Insect Innovation

[2-6 December 2013] The editors' note about your science week

Insect Innovation

Along with spiders and snakes, insects are perhaps the animals most likely to evoke a shudder from those unable to appreciate their many virtues. And, yet, numerous and unsuspected their virtues are! New techniques of criminal entomology will aid police investigations, controlling caterpillars’ sense of smell may help farmers, and biomimetic insect robots contribute to understanding collective behavior, with applications even in medicine. Not bad, insects!

Along with spiders and snakes, insects are perhaps the animals most likely to evoke a shudder from those unable to appreciate their many virtues. And, yet, numerous and unsuspected their virtues are! New techniques of criminal entomology will aid police investigations, controlling caterpillars’ sense of smell may help farmers, and biomimetic insect robots contribute to understanding collective behavior, with applications even in medicine. Not bad, insects!

 
Wikipedia Commons

The role of insects in police investigations is something many of us have heard of: the presence of certain species can help establish the time of death of a victim. But criminal entomology has the potential to give insects a much bigger job. From toxicology to identifying victims and locating cadavers, the research in forensic entomology is advancing.

In forensics, the use of insect witnesses is hatching

Which insects are drawn to a dead body and when is all about the odors being produced. Smells are powerful triggers and can be very specific to each species. That is the principle behind Erwan Poivet’s PhD research. Certain caterpillars are extremely destructive to crops. What if we could alter their behavior by playing with their sense of smell? He tells us more in this episode from Season 1 of Knock Knock Doc:

Knock Knock Doc – Episode 06 # Season 1: Caterpillar Control

One insectile trait that undoubtedly contributes to the repulsion factor is the tendency of some species to swarm. One creepy-crawly might be tolerable; a whole mass of writhing, tumbling creepy-crawlies can be unbearable. And, yet, even this quality has the potential to be mined for valuable information. Enter swarm robotics and the study of collective behavior. Learn more about such collaborations between biologists and computer scientists in:

Biomimetic robots: A tool to understand collective behavior

We hope that you’ll have ever more respect for insects after reading these stories approaching their world from very different angles. If not, just remember that, according to estimates, there are around 170 million insects for every person on the planet. They’ve got us well outnumbered!

Have a good weekend.

Until next week,

The MyScienceWork Team