Oct 312014

It’s that time of year again, when spiders make their triumphant return to become decorations rather than despised, and when everything normally considered scary is fun, at least for one night: it’s Hallowe’en!

As in past years, the University of Guelph Insect Systematics Lab took to the pumpkin patch and came back with some new insects to be added to our glowing growing collection.

Ento-Lantern 2014

This jumping spider in full display mode is ready to take back the night. Design by Jonathan Wojcik, carved by Meredith Miller, Tiffany Yau, Steve Paiero, and myself.

Trich(optera) or Treat! These larval caddisflies went all out with their costumes this year. Designed & carved by Meredith Miller, Steve Paiero, Tiffany & Jocelyn Yau, and myself.

Trich(optera) or Treat! These larval caddisflies went all out with their costumes this year. Designed & carved by Meredith Miller, Steve Paiero, Tiffany & Jocelyn Yau, and myself.

Sticks & stones won't break this caddisfly's bones... mostly because caddisflies don't have bones.

Sticks & stones won’t break this caddisfly’s bones… mostly because caddisflies don’t have bones.

Caddisflies get hyped for Hallowe'en at an early instar, as this one created by Meredith Miller clearly demonstrates!

Caddisflies get hyped for Hallowe’en at an early instar, as this butternut squash creation by Meredith Miller clearly demonstrates!

If you & your friends or family created your own Ent-O-Lanterns this year, drop a link in the comments so we can all enjoy!

Happy Hallowe’en!



Sally-Ann Spence (@minibeastmayhem) shared this fantastic scary-b beetle on Twitter

Oct 312013

As has become tradition in the University of Guelph Insect Systematics Lab, when Halloween rolls around, we pull out the knives & hand tools and make a trip to the produce aisle to get ready for a new Ent-O-Lantern. This year our lab is considerably smaller than in the past (4 grad students, an enthusiastic undergrad, and a significant other), but what we lacked in sculptors, we made up for with dedication!

So what was this year’s creation? Behold, a nightmare for social wasps everywhere, the Spooky Strepsiptera!

Spooky Strepsiptera for Ent-O-Lantern 2013

Spooky Strepsiptera looking for love in all the right places — Ent-O-Lantern 2013

That pumpkin wasp doesn't stand a chance with a Strepsiptera salad hanging around -- Ent-O-Lantern 2013

That pumpkin wasp doesn’t stand a chance with a strepsipteran salad hanging around — Ent-O-Lantern 2013

The big male twisted-wing parasite riding atop a poor wasp’s abdomen is in search of females, who spend their lives wedged beneath the tergites of a social wasp’s abdomen, only to be consumed from the inside out by their own progeny! Yes, everything about the Strepsiptera is nightmare fodder.

Strepsiptera are also renowned for their odd wing morphology; males have a single pair of functional wings while their second pair of wings have evolved into haltere-like knobs, similar to true flies in the order Diptera. Unlike flies however, the functional wings of Strepsiptera are the hind wings, while the fore wings form the haltere-like knobs!

Needless to say, there was a lot to take into consideration when putting together this pumpkin. Here’s the ingredient list and a fully lighted photo to show how it all went together.

Pumpkin – carved to look like a wasp abdomen

Orange Bell Peppers – female Strepsiptera poking out from under the pumpkin tergites

Butternut Squash – thorax and abdomen of the male, carved with great care to show tergites & segments

Sweet Potato – head

Ornamental corn – compound eyes

Cauliflower – filiform antennae

Dried Mango Slices – maxillary palps

Carrots – legs (jointed with wire)

Cabbage – “twisted” functional hind wings which give this order their common name

Bell Pepper stems – fore wing “halteres”

Ent-O-Lantern 2013 Construction

Ent-O-Lantern 2013 Construction

We just do these big creations for fun, but our department also held a pumpkin carving social event at lunch, so we washed off our tools and put together a true horror show from a single pumpkin: Frankendrosophila!

