Monthly Archives: October 2013

Mosquitoes Bite Everything Except My Toes


I recently made a trip to Spring Creek Greenwayfor an insect collecting trip for my insect biology lab.  This nature center contains bottomland hardwood forest alongside a spring-fed water way.

With such a large body of water present, the mosquito presence was quite strong.  I made it a point to wear long pants, and a long sleeved t-shirt, and covered any revealing skin with DEET.  However as the day progressed I found myself getting new bites, what seemed like every ten minutes, with mosquitoes penetrating both my shirts and pants.  I found myself frustrated and irritated with countless spots on my body itchy as can be.

I did everything in my power to resist the urge to itch, but it was almost unbearable.  As mosquitoes pierce the skin, they inject their saliva, which contains pharmacologically active compounds which inhibit our body’s initial immune responses causing anti-inflammatory activity, anticoagulation, and impaired platelet formation.    The action results in a irritated, itchy area.  A video of this can be seen here.

I returned home covered in bites, I asked myself if there was anything I could do to reduce the irritation and itchiness. I began to look into some home remedies to combat these symptoms.  I wanted to explore treatments that were readily available from every day household items.

I asked myself if there was anything I could do to reduce the irritation and itchiness and began to look into home remedies.  Using ice on the bite provides a shock of cold therapy, reducing swelling, and actually numbing of the nerves that are causing the irritation and itching.  Apple cider vinegar is also known to be a good initial treatment because of its acidity to combat the off balance pH of the itchy skin. Baking soda can also neutralize the pH balance of the skin as a mild alkaline compound. Cooled tea bags are also known to ease the swelling with the tea’s tannins acting as an astringent, attracting the extra fluid out of the bite.  Aloe is also known to have a soothing effect and can assist in reduction of itchiness and swelling.

So next time you find yourself covered in bites, itching from head to toe, I recommend you try some of these options as a quick fix.  I wish I had known about them a lot sooner.


Overly Aggressive Mosquitoes Wreak Havoc on Insect Collecting Trips

It is safe to say that mosquito bites have been a nuisance for humans ever since the early days of our species, both in terms of the itchy and sometimes painful reactions we get and in terms of the vector transmitted diseases caused from such bites, ranging from malaria to yellow fever. But recent insect collecting trips to the Spring Creek Greenway Nature Center and Brazos Bend State Park for the lab portion of this course exposed me to a higher density of mosquitoes (and thus mosquito bites) than I am accustomed to living in the big city.

Our first collecting trip took place at the Spring Creek Greenway Nature Center, and for the three hours we were there, I did not notice a single Diptera species bite me. This was odd, not only because I did not apply any insect repellent, but also because many of my peers were complaining about how much they were getting bit. I began doing some research about this discrepancy, and found out that there are an abundance of factors that influence the reason why mosquitoes bite some people more than others.

According to an article published on the Smithsonian magazine’s website (, factors that are thought to play a role in mosquitoes’ preference on whom to bite include blood type, the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled, metabolism, skin bacteria, blood alcohol content, pregnancy, clothing color, and other genetic factors.

For whatever the reason, however, our next trip to Brazos Bend State Park did not have the same result for me. I did not put on repellent, a decision that perhaps was a bit arrogant because I returned home bite-free the previous week. But boy, was I mistaken. Not only was I being bitten, but my shirt did not even serve as a barrier for the particular mosquito. It felt as if I was being eaten alive!

Although I did not capture and properly identify the species that was biting me through my shirt, I began to research what mosquito could have been overwhelming me at Brazos Bend when I returned to Rice – I could simply not stop itching, eventually draping my exterior into a slough of scabs. According to a World Health Organization pamphlet on mosquito biology and control measures (, I learned that horseflies (Tabanidae) have the rare ability to bite through clothing. But I knew that I wasn’t being bitten by Tabanidae simply because the bites were not like the characteristically painful horsefly bites.


