Amazing Arthropod Defenses

Hi all! Long time, no see. I have been busy finishing up my dissertation and preparing to defend my dissertation on March 15. As a result, I have not had much time to write for enjoyment. However, I’m forcing myself to stop tonight for a few moments.

Since I’m preparing to defend, I thought I would spend some time discussing the defenses of insects, millipedes, and other arthropods. These organisms are often considered defenseless. Everything (bacteria, fungi, birds, bats, fly swatters, etc.) seems capable of killing these animals. Indeed, many of these things can kill arthropods or harm them. Fortunately for certain arthropods, they have so many different ways to avoid danger. If you could give me less than five minutes of your attention, then I can share with a few of many phenomenal examples.

Avoiding conflict can be challenging when the whole world seems out to get you. How do some make hiding in plain sight seem so effortless? They look like the food they eat, move slowly, or fall to the ground when disturbed by a potential predator. If you don’t think falling is effectives, then talk to an entomologist who has experienced this.


An immature katydid rests on a leaf. Though it is easy to spot now, one would only notice this insect by closely inspecting the plants on which they feed.

Imagine the following scenario. You are a few inches long and about to be attacked by another animal much larger than yourself. Alone, outsized, and without any tools except for your own body, what do you do?

Some arthropods take control against seemingly impossible odds and attempt to retaliate. For instance, some praying mantids will splay their wings and forelegs in attempt to look bigger and intimidate would-be assailants. As bizarre as this may seem, it can be effective. For more about praying mantids, follow Syndey Brannoch, a Ph.D. student, studying the taxonomy of praying mantids around the world. Of course, there are more famous cases of social insects like yellowjackets, honey bees, and ants which will bring together many individuals to fight as one while they protect their colonies.


A yellowjacket eats a rotting pear. When disturbed, these insects will attack individually or as a group. Many insects do not have the advantage of attacking as a group.

Some predators know to avoid arthropods which have certain colors because they taste bad or make them sick. Studies in the 20th century discovered robins would avoid particular butterflies after eating Monarch butterflies, even those that were of a different species. Both species were bright orange, of similar size, and overlapping habitats. This makes it tricky for any bird attempting to eat a butterfly without the worry of vomiting. Though there is now knowledge the Viceroy butterfly has compounds which make it taste bad to birds, this concept of mimicry has been found in many different areas.


A very bright large milkweed bug rests on a milkweed flower. The color suggests to predators that it would not be pleasant to eat.

There are millipedes in the United States which excrete cyanide from specialized pores in their bodies. Yes, you read that correctly. These millipedes are brightly colored. While this makes the millipedes easier to spot, this also makes them easier to avoid. This cool research was the result of Paul Marek, Derek Hennen,  and their colleagues.


Oxidus gracilis, an introduced species of millipede from Asia, according to Derek Hennen. This is far less cool than the Apheloria polychroma described by the only lab in the United States focused solely on millipedes.

As always, thanks for reading. I appreciate your time and any comments you may wish to share. You can find me on Twitter (@EntoLudwick) and reach out if you would like. Have a great day!


I’m a Scientist and I Joined Twitter – Now What?

That’s great! I’m glad you have decided to join and strengthen the scientific community on Twitter. Also, let me thank you for taking my advice or the advice of your colleagues.

Why did you join? Do you want to share your publications, updates in your field, pictures of your cat/dog/other, network, or something else? Personally, I like when scientists share a bit of themselves beyond their title and research. With that having been said, what you do is entirely up to you. There are a few tricks and guidelines I’d like to share, so take a few minutes and read them.

The first thing you need to learn are the basics of Twitter. Learn how to tweet, follow other accounts, like and quote/retweet tweets, and comment. These are the fundamentals and may take a few minutes to understand. More functions are available, but these should serve you well for the immediate future.

Look for hashtags relevant to your field. They may be found in account descriptions or tweets. Ornithologists or bird-watchers should check out #ornithology. People who want to communicate science or learn how to should check out #scicomm. I’ve put a few examples of accounts below and in previous blogs.

Most fields have at least one hashtag to identify scientists working in it. This will help you follow the right accounts and you’ll see more accounts you should follow. Personally, I recommend you follow accounts of people who are different from you in addition to those in your own field. You may learn about issues outside of your bubble and diversify your knowledge.

Regardless of your title, try to step down from your pedestal and speak with people, not at them. Do not pretend you are better than anyone else as it hurts the ability to communicate. Who likes being told they’re wrong or talked to in a condescending manner? Science communication relies on developing a rapport with the people with whom you are speaking. Learning to do this may take time, but it could improve your ability to communicate science.

