Friday 5: Papers I Haven’t Had Time to Read

Hello everyone!  You find me in a state of mild panic and I can safely say I’m one big ball of stress.  I have a whole lot going on right now, most of which is good (nay, excellent!) that I’ll share soon, but for now I’m just busy.  From about 7AM until midnight.  Every day.  So, some things I like to do have fallen by the wayside for a bit, including reading the random scientific papers I usually read and sometimes share with you all here.  But it’s Friday, so it’s time for Friday 5!  Today’s is a simple list of papers that I really want to read, largely so I can share some of the amazing, awesome, cool, or otherwise spectacular things insects do with you.  So, consider this a sneak preview of things (most likely) to come!


A Halobates water strider specimen. Image by Michael F. Schönitzer, licensed under Creative Commons. Click image for image source.

1. Oceanic water striders love floating plastic junk.

There’s approximately one genus of aquatic insect you find out in the middle of the ocean, the water strider genus Halobates.  They’re super cool little bugs, floating around on the surface of the ocean way out in the middle of nowhere.  And apparently they LIKE all the plastic junk floating around out there!  It’s an interesting case where one species is actually benefiting from pollution, in this case by increasing their chances of finding a place to lay their eggs.  Dying to read this one…

Mo the frog

Not a tadpole, but this little bullfrog started out as a tadpole when I accidentally collected him. I didn’t get any good shots of the tadpole stage at all…

2. Roundup (the herbicide) in water causes responses in tadpoles similar to those observed when they are in the presence of predators such as dragonflies.

Amphibians are rather flexible animals, changing their body forms in response to a variety of environmental stressors.  That’s unfortunate as many chemicals end up in our water by one way or another and they can do some pretty awful things to thin-skinned frogs and tadpoles.  In an interesting recent study, researchers discovered that the widely used herbicide Roundup caused tadpoles to develop longer tails and different behaviors and that those tails/behaviors are nearly identical to those seen in tadpoles exposed to dragonfly predators.  In other words, a chemical is causing the same sort of responses in the tadpoles that a predator normally would!  Pretty interesting, and a little sad, so I really want to read the rest of the paper.

Rincon Creek

Believe it or not, this is actually a stream. That pipe you see in the lower left – that’s a stream gauge!

3. River drying decreases the diversity of terrestrial insects and other arthropods in the riparian area.

I’ll be honest: the results of this study seem rather obvious, but I’m still excited to read the paper.  The authors discovered that when the water in a section of a desert river disappears, so do a lot of the terrestrial insects and other arthropods in the surrounding area.  Apparently terrestrial insects are affected by river drying just like their aquatic relatives.  Perhaps not to the same extent, but what’s bad for the aquatics seems bad for a lot of other things in the area.


A backswimmer. The shiny parts are the air films.

4. Physical gills protect insects, spiders, and plants from drowning.

I’ve talked about physical gills in insects, the thin films of air that many aquatic insects carry that act as gills while they’re submerged, several times in the past.  A recent paper suggests that both plants and arthropods have hit upon the same solution to the problem of drowning: physical gills.  It’s pretty darned cool when two completely different organisms, in this case organisms from two different biological kingdoms even, end up doing the same sorts of things.  Super interesting!  At least it’s interesting  if you’re me.  You’re all just like me, right?  Anyone?  :)

insect spiracle

A spiracle on a caterpillar. The blue arrow points to the opening.

5. Discontinuous gas exchange in insects might have developed to lessen oxygen free radical production.

Another respiration paper!  This one focuses on the discontinuous gas exchange cycle (DGC), a form of respiration in some insects that involves opening the spiracles (the holes through which air enters the respiratory tract) only periodically and effectively “holding their breath” the rest of the time.  There’s been several ideas put forth about what how this complex and interesting system benefits the insects that use it, but this article reports evidence that discontinuous gas exchange helps reduce the production of harmful oxygen free radicals by using free radical production as a trigger to open the spiracles and release carbon dioxide.  This might not sound exciting to any of you, but I can’t wait to read this paper!

Someday soon I’ll have time to start reading some of these papers and reporting about them here.  But that will have to wait.  For now, back to work!


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