Pteroceraphron Dessart new to the USA – our latest open access publication

Here’s another product of our NSF ARTS grant, albeit not quite as major as our last publication! P.S. We love Biodiversity Data Journal and Pensoft’s ARPHA Writing Tool!


Mikó I, Masner L, Deans A (2016) Pteroceraphron Dessart new to the USA (Hymenoptera: Ceraphronoidea). Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e9261. DOI: 10.3897/BDJ.4.e9261

Background.—Pteroceraphron is a monotypic genus that can be recognized by its unique, lanceolate wing shape. Until now the only described species, Pteroceraphron mirabilipennis Dessart 1981, was known only from specimens collected in Canada.

New information.—Here, for the first time, we report Pteroceraphron mirabilipennis Dessart 1981 specimens collected in the USA. We also provide an extended diagnosis.

Malagasy Conostigmus – our latest open access publication

Our most recent ARTS product is a doozy. Check it out! Also, we love PeerJ!


Mikó I, Trietsch C, Sandall EL, Yoder MJ, Hines H, Deans AR. (2016) Malagasy Conostigmus (Hymenoptera: Ceraphronoidea) and the secret of scutes. PeerJ 4: e2682 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.2682

Abstract.—We revise the genus Conostigmus Dahlbom 1858 occurring in Madagascar, based on data from more specimens than were examined for the latest world revision of the genus. Our results yield new information about intraspecific variability and the nature of the atypical latitudinal diversity gradient (LDG) observed in Ceraphronoidea. We also investigate cellular processes that underlie body size polyphenism, by utilizing the correspondence between epidermal cells and scutes, polygonal units of leather-like microsculpture. Our results reveal that body size polyphenism in Megaspilidae is most likely related to cell number and not cell size variation, and that cell size differs between epithelial fields of the head and that of the mesosoma. Three species, Conostigmus ballescoracas Dessart, 1997, C. babaiax Dessart, 1996 and C. longulus Dessart, 1997, are redescribed. Females of C. longulus are described for the first time, as are nine new species: C. bucephalus Mikó and Trietsch sp. nov., C. clavatus Mikó and Trietsch sp. nov., C. fianarantsoaensis Mikó and Trietsch sp. nov., C. lucidus Mikó and Trietsch sp. nov., C. macrocupula, Mikó and Trietsch sp. nov., C. madagascariensis Mikó and Trietsch sp. nov., C. missyhazenae Mikó and Trietsch sp. nov., C. pseudobabaiax Mikó and Trietsch sp. nov., and C. toliaraensis Mikó and Trietsch sp. nov. A fully illustrated identification key for Malagasy Conostigmus species and a Web Ontology Language (OWL) representation of the taxonomic treatment, including specimen data, nomenclature, and phenotype descriptions, in both natural and formal languages, are provided.

Revision of Dvivarnus – István’s latest open access publication

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Talamas EJ, Mikó I, Copeland RS (2016) Revision of Dvivarnus (Scelionidae, Teleasinae). Journal of Hymenoptera Research 49: 1–23. doi: 10.3897/JHR.49.7714

Abstract.—Two new species, Dvivarnus elektrolythron Talamas & Mikó, sp. n. and D. mikuki Talamas & Mikó, sp. n. are described. The genus is redescribed and a key is provided to separate Dvivarnus from other groups in Teleasinae with mesoscutellar spines.

Updates and thoughts on course materials

As I posted before (in February and again in March), we’re in the midst of reinventing our upper level course on insect biodiversity and evolution. Our long term mission has always been to make these materials available broadly, under a license with few restrictions (probably CC BY). We’ve started pushing materials to our GitHub repo, so that people can clone, use, edit, add, push, etc.—a process that I expect to be slow—and the time seems right for an update.

Over the last month or so we spent about 60 hours on what was the least developed handout: Amphiesmenoptera. I always teach this taxon at the end of the course, and by then we are usually running out of steam. We removed all uncredited images and replaced them with our own photos, CC-licensed photos from Flickr, and out-of-copyright illustrations from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). All are referenced and linked back to their sources. See Figure 13 in the Amphiesmenoptera handout, for example:


The process is definitely taking longer than I anticipated, although this handout needed way more work than most. We want each handout to represent a unit of knowledge, in this case amphiesmenopteran diversity, evolution, adaptations, diagnostic characters, and natural history. The lab and lecture components will likely be fused in future iterations of the course: we introduce the focal taxa, discuss some higher-level adaptations and things to watch for when looking at specimens in lab, then we break to look at specimens, using the handout as a guide. There will be many opportunities to take breaks and discuss what we’ve found (mini lectures mixed in with lab). At the end we answer some big picture questions as a group.

Some other thoughts, in random list form:

  • The BHL is an incredible resource. We will be using it more in other handouts! I will likely edit the .bst file to render linked DOI and URIs, so that readers can see the source in one click from the PDF.
  • We need to move away from using content whose license is not controlled by my lab group or our collaborators. Image source and permissions management gets increasingly difficult in rapidly evolving, image-rich content. This situation gave us ideas for student exercises involving camera phones and microscopy. More on that later.
  • GitHub and Overleaf are awesome tools, with great synergy, but I wish there was a seamless way to push changes made in Overleaf to our GitHub repo. This post gets me halfway there … but I am (arguably too) reliant on Overleaf as my primary LaTeX editor.
  • We’re looking for more graded exercise ideas if you have any. I am especially interested in alternatives to collection making. Would you let a student curate the research collection for credit?

