Conceived, laid and hatched while the Macarena was sweeping the globe, Brood II has since been biding it’s time underground in nymphal form, feeding off sap stolen from the roots of trees and counting down the years until it was time to make their grand appearance. But how DO they count down the years? 17 years is an incredibly long time, especially when you live more than a foot underground, insulated from traditional stimuli like photoperiod and temperature.
Richard Karban, who wrote that he’s dreamed of tricking periodical cicadas into emerging early for most of his adult life, had an idea, and designed an elegant experiment to see if he could confuse his cicadas by accelerating the life cycle of the trees they were dependent on.
Rather than making a poor graduate student sit and wait 17 years for a cicada to emerge, Karban dug up and transplanted 15-year old Brood V nymphs from Pennsylvania onto potted peach trees in his University of California, Davis lab, a difficult procedure that involves potatoes and a cross-country road trip with some unusual company, and which had failed the 3 previous times it was attempted. This time however, Karban successfully managed to transplant 13 nymphs, with 11 surviving on his accelerated-cycle trees which underwent 2 flowering cycles per year (bud-> leaf-> flower-> leaf drop-> dormancy-> bud-> leaf-> flower-> fruit-> leaf drop), and 2 surviving on his control trees which only underwent a single cycle per year (bud-> leaf-> flower-> fruit-> leaf drop-> dormancy).
Back in the wilds of Pennsylvania and on the control trees, Brood V adults were expected to emerge in the spring of 1999, which is exactly what they did. However, the ones who were feeding on the accelerated-cycle trees got the party started a full year early, with 8 of the 11 individuals emerging right when Karban hypothesized they would: spring 1998!
Karban realized his dream, having successfully fooled a few periodical cicadas into emerging early, and in the process showed that cicadas are able to count the seasonal cycles (or phenology) of their host trees to keep track of time rather than relying on other direct stimuli. The exact mechanism by which cicadas keep track of how many cycles have passed is still not well understood, although it’s probably safe to assume that the cyclic availability of tree sap & nutrients influences the development of the nymphs in some way. The fact that there are still such large pieces of the phenomenon still waiting to be understood is just as exciting as the prospect of millions of brightly coloured bugs emerging en masse to serenade you this summer.
So, if you happen to find yourself on the East Coast in the coming weeks, stop and take the opportunity to listen to a symphony 17 years in the making. And if you notice a subtle-but-catchy Latin beat to the buzz of periodical cicadas, just be glad it’ll only last a couple of weeks; those poor cicadas have been humming the Macarena to themselves for the past 17 years!
Insects make great teaching tools for a wide variety of lessons in evolution & biology, but their small size can limit what you can do if you don’t have a microscope set up. Lately I’ve been playing around with a 2 megapixel USB Microscope from EmCal Scientific Inc that I picked up at the 2011 Entomological Society of America meeting in Reno, Nevada. This little device cost ~$100, and provides magnification up to 200x life size! (Note: there are similar products available around the web for cheaper, but I can’t say how well they may or may not work.)
I’ve used it in a few lectures & labs to show specimens, structures and techniques, but honestly haven’t had much success, largely because the stand it came with is pretty well useless. Hand holding it isn’t an option either, as even the slightest movement at such high magnifications turns your demonstration into a bad example of the Harlem Shake.
Despite the problems I ran in to, I really wanted to use the camera in a couple of outreach events I’ll be participating in later this month, but I couldn’t afford to invest much in a solution. So, this afternoon I went to my local big box home improvement store and wandered around until I managed to design and piece together what I think will solve a lot of the issues I was having. Here’s a breakdown of what I used and how I put it all together for less than $30.Continue reading »
Following the accidental introduction of Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) in the mid 1990′s, and its subsequent detection in the Detroit, MI/Windsor, ON area in 2002, jewel beetles (Buprestidae) have become front page news in many communities in eastern North America. As federal, provincial, state and municipal governments initiate jewel beetle monitoring projects to track the expanding range of Emerald Ash Borer, many other species are captured as by-catch, which has subsequently lead to an increased interest in these bold and beautiful beetles.
