The Verge:

Scientists have discovered four species of Brazilian insects in which the females possess a penis and the males possess a vagina. This announcement, made today in the journal Current Biology, represents the first documented instance of a “female penis” in the animal kingdom.

Contrary to popular belief, the presence or absence of certain sex organs isn’t the determining factor when deciding which animal of a species is female and which is male. In fact, biologists don’t use sex chromosomes either. They actually rely on the size of an animal’s gametes — sperm in males and oocytes in females. As the rule goes, females are the sex that contribute the largest gametes, whereas males are the sex that contribute the smallest gametes and therefore expend the least amount of energy on producing these cells. So, in this particular instance of sex-role reversal, the convention still applies: the female in these species of insect produces the largest gametes — egg cells. She simply also happens to sport a penis that she introduces into the male’s vagina during copulation.

[…]

When it’s time to mate, the female mounts the male and penetrates his vagina-like opening using her gynosome — the term used to designate her female-penis. This mating behavior lasts for an impressive 40 to 70 hours, thanks to the female’s inflatable, spiny penis that anchors itself to the male’s internal tissues. During this time, the female Neotrogla gathers large quantities of sperm that she uses to fertilize her eggs. “Because the female’s anchoring force is very strong, a male’s resistance may cause damage to his genitalia,” Yoshizawa said. “Therefore, it is very likely that entire mating processes are controlled actively by females, whereas males are rather passive.”

Michael Siva-Jothy, an entomologist at the University of Sheffield, UK, who didn’t participate in this study, said in an email to The Verge that the findings are “really, really exciting.” Examples like this, he noted, allow researchers to examine various factors that drive how these traits evolve. When asked how the female penis might have evolved, however, Siva-Jothy was stumped. “This is so bizarre,” he said. “I don’t know where to begin.”

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Dailymail:

They might be known for working together in complex colonies, but woodland ants can be quite antisocial.

The insects are able to fire smelly acid into the air to ward off predators and now, their offensive behaviour has been caught on camera.

Woodland ants work together to jointly squirt foul-smelling liquid when they sense a threat overhead – such as a hungry bird.

The formic acid is not harmful to humans and has the same odour as vinegar.

However, it is enough to scare off larger predators such as woodpeckers and jay birds, who could wreak havoc on an ant nest.

Woodland ants live in the UK as well as other parts of Europe.

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Inkfish:

Studies of ants have the ring of medieval epics: there are queens, castes, warring soldiers and scouts. Certain ant species go on violent raids of neighboring colonies, picking up the young in their jaws and carrying them back to their own homes. The stolen ants become workers that live to serve these “slave-makers.” A newly discovered slave-making ant species, though, sometimes accomplishes the same kind of coup without the need for violence.

[…]

Scouts from a slave-maker colony go out looking for nests to raid, either alone or with up to four worker ants following. When they find a target and charge inside, they may meet resistance. In this case the slave-makers make “frequent and effective use of the stinger,” the authors write: a sting by a pillage ant quickly paralyzes and kills a host ant. In the raids that the scientists observed, casualties in the invaded ant colony could reach as high as 100 percent.

Yet the takeovers could also be peaceful. In some cases, especially in nests without a queen, the invaded ants barely objected to their pillaging guests. Slave-makers carried off not just larvae and pupae from the colony, but adult ants too. “Occasionally, host workers [tried] to drag slavemakers out of the nest,” the authors write, but at other times they didn’t resist. The whole raid could go off with hardly any violence.

The scientists think pillage ants somehow disguise themselves, so that ants in the invaded nests surrender without objecting. Seifert says “different forms of camouflage” could be responsible. The slave-makers might mimic the coloring, shape, or movement of their hosts well enough that the hosts don’t notice when the raid begins. Or the mimicry might be chemical—pheromones given off by the slave-makers might convince their victims everything’s fine. Back at the pillage ants’ home nest, a typical colony includes about four workers and a dozen slaves.

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nemertea:

Big-headed bark spider, Caerostris, Singapor

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The Daily Green:

This planthopper exudes waxy secretions from the abdomen, and these sometimes form long strands which may provide protection from predators by fooling hungry predators into attacking the wrong part of the insect (the wax breaks off while the insect jumps to safety!)

It was one 1,378 species identified—as many as 60 of them new species—in the rainforest-clad mountains of Southeastern Suriname, South America, during a first-ever survey by international biologists of an area Conservation International described as “a wilderness area virtually without any human influence and among the most remote and unexplored tracts of rainforest left on Earth.”

