#MustReads in entomology

[Note: This post was originally published on the Frost Curators’ blog.]

I’ve been working on my course (ENT 432) syllabus for what seems like forever, though it’s only been eight years. In the latest iteration I’ve tried to incorporate required reading from the primary literature—mostly empirical studies, rather than reviews—for each lecture. This exercise was mush more difficult than I anticipated!

My class is usually made up of incoming grad students and late stage undergrads, 99% of whom have no systematics background. I don’t want to require highly technical papers about phylogenetics and classification, or at least I don’t want that to be the emphasis of our conversation. I wanted to find papers that discuss key innovations, evolutionary trends and processes, and/or that tell compelling (and contemporary if possible) research stories. Two examples:

  • When we reach Hemiptera we could talk about so many aspects of their biology—adaptations for sedentary lifestyle, sucking pump and mouthpart morphology, phylogeny and classification (Homoptera vs. Hemiptera)—that it gets difficult to choose just one paper. For now I am going with sound production: Wessel et al. (2014).
  • For Diptera, it’s a no-brainer. Students should read Wiegmann et al.’s (2011) Episodic radiations in the fly tree of life. Sure it’s technical in its methods, but it also tells an interesting story about how Diptera have been so successful, describes natural history trends we see across the phylogeny, and discusses how robust the current classification is.

Perhaps you can see already the challenges in choosing #MustReads for entomology. Insecta is SO diverse and SO fascinating that numerous cool papers will invariably get left out. When we hit Dictyoptera what do we read about? Bioinspired robots? The evolution of eusociality? Bat detection? What papers do you feel are #MustReads for a course on insect biodiversity and evolution? Here is my first draft of a list: ENT 432 syllabus (2015). I would love some feedback!

scales on a butterfly wing, some flat, some hair-like

We will start discussing and examining Lepidoptera in late November. Scales are certainly a contributing factor to Lepidoptera’s diversity, and their patterns are important for determining species. Is their a great read about lep scales? Or should we focus our discussion on host plat relationships, chemical defense, moth avoidance, proboscis morphology …? Photo by Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Click for original.

Our latest preprint: Generating semantic phenotypes

We recognized recently that our approach to generating semantic phenotype data (e.g., see Balhoff et al. 2013 and Mikó et al. 2014) needed better documentation. Alas, here is the first draft of our manual, available through figshare:

Mikó I, Yoder MJ, Balhoff JP, Deans AR (2015): Generating semantic phenotypes. figshare. DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.1314904

We wrote it using Overleaf, which, I have to say, is pretty awesome.

screenshot showing how Overleaf.com appears

Overleaf in action.

Finding our way through phenotypes – our latest open access publication

screen shot of web page where article is


Deans AR, Lewis SE, Huala E, Anzaldo SS, Ashburner M, et al. (2015) Finding Our Way through Phenotypes. PLoS Biology 13(1): e1002033. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002033

Abstract.—Despite a large and multifaceted effort to understand the vast landscape of phenotypic data, their current form inhibits productive data analysis. The lack of a community-wide, consensus-based, human- and machine-interpretable language for describing phenotypes and their genomic and environmental contexts is perhaps the most pressing scientific bottleneck to integration across many key fields in biology, including genomics, systems biology, development, medicine, evolution, ecology, and systematics. Here we survey the current phenomics landscape, including data resources and handling, and the progress that has been made to accurately capture relevant data descriptions for phenotypes. We present an example of the kind of integration across domains that computable phenotypes would enable, and we call upon the broader biology community, publishers, and relevant funding agencies to support efforts to surmount today’s data barriers and facilitate analytical reproducibility.

Folding Wings like a Cockroach – our latest open access publication


Mikó I, Copeland RS, Balhoff JP, Yoder MJ, Deans AR (2014) Folding wings like a cockroach: a review of transverse wing folding ensign wasps (Hymenoptera: Evaniidae: Afrevania and Trissevania). PLoS ONE 9(5): e94056. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094056

Be sure to check out our origami supplemental figure (.tif) Can you make it work? And here’s some press!


Latest open access publication: The maxillo-labial complex of Sparasion

CLSM volume rendered image showing the ventral region of the head of Evania sp., medial view, distal to the bottom, DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.956282

Our latest morphological analysis is out! Check it out at the Journal of Hymenoptera Research:

Popovici O, Mikó I, Seltmann KC, Deans AR (2014) The maxillo-labial complex in Sparasion (Platygastroidea: Platygastridae). Journal of Hymenoptera Research 37: 77–111 DOI: 10.3897/jhr.37.5206

Latest open access publication: Phylogeny of Ceraphronoidea

Check it out! Our latest open access paper is out:

Mikó I, Masner L, Johannes E, Yoder MJ, Deans AR (2013) Male terminalia of Ceraphronoidea: morphological diversity in an otherwise monotonous taxon. Insect Systematics & Evolution 44 (3–4), 261–347. DOI: 10.1163/1876312X-04402002 (or try this link)

Confocal Laser Scanning Micrographs, SEM, and brightfield images were used to illustrate ceraphronoid characters.

Confocal Laser Scanning Micrographs, SEM, and brightfield images were used to illustrate ceraphronoid characters.

This was an invited contribution, part of a special issue on male genitalia. These anatomical structures are not especially informative for phylogenetic estimation in most Hymenoptera, but in Ceraphronoidea male genitalia offer dozens of characters. István (primarily) and the rest of us spent more than four years acquiring these data, imaging the phenotypes, and refining the characters. The resulting dataset is perhaps the most robust morphological data matrix in the history of phylogenetics. Seriously, it’s a benchmark for future publications, at least from our lab group. All data are available in figshare.

Welcome, Kyle!

István (left) and Kyle discuss ovipositor morphology, while searching for small Hymenoptera in State College. Photo by Andy Deans (CC BY 2.0).

I’m a bit late with this announcement, but Kyle Burks has joined the lab this fall. Welcome! Kyle comes to us from UC San Diego, where he worked on bees and glands in the Nieh lab. We’ll provide updates as his project develops, but we’re focused on the systematics and comparative morphology of Ichneumonoidea.