CLSM of Translucent Patches in Megaspilus armatus

After two years of morphological exploration, my research on the patches of translucent cuticle in Ceraphronoidea is coming to an end (for more information on the patches, check out my blog post from Istvan’s “Know Your insect” seminar).

To celebrate, I want to share a new CLSM (confocal laser scanning microscopy) image of the translucent patch in Megaspilus armatus– check it out!

A wasp abdomen showing a patch of translucent cuticle surrounded by setae.

Female Megaspilus armatus metasoma showing the synsternal patch of translucent cuticle. Image by Carolyn Trietsch (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

This image shows the translucent cuticle on the second sternite of a female Megaspilus armatus specimen. Alongside the translucent cuticle, you can see a large patch of setae– these setae are associated with a gland underneath the cuticle. Enjoy!


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A Frost Introduction: Tanner Hallenstein

Finding an abandoned wasp nest in November. Photo by Craig Hallenstein (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

Everyone I’ve told about my new position assisting the digitization of the Frost Entomological Museum has fallen into two categories: those who think it’s awesome, and those who feel their stomach stir and skin cringe before politely saying, “well I’m happy for you.”

It’s very exciting returning to an academic environment with opportunities for collaboration and discussion with people of the former. However, perhaps even more thrilling is the chance to engage with the latter. A desire to communicate with those who haven’t had much exposure to science is one of the reasons I sought a position with the Frost. This is my first post and it is my goal for my future writing on this blog to promote how amazing insects are and why when one visits your home you should reach for a cup instead of rolling up last week’s copy of Entertainment Weekly.

So how did I get here?

Well, firstly, my name is Tanner Hallenstein–nice to meet you. I’m originally from Woodstock, IL. Woodstock’s claim to fame is that the movie Groundhog Day was filmed. No, the film did not have any sway in my decision to move to Pennsylvania. I then moved to Iowa City where I attended the University of Iowa, originally as an English and Theatre major. After my first year I re-realized my childhood passion for nature and switched to Environmental Science and Biology. For my last two years I worked for the Biology department in Andrew Forbes’ lab working on parasitoid wasps and fruit flies, (predominantly Rhagoletis suavis), under the graduate student and fantastic mentor Amanda Nelson. There I cultivated a love and appreciation for research, as wells as Microsoft Excel. As much as that sounds like a joke, I really do have a small fan-girlish crush on Microsoft Excel and my lab work is to blame.

After I graduated, my plan was to find some kind of field work to get involved in. But, like most millennial recent-graduates learn, those plans last about as long as the lifespan of a Drosophila melanogaster. That’s about the length of time to takes before the online application process and dwindling bank account makes someone who’s moved back home take any job in or out of their field. (This has yet to be tested but I’m sure there’s a study in there somewhere.) After some time of not-fieldwork-work, I moved to Pennsylvania and was lucky enough to find myself working for the museum. Everyone has been welcoming, making the last few weeks fantastic. I even get to use Google Sheets. Sure, it’s not technically Microsoft Excel, but hey.

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Bees and Bookbinding: Apoidea Symbolism in 16th Century France

Last semester, I had the pleasure of visiting Penn State’s Special Collections Library with my Artist Books class to peruse some of the structures, bindings, and content for inspiration. We were privileged to see and interact with a large variety of artist books, including some very old books marking turning points in the historical treatment of cover art and leatherworking. One of these books, estimated to be from 16th-Century France, captured my interest and is pictured below.

Special Collections Book. Photo by Frost Museum (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

Bee Pattern Detail. Photo by Frost Museum (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.










I’m most intrigued by the patterning and extensive use of bee symbolism on the cover. Although there was little in the library records as to the specifics of the symbolic meaning of the cover art, I was curious as to the intention in employing insects as pattern, and whether this was in fact a larger trend of that geographic area or time period. Nothing specific was recorded in the Special Collections to illuminate this, so I decided to do some investigating on my own.

