L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: Insects & Spiders

Bees attend the Dodgers vs. Cubs game


The beautiful sunshine, toasty temperatures and promise of a cold beer and a Dodger Dog inspired more than just Cubs and Dodgers fans to go to Chavez Ravine this afternoon. Swarms of bees made themselves at home in the left-center bleachers not too far from Mannywood at Dodger Stadium.

Bees3By the seventh inning of the game the swarm got so large that Dodger security was forced to clear out an entire section of the left field pavilion seats. 

 Why didn't the Dodgers simply escort the insects out of the stadium for failure to have tickets to the game? Look no further than the visiting team for that answer. In 1945 the Cubs refused entry to a man who brought his goat to a game at Chicago's Wrigley Field. The fellow was so upset that he allegedly put a curse on the team and the Cubs have never been to the World Series since.

The bees were allowed to stay and the Dodgers shut out the Cubs, applying, basically, the final nail in the coffin of the chances the Cubs would have for post-season play this season.

More photos of the bees and their effect on the left field pavilion after the jump.

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Come-from-behind winner in Japan's National Rhinoceros Beetle Sumo Championship

Rhinoceros battle Ever heard of the National Rhinoceros Beetle Sumo Championship? Neither had we but, according to the Mainichi Daily News, last Sunday's event was a rousing success with a last-minute upset victory.

Rhinoceros beetles are a subfamily of scarab beetle, and the term rhinoceros beetle can refer to several individual species.  They're known primarily for two traits: the prominent "horns" for which they're named (only males have them, and use them to fight other males over potential mates) and their extreme strength (they can lift up to 850 times their own weight).

The sumo championship -- held in Nakayama, Japan -- pitted rhinoceros beetles against each other not in a traditional fight, but rather in a timed climbing competition. The beetles had one minute to climb a pole about two feet high; the winner of each match was the one that climbed the highest in the time allotted.

More than 400 elementary-school students participated, and the final round came down to 7-year-old Takuma Kobayashi's beetle King Kabuto and 6-year-old Shoichiro Ito's King Joe. King Kabuto seemed to have it in the bag until he abruptly took flight and left the competition area.  Naturally, that's a disqualification -- meaning King Joe was named the tweetle rhinoceros beetle battle champion. No word on whether a noodle-eating poodle was present for the festivities.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A golofa beetle, part of the rhinoceros beetle subfamily. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Stephen Colbert, Jeff Goldblum join PETA in condemning Obama's fly swat

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When President Obama killed a pesky flyduring an interview with CNBC's John Harwood, we doubt the leader of the free world expected it to become the focus of scrutiny approaching the intensity that once surrounded his Hawaiian birth certificate.

Obama's reflexes proved lightning-fast as he swatted the insect ("It's like he's got one of those fly Terminator targeting systems in his eyes," Jon Stewart noted), and as CNBC's camera panned to the dead fly on the floor, the president said, "That was pretty impressive, wasn't it? I got the sucker."

Many gossipers -- notably TMZ -- reported that PETA had condemned Obama's action.  (For our part, we found the animal rights group's initial response notable only for its uncharacteristic subtlety.  "He isn't the Buddha, he's a human being, and human beings have a long way to go before they think before they act," PETA blogger Alisa Mullins wrote.  Of course, PETA didn't miss an opportunity to send Obama a Katcha Bug Humane Bug Catcher, a device that uses a trapdoor to capture insects without killing them.)

As the story escalated, PETA spokesman Bruce Friedrich waded into the fray, escalating the rhetoric by referring to the incident as an "execution."  Friedrich told Reuters that PETA members "believe that people, where they can be compassionate, should be, for all animals." [Correction: Friedrich notes that the reference to an "execution" was not his own, but rather was written by another PETA staffer on the blog The PETA Files.  He told Unleashed in an email that the "execution" comment "was typed in jest, as I think is clear in context."]