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Wired:

This is Eunice aphroditois, also known as the bobbit worm, a mix between the Mongolian death worm,the Graboids from Tremorsthe Bugs from Starship Troopers, and a rainbow — but it’s a really dangerous rainbow, like in Mario Kart. And it hunts in pretty much the most nightmarish way imaginable, digging itself into the sea floor, exposing a few inches of its body — which can grow to 10 feet long — and waiting.

Using five antennae, the bobbit worm senses passing prey, snapping down on them with supremely muscled mouth parts, called a pharynx. It does this with such speed and strength that it can split a fish in two. And that, quite frankly, would be a merciful exit. If you survive initially, you get to find out what it’s like to be yanked into the worm’s burrow and into untold nightmares.

A mix between the Mongolian death worm, the Graboids from Tremors, the Bugs from Starship Troopers, and a rainbow.

“What happens next is rather unknown, especially because they have not been observed directly,” Luis F. Carrera-Parra and Sergio I. Salazar-Vallejo, ecologists specializing in annelid polychaetes at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) in Campeche, Mexico, wrote in a joint email to WIRED. “We think that the eunicid injects some narcotizing or killing toxin in their prey animal, such that it can be safely ingested — especially if they are larger than the worm — and then digested through the gut.”

Scientists can’t seem to agree on how to even classify the thing. “We might actually have not just different species, but different genera of these worms,” Schulze said. “The color patterns can vary quite a bit, and we really don’t know how many species it refers to.” Complicating matters is the preservation process. According to Schulze, pickled specimens available to scientists have been soaking in formalin or ethanol, which leaches out their gorgeous iridescent color.

And marine biologists don’t come across bobbit worms too often in the wild, Schulze says. But every once in a while one just appears in an aquarium, like a kraken, ready to make a mess of things, as ifLiam Neeson himself ordered it into existence. Indeed, it has become the bane of many an aquarist. When folks introduce live rocks — which are actually skeletons of dead coral — into their saltwater aquariums, a teeny-tiny bobbit worm can come along for the ride. But they don’t stay small for long.

Nightmare fuel.

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Though they’re usually thought of as predators trap-jaw ants also keep honeydew-producing insects.

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Odontomachus bauri, the trap-jaw ant, has spring-loaded mandibles that snap shut on a hair trigger.

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Ctenizoidea ctenizidae, the trapdoor spider, is the most ancient living spider.

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New Scientist:

Ever look up at the stars and wonder if some bug-eyed creature is doing the same? It turns out at least one does: the dung beetle uses the glow of the Milky Way to navigate.

Once a beetle (Scarabaeus satyrus) has constructed its dung ball, it moves off in a straight line in order to escape from rival beetles as quickly as possible, lest they try and steal its carefully crafted ball. This behaviour doesn’t sound complicated, but several years ago, Marie Dacke of Lund University in Sweden and colleagues showed that polarised light from the moon is important for dung beetles to keep to a straight line.

Then the researchers were surprised to find the insects were able to stay on course even on a moonless night. “We thought there was something wrong in our set-up,” Dacke says.

The team allowed the beetles to crawl around the floor of a plain-walled cylindrical drum with an open top, meaning they could only use the night sky to orientate themselves. The researchers timed how long it took the beetles to reach the edge of the drum from the centre, and found that under a full moon, the insects took around 20 seconds on average; on a starry but moonless night, they took around 40 seconds.

But when beetles had a cardboard cap placed on them to prevent them from seeing the sky, they needed over two minutes, suggesting the stars were playing a role.

Important dung beetle news.

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tdl:

The garden ant and the cockroach wasp are just two new examples of insects acting as their own pharmacists—using self-made chemicals to defend themselves against bacteria. In the simplest strategies, they groom themselves with defensive chemicals. Ants and termites do this, as do rove beetles, which use a substance called stenusine to walk on water as well as repel fungi and bacteria.

Some species use their chemicals to clean their homes, relatives, or food supply. Some bees and wasps incorporate their venom into the building materials for their nests. Fire ants apply antibacterial chemicals onto their eggs, and liberally spray the stuff into the brood chambers, where the eggs are kept. The European beewolf—a  type of parasitic wasp—embalms the honeybees that it provisions for its larvae, by covering them with an oily secretion that stops water from condensing and makes it harder for fungi to grow.

At a time when many human societies lack decent sanitation, and others have only enjoyed it for a few centuries, it’s sobering to remember that insects have been practicing careful hygiene for millions of years.

