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6 Cool Insects You Can Raise at Home

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Don't let Mother Nature have all the fun!

1. Monarch Butterflies

Raising monarchs is super easy. If you don't have a patch of milkweed handy, order the plants online and plant them outside in clusters of three or more plants. Check the undersides of the leaves for eggs and tiny caterpillars. When you find a caterpillar, dig up the milkweed plant, wrap it in tulle netting from the fabric store so the caterpillar won't get away, and bring it inside to watch it develop. (You can order the caterpillars online, too.) It will eat like crazy for about ten days until it pupates. If you're raising more than one, you'll need additional milkweed plants. After the butterfly has emerged from the chrysalis, release it outside. Monarch Watch has detailed instructions about rearing monarchs, and you can order tags for your butterflies if you want to help track their migration.

2. Silkworms

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Silkworms need mulberry leaves to eat, or you can order powdered artificial silkworm chow online along with the eggs. I asked around until I found a friend who had raised silkworms before, and she gave me a batch of eggs to keep in my fridge during the winter. When the mulberry tree in my yard started leafing out, I removed the eggs from the fridge. They hatched about nine days later. They should start to spin cocoons in a few weeks. This site shows a nice set-up using plastic deli trays and toilet paper rolls.

3. Crickets

Flickr: Ivan Walsh

Remember the children's book, The Cricket in Times Square? Crickets are charming and have been kept as pets in China for hundreds of years. If you can't catch a cricket in your house or yard, most pet stores carry them as food for larger animals. You can order a little cricket cage online, or use a jar with holes punched in the top. Place a piece of damp sponge in there so they can stay hydrated, keep them in a warm spot, and feed them scraps of fruits and veggies. Voila. Pet cricket.

4. Ladybugs

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Whether you catch a ladybug yourself or order ladybug larvae from the internet, these are also pretty easy to care for indoors for a short time. Like crickets, adult ladybugs need a damp paper towel or sponge to drink from. Aphids are their favorite food, but if you're only keeping your ladybug for a few days it can get by on fruit. Tip: Milkweed tends to get covered in aphids. If you're already growing milkweed for your monarchs, bam. Ladybug food.

5. Black Swallowtail Butterflies

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These gorgeous creatures like to lay their eggs in common garden herbs, including parsley, dill, and fennel. If you want to try to observe their life cycle, plant a big clump of parsley in a pot and keep an eye out for caterpillars, which are green with yellow and black markings and just as beautiful as the mature butterflies. If you have cats, tie some tulle netting around the pot so the caterpillars won't get eaten or crawl away. The black swallowtail chrysalis looks like a piece of bark or a small stick, so they can be hard to spot. I haven't had terribly good success with these, but a friend of mine raises them successfully every year.

6. Praying Mantises

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These guys are crazy. Not only does the female often devour the male after mating, but the babies devour each other if given a chance. I bought a couple of praying mantis egg cases (they're about the size of a small marshmallow, and beige in color) at a garden fair once. I kept them in my garden shed and checked them regularly until I saw a million billion babies in the container, and then I set them free in my garden in hopes that they'd keep pests down. You can raise them in a small aquarium too, or buy a kid-oriented kit. Like betta fish, they need to be kept in separate containers to prevent a fight to the death. Other requirements: Sticks to climb on, and plenty of bugs to eat. This is a little involved for me, but if you're into carnivorous beasts, knock yourself out.

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Unfazed by Haters, This Bug-Loving 8-Year-Old Helped Author a Scientific Paper
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Sophia Spencer's passion for insects felt perfectly normal to her and her mom. But some kids in the Canadian second-grader's class disagreed, and they didn't make an effort to hide their disgust from Sophia. "She is often teased at school by her peers because she will proudly display her current bug friend on her shoulder," her mom Nicole wrote in a letter that was widely shared on Twitter. But instead of letting bullies discourage her, Sophia held on to her love of all things creepy-crawly. That dedication has since paid off: At just 8 years old, Sophia is now the co-author of a scientific paper published in an entomology journal.

According to Science Alert, the story started when Nicole Spencer wrote to the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) in search of a mentor to support her daughter in pursuing her hobby. "She has asked me for over a year if this is a job she can do one day, exploring and learning more about bugs and insects. I have told her that of course she could; however, I am at a loss on how to continue to encourage her in this field of science," she wrote. She then went on to ask if there were any entomologists willing to talk with Sophia about bugs and how to turn her passion into a career, writing, "I want her to know from an expert that she is not weird or strange (what kids call her) for loving bugs and insects."

The response was overwhelmingly positive. ESC shared Nicole Spencer's message on Twitter, calling on entomologists to reach out so they could be connected with Sophia. Bug-studying scientists replied with offers of books, supplies, and email addresses for sharing advice. Entomologist Jessica L Ware wrote, "she can contact my lab anytime! We are happy to send her papers, nets, whatever will keep her entomology passion going!" Another reply came from ecology professor Julia Koricheva: "I've been that girl, became an entomologist & still proudly wear bugs on my shoulder."