Luckily, North American buprestid taxonomists have been working diligently with these charismatic & economically important beetles for decades, and have described and classified nearly all the eastern North American fauna. With a solid taxonomic base to build upon and an increasing demand for accessible identification resources, a partnership was formed between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the University of Guelph Insect Collection and the Invasive Species Centre to create a user-friendly resource for jewel beetle identification. Today, I’m happy to announce the imminent publication of a Field Guide to the Jewel Beetles of Northeastern North America!
Green – Guide considered comprehensive; Yellow – Majority of fauna included in guide, may require additional resources; Red – Guide not representative of local fauna, be sure to consult additional resources.
This 411 page field guide (6×9″) covers the 164 jewel beetle species known from northeastern North America, and also includes 2 identification keys to the 23 genera in the region: one a technical key adapted from previously published works, and the other a “field key”, designed for use with a hand lens or digital camera and which uses characters that are more easily observed. In addition, we’ve included a short section on collecting, preparing and storing jewel beetles, as well as an illustrated tutorial on how to dissect male genitalia. Fully labelled morphological maps and a glossary of terms that may be found in the primary literature are provided to help non-specialists use both this field guide, and also any other buprestid literature they may need to consult.
Each species in the guide is fully illustrated with high magnification colour photos of the dorsal & ventral habitus, head and male genitalia (plus additional colour morphs or variations where possible), and a review of taxonomic synonyms, ESC & ESA approved common names, and all known larval host plants is provided in addition to thorough morphological diagnoses, characters useful for differentiating similar species, and notes on species abundance, habitat preference and economic importance. On top of all this, we’ve also included a number of other tools and resources to help with species-level identification in the absence of keys. Take a look at the Emerald Ash Borer page to see what to expect throughout:
So how & when can you get your copy? Field Guide to the Jewel Beetles of Northeastern North America is set to be released in both English and French editions in Q1 2013, and best of all, it’s completely FREE. Yes — totally, 100% FREE. All you need to do is email me (email@example.com) your mailing address to reserve your copy, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will cover the shipping costs (including internationally)! This book won’t be available through traditional or online bookstores, so we need your help in spreading the word about it. If you know researchers/naturalists/citizen scientists who may find this field guide useful, please let them know how they can get copies of their own, because we’d love to see the book in the hands of anyone with an interest in natural history and entomology!
If you have any questions about the field guide, please don’t hesitate to ask, either in the comments below or via email, and my co-authors and I hope you enjoy using it as much as we enjoyed creating it!
Sample key to genera page. All characters used in the key are illustrated with either high magnification photographs or simple illustrations.
Trachys generic page from Field Guide to Jewel Beetles featuring original artwork by scientific illustrator/artist Glendon Mellow.
Buprestis striata field guide page showing colour variations.
I just got finished talking about insects with a swarm of high school students, educators and other entomologists, and I’m jacked up!
What an absolutely incredible hour of lightning-round outreach! The students were asking great questions, and more importantly, appeared to be thinking about the answers they received and responding with follow-up questions or comments. I’m guessing that there was about a 7:1 ratio of students to entomologists, and the stream of questions, answers, comments and observations was going so fast I could hardly keep up. I personally answered questions about diversity, fly behaviour, mosquito-vectored diseases, taxonomy, morphology, physiology, how I got interested in entomology and a whole bunch more, and I was typing as fast as my stubby little fingers could go!
What makes #SciStuChat so important in my mind is the way in which students are encouraged to meet, talk and ask questions with real, working scientists. I would have killed to have an opportunity like this when I was growing up, and I’m more than happy to provide an hour of my time to help connect with the next generation of potential scientists and perhaps turn them into future colleagues!
