The emerald cockroach wasp: a true parasite

The emerald cockroach wasp: a true parasite

(Content warning: this article contains bugs and nasty stuff they do)

Yesterday, I wrote about the concept of parasitic architecture and questioned how parasitic it was. After all, it didn’t really “feed” off its host as such; it was more of an extension and had benefits for people needing places to live. And then I found out about a true parasite and just how wild they can be.

The emerald cockroach wasp aka the jewel wasp aka Ampulex compressa is a parasitoid wasp that feeds off cockroaches in order to reproduce and survive. Parasitoids aren’t uncommon in nature or films (see the Alien series and, to a certain extent, The Thing) but the emerald cockroach wasp is fascinating to me. Here’s how it reproduces:

  1. A female wasp stings a cockroach and its venom paralyses its front legs
  2. Then, the wasp stings it again in its brain, specifically in the area that controls the escape reflex.
  3. Once the host is immobilised, the wasp chews off some of its antennae and then begins feed on the hemolymph (a blood-like substance) that comes out.
  4. The wasp “walks” the roach to its burrow by dragging it in by the remaining antennae. Then, it lays one or two eggs between the roach’s legs.
  5. The roach (which is still alive at this point by the way) rests in the burrow while the eggs hatch, which takes about 3 days. But that’s the start of the end for the roach as the larva then feed off the insides of the roach for the next 4–5 days.
  6. After a week or so, the larva will have eaten all of the roach’s internal organs and go into its cocoon.
  7. After that process, the wasp emerges from the roach’s body and starts adulthood.

I’m not super squeamish but even that turned my stomach. The mating process is efficient too. Time is of the essence as adults only live for a few months and, in line with that, mating only takes a minute (Missy Elliott probably wouldn’t be a fan). One session is all it takes for a female wasp to successfully parasitize several dozen roaches.

One of the most unique ways it uses its venom isn’t to immobilise and then eat but to alter the host’s ability to escape and nothing else. It can still technically fly and flip over. If only the roach could just believe in itself!

Emerald cockroach wasps live in tropical regions, mostly Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands. Some are found in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro as well. They were introduced to Hawaii in 1941 as a form of pest control but that didn’t work out. I guess Edgar the Bug would have been grateful for that too.

The origins of the "black sheep"

A black sheep amongst white sheep

Ever wondered where the term “black sheep”, to denote a bad character, came from? Well, language blog Grammarphobia answered that very question but not before taking a counterquestion first:

Q: You say the phrase “black sheep” has been used to mean a bad character since the 17th century. That might be true, but it’s only the result of an even earlier meaning. “Black sheep” is actually a very old weaving term. Black sheep were considered unlucky because you couldn’t dye the wool any other colors.

Grammarphobia couldn’t find any instance of that terminology before or after the bad character definition but suggested a possible link with the “disreputable usage”:

The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest example of “black sheep” meaning a bad character is from a 17th-century religious treatise about the conversion process in Congregational churches of New England:

“Cast out all the Prophane people among us, as drunkards, swearers, whores, lyers, which the Scripture brands for blacke sheepe, and condemnes them in a 100. places.”

They then go further back to the 16th century biblical texts and a passage from the 2013 edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms which suggested that the use of “black sheep” for a person of bad reputation was “based on the idea that black sheep were less valuable than white ones because it was more difficult to dye their wool different colors.”

But a direct link between them? Nothing concrete but not totally implausible. Finally, Grammarphobia discussed the general etymology of “black” as a negative descriptor which would tie the two concepts together, albeit with loose string.

I can still remember the faux debate between White people over the alleged banning of singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep”. You can’t say anything these days. Or in 1997.

Stingless bees make healthy honey

stingless bees

What a wild year 2020 has been. First, we had (or still have) murder hornets in the news and now we have stingless bees making headlines in the science community. But unlike their Hymenopteran relatives, they could be a help rather than a hindrance.

Scientists from Australia and Malaysia have found trehalulose, a rare sugar in honey made by stingless bees with “many reported health benefits”. Researchers tested five species from Australia, Malaysia, and Brazil and found the sugar amongst 85% of those analysed. Honey is also said to fend off liver cancer symptoms and keep one healthy.