Everyone makes mistakes. The mistakes you make may not happen for a while and it may not be a big deal. Whatever happens, own them and move forward rather than fighting a senseless battle. One issue that I’ve seen is the misinterpretation of a tweet which, for now, only contains 140 characters. There’s not a lot of space for overly complex ideas, so learn to thread thoughts rather than assuming people will just understand you. Also, don’t act like people are idiots when your tweet is misunderstood. Owning your mistake once you’ve realized it will save you a lot of time and energy. It is my opinion that if you develop a good community, then you’ll get called out when you screw up.

Some of my favorite accounts are the ones which share science and a bit of themselves. The barrier between scientist and person is broken down when people do this. This helps your science become more relatable and the likelihood of engagement a bit higher. I’ve tried to emulate this with my account, hence the pictures of cats and lots of my photography.

Use your best judgement and have patience during times of frustration. Whatever you do, even if you think this blog post was crap, try to have fun. Do not let numbers (e.g. followers, retweets, likes) determine your worth. Some of this may just take time. I’ve done most of this, have gained hundreds of followers, become “Twitter famous” according to certain joking colleagues, and learned a lot. I hope you can enjoy Twitter as much as I have.

As always, thanks for reading. I appreciate your time and any comments you may wish to share. You can find me on Twitter (@EntoLudwick) and reach out if you would like. Have a great day!

Scientists, You Should Join Twitter

I have been on Twitter as a scientist for more than one year. I am now known as the “Twitter guy” to my colleagues, my friends, and my wife. Why? I spend a considerable amount of time because I see so many benefits from being an active scientist on Twitter. I have tried to convince many scientists to join Twitter and may have persuaded only one or two. Now, I have finally taken a few moments to write down some of my ideas for those who dare read my ramblings.

Some of my favorite moments on Twitter have been spent exchanging bad puns and watching sick burns between buds. Scientists are remarkably good at making witty comments that educate and entertain. Don’t believe me? Check out the “arguments” between Asia Murphy and David Steen, Ph.D. Look at terrible, I mean terrific, puns by Dr. Solomon David that are GARanteed to make you laugh. A plethora of puns await you with biologists on Twitter.


This brings me to my second point: networking. Communication with people from around the world has become instantaneous and often genuine. With Twitter, I can talk to authors I’ve read, people who share interesting information, and just random tomfoolery. A few of these interactions have led to remarkable opportunities for me.

Want to learn about something brand new in your field? Follow relevant scientists who regularly share updates. For microbiome research or news, you could follow someone like Elisabeth Bik. For cougar research or news, you could follow Michelle LaRue. I am certain there are people in your field sharing cool research. Plus, you could (and should) follow people outside your field to broaden your scientific knowledge.


Connecting on Twitter also provides great opportunities to learn about real issues plaguing the scientific community. Racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination do occur across the planet and even in academia. Many of us may not notice because it does not personally impact our careers. I urge you to follow DNLee, Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos, and Katherine Crocker. If you aren’t aware of these issues, then I know there will be some uncomfortable statements with which you may disagree. Resist that urge to argue with people telling you their experiences and knowledge, listen, and implement real change where you can. These people deal with issues we ignore daily.

Now, you’re probably wondering what tangible benefits may come to you if you join Twitter. Well, two Ph.D. candidates, Dani Rabaiotti and Nick Caruso, from different countries, worked together to take information from #DoesItFart and made a book with illustrations by Ethan Kocak, another Twitter user. Effort is all that is needed to get tangible benefits from Twitter. Scientists on Twitter (#ScienceTwitter) are really good at coming up with viral hashtags.

Even I have had the privilege to work on a viral hashtag (#BillMeetScienceTwitter) with Dani Rabaiotti and Melissa C. Márquez. This led to interviews and an important discussion about visible role models for people of different backgrounds. You can find more information about #BillMeetScienceTwitter from the authors and others here.

Oh, did I mention the bad puns? I dare you not to laugh at the ongoing battle between ornithologists and ichthyologists. Quite a few pictures have been shared using #BirdvsFish or #BirdsvsFishes.

As always, thank you so much for reading. I hope you join Twitter so we may meet. You can find me on Twitter here. Have a great day!

Insects, They’re Not So Bad. Actually, They’re Amazing!

Insects and other smaller animals lacking a spine (invertebrates) get a bad reputation. I’ve driven to work many mornings and heard a pest control company’s commercial. The commercials make it seem like insects are simply out to get people and their homes. A few commercials have even gone so far as to pretends insects are coordinating attacks in a war against humans. This is wrong. Pest control companies are a business and promoting insects as dangerous supports their business.

Insects are simply trying to feed themselves. Some of these insect species, a very small percentage, happen to feed on people, and out of those, some of those insects carry disease agents. Other insects, like termites, decompose wood and help nutrients move through the environment where they become accessible to other organisms. Unfortunately, many of us live in structures with wood components. Even with these facts, you should know that insects are not out to get you. They are trying to get essential nutrients to grow, develop, and produce offspring. Furthermore, there are things we can do to reduce the likelihood of structural damage or disease transmission. Alas, I digress.

