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Concept: Insect


Although humans and arthropods have been living and evolving together for all of our history, we know very little about the arthropods we share our homes with apart from major pest groups. Here we surveyed, for the first time, the complete arthropod fauna of the indoor biome in 50 houses (located in and around Raleigh, North Carolina, USA). We discovered high diversity, with a conservative estimate range of 32-211 morphospecies, and 24-128 distinct arthropod families per house. The majority of this indoor diversity (73%) was made up of true flies (Diptera), spiders (Araneae), beetles (Coleoptera), and wasps and kin (Hymenoptera, especially ants: Formicidae). Much of the arthropod diversity within houses did not consist of synanthropic species, but instead included arthropods that were filtered from the surrounding landscape. As such, common pest species were found less frequently than benign species. Some of the most frequently found arthropods in houses, such as gall midges (Cecidomyiidae) and book lice (Liposcelididae), are unfamiliar to the general public despite their ubiquity. These findings present a new understanding of the diversity, prevalence, and distribution of the arthropods in our daily lives. Considering their impact as household pests, disease vectors, generators of allergens, and facilitators of the indoor microbiome, advancing our knowledge of the ecology and evolution of arthropods in homes has major economic and human health implications.

Concepts: Evolution, Nematocera, Insect, Arthropod, Flies, Ant, Spider, Pterygota


Social insects make elaborate use of simple mechanisms to achieve seemingly complex behavior and may thus provide a unique resource to discover the basic cognitive elements required for culture, i.e., group-specific behaviors that spread from “innovators” to others in the group via social learning. We first explored whether bumblebees can learn a nonnatural object manipulation task by using string pulling to access a reward that was presented out of reach. Only a small minority “innovated” and solved the task spontaneously, but most bees were able to learn to pull a string when trained in a stepwise manner. In addition, naïve bees learnt the task by observing a trained demonstrator from a distance. Learning the behavior relied on a combination of simple associative mechanisms and trial-and-error learning and did not require “insight”: naïve bees failed a “coiled-string experiment,” in which they did not receive instant visual feedback of the target moving closer when tugging on the string. In cultural diffusion experiments, the skill spread rapidly from a single knowledgeable individual to the majority of a colony’s foragers. We observed that there were several sequential sets (“generations”) of learners, so that previously naïve observers could first acquire the technique by interacting with skilled individuals and, subsequently, themselves become demonstrators for the next “generation” of learners, so that the longevity of the skill in the population could outlast the lives of informed foragers. This suggests that, so long as animals have a basic toolkit of associative and motor learning processes, the key ingredients for the cultural spread of unusual skills are already in place and do not require sophisticated cognition.

Concepts: Psychology, Insect, Cognition, Observation, Skill, Learning, Knowledge, Behavior


Recent declines in honey bee populations and increasing demand for insect-pollinated crops raise concerns about pollinator shortages. Pesticide exposure and pathogens may interact to have strong negative effects on managed honey bee colonies. Such findings are of great concern given the large numbers and high levels of pesticides found in honey bee colonies. Thus it is crucial to determine how field-relevant combinations and loads of pesticides affect bee health. We collected pollen from bee hives in seven major crops to determine 1) what types of pesticides bees are exposed to when rented for pollination of various crops and 2) how field-relevant pesticide blends affect bees' susceptibility to the gut parasite Nosema ceranae. Our samples represent pollen collected by foragers for use by the colony, and do not necessarily indicate foragers' roles as pollinators. In blueberry, cranberry, cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon bees collected pollen almost exclusively from weeds and wildflowers during our sampling. Thus more attention must be paid to how honey bees are exposed to pesticides outside of the field in which they are placed. We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load. Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to.

Concepts: Insect, Beekeeping, Pesticide, Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Bumblebee, Pollinator


Spiders have been suspected to be one of the most important groups of natural enemies of insects worldwide. To document the impact of the global spider community as insect predators, we present estimates of the biomass of annually killed insect prey. Our estimates assessed with two different methods suggest that the annual prey kill of the global spider community is in the range of 400-800 million metric tons (fresh weight), with insects and collembolans composing >90% of the captured prey. This equals approximately 1‰ of the global terrestrial net primary production. Spiders associated with forests and grasslands account for >95% of the annual prey kill of the global spider community, whereas spiders in other habitats are rather insignificant contributors over a full year. The spider communities associated with annual crops contribute less than 2% to the global annual prey kill. This, however, can be partly explained by the fact that annual crop fields are “disturbed habitats” with a low buildup of spider biomass and that agrobiont spiders often only kill prey over short time periods in a year. Our estimates are supported by the published results of exclusion experiments, showing that the number of herbivorous/detritivorous insects and collembolans increased significantly after spider removal from experimental plots. The presented estimates of the global annual prey kill and the relative contribution of spider predation in different biomes improve the general understanding of spider ecology and provide a first assessment of the global impact of this very important predator group.