Trehalulose is made up of fructose and glucose bound together. The trehalulose found in these stingless bees had a low glycaemic index (GI), meaning it digests slower and causes a lower and slower rise in blood glucose. In other words, it’d be better for diabetics and people with high blood pressure. It’s also non-cariogenic, which means it doesn’t cause tooth decay and I’m sure 5/5 dentists would agree.

“Keeping native stingless bees is gaining in popularity in Australia, for their role as pollinators as well as for their unique honey. As well as having health benefits, stingless bee honey is valued for its flavor and is in high demand from chefs.:

Dr. Mary Fletcher, an organic chemist at the University of Queensland

You can read the full study in Scientific Reports, hosted by Nature.com.

Are Pablo Escobar's hippos good for Colombia's ecosystem?

Pablo Escobar's hippos

Spoiler alert: I love hippos. I even have a “hippos” Google Alert which is how I found out about this story from, believe it or not, Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

The story goes that Pablo Escobar acquired four hippos for his zoo in 1981. But in 1993, he was murdered and the government couldn’t maintain his zoo so the animals were sent away. Except for the hippos. They were left to their own devices in the Colombian wilderness and 4 became about 100. The hippos have been a source of debate, dubbed “cocaine hippos” and seen as invasive creatures. But on the other side, people are asking whether the hippos are a benefit to Colombia’s ecosystem.

Hippos are nocturnal herbivores and often graze on grass at night. And when it’s time to go to the hippo potty, they do so in rivers and lakes which is an essential feeding source for fishes that live in the water too. And so the food chain cycle continues. But that works in places where hippos are native and the ecosystem depends on that behaviour. In Colombia, that might not be the case and scientists fear fishes may actually die and water flow may be affected.

But—another but—a paper published in March suggests hippos might be doing what they should have from the beginning. Animals similar to hippos, known as notoungulates, used to live in South America and provided much-needed nutrients to the area, alongside the giant llama.

So the crux of the debate is: are the hippos invading land that should never have been theirs or are they restoring natural order? After all, the reason why Colombia’s ecosystem is the way it is (for good or bad) is because of humans. Modern animal extinction is often due to humans killing them for sport, meat, and the hell of it. So I’m all for Pablo Escobar’s hippos living their best lives.

Animals on the London Underground

elephant drawing made out of London Underground lines

A really cool site I found while I was digging through Kottke.org’s archives.

Animal’s on the Underground’s backstory:

The animals were discovered by London-based designer, Paul Middlewick in 1988. They’re created using only the lines, stations and junctions of underground railway maps. Paul first spotted the elephant while he was staring at the world famous London Underground map during his daily journey home from work.

The more he looked, the more animals he found and the elephant was quickly joined by many other cute animals including a bat, a cat, a polar bear, several dogs and even a bottlenose whale.

But over time, people have discovered animals on other underground transport systems including the Moscow Metro, the New York Subway, and the Paris Metro.

You can buy a desk jotter and a pack of 3 notebooks from the site to help maintain the site as well as donating to them directly via PayPal.

Sadly, no hippos have been found yet. Stream the site’s featured video below.

The rise of the murder hornets

The Asian giant hornet aka murder hornet

If 2020 wasn’t enough of a hell year with the COVID-19 pandemic and major resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, there are now murder hornets. But what the hell are they?

Murder hornets aka Asian giant hornets

The Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest hornet wasp, native to East, South and Mainland Southeast Asia, and parts of Russia. Unfortunately for people in the Pacific Northwest of North America, some of them made their way across with four sightings this year.

They live in mountains and forests, away from high altitudes and eat on larger insects, tree sap, and honey from honey bees.

A hornet by any other name

The name “murder hornet” is a relatively new invention. In Korea, it is called 장수말벌 or general officer hornet, in China the “giant tiger head bee”, in Japan, the ōsuzumebachi or “giant sparrow bee”. But in 2008, Japanese media outlets gave it a more sinister name – satsujin suzumebachi or “murder hornet”. 12 years later, a NYT reporter picked up the name and the rest is history.