There are so many amazing insects, spider, centipedes, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. Current estimates have more than 1.2 million described species of insects with estimates suggestions there are tens of millions more to discover and describe. Now, you might be thinking, “No way. Bugs are gross!” If you are thinking this, then please stop for a few minutes and consider my following argument. They are remarkably diverse in shape, size, color, behavior, habitat occupied, and many more aspects not listed. I’ll go through a couple of these features so you, too, can better appreciate these organisms.

There can be such large differences in size and shape even within a species. Let’s take a species of termite from the genus Reticulitermes as an example. I’ve included a picture below so you can see a couple of the classes. Some termites carry out the daily tasks of the colony (workers), while other termites defend the nest (soldiers).  The workers are small and non-descript. The soldiers have thickened head capsules to better bite and defend the colony. Meanwhile, the queen and king are larger with minimal ability to defend themselves.

Termite Classes

Reticultitermes termites respond to disturbance of their wood. One termite has a larger head (soldier) to defend the rest of the colony.

Imagine a color, any color. I’m betting at least one insect (more 1.2 million described species) or other arthropod species in the world with that color on its body. Many insects have several hues on individual body parts like the wings. Search the Flickr page of Insects Unlocked or view images by photographers like Peter Coffey, Piotr Nasrecki, Miles Zhang, and Rosemary Mosco on Twitter.

Many different patterns and colors can be seen when you look at the world a little closer.

These animals occupy a remarkable number of habitats. Some fly species, during their immature stage, will feed within a leaf. As their habitat is small, so are these insects, often in the size of millimeters. Other insects will cause the leaf, stem, or fruit to develop large growths (galls) that serves to feed the developing insects.


The growth is caused by a gall wasp (Cynipidae) which laid its eggs in an oak leaf.

While we often think of insects feeding on plants, we should also consider that some insects feed on other insects. For example, aphids are soft-bodied insects which feed on the sap of plants. Some aphid species can be economically important for farmers or through the transmission of plant viruses. There are wasps, such as Aphidius colemani, which lays eggs in specific aphid species. The eggs hatch inside the body of the aphid and slowly feed. Meanwhile, the aphid stops producing as many offspring. Once the wasp larva is done feeding, it will pupate inside the aphid before emerging from the aphid’s body.

Tri-trophic Interactions

Aphids feed while ants visit each aphid to suck up honeydew. A few of the aphids have browned because wasps have parasitized the aphids.

Aphids feed while ants visit each aphid to suck up honeydew. A few of the aphids have browned because wasps have parasitized the aphids.

The examples could go on and on without end. I do not have enough time to discuss them all, but I’m always happy to talk about insects. Have a story about an #AmazingArthropod? Please share it with me on Twitter!

I Found Something. What Is it?

Today, you’ve found something and you don’t know what it is, if it will hurt you, or what you should do. It might be something you found at work, in the woods, in your car or yard, or even in the area where you feel most vulnerable, the bathroom. Please, do not panic. Instead, calmly pull out your phone try to take pictures at different angles and maybe relocate the animal in a safe container. Cooling the animal in a refrigerator for a short period of time may help for photos. Jody Green, an extension agent with the University of Nebraska, has some great tips of getting a good picture with your phone.

Platycryptus undatus

A little jumping spider (Platycryptus undatus) explores the new world to which it has been transported.

After that, you’ll need to contact someone or a group who can identify the animal for you. On Facebook, there are several groups (Entomology, BugGuide, Bi-State Bugs (Insects of Missouri and Illinois)) that can help provide an identification. and iNaturalist are also great resources for identifications. For those of you on Twitter, be sure to reach out to entomologists if you know any. Try adding #BugID to your post to help entomologists like me find you. There are many of us on Twitter that are willing and happy to help. We may know the answer or know someone else who will.

If you do post on these Facebook pages or Twitter, then be sure to provide information about the habitat, date, and approximate location of where you found the insect, spider, or other creature. This information can be the difference between a family level identification (metallic wood-boring beetle) to a species level identification (emerald ash borer). However, don’t be frustrated if your picture is unidentifiable.


This dictyopharid planthopper has a “horn” that makes it easy to identify. With my current knowledge, I cannot identify this insect beyond the family level. Other entomologists may be able to provide more information.

As I mentioned in my first blog post, there are a bunch of insect species. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Some are very tiny, while others seem gigantic. Furthermore, some species look very similar and photos alone are not enough for a correct identification. Why? Currently, there are more than 1.2 million described insect species. Those are just the insects that entomologists have been able to describe to date. These represent just a fraction of what remain to be described. There are also many species of spiders and other arthropods.

Red Velvet Mite

A red velvet mite (Thrombidiidae) patrols for its food in a forest. How could you not like something that looks this soft?

