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.

updates

You may have run into it already, but we have a new blog for the Frost Entomological Museum. It’ll probably be a bit more active shortly (and certainly more active than our lab blog). Anyway, we just posted an advert for FOUR Frost Museum biodiversity interns, which is pretty exciting. We’re also about to start posting regularly on our progress to digitize the Beatty Odonata collection. Very exciting things happening with respect to those specimens! You can check out the first phase here: spreadsheet of verbatim collecting events, Beatty Mexico expeditions (1957–1959, 1962).

Image of Salto de Eyipantla, from a postcard collected by the Beattys during one of their expeditions to Mexico. Odonata were collected here in 1959 by them.

We also have a couple more papers that have been accepted, which are probably worth discussing in more detail. I’ll wait for the ‘online early’ version, though. One was described as a “tour de force”, which, I have to admit, feels pretty good.

the power of the Web, part 2

Tacua speciosa (Illiger, 1800)

A quick follow-up to last night’s post. Here is the plate from Illiger’s original description of Tettigonia speciosa (now Tacua speciosa). The plate can be viewed in Wiedemann’s Archiv für die Zoologie, available through the Internet Archive. When you’re done with that surf the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s plates at flickr. That’s enough procrastination material for about a million years …

behold the power of the Web!

Ah, the World Wide Web. Where would I be without its myriad useful tools?! Sites like BugGuide, flickr, Wikipedia, and twitter … it’s amazing that people could get things done prior to its existence! (Just as it’s amazing that I ever get anything done now because of its existence.)

I saw an opportunity to test the power of the Web today, when a video snippet from the The Daily Show came into my Twitter feed. At 2:00 Jon Stewart references an entomological factoid/stereotype in a joke about the state of gun control in the U.S. I’m a sucker for entomological references outside the world of science, especially ones that are wrong. So how did this one score?

First, the context: The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is apparently prohibited from investigating gun dealers for inventory discrepancies more than once a year, and the reality is that they only investigate dealers every 17 years. Jon Stewart then joked that he assumed this situation was the result of the ATF not having enough agents/inspectors rather than their agents being cicadas. As Jon Stewart said next: “let that insect joke just wash over you…”

StewartCicada

Of course some periodical cicada species are famous for their synchronized 17-year life cycle—Magicicada septendecim (Linnaeus, 1758), M. septencassini (Fisher, 1851), and M. septendecula (Alexander & Moore, 1962)—but there are about 2,500 species of Cicadidae. A small minority of species take 17 years to develop. What about the species represented in the accompanying image? Doesn’t look like Magicicada to me, not that I’m an Auchenorrhyncha specialist, but at least it’s really a cicada!

Next steps: identify that species and find the science needed to bust this joke apart. It took me about 7 minutes to determine the species, and I literally know next to nothing about cicada taxonomy. A cropped screenshot, run through Google’s image  search came up empty, even after I supplemented the image file with key words, like ‘cicada’ and ‘cicada tropical red yellow’. I thought for sure they must’ve grabbed that image from Wikipedia and therefore would have some useful figure legend. Nope. My quick browse revealed nothing. What about flickr? Surely a lazy image search (or less lazy CC BY 3.0 search) would reveal the image and its associated data … nope. Ok, what about just regular Google searches for ‘cicada black yellow tropical’ etc. This must be a common cicada species if people at the Daily Show found an image! No luck. Back to Wikipedia to browse up and down the classification. (several pages’ worth of browsing) Hmm … Tosena looks close. Search flickr for Tosena and find this image. Not quite there but it seems like right ball park. The image caption mentions Borneo. Back to Google image search: ‘cicada malaysia‘. Ah ha! This cicada looks right:

Tacua speciosa (Illiger 1800). Does it have a 17-year life cycle? Wikipedia doesn’t help. Google Scholar? Seems like almost nothing is known of this species, or at least very little has been published. The Encyclopedia of Life’s Tacua speciosa page doesn’t offer too much information either. This was perhaps the most useful page I could find about the species—http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/tacua-speciosa/—which still leaves me hanging with respect to understanding this species’ natural history.

In summary, this exercise drove home two important points: 1) the Web is an increasingly useful tool. I was shocked at how little time it took me to determine this species (not sure I’m right, though!) and how many resources, both amateur and professional, I had at my disposal to get the answer. Again, I literally know next to nothing about cicada taxonomy. So, who needs keys?! (note to self: turn off comments for this post). 2) We know so little about the life histories of even the most conspicuous insects. This species is HUGE, colorful, charismatic, and frequently photographed (but not collected? Only 4 specimens listed in the Cicada Database) , yet we apparently know very little about its biology.

Not sure the Daily Show picked the best image to accompany their joke, but it’s certainly a beautiful insect (and it’s a cicada, so no taxonomic #fail). In the meantime let these beautiful images of Tacua speciosa wash over you.