Posts Tagged Biology

Bee-Coloured Wasp

Any entomologists in? I came across a curious thing. The rest of you, don’t scroll down if close-up pictures of stingy insects disturb you. Or indeed offend you – it is naked after all. And dead. I really wouldn’t look.

OK now the wusses are gone, what do you think is going on here? It’s a wasp, coloured like a bee. Definitely vespine in its shape and features, with the pronounced segmentation and aggressive I-am-nature’s-attack-helicopter angles. But instead of the usual biohazard yellow it has the warm goldie-browns of a honeybee.

Well, makes a change from all the cartoons you see of bees coloured like wasps.

I don’t have a camera for macro photographs, but got surprisingly good results with the phone. The problems were holding it steady and getting the background right. In the end I put it in a glass jug; this gave me something to rest the phone on and allowed me to shoot over different surfaces. As the phone compensates to keep an average brightness, the creature looks a lot brighter when shot against a dark background. (I could’ve tried different camera apps that allow you to meter light more precisely, but this was quicker.) In the first one here therefore it actually looks a lot more yellow than it really is, and so more like an ordinary wasp. But it brings out the detail well.

Hasrubal The Bee-Coloured Wasp

20130616_153643White backgrounds on the other hand make Hasdrubal – I call her Hasdrubal, for reasons which remain unclear to me – look virtually black. The woodgrain one to the right (taken without benefit of the jug) probably gives the best impression of how she appears to the naked eye. If anything, a little darker than a honeybee – but with similar golden hair.

Which is the odd thing. Whoever heard of a hairy wasp? Bees wear a fluffy bolero but wasps, so far as I’ve noted, are shiny-shaven. As you can see, particularly in the first pic, this one has no end of fuzz. I can find no species that fits the description. The European Hornet is a little hairy, but a lot more wasp-coloured. A mutant? Diseased? I have no idea.

I hope someone does.

 

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Attack Of The Spider-Attacking Spiders

Urgh. Suffering from advanced brain death, and a mild cold. The weather’s been so heavy recently. Feels like I have feet of clay, and legs of logs.

I’m actually only just very, very slightly sick. But with the weather and a long day on the conveyor belt of other people’s problems, looking for small pieces of necessary equipment, checking every place twice and then checking them twice again in case I’d only checked once, up in the attic inhaling the dust and soot and cutting myself on the cheesewire threads of cellar spiders, it has built up into general malaise.

What about those cellar spiders? These are the beasties that are all legs and almost no body –  one of the three unrelated species that get called Daddy Longlegs, though I think that’s mostly in America. (In Ireland it seems to be the crane fly that gets to use the sobriquet most commonly, in Britain I think probably the harvestman.) It weaves – if weaves is the word – messy, patternless webs of quite amazingly tough and elastic (but thankfully not very sticky) threads which it seems to use less as trap than as a defence mechanism. Bother one, and it will set itself vibrating in its elastic cradle so rapidly that it becomes a blur. Quite disturbing the first time you encounter it.

Its victims include other spiders, so if you live in a place where many species are dangerous – or where people just think they are, as in much of the US – it’s often thought to be poisonous itself, a sort of serious spider badass. It’s not; it’s entirely safe to pick them up and throw them out – if you can catch them. It’s been claimed that they’re capable of a small, essentially harmless bite, but I’ve handled them without feeling anything.

I do suspect them though of endangering the cute little house spider, which they seem to be ousting as most common indoor species. I would swear the cellar spider was rare in this country even twenty years ago. They need a place that doesn’t get too cold in winter, apparently because they’re subtropical in origin and only spread as humans thoughtfully built them nice warm shelters. (Who knows, perhaps this is our true purpose in the ecosystem.) Is it climate change, or have I simply never lived in a house warm enough until now?

It’s being a weird summer for insects too. I saw my first wasp today! Seriously, first I’d seen all year. No bad thing in some ways, but a little worrying. You think of wasps as a tough species, but this summer seems to have been too harsh even for them.

On the other hand, it’s being an amazing year for dragonflies, a species I once thought of as endangered. Now the beautiful monsters are back, bigger and more iridescent than ever, and it’s the all-too-common wasps that seems to be waning.

Hey, maybe dragonflies are eating the wasps. That would be cool.

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Toys R Weird

Realistic Gripping Action

I was at a five-year-old’s birthday party the other day, which was sweet. I bought her a Winnie-the-Pooh nature adventure 3-D jigsaw puzzle game book. I don’t even understand how that works myself, but I’m pretty sure I’d have thought it was really cool when I was five.

Children’s toys are generally quite surreal these days. There was a toy train at the party too, chuffing about the floor. Except… it was chuffing songs. It was chuffing chuffing Christmas carols.

And then there’s this thing, called a Wild Podgey. Yeah, at first it looks like an ordinary giraffe. Well, not an ordinary giraffe. A giraffe that lacks the single feature most helpful in identifying it as such – viz., a neck. Interesting that it’s still perfectly recognisable. But otherwise, a cute cartoony stuffed animal toy, right?

Well no. Matter of fact, this is the creepiest thing I’ve come across in quite some time. You see the bellybutton? It is elasticated. It… grips.

Brrr.

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It’s All Meme Meme Meme

"O frly?", the (official) free softw...

This is a meme

Gawker have a point. (OK, I check out Gawker occasionally. I’m not proud.) Lazy television producers getting segments – sometimes whole shows – out of the latest Internet “craze”, which generally was over before the segment started and lasted about as long. The “meme“. (Whatever you think of Richard Dawkins, his concept did not deserve this ignominious end.) Here’s a rule which I think the producers needs to understand: If you hear about an internet meme via any medium except the Internet, it is already over.

These things were only really funny when it seemed like they were special, hidden from the rest of the world by a veil of shared cultural reference. But now the Internet is indistinguishable from other media. Everything blends together and becomes brown plasticine. It doesn’t feel like a separate and more mysterious world anymore. It’s as if the process started in September 1993, when the Internet was opened to the public, has finally reached completion.

This is what some people have said about Google+ in fact, that while it’s still in semi-closed testing (you need an invite to join) there is a standard of good behaviour and quality of discussion there that you just don’t get on other bits of the Net anymore. And as Google+ gives you more control over who you hear from and are heard by than other online social networks, there is some hope that it might stay that way.

But then you have the opposite problem. When the Internet was new it may have only been small, but it was global. Now, it’s fragmenting into a great many personal networks. By language, by country, by age, by interest, by taste. All of them separate.

And all of them of course policed – by commercial interest and by government – instead of being a self-policing community.

We need a new Internet. Anyone know anything about wiring?

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