Termites Blood flow Life in the transients Miscellany Collaborators

Wooden sculpture of termite mound interior. Created by Rupert Soar and dsiplayed at Pestival in London


I've done research on a few odd things in my career, mostly from being distracted by pretty things to study This was a special problem during my initial sojourn in South Africa when I was at the University of Cape Town.


Lithops, or stone plants, are one of the most unusual of the many diverse succulent plants that make the flora of southern Africa so remarkable. Their two leaves are mostly underground, with only a clear window at the surface to admit light into the plant. We studied how window clarity affected leaf temperature in this very harsh thermal environment.

The black desert beetle paradox

The Namib is host to many unusual tenebrionid beetles, including beetles that are black and some which are white. Do these color differences signify some thermal adaptation? Why would any creature be black in a hot sunny environment like the Namib? We found that color matters little as long as wind speeds are above about one meter per second.

Spittle bugs

Spittle bugs are phloem parasites of plants. Theyget their name from the prominent wad of "spittle"that appears on grass stems in the spring. The spittle supposedly protects the nymph from desiccation, but this makes little sense because the nymph is faced with a surfeit of water. I proposed that the spittle is more a device to volatlize ammonia waste from the nymph's protein rich diet.

Trapdoor spiders

Trapdoors spiders living in hot deserts face a dilemma: eat and die of hyperthermia, or keep cool and die fo starvation. This study looked at how they resolve the dilemma.

Ants nesting under stones

Do desert ants build nests under stones to keep cool? Or for some other reason?

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