Important bug news.

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Discovery:

Researchers have found trapped in amber a rare dinosaur-age scene of a spider attacking a wasp caught in its web.

The piece of amber, which contains 15 intact strands of spider silk, provides the first fossil evidence of such an assault, the researchers said. It was excavated in a Burmese mine and dates back to the Early Cretaceous, between 97 million and 110 million years ago.

"This was a male wasp that suddenly found itself trapped in a spider web. This was the wasp’s worst nightmare, and it never ended. The wasp was watching the spider just as it was about to be attacked, when tree resin flowed over and captured both of them," George Poinar, Jr., a zoology professor at Oregon State University, said in a statement.

Both the spider and wasp species are today extinct.

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Stanford

On the surface, ants and the Internet don’t seem to have much in common. But two Stanford researchers have discovered that a species of harvester ants determine how many foragers to send out of the nest in much the same way that Internet protocols discover how much bandwidth is available for the transfer of data. The researchers are calling it the “anternet.”

Deborah Gordon, a biology professor at Stanford, has been studying ants for more than 20 years. When she figured out how the harvester ant colonies she had been observing in Arizona decided when to send out more ants to get food, she called across campus to Balaji Prabhakar, a professor of computer science at Stanford and an expert on how files are transferred on a computer network. At first he didn’t see any overlap between his and Gordon’s work, but inspiration would soon strike.

"The next day it occurred to me, ‘Oh wait, this is almost the same as how [Internet] protocols discover how much bandwidth is available for transferring a file!’" Prabhakar said. "The algorithm the ants were using to discover how much food there is available is essentially the same as that used in the Transmission Control Protocol."

Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, is an algorithm that manages data congestion on the Internet, and as such was integral in allowing the early web to scale up from a few dozen nodes to the billions in use today. Here’s how it works: As a source, A, transfers a file to a destination, B, the file is broken into numbered packets. When B receives each packet, it sends an acknowledgment, or an ack, to A, that the packet arrived.

This feedback loop allows TCP to run congestion avoidance: If acks return at a slower rate than the data was sent out, that indicates that there is little bandwidth available, and the source throttles data transmission down accordingly. If acks return quickly, the source boosts its transmission speed. The process determines how much bandwidth is available and throttles data transmission accordingly.

It turns out that harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) behave nearly the same way when searching for food. Gordon has found that the rate at which harvester ants – which forage for seeds as individuals – leave the nest to search for food corresponds to food availability.

A forager won’t return to the nest until it finds food. If seeds are plentiful, foragers return faster, and more ants leave the nest to forage. If, however, ants begin returning empty handed, the search is slowed, and perhaps called off.

Prabhakar wrote an ant algorithm to predict foraging behavior depending on the amount of food – i.e., bandwidth – available. Gordon’s experiments manipulate the rate of forager return. Working with Stanford student Katie Dektar, they found that the TCP-influenced algorithm almost exactly matched the ant behavior found in Gordon’s experiments.

"Ants have discovered an algorithm that we know well, and they’ve been doing it for millions of years," Prabhakar said.

They also found that the ants followed two other phases of TCP. One phase is known as slow start, which describes how a source sends out a large wave of packets at the beginning of a transmission to gauge bandwidth; similarly, when the harvester ants begin foraging, they send out foragers to scope out food availability before scaling up or down the rate of outgoing foragers.

Another protocol, called time-out, occurs when a data transfer link breaks or is disrupted, and the source stops sending packets. Similarly, when foragers are prevented from returning to the nest for more than 20 minutes, no more foragers leave the nest.

Prabhakar said that had this discovery been made in the 1970s, before TCP was written, harvester ants very well could have influenced the design of the Internet.

Gordon thinks that scientists have just scratched the surface for how ant colony behavior could help us in the design of networked systems.

There are 11,000 species of ants, living in every habitat and dealing with every type of ecological problem, Gordon said. “Ants have evolved ways of doing things that we haven’t thought up, but could apply in computer systems. Computationally speaking, each ant has limited capabilities, but the collective can perform complex tasks.

"So ant algorithms have to be simple, distributed and scalable – the very qualities that we need in large engineered distributed systems," she said. "I think as we start understanding more about how species of ants regulate their behavior, we’ll find many more useful applications for network algorithms."

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A Katydid with erythrochroism, a genetic mutation which can cause an excess of red pigment.

(via beverly-kills)

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