Category Archives: 2013

hugabug 14: Learning To See

Robert Oelman

Bugs + Movies =

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Music in this show:
1. DMK, “Enjoy the silence”
2. Little Cow, “What will be”
3. Henry Mancini, “Baby elephant walk”
4. Thomas Newman, title track from Brothers
5. Yma Sumac, “Tree of life”
6. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

Jake Oelman is quick to point out that, yes, his dad lives in Colombia, South America; but no, his dad is not a drug dealer.

Jake’s father, Robert Oelman, was a psychologist working in Boston until he left his career, moved to South America, and began photographing insects. Jake is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Right now, father and son are collaborating on a documentary film. Jake describes it as an exploration of “how a person goes and changes their life path from being in one profession to taking up something completely different, in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.” The film highlights Robert’s photography and his fascination with the insects that model for him.

To date, Robert has survived his interactions with diverse, mysterious bugs in the jungles of South America. But Jake shared a story about a close call for his dad. “He was watching a television program back at his house in Colombia. A program about this deadly spider–one of the most deadly spiders in the world. He was like, ‘Wow, that thing looks really familiar; I’ve seen that before.’ So he went back and he actually had this photograph of the spider.” Robert figured at the time that the spider was potentially dangerous. Jake said, “If somebody doesn’t want you to take their photograph, they’ll let you know that they don’t want their photograph taken. And the same is true with the insects.”

How Robert Oelman survived a photo shoot with this creature is anyone’s guess.

Robert actually built a house in Colombia and began by photographing hummingbirds in flight. He keeps dozens of hummingbird feeders at his house, “and they come in droves. It’s a pretty magical experience when you’re there for the first time, because you’re in the house, and you just hear this sound…” Jake describes it as “just energy swarming around you constantly.” Taking pictures of the hummingbirds seems to have strengthened Robert’s “photographic eye”, and he eventually transitioned to insect macro photography.

“He saw an insect one day, he photographed it, and then when he looked at the photograph, he was like, ‘Whoa! I can see more in the photograph than I can with my naked eye!’ And the lightbulb went off, and he’s been photographing them ever since. He just feels as if he could never stop finding new things to photograph in the insect world.”

“Since his eyes are open to it, then my eyes become open to it.” Jake’s sentiment permeates the film and is underscored by the film’s title: Learning To See.

Robert Oelman

It was Jake’s idea to make the movie. His dad was reluctant, initially, to be the focus of a documentary. But Jake was persuasive. He told Robert, “You want your work to be seen. You’re photographing things that some people have never been able to photograph before. You’re photographing things that may or may not exist 5 or 10 years from now. You’re photographing things that little kids have never seen.”

Robert’s process involves capturing insects and bringing them to a makeshift tent studio in the Amazonian rainforest. “They’re jumping all over the place. The first time you have a really big katydid crawling on your arm…I have a respect for it,” says Jake. “Because all of a sudden, now I’m in his world, so I can’t be squeamish. I have to have a respect. … There’s something surreal happening in those types of experiences.”

Jake wasn’t always comfortable with bugs, and he and his dad weren’t always close. “My parents divorced when I was really young. I think once my dad became a photographer, we became closer. I had already been working in film for quite a while before that, so when he started to take photographs, … I think that we started to relate to one another’s professional aspirations. So that kind of brought us in a little bit closer, which is funny to think that he moved so far away, and then we got closer as a result of that.”

But just like Robert occasionally finds a spider of death hitchhiking in a pile of collected leaves, Jake laughs when he says that “… we can still bump heads, too, which will be interesting. When it’s two artists coming together in a remote part of the world … Who knows; that could even make the story, as well.”

Robert Oelman

Jake and Robert are filming one more trip outside of Colombia to finish the project. “Now, the place that we go to in Peru–it’s a pretty long trip to get there. So, my understanding is that you fly into Cuzco. And then from Cuzco, you take a bus … down into the jungle, and then you get on a canoe. It takes two days to get from Cuzco to where we’re going … an outpost in the Manu territory of Peru. And we’ll just be going on expedition every day.”

