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Concept: Entomology


Insects are the most speciose group of animals, but the phylogenetic relationships of many major lineages remain unresolved. We inferred the phylogeny of insects from 1478 protein-coding genes. Phylogenomic analyses of nucleotide and amino acid sequences, with site-specific nucleotide or domain-specific amino acid substitution models, produced statistically robust and congruent results resolving previously controversial phylogenetic relations hips. We dated the origin of insects to the Early Ordovician [~479 million years ago (Ma)], of insect flight to the Early Devonian (~406 Ma), of major extant lineages to the Mississippian (~345 Ma), and the major diversification of holometabolous insects to the Early Cretaceous. Our phylogenomic study provides a comprehensive reliable scaffold for future comparative analyses of evolutionary innovations among insects.

Concepts: Gene, Evolution, Amino acid, Insect, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Entomology, Cretaceous


The classification of insects has attempted to most effectively communicate information about this hyperdiverse lineage of life and, not surprisingly, has had a considerably rich historical development. This history can be coarsely segregated into four periods: the Pre-Linnean era, the first century spanning Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the Darwinian era up to the Cladistic Revolution, and the Hennigian era leading to today. The major events of each of these episodes are briefly summarized and some of the more notable researchers highlighted, along with their influence on our current understanding of insect relationships and how this is reflected in the current classification of the Hexapoda.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Species, Insect, Entomology, Taxonomic rank, Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species


Optimization of sensory processing during development can be studied by using photoreceptors of hemimetabolous insects (with incomplete metamorphosis) as a research model. We have addressed this topic in the stick insect Carausius morosus, where retinal growth after hatching is accompanied by a diurnal-to-nocturnal shift in behavior, by recording from photoreceptors of first instar nymphs and adult animals using the patch-clamp method. In the nymphs, ommatidia were smaller and photoreceptors were on average 15-fold less sensitive to light than in adults. The magnitude of A-type K(+) current did not increase but the delayed rectifier doubled in adults compared with nymphs, the K(+) current densities being greater in the nymphs. By contrast, the density of light-induced current did not increase, although its magnitude increased 8.6-fold, probably due to the growth of microvilli. Nymph photoreceptors performed poorly, demonstrating a peak information rate (IR) of 2.9 ± 0.7 bits/s versus 34.1 ± 5.0 bits/s in adults in response to white-noise stimulation. Strong correlations were found between photoreceptor capacitance (a proxy for cell size) and IR, and between light sensitivity and IR, with larger and more sensitive photoreceptors performing better. In adults, IR peaked at light intensities matching irradiation from the evening sky. Our results indicate that biophysical properties of photoreceptors at each age stage and visual behavior are interdependent and that developmental improvement in photoreceptor performance may facilitate the switch from the diurnal to the safer nocturnal lifestyle. This also has implications for how photoreceptors achieve optimal performance.

Concepts: Insect, Developmental biology, Performance, Carausius morosus, Hemimetabolism, Hemiptera, Entomology, Phasmatodea


Criminals have been known to dispose of bodies in zipped suitcases in an attempt to conceal murder. In order to investigate the forensic implications of this mode of disposal on calculating time of death, it is necessary to study the accessibility of bodies in suitcases to blowflies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) and the possibility of oviposition and infestation under these circumstances. An experimental apparatus was designed that incorporated different zips (toothed and coil) of various gauges (4-6 mm) above a chicken liver bait. Gravid Calliphora vomitoria and Calliphora vicina females were attracted to and oviposited on and through these zips, both under laboratory and field conditions. Egg laying was significantly more frequent and with greater numbers of eggs when zips were in contact with the bait than when they were placed approximately 6cm above the bait. In the absence of bait, adult females could be stimulated to lay eggs on moistened zips, although the presence of blood accelerated egg laying compared to water alone. No eggs were laid on dry zips in the absence of bait. Of the first instar larvae tested, 89% were able to colonise the bait below the zips by passing through gaps between the teeth. Preliminary field studies using suitcases baited with a pig’s head indicated that there was a delay of 1-3 days in oviposition when compared to laboratory conditions. This information has practical value in explaining the presence of larvae on enclosed bodies in suitcases and will help forensic entomologists estimate a more accurate minimum time since death.

