Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category
The monarch butterfly is a remarkable species. Each year these insects migrate in a similar pattern to birds from colder to warmer climates as the seasons change, often returning to the same overwintering sites every year. Unlike birds, however, no single monarch lives long enough to make the whole migration, so the journey occurs across multiple generations, adding to the complexity and incredible nature of the phenomenon. There are two main groups of monarchs in North America that are distinguished by their migration routes: the eastern group spends its spring and summer in eastern or central U.S and overwinters in Mexico, while the western group lives in central California and surrounding states for most of the year, overwintering on the California coast. Although these two groups are the same species, they are studied independently, as different factors affect their life cycles and migrations.
The Xerces Society, an organization dedicated to the conservation of invertebrates including insects, has been studying the western monarch population for nearly two decades through a citizen science project called the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. The project asks volunteers to travel to monarch overwintering sites on the California coast and count the butterflies that are present. Sarina Jepsen from the Xerces society describes that the project is “really an extraordinary effort” because of the sheer number of monarchs and their broad distribution across the California coastline. She notes that the project provides “the primary information” the society has to understand annual changes in the monarch population.
So far, the count has provided scientists with two important pieces of information. The first is that the monarch population has declined dramatically over the last 15 years – on average, only 10% of monarchs are returning to their overwintering sites compared to 1997. A recent study has linked this decline in part to climate change, which affects the monarch’s primary food source and mating ground, the milkweed plant. The second piece of information from the count, as Jepsen describes, is a “spatial picture of how the monarchs are doing and areas that can be prioritized for conservation projects.” Another factor in the monarch decline is the loss or degradation of over wintering sites, so a detailed picture of their distribution in the winter is critical to maintaining the remaining sites that these butterflies use.
Although many of the people participating in the project have been dedicated for a number of years, the Xerces Society is always looking for new volunteers to join in the count. Jepsen asserts that for new participants helping out, “It’s our hope that they’ll develop an appreciation of monarch butterflies and a desire to work towards their conservation.” The count takes place for three weeks around the Thanksgiving holiday, so it’s a great activity to burn off some of those extra holiday calories while aiding in the conservation of these incredible insects.
Reference: Xerces Society
Emily Lewis is a PhD candidate in chemistry at Tufts University, where she analyzes catalysts for synthetic fuels on the nanoscale. She received her BS and MS degrees from Northeastern University, and her thesis work examined fuel cell catalysts under real operating conditions. She loves learning about energy and the environment, exploring science communication, and investigating the intersection of these topics with the policy world. When she’s not writing or in the lab, you’ll probably spot Emily at the summit of one of the White Mountains in NH. Follow her: @lewisbase, emilyannelewis.com.
Drag your bones toward more Halloween-themed citizen science! SciStarter has been paying attention to the zombee apocalypse from ZomBee Watch’s early days. Here are some important updates on the project and details on how you can get involved.
Have you noticed bees behaving in a strange ‘zombie’-like dazed manner near lights, especially at night? Then, they may be infected by a parasitic fly that affects their behaviour and ZomBee Watch, a project started by Professor John Hafernik and colleagues, needs your help. Until now, known infections had only happened on the west coast, but citizen scientists just recently spotted infected bees for the first time in New England, which means the infection is spreading.
Zombees were initially discovered at San Francisco State University by Professor Hafernik. “I first discovered infected honey bees by accident in late 2008 when I began noticing a large number of disoriented and dying honey bees on campus,” he said. After picking a few in a vial and leaving them for a few days, Professor Hafernik found small brown fly pupae inside the jar. “I sent a sample to Brian Brown at the Natural History Museum of LA County and he identified the flies as Apocephalus borealis,” said Professor Hafernik.
Later, Professor Hafernik figured it out that infected bees were leaving their hive at night, attracted to nearby lights. It turned out that flies can inject eggs into the abdomen of a bee, and when eggs hatch, small maggots start eating the bee’s flight muscles and internal organs. At some point, the bee’s behaviour changes as well and they feel compelled to fly at night. After leaving the hive, they live only for a few hours, and about five to seven days later, mature maggots emerge from the dead bee. “We’ve observed as many as 16 maggots emerging from a single bee,” said Professor Hafernik. “At this point there is no way to treat or prevent infection, but we hope that as we learn more about how flies recognize their hosts, that we can find a way to control infections.”
Professor Hafernik explained how this was an ideal project for citizen scientists. “Given the increasing public concern about declines in bees and the fact that infected bees showed such unusual behaviour that could be tracked by the public, crowd sourcing the project seemed like an excellent way to gather data quickly and for citizen scientists of all ages to make important contributions to research on honey bee health.”
Participants do not need any special background or training to get started. “We provide video and PowerPoint-based tutorials on our website to get them started,” said Prof Hafernik. If participants find zombees, they’re asked to place them in a jar, and take a photo to upload onto the website. It’s recommended to keep the bee for 7-10 days to confirm if maggots emerge. If they do, participants need to take another photo and again uploaded it to the website. For records in new areas, participants may be asked to send a sample by mail to double check identification.
