Insects | St. Louis Public Radio


Scott Allred, a beekeeper in Wildwood, tends to his hives. Allred has been capturing wayward bee swarms in the St. Louis area since 2012.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Bob Altman didn’t notice the bee swarm at first.

“My neighbor came over and knocked on my door and said, ‘Bob, there’s something in your backyard,’” Altman said.

The Florissant resident watched as thousands of bees zoomed in circles behind his home “like a tornado,” before landing on an old clothesline pole in a humming ball.

Kasey Fowler-Finn, a St. Louis University biologist, puts the finishing touches on part of the "Too Hot to Sing" exhibit at the SLU Museum of Art. Jan 9 2020
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Kasey Fowler-Finn wants people to hear how climate change could alter the lives of a sap-feeding insect that’s smaller than a fingernail. 

The St. Louis University biologist studies how rising temperatures could affect the mating calls of treehoppers. Fowler-Finn and Virginia-based sound artist Stephen Vitiello used that research to produce an exhibit, called “Too Hot To Sing,” that opens today at the SLU Museum of Art

Robert Marquis, a professor emeritus of biology at University of Missouri-St. Louis, looks for caterpillars on oak trees.
Jose Fabrara

Many insects that feed on Missouri oak trees could be threatened by climate change, according to a study from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. 

Researchers from UMSL and several other universities looked at more than 250 insect species in Missouri, including leaf-tying caterpillars. Biologists reported in the journal Frontiers that the insects’ populations took major hits after mid-spring frosts and summer droughts, decreasing as much as 95% for some species.

Researchers at SLU eavesdropped on treehopper love songs to better understand how climate change might affect mating in this insect species.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The insects in your backyard are having conversations at this very moment — but you can’t hear most of them.

Many communicate by producing tiny vibrations that travel through plant leaves and stems, like Morse code. 

St. Louis University researchers are studying treehoppers, insects common to Missouri and Illinois, to understand how climate change might affect their mating songs. Based on years of research, they report male treehoppers change their songs depending on temperature, but females still find the new songs attractive. 

Bee expert Nicole Miller-Struttmann was recently awarded the 2019 Science Educator Award by the St. Louis Academy of Science.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The welfare of all sorts of insects has been garnering attention of late, with some disconcerting headlines about declining insect populations.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jeremy D. Goodwin talked with a local scientist to learn more about what is happening and how humans can help bees and other insects thrive.

Considered one of the top bee experts in the U.S., Webster University biologist Nicole Miller-Struttmann annually heads up a summer Bee Blitz in Forest Park, where photo enthusiasts spread out for an afternoon of bee photography that helps scientists track the population of bee species.

This treehopper in a greenhouse at Saint Louis University would not normally have a purple horn or "pronotum." It was painted that color for identification purposes.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Researchers are studying countless plants and animals to understand how climate change could threaten populations. At Saint Louis University, scientists want to know if changes in temperature could affect the mating songs of insects.  

Biologists at SLU have received $480,000 from the National Science Foundation to study how temperature affects treehopper mating songs, which could provide clues as to how climate change could affect insect survival. The loss of insect species could adversely affect agriculture and many ecosystems that depend on them.

Good vibrations! These bugs do their sexting via plant stem

Sep 10, 2015
This treehopper in a greenhouse at Saint Louis University would not normally have a purple horn or "pronotum." It was painted that color for identification purposes.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

On a warm summer night, it can sound like there are insects all over the place, calling out from every lawn, bush and tree branch.

But most of what insects are saying to one another we can’t hear.

Saint Louis University evolutionary ecologist Kasey Fowler-Finn has been listening in on the hidden world of insect communication and one bug’s unusual love songs.

Don't let the bedbugs bite ...

Sep 3, 2010

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 3, 2010 - This summer, when Linda Morgan began waking up with strange bug bites on her arm, she didn’t know quite what to make of them. “I still have the scars,” said the 51-year-old Granite City resident. “They were incredibly itchy, 10 times worse than mosquito bites.”