So Jake and Robert have a few more bugs to hug for their film, Learning To See. And with their Kickstarter campaign, they have a chance of actually completing the project. With the kickstarter, they’re asking for some support to fund the last leg of their project. If you want the documentary to exist (and maybe get a digital download, DVD, or even photographic art as part of the deal), you are expressly invited to do that thang. They’re passing the hat for just 7 more days.

Update: Success!! Jake and Robert’s kickstarter has been funded! Good work, everyone. Looking forward to seeing the film.

Robert Oelman does not restrict himself to photographing insects.

(Click on those thumbnails to view larger photos)

hugabug 13: Fecal shield

from Hall & Butler 2001 (University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Document EENY-232)

Some beetles reuse their poop by wearing it.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. Rafter, “Feels good”
2. Balkan Beat Box, “Blue eyed black boy”
3. Battles, “Inchworm”
4. Rafter, “Timeless form, formless time”
5. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

If poop serves a useful purpose, then you can’t really call it a “waste product”, right? Some beetles reuse their dung by wearing it for protection.

The palmetto tortoise beetle does look sort of like a tortoise, with its domed back and flat belly pressed against a leaf. When it’s young, though, crawling around as a larva, it looks more like a tangle of tiny sticks. Or maybe like a big, heavy, looped string of tiny linked sausages. It seems to wear something like a giant straw hat of feces that hides its entire body.

photo by Dr. Rebecca Forkner

And that’s the whole point! Dangerous enemies can’t get past the wall of poop that the beetle larva built for itself. The tortoise beetle uses its telescoping anus to spool its dried poop in coiled layers over the top of its body. It can point its anus in different directions to build the most effective wall of poop between itself and the dangers of the world.

For other beetles, too, their feces don’t just plop out as wastes. Some beetles create fecal shields, which they hold on their butt and can position in the direction of an attack. Sometimes the poop shield is toxic, because of the chemicals in the beetles’ food plants.

from Vencl et al. 1999 (Journal of Chemical Ecology)

The defense is even more effective when social beetles respond to attackers by forming a tight circle–heads in the center, butts on the outside–holding up all of their fecal shields. Attackers can’t get past the solid blockade of toxic poops.

For these beetles, poop serves them well through most of their lives. Even as eggs, the beetle babies are protected by their mother’s poop. The momma defecates on her eggs; the crusty poop shell resists predators and may camouflage the babies.

from Prathapan & Chaboo 2011 (ZooKeys)

Now, I don’t necessarily think that you should wear a poop hat, nor that it’s good advice to hide behind your excrement or to use it as a weapon. Butt–these beetles teach us the utility of recycling! Recycle as much as you can. It’s not waste when it’s useful.

And hug a bug. You can wash your hands later.

hugabug 12: Carrion flowers

The biggest flower in the world smells like a rotting corpse, which attracts the flies that pollinate it.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. Eels, “Flyswatter”
2. Bela Karoli, “Some things that fly there be”
3. Tin Hat Trio & Tom Waits, “Helium reprise”
4. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

Imagine the fragrance of a dense jungle full of colorful flowers. Now imagine the smell of death. That’s the stench of the biggest flower in the world. It’s called Rafflesia, and it smells like a rotting corpse.

You know who loves Rafflesia? Bugs. Flies, most often. The kind of flies that like the smells that nauseate people. The kind of flies that eat poop and lay their eggs in rotting flesh.

Rafflesia depends on flies for pollination. Yet Rafflesia does not reward its pollinators for the favor. No, it fools flies into visiting by mimicking the stench, appearance, and even the temperature of a rotting animal carcass.

The Rafflesia flower is so big that you really could stumble on it as you hike through Sumatra or the Philippines. It’s huge–3 feet across, from petal to petal. Perhaps even big enough to resemble the body of a dead animal. Some other stinky species have hairy petals, which looks deceivingly like mold or fur. Rafflesia flowers even generate heat! Higher temperatures help to volatilize the odors so the pungent aromas can waft through the forest and attract distant flies. The flower’s heat also may feel like a steaming pile of excrement or a warm dead body.

And the flies, they come. They’re attracted to the flower that smells, looks, and feels like a good place to eat and lay their eggs. These flies are foolish, or desperate, or bound by instinct, and relegate their maggot babies to a short life of starvation–because the maggots find themselves not in the rotting meat of an animal, but instead on a flower that’s inedible. The baby flies that hatch on Rafflesia cannot survive.