If you’d like to check out (or better yet join in) #SciStuChat, it’s held on the second Thursday of every month throughout the school year with a new main topic each month. Until then, check out what we were talking about tonight, and consider joining in next month!Continue reading »
A few weeks ago I was invited to help out with a cool project connecting high school students with working scientists via Twitter called SciStuChat. The program, started by high school science teacher Adam Taylor, encourages students and other inquisitive minds to talk about science, ask questions and get to know their friendly online-neighbourhood scientist!
I tuned in to September’s chat which centred on sharks and marine biology, and it seemed like fun for both the students and the scientists who participated. It turns out that October’s theme will be Insects, so when Adam (@2footgiraffe) invited me to help out, I jumped at the opportunity!
I know there are a lot of entomologists on Twitter who really enjoy outreach and spreading the good word about bugs, so I hope that some of you might be interested in joining the discussion. The chat will be taking place this Thursday, October 11 starting at 8pm CST (9pm EST or 6pm PST), and I think it’s scheduled for about an hour or so. All you need to do is log on to Twitter, follow the hashtag (#SciStuChat), and start interacting with curious minds! There is such a diverse field of entomologists on Twitter that I’m confident that we can answer and engage with any questions people may have regarding insects.
Finally, don’t worry if you’re not on Twitter, I’ll round up all the discussions and post them here later in the week so you can see how it went, although this as good a reason as ever to sign up for Twitter if you’ve been thinking about doing so!
Excuse this rather abrupt recollection of Day 1; for a day that started at 4:40am I’m running on pure adrenalin right now! (I’ll add some photos in later, I promise).
I had great flights and really excellent luck at both airports (Chicago in particular, where I walked off the plane, got to the baggage claim just as my bag rounded the carousel, and was through security again all within 15 minutes!) and other than a pretty boring layover in Chicago (note to airports: not offering free wifi is lame. Don’t be lame) travel today was some of the easiest I’ve experienced (knock on wood the same goes for the return trip).
After arriving in Orlando I met up with a few fellow BugShotters and met with my carpool pals for the drive to Archbold Biological Station. After a brief orientation we had some free time to start exploring around the station. The scrub habitat surrounding Archbold is fascinating, with lots of sand, palmetto and even some cacti, all of which I’m sure I’ll become more closely acquainted with by the time the weekend is over. The enthusiasm of the participants was off the charts, with everyone sharing a smile as they scoured the area for anything with 6 or 8 legs.
Dinner was great (steak, brisket and fixin’s) and afterwards Alex, Thomas and John each shared their 5 Top Tips for insect photography. So as not to spoil any future attendee’s experience, I’ll only share the top tip from each that resonated the most with me:
John – Support, Support, Support! He apparently changed this from last year’s Tripod, Tripod, Tripod! to better encompass other forms of stabilization, but it’s a very good point and certainly one of the more difficult aspects of macrophotography.
Thomas (who must be the most modest person ever) – Be persistent and keep taking photos (good things come with volume). Yep, pretty well sums it up.
Alex – Know your subject. Knowing how an insect is going to react, or where it can be found in the first place is one of the most important aspects of insect photography. If you can anticipate an insects behaviour, you stand a better chance of making a good image.
After this first session we all grabbed our gear and explored in the dark. Other than getting munched by a huge number of mosquitoes (who apparently have an ankle affinity) there was a nice diversity of insects out and about for everyone to get started photographing!
Sorry, some sketchy wifi confounded my attempt to post this late last night. Hopefully today’s post will be up later today, with photos!
If you don’t believe me, take a look at this newly described weevil, Timorus sarcophagoides Vanin & Guerra, from Brazil, which is doing everything it can to fool you into thinking it’s a flesh fly (family Sarcophagidae).
UPDATE: It turns out my first theory involving oestrid bot flies was full of holes. I’ll leave it up because the biology of the individual parasites is accurate and interesting, but see the bottom of the post for an accurate description of what happened in the photo. I apologize for the misinformation.
