Piotr Naskrecki via Vimeo
Piotr Naskrecki via Vimeo

Watch this Guy Serve as an Incubator for Bot Flies

Piotr Naskrecki via Vimeo
Piotr Naskrecki via Vimeo

Confession: I'm kind of obsessed with bot flies. In fact, I've probably watched every single bot fly larvae removal video on YouTube. So I was obviously predisposed to enjoy this short documentary by entomologist Piotr Naskrecki, who became host to three human bot fly (Dermatobia hominis) larvae after he traveled to Belize last year. But even if you're not obsessed, the short documentary that came out of his experience is a fascinating look at the fly's life cycle. (If you're squeamish, though, it's best to heed the warning!)

Naskrecki removed one bot fly larva from his hand because it was painful, but because he had never seen an adult bot fly, he decided to let the other two live, mature, and emerge from his skin. "I figured that being a male, this was my only chance to produce another living, breathing being out of my flesh and blood," he says in the video.

The human bot fly's life cycle works like this: Adults have just a few days to mate, and after that, a female will catch a mosquito, lay her eggs on it, and set it free. When the mosquito lands on a human to feed, the person's body heat causes the eggs to hatch, and the larvae drop onto the skin, taking up residence in the skin for two months. Then they head to the soil to pupate and, after awhile, a grown bot fly will emerge.

It took just about 40 minutes for the larvae to emerge from Naskrecki's skin—which wasn't really painful, he explains, because the larvae actually create a painkiller so that they can escape unnoticed. "In fact, I probably would not have noticed it if I hadn't been waiting for it," he says. The holes in his skin healed in 48 hours; the bot fly didn't emerge from its puparium for more than a month and a half.

"Raising two dipteran children was an interesting experience," Naskrecki writes on his Vimeo page. "It was embarrassing on a few occasions, when both of my arms started bleeding profusely in public; painful at times, to the point of waking me up in the middle of the night; and inconvenient during the last stages of the flies’ development, when I had to tape plastic containers to my arms to make sure that I will not lose the emerging larvae. But other than those minor discomforts it was really not a big deal. ... [It] also made me ponder once again the perplexing element of the human psyche that makes us abhor parasites but revere predators. Why is it that an animal that is actively trying to kill us, such as a lion, gets more respect than one that is only trying to nibble on us a little, without causing much harm?"

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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero
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The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]

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