But the unfortunate flies have pollinated the putrid Rafflesia flower, which now can make malodorous babies of its own.

You know what’s strange is that it seems fairly common for cadavers and cheese to share odors. In the case of cheese, people exploit pregnant flies and their maggot babies. There’s this cheese from Sardinia–casu marzu–that tastes delicious because of the flies that lay their eggs in it. The maggots eat the cheese, digest it, and poop it out, helping to create the soft, leaky delicacy. You’re advised to eat it, maggots and all, while the bugs are still alive.

So next time you’re in the jungle, and you spot the rare and beautiful (but awful-smelling) Rafflesia flower…or when you have a taste of that wriggling Italian cheese…Thank a fly. Hug a bug.

— — — — —

Elsewhere in the world and on the internet:

The titan arum is another magnificently beautiful and gigantic flower that emits a characteristically fetid stench.

The “stink lily” is an edible (by humans) tuber that also smells disgusting (to humans). Here is an illustrated account of a manual pollination attempt, replete with a dog wearing a gas mask.

hugabug 11: Jumping beans

It’s the bug inside that makes a jumping bean jump.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. Fauna, “Hongo x Hongo”
2. CSC Funk Band, “A troll’s soiree” (Brooklyn Chimp remix)
3. Chicha Libre, “Popcorn Andino”
4. Paco de Lucía, “La niña de puerta oscura”
5. Caravan of Thieves, “Mexico”
6. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

The worm in your bottle of tequila (mezcal, actually) is not the only worm that you’ll find in souvenirs from Mexico. Check your jumping beans, too.

I’ve only ever gotten jumping beans from toy stores, but you could find them for yourself in the Mexican desert. There is where jumping beans jump.

Let’s get two things straight–

1. A jumping bean is not a bean. It’s a seed capsule on a shrub that is toxic to humans. The plant has been used by people to poison the tips of arrows.

2. The worm inside a jumping bean (sort of like the one in your bottle of mezcal) is not a worm. It’s an insect larva, a baby bug, that goes through metamorphosis and becomes a moth. It’s the bug inside that makes the jumping bean jump.

Put it under a warm lamp or the sun, or in your fist. Whatever makes the bean hot makes it hop. At higher temperatures, the larva grips the wall of the seed capsule, bends its body, and snaps back, slamming its head against the wall. That’s how it moves its hollow little house out of the hot desert sun and into the safety of shade.

When I was a kid, I thought jumping beans broke after a while, like any other toy. The beans would stop jumping. But it’s not like the bug in the bean is broken. The bug probably is not dead. Just the opposite–the bug is growing.

The larva settles down as it plans for the future. It uses its mandibles to chew the outline of a doorway in the seed capsule that fed and protected it. The door is pre-cut, almost as a perfect circle, and it stays closed during metamorphosis, reinforced with woven silk from the larva. This is the escape hatch for the post-metamorphosis moth.

When it’s ready, the moth head-butts the wall one last time, leaving you and your jumping bean behind.

from Riley 1882 (Proceedings of the United States National Museum)

Now you do the hopping–across the border, through the Mexican desert, to a toxic shrub. Grab a jumping bean. Hug a bug.


Enjoy this trip of a short silent film, which begins with jumping beans and goes off on a wide tangent.

hugabug 9: Peregrine falcon

One of the peregrine falcons that lives on the University of Michigan campus
photo by Barb Baldinger

Peregrine falcons hunt by dive-bombing their prey at 200 miles per hour. Some live on the campus of the University of Michigan.
Listen to find out more.

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Music and other sound in this show:
1. Peregrine falcons (filmed by the Raptor Resource Project)
2. Spoek Mathambo, “Put some red on it”
3. Of Montreal, “Our spring is sweet not fleeting”
4. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

Supposedly, on the campus of the University of Michigan, peregrine falcons have nested at the top of the clock tower. I’m skeptical only because I’ve never seen nor heard them myself, but several very smart people assure me that the peregrine falcons are there. Plus, sometimes when you look on the sidewalk around the base of the clock tower, you’ll find dismembered heads and feet, feathers, and other bits and pieces of unfortunate birds–victims of the falcons up there, which eat their meals 10 stories above the ground.