Recently, I was catching up on Twitter late at night when @PsiWaveFunction shared a link to a photo on Reddit that stopped me cold in my tracks and that has kept me morbidly fascinated since. I’ve spent the better part of a day thinking about the photo, and I think I’ve pieced together the series of events and organisms that lead to the case of the mystery myiasis. If my theory is correct, this might be one of the coolest cases of parasitism I’ve ever encountered, and features a fly who’s life history beautifully illustrates the intricacies of evolution, another fly that’s threatening the birds which helped Darwin develop his theory of evolution through natural selection, and a bird who is being selected against by the worst possible luck.
Normally I’d include the photo in question right about here, but out of respect for those victims readers who are a tad squeamish at the sight of parasites (or birds), I’ll simply link to it and allow your curiosity to battle your better judgement1. I’ll give you a moment to decide and, should you accept the challenge, digest what you’ve just seen.
So, were you amazed? Disgusted? Wondering what the hell you were looking at? If you’re like me, you probably felt a little bit of all three, and then immediately went back to take a closer look.
Welcome to the wonderful world of warble flies (family Oestridae)! Each of those oddly formed lumps is actually a bot fly maggot which has burrowed beneath the skin of the chick to feed and develop. You’ll notice two dark marks on the exposed end of each maggot; these are the spiracles through which the maggot breathes. After a few weeks, each of the maggots will wriggle free from the bird, drop to the ground and pupate, eventually emerging as an adult ready to breed. Normally the host is left mostly unharmed after providing safe harbour for a bot fly, but in this case I suspect the bird might have problems due to the shear number of maggots present (at least 15 that I could make out).
Dermatobia hominis -- Photo by J. Eibl, Systematic Entomology Laboratory, USDA.
What’s odd about this situation2 is that these bot flies have parasitized a bird. You see, almost all bot flies are mammal parasites, infesting anything from rodents to elephants, and are usually very specific about their host species. One bot fly however, Dermatobia hominis, is a generalist, and has been recorded infesting a number of different animals, from humans and monkeys to dogs and cats, and of relevance to this story, birds on occasion. In a family of narrow specialists, it’s a wonder that D. hominis is such a broad generalist; until you learn how D. hominis distributes its offspring — by hijacking other flies to serve as expedited egg couriers.
Psorophora sp. (Culicidae) with D. hominis eggs attached. Illustration by A. Cushman, Systematic Entomology Laboratory, USDA.
After mating, female D. hominis will snatch up other parasitic flies, like mosquitoes, flesh flies and muscid flies3, and lay a clutch of eggs on the enlisted fly. When the carrier fly locates and lands on a host to feed4, the body heat of the victim signals the bot fly egg to hatch and fall from the carrier onto its new home, where it quickly burrows in to begin feeding. This amazing life cycle means that the female bot fly has little control over where, and on what species, its offspring ultimately end up infesting, resulting in a nearly random generalist parasite that must be able to survive on whatever host it finds itself on, including our small bird.
Obviously the natural world is a complex system, and unfortunately for our bird, it’s full of a diverse array of parasites, all looking for a free meal. Let me introduce you to another player in this saga, Philornis downsi (Muscidae), a fly native to continental South America and Trinidad & Tobago, where our unfortunate bird lives.
Philornis in nasal cavity of deceased bird. Image from O'Connor et al. 2010
While adults are unassuming, feeding on pollen and nectar, Philornis downsi larvae are brood parasites of nesting birds. Hiding out of sight during the day in the bottom of the nest, maggots emerge after dark to crawl within the nasal passages of developing chicks, feeding on their blood and tissue, sapping their energy. As the maggots continue to grow, they begin feeding elsewhere on the nestlings, causing severe damage and ultimately death. Throughout the Galapagos, where the fly was introduced sometime prior to 1964, Philornis downsi has been causing nestling mortality rates as high as 95% in Darwin’s finches, the unique birds who’s diverse beak shapes inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. While there has been a great deal of work done on P. downsi in the Galapagos in an effort to save these ecologically important birds5, I assume it is also receiving research attention in its native range, which is where we return to Reddit, our original photo and what I think happened.