The tweet was so successful that it's become the subject of its own scientific publication. The paper, titled "Engaging for a Good Cause: Sophia's Story and Why #BugsR4Girls," appears in a science communication edition of the entomology journal Annals of the Entomological Society of America. In it, lead author Morgan Jackson—who sent out ESC's original tweet enlisting help for Sophia—writes about the impact Sophia's story had and how social media can be used as a tool by scientists. Sophia herself is listed as a co-author, and her section affirms that bugs are indeed awesome. "My favorite bugs are snails, slugs, and caterpillars, but my favorite one of all is grasshoppers. Last year in the fall I had a best bug friend and his name was Hoppers," she wrote.

Sophia also describes how the project made her feel more confident about her love of bugs. "It felt good to have so many people support me, and it was cool to see other girls and grown-ups studying bugs. It made me feel like I could do it too, and I definitely, definitely, definitely want to study bugs when I grow up, probably grasshoppers," she wrote. Sophia has even managed to open the eyes of some of her peers since going viral: "I told my best friend and her sister about bugs, and now they think they're cool, and her sister will pick up any bug! I think other girls who saw my story would like to study bugs too."

[h/t Science Alert]

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2017 Ig Nobel Prizes Celebrate Research on How Crocodiles Affect Gambling and Other Odd Studies
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The Ig Nobel Prizes are back, and this year's winning selection of odd scientific research topics is as weird as ever. As The Guardian reports, the 27th annual awards of highly improbable studies "that first make people laugh, then make them think" were handed out on September 14 at a theater at Harvard University. The awards, sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research, honor research you never would have thought someone would take the time (or the funding) to study, much less would be published.

The 2017 highlights include a study on whether cats can be both a liquid and a solid at the same time and one on whether the presence of a live crocodile can impact the behavior of gamblers. Below, we present the winners from each of the 10 categories, each weirder and more delightful than the last.

PHYSICS

"For using fluid dynamics to probe the question 'Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?'"

Winner: Marc-Antoine Fardin

Study: "On the Rheology of Cats," published in Rheology Bulletin [PDF]

ECONOMICS

"For their experiments to see how contact with a live crocodile affects a person's willingness to gamble."

Winners: Matthew J. Rockloff and Nancy Greer

Study: "Never Smile at a Crocodile: Betting on Electronic Gaming Machines is Intensified by Reptile-Induced Arousal," published in the Journal of Gambling Studies

ANATOMY

"For his medical research study 'Why Do Old Men Have Big Ears?'"

Winner: James A. Heathcote

Study: "Why Do Old Men Have Big Ears?" published in the BMJ

BIOLOGY

"For their discovery of a female penis, and a male vagina, in a cave insect."

Winners: Kazunori Yoshizawa, Rodrigo L. Ferreira, Yoshitaka Kamimura, and Charles Lienhard (who delivered their acceptance speech via video from inside a cave)

Study: "Female Penis, Male Vagina and Their Correlated Evolution in a Cave Insect," published in Current Biology

FLUID DYNAMICS

"For studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks backwards while carrying a cup of coffee."

Winner: Jiwon Han

Study: "A Study on the Coffee Spilling Phenomena in the Low Impulse Regime," published in Achievements in the Life Sciences

NUTRITION

"For the first scientific report of human blood in the diet of the hairy-legged vampire bat."

Winners: Fernanda Ito, Enrico Bernard, and Rodrigo A. Torres

Study: "What is for Dinner? First Report of Human Blood in the Diet of the Hairy-Legged Vampire Bat Diphylla ecaudata," published in Acta Chiropterologica

MEDICINE

"For using advanced brain-scanning technology to measure the extent to which some people are disgusted by cheese."

Winners: Jean-Pierre Royet, David Meunier, Nicolas Torquet, Anne-Marie Mouly, and Tao Jiang

Study: "The Neural Bases of Disgust for Cheese: An fMRI Study," published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

COGNITION

"For demonstrating that many identical twins cannot tell themselves apart visually."

Winners: Matteo Martini, Ilaria Bufalari, Maria Antonietta Stazi, and Salvatore Maria Aglioti

Study: "Is That Me or My Twin? Lack of Self-Face Recognition Advantage in Identical Twins," published in PLOS One

OBSTETRICS

"For showing that a developing human fetus responds more strongly to music that is played electromechanically inside the mother's vagina than to music that is played electromechanically on the mother's belly."

Winners: Marisa López-Teijón, Álex García-Faura, Alberto Prats-Galino, and Luis Pallarés Aniorte

Study: "Fetal Facial Expression in Response to Intravaginal Music Emission,” published in Ultrasound

PEACE PRIZE

"For demonstrating that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring."

Winners: Milo A. Puhan, Alex Suarez, Christian Lo Cascio, Alfred Zahn, Markus Heitz, and Otto Braendli

Study: "Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnoea Syndrome: Randomised Controlled Trial," published by the BMJ

Congratulations, all.

[h/t The Guardian]

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