Why they’re called “murder” hornets

In April, Washington authorities told the public to be on the lookout for any Asian giant hornets. The name wasn’t for show. If they started growing in numbers, they had the potential to destroy bee colonies in the US and would be near impossible to get rid of.

“This is our window to keep it from establishing. If we can’t do it in the next couple of years, it probably can’t be done.”

Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture

Besides their invasive nature, they also pack a mean sting. The hornets deliver venom that contains a neurotoxin called mandaratoxin through their quarter-inch stinger. One might not kill but multiple certainly will. Jun-ichi Takahashi, a researcher at Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan, bore the brunt of it when he got stung.

“The next day, his legs were aching, as if he had the flu. Of the thousands of times he has been stung in his lifetime of work, he said, the Asian giant hornet stings were the most painful.”

Quote from The New York Times

How to kill a murder hornet

There are ways to reduce numbers of Asian giant hornets if you act quickly and stop them spreading. The following methods were created in 1973 from “A Bionomic Sketch of the Giant Hornet, Vespa mandarinia, a Serious Pest for Japanese Apiculture (With 12 Text-figures and 5 Tables)”:

1. Crush them

Animal lovers, look away now. You can flatten murder hornets with “wooden sticks with flat heads”. It’s very much a whack-a-mole approach so not the most effective or efficient.

2. Remove the nest

Getting them at the source by destroying their nests with fires or poison can kill the colonies. This works well… if you can find the nests. Those underground are difficult to locate but the most common way is to bait them with meat, usually frog or fish.

3. Trap them with bait

Simply place the bait traps in the apiaries. The baits use a jelly or sugar solution mixed with vinegar or some kind of intoxicant.

4. Poison them

After the bait, they are then poisoned with a toxin called malathion. If successful, it should kill them within 24 hours.

5. Trap them

The traps are inefficient as some hornets can escape past them but attaching them to the front of their hives can work. How well they work depends on how effective they are at actually trapping hornets and letting the innocent bees get through unscathed.

6. Block them

Things like wire, weeds, and fishing nets limit the hornets’ ability to escape but with the right protective screen, honey bees can make it through. But hornets are smart and cotton on to the tactic so this works better with traps rather than on their own.

Hope in the hive

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Washington State Department of Agriculture claim to have trapped a murder hornet in the state for the first time. They trapped the hornet on 14th July and identified it two weeks later. So it looks like traps worked on this occasion.

WSDA’s next steps are to search for nests using infrared cameras and place additional traps in order to catch live Asian giant hornet specimens. WSDA Pest Program staff will deploy special traps intended to trap hornets but keep them alive. If they catch live hornets, the department will attempt to tag and track them back to their colony. Once located, the agency will eradicate the colony.

From WSDA’s news release

We’ll beekeep you updated. And if you have issues with bees, hornets, or wasps in your house, this guide will help you safely remove their nests.

Update: The First Living Asian Giant ‘Murder’ Hornet of 2021 Has Been Found in Washington State

Pets wore masks during the 1918 flu pandemic

Cat in a flu mask from Dublin, California (1918)

(Content warning: the following article contains reports of animal death)

Do you have pets and, if so, are they wearing masks to protect them from coronavirus? The answer is likely “no” for the majority of pet owners but back in 1918, people were protecting their pooches and pussy cats against the notorious flu pandemic (known as the H1N1 virus) that infected around 1/3 of the world’s population.

Quarantine wasn’t an option like it is today so every man, woman, child and their dog wore masks as they ventured outdoors. We know at least during the current pandemic that while pets can contract the virus, and dogs are more susceptible, it has only been tested in a controlled environment and masks would be more trouble than they’re worth (have you tried putting a collar on a cat?)

But during the flu pandemic of 1918, people worried their pets could carry the virus, with one Pennsylvania councilman claiming that dogs and cats were responsible for its spread across the country. His solution? Shaving or killing pets to prevent further infections. This sensationalist rhetoric lead to many peopling killing strays and some putting their own pets down.

