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Biodiversity Blog

 
Featured Species: Clown Beetle

Featured Species: Clown Beetle

  Clown beetles, also known as Hister beetles, are a family (Histeridae) that contains over 3900 species. Their unusually glossy-but-sculptured surfaces and spiny appendages make them sought after by some collectors. They are found throughout the world, but not terribly common in Central Texas, which is why when Dr. Alex Wild, Curator ...
Meet Lepidopterist Alma Solis

Meet Lepidopterist Alma Solis

Alma outside the lab at Rancho del Cielo Biological Station during her Master’s research there. Dr. Alma Solis is a research entomologist at the Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL) of the Agricultural Research Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and is located at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonia...
It got really cold. What does that mean for Texas biodiversity?

It got really cold. What does that mean for Texas biodiversity?

The February winter storm “Uri” saw temperatures drop into the single digits and stay below freezing for days. The last time Austin had single digit temperatures was in 1989, the year the Berlin wall fell, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade came out, and Taylor Swift was born. So, yeah. It’s been a while. Uri not only caused havoc for Texans and ou...
UT Spring Bee Competition

UT Spring Bee Competition

 USDA Photo by Jack Dykinga We have a winner! Katie Elston is the winner of the UT Spring Bee competition. This competition was for submitting the first Travis County mason bee of 2021 to win a copy of the book “The Bees In Your Backyard”! Rationale: One measure of our changing climate is the shifting dates of emergence of our earliest spri...
Kinsey's Wasps

Kinsey's Wasps

  A 1953 issue of TIME magazine had this to say about biologist and sexologist Dr. Alfred Kinsey: “Kinsey...has done for sex what Columbus did for geography.” Kinsey’s influential work on human sexuality happened at a time in the US when openly discussing, much less researching, what went on in the bedroom was quite shocking. Nonetheless, h...

History of UT Entomology, Part 5: Sword's Grasshoppers

BFL grasshopper   Schistocerca lineata In our last blog on the History of UT Entomology, we looked at the damage screwworm flies were causing to livestock until the Sterile Insect Technique was introduced. In this blog, we will be looking at another infamous insect responsible for massive damage to resources such as crops. We begin with some of the...

History of UT Entomology, Part 4: Screwworms

640px Screwworm Cochliomyia hominivorax Key Deer National Refuge Big Pine Key Florida 24909739517 Photo: Judy Gallagher (lCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license) Few people want to be a screwworm fly (Cochliomyia hominivorax) for Halloween, but maybe this should be a valid costume choice as what they do is pretty horrifying. In the early to mid-20th century, this obligate parasite, often called just “screwworm” for ...
History of UT Entomology, Part 2: The Fly Years

History of UT Entomology, Part 2: The Fly Years

John T. Patterson. “Sandy-haired and short of stature, he had a ready wit, a love of repartee, and the ebullient temperament we traditionally associate with the Irish people.” -  Theophilus Painter in a 1965 memoir about him Part 1 explored the formative years for UT entomology and the focus on ants, with William Morton Wheeler and his stu...
History of UT Entomology, Part 1: It Begins with Ants

History of UT Entomology, Part 1: It Begins with Ants

 From Ants: Their Structure, Development, and Behavior (1910) When UT opened its doors in 1883, biology was not part of the curriculum, despite that faculty at the time pushed for representation of botany and physiology. “The new State University organized in 1883 had more ambitions than resources,” wrote Geneticist and UT professor Clarenc...
UT’s Non-Digital Biodiversity Specimens Join the Global Digital Revolution

UT’s Non-Digital Biodiversity Specimens Join the Global Digital Revolution

The prestigious journal BioScience just released "Natural History Collections: Advancing the Frontiers of Science," a compilation of recent natural history collection-related papers that sheds light on the importance of digitizing and publishing collections data, and the substantial obstacles confronting collections staff working on that. This come...

The Challenge of 1%

dungbettle web Dung beetle (Photo: Alex Wild) Natural History collections hold material going back centuries, but the digital revolution means their holdings are now open to everyone, pending the process of digitization. Properly digitizing specimens consumes enormous resources, particularly the one we all have so little of: time. But the Entomology Coll...

BACKYARD BIODIVERSITY: Grasshoppers!

Aidemona1 X2This colorful insect that looks like it’s about to go to a carnival is actually the nymph of Aidemona azteca. The adults of this species are drab in appearance. (Photo: Alex Wild) Grasshoppers are one of the oldest living group of chewing herbivorous insects, dating back to the early Triassic around 250 million years ago. In Central Texas, we ha...

BACK YARD BIODIVERSITY: Fireflies

FF1   Photo: Alex Wild Austin sits at the far southwestern corner of the range of the Eastern Firefly (Photinus pyralis), the species that gives eastern landscapes the characteristic dusk light show in early summer. This insect is common in neighborhoods around Austin, with large flights in April, May, and June and a smaller emergence w...

Austin’s Other Orange Butterfly: the Gulf Fritillary

adult1by Dr. Alex Wild (Curator of Entomology, Biodiversity Collections) and Nicole Elmer (Biodiversity Center)    Adult Gulf Fritillary (Photo: Alex Wild) Austin is a butterfly town. About 150 kinds are known to occur in our area, a mix of temperate and tropical, desert and deciduous forest species. Although many people know the famous...

Austin Spring Insects: Crane Flies

Picture1   A female Tipula crane fly in an Austin garden Spring continues to roll through Austin, paying no heed to our human worries of viruses and lockdowns. Rains fall, trees leaf out, bluebonnets speckle the roadsides, and crane flies flutter clumsily across our lawns. Crane flies? Few insects are as strongly evocative of the Texan sprin...
Moth Threatens Prickly Pear Cactus

Moth Threatens Prickly Pear Cactus

   Moth damage to Prickly Pear (Photo: Larry Gilbert) Despite its iconic association with the Southwest, many people may not love Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia). However, various species of Opuntia are extremely important plants to most ecosystems in Texas and Mexico. They produce a huge quantity of fruits that are a critica...

New wasp species named after UT Entomologist

alexwildiGlyptapanteles alexwildi is one of 136 new tropical wasp species that have been recently discovered. This species is named after Entomologist Alex Wild, curator of Entomology in the Biodiversity Center. Glyptapanteles is a genus of small, often inconspicuous parasitoid wasps containing hundreds of species found worldwide. The genus is&nbs...

Creatures of Halloween: Scorpionfly (Panorpa nuptialis)

Panorpa nuptialis P1330899a   By xpda - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64833118 Donning the colors of Halloween, this is the Scorpionfly (Panorpa nuptialis). It’s a common insect in Texas in wooded areas and ravines with dense vegetation. They are up to an inch long. Their wings are orange with defined angulate black ba...

Insects and Art

IMG 0395 red  Pencils in hand, erasers in reach, students huddle over cases of butterflies and beetles. The room is quiet, save for the “scratch scratch” of the pencil lead, the occasional rub of an eraser on paper. This is a scene from “Core II: Drawing,” a class in the First-Year Core Program at the Department of Art and Art History. On September 12t...

What's In a Name? Tummy Toads, Gastrophryne olivacea

Gastrophryne olivacea02   Photo: Stanley Trauth 2007 (wikipedia) A few years ago, I built several ponds near my house at the Double Helix Ranch, hoping that frogs would colonize them and I could enjoy the sound of frog calls outside my window. Several different species have come and bred there including Strecker's Chorus frogs (Pseudacris streckeri), Grey ...