Sexy New Insecticide
Florida orange groves have been suffering from the plague of the disease citrus greening for years now, but a new vibration technology may prove to be the savior they’ve been looking for. Richard Mankin, an entomologist at the USDA’s Center for Medical Agriculture and Veterinary Entomology, has created a vibrational trap that interrupts the mating call between the male and female psyllids. Asian citrus psyllids are the culprits behind the deadly citrus greening disease. Their young suck the sap out of the new shoots and leaves of trees and inject poison back in. If we can get rid of the young, we can get rid of citrus greening.
Mankin’s device does just that. With a buzzer and a microphone, Mankin’s trap sends out signals that can either overpower other female psyllid signals, leading males to outside traps, or simply confuse the males psyllids, making it difficult for them to find a female to mate with. Without the mating process we have no baby psyllids to feed on the citrus trees and ruin our precious oranges.
What do you think of this novel approach to controlling the citrus greening problem?
The Right Repellent for an Insect-Free Yard
You might love watching the sun set from your back porch, but I’m betting you don’t love the mosquito bites that come with it, or the ever-hovering flies. So, what product really does work to get rid of pests in your backyard? Consumer Reports decided to do a little experiment of their own, recreating a backyard barbecue, complete with 250 aggressive mosquitos and four poor testers used as guinea pigs (in protective suits of course). They compared these products: Off! Citronella Bucket, Bug Band Portable Diffuser, and a giant oscillating fan. Which one do you think won?
And the prize goes to…the oscillating fan! Neither the Off! Citronella Bucket nor the Bug Band Portable Diffuser did much to deter mosquitos from landing on the test subjects, which goes to show what a waste of money some of these products are. It turns out the simple oscillating fan produced the greatest results, reducing mosquito landings on people by the fan by 45 to 65 percent. So, next time you want to enjoy the sun setting just take a fan outside with you rather than waste your money on those candles and fancy devices that don’t seem to do much of anything.
Have you tried any of these products that are supposed to repel mosquitos? How well have they worked for you?
Insect Repellent Arsenal
The use of insect repellents against possibly deadly insect bites is a double edged sword these days. Do you use the chemicals that have been reported to cause serious side effects or do you take the chance of getting bitten and possibly contracting a fatal disease? Well, thankfully there are finally some much safer insect repellent products out their made with milder, plant-like chemicals that have actually proved to work better than the traditional DEET. Consumer Reports performed a study on a range of different insect repellents and found that the ones containing 20 percent picaridin and 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus kept insects away for at least 7 hours. These two repellents offer a safer and more effective alternative to DEET products. Both of them have much less serious side effects than DEET, and are made from plants, making them a more environmentally friendly alternative to DEET.
The emergence of these products on the market is a life-saver…literally, as our problems with disease-carrying insects have only grown worse over the years. Mosquito bites are one of the main culprits, as West Nile was reportedly found in 47 states last year. Ticks are another bug these repellents deter. They can transmit Lyme disease, which affects around 300,000 people each year, and that number is growing.
What kind of insect repellent do you use? Have you tried these safer alternatives to DEET?
Insect Taste Buds
When you take a bite out of something and it tastes too bitter or sour for your liking you spit it out, right? Well scientists are now studying how insect taste buds work to try and figure out a way to make humans taste bad to them, preventing such insects as mosquitos from wanting to bite us in the first place. While studying fruit flies scientists discovered three receptors call GRs that allow them to taste the noxious amino acid L-canavanine. They also found that these receptors have the ability to shut off or close when they sense this nasty chemical.
Scientists now want to do tests on other insects to identify these taste receptors that communicate bad chemicals in order to create safer, cheaper chemical that could be used in insect repellents that would deter other insects from wanting to bite humans. The receptors connect to a neural pathway that gives a stop-feeding signal. Other, disease-carrying insects are likely to have the same kind of receptors, making it possible for scientists to find them and create repellents that would literally send signals to in the insects’ brains telling them not to bite. This could seriously revolutionize the field of insect repellents.
What do you think of this new approach to creating insect repellents? Do you think it will work?
The Wily Walkingstick
The walkingstick is one of the most amazing and yet common insects in the world. They are so talented at mimicry that most people never notice them amidst the rest of the twigs in trees. There are around 3,000 species of walkingsticks, some growing as long as 22 inches. These bugs have a few amazing accomplishments to brag about.