The first and most obvious cultural tie I found to the symbolic bee in France was to Napoleon Bonaparte, although his reign was several centuries later than the book’s estimated production. With Napoleon’s rise to power and establishment as leader of the first French empire in 1804, he brought with him a resurgence in the use of bee symbolism resultant of his choice to incorporate them into Napoleonic heraldry. In the unstable climate following the French revolution, Napoleon aimed to use cultural symbols and imagery to unite people in a sense of nationalism, strength, and pride. He chose to do so by referencing past successful empires and leaders by re-purposing their chosen symbols to mark the arrival of a new empire, comparable to that of old.

He was particularly fond of Charlemagne and strove to build an image as the heir of the Frankish kings and emperors, but also sought continuity with the legacy of the Holy Roman Empire, whose symbol was the eagle. He struggled to settle on an emblem for the new Empire and was long torn between the eagle and the bee, which symbolized the Merovingian kings and their founder, Childeric I. In 1653 around 300 cloisonné golden bees (or, some argue, cicadas) were discovered strewn over the cloak of Childeric I in his tomb in Tournai. The ornamental usage of the bee in this context is reflected in Napoleon’s eventual choice of the eagle to center in his coat of arms, but the bee to replace the fleur-de-lis in its myriad of both heraldic and decorative uses. The semi of bees was used in Napoleonic heraldry and bee symbolism littered the royal place, gracing everything from architectural elements to furniture to clothing items.

Cloisonné bees buried with Childeric I. National Library of France (CC0). Click for Source.

The bees were considered representative of a Republic of equals under a single leader, as well as a symbol of immortality and resurrection. Both of these connotations strengthened the desired connection of the new empire to the old, and thus to the origins of France. This subversive technique allowed Napoleon to command attention and respect through imagery, and communicate a political message of strength, power, and cohesion to his subjects and potential enemies in a visual language understood by almost everyone of the time, regardless of education or literacy.

Childeric himself may have chosen the bee to draw on its previous uses as a symbol of power as well. For example, the honeybee was both revered as a royal symbol and closely associated with various deities in ancient Egypt for over four thousand years. In this context it symbolized the Pharaoh’s supremacy over lower Egypt, and the Pharaoh’s status as God-King. Bees were linked to other Gods such as Neith, Goddess of the Night, and Osiris, God of Death, through their places of worship, referred to as the House and Temple of the Bee respectively. Bees were also believed to originate from the tears of the Sun God, Ra. Bees have a long multicultural history as symbols of sovereignty because of the perceived role of the queen bee, which was often misconstrued as a king bee, and Childeric may have been one of many who hoped to harness the parallels between social behavior in bees and humans for his own agenda.

Ultimately though, the reign of Childeric I was largely forgotten or devalued and centuries too early to directly influence this book, and Napoleon’s rediscovery of his symbolic language centuries too late. It is possible that the book itself was produced and bound in the 16th century, and then covered or re-covered later in history (perhaps under Napoleonic influence) due to changes in ownership, ideology, or restoration needs. If we assume instead that the book’s current cover and content were produced at the same time however, the bees may be referencing other contemporary European trends not specific to France, such as the Physiologus or the reign of the Barberini Family in Italy.

The Physiologus was a popular and widely distributed book of allegorical descriptions of various organisms, real and imaginary, imbued with Christian morals. The often comically inaccurate information it espoused was commonly accepted as truth because many of the animals included were either unreal or exotic to European readers, and thus inaccessible to personally observe. The Physiologus purportedly portrayed the bee as a virtuous, industrious creature with great collaborative talents. It also claimed however that to induce bee reproduction one had to kill a bull without spilling its blood and store it in a closed house for three weeks, after which a swarm of bees would fly out from the carcass.

The Barberini were a noble Italian family of great influence who rivaled the Medici in politics and as patrons of the arts. They held significant sway in the 16th century, but reached the height of their power with the ascension of Pope Urban VIII, of the Barberini, in 1623. Before their rise to power, the Family name was Tafini da Barberino (of Barberino, their village) and since Tafani translates to “horsefly,” their family crest featured three horseflies. When they dropped the Tafani name and the negative connotations it carried, the Barberini upgraded their coat of arms to include three golden bees instead. The Barberini bee can still be found in various elements of art and architecture throughout Rome.