This is an ongoing strategy and if you wish to participate, go to the website now and register. The window of opportunity to observe these bees is going to close very quickly as winter approaches, but there is still time to help with this project.
Dr. Alex Reis is a freelance science writer, with a particular expertise in the field of biology and genetics. She holds a degree and MSc in Animal Science, topped up with a PhD in Embryology. In a ‘previous life’ as a researcher, she worked in the field of cell and molecular biosciences and published various scientific manuscripts including in Nature. Nowadays, however, she spends most of her time reading and writing science articles for several news outlets. Recent work includes articles published in The Munich Eye, Decoded Science, United Academics Magazine, BitesizeBio and Science NOW. After moving around the UK for a while, she now lives in the Highlands of Scotland. When not working, she can be found trying to get friendly with the ‘locals,’ from deer to seals, otters or even sea eagles.
If you ever asked me how many kinds of spiders were there in the world, I would say there are two that I know of. The one with thin long legs that inhabit the walls of my house and keep me up at night, and the enormous one with hairy legs that inhabit theater screens around the world … and also keep me up at night. And boy would I have been wrong. As it turns out, there are more than forty three thousand species of spiders in the world (43,678 as of 2008 according to the American Museum of Natural History, to be exact).
As scary as they may seem, spiders play a critical role in our ecosystem. Since they are an important predator for insects, they act as natural insect control agents, keeping their populations in check. And like any other living organism, they are affected by climate change. However, the impact of such temperature or other environmental changes on spider distribution in their habitats are unknown.
This is where community science project ‘Where is my spider’ initiated by the Explorit Science Center steps in. This project is hosted on the website iNaturalist.org, a place where observations of living species are curated online. In ‘Where is my spider,’ you can join other eager spider seekers and upload a picture on to the project website, adding in details such as when and where you saw it (just make sure it has eight legs!). Don’t know what species you saw? Not to worry. If you have the time, you can play the sleuth and discover the species for yourself using online resources such as the Encyclopedia of Life. Or you can always rely on the community of curators at iNaturalist to help you out. Either way, ‘Where is my Spider’ will be a fun way to contribute to citizen science while learning something about the world around you.
Start off by going through SciStarter to get an Explorit ID and use the ID when uploading your observation on the iNaturalist project page. iNaturalist has a host of other citizen science projects so it will definitely be worth your while to register there and check out other projects as well. Oh and if you’re in the Sacramento/Davis area be sure to find out about exciting science events hosted by Explorit.
Spiders not scary enough? Be sure to check out other Halloween themed projects on SciStarter!
Arvind Suresh is a graduate student in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. For his thesis, he has been studying the molecular mechanisms behind uterine contraction during pregnancy. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera. www.suresharvind.com
Drag your bones on over to our favorite, spooky research projects just in time for Halloween.
Where is my Spider?
Share your photos of spiders. When we understand where spiders are living today, we will be better able to predict what may happen to spiders and agriculture in the future. Get started!
Help researchers find out where honey bees are being parasitized by the Zombie Fly and how big a threat the fly is to honey bees. Get started!
Dark Sky Meter
Combine your trick or treating with scientific data collection! The Dark Sky Meter (available for iPhones) allows citizen scientists to contribute to a global map of nighttime light pollution. Get started!
Send Us Your Skeletons!
Are you a recreational fisher in Western Australia?Send your fish skeletons to the Department of Fisheries Western Australia. Learn why and get started here!
This online citizen science project from Zooniverse invites you to take part in wildlife conservation by listening to and identifying recordings of bat calls collected all over the world. Get started!
SciStarter is partnering up with WHYY, a National Public Radio station, to help share stories about citizen science projects and people in PA, NJ and DE. If you have a story to share, contact Lily@SciStarter.com.
If you’d like your citizen science project featured on SciStarter, email email@example.com
Pictures, puzzles, and play. Citizen Sort is a collection of interactive games in which players sort and classify photos of unidentified animals. The project is the brain child of researchers at Syracuse University School of Information. The goal is to enable scientists to use pictures of wildlife from the web to help them study changes in species populations, the health of an ecosystem or the effects of urbanization.
Just as scientists might do, the games teach you to group images based on different physical traits such as an animal’s fin shape, skin coloration, or tail length. By sorting the images into specific trait combinations it is possible to identify an animal’s species.
In Happy Match, players are asked to classify pictures of sting rays, moths or sharks. The game starts with a set of pictures. In each consecutive round, you receive a different trait to sort by. At the end, you learn how many pictures you successfully identified. The more you play the more challenging the sorting. You can challenge friends and family to see who the best sorter is.
Another game, Forgotten Island incorporates image sorting into an interactive puzzle. Players find themselves on an isolated island, confused and disoriented after an unfortunate lab accident. Forced into labor by the island’s malevolent robot, and aided his slightly nicer brother ‘bot, the players must use their image matching skills to solve the mystery of the island.
While it is all fun and games for the player, the Citizen Sort project is an experiment it is own right. The project is a model for how game play and scientific research can be combined to make citizen participation more accessible and inviting. So sharpen up those eyes and get sorting.
Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science.