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Regional Breakdown of "Firefly" Vs. "Lightning Bug"

NC State University Department of Statistics. Click to enlarge.

"What do you call the insect that flies around in the summer and has a rear section that glows in the dark?"

Bert Vaux, a linguistics professor at the University of Cambridge, asked 10,000 Americans around the country that question and others relating to regional dialects. If you use "firefly" and "lightning bug" interchangeably, like I do, you're in good company. Across the United States, 39.8 percent of respondents report using both terms. 30.4 percent say “firefly” exclusively and 29.1 percent say “lightning bug.” Meanwhile, 0.02 percent (or two people total in the study) call the bioluminescent bugs “peenie wallie” (perhaps they wanted to hurt the beetles' feelings).

Joshua Katz, a graduate student in statistics at NC State University, turned the survey data into the map you see above, which shows how the exclusive use of "firefly" is a western phenomenon, with a small enclave of support in Massachusetts.

The Afternoon Map is a semi-regular feature in which we post maps and infographics. In the afternoon. Semi-regularly.

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Josh Cassidy/KQED
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environment
Watch Weevils Invade California Palm Trees
Josh Cassidy/KQED
Josh Cassidy/KQED

California is known for its palm trees. Though it only has one native palm species—the rest are imported—the carefully trimmed trees are an instant visual that reads "paradise." Sadly, some palms are now being eaten by weevils.

The South American palm weevil is a big lumpy beetle with a mission: burrow into palm trees and lay eggs. They favor the Canary Island date palm, sometimes called the "pineapple palm" referring to its distinctive shape after pruning.

Female palm weevils drill into the apical meristem ("heart of palm" to foodies) to lay eggs. The newly hatched weevils start life in a bountiful environment, surrounded by food and water. They eat the trees' heart out, leaving a mushy ruin in their wake. Then the larvae proceed with their lifecycle, maturing inside cocoons they make from leftover palm fibers. When they hatch and fly on, the cycle repeats.

This slow escape can kill the tree, as the apical meristem is where the tree sprouts new leaves. In many cases the weevils leave the tree in a state of severe injury, with a characteristic wilt to its existing leaves.

Finding these weevils isn't easy—once they've burrowed in, they're basically undetectable until the damage is done. The current best practice for preventing their spread is to treat palm trees with anti-weevil pesticides. As the weevils begin to invade San Diego, scientists are tracking their spread.

In the video below, Deep Look gets up close with these palm weevils and the scientists studying them. This was shot in 4K Ultra HD, so you can see the creepy little bugs in all their H. R. Giger-style glory.

If video isn't your thing—or you just want more discussion of the science—read this KQED Science blog post.

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Cai et al., 2017
Tiny Prehistoric Beetle Was First to Mooch off Termites
Cai et al., 2017
Cai et al., 2017

Why buy the cow when you can get the termite hole for free? The insects known as termitophiles make themselves right at home in termites’ cozy nests. Now scientists say they may have found the first enterprising moocher to move in—99 million years ago. They published their findings in the journal Current Biology.

The amber mines of Myanmar have yielded some incredible discoveries. Last year, paleontologists reported finding both dinosaur wings and tail feathers in amber markets. The latest discovery, of minuscule, horseshoe-crab-like beetles, may be less flashy, but is no less important in the history of life on this planet.

Cai et al., 2017

With a body length of just 0.03 inches, the new specimens may look itsy-bitsy to us, but they’re actually pretty big compared to the rest of their family. Modern rove beetles in the Trichopseniini tribe are all tiny, and they all perform the insect equivalent of couch-surfing, setting up shop in termites’ nests and snacking on the fungi inside without bothering anybody. 

Scientists previously believed that Trichopseniini and other moochers made their first foray into termite nests around 19 million years ago. Yet the newly discovered specimens (named Cretotrichopsenius burmiticus after the Burmese mine where they’d been hanging out) are at least 80 million years older than that.

“The fossil reveals a richer ecology within early insect societies during the Cretaceous,” the authors note, “and a lengthy period of co-evolution between termites, the first of all social insects, and their numerous arthropod associates.”

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