Barberini Family Shield at Palazzo Barberini. Photo By Jim Forest (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Click for Source.

Though these are all plausible theories, it’s quite possible that the imagery on the book’s cover draws from one of many other historical connotations associated with bees.  For example, bees have been attributed with an understanding of many languages, which would be a pertinent quality to instill in a book. Whether any of these ideologies reflect the actual beliefs and intent of the creator of the book is unknown, but we can presume that the bees on the cover likely reference a prominent symbol of the dominant power structure or belief system of the time. Because of the dispersion of wealth at the time and the cost of commissioning a book or binding, the commissioner was probably a person of privilege with ample money to do so, and likely engaged in the symbology of those in power.


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Translucent Cuticle in Orussidae

I’m starting to wrap up my research on the patches of translucent cuticle that are found in all Ceraphronoidea (for more information on the patches, check out my blog post from Istvan’s “Know Your insect” seminar).

One of the questions we had was whether similar patches are found on the abdomens of other Hymenoptera. Surprisingly, we found them in Orussidae!

Dorsal view of the abdomen in an Orussus sp. specimen. The translucent patches of cuticle appear dark and smooth in this specimen. Photo by Carolyn Trietsch (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

Just like ceraphronoids, orussids have two patches of translucent cuticle on the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the abdomen. The patches were dark in the specimen above, but translucent in the specimen Istvan dissected below.

Dorsal patch of translucent cuticle in the abdomen of an Orussus sp. specimen dissected in glycerin. Photo by Carolyn Trietsch (CC BY 2.0) Click for source.

There are also two patches on the ventral surface of the abdomen, but these are normally hidden by the hind coxa, so you have to dissect them out to see them, like we did below.

Ventral patch of translucent cuticle in the abdomen of an Orussus sp. specimen. Photo by Carolyn Trietsch (CC BY 2.0). Click for source.

It is exciting to find these patches in Orussidae because they are the most derived of the sawflies, and represent an important step in the evolution of aprocritan wasps and the parasitoid lifestyle in Hymenoptera. It is unknown how Ceraphronoidea are related to other Hymenoptera, but it is possible that they may actually be the most basal apocritan wasp, which would put them close to Orussidae. The fact that both Orussidae and Ceraphronoidea have translucent patches of cuticle seems to suggest that they could be more closely related that previously thought.

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Lindsay Erndwein: New Curatorial Assistant

Lindsay Erndwein with spotted lanternfly instars

A fruitful lycorma delicatula hunt, indeed.

Greetings, my entomologist compatriots!

My name is Lindsay Erndwein and I am working at the Frost to assist graduate student, Emily Sandall, with the curation and digitization of odonate larvae.

I am a senior in materials science and engineering with a minor in entomology. My life’s ultimate passion is studying the polymeric materials that insects produce and recreating these materials for applications in science and technology. From the rigid yet flexible chitin of the cuticle, to the powerful, energy-storing resilin in saltatorial legs, I believe that insects exhibit a myriad of unique materials that can improve the world.

This year, I am conducting a senior thesis involving the 3D printing of double network hydrogels inspired by the underwater strength and adhesive properties of Trichopteran silk. My future plans involve pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering to study the development of artificial cartilage inspired by the resilience and flexibility of resilin. I also wish to become a professor and invigorate the next generation of scientists.

Unfortunately, this is my final semester at Penn State and I will miss many memorable experiences with the entomology department. Summer 2015, I aided Dr. Mike Saunders and graduate student, Erica Smyers with the initial field studies on the spotted lanternfly. It was surreal being a pioneer assistant researcher in such a recent infestation (and catching swarms of colorful, hopping, hemipterans for a summer job was also incredibly fun). Last year I participated in the wonderful class, ENT 432 with Dr. Andy Deans and loved broadening my knowledge of insect taxonomy in addition to enhancing the Frost’s diversity with my collection. I am honored to be able to work with this amazing department one last time before my departure upon graduation.

I look forward to an amazing semester and bid a warm hello to all!

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