Charismatic minifauna

There is something about wasp related news that really appeals to me. That said, I have no qualms about murdering the wee beasties when the build a nest in my own garden.

A new study into how the many species of stinging wasps contribute both to the ecosystem and human society, however, suggests that a more live and let live attitude might be in order.

“Wasps are one of those insects we love to hate – and yet bees, which also sting, are prized for pollinating our crops and making honey,” the study’s lead author, Professor Seirian Sumner of UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, told Eurekalert.

“In a previous study, we found that the hatred of wasps is largely due to widespread ignorance about the role of wasps in ecosystems, and how they can be beneficial to humans.”

Not only do they pollinate 960 species of plant — 164 of which depend on the wasp entirely — they also keep crops free from pests in their role as apex predator. The pest control aspect is not new, though, with Brazil farmers using live wasps for pest control as far back as 2013.

According to Professor Sumner:

Wasps are understudied relative to other insects like bees, so we are only now starting to properly understand the value and importance of their ecosystem services. Here, we have reviewed the best evidence there is, and found that wasps could be just as valuable as other beloved insects like bees, if only we gave them more of a chance.

I’m all for giving wasps more of a chance. Especially if they nest in someone else’s garden.

Perspective

Research: Covid-19 more likely to cause blood clots than any vaccine

Infection by the virus that causes Covid-19 is about 100 times more likely to cause blood clots in the brain that any Covid vaccine on the market, according to a new study carried out by Oxford University.

With people all over the place panicking about the AstraZeneca and, more recently, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it is worth keeping in mind that any risk associated with either of these vaccines is trivial compared to the risks associated with Covid.

Vaccination is an essential part of getting the coronavirus under control. Let’s not give the virus any help by over-emphasizing minor and unproven issues elsewhere.

Great Minds

In the comments of yesterday’s post, I suggested (slightly flippantly) that if France and Germany didn’t want their AstraZeneca vaccines, they could be used to speed up the vaccination process in Belgium.

Great minds think alike.

Belgium has asked pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for the surplus vaccine doses from the countries that have temporarily put the company’s jabs on hold over recent concerns about possible side effects.

Jabtastic!

Blob World

This is wonderful. There’s a guy on YouTube, going by the name of Primer, who uses a computer model to explore evolutionary concepts, which he discusses on his YouTube channel.

Visually, it’s all very simple but there is something remarkably appealing about watching these amorphous blobs evolve and survive as he discusses the concepts being displayed.

It gets better though. Jasper Palfree at MinuteLabs have taken Primer’s simulator and made an online gadget that allows you to play around with the initial settings and watch the blobs evolve.

The blobs have three traits — speed, sight and sense range — all of which mutate at a predetermined rate. You can choose both the initial values for these traits and the rate of variance, and then you let it run and see what happens.

It’s fascinating.

Of frogs and beetles

Another heatwave is upon us and I should probably be staying in the shade rather than obsessively meeting my daily exercise target. But if I had stayed indoors, I wouldn’t have seen this guy sunning himself.

Frog783

This sent me down something of an internet rabbit hole. While the French are normally famous for eating frogs legs, I remember seeing somewhere that archaeological evidence points to the English having come up with this idea first — by a few thousand years. While trying to confirm this, I came across something much better.

When This Beetle Gets Eaten by a Frog, It Heads for the ‘Back Door’

Here’s the proof. You have been warned.

Little Bee

I meant to post this a couple of days ago, but time still has a habit of getting away from me. Still, even I can recognise a bumblebee when out walking.

That said, I hadn’t realised that there were over 250 species of the things.

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There is an urban myth about the laws of aerodynamics proving that bumblebees can’t fly. This is, of course, nonsense and the origin of this myth is somewhat unclear.

I did hear an anecdote some time ago (which after a bit of digging, I should note is probably wrong) claiming that an engineer at a dinner party performed some rough calculations and concluded that, according to his equations, bumblebees cannot fly. He later realised that he’d failed to take into account of the fact that bumblebees don’t have fixed wings.

Or, as Karl Smallwood puts it for Today I Found Out:

Basically, if you calculate it all assuming bumblebees fly like airplanes, then sure, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly. But, of course, bumblebees don’t fly like airplanes.

Smallwood also notes that the fact that scientists are still having to repeatedly prove that bumblebees can fly in order to counter such an obviously nonsensical myth says a lot about the gullibility of people.

Five Things #27

Song of the Water Bear by Laine Bell is a surprisingly effective story about tardigrades, from their own perspective.

I am constantly perplexed as to why so many people are people panic-buying toilet paper. Neuroscientist, Dean Burnett explains.

Sara Elsam talks to Games Workshop co-founder Ian Livingstone about fantasy, bringing D&D to the UK and the birth of Warhammer.

Kieran Fisher argues Buffy the Vampire Slayer Is the Perfect Binge Watch. This is part of a series, all of which is worth a look.

Dana Najjar considers the billion year algae that hints at the origin of land plants.

The Belgian shutdown has started

You can tell things are getting bad when Belgium gets a government. This is, of course, only a temporary government — negotiations are still ongoing for the new federal government — but prime minister, Sophie Wilmès now has powers for six months to take measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic without requiring parliamentary approval.

The first thing this government did was to declare a declare a nation-wide shutdown as of noon today. Until 5th April, we are all expected to stay at home except for essential reasons, such as food shopping, or outdoor physical activities which can only be done with people living in the same house.

They are trying to avoid calling this a lockdown for fear of negative connotations. But that’s what this is.

Compared to yesterday, we’re not that much affected. I’m already working from home and Eve is still able to take the boys out in the afternoon in order to prevent us all going stir crazy. Because I am not walking to work at present, I have taken to taking a walk around town before I start working and again when I have finished. This is still allowed as long as I don’t talk to anyone.

In slightly more positive news, a citizens’ initiative has been launched aiming to bring together isolated people with volunteers available to gather and deliver essential shopping. The idea from Covid Solidarity is to make shopping list templates for printing out available to people who find themselves isolated.

Once completed, the list may be placed in a visible position in front of one’s house so that a neighbour can pick it up and set about making the necessary purchases.

The shopping is then deposited without physical contact, and reimbursement for purchases made is handled directly by the person lending assistance and the person being assisted, according to the procedure detailed on the site.

And two Dutch universities are looking into whether a vaccine for tuberculosis can be used to boost immune systems which may mean fewer and less severe infections.

Mad compromise of the moment

The Belgium National Security Council met on Thursday to come up with new measures to address the public concern surrounding the coronavirus. They have come up with a number of measures that, essentially, amount to cancelling weekends and, bizarrely:

All classes at school will be suspended, but schools will be asked to provide care, especially for parents who are unable to look after their children during school hours. The Prime Minister has called for children not to be taken care of by grandparents.

In other words, schools will remain both open and closed until the end of the month.

According to Politico, this is the result of disagreement between Flemish and French-speaking politicians:

Whereas French-speaking politicians wanted to close down all schools in Belgium, as is now the case in France, Flemish politicians were more reluctant to do so, fearing an economic shock. A compromise was found by suspending all classes but not closing all schools.

After the press conference, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon stressed that schools are not shutting down completely. “Closing all schools would be a problem for people who work in the health sector or for parents whose children can only be cared for by grandparents. That is precisely the most vulnerable group. Parents who can’t find a solution for their children can still rely on schools.”

I am certainly sympathetic to the view that offloading kids onto grandparents — the most vulnerable group — for the best part of three weeks would be insane. But if schools are going to stay partly open, I don’t see the value in not keeping them fully open.

Then again, it probably shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that the country that gave us Magritte would also be the first country to invent Schrödinger’s School.