My next move, which might happen right now, is to push the remaining handouts to GitHub. Onwards!

Collaborative, open access course materials

It’s time to follow up on my post last month, in which I established a starting point for our collaborative course on insect biodiversity and evolution. We’ve had extensive back and forth here, about how to establish a robust, user-friendly environment for contributing edits and content to course materials. We settled on GitHub:

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And we’ve started migrating materials there. Probably the best place to start if you’re interested in learning more about the project or want to contribute your own materials is our wiki:

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We’re drafting some help documents this week that will guide one through the process of submitting issues, downloading (cloning) files, submitting changes, etc.

Dendrocerus mexicali (Hymenoptera, Ceraphronoidea, Megaspilidae) – our latest open access publication


Burks KN, Mikó I, Deans AR (2016) Dendrocerus mexicali (Hymenoptera, Ceraphronoidea, Megaspilidae): Novel antennal morphology, first description of female, and expansion of known range into the U.S. ZooKeys 569: 53-69. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.569.6629

Abstract.—Dendrocerus mexicali has been described by Paul Dessart from a single male specimen collected in Mexico. Using 87 newly identified specimens we expand the known range to include the Southwestern United States and Florida, provide an expanded description of the species, and provide the first record of the female. We also use confocal laser scanning microscopy and in vitro hydrostatic pressure changes to investigate the functional morphology of apparently unique basally flexible antennal branches.

Insect Biodiversity and Evolution revolution

Last fall I gave a talk at the ESA annual meeting (see blog post about it) about re-envisioning our course on insect biodiversity and evolution (currently called, weirdly enough, Insect Biodiversity and Evolution (ENT432)). We’re in week five of the “revolution”, and it’s time to start being a bit more public about our efforts. That was, after all, the whole point of the talk I gave at ESA.

Redesigning a course is a complex undertaking, especially when we’re building on eight years of teaching history and bits and pieces of content from various colleagues. Hence we chose to start more or less from scratch, breaking the course down into modules that could be worked on in parallel:

  1.  Introduction – mostly logistics but also addresses the following questions: What are arthropods? What is systematics and why is it relevant?
  2. Arthropod morphology – lays the groundwork for understanding adaptations, evolution, and diagnosis
  3. Systematics and Evolution – basics of evolution (natural selection, adaptation, Hox genes), history of classification and phylogenetics (Aristotle to Hennig and beyond); puts our knowledge into context
  4. Early arthropods, fossils, terrestrialization – fossilization processes, important arthropod fossils, adaptations to the challenges of terrestrial environments; where did arthropods come from?
  5. Outgroups – covers non-insect arthropods and the likely sister to Arthropoda, Onychophora [see drafts of slideshow and handout]
  6. Non-pterygote hexapods – this and the rest are self-explanatory
  7. Palaeoptera
  8. Polyneoptera
  9. Acercaria
  10. Hymenoptera
  11. Neuropterida
  12. Coleoptera, Strepsiptera
  13. Antliophora
  14. Amphiesmenoptera
  15. Natural history collections (could/should be done as one of the first modules)

Additionally, we’ve identified a set of cool stories, bro (20+ min, could involve a paper and discussion) that are highly relevant and important for students training to become professional entomologists to know:

  • origin of wings
  • holometabolous development
  • leaf mining/herbivory strategies
  • galls/galling
  • mimicry/aposematism
  • sound production – percussion (Plecoptera), stridulation (Hemiptera: Heteroptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, others), tymbals (Cicadamorpha), forced air (Blattodea)
  • sexual selection
  • fighting/weapons – or include in sexual selection? 
  • sociality – haplodiploidy, other conditions that contribute to rise of eusociality
  • nest architecture
  • myrmecophily – tie in with nest architecture?
  • symbioses – seems too diverse for one long discussion, maybe better as series of short vignettes (one on Blattabacterium, one on polydnaviruses, another on yeasts in hemipterans, etc.)
  • aquatic adaptations (breathing, swimming) – lentic, lotic, boundary layer, plastron breathing, air straps, hydrofuge hairs, semiaquatic, surface skimming
  • silk – which glands produce it, chemical composition, uses

And short vignettes (5–10 min, not much discussion maybe):

  • camouflage
  • pheromones
  • migration
  • wing coupling
  • cryophily
  • relicts
  • sucking mouth
  • xylophagy
  • resilin, jumping
  • tympana
  • mating position
  • foveation
  • parasitoidism
  • parasitism
  • predation

That could/should be peppered throughout the modules and revisited in multiple modules as necessary.

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“Outgroups” handout, in development at Overleaf

We’re still getting organized about how to engage colleagues and share emerging content. At the moment we use Google Slides for the lecture slideshows (slide example) and Overleaf for handouts (above; see also handout example). Our rules are: (1) maximize note-taking potential where possible, i.e., minimize text and use images to stimulate discussion, (2) use CC BY or CC0 images where possible (avoid copyrighted images unless we have permission that we can document and/or we are using them in the spirit of fair use), (3) document all content, including image source(s), content source(s), and dates of retrieval, (4) develop content in a way that maximizes safe re-use.

Any thoughts? What have we missed? Expect more frequent engagement (hopefully weekly) as this project unfolds! We’ll tag ’em, so that they can be browsed conveniently: InsectSystematics.