation call (or a clever imitation), they often stop flying in an attempt to evade their winged predators. For a yellow peach moth, a clever mimicry might stop a competitor in his tracks long enough for the singer to make his move.

The second half of the call is longer, more loving pulses, whose charming sound can persuade lady-moths to raise their wings (if you know what I mean).

Bone-house Wasp

The newly discovered Bone-house Wasp, similar to this miniature spider wasp, hides a gruesome secret within its nest. Photo courtesy of the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab.

The newly discovered Bone-house Wasp, similar to this miniature spider wasp, hides a gruesome secret within its nest. Photo courtesy of the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab.*

Spider wasps are a group of wasps that feed their larvae on the bodies of paralyzed spiders. A new member of the group of about 5,000 species was recently catalogued for the first time: the aptly-named Bone-house Wasp.

Discovered in southeast China, the Bone-house Wasp builds nests in cavities, such as those offered by hollow reeds. The wasp stows a spider and lays her eggs in the nest before filling the entrance with the bodies of ants.

The presence of ants apparently reduces the rate of infection by parasites to about three percent. The  researchers speculated that the ant bodies release chemicals that keep parasites and predators at bay.

One might say the wasps give a new meaning to the word ant-echamber.

 The birds and the wasps

Oh say can you see/the birds and the bees? Perhaps not, if neonicotinoids continue to be used. Photo courtesy of  Marjolein & Willem Frank.*

Oh say can you see/the birds and the bees/in the Netherlands? Perhaps not, if neonicotinoid use continues. Photo courtesy of Marjolein & Willem Frank.*

A team of scientists working in the Netherlands has uncovered a significant inverse correlation between the levels of an insecticide and local bird populations, according to a paper recently published by Nature.

The group found that in areas where a kind of neonicotinoid pesticide called imidacloprid was present in the water at concentrations upwards of 20 nanograms per litre, the local bird populations declined each year by about 3.5 percent.

Correlation isn’t causation, of course, but the new research suggests that the wanton use of neonicotinoids could have serious implications farther up the food chain than the insects they target.

That’s it for this week’s Science roundup. Check back next week for more wacky science news still warm from the presses.

*All photos used under this creative commons license.