SITE VISIT: Biggest, Fastest, Most Polyandrous

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Science  01 Oct 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5437, pp. 7
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5437.7d

Need to settle a bet about which insect migrates the farthest or which critter is armed with the most toxic venom? The University of Florida Book of Insect Records 1999 honors 39 champions. The desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, wins a gold medal for largest swarm (10 billion in one 1954 swarm). The unassuming honey bee, Apis mellifera, takes the title for most spectacular mating (“a ‘comet’ of drones pursues the female with the winner forfeiting a portion of his phallus at the end of coitus and dying soon thereafter”). The tsetse fly, Glossina palpalis, will never win an endorsement contract for its world-champ status as “least specific sucker of vertebrate blood”—it's not known to turn down a meal served through any kind of skin

The deadpan chapters, presented as review papers, were researched and written by grad students in entomologist Thomas Walker's seminars at the University of Florida, Gainesville. He started the online book, he says, to teach students how to evaluate the literature and write in a scientific style. After choosing a record, students interview experts in the field, post questions to entomology bulletin boards, and review published accounts to find insect contenders. Once the nominations are in, the students pick and defend a winner, explaining why the runners-up have to settle for silver and bronze. “It's a matter of evidence,” says Walker.

gnv.ifas.ufl.edu/∼tjw/recbk.htm

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