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See-through frog, ugly salamander found in Ecuador expedition

Conservation International has announced the discovery of 12 animal species -- four amphibians, seven insects and one lizard -- believed to be new to science.  The species were found during a survey of the Upper Nangaritza River Basin in southeastern Ecuador and include a bug-eyed salamander that's been termed simply "the ugly salamander," a poison arrow frog, and an insect intriguingly named the white-faced gnome katydid.

The survey, conducted by Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program, also found a species of see-through frog called Nymphagus chancas; the see-through frog had previously been known to live only in one area of northeastern Peru.

"The species that we discovered on this expedition are fascinating and make clear how biologically important this area is -- not only because of the wealth of plants and animals that inhabit it but also because of the service that it provides to local people, like clean water and the opportunities for income from ecotourism," said Leeanne Alonso, vice president of the Rapid Assessment Program.  "It is crucial that it is protected properly."  Conservation International says it hopes the new discoveries will influence the Ecuadorian government to take new steps to protect the region's unique plant and animal populations.

For more information on the species found during the survey, check out Conservation International on the Web.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: National Geographic

President Obama swats a fly, gets a free flytrap

When President Obama granted an interview to CNBC's John Harwood, who could have guessed that the result would be a slap heard 'round the world and a gift from PETA?

Obama planned to tackle tough issues like the economy and healthcare, but a nagging fly made the interview difficult. Eventually the president managed a well-aimed swat, and the insect was history. As the camera panned to the dead bug on the floor, the president seemed pleased with his work. "That was pretty impressive, wasn't it? I got the sucker," he said.  (His response was hardly Oscar Wilde-worthy; the Guardian's Adam Rutherford wrote: "My one criticism is that the prez failed to seize the opportunity to make a Schwarzeneggeresque pithy one-liner. Something like, 'This is a no-fly zone, sucker,' would have done quite adequately.")

Now, you know and we know that PETA loves a controversy, which is why we were a bit surprised at the animal rights group's subdued response. Although TMZ tried to stir up trouble, we were impressed by PETA blogger Alisa Mullins' post on the subject. "In a nutshell, our position is this," Mullins wrote. "He isn't the Buddha, he's a human being, and human beings have a long way to go before they think before they act." 

Of course, PETA didn't miss an opportunity to lobby for ethical bug treatment: They promptly sent Obama a Katcha Bug Humane Bug Catcher, a rather ingenious insect-transporting device with a trapdoor and a nice long handle so you don't have to get too close to your uninvited guest.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Utah boy breaks record for snails stuck to his face

An 11-year-old Utah boy named Fin Keleher has apparently broken one of the world's grossest records. 

Keleher, during his 11th birthday party last weekend, set out to keep more snails stuck to his face for a 10-second period than the previous record-holder (who managed a grand total of 37).

Friends and family gathered at Keleher's Sandy, Utah, home to help him break the record, according to KSL-5 Salt Lake City.  They had one minute to pile as many snails as possible onto his face as he reclined.  When the minute had elapsed, Keleher sat up, causing some snails to fall off.  After ten seconds, the remaining snails were tallied.

It took three tries to break the record (the first two netted a total of 30 snails and 35 snails, respectively).  On the third try, 38 snails remained.  Not yet satisfied (or perhaps just a glutton for punishment), Keleher gave it one more go.  After his fourth and final attempt, 43 snails were counted -- apparently a new record.  (The Keleher family will submit their home video and witness statements to the Guinness company for verification.)

Asked about his snail-sticking technique, Keleher said, "I closed my eyes and covered up my mouth with … well, I sucked my lips in so that they could crawl on that."

--Lindsay Barnett

Video: KSL.com

Arachnophobia abounds when giant spiders invade Australian town

It sounds like a remake of the campy horror movie, "Eight Legged Freaks."

But this is scarier, because it's really happening.

According to a Times of London story, giant venomous spiders have recently invaded the town of Bowen, Australia, startling and shocking residents just because of their size.

The spiders are eastern tarantulas, also called bird-eating spiders or whistling spiders because of the noise they make when aggravated.

The influx is believed to have been caused by recent heavy rains, which have pushed the spiders out of their natural habitats.

