Ticks resemble little bumps on skin, but a closer look reveals the barbed mouthpart (hypostome) that's inserted in human flesh and can't easily slip out. Dania Richter of the Technical University of Braunschweig watched, under very high magnification, ticks using other mouthparts to pierce skin, generating “a toehold,” before a breaststroke-like action pulled in the barbed hypostome. The study is published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
S. Turner, UC Riverside
This scanning electron micrograph image of a southern house mosquito (foreground) makes evident the straw-like mouthpart used to suck human -- and other -- blood. The red and black additions highlight smelling activity. It’s believed that a mosquito can smell a person from 100 feet away.
Spiders in the genus Loxosceles, including the brown recluse, are among the few common spiders whose bites can seriously hurt people. Greta Binford, an associate professor of biology at Lewis and Clark College, recently studied the spiders, including the one shown here from South America. The spider bites can cause our skin to die. "Our bodies are basically committing tissue suicide," she explained. "That can be very minor to pretty major, like losing a big chunk of skin. The only treatment in that case is usually to have a skin graft done by a plastic surgeon."
Older workers within a rainforest termite species,
, have built-in “explosive backpacks” that become bigger and more deadly over time. The blue in this image -- showing several workers and a soldier termite -- is actually a sack of toxic blue liquid. Jan Šobotnik at Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague found that worker termites could explode this toxin onto enemies during suicide missions that help their colonies.
Entomologist Michael Caterina and his team studied clown beetles, which munch on fly larvae found in decomposing bodies He snapped this shot, which shows one such beetle’s mandibles. It’s apparently a bug-eat-bug world, even in the remains of the deceased.
Slimy slugs are the bane of gardeners, but a recently discovered slug species makes others seem tame. The ‘ghost slug,’ found in Cardiff, Wales, lives on land, is carnivorous and possesses blade-like teeth. It’s out all year round -- not just on Halloween.
Sam Droege, Flickr
This fly was photographed after it became stuck in a glob of hand sanitizer, so it was likely frozen in this image seconds before its demise. The photo reveals the fly’s compound eyes, which have the fastest visual responses in the animal kingdom. The tongue-like proboscis is also sticking out.
Leeches are predominantly bloodsuckers that feed on blood from humans and other animals. When leeches bite into a victim, their saliva prevents blood from clotting, causing victims to bleed from the wound for hours. The good news is that this effect has beneficial microsurgery applications, such as helping doctors reattach tiny veins.
David Hughes, Penn State University
The zombie-ant fungus invades an ant’s brain, causing the insect to march to its death at a mass grave near the ant colony. The fungus winds up the winner, since it then erupts via spores that come out of the ant’s head. A parasitic fungus, however -- the white and yellow material in this image -- can castrate the zombie-ant fungus, allowing the ant to live.
Linda Tanner, Flickr
Photographer Linda Tanner spotted this black widow spider in an old, dark barn, heading for a front porch. Black widows are very common, and are often found in garage door slats, hiding in dark corners, under woodpiles and in other places in and around homes. Usually they mind their own business, focusing on their insect prey, but their venom can cause human victims to experience nausea, muscle aches and paralysis of the diaphragm, which can lead to breathing difficulties.
A fly larva discovered among the remains of an Italian Renaissance princess -- often credited to be the true Mona Lisa -- has a produced a zoological puzzle, raising questions about the origins of the insect.
Widely believed to be a native of the Americas, the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) thrives on decaying organic material. It was thought to have first reached Europe in the early 1900s.
“We can now prove the insect was present in Europe several centuries before,” Gino Fornaciari, professor of history of medicine and professor of paleopathology and funerary archaeology at the University of Pisa, told Discovery News.
“Indeed we found a larva in the sarcophagus of the Italian princess Isabella of Aragon, who died in 1524,” he added.
Isabella, the daughter of King Alfonso II of Naples, married her first cousin, the Duke of Milan Gian Galeazzo Sforza, in 1489.
For the occasion, Leonardo Da Vinci, who had been working in Milan as the court artist since 1482, orchestrated a magnificent party with plays, robots and fountains. Some art historians now argue that Isabella, and not Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, was the sitter for the Mona Lisa.
Her husband was never able to rule, because his uncle, Ludovico, confined Gian Galeazzo and Isabella in a castle-prison in Pavia. Isabella, who complained that her marriage was historically bad, remained there until her husband died suddenly at 25, possibly poisoned by Ludovico.
She then returned to Naples and finally died there at the age of 54, likely poisoned by her own medicine to treat syphilis.
According to Fornaciari, who exhumed her body, Isabella’s teeth were covered by a black patina which was intensively and intentionally abraded.
The black color was produced by mercury, the drug she was given in massive doses to treat -- ineffectively -- her syphilis.
Among her remains, near the skull, the researcher found two body parts belonging to a fly larva, which was identified as a black soldier fly.
Often confused with a wasp, this insect is well known in forensic entomology as it dominates decaying bodies.
“It is highly unlikely the black soldier fly reached Isabella’s body centuries after her death,” wrote Fornaciari, along with Giovanni Benelli, an entomologist at Pisa University, and colleagues in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences.
The sarcophagus was previously opened by thieves when the body was already skeletonized, making it unsuitable for the black soldier fly.
The finding raises new questions about the origin of this insect. According to the researchers, there are three possible scenarios.
One theory questions the American origin of the fly and suggests it was a native of the Paleartic region -- stretching from western Europe to the Bering Strait -- even if the insect remained unknown until 1926. The other hypothesis suggests the larva does not belong to the Hermetia illucens but to a new, closely related species or to a cryptic one.
According to Fornaciari, a third scenario is the more likely. The fly might have travelled -- concealed in rat cadavers or decaying food — from the Americas to Europe aboard the Spanish galleons visiting the port of Naples.
Photo: At left, a marble bust portrays Isabella of Aragon by Francesco Laurana (1490) in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Credit: Vassil/Wikimedia Commons. At right, a black soldier fly -- adult and larva. Credit: Gino Fornaciari