Butterfly ears

When I really think about it, I suppose it isn’t too surprising that butterflies have ears. But what may be news even to butterfly aficionados is that the mysterious swollen wing vein in the subfamily Satyrinae actually helps these butterflies detect low-frequency sounds.

Sun et al. recently published an article in Biology Letters about their work identifying the function of these conspicuous forewing vein swellings. Using the common wood nymph (Cercyonis pegala) as a model, the researchers took some beautiful photos of the ear, the forewing vein, and the opening connecting the tympanal chamber (e.g. the ear canal) to the vein.

Ear and wing vein morphology of C. pegala. (a) Butterfly in resting position. A white circle marks the location of the ear. Scale bar: 5 mm. (b) Light micrograph of right tympanal membrane. Scale bar: 200 µm. (c) Forewing showing enlarged subcostal (Sc) vein, as well as cubital (Cu) and anal (An) veins. Tympanal ear is seen at the wing base. Scale bar: 1 mm. (d) Internal structure of Sc vein viewed through the cuticle. Scale bar: 500 µm. (e) Cross-section of the Sc vein. Scale bar: 500 µm. (f) Laser scan of Sc vein and tympanal membrane depicting displacement at 4.8 kHz. Inset: Scanning electron micrograph of the opening connecting the tympanal chamber and Sc vein. Scale bar of inset: 100 µm. Figure and caption from Sun et al. (2018).

After capturing images of the ear and puffy vein, they tested the mechanical response of the ear. C. pegala ears appeared to be most sensitive to low-frequency sounds, and when the special veins were ablated (cut open longitudinally) the ear showed reduced sensitivity.

What do butterflies hear? The authors suggest that they can detect sounds like bird flight and calls. More broadly, insects also use their ears (and other hearing organs) to locate mates and coordinate social interactions.

Want to read the entire (short) study? You can find it here.

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Giant Irish Elk Antlers

The antlers of an ancient Irish Elk have been found by a fisherman in Lough Neagh, Co. Tyrone.

The creature was the largest deer that ever lived and has been extinct for thousands of years.

The catch has a span of more than 3 m and is believed to be at least 10,000 years old.

This is just a cool look at a cool extinct animal. So cool.

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A devestating fire

Any regular reader of this blog will know I love collections.

Which is one of the many MANY reasons I’m devastated about the fire at the National Museum of Brazilian.

In summary: the fire burned for six hours and left behind ashes where there had been dinosaur fossils (including the reconstructed Maxakalisaurus topai), the oldest human remains in the Americas, Luiza, and the audio recording and documents of indigenous languages that are otherwise extinct.

We will never be able to replace these items and the knowledge they contain is irreplaceable. Our collective knowledge is worse off as a result.

And with the devastated feeling of the incalculable loss, we’re starting to take stock of how this could have been prevented.

Funding for one (read about how the museum was underfunded for decades). And another is digitalizing the collection.

But for now, I will remain in morning for the knowledge that has gone up in flames.

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Speaking of winners: sea stars are rocking this climate change era

Most sea stars look like something that Dr. Seuss made dreamed up. This is especially true of the whimsical feather stars. And while corals and other sea creatures are suffering, feather stars are thriving.

This seems to be due in part to their ability to regenerate their arms. Feather stars have infinite potential to regenerate arms, and in warmer waters they are able to do so faster.

Want to know more about these infinitely limbed winners of the climate change debacle? Read about it here!

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The giant salamander might be a pyramid scheme

The world’s largest amphibian should be easy to find. The Chinese giant salamander can be as big as your entire body, and on average resemble a labrador. And while they used to be abundant, after months of searching, scientist are struggling to find even a few. 24 individuals, across 50 sites where the salamanders once thrived. Moreover, the few found all have genetic markers indicating they had escaped or been released from farms. There may not be any wild individuals left.

But this tragedy is getting worse. Based on analyses of the salamander, it’s becoming clear that it’s not one species but five. And they are all facing imminent extinction in the wild.

Read more about it here.

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The silence of the microfauna

A generation ago Rachel Carson warned us of bird die-offs from pesticides in the classic “Silent Spring”. Now, a new silence might be rocking the world, and causing an increasingly creepy silence: flying insects are dying at an alarming rate and in staggering amounts. A study published last fall documented a 76% decline in total seasonal biomass of insects in Germany, and speculated how widespread their result might be.

Unfortunately, that question is difficult to even approach because of another problem: a global decline of field naturalists who study these phenomena.

Want to learn more about this awkward intersection? Read about it here!

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Newly discovered sea creature named after my president

It was an uneventful marine creature, thriving 500 million years ago. Tiny, disc-shaped and ~1/2 inch long with raised spiral grooves on its surface. It spent it’s entire life embedded on the ocean floor, and likely never moved. It is among the earliest animals to exist on earth, and was recently discovered in a remarkably well-preserved fossil bed.

But now it holds a unique and unusual honor: it’s been given the scientific name Obamus coronatus, in honor of President Barack Obama’s passion for science.

Read more about it here!

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