But for the pets that survived, a few became local celebrities. A baseball game between Pasadena and Standard Murphy featured the mascot’s dog (below):

Groups of big league players and one of the umpires who participated in the first "masked" ball game. Featuring Carl Sawyer with masked mascot's masked dog.
Image from The Library of Congress

There was also Yancia, a Boston bulldog from Seattle and this cool Californian cat (below):

I wonder how long it took to put that mask on (from Dublin Heritage Park & Museum)

Not quite as fashionable as this fetching dog from 2019. And yes, it’s wearing a Supreme sweater, shorts, and trainers:

10 hippos from cartoons, literature, and other media

Hippo

I want to start by saying I’m writing this because I love hippos. I donate to a pygmy hippo charity every month and I think they’re wonderful creatures. Unfortunately, the common hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) is classed as Vulnerable (pygmy hippos are Endangered) which absolutely sucks because they’re wonderful creatures and they’re being killed for meat, their tusks, and “sport”.

But this is a positive article and it’s dedicated to ten hippos from cartoons, literature, animated movies, and anything else I could think of.

Dirk Dickerdack from Tom Poes

Dirk Dickerdack from Tom Poes
Dirk Dickerdack from Tom Poes

Tom Poes (or Tom Puss in English) was a Dutch comic launched in 1941. Its author, Marten Toonder wrote the comic until it was discontinued in 1986 and it became one of the Big Three of Dutch comics.

The main characters were Tom Puss, a little white cat, and his friend Oliver B. Bumble, a big brown bear who was the lord of a castle. Dirk Dickerdack was an affluent hippo who was mayor of Rommeldam, their home town. Unfortunately, he seemed to suffer from affluenza and cared more about the town than those who lived in it.

Hyacinth Hippo from Fantasia

Hyacinth Hippo from Fantasia
Hyacinth Hippo from Fantasia

Hyacinth made her first appearance in Disney’s Fantasia back in 1941. She was a ballet dancer who appeared in the segment, Dance of the Hours. She represented the 12th hour, or “noon”. She also made a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Her only line was “Oh, excuse me,” when she passed Eddie Valiant. She was voiced by Mary T. Radford in the movie.

Hilda Hippo from The Busy World of Richard Scarry

Hilda Hippo
Hilda Hippo

Not to be confused with Hilda Hippo from Mickey and the Roadster Racers (voiced by April Winchell, daughter of Paul Winchell who used to voice Tigger from Winnie the Pooh). Hilda was awkward but pleasant and was allergic to roses. She appeared in numerous forms of Richard Scarry media, including the animated series which I loved as a kid.

George from Rainbow

George from Rainbow
George from Rainbow

British readers will almost certainly know George, the pink hippo from Rainbow. His shyness was said to represent shyness and introversion shown in children, as a way to relate to viewers. He was also a little camp which may have been linked to his pink exterior.

George and Martha from George and Martha

George and Martha
George and Martha

George and Martha were a pair of friendly hippos from a book series of the same name, illustrated by James Marshall between 1972 and 1988. They were later transformed into an animated children’s series in 1999, and spawned a musical in 2011. Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin voiced George and Martha.

Gloria the Hippo from Madagascar

Gloria the Hippo from Madagascar
Gloria the Hippo from Madagascar

One of the biggest hippo characters in recent times, Gloria (voiced by Jada Pinkett-Smith) was part of the gang who were taken from their home in Central Park Zoo and flown to Madagascar by mistake, where they had to learn to adapt in the wild. Gloria was the one who put the other animals straight in true Jada Pinkett-Smith style. Her daughter, Willow, voiced Gloria as a baby hippo in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.

Peter Potamus from The Peter Potamus Show and Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law

Peter Potamus
Peter Potamus

I never saw The Peter Potamus Show so I only know him from Harvey Birdman but he was a sleazy hippo in that. He was also lazy despite his status and success and had a weird obsession with sandwiches and strippers. His catchphrase was “Did you get that thing I sent you?”