Concepts: Insect, Chicken, Entomology, Calliphoridae, Calliphora vicina, Calliphora, Calliphora livida, Forensic entomology


Many insects, including Drosophila, succumb to the physiological effects of chilling at temperatures well above those causing freezing. Low temperature causes a loss of extracellular ion and water homeostasis in such insects, and chill injuries accumulate. Using an integrative and comparative approach, we examined the role of ion and water balance in insect chilling susceptibility/ tolerance. The Malpighian tubules (MT), of chill susceptible Drosophila species lost [Na(+)] and [K(+)] selectivity at low temperatures, which contributed to a loss of Na(+) and water balance and a deleterious increase in extracellular [K(+)]. By contrast, the tubules of chill tolerant Drosophila species maintained their MT ion selectivity, maintained stable extracellular ion concentrations, and thereby avoided injury. The most tolerant species were able to modulate ion balance while in a cold-induced coma and this ongoing physiological acclimation process allowed some individuals of the tolerant species to recover from chill coma during low temperature exposure. Accordingly, differences in the ability to maintain homeostatic control of water and ion balance at low temperature may explain large parts of the wide intra- and interspecific variation in insect chilling tolerance.

Concepts: Insect, Physiology, Solid, Drosophila, Entomology, Homeostasis, Claude Bernard, Cold


Understanding feedback between above- and below-ground processes of biological communities is a key to the effective management of natural and agricultural ecosystems. However, as above- and below-ground food webs are often studied separately, our knowledge of material flow and community dynamics in terrestrial ecosystems remains limited.

Concepts: Gene, Organism, Life, Insect, Ecology, Natural environment, Ecosystem, Entomology


With the increase in human population, and the growing realisation of the importance of urban biodiversity for human wellbeing, the ability to predict biodiversity loss or gain as a result of land use change within urban settings is important. Most models that link biodiversity and land use are at too coarse a scale for informing decisions, especially those related to planning applications. Using the grounds of the Natural History Museum, London, we show how methods used in global models can be applied to smaller spatial scales to inform urban planning.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Natural environment, Nature, Entomology, Natural history, Museum


A synthetic biology approach to the rational design of analogues of olfactory ligands by providing unnatural substrates for the enzyme synthesising (S)-germacrene D, an olfactory ligand acting as a plant derived insect repellent, to produce novel ligands is described as a viable alternative to largely unsuccessful ligand docking studies. (S)-14,15-Dimethylgermacrene D shows an unexpected reversal in behavioural activity.

Concepts: Fungus, Cyanide, Enzyme inhibitor, Entomology, Docking@Home


Although flying insects have limited visual acuity (approx. 1°) and relatively small brains, many species pursue tiny targets against cluttered backgrounds with high success. Our previous computational model, inspired by electrophysiological recordings from insect ‘small target motion detector’ (STMD) neurons, did not account for several key properties described from the biological system. These include the recent observations of response ‘facilitation’ (a slow build-up of response to targets that move on long, continuous trajectories) and ‘selective attention’, a competitive mechanism that selects one target from alternatives. Here, we present an elaborated STMD-inspired model, implemented in a closed loop target-tracking system that uses an active saccadic gaze fixation strategy inspired by insect pursuit. We test this system against heavily cluttered natural scenes. Inclusion of facilitation not only substantially improves success for even short-duration pursuits, but it also enhances the ability to ‘attend’ to one target in the presence of distracters. Our model predicts optimal facilitation parameters that are static in space and dynamic in time, changing with respect to the amount of background clutter and the intended purpose of the pursuit. Our results provide insights into insect neurophysiology and show the potential of this algorithm for implementation in artificial visual systems and robotic applications.

Concepts: Nervous system, Brain, Natural selection, Insect, Action potential, Neuroscience, Neurophysiology, Entomology


Necrophagous blowflies can provide an excellent source of evidence for forensic entomologists and are also relevant to problems in public health, medicine, and animal health. However, access to useful information about these blowflies is constrained by the need to correctly identify the flies, and the poor availability of reliable, accessible identification tools is a serious obstacle to the development of forensic entomology in the majority of African countries. In response to this need, a high-quality key to the adults of all species of forensically relevant blowflies of Africa has been prepared, drawing on high-quality entomological materials and modern focus-stacking photomicroscopy. This new key can be easily applied by investigators inexperienced in the taxonomy of blowflies and is made available through a highly accessible online platform. Problematic diagnostic characters used in previous keys are discussed.

Concepts: Biology, Africa, Insect, Forensic science, Entomology, Flies, Forensic entomology, Hydrotaea