Aedes sollicitans pictured above

So I continued to read about the subject and realized that Fort Bend and Harris Counties have succumbed to an invasion of salt marsh mosquitoes, or Aedes sollicitans, over the past few weeks. After the recent drought of 2011-2012, a few years’ worth of salt marsh mosquito larva were lying dormant. The ground must flood for these larvae to grow, so windy conditions that led to an elevation in tide level in early September allowed for ideal conditions for a mosquito population explosion ( This is the critter that I believe is to blame for incessantly biting me, even through my shirt. The salt marsh mosquito is known to be such a prevalent mammal bloodfeeder that this species was used to study the first mosquito repellents’ effectiveness (;jsessionid=BA9AD7A67B4FD49A7200B474444C42AF#). This study was published in 1940, so we know that salt marsh mosquitoes have been annoying us to the point of forcing us to create a repellent specifically against them.

Oh yea, and it certainly did not help that I was wearing a red shirt, the perfect color to attract any species of bloodthirsty mosquito.


Is Your Head in the Clouds?


If you have ever been biking or walking outside during the summer in Texas, then you probably have experienced running into what appears to be “clouds” or groups of tiny gnats. Unexpectedly, you get them all in your mouth, hair, nose and eyes, and no matter what amount of coughing, swatting, or waving of the arms you do, a few blocks later you receive another face-full of gnats. At least that is what occurred to me for the past month. On my way to school each morning I would run into on average 3 clouds of gnats a day. Why they seemed to gravitate towards people’s heads, and why there were so many of them in the same location everyday, I did not know. It wasn’t until I went on my first insect biology field trip that I learned more about them.

Earlier this month, Dr. Solomon’s Insect Biology lab went to Spring Creek Greenway to collect and study insects. One of the first observations I made at the site was a very large cloud of tiny flies. This cloud of insects was much larger than those in the city, and amazingly, they moved in unison. Dr. Solomon informed our class that these insects were most likely “eye gnats” of the order Diptera and genus Liohippelates; and the clouds they formed were called leks.

Liophippelates photo credit:

Male eye gnats, which are about 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch in size, gather together in large groups to attract female mates. Because they are so small, finding a mate on their own would be difficult. In order to further increase their visibility, these gnats often hover over tall objects, which is called “hilltopping”.  In leks the males impress females by rapidly flying in perfect formation. On the down side, these leks make easy targets for predators. This is why oftentimes at the park I noticed dragonflies flying through and around these leks taking bites from the group.

Eye gnats are true flies; they have only two wings and two halteres. Their halteres support them in making quick turns and stops while flying in unison. There can be hundreds and even thousands of eye gnats in one lek. One reason for their large numbers is due to their fast generation times. Eye gnat eggs hatch within 2 weeks and become sexually mature in about 3 weeks. These gnats undergo holometabolous metamorphosis. Eggs are laid in shallow layers of soil or and once they hatch, the larvae feed on decayed plant matter. Eye gnats get their name from the fact that as adults, they drink the moisture from animals’ eyes and sweat. This also explains why they gather around people’s heads. Although eye gnats are mostly harmless, one species, Lioppelates flavipes, is known to transmit pink eye through a bacteria they carry inside of their bodies.  Other species can transmit yaws, a skin disease common in South America.

Eye gnats are interesting flies that are greater together in number. The next time I find my head in a cloud of gnats I will remember that the little guys are only trying to find a mate.


Invisible Sex Tornado

Now, I’m usually no fan of mosquitoes, cockroaches, or really any creepy crawlies that can be considered pests, but I have quite a beef with one group—gnats.

            Whereas most insects somewhat seem to learn their lesson after being shooed away, gnats are persistent buggers—pun incredibly intended—that have no regard for consent. If you’re enjoying a sweet afternoon in the park, you’ll find them hovering over your head and even if you move away, they’re still there. Not alone, I might add! They tend to form these clouds around your head and kind of make you like Pig-pen from the Peanuts comics.

            If that’s not annoying enough try getting a mouthful of these barely visible guys while biking or running along a trail, which I may or may not have done (I did).

            As a dedicated pretend scientist, however, I was really curious about why they tend to surround me and also how they choose their fixed positions to swarm.

            It turns out that the term “gnat” is a group name for specific insects belonging to the order Diptera, sub-order Nematocera. Because of the eclectic term, gnats can be quite diverse. There are even some biting gnats that can be parasitic pests whose bites may lead to severe allergic reactions. I’m more interested in the non-biting type, though.

            One of these types is the fungus gnat, which can belong to the families Sciaridae or Fungivoridae, which I will use as examples of gnat behavior.


