Hymenoptera at the AMNH

In the early years of this century, I was an intern at the American Museum of Natural History in the Invertebrate Biology laboratory. In addition to guided tours (which I still occasionally host), I specialized in the classification of Bolivian hymenoptera, the wildly diverse and important group of insects that includes wasps, bees, and ants. Of particular interest to me were the Ichneumonidae, known for their parasitic behavior, which includes the deposition of eggs within various unsuspecting larvae. This horrifying activity led many — among them a young Charles Darwin — to question the existence of a benevolent God (see below). Thus, this lowly insect stands alongside Voltaire and company as a gadfly to the Church.

“With respect to the theological view of the question. This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.” – Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, vol II, pg 49

Ichneumonids — such as this Rhyssa persuasoria — parasitize other animals. This individual has detected (no one yet knows how) a wood wasp larvae deep within a fir tree. Click to see its ovipositor boring through several inches of trunk to deposit eggs in the unlucky caterpillar.

The Order Hymenoptera (commonly thought of as wasps) contains over 100,000 species, including two of three or four the truly social organisms on the planet. Arguably the most fascinating family of all is the formicidae, or ants.

Another favorite is the family Pelicinidae. These individuals are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen — my own collection contains one that was collected in Mt. Tremblant, Canada. Click to enlarge.

 

Latest Blog Posts

    • Winter, 2013: I have been feeling a little creatively deprived in Kiev during my last few visits, so I decided that I would reach out and try to make some connections in the theatrical community here. So I posted a job on eLance (now Upwork), stating that I was looking for…

      Read More

    • A few years back, I was surprised to read this story in my friend Nassim Taleb’s book, Antifragile. He and I had lots of long talks while traveling in the Middle East and also over plates of pickled vegetables and vodka in Kiev, and so this tale must have popped from my mouth…

      Read More

    • The holiest hill in all the world is the hallowed Holy Hill of Wisconsin. Upon it stands the famed Shrine of Mary, Mother of God. The twin towers of this cathedral are visible for miles around, and the devout flock there to admire the holiness of the church and the…

      Read More

    • I’m looking to hire someone with strong Final Cut Pro X and Mac systems skills to help edit a documentary. The film is about a secret Soviet antenna from the Cold War — the Russian Woodpecker — and one man’s attempt to understand its link to the Chernobyl disaster and…

      Read More

    • In The Fear of Insignificance, psychotherapist Carlo Strenger provides a compelling and far-reaching account of the illnesses of modern life. He shows how the human predicament described by Ernest Becker forty years ago has been compounded by technology, globalization, and the ascendance of escapist philosophies that militate against living an…

      Read More

    • Read More

    • “Books lift us out of the smallness of the present and into history, out of the smallness of ourselves and into humanity.” – Brian Jay Stanley Ten Great Books: – The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker taught me why human individuals act and feel the way we do. – Escape from…

      Read More

    • The day I received my driver’s license, in the summer of 1985, I immediately set out on a pilgrimage I had been dreaming of for a long time: a visit to Walden Pond. I wanted to walk the same woods, amble from Thoreau’s cabin to the cool edge of the…

      Read More

    •   I’m planning a philosophical conclave in Venice on December 13th – 20th. Each morning will start with Italian lessons for those who want them, from 9am – 11am, run by a local. During lunch, we will have visiting scholars in art, philosophy, and history. Afternoons are for wandering and shivering…

      Read More

    • On a recent stay in Kiev, I had an apartment near the top of Andrew’s Descent. St. Andrew’s dazzling green and white cupolas filled one window and another looked out over the neighborhood of Podil, the Dnieper, and beyond. While gazing across the river, I noticed a large hill nestled…

      Read More

Twitter Updates