A carnivorous swimming cricket, thought to be a species unknown to science, has been discovered by Dr George McGavin two miles into a previously unexplored cave in a mountainside in Venezuela, South America. Incredible!
For just one day a year, millions of ants across the UK take to the air in what is known as the nuptial flight - those in the London area may have noticed that for this region, that day was yesterday. This annual event is the time for winged ‘princesses’ - virgin queens - and male drones, collectively known as alates, to get a taste of the outside world where their sterile female workers roam during the rest of the year. The ants choose their day carefully based on temperature (warmth makes it easier for them to fly), humidity (damp soils are softer to dig new nests) and day length (the ritual always takes place in summer). Amazingly, flights are somehow coordinated between nests in the same region in order to maximise the chances of meeting with ants from other colonies to mate. How this is done is not yet fully known, but it is likely to be through a chemical signal. After emerging, the princesses release pheromones to attract male suitors, and ensure they get the strongest mate by outflying the males so that they must work to keep up. During her nuptial flight a princess will usually mate with several drones, storing the sperm in a ‘sperm pocket’ that will last her a lifetime: after mating, she loses her wings and buries underground, where she will start a new colony and use sperm reserves to fertilise tens of millions of eggs over the course of up to 15 years. The males, on the other hand, have completed their role in mating and die shortly afterwards.
The Society of Biology is studying patterns of flying ant emergence across the UK to determine country-wide levels of synchronisation and is calling on the public for your help - if you have noticed any flying ants in your area submit your sightings here!
Ref: BBC News, 2012. Who What Why: How do flying ants know it’s mating day? [link]
Mccarthy M., 2012. Cleared for take-off: it’s the day of the flying ants. The Independent [link]
Nuptial flight: When Flying Ants Mate in the Skies. AntArk [link]
An exciting new tool called iBatsID is set to revolutionise bat identification for conservation efforts throughout Europe, with the ability to classify the calls of 34 species found across the continent. The developers assessed 1350 recordings from the echolocation call library EchoBank, recording the values of 24 different call features from each species. Of the features studied, 12 were identified as being most useful for distinguishing the difference between species, including minimum and maximum frequencies and call duration. With an average species-level classification accuracy of 83.7%, the tool can successfully identify the majority of European bats to species level, with the exception of some members of the Myotis genus that have extremely similar calls and can accurately be classified to subgroup level. iBatsID is freely available for use and will allow standardised acoustic identification for bat research across Europe, the consistency of which will improve the validity of continent-wide monitoring.
Ref: Walters C. L. et al., 2012. A continental-scale tool for acoustic identification of European bats. Journal of Applied Ecology [link]
Each species is a product of up to hundreds of thousands to millions of years of evolution. And each is exquisitely adapted to some part of the environment in which it lives and the way that it interrelates with other organisms… It’s an irreplaceable treasure. So we should value it for that reason.