Fungus gnat males actually tend to assemble into those cloud shapes in order to increase their chance of mating; these clouds are appropriately called ghosts. So while my title may be a bit of a violent image, it isn’t necessarily inaccurate, now is it?

Well, that answers my question of what they’re doing (or who), but how do they choose their location? As the name suggests, fungus gnats tend to seek damp, humid areas where fungus might grow, or more generally areas of decaying organic matter. After copulation, the females will seek these areas for their larvae which can only burrow and eat, due to their holometabolous life cycle. This cycle, however, has earned gnats the title of pests from farmers and gardeners. This mostly has to do with the fact that the larvae will destroy plants by eating away at the plant roots. Consequentially, the male gnats swarm near any green, moist environment suitable for their offspring.

Awesome, but with all the plants about, why follow me?

There seem to be two explanations for this. One of them is quite simple actually. Sitting outside on a hot summer day, I, and every other human, tend to sweat and become hot—in effect, becoming a warm, humid environment. This (literally) sexy combination causes the gnats to surround my face as it has become the hot new bar in town. This is further visible, if you’ve ever seen them surrounding a dog’s or cat’s eye as they are attracted to the wet environment of the eyeball. Additionally, breathing out carbon dioxide at a higher concentration also attracts them. There is a third explanation, though I couldn’t find much more evidence, from Lori Eberhard that suggests gnats are attracted to sweet smells and considering how many products are needed to maintain this hair, I might just be their Willy Wonka!


  As I promised last time, I tried out something that is everyday but fun at the same time. That is, I decided to prepare myself a dish made out of real insects. If my last blog was simply about tossing crickets into my mouth, (those I purchased from a vending machine with 1 dollar), this time it is more serious. In this blog, I will guide you through a new world of homemade insect dishes with a legitimate food recipe. 🙂

  I hope you remember my last blog. In my previous blog I talked about how important it was for the global community to find a new source of food that can meet the growing calorie demand of the world. And my answer was “Bugs might be the bites!” Bugs are a wonderful source of healthy proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Silk Worm Pupae alone contain 9.6 grams of protein, 5.6 grams of fat, 2.3 grams of carbohydrate, 41.7 milligrams of calcium and 1.8 milligrams of iron. This is shockingly nutritious. The same amount of beef contains only 27.4 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of iron (Berendaum). You see what I am talking about?  

  Perhaps the only barrier that prevents many of us from enjoying insect meals is psychological, not physiological. Insects aren’t necessarily gross if we open our minds! Believe it or not, even lobster was considered as cockroaches of the sea and for a long time it was food for prisoners. Perceptions can change when food taste delicious. They can be gourmet cuisines!!!

  To change these perceptions I went out shopping to purchase ingredients for my home-made traditional Korean insect dish. The insect I used for my dish is called Bundaegi.

  Bundaegi are the pupae of the domesticated silk moth, Bombyx mori. Bombyx mori originally existed in the wild throughout Asia. However as the silk industry thrived in this region; there are only domesticated ones around us. The larvae of Bombyx mori are caterpillars that are normally 4 cm long with their horned cerci. A normal adult of Bombyx mori has a pair of 4 cm wings (Katie Clay). And we normally eat them when they are in their pupae stage.

 Bombyx mori more commonly known as silkworm has been treasured by many Asian cultures as a nutritional supplement and traditional treatment for diabetes. According to the Science Daily, Bombyx mori indeed are rich with healthful Conjugated Linoleic Acid. Studies confirm that Conjugated Linoleic Acid has beneficial effects, including stimulation of the immune system, protection against cancer and heart disease, reducing body fat and controlling diabetes (Science Daily). Doesn’t this sound too good to be true? J

  Traditionally, Bombyx mori have been a crucial component of textile industries. Believe it or not, these Bombyx mori were considered so valuable, there were cases where people got punished with death penalty for smuggling them. Also, because Bombyx mori have been cultivated for so long for sericulture, they cannot survive on their own but instead they always must be fed by humans (Lepidopetra Part 2).

             Now back to business.

 Once I purchased a can of pupae of Bundaegi, I searched the internet for the best recipe, which I can ACTUALLY try. Quite honestly cooking wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. After some hodgepodge of chopping, slicing and boiling, I discovered that I would need onions, soy sauce, bell pepper, chili along with other numerous marinating techniques to make the perfect dish.