The menu for a peregrine falcon might include pigeons, doves, woodcocks, rails, woodpeckers, yellow- and black-billed cuckoos, and red-winged blackbirds. So what’s with all the bird carcasses? Why don’t the falcons go for the fat, lumbering squirrels that make easy targets on campus?

Peregrine falcons are very good at hunting in mid-air. They’re amazing flyers that, just by shrugging a shoulder, can initiate the smoothest barrel roll.

photo by Alan Benson

Peregrine falcons hunt by dive-bombing their prey at 200 miles per hour; they hunt by bludgeoning with their feet. Bumping a creature mid-air with their talons either stuns the prey or kills it instantly. For larger prey, like a duck, the peregrine falcon will curl its talons into fists and collide into the duck, breaking its back. If that doesn’t work, the falcon will use its beak to sever the duck’s spine.

Then, the falcon plucks the feathers from its victim and eats.

They’re such effective hunters that sometimes they are used at airports to scare away the birds that could otherwise cause accidents on the runway. They also served in World War II. Peregrine falcons were specially trained to intercept the homing pigeons that carried German spy messages.

But their mode of mid-air hunting doesn’t work as well for something like a fat squirrel. If a peregrine falcon descended upon a rodent at 200 miles per hour, the impact with a tree or the ground would be a painful mess.

So the falcons on campus opt to hunt things that fly, mainly along the Huron River and in marshes around town.

Another danger of whipping through the air at incredible speeds is dust. Even the tiniest debris could damage their eyeballs. Peregrine falcons avoid that danger by using windshields–one on each eye.

Nictitating membrane (part of it, anyway) in a Harris hawk
photo by Steven Hyatt

These translucent extra eyelids are called nictitating membranes. The nictitating membranes slide across their eyeballs to protect against wind; dust; the beaks, wings, and claws of flailing victims; even the sharp beaks of the falcons’ own chicks during feeding time at the nest.

Other animals have nictitating membranes, too, for similar reasons. Sharks, for example–their nictitating membranes protect their eyes in a thrashing attack.

The falcons on campus love the view from the top of the clock tower. But year after year, they could not build a successful nest. Heavy storms would wipe out their attempts every summer. These days, the peregrine falcons use a nest box built for them and installed on the roof of the University Hospital. If you’re lucky, you can spot them there, or at the clock tower, where they sometimes still perch.

If you’re luckier, you may find on the sidewalk near the clock tower the wing ripped from a sorry victim, or its dismembered head, or discarded feet–the scraps of a mid-air meal that a peregrine falcon would call delicious.

Thank you to wonderful people in Ann Arbor and at the University of Michigan for hugging birds. There are plenty more opportunities on campus to hug bugs. Do that, too. Hug a bug, wherever you are.

This week, special thank you to Kenneth Elgersma and Janet Hinshaw for their help in making this episode.

— — — — —

Bonus info is available on the internets:

Peregrine falcons helped intercept German spy messages, but are the falcons spies, themselves?

The Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan has kept tabs on the campus falcons since they arrived.

This one is said to fly at 242 miles per hour.

Video of 2 peregrine falcons visiting a nest box, filmed by the Raptor Resource Project.

hugabug 8: Whale shark megamamma

photo by Alex Mustard

A whale shark known to science as the “megamamma supreme” carried a belly full of over 300 babies.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. King Kong, “Scooba dooba diver”
2. Arnold McCuller, “The whale have swallowed me”
3. Hazmat Modine, “The tide”
4. Björk, “Moon”
5. Raymond Scott, “Space mystery (montage)”
6. Monster Rally, “Surf Erie”
7. Raymond Scott, “Space mystery (montage)”
8. Gaby Kerpel, “Toritos”
9. Arnold McCuller, “Don’t go nowhere”
10. King Kong, “Scooba dooba diver”
11. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

This episode of hugabug is dedicated to moms, who know how it feels to carry an organism to term in their belly. That sounds tough. But let me just tell you this–

Whale sharks have been known to carry a belly full of over 300 babies.

Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world. But despite their large size, they’re mysteriously hard to observe. And they’ve kept their love life private; no one has ever witnessed whale shark sex.