Once you’ve had the animal identified, it’s likely that you won’t need to take any steps. Many species simply cannot survive indoors or do not pose harm to humans. A simple “live and let live” approach is often the best path. Each of these insects plays a role in the environment. If it is something you are concerned about, then you should contact your local extension agent to determine the best option(s).

Here’s the short version for those in a rush:

  1. Stay calm.
  2. Grab your phone or camera. Use the steps mentioned in Jody’s blog for better photos.
  3. Post the picture to a Facebook group or Twitter (#BugID), check out, or speak with a local extension agent.
  4. Ask questions if you need to know more.
  5. Listen to the recommendations of trusted sources (extension agents, university researchers, etc.) or find reliable information on university websites. Do not take action unless necessary.

Have a great day! Feel free to contact me on Twitter or through my e-mail on the Contact section of this blog.

Why I Study Insects and Who I Am

Welcome to my first ever blog! My name is Dalton Ludwick. I am currently working on a Ph.D. in entomology. I thought I would start this blog by telling you about a big part of my life. Insects, insects, and more insects.

As a child, I would pick up worms and place them in my pockets. My mom hated finding these after the clothes were washed. My brother and I also competed to collect the most cicada shells (exuviae) each summer. I also chased and caught fireflies. When I mowed our yard, I saw so many little flying things. It was much later that I found out that these small insects were mostly leafhoppers. In short, there were many experiences with insects, but never with any real scientific curiosity.


A firefly (lightningbug) crawling across a window screen on the outside of my house.

Let’s fast forward to high school. I became involved with FFA my freshman year. With encouragement from my ag advisors, I competed in several Career Development Events (CDEs). Thanks to FFA (formerly known as the Future Farmers of America), I found out about entomology and was even able to compete in the entomology CDE my junior year. As part of the CDE, we learned about important agricultural pests, beneficial insects, and many other insects. Between the joy in FFA and strong interest in entomology, I realized my passion was to help agriculture through entomology. After we competed in the Missouri State FFA competition, I shifted my attention from a career in architecture to a career in entomology. My ag advisors helped me find entomology and related degrees (e.g. plant sciences) so that I could apply to the right degree programs.

I went to the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) and enrolled in Plant Sciences with an emphasis in Plant Protection. If I had any hope to improve agriculture, then I felt I needed to know how plants respond to insects. Fortunately, my first entomological job was in the Wilbur R. Enns Entomology Museum and not in a laboratory studying pests. This expanded my knowledge of insects so very much. Having never left the United States, I could barely imagine the incredibly diversity of insects across the world. Every chance I got, I’d peek into random drawers of butterflies from South America, grasshoppers from Africa, beetles from Asia. There are even fascinating insects in backyards and forests in the United States. Visually, insects are simply remarkable.

Leuconycta diphteroides

An owlet moth (Leuconycta diptheroides) stands still on a mirrored glass. The photo was taken in my backyard at night.


A plume moth (Pterophoridae) found resting on the side of my house after being attracted by light.

As a side note, you should definitely visit an entomological museum at least once in your life.

The manager at the museum dragged me to a monthly C.V. Riley Entomological Society meeting. It was there I met others with a deep fascination of insects. Thanks to the graduate students and other undergraduates in the group, I was welcomed and got to participate in collecting trips. I had no clue how much fun I was missing out on until my first collecting trip. It’s one thing to see dead insects from all over the world, but it’s another thing entirely to see these hopping, crawling, and flying.

Because insects are so cool, I check for insects everywhere I go. I look in my backyard all the time. I check the same parks I’ve searched hundreds of times. I’ve posted some pictures of these insects here. Still, I find new insects almost every single day. It’s not just me. Other researchers and insect enthusiasts experience this.


A leafhopper (Graphocephala sp.) found in Missouri. You don’t have to travel far to see such wonders.

After a couple years in the museum, I landed a job in a lab studying western corn rootworm and left the museum. Finally, I found a job which combined agriculture and entomology. I got to become involved with research an insect which impacts corn growers most years. Western corn rootworm is known as a “billion dollar bug” because it costs corn growers approximately one billion dollars (USD) each year through yield losses and the amount it costs to reduce damage. This insect impacts corn growers across the corn growing areas of United States. This same insect even causes problems in Europe where it is an invasive pest.


A female western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte) feeding on corn leaves.

This lab is where I now study and conduct my dissertation research as part of my doctoral degree. This lab has documented different ways we (industry, academia, and growers) can control western corn rootworm or better conduct research. Ultimately, I hope my research helps at least one farmer. It would fulfill my goal set by my high school self.

Want to learn more about insects? You should follow these amazing people and many other entomologists on Twitter: Catherine Scott, Sean McCann, Gil Wizen, Gwen Pearson, Creepy Crawlies with Christy, Alex Wild, Ainsley S, and Phil Torres.

Have a great day!