Of all the parasites, in all the nest boxes, in all the world, she flies into mine.
My theory was wrong. See below for information about the actual parasite.
A recently mated female Dermatobia bot fly was looking for a carrier fly
A female Philornis downsi happened to fly by, was quickly snatched by the bot fly and entrusted with a load of bot fly eggs
The female Philornis was released, and continued her search for a bird’s nest to deposit her eggs in
Finding a nest, the Philornis female walked around, laying eggs among the nesting material, and happened to tread across the young bird in the nest
The bot eggs, sensing the proximity of a warm-bodied host, hatched and quickly found their way to the unlucky bird’s face
The Philornis female finished laying her eggs and took off from the nest, leaving chaos brewing in her wake
Later, a social media-conscious research assistant comes along, finds the disfigured nestling, and does the only logical thing; takes a picture and posts it to the internet for all to enjoy!
Of course, this is only a theory based on a single photo and a very small fraction of information about the team’s research, but given the evidence and biology of the species potentially involved, I think it’s certainly a plausible hypothesis. There are a lot of potential fallacies in my theory, like whether the bot fly larvae are actually Dermatobia, or whether Dermatobia even uses Philornis as a vector (although it’s known to use 11 species of Muscidae), but these are the sort of questions that can be observed and tested eventually. Hopefully the researchers behind the photo will rear the maggots from the bird’s face, identify the parasites involved, and then publish their work so I can find out whether any of these ideas turned out to be accurate6.
Whether my theories were correct or not, the fact that they’re even plausible keeps me interested and excited about entomology and the intricate roles parasites play in our daily lives!
Eibel, J.M., Woodley, N.E. 2004. Dermatobia hominis (Linnaeus Jr., 1781) (Diptera: Oestridae). The Diptera Site. Accessed June 6, 2012. http://1.usa.gov/MbTexi
Fessl B, Sinclair BJ, & Kleindorfer S (2006). The life-cycle of Philornis downsi (Diptera: Muscidae) parasitizing Darwin’s finches and its impacts on nestling survival. Parasitology, 133 (Pt 6), 739-47 PMID: 16899139
O’Connor, J.A., Robertson, J. & Kleindorfer, S. (2010). Video analysis of host–parasite interactions in nests of Darwin’s finches, Oryx, 44 (04) 594. DOI: 10.1017/S0030605310000086
UPDATE June 7, 2012 @ 3:30PM EST: It turns out that the maggots in the bird’s face aren’t Dermatobia hominis, or even bot flies of the family Oestridae at all! After doing some further research, I’ve learned that they are more likely to be another species of Philornis fly. I was totally unaware that there were flies outside of the oestrid bot flies which burrow into the skin of hosts and form warbles like these, but it turns out there are.
While Philornis downsi are ectoparasites that feed on nestling birds as I described, it seems that there are several species in the same genus which burrow within the skin and form welts similar to oestrid bot flies. Here’s an example of Philornis vulgaris infesting a Tropical Mockingbird nestling from Colombia:
Philornis vulgaris infestation from Amat et al. 2007
Looks vaguely familiar no? I think it’s safe to say now that this is what happened in the original photo and not the complex tale of 2 parasites like I described above.
I’m incredibly embarrassed by my Taxonomy Fail here (which holds a TFI of 11.3). Although the biology of the two parasitic species I originally discussed are accurate, the chances of them having anything to do with one another appear to be unlikely. I sincerely apologize for publishing a story that spread such inaccurate information, and I’ll do my best to not let it happen again.
Note to self: don’t assume you know anything, especially when it involves parasites.
On the bright side, I learned something new about Diptera (and humility) today, and we can all rest comfortably knowing that there are multiple, unrelated groups of flies that get under the skin of their hosts. Because I’m sure that makes everyone feel better.
