Watching how insects use plants shows that self-medication isn’t just for complex animals
By Sarah FechtPosted 10.10.2011 at 10:09 am 5 Comments
"I didn't start working with monarchs because I liked them," says evolutionary biologist Jaap de Roode of Emory University. "I came to them because they have a really cool parasite." That parasite, called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, normally pokes holes in the butterflies' skin, causing them to leak bodily fluids. But de Roode noticed that monarchs that ate the tropical milkweed plant did not suffer from parasitic infections as much as monarchs eating swamp milkweed did. This led him to suggest to his colleagues that the monarchs were self-medicating.
As elegance in engineering goes, it doesn't get much better: a functioning ornithopter modeled after a swallowtail butterfly. Japanese researchers fashioned their faux swallowtail to mimic the precise flying motion of the real thing, hoping its unique flying motion can inform future aerodynamic designs.
To some, watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon, transformed from larva to magnificent winged beauty, is proof of nature's great wonder. For two butterflies aboard the International Space Station, it was a wonder that they emerged at all. For the first time in history, two painted lady butterflies each survived the larvae stage, formed a chrysalis and emerged as mature butterflies.