Nov 252014

The trailer for Jurassic World, the latest instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise, was released today, and well… see for yourself.

While scientists have apparently figured out how to genetically modify dinosaurs (which I thought was the entire premise of the original when they spliced frog DNA into ancient Dino DNA, but whatever, GM-OH NOES!), they still haven’t hired an entomologist to tell them which amber inclusions are mosquitoes (family Culicidae), and which are crane flies (family Tipulidae).



No big deal though, crane flies and mosquitoes are close enough, right? Well, actually they’re about as closely related to one another as velociraptors are to sea turtles (and only a little more closely related than humans are to Tyrannosaurus rex).

I think we can all agree that Jurassic World would have a much different mood if it climaxed with this

than it does with this

So for all you Hollywood producers out there looking for an entomology consultant to save you from embarrassing oversights, have your people call my people; we can fix this. But in the meantime, save me a seat when Jurassic World hits theatres.


P.S. About that Mosasaur. While we know marine mammals like killer whales can be bitten by mosquitoes (a captive killer whale in San Antonio contracted and later died of West Nile Virus back in 2007), the odds of a mosquito biting a wild mosasaur in the ocean, and then flying, fully leaden with blood, back to shore, only to be immediately entombed in sap running down a tree trunk and preserved for a few million years as an amber inclusion, are a bit of a stretch.

There’s a chance I may be overthinking this.

Apr 292014

Microsoft magnate and celebrated philanthropist Bill Gates is bringing attention to mosquitoes and mosquito-born diseases in what he’s calling Mosquito Week as an homage to Discovery Channel’s yearly shark extravaganza. Modelling his outreach event after the “scary” world of sharks is pretty brilliant in my opinion, especially when you bring in the numbers of how many people are killed by sharks every year compared to how many die as a result of infected mosquito bites, which he does in this crystal clear infographic.

Infographic courtesy of GatesNotes

There are a number of interesting posts over on GatesNotes, discussing everything from Dengue Fever, to a first-hand account from someone recovering from Malaria, to a travel report from Bill & Melinda Gates on their visit to a region in Cambodia that’s infamous for breeding drug-resistant malaria strains (Ed Yong recently wrote a tremendous piece about this same area and the researchers working on the front lines of malaria control, I highly recommend you take the time to check it out as well).

The Gates Foundation has also produced a series of short, informative and visually appealing videos regarding mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit, along with a number of other visual aides that help explain the biology and impact of mosquitoes.

Now all we need is for SyFy to produce this spinoff of Sharknado and mosquitoes should be on everybody’s mind!

Me too Bill, me too. But before you start filming, please learn the difference between crane flies and mosquitoes. I am available to consult on this and any other Diptera/Entomology issues should you need it.

Bill Gates is certainly one of the most influential people on the planet, and I hope that his Mosquito Week succeeds in bringing much attention to the issue.

Aedes larva from a vernal pool outside of Guelph. Luckily for me, I have little to fear from this species aside from a few itchy bites. Unfortunately, many others across the globe are not so lucky.

Aedes larva from a vernal pool outside of Guelph. Luckily for me, I have little to fear from this species aside from a few itchy bites. Unfortunately, many others across the globe are not so lucky.

Jul 092013

Hey blog, what’s new? Oh, that’s right, nothing lately… My bad. To say the past few months have been hectic would be a bit of an understatement, but that’s a tale for another time. To kickstart my bloggy brain cells, I figured I’d ease back into it with a Tuesday Tune, then maybe a new photo, and quite possibly a rage-driven rant observation on society later this week. Fun!

Normally with Tuesday Tunes we get a song that may have insects in the title, the lyrics, or maybe a cameo in a video. This week’s song not only features a great title & lyrics, plus a psychedelic & morphologically awesome video, but also some killer album art!

No, I don’t know why a mosquito is changing a baby, but damn if that’s not a great album cover!

Meet Mosquito by indie rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs (be sure to watch to the end) –

If you thought natural selection would punish a hyper-obvious mosquito like the one in the video, you’d normally be correct. However, the psychedelic Psorophora ferox would beg to differ!

Psorophora ferox demonstrating that art isn’t always crazier than nature! Photo by Kathleen Chute

Thanks to Dr. Cameron Webb (@Mozziebites) for alerting me to this song when it came out earlier this spring!


This song is available on iTunes: Mosquito – Mosquito (Deluxe Version) by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Jan 172013

Tonight on CBC (8pm local time across Canada) The Nature of Things with David Suzuki is showing ZAPPED: The Buzz About Mosquitoes, a documentary all about mosquitoes in Canada, the rising potential for mosquito-vectored disease thanks to climate change, and the ways in which Canadian scientists are working hard to stay ahead of them.

Featuring great macrovideography (which you can learn more about with the behind the scences feature on the ZAPPED website), ZAPPED has great potential to spread information and awareness about mosquitoes in Canada.

I’ll be live-tweeting the program tonight @ 8pm EST using the hashtag #CBCZapped, and I hope that if you live in Canada you’ll join me in learning more about the flies people love to hate!

Continue reading »

Nov 292011

Ryan FleacrestIt’s been awhile since Tuesday Tunes featured a song about those beautiful bi-winged bugs the flies, so I think we’ll rectify that!