The arachnids can grow to be up to 2.5 inches long with a leg span of 6 inches, or larger than a man's palm.

While not deadly to humans, the spiders' venom has been known to kill dogs and cats.

Deadly or not, I don't think I'd want to find one of these wandering about my home or garden.  And I thought potato bugs were creepy.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Two Australian spiders, with a coin for comparison; the tarantula on the right may be the same species as the ones invading Bowen. Credit: Associated Press

WebClawer, the spider edition: Happy face spiders, scientists toughen spider silk with metal, "zombie" spiders survive drowning

Golden orb weaver spider Are spiders taking over the world?  Well, no.  But you wouldn't know that to look at the headlines from around the globe today:

-- Researchers at France's University of Rennes wondered why some species of spider were able to survive long periods of time underwater.  They conceived a study wherein members of three species of wolf spider were immersed in sea water for periods of 24 hours or more.  What happened next, quite frankly, terrifies us to our very souls.  The scientists, hoping to weigh the spiders they believed to be dead, removed them from the water.  Hours later, the spiders twitched back to life.  "This is the first time we know of arthropods returning to life from comas after submersion," lead researcher Julien Pétillon said.  And it gets worse: according to Pétillon, there "could be many other species that could do this that we do not know of yet."  (National Geographic)

-- A tiny arachnid called the Hawaiian happy face spider looks the way its name suggests it would. Researchers are studying the spiders to learn how and why they would have developed such markings. A leading theory is that the smiley-face design confuses potential predators, perhaps giving them momentary pause -- and the spiders a chance to escape. Regardless of the reasons, ecologists say the cheerful-looking spiders are a powerful symbol for conservation. "They are ambassadors for all the threatened invertebrates, insects and spiders on Hawaii," said Dr. Geoff Oxford of the University of York. "Conservationists are using them to highlight the plight of native species, and you can't go far on the islands without seeing them on T-shirts, baseball caps, post cards and even removal trucks." (Telegraph )

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Bees can experience drug addiction, new research shows

Bees can become addicted to cocaine Bees, not unlike some starlets we can think of, can become addicted to cocaine, according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

The Times' Thomas H. Maugh II reports:

Researchers led by entomologist Andrew Barron of Macquarie University in Sydney trained a hive of bees to forage at a nearby supply of sugar water. Then they applied minute quantities of cocaine to the backs of foragers.

He and neuroscientist Gene Robinson of the University of Illinois found that the bees' dance remained tightly controlled, providing accurate directions to the food source. But the insects now demonstrated an unusually strong response to food, acting as though a weak solution of sugar water was a much better food source and communicating their findings much more enthusiastically to hive-mates.

The Australian bees developed a tolerance to the drug and even experienced withdrawal symptoms when deprived of it -- their abilities to learn new tasks (like distinguishing between scents) was severely impaired, said the research team.

So will honeybee rehab become a hot new trend -- the flea circus of the 21st century?  Only time will tell.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times

Butterfly gets a helping hand -- and a repaired wing

Monarch butterflies

From the Associated Press:

LAKE LUZERNE, N.Y. — A monarch butterfly has a chance at completing its species’ famed migration to central Mexico thanks to some tiny cardboard splints, a bit of contact cement and a trucker from Alabama.

The insect’s broken wing was painstakingly splinted by an upstate New York couple who then helped it hitch a ride south after the weather in the southern Adirondacks turned cold.

About three weeks ago, Jeannette Brandt was out for a bike ride in rural Hadley when she spied the injured butterfly and took it home in her emptied water bottle. She and her partner, Mike Parwana, fed it rotting pears and water mixed with honey from bees they keep. The butterfly fattened but the question remained: What about the broken wing?

A search of the Internet turned up a nine-minute video demonstration posted by the Live Monarch Foundation, a nonprofit group from Boca Raton, Fla., on how to fix a broken butterfly wing. A little contact cement on the wing, some tiny cardboard splints, and the bruised butterfly was back in business. [The monarchs pictured here were photographed after making it back to Mexico.]

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