A single immensely pregnant whale shark taught us almost everything we know about reproduction in the species. She’s known to science as the “megamamma supreme” [1]. Fishermen harpooned her off the coast of Taiwan when hunting whale sharks was legal there, back in 1995.

The megamamma was a hefty pregnant whale shark. Although she wasn’t quite as big as a school bus, a peek into her stomach showed that more than 300 baby whale sharks traveled inside her belly. No, the megamamma’s pregnant belly would not suddenly deflate as hundreds of baby sharks popped out simultaneously. The whale shark pups shared the same womb, but they weren’t all the same age.

from Baughman 1955 (Copeia)

And it’s a good thing that whale sharks are not the bitey kind. In the pregnant bellies of the more vicious and toothy shark species, an embryo will eat its brothers and sisters in the womb, and only the most aggressive will emerge. But as the most gigantic fish in the ocean, the whale shark eats the smallest creatures without using any teeth. So whale shark pups were safe from cannibals inside the megamamma.

Outside of her belly, though, in the open ocean, there was danger. The enormous number of babies she carried probably indicates that not many of them would survive.

All 300 shark pups had the same father and probably were conceived in a single mating event. And because the brothers and sisters in the megamamma’s belly were different ages, it looks like the megamamma supreme stored the sperm and used it gradually to produce over 300 babies.

For a whale shark, saving sperm is a useful talent when romance happens rarely in the open ocean.

Now honor the endurance it must take to carry one–let alone 300–babies in a belly. Give your megamamma supreme a whale-shark-sized hug. Then swim to the surface, dry yourself off, and hug a bug.

— — — — —

Learn more by exploring the internet:

Great footage of whale sharks

It’s a long video of a swell shark (not a whale shark), but this one is great if you want to know what a shark egg looks like.

Regardless of what anyone says, I remain skeptical that this underwater photo shoot, involving whale sharks and swimming models, really happened.

photo by Shawn Heinrichs

— — — — —

If you’re looking for a good place to go snorkel with whale sharks and SCUBA dive with manta rays, gotta tell you that I love staying at my cousin’s resort in the Philippines. I swam with a male whale shark (dove under his belly to see the cookie-dough-tube-sized claspers) for 15 or 20 minutes. We saw 7 whale sharks on that day; on a previous day, we spotted 2.

Swimming with a whale shark is the best gift you can give yourself.

— — — — —

[1] ^ Seriously. Joung et al. 1996 (Environmental Biology of Fishes)

hugabug 7: Animals in space

Ham the chimpanzee

The United States of America launched a chimpanzee into space, and he came back to Earth with a bruise on his nose.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. NASA space recordings of Earth
2. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)
3. John Williams, “The conversation”

— — — — —

It’s January, 1961. We know nothing about how to travel in outer space, or whether it’s even possible. The closest to outer space we’ve reached is the top of Mount Everest–just recently, in 1953!

And the trip up the mountain was very, very difficult–physically and mentally. Climbing to high altitudes makes the strongest among us weak in the body and impaired in the mind. Outer space is 11 times higher than Mount Everest, the highest place on Earth.

Can an astronaut go as high as outer space without dying or going insane? In 1961, we had no idea.

Actually, we figured that an astronaut could physically survive a trip to space. We tested that idea by launching a whole bunch of animals in rockets. Mice, fruit flies, hamsters, rats, rabbits, cats, dogs, goldfish, monkeys, guinea pigs, chicken eggs, frogs. Most of them died, but we saw that it’s possible to leave the earth and come back alive. Still, we had no clue whether our brain could function in outer space.

Baker the space monkey

So, how do you test mental capabilities in outer space without risking a person’s life? Ham the chimpanzee.

Ham learned complex tasks in a lab on Earth. The lights and levers in Ham’s training resembled, as closely as possible, the controls that an astronaut would use in spaceflight. If Ham could replicate complex behavior equally well in a rocket ship as in a lab, we figured that a person could do it.

The experiment with Ham was crucial because he was not just a passenger.

Ham was fitted with monitors measuring his temperature, heartbeat, and breathing. He experienced weightlessness…and Ham made it! He flew out to space, returned to Earth, and survived–with just a bruise on his nose. Ham performed his complex tasks in the rocket, showing that it would be possible for the first human American astronaut to travel and function in space, just a few months later.