This isn’t the first time that Wire has been featured here on Biodiversity in Focus, with their song Outdoor Miner previously making the list. That song featured a relatively accurate depiction of a leaf miner fly, probably in the family Agromyzidae. Today’s song features flies a little closer to home, repeatedly talking about a fly in the ointment and flies causing more disease than fleas.Well, that and a divergent wasp dealing with plate-glass (side note: Flickr is fun).

So what might the flies be? Well I’m going to go with the common house fly (Musca domestica) for the fly in the ointment, just based on ubiquity and the odds of one ending up in someone’s moisturizer/tonic/soup. How about the flies causing more disease than fleas? Well, fleas are vectors for a number of diseases, with the big one being the Bubonic Plague. With an estimated 75 million people killed during the Black Death pandemic and another 12-15 million more killed in epi- and pandemics up until the mid 20th century, I think we can confidently put a back-of-the-napkin (BOTN) estimate of 100 million deaths attributable to fleas in recorded history. Tsetse flies (Glossinidae, 23 species total, 2 of which are of medical importance to humans) are vectors for the trypanosome that causes African Sleeping Sickness, which was listed as killing 48,000 people in 2008. A BOTN gives me an estimate of 100 million deaths in the last 2000 (50k x 2000 years, assuming smaller populations but higher mortality rates), so Tsetse flies are a possibility. Our next suspect might be the common house fly from earlier. Known to spread diseases such as typhoid (BOTN = 20 million deaths out of 450 million in past 2000 yrs), cholera (BOTN = 30 million deaths out of ~600 million in past 2000 yrs), and dysentery (BOTN = 50 million deaths out of 1.5 billion in past 200 yrs) among others, the house fly may be a dark horse in this race.

Of course, the best bet are the mosquitoes. With the genus Anopheles (the vector for Malaria) responsible for easily 100 million deaths in the past 200 years, not to mention the deaths attributable to Yellow Fever & Dengue Fever (Aedes aegypti) and “minor” diseases like West Nile Virus and Japanese Encephalitis (Culex). I think it’s pretty safe to say that mosquitoes are the most deadly insect known to man!

Anyways, that was a pretty morbid tangent from the song, so let’s just listen to some music shall we?



(All estimates based on conservative values found in Wikipedia. Some estimates may be horribly off, so best to do a more thorough literature check if you need more reliable numbers!)

This song is available on iTunes – I Am the Fly – Chairs Missing (Remastered)

May 172011
Ryan Fleacrest

Ryan Fleacrest sometimes hangs with Michael Bubonic

Normally I have a bit of fun with Tuesday Tunes, whether mocking sugary pop music or giving props for mad entomological rhymes. Today however, I want to share a few trends which are both topical and disheartening (don’t worry, I still have a great song for you at the end of the post).

Last week, a report came out of Vancouver in which doctors reported bed bugs harbouring antibiotic resistant bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA] and Enterococcus faecium [VRE]). While it’s a scary proposition, it’s unknown whether the bed bugs are capable of transferring the bacteria at this point. As Jonathan Eisen points out, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that MRSA was found; bed bugs are ectoparasites and MRSA is primarily a skin/wound-related infection. In fact, bed bugs have never been shown to transmit diseases (bacterial or viral) despite plenty of research attention, and as far as I can tell, have never been implicated in a human death. More people have died from improper handling and use of pesticides intended to kill bed bugs than from the bed bugs themselves!

Continue reading »

May 212010

Thought I’d pass along this golden egg, the Entomological Society of Canada has recently been given permission to scan and publish all 3 volumes of the Manual of Nearctic Diptera on their website, and it’s 100% free! The “Manual”, as it’s referred to, is as close to a Bible for North American dipterists as you can get, and includes keys to all* the genera of flies found north of Mexico! It’s been out of print for awhile now and bound copies are hard to come by (I just recently received a full like-new set this winter, and I’ve been searching for 4 years), which makes a digital (and searchable) version a real plus!

Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s in each richly illustrated volume:

Vol. 1 – Morphology and Terminology (great reference), Key to Families (adults and larvae), Keys to genera for all Nematocera (Culicidae – mosquitoes, Tipulidae – crane flies, Simuliidae – black flies, etc) and Orthorrhapha (Stratiomyidae – soldier flies, Tabanidae – deer and horse flies, Asilidae – robber flies, Bombyliidae – bee flies, Empididae – dance flies, etc)

Mosquito sitting on log in Ontario

Time to start ID'ing my Nematocerans, like this Mosquito (Culicidae)

Vol. 2 – Keys to genera for each of the following; Aschiza (Syrphidae – flower flies, Phoridae – scuttle flies, Pipunculidae – big-headed flies, etc), Calyptratae (Muscidae – house flies, Calliphoridae – blowflies, Tachinidae, Sarcophagidae – flesh flies), and most importantly the Acalyptratae (Micropezidae – stilt-legged flies, Tephritidae – fruit flies, Drosophilidae – vinegar flies, Sphaeroceridae – lesser dung flies, Ephydridae – shore flies, etc)

Soldier flies are your's to discover, like this <i>Stratiomys adelpha</i>

Soldier flies (Stratiomyidae) are your's to discover, like this Stratiomys adelpha

Vol. 3 – Phylogeny and classification of the Diptera

You can download your copy of the Manual here, and while you’re there check out some of the other titles that have been made available as well, including most of the Canadian Handbook Series, detailing some of the major insect and spider groups found in Canada! Thanks to the folks at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Spiders, and Nematodes, and the Entomological Society of Canada for making this possible!

* – all genera as of the late 1980’s that is, there have been a few changes since then, but this will still give you a great headstart