More information about subcutaneous Philornis:
Amat, E., J. Olano, F. Forero & C. Botero 2007. Notas sobre Philornis vulgaris (Couri, 1984) (Diptera: Muscidae) en nidos del sinsonte tropical Mimus gilvus (Viellot, 1808) en los Andes de Co- lombia. Acta Zoológica Mexicana, 23(2): 205-207. http://bit.ly/LwsHh1
Uhazy, L.S., Arendt, W.J. 1987. Pathogenesis associated with philornid myiasis (Diptera: Muscidae) on nestling pearly-eyed thrashers (Aves: Mimidae) in the Luquillo Rain Forest, Puerto Rico. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 22 (2): 224-237. http://bit.ly/KlXBGR
1- If you can’t decide, I vote you click and look. You can thank me later.
2- Beyond the whole face-of-a-million-maggots of course.
4- Something these blood-sucking flies have evolved to do quite well obviously. The fact that bot flies “cheat the system” in this regard, getting their eggs to their host without needing to invest energy in complex host-finding senses, just goes to show that nothing is more awesome than evolution in action.
Yesterday, UK photographer Paul Bunyard (@wildaboutimages) ran into a massive mating swarm of chironomid midges (family Chironomidae) while travelling through the Norfolk countryside, and shared some amazing images on Twitter (reproduced here with his permission).
Photo copyright Paul Bunyard & reproduced with his permission
Willi Hennig (Image by Gerd Hennig, CC-license, Wikipedia)
The science of taxonomy is rooted in history, with every taxonomist standing on the shoulders of giants that came before. Some of these giants are well known outside of taxonomic circles: Carl Linnaeus, the godfather of taxonomy who categorized life and introduced binomial nomenclature; Charles Darwin & Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discovers of evolution through natural selection and both prolific descriptive taxonomists in their own right. A lesser known giant, Willi Hennig, was not only a brilliant taxonomist, but also revolutionized the way in which we study & reconstruct species relationships. Today (April 20, 2012) marks what would have been his 99th birthday, and in his honour, I invite you to sit back and allow me to tell you a story of flies, war and why you & I are fish.
Willi Hennig was born April 20, 1913, the eldest son of working class parents, in Dürrhennersdorf, Germany. Hennig excelled throughout his schooling, developing a passion for insects by the 5th grade, and began working at the Dresden State Museum of Natural History while still a teenager. After a few years studying the taxonomy of reptiles, Hennig found his true passion, dipterology. Starting somewhere between 1932 and 1934, Hennig began revising the stilt-legged flies (family Micropezidae), completing his revision in 1936. Hennig erected 10 new genera and described 93 new species over several papers spanning 300+ pages. Concurrently, Hennig found time to publish papers on stilt-legged fly biogeography, more reptile taxonomy, and he also completed his PhD (on the copulation apparatus and system of the Tanypezidae; another lineage of acalyptrate flies), all before he was 24.
This stilt-legged fly belongs in the genus Poecilotylus, one of the genera Hennig created in his early Micropezidae work.
Hennig was beginning to rethink how species were related, but before he could further explore his ideas, German politics and a world at war intervened.
Enlisted into the German army in 1938, Hennig fought for Nazi Germany (though he was never a member of the National Socialist party) until 1942 when he was severely injured while fighting in Russia. After recovering from his injuries, Hennig was posted to Italy as a military entomologist and put to work on malaria prevention. In May of 1945, as the war was nearing an end, Hennig’s unit was captured by British soldiers, and he became a prisoner of war. His British captors recognized Hennig’s potential, and rather than placing him under confinement in a prison camp, allowed him to continue his work on malaria for the benefit of the Queen.
For 5 months while confined to the “service” of the British army, Hennig refined his hypotheses on the evolutionary history of species. With the help of his wife Irma, who corresponded with colleagues and journals on his behalf (because he continued to publish throughout the war), and who included hand-written excerpts of the scientific literature in her letters to him, Hennig completed his first draft of one of the most important biological manuscripts of the 20th century, all by hand while a POW, prior to his release in October, 1945. It would be another 5 years until his book would be published in Germany because of a paper shortage, and a further 16 years until the English-speaking world was introduced to Willi Hennig’s revolutionary Phylogenetic Systematics.