Tillie Hippo from Cats Don’t Dance

Tillie Hippo
Tillie Hippo

A more obscure hippo, Tillie starred in animated movie Cats Don’t Dance. She was voiced by Kathy Najimy (Sister Act, Hocus Pocus, King of the Hill) and played a “happy-go-lucky hippopotamus who tries to find the best in every situation”. In many ways, she was like Sister Mary Patrick from Sister Act with her penchant for giggling.

The hippo from Silentnight

The hippo from Silentnight
The hippo from Silentnight

When I was younger, I used to stare at the hippo and chick from the Silentnight logo on my parents’ mattress. The hippo was dressed in his stripey pyjamas and I always thought he was so cute. Then, Silentnight started making TV adverts and gave him a deep Northern accent which made him even cuter (I’m Northern too so I’m biased).

Hugo the Hippo from Hugo the Hippo

Hugo the Hippo
Hugo the Hippo

The final hippo of the list might be one of the most obscure hippos of them all, from a global perspective. In 1975, a Hungarian animated film called Hugo the Hippo was released in the US and a year later in Hungary. It had a budget of $1m and the English-speaking version starred the likes of Jimmy and Marie Osmond.

The film was about a hippo called Hugo who escapes captivity in Zanzibar and flees to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Meanwhile, an advisor to the Sultan of Zanzibar tries to catch him. Interestingly, the US production of the film was run by Brut Productions, a subsidiary of Fabergé cosmetics – the same brand that made the ornamental eggs.

The UN reports a million species are close to extinction

Elephants could be close to extinction in a matter of years

In a new report from the IPBES, one million species are threatened with extinction. The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is said to be the most comprehensive ever and also says the current global response is “insufficient”.

Some other takes:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions have doubled since 1980, “raising average global temperatures by at least 0.7°C (33.26°F)
  • Over a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
  • Plastic pollution has increased 10x since 1980

The report is lengthy but, in a nutshell, human beings are gonna fuck the planet up before the Sun, a giant asteroid, or an alien invasion will. My concern is governments will blame the general public and demand they do things differently via taxes and legislation without looking at the rich and how they are so wasteful and pollute the planet.

Major corporations contribute significantly to the problem but are often overlooked for reproach. Instead, countries with large populations of people of colour (Brazil, India, and many African nations) are blamed as well as overpopulation which is a smokescreen ideology perpetuated by the West. Yes, we can all make changes to keep the planet from dying but that energy has to be balanced and right now it hampers the working class and favours the rich (especially when tax breaks are offered for minimal effort in the cause). Michael Jackson told us in 1995.

You can read the full report and the media release (which abridges everything) on the IPBES website.

Michael Jackson - Earth Song (Official Video)

Pule cheese: the world's most expensive cheese made from donkey milk

Pule cheese from Serbia

Balkan donkeys might as well be golden geese for what they produce. Pule cheese is hard to buy and therefore very expensive (you can try the Zasavica natural reserve in Serbia if you’re really desperate).

What is pule cheese?

Pule cheese (or magareći sir in Serbian) is a type of cheese made from made from 60% donkey milk and 40% goat’s milk.

How much does pule cost?

According to cheese.com, a pound of pule costs approximately $576 a pound (about £426). But why is it so expensive? Scarcity. Donkey milk is very rare and difficult to produce so not something you’d waste on a cup of tea.

Why is it so rare?

A female donkey (known as a ‘jenny’) only makes around 3 pints of milk a day, which is about 25-30 times less than a cow. There are also fewer solids in donkey milk compared to cow’s milk so more is needed to make the same amount of hard cheese. Then you have to factor in labour costs as machines aren’t cost-effective for such a small enterprise. It’s just 100 endangered Balkan donkeys and a few milkers. You also have to order the cheese in advance before it’s made to reduce waste which makes sense.

What does pule taste like?

You may be wondering what you’re getting for cheese worth so much. Well, don’t expect culinary nirvana (unless you like manchego). The cheese is white and crumbly and packs a strong flavour similar to the La Mancha cheese. It’s nutritional value also shares similarities with another type of milk billions of babies enjoy every day: human breast milk. Amongst the vast array of milk brands on offer for babies, donkey milk is the most unique for sure.

