YouTube // The New York Times
YouTube // The New York Times

How Stick Bugs Move, A Motion-Capture Study

YouTube // The New York Times
YouTube // The New York Times

Using the same technique that brought Gollum to life in The Lord of the Rings, researchers in Germany have studied the movement of stick bugs. They placed motion-capture dots on each articulated point (each of its six limbs, at the various joints), then filmed the bugs in motion, and extracted the location of those points to make a 3D computer model.

In addition to the motion capture, they had the bugs walk on force-sensing plates, so that each step would register a force value. This allows for a good sense of where the bug's center of gravity is, and what each leg is doing. All of this is written up in a paper and briefly shown in the video below.

So why would anybody do this? To make better six-legged robots, of course! Now, this begs the question: What's the difference between a stick bug and a six-legged robot? You'll see both in this video, and they are eerily similar. Enjoy:

You can read more about the research from the New York Times as you prepare to welcome our new six-legged robot overlords.

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iStock
This Self-Cloning Tick is Terrorizing More States
iStock
iStock

Few arachnids are as demonized in the summer months as ticks, the parasitic little nuisances that can spread disease in humans and pets. That's not likely to change now that there's a exotic new species that can not only self-replicate, but is also poised to attack animals like a colony of swarming fire ants.

This super-tick is Haemaphysalis longicornis, or the longhorned tick, native to East Asia and imported to the U.S. by unknown means. The first North American sighting took place in August 2017 in New Jersey when a farmer walked into a county health office covered in nearly 1000 ticks after shearing a pet sheep that had been infested. The insect was then spotted in Virginia, West Virginia, and Arkansas, with caution advised in Maryland. As of this week, it’s now a confirmed resident of North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer reports.

H. longicornis invites more dread than a conventional tick for several reasons. It can “clone” itself, with females laying up to 2000 genetically identical eggs without any assistance from a male, a process called parthenogenesis. Reproduction is faster, with offspring appearing in just six months compared to two years for common deer ticks. It’s also an aggressive biter, nibbling on any animal flesh it can latch on to, and is able to transfer a host of diseases in the process—some of them fatal. In addition to Lyme, longhorned ticks can transmit the flu-like ehrlichiosis bacteria and the rare Powassan virus, which can cause brain inflammation.

The news isn’t much better for livestock. Given enough opportunity, the ticks can siphon enough blood from an animal to kill it, a process known as exsanguination. The attack can become so concentrated that pets have been spotted with ticks hanging from them like bunches of grapes.

New Jersey officials have confirmed the tick has survived the winter by burrowing underground, a somewhat ominous sign that the invasive species might be durable enough to become a widespread problem. Experts recommend taking all the regular precautions, including wearing long pants when outdoors, using repellent, and examining yourself and your pets for ticks. While the longhorned tick hadn’t yet displayed a taste for human flesh, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As for the sheep: following a chemical treatment, she made a full recovery.

[h/t Charlotte Observer]

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Courtesy of Kari Kaunisto/Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku
This Super-Stinger Wasp Was Just Discovered in the Amazon
Courtesy of Kari Kaunisto/Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku
Courtesy of Kari Kaunisto/Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku

Deserved or not, the Amazon has developed a reputation for hosting animals, insects, and other creatures that appear to exist solely to terrify humans. And everywhere in the world, you’ll find parasitic organisms that thrive when they siphon blood or other resources from hosts.

A new entrant has emerged in both of these charts: Calistoga crassicaudata, a wasp recently discovered in the Amazon that sports a stinger roughly half the length of its 9.8-millimeter-long body. The insect may as well come out of the workshop of Alien designer H.R. Giger: Its methodology is to impale prey with the stinger, paralyzing it, and then depositing eggs inside so they can hatch later. The hatching usually causes the host—typically a spider—to burst open and die in agony as C. crassicaudata laughs maniacally. Metaphorically speaking.

Researchers from the University of Turku, Finland, made the discovery between the Andes and the Amazonian lowland rainforest and reported it in the journal Zootaxa. The new species appears to be amazing wasp experts by the sheer magnitude of its built-in spear, also called an ovipositor, that delivers both venom and the female's eggs.

"I have studied tropical parasitoid wasps for a long time, but I have never seen anything like it," entomologist and co-author Ilari E. Sääksjärvi said in a statement. "It looks like a fierce weapon."

The good news? It’s not really strong enough to pierce human skin, so should you find yourself in its vicinity, you probably don't need to worry. Instead, worry more about the common paper wasp, which has a barbed stinger, takes only 0.5 seconds to impale you, and can retain its stinger to continue its assault.

[h/t LiveScience]

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