Prior to Hennig’s book, species (and higher taxa) were clustered by overall similarity without regard for their evolutionary history, a method known as phenetics. What set Hennig’s phylogenetic systematics apart was the idea that species evolved from one another, and thus species should be classified as complete units descended from a recent common ancestor (a concept known as monophyly).
Phenetics vs Monophyly (Modified image from lattice CC-BY)
Think of a tree; with phenetics, leaves from different branches could be grouped together because they looked the most similar to one another. Phylogenetic systematics on the other hand, posited that only leaves arising from a shared branch should be classified together, regardless of how those leaves may look. How do you know the origin of the branch when all you have in front of you are the leaves? Hennig’s answer was to find defining characters or traits that were unique to the tip branches but which were different from the branches closer to the trunk of the tree.
It’s Hennig’s concept of monophyly that makes us all fish. You see, what we call fish, tasty aquatic vertebrates with fins and gills, are actually a number of different evolutionary lineages, each arising successively like twigs off a tree branch. One of those twigs near the end of the branch became the terrestrial vertebrates, which in turn has smaller twigs each representing amphibians, reptiles, birds (which are actually reptiles for the same reason we’re fish) and mammals. So, if we consider separate twigs of aquatic, gilled vertebrates as “fish”, then we must also consider our twig of terrestrial vertebrates “fish” since the most recent, common ancestor of all the “fish” also gave rise to us!
Fish Phylogeny (Image modified from Understanding Evolution)
In retrospect it seems a simple idea that species should follow a branching pattern from a common ancestor like Hennig proposed, but the upheaval of decades of work on species relationships was indeed revolutionary, and was viciously opposed by many biologists. In fact it wasn’t until the late 1980s that phylogenetic systematics came into vogue, in most part thanks to a new, young cohort of taxonomists who adopted the moniker of “raving cladists”.
Hennig meanwhile, continuing his work with flies, applied his phylogenetic systematics across a large diversity of dipteran families, examined flies sealed in ancient amber for evidence of ancestral characters, and published dozens of papers (across thousands of pages) that redefined the higher relationships among flies and described new species. It was at work in his museum that Hennig preferred, only twice venturing from Germany to examine fly collections in Australia, the USA, and Canada, where he spent several months working in what is now the Diptera Unit of the Canadian National Collection of Insects in Ottawa.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in this room for a day! So much dipterological knowledge all concentrated in one room, it must have been amazing. Back row from left: Frank McAlpine, Herb Teskey, Guy Shewell. Front row from left: Monty Wood, Dick Vockeroth, Bobbie Peterson, Willi Hennig. (Image from Cumming et al, 2011)
Willi Hennig wouldn’t survive to see his work become fully appreciated by the scientific community. After a normal day working in his museum looking at larval flies, Willi Hennig suffered a heart attack and died at home on November 5, 1976. Although he died much too young, his legacy lives on; his work with stilt-legged flies is second to none, many of his hypotheses regarding the higher relationships of flies are being supported with new DNA data, and biologists around the world use phylogenetic systematics on a daily basis.
Happy Birthday Willi, and thanks for all the fish.
Willi Hennig (Image by Gerd Hennig, CC, Wikipedia)
All biographical information was taken from the following sources:
Schmitt, M. 2003. Willi Hennig and the Rise of Cladistics. Proceedings of the 18th International Congress of Zoology: 369-379.
Dipterist Group Photo:
Cumming, Jeffrey M., Bradley J. Sinclair, Scott E. Brooks, James E. O’Hara, Jeffrey H. Skevington. 2011. The history of dipterology at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, with special reference to the Manual of Nearctic Diptera. Canadian Entomologist 143: 539-577.