Wasp Body Size Impacts Brain Resource Allocation

This is a relatively older publication (2018) that I co-authored with my adviser, Dr. Sean O’Donnell, and lab members Dr. Susan Bulova and Katherine Fiocca, titled “Size constraints and sensory adaptations affect mosaic brain evolution in paper wasps (Vespidae: Epiponini)”. By looking across paper wasp species, we can see really big and really small wasps – in fact, the biggest species in our study was 25 times the size of the smallest! Does getting so tiny have an impact on brain size – or do brains just scale 1:1 with the wasp’s body size? Do different regions of the brain stay relatively larger as body size Read more…

Effects of mannitol ingestion on adult fruit flies

My very first, first-author publication (coauthored with the incredible Katherine Fiocca) came out last month in PLoS One (an open access journal, which means anyone can view the article for free, found here). The article is titled “Mannitol ingestion causes concentration-dependent, sex-biased mortality in adults of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster)”; I’m excited to have the opportunity to share some of the main findings of this work with all of you! But first – what even is mannitol? Mannitol is a “sugar alcohol” (don’t worry, it won’t get you drunk). It’s found naturally in fruits and fermented products and (like erythritol Read more…

Worker-caste Differences in Army Ant Brains: Soldier Specialization

In my most recent publication with Drs. Sean O’Donnell, Susan J Bulova, and Christoph von Beeren entitled ‘Brain investment under colony-level selection: soldier specialization in Eciton army ants (Formicidae: Dorylinae)’, we discuss the differences in the brains of task-specialized workers in multiple species of army ants.  Worker army ants come in a variety of shapes and sizes that generally correspond to the task that worker performs (form meets function). In the case of the Eciton burchellii cupiens to the left (a), the grey arrow points to a small ‘foraging’ worker ant who cares for brood, assembles the nest, forages for food, and cares for Read more…

The First Field Season

I arrived back from my first field season in Arizona on May 5th, and have been running around like mad ever since – trying to process specimen, taking my qualifying exam, and prepare for my next two field seasons this year (to New York, starting tonight, and Cuba, in June). But I felt I should take some time to reflect on the five biggest lessons I learned from this first foray into fieldwork. Never underestimate the generosity of your peers – the number of people it took to make this season ‘go’ is astounding. From my ‘funders’ (fiance, Alex, and grant Read more…

Bee Bytes: Centris pallida

  Deserts. Common. Diggers.     Name: ‘The Pallid Bee’ or ‘The Digger Bee’ (no official common name) Family: Apidae (with: carpenter, honey, bumble bees) States: Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada Centris pallida are known for their vibrant, yellow-green eyes and pale fuzz as they buzz around desert palo verde – females are also known for the lovable ‘chaps’ on their rear legs which help them gather pollen. C. pallida are some of the best bees at maintaining a stable body temperature; they are often found within 2 degrees Celsius of lethal overheating! C. pallida females dig long tunnels to lay a single egg Read more…

Bee Bytes: Do All Bees Sting?

Many people are afraid of bees (and wasps) because of their stingers – but not all of our buzzing buddies actually sting. Which bees aren’t so sharp? 1. Male bees (of any species) – A stinger is a modified version of the egg-laying part of a female bee’s body, called the ovipositor. Since males were never meant to lay eggs, they never evolved a stinger. Despite not being able to sting, many male bees will buzz loudly and curl the end of their abdomen towards anything that grabs them. This mimics a female’s stinging position and the behavior is scary Read more…

Bee Bytes: Do Bees Actually Drink Sweat?

This past summer, you and I probably shared a similar bee experience: outside on a hot day, little metallic bees stuck to your bare arm, lapping up sweat from your skin. These bees, called sweat bees, are from the Halictidae family and are very common. Between the US and Canada, there are approximately 520 known species of these shiny, and often colorful (like this Agapostemon texanus), insects. But why do they drink sweat? Salt is necessary for egg production in insects (a female butterfly can lose more than 50% of the salt she’s born with in just one egg complement) and human Read more…

Bee Bytes: Agapostemon texanus

  Generalist. Widespread. Solitary.           Name: ‘The Green Sweat Bee’ (there are several) Family: Halicitinae (with: other sweat bees, alkali bees) States: Most likely all except Hawaii and Alaska   Agapostemon texanus belongs to one of North America’s most striking genera – all Agapostemon males and females have beautiful, metallic blue/green coloration. Males and females of Agapostemon species look very different (a phenomena called sexual dimorphism). Male abdomens are yellow-and-black/brown striped while female abdomens are consistently metallic and blue-green. Of all the Agapostemon, A. texanus is the most widespread, appearing from Costa Rica to Southern Canada. In the US, it Read more…

Bee Bytes: Are All Bees Social?

Think quick: Bee! For most of us, a highly social hive of buzzing honey bees come to mind. But this is actually only a tiny sliver of the social structural pie. Here are some (but not all) other types of organization: Solitary: Most bees are solitary, where a single female makes her nest alone. Solitary bees lay their eggs in small cells on top of a bed of food – the egg later hatches and feeds itself. Adults typically emerge from their cells around the same time, forage, lay their eggs, and then die while larvae/pupae wait underground for the next Read more…