In the meadows of Europe, colonies of industrious team-workers are being manipulated by a master slacker.
The layabout in question is the Alcon blue butterfly (Maculinea alcon) a large and beautiful summer visitor. Its victims are two species of red ants, Myrmica rubra and Myrmica ruginodis.
The Alcon blue is a ‘brood parasite’ – the insect world’s equivalent of the cuckoo. David Nash and European colleagues found that its caterpillars are coated in chemicals that smell very similar to those used by the two species it uses as hosts.
To ants, these chemicals are badges of identity and the caterpillars smell so familiar that the ants adopt them and raise them as their own. The more exacting the caterpillar’s chemicals, the higher its chances of being adopted.
The alien larvae are bad news for the colony, for the ants fawn over them at the expense of their own young, which risk starvation. If a small nest takes in even a few caterpillars, it has more than a 50% chance of having no brood of its own.
That puts pressure on the ants to fight back and Nash realised that the two species provide a marvellous case study for studying evolutionary arms races.
Theory predicts that if the parasites are common enough, they should be caught in an ongoing battle with their host, evolving to become more sophisticated mimics, while the ants evolve to become more discriminating carers.
These insects make a particularly good model for such arms races because their geographical ranges overlap in a fractured mosaic.
Alcon blues lay their eggs on the rare marsh gentian plant and it’s there that they first grow before being adopted by a foraging ant. Both gentians and butterflies are rare but the ants are common, meaning that only a small proportion of colonies are ever parasitized.
The result is a series of evolutionary hotspots where the two species wage adaptive war against each other in contrast to the many coldspots where colonies never encounter the deceptive butterflies.
Meet the Pellucid Hawk Moth (Cephonodes hylas), a gorgeous cross between a moth, a cicada, and a glasswinged butterfly.
At home in an array of habitats across Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and in Queensland, Australia, this strange little species starts off as a bright green caterpillar, feeding upon some of the finer things in life – coffee and pomegranate plants – wherever it can find them.
Locally, these caterpillars will snack on our native butterfly (Pavetta australiensis) and banana bushes (Ervatamia angustisepala), and the leaves of our introduced gardenia plants until they’re fat enough to construct a cocoon and undergo the rather gooey process of metamorphosis.
When a pellucid hawk moth first emerges from its cocoon, the scales obscuring its stunning pair of transparent wings will begin to drop off, eventually revealing the species’ most distinctive trait.
Together with their green, yellow, or orange abdomens, banded in black, these clear, wispy wings give them the appearance of a great big bumblebee – hence the nickname of their genus, ‘the bee hawks’.
The largest of the species will develop a wingspan of over 7cm.
Glass wings act like invisibility cloak
Just a handful of species in order Lepidoptera, which includes all butterflies and moths, have scaleless, transparent wings.
So, you might be wondering what the point of them is, when coloured wings can serve so many functions, including communication, defence, thermoregulation, feeding, and waterproofing.
When you see a firefly, it’s only for a moment. The bright light blinks and vanishes until it magically appears a few feet away.
But photographer Kei Nomiyama freezes the dance with long exposures that make hundreds of fireflies appear suspended in mid-air.
Nomiyama is an environmental science professor, but loves to spend his free time photographing the world he studies. “I became a scientist to protect nature, and I have an interest in photography to record nature,” he says.
The fireflies thrive in the forests of Shikoku Island where Nomiyama lives, and he’s spent the last eight years documenting their mating ritual with his camera.
The fireflies are most abundant during Japan’s rainy season between May and June, where they live a brief but beautiful two-week adult life.
During that period, Nomiyama makes frequent into the forests around central Shikoku Island, seeking the perfect patch of trees or river for his shoot.
Once he finds a location, Nomiyama makes long exposures up to 30 minutes with his Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Sony Alpha a7R II.
Later, he digitally composites multiple frames together.
The final images are overflowing with hundreds of tiny lights. In the early 20th century, firefly hunters captured thousands of the insects to illuminate hotels and private gardens in Tokyo.
Native blue-banded bees. (Credit: Fish Fidler/Flickr)
by Becky Crew
This has to be one of the prettiest bees in the world.
Named for the beautiful turquoise bands that run across its abdomen, the blue-banded bee (Amegilla cingulate) sports a lush golden and white fluff, enormous green eyes, and tan-coloured wings that look like crisp layers of cellophane.
Males can be distinguished from females by the number of blue bands they display – males have five while the females have just four.
Adult blue-banded bees typically grow to between 10mm and 12mm.
The species is found all over Australia, except in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
It’s also native to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, East Timor, Malaysia, and India, so it enjoys a pretty healthy range, spreading out everywhere from urban areas to open fields and dense, tropical forests.
It’s rumoured they’re attracted to blue and purple flowers, perhaps because they could blend into their surroundings when collecting pollen from them, but this has yet to be proven.
They are known to frequent lavender plants, however, and according to the Australian Museum, they appear to be attracted to people in blue clothing.
But it’s cool because these bees are non-abrasive, and don’t move around in intimidating swarms like other species, they live solitary lives in little burrows in the soil or the crevices of rocks.
Overlooking the beautiful vista of San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands, a male carpenter bee drinks nectar from one of the native Scalesia flowers. (It was also a windy day; I was afraid he was going to bump into my camera.)
Photo by Andrew Schnorr.
Wood bees, or carpenter bees, are one of the pests that can be frustrating.
These bees look quite similar to the bumblebee as they are about the same size. The wood bees will create a nest in wood areas, often in your homes framing or in trees.
They have a shiny black appearance with a yellowish striping, without hairs. How do you know if you are dealing with the wood bees? They usually hang out in the eaves of your home or you see them drilling into the wood of your home.
It is important to work quickly to destroy their colony because they can easily destroy your home’s framing.
A colony of bees can suddenly develop within the framing of your home, causing a loud buzzing sound in certain areas of the home.