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.

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.

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.

Five Things #16

The Hidden Girl by Ken Liu is a tale of magic and morality set in eighth century China, a time when rivalry among military governors —- the jiedushi —- was often violent and bloody.

“By studying rats in a smarter way, scientists are finally learning something useful about why some drinkers become addicted and others don’t.” Ed Yong on a landmark study on the origins of alcoholism.

George Nash looks back at Gremlins, and the timely return of Joe Dante’s controversial creatures.

Nick Tyrone rediscovers football after a ten year absence and wonders if the gentrification of the sport has gone too far.

Simon Brew salutes 2019’s most underrated –- and finest -– blockbuster movie villain

Five Things #12

The Etiquette of Mythique Fine Dining by Carolyn Rahaman is a light but effective exploration of the challenges and dangers that come from cooking and eating magical foods.

Ed Yong on the predator that makes great white sharks flee in fear. Better to run than to have your liver squeezed out.

André Spicer on how organisations enshrine collective stupidity and employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door.

Denzil at Discovering Belgium takes an 11 km circular walk through the Forêt de Soignes and discovers the Monument aux Forestiers, a stone circle that memorialises foresters killed during World War One.

We Are Cult revisits Clockwise.

An admiral in the garden?

The question mark in the title of this post is deliberate and in place because I have never made an entomological attempt before today. But while outside this afternoon, I noticed that the nettles still clinging to our back fence were covered in caterpillars. And I do mean covered:

Obviously, I wanted to know what species of caterpillar these are and, after some searching, I have managed to convince myself that these are Red Admiral larvae.

I couldn’t find an exact photographic match but this is a native species and this does seem to be the right time of the year for them. And, of course, they were all over the nettles, which is the sole diet of Red Admiral caterpillars.

We could be in for quite a colourful autumn this year.