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Ask Dr. Universe Entomology

Dear Dr. Universe: I would like to find out how ants are so strong. How is it possible that they can carry weight that is heavier than themselves? –Anita, 11

Dear Anita,

Ants are pretty good little weightlifters. My friend Rich Zack, a scientist at Washington State University who studies insects, knows a lot about ants. One kind of ant that he has studied can carry up to 20 times its own weight.

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What is the smallest insect on Earth? -Laurenz, 8, Molino, Philippines 

Dear Laurenz,

When I saw your question, I set out to explore with my bug net and a magnifying glass. I was searching all around for tiny insects when I ran into my friend Laura Lavine, a Washington State University scientist who studies bugs.

She said there are nearly a million different kinds of insects on Earth. The smallest of all the known ones are called fairyflies.

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Why do bees make hexagons in their hives? Why not any other shape? -Aditya, 10, New Delhi, India

Dear Aditya,

When bees make hexagons in their hives, the six-sided shapes fit together perfectly. In fact, we’ve actually never seen bees make any other shape. That’s what I found out when I visited my friend Sue Cobey, a bee researcher at Washington State University.

Cobey showed me some honeycombs where the female bees live and work. Hexagons are useful shapes. They can hold the queen bee’s eggs and store the pollen and honey the worker bees bring to the hive.

When you think about it, making circles wouldn’t work too well. It would leave gaps in the honeycomb. The worker bees could use triangles or squares for storage. Those wouldn’t leave gaps. But the hexagon is the strongest, most useful shape.

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I saw a caterpillar and a butterfly in the neighbor's yard. So my question is, what exactly happens inside the little sack they're in while they transform into a butterfly and HOW exactly do they do it?  -Eston

Dear Eston,

Springtime sets the stage for one of the greatest transformations in the natural world.

“It’s the construction of a butterfly or moth from caterpillar soup,” said my friend David James, an entomologist at Washington State University. James studies the science behind metamorphosis, or how a creature transforms.

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