School of
Integrative Biology

SIB News

How an Eight-Sided ‘Egg’ Ended Up in a Robin’s Nest

Last spring, robins living on an Illinois tree farm sat on some unusual eggs.

Alongside the customary brilliant blue ovoids they had laid were some unusually shaped objects. Although they had the same color, some were long and thin, stretched into pills. Others were decidedly pointy — so angular, in fact, that they bore little resemblance to eggs at all. If robins played Dungeons and Dragons, they might have thought, “Why do I have an eight-sided die in my nest?”

Women in Ecology Spotlight – Alex Harmon-Threatt

As much of the United States and countries around the world shelter in place this year, the ability to be out in nature is even more precious. Access to clean open spaces should be a right for all; unfortunately, this is not always the case. Even among scientists who study the environment, there is an inequality of access to nature, especially for women, and even more so for women of color. We discussed this issue and what can be done about it with Dr. Alex Harmon-Threatt, associate professor of entomology at the University of Illinois School of Integrative Biology.

50 million-year-old fossil assassin bug has unusually well-preserved genitalia

The fossilized insect is tiny and its genital capsule, called a pygophore, is roughly the length of a grain of rice. It is remarkable, scientists say, because the bug’s physical characteristics – from the bold banding pattern on its legs to the internal features of its genitalia – are clearly visible and well-preserved. Recovered from the Green River Formation in present-day Colorado, the fossil represents a new genus and species of predatory insects known as assassin bugs. The find is reported in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.

Latch, load and release: Elastic motion makes click beetles click, study finds

Click beetles can propel themselves more than 20 body lengths into the air, and they do so without using their legs. While the jump’s motion has been studied in depth, the physical mechanisms that enable the beetles’ signature clicking maneuver have not. A new study examines the forces behind this super-fast energy release and provides guidelines for studying extreme motion, energy storage and energy release in other small animals like trap-jaw ants and mantis shrimps.

Winter 2020 Publication of the SIB Connections Newsletter

The School of Integrative Biology is excited to announce the second annual publication of SIB Connections, a newsletter designed for our alumni since the School was formed during the 2004-2005 academic year.

Pollinators not getting the 'buzz' they need in news coverage

A dramatic decline in bees and other pollinating insects presents a threat to the global food supply, yet it’s getting little attention in mainstream news.

That’s the conclusion of a study from researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, published this week in a special issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was based on a search of nearly 25 million news items from six prominent U.S. and global news sources, among them The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Associated Press.

Model predicts where ticks, Lyme disease will appear next in Midwest states

By drawing from decades of studies, scientists created a timeline marking the arrival of black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, in hundreds of counties across 10 Midwestern states. They used these data – along with an analysis of county-level landscape features associated with the spread of ticks – to build a model that can predict where ticks are likely to appear in future years.

Brain gene expression patterns predict behavior of individual honey bees

An unusual study that involved bar coding and tracking the behavior of thousands of individual honey bees in six queenless bee hives and analyzing gene expression in their brains offers new insights into how gene regulation contributes to social behavior. The study, reported in the journal eLife, reveals that the activity profile of regulator genes known as transcription factors in the brain strongly correlates with the behavior of honey bees, the researchers said. A single transcription factor can induce – or reduce – the expression of dozens of other genes.

Shipwrecked ivory a treasure trove for understanding elephants and 16th century trading

In 1533, a Portuguese trading vessel carrying forty tons of gold and silver coins along with other precious cargo went missing on its way to India. In 2008, this vessel, known as the Bom Jesus, was found in Namibia, making it the oldest known shipwreck in southern Africa. Now, an international collaboration of researchers in Namibia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States reporting in the journal Current Biology on December 17 have found that the ship's cargo included more than 100 elephant tusks,

Unexpected similarity between honey bee and human social life

Bees and humans are about as different organisms as one can imagine. Yet despite their many differences, surprising similarities in the ways that they interact socially have begun to be recognized in the last few years. Now, a team of researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, including Gene Robinson, are building on their earlier studies and have experimentally measured the social networks of honey bees and how they develop over time.