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14 Great Names for Bugs

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Scientists have a sense of humor just like the rest of us. The difference is that a scientist's jokes are sometimes enshrined in the body of knowledge for eternity, or close to it. One of the ways they do this is naming things that previously had no name, like insect species. A little leeway in Latin goes a long way when classifying insects, because there are way more insect species than there are existing words in lost languages. That's when things can get interesting. Meet some bugs with names that make you go "huh?"

1. Enema Pan

Enema Pan is a type of rhinoceros beetle found in Mexico, Central America, and South America. It was named by entomologist Johan Christian Fabricius, who studied under Carl Linnaeus, the inventor of modern taxonomy. One gets the impression that Fabricius was seeing how far he could go with this species-naming plan. Photograph by Flickr user Udo Schmidt.

2-4. Star Wars Wasps

Three species of apoid wasps are named Polemistus chewbacca, Polemistus vaderi, and Polemistus yoda. Renowned entomologist and Star Wars fan Arnold S. Menke gave the first two those names in 1983, and P. yoda was named by fellow entomologist Charles Vincent in the same year, which brought more attention to these bugs than other tiny and rare wasps ever get.

5. Pison Eu

Little wasp

Arnold Menke was also responsible for naming the Central American wasp called Pison eu in 1988. The genus Pison can be pronounced different ways, depending on whether you are referring to Pison eu or Pison eyvae, which was also named by Menke in 1988. The picture here shows a different but related species of Pison. Photograph by Flickr user dracophylla.

6-8. Musical Chiggers

Trombicula is a genus of mites that we call chiggers in their larval stage. Trombicula doremi as well as Trombicula fasola were named by scientists Brennan and Beck in 1955, which was actually before the song was written for the 1959 Broadway musical The Sound of Music. However, the notes of the major scale were commonly known by those solfège syllables. The chigger named Trombicula fujigmo is an acronym of the military slang for "F--- you, Jack, I got my orders."

9. Villa Manillae

Entomologist Neal L. Evenhuis named a species of Villa fly in 1993. The name he selected was Villa manillae. I'm sure he was in no way influenced by the name of the pop music duo Milli Vanilli who won a Grammy in 1990, which was rescinded when the pair was outed as a lip-synching act.

10. Tabanus Nippontucki


Tabanus
is a genus of horseflies. The particular species T. nippontucki was named by entomologist Cornelius B. Philip in 1941. Sources say it was named during, or about, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but I found no available documentation about that. Photograph by Christin Hardy/Tabanid PEET Project, USDA/ARS/SEL Entovision System.

11. Eubetia Bigaulae

Eubetia bigaulae is a moth from the family Tortricidae. The species is pronounced "you betcha by golly." For that we can thank Smithsonian entomologist John Brown, who discovered the species in Venezuela in 1999.

12-13. Heerz Tooya and Heerz Lukenatcha

Heerz is a genus of parasitic moth found in Mexico. Heerz tooya was first described by Paul Marsh in 1993. He is the same scientist who named the species Heerz lukenatcha, which is pictured above. So far, there is no species named Heerz johnni, but that should be next.

14. Verae Peculya

Ichneumon?

A Brazilian species of parasite wasp in the family Braconidae is named Verae peculya, designated so by Paul Marsh in 1993. How peculiar is it? So peculiar I couldn't find a picture of one, so here's another wasp of the Braconidae family. Photograph by Flickr user bramblejungle.

See also: 9 Spiders and the Stars They Were Named For, Schwarzenegger Beetles (and other celebrity species), and 10 Animals Named After Celebrities.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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