Where can you buy it?

The good news is pule cheese is exported to the UK, Germany and the rest of the world are expected soon but you may have heard in the news a few years ago that Serbia’s own Novak Djokovic bought the world’s entire supply in 2012. I wonder if he had to ‘pule’ some strings to arrange that. *ahem* Sorry, that was too cheesy, even for me.

Pule cheese in numbers

60 – The percentage of donkey milk that goes into making pule cheese (the other 40% comes from goat’s milk)

576 – The cost in USD for a pound of pule

3 – The pints of milk a jenny can make in a day

100 – The number of Balkan donkeys left on the planet

2012 – The year Novak Djokovic bought the world’s entire supply (which has since been replenished)

The World's Priciest Cheese Is Made from Donkey Milk

Update: apparently, there’s a song called Pule Cheese. Do what you will with that information.

Pussy and Her Language - A Pamphlet For Cats

Ever heard of Marvin R. Clark? Probably not. But in 1895, he self-published “Pussy and Her Language”, a publication teaching cat owners how to treat their feline friends. He was a cat lover himself and his intention with the pamphlet was to give “one out of a million Cats” a good name. Here are some quotes from the 150-page book:

“I have already given seventeen of the most important words of the feline language, with their English equivalents, as follows:

Aelio – Food.
Lae – Milk.
Parriere – Open.
Aliloo – Water.
Bl – Meat.
Ptlee-bl – Mouse meat.
Bleeme-bl – Cooked meat.
Pad – Foot.
Leo – Head.
Pro – Nail or claw.
Tut – Limb.
Papoo – Body.
Oolie – Fur.
Mi-ouw – Beware.
Purrieu – Satisfaction or content.
Yow – Extermination.
Mieouw – Here.”

“According to the primal order of speech and the manner of the construction of sentences in the Cat language, you will hear such utterances as these: ‘Milk give me,’ ‘Meat I want,’ ‘Mary I love,’ ‘Going out, my mistress?’ ‘Sick I am,’ ‘Happy are my babies,'”

“Your Noah Webster, who padded your dictionary in order to make a formidable book, like many another man, says that animals are not possessed of reasoning powers, but have only instinct. […] This is your American authority, and you must accept it, for you have adopted the dictionary. By this definition, and with only one question, I will prove to you that animals have reasoning powers, just as men have.”

(via Atlas Obscura)

Possibly The First Ever Cat Video From 1894?

Professor Welton’s Boxing Cats (1894)

The video, filmed by none other than Thomas Edison, shows two cats “boxing.” But don’t worry, no actual punches took place, just gentle swipes in boxing gloves for about 30 seconds. Amongst his plethora of inventions, he was also a filmmaker. This cat video is probably the least strange and least harmful of his collection.

Of all the things I can imagine cats doing in a video, boxing isn’t one of them. But Thomas Edison had other ideas (even if some of them were stolen *ahem*).

*whispers* I still prefer Nikola Tesla.

Jonpaul Douglass - Pizza In The Wild

LA photographer Jonpaul Douglass has worked with the likes of Google, Facebook, and Apple but for this project, entitled Pizza In The Wild, he used the popular dish as the focal point.

As the title suggests, Douglass photographed pepperoni pizzas in different places involving road signs, shire ponies, tanks and his pug. There’s certainly something enchanting about them, especially the pug shots.

Pizza in the Wild is a personal project I started when I first moved to Los Angeles in 2013. It was essentially a product of having the free time to create something purely for fun. I had about 15-20 pizza images up on my Instagram account when it started to get featured all over.. thus kickstarting my creative life in LA. Thank you pizza. 

Jonpaul Douglass’

The idea of uneaten pizza is usually a bad sign in my book but I don’t mind it in this case (and sometimes it’s comical, like in that episode of Breaking Bad.) The inclusion of Jonpaul’s pug is also a cute touch and I’m a sucker for a pug. But who isn’t?

Head over to Jonpaul Douglass’ Pizza In The Wild series on his website.