Ham survived to a ripe old age, and his cremains are buried in New Mexico, where he’d been trained for his space mission. People still leave bananas on his grave.

Click on a pic!

The unknown grows less scary, the more we learn about it. Go where no person has gone before! Get out there and hug a bug.

— — — — —

Not to be missed elsewhere in the inter-stellar-net:

This mini-documentary produced by the Air Force

Or, if you prefer, you can learn English while listening to French music and watching old-school footage of Ham, the space-traveling chimpanzee.

A slideshow of pictures from LIFE Magazine of chimpanzees being trained for spaceflight

Video of a shuttle launch

— — — — —

(and if you’ve been trying to figure out a good way to tell The Liz how much you love the show…get her one of these shirts!)

hugabug 6: Bed bug sex

photo by Rickard Ignell

A female bed bug’s vagina is never used during sex.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. Don Argott, “Cramming for college”
2. Laceration, “Traumatic insemination”
3. DJ Casper, “Cha-cha slide”
4. The Dust Brothers, “Try your luck”
5. The Upstroke, “Sweet juices”
6. Bessie Smith, “Mean old bed bug blues”
7. TriBeCaStan, “Bed bugs”
8. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

(This show is broadcast on WCBN-FM Ann Arbor at 9am Eastern every Friday morning. That’s early, right…?)


A female bed bug’s vagina is never used in sex. How can that be? Traumatic insemination. When you’ve got a penis as hard and sharp as a knife, no vagina is necessary. Here’s what sex is like for a bed bug–

A female bed bug is stuffed after sucking blood from your sleeping body. She ate enough of your blood to be about 4 times fatter than she was earlier that afternoon.

Before the blood meal:


photos by Richard Naylor

Now that she’s pleasantly plump, this lady looks pretty sexy to a male bed bug. No flirtation is necessary–a male climbs onto the female’s back. BAM! His penis stabs through the female’s belly and ejaculates. The sperm travel through the female’s blood, reach her oviducts, and fertilize her eggs. After a few minutes, the penis-stabbing mercifully stops.

The male doesn’t guard his mate. He just walks away after the deed is done. This leaves the female vulnerable to more sexual encounters.


A female bed bug can expect about 5 stab wounds after each meal. From 5 different males.

You can tell whether a female bed bug is a virgin by checking for scars on her stomach. Actually, you can see how many times a female has mated by counting her stab wounds. Not all the time, though. Sometimes the scars are too many to count.

from Siva-Jothy 2006 (Philosophical Transactions B)

Bed bugs densely populate your mattress, so a female encounters tons of male bed bugs no matter where she goes. A female bed bug has no control over her own sex life. Males impose themselves on her far more often than is practical. All this penis-stabbing into the abdomen is unhealthy for a female bed bug–too much or too clumsy sex is fatal. A female bed bug that survives needs to heal her stab wounds, and those wounds can become infected. One study[1] mentioned that “[r]ecently mated females were occasionally found dead with ruptured guts.”

Not to spread rumors[2], but male bed bugs often don’t discriminate between male and female partners. Regarding male-on-male events, some scientists speculate that the penis-stabbing male’s semen stays in the wounded male’s body, so the wounded male ejaculates his attacker’s semen when he finds his own partner to stab in the belly with his own genitalia. In other words, a bed bug doesn’t even need to stab a female in the stomach to get her pregnant; some other dude can do it for him.

from Siva-Jothy 2006 (Philosophical Transactions B)
(Click the pic to see it up close)

Yes, bed bugs suck your blood, raise welts on your skin, and make you itch. Sure, bed bugs are persistent little bloodsuckers that can and will hide anywhere, making them almost impossible to eradicate. It’s true–bed bugs have wreaked their havoc from the hiding spot of one man’s prosthetic leg.

But here’s the silver lining–the happy ending to a bed bug story:
Bed bugs do not kill you. They don’t transmit any scary diseases.

Yeah, I know. That’s not enough for you to fall in love with them or stab them in the stomach (speaking figuratively) (and romantically). But you know you want to hug a bug!