In sum? My first insect dish was a total failure. 🙁

A Shocking Discovery: Blattodea Abound!

Everything’s bigger in Texas… I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard that in the four years that I’ve lived here. This isn’t just a case of Texas pride (which, of course is… bigger) – almost everything in Texas actually is bigger. Take BBQ for example. Or guns. High school football is almost unreal. And cockroaches. The most obscenely large cockroaches I’ve ever seen.

As winter approaches, it has become increasingly difficult to leave the cozy confines of my bed in the morning. Each morning becomes just a little bit cooler than the last. On one particular morning last week, I awoke at 7:15 am for class that would start in about 45 minutes. Of course, by waking up at 7:15 am, I really mean playing the “How many times can I hit my snooze button” game with myself until about 5 minutes before class starts. So there I was, shivering head to toe, throwing on sweat pants, a shirt, and a hoodie as fast as I could so that I could make it to class on time.  Everything was going according to plan until I slipped my feet into my shoes, and felt a little prick on my big toe. Whatever, I thought, and continued towards the bathroom to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. As I was entering the bathroom, I felt something else in my shoe. As if something was moving a little bit. Strange, I thought, and took the shoe off my foot and shook it upside down. Nothing. I heard a shriek from my roommate, and I looked up to see him pointing towards the outside of my shoe. And there it was. The mystery mover in the shoe, the great tickler of the toes, the Texas-sized American cockroach.

Being the insect nerds that my roommate and I are, we both looked at each other and sang in harmony “BLATTODEA!” (the order of insects to which cockroaches belong). I picked up my shoe and smashed the cockroach to death, and the cockroach was no longer.

You had it coming, little fella.

But, throughout the day, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my deceased cockroach friend laid eggs inside my shoe and its babies were all waiting for the right moment to strike. Or that maybe there was a whole colony of cockroaches underneath my bed and this courageous individual just happened to wander off into my shoe. Or maybe I brought home all sorts of insects from a recent hike through the woods and were now breeding all sorts of hybrid nasty pests… Why did this have to happen to me?!? Why does Houston have to be filled with so many cockroaches? What was the cockroach doing in my shoe? I searched the Internet for answers.

Houston’s semi-tropical climate is a perfect breeding ground for insects. The high humidity and temperatures combine to create a perfect habitat for cockroaches. However, as daytime temperatures fall in the winter months, cockroaches are found more often indoors, due to their intolerance of cold temperatures. American cockroaches in particular, thrive in warm, humid environments, where they can grow up to 2 inches in length ( Sounds familiar. Especially the up to two inches part.

In addition, cockroaches are mainly nocturnal and run away when exposed to light ( So that explains why the cockroach was hanging out inside my shoe as the sun came up in the morning.

Many species of cockroaches, including American cockroaches, only mate one time and are then pregnant for life ( About every 4 days, females produce a capsule, which contain 13-16 eggs. Then, the females glue their capsules in hidden areas. For instance, inside a shoe. Or underneath a bed. Great.

A typical American cockroach capsule, with nymphs.

Image courtesy of

The more I read about cockroach behavioral tendencies, the more worried I became (similar to the webMD paranoia I experience from time to time). As a result, I rushed to CVS and nearly cleared the shelves of all of the pest repellent and cockroach traps it had in stock.

It’s been about a week since my fateful encounter, and thankfully there haven’t been any other cockroach sightings in my dorm. Knock on wood.

The Complex Caste System of Leafcutter Ants

A couple weeks ago, during an Insect Biology Lab fieldtrip to the Spring Creek Greenway, I picked up a leafcutter ant with the specific purpose of having it bite me. Some may use this as evidence that I am crazy and others may cite it as an example of the power of peer pressure, but really it was interesting to get to see the ant up close and personal. It didn’t really hurt that much anyway and, in a weird way, it was kind of cute to watch the ant trying so hard to pinch my skin with its little mandibles. Ok, maybe I am crazy, but that’s not what this blog post is about. Actually, what I found the most interesting about this experience was picking which ant to let bite me. When we look at an ant mound, normally we just see essentially hundreds of copies of the same ant, as though they all popped out of the same mold from an ant making machine hidden underground. However, if you take a closer look, it is really quite a bit more complicated than that. As I scanned the ground, trying to decide which ant to pick up, I heard Dr. Solomon say something about how I should pick up a soldier one since they’re bigger and interesting to look at. That’s when I noticed that within this same species (Atta texana), within this same colony even, there were ants that looked widely different from each other. I had a vague idea about the division of labor in an ant colony before, but I hadn’t really realized the degree of specialization until after more research.