Concepts: Insect, Arthropod, Predation, Ecology, Lion, Biological pest control, Aposematism, Spider


The ant genus Pheidole-for all of its hyperdiversity and global ubiquity-is remarkably conservative with regard to morphological disparity. A striking exception to this constrained morphology is the spinescent morphotype, which has evolved multiple times across distantly related lineages of Indoaustralian Pheidole. The Pheidole cervicornis group contains perhaps the most extraordinary spinescent forms of all Pheidole. Here we present a taxonomic revision of the P. cervicornis group, and use microtomographic scanning technology to investigate the internal anatomy of the thoracic spines. Our findings suggest the pronotal spines of Pheidole majors, are possibly skeletomuscular adaptations for supporting their disproportionately large heads. The ‘head support hypothesis’ is an alternative to the mechanical defense hypothesis most often used to explain spinescence in ants. The P. cervicornis group is known only from New Guinea and is represented by the following four species, including two described here as new: P. barumtaun Donisthorpe, P. drogon sp. nov., P. cervicornis Emery, and P. viserion sp. nov. The group is most readily identified by the minor worker caste, which has extremely long pronotal spines and strongly bifurcating propodeal spines. The major and minor workers of all species are illustrated with specimen photographs, with the exception of the major worker of P. cervicornis, which is not known.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Insect, Major, Ant, Hymenoptera, Minor scale, Minor chord


Large-scale losses of honey bee colonies represent a poorly understood problem of global importance. Both biotic and abiotic factors are involved in this phenomenon that is often associated with high loads of parasites and pathogens. A stronger impact of pathogens in honey bees exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides has been reported, but the causal link between insecticide exposure and the possible immune alteration of honey bees remains elusive. Here, we demonstrate that the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin negatively modulates NF-κB immune signaling in insects and adversely affects honey bee antiviral defenses controlled by this transcription factor. We have identified in insects a negative modulator of NF-κB activation, which is a leucine-rich repeat protein. Exposure to clothianidin, by enhancing the transcription of the gene encoding this inhibitor, reduces immune defenses and promotes the replication of the deformed wing virus in honey bees bearing covert infections. This honey bee immunosuppression is similarly induced by a different neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, but not by the organophosphate chlorpyriphos, which does not affect NF-κB signaling. The occurrence at sublethal doses of this insecticide-induced viral proliferation suggests that the studied neonicotinoids might have a negative effect at the field level. Our experiments uncover a further level of regulation of the immune response in insects and set the stage for studies on neural modulation of immunity in animals. Furthermore, this study has implications for the conservation of bees, as it will contribute to the definition of more appropriate guidelines for testing chronic or sublethal effects of pesticides used in agriculture.

Concepts: Immune system, Bacteria, Evolution, Insect, Vaccination, Honey bee, Insecticide, Neonicotinoid


A singular adaptive phenotype of a parthenogenetic insect species (Acyrthosiphon pisum) was selected in cold conditions and is characterized by a remarkable apparition of a greenish colour. The aphid pigments involve carotenoid genes well defined in chloroplasts and cyanobacteria and amazingly present in the aphid genome, likely by lateral transfer during evolution. The abundant carotenoid synthesis in aphids suggests strongly that a major and unknown physiological role is related to these compounds beyond their canonical anti-oxidant properties. We report here that the capture of light energy in living aphids results in the photo induced electron transfer from excited chromophores to acceptor molecules. The redox potentials of molecules involved in this process would be compatible with the reduction of the NAD(+) coenzyme. This appears as an archaic photosynthetic system consisting of photo-emitted electrons that are in fine funnelled into the mitochondrial reducing power in order to synthesize ATP molecules.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Electron, Bacteria, Evolution, Adenosine triphosphate, Insect, Redox, Cellular respiration