— — — — —

The following video is a public service announcement sponsored by bed bugs:

Green Porno with Isabella Rossellini

— — — — —

just a couple References:

[1] ^ Reinhardt & Siva-Jothy 2007 (Annual Review of Entomology)

[2] ^ Siva-Jothy (2006) dismissed the proposed evolutionary explanation for male-on-male bed bug sex as “an urban myth among zoologists”. In any event, here’s how entomologist and ecologist extraordinaire, May Berenbaum, has described apparent homosexuality in bed bugs: “With no elaborate courtship ritual, males in a frenzied pursuit of sexual congress often blunder into and puncture the bodies of other males, occasionally inflicting fatal wounds.”

— — — — —

Further reading:

Did you know that bed bugs have played an important role in the history of furniture design? Beds, specifically.

Also, a natural method exists to eradicate bed bugs!

hugabug 5: Honeypot ants

The honeypot ant has junk in her trunk.
Listen to find out how and why.

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Music in this show:
1. Ani Difranco, “Manhole”
2. Eddie Murphy, “Boogie in your butt”
3. Daleduro, “La poli”
4. Beatles, “Wild honey pie”
5. end credits from Bob’s Burgers
6. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

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If you walk past a honey ant colony, you probably won’t notice it at all, because the only evidence of its existence is a small hole in the ground, which is surrounded by tiny dry clods of dirt or sand. If your scientific eye does spot the honey ant colony, though, you probably won’t notice anything different about most of the honey ants…unless you dig several feet under the hard-packed desert ground.

There, you’ll find hundreds of amber globes dangling from the domed roof of the nest, light from the hole you dug glistening in the hanging orbs. Wait a minute–those globes are dangling ant asses.

The honeypot ant has junk in her trunk.

Honeypot humong-asses grow to be the size of grapes or cherries, which is like a 2-year-old child having a butt the size of a refrigerator. And that’s exactly what these honeypots are: living refrigerators.

Honey ants live in dry areas around the world (usually deserts), in Australia, Mexico, South Africa, Arizona, Utah, California, Colorado. The lifestyle in a desert can be summed up pretty simply–feast and famine. During feast times (like the rainy season, when plants are growing and food is plentiful), ants have access to more food than they can eat.


Everyone knows that the good times don’t last forever, so worker ants plan ahead by bringing extra food to the nest. There, extra food can be stored for times of drought and famine. Stored right there in the humong-asses of live honeypot ants.


The sweet sweet junk in her trunk.

Worker ants in the colony tap these delish-asses when resources are scarce. The honeypot regurgitates what’s in her butt into the mouth of a hungry ant friend.

Two regurgitations actually have to happen so that food can be stored and retrieved with the honeypots. First, a worker collects nectar or animal guts from aboveground and returns to the nest to vomit the goods into a honeypot’s mouth. Next, when food is scarce later in the year, the honeypot vomits up the stored food–drop by delicious drop–into a hungry supplicant’s mouth.

The junk in a honeypot trunk might really be junk, in a sense. Sometimes worker ants harvest the guts, fats, and body fluids from worms and other scavenged animals. Most often, though, honeypots contain the sweet stuff, like nectar from flowers, fruits, and extrafloral nectaries, or the sugars produced by aphids, galls, and scale insects.

A honeypot has one function–to serve as a living refrigerator–so she has license to do nothing but dangle from the roof of the nest and sleep all day long, while her backside becomes oversize.

Sweet nectars last in her delish-ass storage space because the honeypot digests barely any food. Turns out that being lazy and dangling requires very few calories.

The nectars are so delish-ass that people eat them. Raw. You can pinch one by the head and legs, bite her butt off, and let the sweet nectar dribble into your mouth.

Australian Aborigines exhume the honeypots to satisfy their sweet tooth. During the Spanish conquest of Mexico, honeypots were sold individually in the markets of Mexico City. Honeypot nectar used to be fermented into an alcoholic drink. Badgers, coyotes, and other animals eat honeypots, too. In fact, other ant colonies sometimes raid honey ant nests and kidnap the honeypots! I wonder how the honeypots feel about imprisonment…

Like many other things in nature, once the function of a honeypot has been fulfilled, she becomes unnecessary. disposable. obsolete. In this case, when the nectar is drained from an enormass by hungry nestmates, the shrunken, withered butt never recovers, and the shriveled honeypot dies.