Soldier on my finger. Sorry for the fuzziness. Taking a picture of an ant on your finger is harder than it looks.

According to the University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyAtta texana highly specialize tasks using a caste system. Individuals are either reproductive or workers, and these workers are distinguished by twelve distinct worker morphs. These morphs can be grouped by size which reflects their function. The largest of the morphs are the soldiers, the caste that I personally picked up. The medium sized morphs are primarily foragers, but also function as excavators. Finally, the smallest morphs generally remain in the nest, functioning to break down leaves, care for the colony’s fungus gardens (the true source of food for the colony), and care for the queen and larvae.

Of course, learning about the complexity of the ant caste system made me wonder, “How is the caste of an individual determined?” In my research I found this paper in The American Naturalist about the developmental pathways that lead to caste determination in ants. In the paper, the author defines caste as “a set of workers that develops under the same developmental program”” rather than looking at it from a purely morphological perspective. The three variables that she lists as regulating these castes are critical size ( the size of a larvae once it begins the first step towards metamorphosis), growth parameters (growth rate vs dampening rate), and reprogramming (changes in critical size and growth parameters). The paper goes into quite a bit of detail about all of the factors that affect critical size. The one main means of determining critical size is by the amount of food the larvae receives. This can be driven both by environmental factors (such as the availability of food) or by the regulation of food flow by the “nurse” worker ants. In fact, nursing workers carry quite a bit of the responsibility of caste determination for the larvae as they manipulate the pheromone concentrations and temperature that also contribute to reprogramming. Something that this paper doesn’t address, but would be an interesting thing to find in further research would be the factors that affect the various behaviors of the nursing ants that cause them to drive the caste determination.

Some examples of leafcutter ants and the polymorphism in their castes. Source:

While the division of labor through the caste system has its clear advantages in developing specialized workers that improve efficiency, the paper mentioned above also discusses the possible issues with specializing too much and too early in the developmental process. Obviously, a limit has been placed on the number of specialized functions. For the hundreds of thousands of ants in a colony, there are twelve castes. If more specialization equals more efficiency, why not give every individual its own specialized role? Well, as discussed in the paper, with the morphological specialization to one class comes a decrease in “individual flexibility.”


Remember that 1998 Dreamworks movie, Antz? Of course you remember. It’s the one about the neurotic worker ant (not surprisingly voiced by Woody Allen) who rebels against the injustice of the social structure in his colony and ultimately marries the princess ant. Well, it wasn’t until doing more research into this caste system that I realized that despite its many many inaccuracies, it actually represented a true component of ant colonies and reflected (although with different reasons) the detriments of hyperspecialization. Throughout the movie, the main character is battling against a caste system that restricts his individual freedom. While his objections were more from a human perspective, the concern is still valid to a certain extent.

Form follows function, so if the form stays more general, it has the ability to adapt to new needs within the colony. If for some reason there’s a loss in the number of foragers due to an attack from phorid flies, individuals with individual flexibility could fill in until more forager caste workers develop. (As a quick aside, another interesting division of labor is discussed in this article that deals more with foraging than caste determination. Apparently, phorid flies tend to attack individuals from the larger castes, so sometimes members of the smaller castes will ride on the leaves of foragers to protect them from the phorid flies. It didn’t really explain whether this was a self sacrifice situation or more of a distraction from the fact that there’s a larger ant under the leaf, but either way it is still pretty cool!). Without this flexibility, the colony would be left crippled by the lack of foragers to collect leaves to feed their fungus gardens. The same would be true of the loss of any other caste. Additionally, the ability to replace them with new specialized adult ants relies on the fact that the developmental pathways stay relatively similar with the ability to change direction (reprogram) easily if need be. Without the flexibility to temporarily replace specialized workers with other workers or to increase the rate at which new specialized workers mature, the colony would lose its ability to perform that function if there were ever a sudden loss in many of a specific caste. For this reason, it is important that a colony strikes a balance between optimizing efficiency through the specialization of castes while maintaining the flexibility to adapt to times of crisis.