Well, not really Frankendrosophila, just a Drosophila who’s been subjected to some genetic tinkering with his Homeobox transcription genes, resulting in Antennapedia! SCIENCE!

Drosophila Antennapedia Horror show for Ent-O-Lantern 2013

Drosophila Antennapedia Horror show for Ent-O-Lantern 2013

Antennapedia in the light -- Ent-O-Lantern 2013

Antennapedia in the light — Ent-O-Lantern 2013

Thanks to Meredith, Nichelle, Grace, Jordan & Steve for getting into the spirit of the season and putting together 2 awesome Ent-O-Lanterns this year!

Did you carve an Ent-O-Lantern this year? Leave a link in the comments below so we can all marvel at your insect geek pride!


Nov 012011

Remember when I told you ticks were pretty well my worst nightmare? Well with this year’s Ent-O-Lantern, you might start feeling the same…

Tick jack-o-lantern pumpkin Halloween

Tick pumpkin Jack-O-Lantern

Modeled after the Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis), this tick isn’t likely to transmit Lyme Disease, but you might lose a kidney as it burrows into your back.

Deer Tick Ixodes scapularis

Deer Tick Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkin

With squash capitulum (head), butternut squash hypostome (mouthparts), carrot segmented legs, and feeding amongst pipe insulation hairs, this year’s pumpkin will hopefully stick deep inside your psyche and instill a year’s worth of nightmares until we can bring you an all new creation! Happy Halloween!

Thanks to all the U of G Insect Systematics lab members for help carving and suggestions on how to make it come together!
Oct 312010

Although we had a good time carving our various insects Thursday night, we still had to come up with a new pumpkin design for our department’s contest Friday afternoon. With a pumpkin supplied by the graduate student council and 2 hours to carve our winning design, the pressure was on to uphold our title as pumpkin champions! After a strategy session over coffee, we decided to bee proactive and get busy.

Bee Pumpkin Jack-o-Lantern

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Oct 272010

Having found success with our jumping spider, we ventured further into the realm of morphological correctness, and constructed an ode to our advisor, Dr. Steve Marshall:

Sphaeroceridae Pumpkin Carving Jack-o-Lantern Fly Insect

Photo courtesy of Matt Bergeron

This lovely creature is a morphologically correct Sphaerocerid fly, right down to wing venation and the square rear basitarsus (hard to see in this picture, but it’s there, trust me). I was working in Ottawa at the time so I can’t claim any credit for this, but I believe it was another 8+ hours of work between 3-4 grad students. The sculptors incorporated a range of materials, including a wire frame for leg and head support, toothpicks for bristles and tarsal claws, and popsicle stick wing veins. As per the jumping spider, we use fiberoptic microscope lights to illuminate our creations (the silver tubes sticking out from below the head). Unfortunately there are no images of the fly lit up, but I hear it was pretty spectacular!

Oct 252010

Leading up to Halloween, I thought I’d share some of the pumpkin creations that our lab creates for our annual departmental pumpkin carving contest. We’re lucky to belong to a department full of competitive and talented pumpkin carvers, so we’ve needed to up our game every year, resulting in some pretty cool pumpkin designs. We generally make an evening of it, with all the available grad students, undergrad volunteers, post-docs, lab managers, etc joining in and making some ent-o-lanterns!

2007 was my first Halloween as a grad student, and the pumpkin carving really started to take off:

Jack-o-Lantern of Jumping Spider Pumpkin Insect

Jumping Spider Jack-o-Lantern Pumpkin Insect

Composed of 3 pumpkins (one each for the cephalothorax and abdomen, and one carved into legs), we used the bottoms of popcans to recreate the globular shining eyes, and small peelings of pumpkin skin embedded into the parts for bristles. The “bristles” actually dried out over night, curling and appearing more life-like. Time for completion? 8+hours with 5 grad students.