With that in mind, hug a bug, would you?

photo by Mike Gillam

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Worth checking out around the internet:

An adventure in pictures–a filmmaker finds honey ants in the Arizona desert.

hugabug 4: Cicada rain

by T. Nathan Mundhenk

Liquid waste from cicada anus will wet your head if you wander under a tree covered with the bugs.

Right-click or Command+click to download

Music in this show:
1. Rodgers & Hammerstein, “March of the Siamese children”
2. Bang on a Can All Stars, “Sein Chit Tee A Mhat Ta Ya”
3. Hot Chip, “Over & Over”
4. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

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from Lafcadio Hearn 1919 (Shadowings)

Every 13 or 17 years–on the dot–millions of cicadas emerge from the ground simultaneously. When you walk under a tree full of cicadas–that wetness? It’s not rain. Those are rectal squirts.

It’s true–liquid waste from cicada anus will wet your head if you wander under a tree covered with these bugs. Because they suck tree juice that’s low in nutrients but high in water content, cicadas keep the nutrients but expel most of the water as urine in jet streams of anal squirts, otherwise known as “cicada rain”.

A periodical cicada lives underground for either 13 or 17 years straight. The cicada barely moves from one small spot in the soil, buried just 1 or 2 feet under the forest floor or your lawn.

After exactly 13 or 17 years, somehow the cicada knows when to dig a tunnel to the soil surface and join literally millions and millions of other cicadas that also somehow knew that all the other bugs finally were poking their heads aboveground pretty much simultaneously. All these millions of cicadas cover trees, bushes, houses, telephone poles–every vertical surface.

If you find yourself amid millions upon millions of these bugs, you’ll see that it’s impossible to move without stepping on dozens of their little bodies. It’s impossible to speak without yelling, because the males sing loudly, incessantly, begging the female cicadas to mate with them. The deafening symphony of millions of cicadas reaches the same volume as a jackhammer or a subway train.

And birds love it; they eat it up. These bugs crawl everywhere as a free buffet of slow, little, defenseless bodies that don’t even scatter when a bird attacks. But gluttonous birds can’t eat even half of the cicadas in these outbreaks. Most of the cicadas survive, pee on your head, and make babies. That’s the beauty and genius of it all! It’s an effective tactic of safety in numbers.

And cicadas are a brilliant natural lesson in prime numbers. Millions of cicadas simultaneously tunnel out of the soil at indivisible intervals of 13 and 17 years. The more typical 2- or 4-year life cycle of birds doesn’t match well with the atypical lifestyle of these cicadas.

Graphic designers can use a similar trick. They can make a repeating visual pattern seem organically random by repeating the pattern in prime-numbered intervals.

This mathematical strategy also helps you buy things online. The internet keeps your credit card information secret by encrypting it using prime numbers.

The 13- and 17-year cicadas live only in North America, but ancient Chinese, Greek, and Japanese cultures revered other cicadas for a long, long time. Small bronze model cicadas were used as currency in China, and the bugs show up on ancient Greek coins.

All that, even though cicadas pee on your head.

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WCBN-FM Ann Arbor concludes its annual fundraiser this weekend. If cicadas can count to prime numbers, you can do the math: WCBN needs your donation to survive. Donate to WCBN in the name of insects. Keep the predators at bay, so we can keep making noise.

from H.A. Ramsden 1914 (Model-Insect Money of Ancient China)

And hug a bug. Hug millions of periodical cicadas, why don’t you. Every 13 and 17 years.

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These videos may help you understand what cicadas are like:

A fantastic cartoon about a cicada

Here’s an idea of what you can expect when millions and millions of cicadas emerge outside your house.

More and even more “cicada rain”.

The mesmerizing molt of a cicada

David Attenborough woos a male cicada. The video contains a nice time-lapse video of a cicada molting. Note: The sound effects at the beginning of the video are just that–for effect. When cicadas emerge from the soil, their sound-making organs (tymbals) actually have not developed yet. Males can sing only after their final molt. Also note: Cicadas are incredibly loud.

from H. Garman 1903 (Agricultural Experiment Station of the State College of Kentucky, Bulletin No. 107)