Creepy Crawlers

Twas the night before class, when all through the dorms

Not a person was stirring, not even a mouse…

…except for this:

Earwig. Photo Credit:

That modified Christmas poem describes my suite on a typical weekday. Everyone is snuggled deep in their covers, sleeping soundly with sweet (I hope) dreams. And then there’s me, snuggled deep in the arms of procrastination.

Although I admit that I am definitely much more of a night owl than a morning bird, I try to avoid unnecessary late nights. It’s not that I’m afraid of how tired I’ll be tomorrow morning, but it’s more like I’m scared of what’s out there in the dark. Still, you can usually find me bathed in the glow of my computer at three in the morning and then scrambling to get dressed for that 8AM class. Despite having absolutely no reason to still be awake, I tend to spend my time relaxing—snacking whilst reading a good book. However, because everything is creepier at three in the morning, there is one very important thing I dread to do: go to the bathroom.

Now normally, if this were any other activity, I would just ignore it and wait until morning, but “when you gotta go, you gotta go.” Who am I to argue with my bladder? On this particular morning, I safely sprinted from my room to the bathroom. Nothing had flown at me or attacked me, and I heaved a sigh of relief, before I turned around and saw a lovely earwig.

Earwig. Photo Credit: Me! (at 4AM)

Earwigs are part of the Dermaptera order. They are omnivorous insects, usually eating whatever they find, whether it is plants or dead matter. They are also nocturnal, and hide in moist dark places during the day, which explains why I found one crawling leisurely out of the sink. Although my immediate thoughts flew to whether Germ-X could be a suitable substitute for washing my hands, I eventually snapped a picture and poured some shampoo in the sink, followed by a steady stream of water (I’m sorry earwig!).

I thought I only had to worry about an earwig’s main weapons: its cerci and the unpleasant-smelling liquid it secretes. Earwigs use their cerci for defense, courtship, grooming, and attacking prey. They also release a foul-smelling liquid from their abdomen in the face of predators. However, earwigs are a lot more intimidating than I originally thought.

Some species of earwigs are ectoparasites, which are parasites that live on the surface of their hosts. Earwigs of the Hemimerina suborder feed on the skin of African giant rats, using their cerci to pinch onto the fur, while earwigs of the Arixenina suborder, such as the Arixenia esau feed on the gland secretions of some Asian bats. You can watch earwigs swarming around baby bats here.

I am incredibly happy I have not ever and hopefully will never come in contact with these menacing parasitic earwigs. In the meantime, I will (somewhat) regrettably continue flushing earwigs back down the sink drain during my late night bathroom runs.

Invasive, Sex-Crazed Cannibals

The popular perception of ladybugs. Clipart by Marketa Bauerova.

I was studying outside the other day when I began to notice a couple of small, alligator-like insects circling the outer rim of my table. Curious about these little creatures, I let one crawl onto my hand. It looped around my fingers for a while with surprising speed until I placed it back down and it continued its little circuit around my table.

Using the internet’s infinite wisdom (this website in particular), I was able to identify the insect as a ladybug* larva. In particular, it was an Asian Multicolored Lady Beetle, or Harmonia axyridis. The first things that I discovered about my new friend is that it emits a pungent odor and sometimes bites. I looked down again at the bumpy insect squirming around my table with a newfound sense of disgust, hoping it hadn’t left it’s odorous mark on me.

And that was just strike one for this ladybug.

I was talking to a friend a little while later when our conversation was cut short by the sudden appearance of a larvae falling out of my hair. My voluminous hair has been known to consume anything from bubble gum to bobby pins, but this was certainly a first. Even later, I found one squished in between the pages of a textbook. I knew that I was either very unsanitary, as my friend now suspected, or that they were so common that all of these interactions were not improbable. In any case, I knew that there would be some interesting science behind my insect encounters.

An Asian multicolored lady beetle larva found by the fountains near Brochstein Pavilion (on Rice University Campus). Photo by Marie Hoeger.

Asian Multicolored Lady Beetles in North America

It turns out that the Asian Multicolored Lady Beetle is an introduced invasive species that is causing some trouble in North American and European countries. They have been released multiple times in North America as biological control agents (they’re very effective aphid predators) from as early as 1916. They failed to establish in North America until 1988, when their populations started exploding. Now, they are expanding at an extremely rapid rate — approximately 442 km per year (read a chapter from this book to learn more about the impact and history of Asian Multicolored Lady Beetles in North America).