DEET (N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide) is one of the most widely used mosquito repellents. Although DEET has been shown to be extremely effective, recent studies have revealed that certain individual insects are unaffected by its presence. A genetic basis for this has been shown in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, but, for the triatomine bug, Rhodnius prolixus, a decrease in response to DEET occurred shortly after previous exposure, indicating that non-genetic factors may also be involved in DEET “insensitivity”. In this study, we examined host-seeking behaviour and electrophysiological responses of A. aegypti after pre-exposure to DEET. We found that three hours after pre-exposure the mosquitoes showed behavioural insensitivity, and electroantennography revealed this correlated with the olfactory receptor neurons responding less to DEET. The change in behaviour as a result of pre-exposure to DEET has implications for the use of repellents and the ability of mosquitoes to overcome them.

Concepts: Insect, Mosquito, Yellow fever, Aedes aegypti, Aedes, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila, Insect repellent


Insect pheromones offer potential for managing pests of crop plants. Volatility and instability are problems for deployment in agriculture but could be solved by expressing genes for the biosynthesis of pheromones in the crop plants. This has now been achieved by genetically engineering a hexaploid variety of wheat to release (E)-β-farnesene (Eβf), the alarm pheromone for many pest aphids, using a synthetic gene based on a sequence from peppermint with a plastid targeting amino acid sequence, with or without a gene for biosynthesis of the precursor farnesyl diphosphate. Pure Eβf was produced in stably transformed wheat lines with no other detectable phenotype but requiring targeting of the gene produced to the plastid. In laboratory behavioural assays, three species of cereal aphids were repelled and foraging was increased for a parasitic natural enemy. Although these studies show considerable potential for aphid control, field trials employing the single and double constructs showed no reduction in aphids or increase in parasitism. Insect numbers were low and climatic conditions erratic suggesting the need for further trials or a closer imitation, in the plant, of alarm pheromone release.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Bacteria, Evolution, Amino acid, Insect, Ant


Spiders (Order Araneae) are massively abundant generalist arthropod predators that are found in nearly every ecosystem on the planet and have persisted for over 380 million years. Spiders have long served as evolutionary models for studying complex mating and web spinning behaviors, key innovation and adaptive radiation hypotheses, and have been inspiration for important theories like sexual selection by female choice. Unfortunately, past major attempts to reconstruct spider phylogeny typically employing the “usual suspect” genes have been unable to produce a well-supported phylogenetic framework for the entire order. To further resolve spider evolutionary relationships we have assembled a transcriptome-based data set comprising 70 ingroup spider taxa. Using maximum likelihood and shortcut coalescence-based approaches, we analyze eight data sets, the largest of which contains 3,398 gene regions and 696,652 amino acid sites forming the largest phylogenomic analysis of spider relationships produced to date. Contrary to long held beliefs that the orb web is the crowning achievement of spider evolution, ancestral state reconstructions of web type support a phylogenetically ancient origin of the orb web, and diversification analyses show that the mostly ground-dwelling, web-less RTA clade diversified faster than orb weavers. Consistent with molecular dating estimates we report herein, this may reflect a major increase in biomass of non-flying insects during the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution 125-90 million years ago favoring diversification of spiders that feed on cursorial rather than flying prey. Our results also have major implications for our understanding of spider systematics. Phylogenomic analyses corroborate several well-accepted high level groupings: Opisthothele, Mygalomorphae, Atypoidina, Avicularoidea, Theraphosoidina, Araneomorphae, Entelegynae, Araneoidea, the RTA clade, Dionycha and the Lycosoidea. Alternatively, our results challenge the monophyly of Eresoidea, Orbiculariae, and Deinopoidea. The composition of the major paleocribellate and neocribellate clades, the basal divisions of Araneomorphae, appear to be falsified. Traditional Haplogynae is in need of revision, as our findings appear to support the newly conceived concept of Synspermiata. The sister pairing of filistatids with hypochilids implies that some peculiar features of each family may in fact be synapomorphic for the pair. Leptonetids now are seen as a possible sister group to the Entelegynae, illustrating possible intermediates in the evolution of the more complex entelegyne genitalic condition, spinning organs and respiratory organs.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Phylogenetic nomenclature, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Spider, Araneomorphae