Aphids can make carotenoids to capture solar energy

 

Aphids

Aphids can make their own carotenoids and may be able to capture chemical energy directly from the sun. Green or orange individuals contain more carotenoids and more ATP than white ones. The secret of plant growth is that they capture photons and use them to create high-energy atomic bonds that can be used elsewhere to run chemical reactions that build plant material.

Unlike other organisms, they are not ingesting or otherwise harbouring photosynthetic symbionts such as bacteria or algae. They are making their own photosynthetic chemicals. They may not be able to do full photosynthesis as plants do, but among animals they are unique.

It will be interesting to find out how they evolved this unique (for animals) biochemical machinery.

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Fossil hornswoggler found!

I didn’t realize how old the expression, “I’ll be hornswoggled” was until the discovery of this fossil: it has three eyes on the ends of its horns so that it can ogle from a vantage point. Luckily for both etymologists and entomologists, it was preserved in amber.

unicornfly

Unicorn fly, or Hornswoggler, in amber

Stick insects!

Bishop Alan has a blog–and some stick insects or “walking sticks.” He wrote a series of posts all about his pet stick insects. He added his own close-up pictures of baby and adult stick insects, food plants, etc. His most recent article is called “Giant prickly virgin births.”

What makes locusts swarm?

I saw something on Daily Planet tonight about locusts. They look like grasshoppers. They have a solitary, weakly flying or non-flying form. And when they get crowded, they develop into a new form that is brightly coloured, social to other locusts, and a strong flyer. That encourages them to leave their dwindling food sources and find new ones.

A Dr. Steve Rogers of Cambridge University has discovered that what makes locusts change is serotonin, which is produced when the locusts rub their legs together (rub up against each other?), see or smell one another, or are tickled. If serotonin is inhibited, they don’t change and become sociable. If serotonin is injected, they change. A mystery solved!

Aaamazing nature photographs

Image by Igor Siwanowicz

Image by Igor Siwanowicz

OK, these are pictures, mostly of insects, that have been posed and perhaps coloured — I don’t know if there are any red or green pillbugs — but they sure are beautiful. Many of them are extreme closeups:  photos by Igor Siwanowicz.

The page has at least 60 large images on it, so try it only on a fast connection.

Excellent, my minions!

cat
more funny caterpillar pictures

This very cute caterpillar is steepling its fingers… er, hands… er, pods.

New ant species hits the ground running

worker ant

A previously unknown species of ant was discovered in Texan coastal counties around Houston in 2002, by an exterminator, Tom Rasberry. So far they are known in five counties. They are prolific and tend to run around crazily. They are similar to a Columbian species, Pareatrechina pubens, and may have evolved from them. The ants have more than one queen in a colony.

Mr. Rasberry demonstrated in a patch of woods not far from his business, Budget Pest Control, that the ants were swarming under every clod of grass and over every tree branch and limb.

And the ants’ seasonal gestation period, which reaches its peak in the summer, is just beginning, said Paul Nester, a program specialist for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service of Texas A&M University.

“They’re the ant of all ants,” said Dr. Nester, who said they had infested five coastal counties, “and are moving about half a mile a year.” But he said broad areas of Texas and beyond were probably not threatened because the ants preferred the warmth and moistness of the coast.

Variants of the species found in Colombia have been known to asphyxiate chickens and even attack cattle by swarming over their eyes, nasal passages and hooves, according to the Center for Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M, which is conducting much of the research on the ants. It lists some of the findings on its Web site: urbanentomology.tamu.edu/ants/exotic_tx.cfm.

Jason Meyers, a doctoral student in urban entomology at Texas A&M who is writing his dissertation on the ants, described them as enigmatic and confirmed that they were discovered by Mr. Rasberry. They belong to the genus Paratrechina, like others seen in Colombia, the Caribbean and Florida, Mr. Meyers said, but are different enough for entomologists to only guess at their species, listing them for now as “near” pubens.

Nobody wants to confront their weight in ants; but Afarensis on scienceblogs.com points out that there is already some hysteria about the new ants.

How do the people in Columbia deal with their close relatives?

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