These lady beetles have been shown to be highly successful in controlling aphid pest species, as intended. An adult eats roughly 60 aphids per day, and even smaller larvae eat around 25 aphids per day. However, the benefits to humans only last through summer and spring. Around fall, they migrate in masses and become a common pest. They flock to houses and other man-made structure as winter approaches to hibernate in cracks and crevices. Their massive aggregations stain carpets, curtains, furniture, and more.

Because they’re such highly generalized and effective predators, they’re also harmful to many native and non-target species. On top of depleting the food source, they actually eat the eggs of their native brethren (this type of predation is called intraguild predation — it’s literally a ladybug eat ladybug world they live in). Although native species’ larvae also prey on Asian lady beetle eggs (not so cute, eh?), according to this Journal of Insect Science article, the Asian lady beetle is just better at it. Overall, they’ve made a positive impact in some areas of pest control, but are largely considered a model of the dangers and failure of introducing new species as biological controls.

An Asian multicolored lady beetle larva eating native lady beetle larva. Photo by Don J. Dinndorf, blogger on

The Sex and the Cannibalism

Through my research of the Asian Multicolored Lady Beetle, my conception of ladybugs as these adorable, charismatic creatures has certainly changed. But those are just the Asian Multicolored Lady Beetles right? Nope, ladybugs are just really weird, kind of disgusting and fascinating creatures. Here’s the evidence:  

  • When threatened, ladybugs begin to bleed from their knees. Their blood is full of toxic chemicals that make them taste bad to predators, so bleeding a little gives them a preview of the meal to come (learn more about ladybugs here).
  • Ladybugs have the most sexually transmitted infections of virtually any insect. In the words of Dr. Greg Hurst of the University of  College London, ladybugs are “remarkably promiscuous.”
  • Ladybugs are cannibals, especially when food sources are scarce. They feed on both sibling and non-sibling eggs.

Two ladybugs eating a dead ladybug. Photo by Maria F., WordPress blogger. You can read her story about this image by clicking the image.

*DISCLAIMER: The term “ladybug,” is actually a misnomer. Ladybugs are small beetles of the Coccinellidae family, and not true bugs (true bugs belong to the insect order Hemiptera). I often refer to these lady beetles as ladybugs because that is how they are colloquially known. 

A Visit from a Bee and a Visit to a Hive

This morning, I was walking down the stairs in my dorm when I noticed a lounging honeybee. This bee was hanging out on the concrete step, not much minding as I observed and took pictures.

I went to the beehive on campus about an hour after spotting the bee. It was the coolest temperature I’ve been to the hive in (about 75°F), and the bees weren’t as active as normal, but there was still activity. As I approached the hive, the bees started moving around more and seemed to want me away, but they weren’t aggressive at all, and I was able to get very close to them and the hive with no injuries.

After looking at the hive, I rode my bike bake to my dorm, stopping next to the spot I originally found the honeybee. She was of course long gone by this point, but my bike computer read .94 miles, and that’s even with my winding around buildings. According to this, the bee I found was well within the range of the Rice beehive, though it’s probably more likely she came from one of the natural hives on campus or one of the closer neighborhood hives. Either way, the lone bee and the hive represent pollinators that play a large role in our lives as Rice students.

I found the first bee near Martel, a college that is home to a community garden. This garden is the home to some tomato plants, including a couple of “volunteer” plants that showed up this year. Tomatoes, like many Solanaceae, are fertilized via buzz pollination, a method that requires the vibration of the flower for the pollinator to obtain the pollen. Bees are typically the pollinators in question for this method, as it the case for tomatoes (read more about it here). The eggplants and potatoes sometimes grown in the gardens also require buzz pollination. This video shows buzz pollination very well.

Honeybees are not native to the United States, though other varieties of bees are, but they have nonetheless become important in crop pollination, food production, and even medicinal and cosmetic ingredients in the United States. This article states that honeybees are essential for agriculture in the United States, and it is hard to ignore the importance of honey when most Americans consume or use it every day. The little bee I spotted on the stair is part of an extremely important species, not just for us, but for the world.