BIG things are percolating behind the scenes of this quiet blog—big news, big data, big projects, big meetings, cool pubs (in our minds, anyway), new people, etc. We’re sitting on a gigantic silo of blog fodder that needs to be consumed. Who’s hungry?
Up first, Project Lousy Monday. We’ve been slowly digitizing parts of our incredible Anoplura (sucking lice) collection, which is probably one of the two largest and most diverse in the world. We have two goals: (1) scan every slide-mounted specimen at medium resolution, in order to capture the collecting event data (where, when, how, and by whom was the specimen was collected), and (2) image one male and one female (and maybe one nymph) of each species we have at high resolution (see image above), to facilitate diagnosis and character observation. The resulting images will be organized into a weekly blog post that celebrates each species. More soon! In the meantime you can check out a few test images in this Flickr set (includes phase contrast, dark field, and other strategies). And here’s an example specimen page at our public database. (Feedback is appreciated!)
Also coming to a blog very, very, very near you (i.e., this one): Project Top Secret(ion). István will be reporting results from this 6-years-and-counting effort to document exocrine glands in Hymenoptera. Sound boring? Well, just wait. Our results wipe out a century of dogma and reveal new shared, derived characters for some lineages of wasps. It’s mind-blowing.
I’ve written already about my ongoing attempt to rebuild the teaching collection (see how not to prepare a specimen and our most accessed collection). What about other teaching materials, like lab handouts and lecture slides? They need help too! Every time I teach Insect Biodiversity and Evolution I run into important characters that, I’m not ashamed to admit, I simply do not understand. I want to know more about Entognatha, a lineage of hexapods primarily defined by the fact that they have “internalized mouthparts”. But what does that mean? How are they retracted into the head? What about monocondylic vs. dicondylic mandibles? Early hexapods (Entognatha and Archaeognatha) are monocondylic (i.e., they have one articulation point in each mandible), whereas more derived insects (Zygentoma and Pterygota) are dicondylic (i.e., they have two articulation points in each mandible). But how does that look in real life? For many of these important, indeed defining, characters we have only poorly rendered or highly interpretive illustrations to use in lectures. Enter Project Snodgrass: our attempt to illustrate important synapomorphies and diagnostic characters across the phylogeny of Arthropoda. We’re using sophisticated methods that will enable us and our students to understand more fully the phenotypes that are important to the evolution of Arthropoda. We’re learning a lot! And many of our results will be published here for feedback. Stay tuned.
In addition to these projects, as alluded to above, we have some cool new manuscripts and other news to report here. We’re waiting for more details about their publication. In the meantime, here’s a gorilla louse to complement the human pubic louse above: