This Saturday, September 10, Penn State University celebrates the annual Great Insect Fair at the Ag Arena from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Stop by and check out the Frost’s exhibit among the fair’s many other entomological activities and attractions. The museum’s theme for this year’s display is entomophagy, the human consumption of insects. Whet your arthropod appetite watching live insect feedings of ant lion larvae and praying mantises. Fuel your hunger learning about the edible entomons of Pennsylvania and the sustainability of biting into bugs. And satiate your cravings for creepy crawlies with our chitinous cuisine.
This post’s featured specimen earned its place in this series by leaving me clueless as to what exactly I was looking at. The Apis mellifera Linnaeus, 1758 specimen exhibits interconnected seed- and paddle-like growths attached to or protruding from the specimen’s mouth and feet.
The structures do not appear to be a fungal growth, nor do they resemble any common honey bee parasites.
If you have an idea of what is growing on this specimen, help a curious entomologist out, and leave an answer in the comments.
As with my previous two posts—“Hidden Gems in the Beatty Collection”, and its originally titled successor, “Hidden Spoons in the Beatty Collection” —this post pays homage to yet another specimen in the Frost’s collection whose uniqueness is deserving of some special attention. This post also serves as the first (or third, depending on how you look at it) in a series, dedicated to exposing some of the museum’s more exotic and bizarre specimens, called “Cool Frass at the Frost”.
Mantises have been one of my favorite orders of insects since I developed object permanence, so I was overly enthused to work with the residents of our collection. As I scanned the unit trays, one specimen stood out from the rows of its pinned, praying neighbors. Twisting from the specimen’s abdomen was a long reddish-brown coil. Suddenly, memories of several horrific entomological YouTube videos flooded my mind, one of which can be viewed here.
After rewatching those videos and having the strange craving for shoestring licorice, we determined the coil was a Nematomorpha, a parasite commonly referred to as the horsehair or Gordian worm. The larvae of these parasites infect arthropods and develop within the haemocoel (Hanelt et al. 2005). Once fully mature, the worm hijacks its host’s nervous system, driving the insect to seek water and drown itself. The adult parasite slithers free through their host’s anus and then mate in the aquatic environment, completing their life cycle (Thomas, et al. 2002).
Have a closer look.
If this post wasn’t already macabre enough, the possible implication of our specimen will ensure it is. Because horsehair worms tend to evacuate their host only in the presence of water, it seems as though our specimen’s squatter tried to flee its desiccating shelter, only to be trapped and preserved itself. Through entomology, the Nematomorpha’s home also became its tomb, and left us with this amazing display of parasiticism.
Until working with the Beatty Collection, I had never heard of a spoonwing, much less seen one of these fascinating insects. Like our lone Libellago specimen, the spoonwing (shown below) was discovered undetermined and tucked away in cigar box full miscellaneous odonates.
Spoonwings, which will also answer to spoon-winged Lacewings or thread-winged Antlions, are neuropteran insects belonging to the family Nemopteridae (Atlas of Living Australia. 2015). These insects derive their common name from their elongated and paddle-like hindwings, which are waved in mating displays and, in males, will secrete pheromones. Consequently, this modification forces the insect to fly using primarily their forewings, producing a clumsy and delicate flight (Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. 2003). From the ornate hindwings of our specimen, we believe it to be within Chasmoptera (Kirby, 1900), a genus comprised of only three species.
Unlike the majority of the collection’s residents, spoonwings are not found in the Americas but are distributed across Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Our specimen was collected in Lebanon in (Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. 2003).
Spoonwings are rare to spot in the wild outside of their mating season in November (Atlas of Living Australia. 2015), so finding such an unique specimen in our collection was exciting for an amateur entomologist.
The Beatty Collection houses a variety of odonates collected primarily throughout North America and Mexico. Integrating these specimens into the Frost’s collection, my colleagues and I have uncovered several unique insects that fall outside of this range and sometimes outside of the order. Sorting through a cache of undetermined specimens, I stumbled upon an ode that, at first glance, appeared to share hallmark characteristics with both Zygoptera and Anisoptera.
The specimen, shown below, exhibits the dumbbell-shaped head and slender wings often attributed to damselflies, but also sports the bulbous eyes and stout abdomen associated with dragonflies.
A little investigation into the puzzling specimen revealed that the insect was of the genus Libellago, a member of Zygoptera, within the family Chlorocyphidae. The exact species, however, remains to be determined.
Libellago, commonly referred to as “gems,” are distributed across Southeast Asia, often seen flitting around open and calm bodies of water (Hämäläinen. 2002). Our specimen, in particular, was collected on the Nilgiri Hills in Kallar, South India.
Finding specimens like Libellago among the natives of the collection always serves as a refreshing reminder of just how diverse even some of the most familiar taxa can be.
My name is Michael Przybys, and although that appears to be a typo, it, unfortunately, is not. After graduating with a degree in biology from Penn State University in May 2015, I was quickly consumed by the stress and anxiety that accompany student loan payments. I then began working as a research assistant at the Frost Entomological Museum. Though I am pursuing a career in medicine, I have always had a penchant for art and zoology.
Growing up, I would spend my summers exploring the woods and fields — peering under rocks and logs, wading through streams, and climbing trees — in search of bugs, salamanders, snakes, and friends. Captivated by the curious gaze of the mantis, the swaying of the phasmid, and the metamorphosis of the butterfly, these unique organisms inspired both my drawings and eventual study of biology. Now at the museum, I can continue to explore and cultivate my zoological curiosity, while utilizing my degree to contribute to the field of entomology.
Working as a member of the Frost’s research and curatorial team has been such a rewarding experience thus far, and I am excited to be a part of all we have in store for the upcoming year.