When walkingsticks mate their embrace can last for days. Pretty impressive, right? Well, this is mostly because the male doesn’t leave the female until her egg is fertilized. If he did, other males would simply walk right in and take his place, replacing his sperm with theirs. So, they have to have pretty good stamina just to protect their genetic stock.
The females are pretty clever themselves. When they lay their eggs, they simply discard them among dead leaves. But, in a smart move they attach an appendage to their eggs that trick ants into taking them back to their nests where the eggs can safely hatch. After being guarded by the ants, the hatchling eventually makes its way up into the trees to join other walkingsticks in their voracious consuming of leaves.
What do you think of these deceptively twig-looking bugs?
Five Insect Invaders
Agriculture specialists with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have found five destructive insect species entering our country through imported containers of fruit. They intercepted Steirastoma histrionica, a species of longhorned beetles, in March. These pests pose a significant threat to coniferous and deciduous forests. Paulinia , a species of grasshopper was found in containers of Columbia pineapples. This pest poses a threat to grains, pasture, and vegetable crops. Donus zoilus, a species of clover leaf weevil, was discovered in Costa Rica pineapples, and poses a threat to clover and alfalfa. Limnobaris calandriformis, another species of weevil, was found in Costa Rica pineapples. They pose a serious threat to palms and potentially carry the red-ring disease. Parandra, a species of borer insects, were found in a shipment of steel coils and plates from Brazil. This species attacks and kills live trees. As the insect pests were caught before they could transfer to any plants, officials are not yet worried about the possibility of them affecting our plants, but continue to be on the lookout for any of these pests in future containers.
What do you think about these pests being found in our imported items? Do you think the current control measures are strong enough?
Blood Stem Cell Regeneration
Being healthy is important; in fact that healthy gut may depend on maintain a complex relationship between immune and stem cells that line our intestines. Intestinal regeneration (after a bacterial infection) is controlled by these complex interactions. This relationship ensures repair but also goes awry in aging fruit flies according to scientists at the Buck Institute. “This work offers important new clues into the potential causes of age-related human maladies, such as irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut and colorectal cancer.”
Macrophage-like hemocytes, which compromise the cellular immune system in flies, goes to the intestines of Dropsophila following damage according to Nature Cell Biology researchers in the Jasper lab. These hemocytes set off the regenerative process through the activation of receptors in stem cells. The process then reverses by turning on other Dpp-related receptors. “The proper timing of these interactions may be kin in maintains a healthy gut.”
Aging makes it harder for these stem sells to switch gears which means flies are suffering from age-related intestinal dysfunctions. This process is similar to those experienced by humans. As we grow older, our ability to fend off infection and repair tissues gets more difficult.
Jasper wants to “promote stem cell repair and regeneration without having those responses become chronically activated.” In order to do this Japer needs to understand macrophages function more clearly, an essential step in the process.
Do you support stem cell research? Why or why not?
Trap-Jaw Ants Soaring to an Escape
A trap-jaw ant is named after its “spring-loaded mandible,” that when snapped shut can easily kill its prey. What is even more interesting to scientists at the University of Illinois however, is that they jaw can also be used as a predatory weapon
When a snap-jaw ant quickly closes their jaw against a hard surface (such as the ground), the reaction sends them flying. According to the University of Illinois, this ability allows them to escape their predators, ant lions. Ant lions, are known to wait at the bottom of pits they have dug as anticipate their prey to come sliding down the pit wall.
The trap-jaw ants jumping behavior was identified nearly 100 years ago, however, it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that Dr, Suarez and Sheila N. Patek acknowledged that this jump is an escape attempt. Mr. Larabee, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, ran some controlled experiments in a lab after collecting the trap-jaw ants and ant lions to test their defense. This was the first time that experiments like these have been run.
Mr. Larabee concluded that 50% of the time, the trap-jaw ants escaped the ant lion by running up the pit wall, and 15% of the time they hurled themselves away by snapping their jaws shut. He reported that his findings have added to existing studies, showing that this “behavioral trait evolved for predation” and has a “secondary use: escape.”
Have you ever seen a trap-jaw?
Burger King Popular with Hungry Rodents
Managers at a Burger King in Clearwater, Florida – the home of the original franchise restaurant, founded back in 1953 – are probably dreaming of rats and mice. The restaurant has been overrun and is now on the media radar as a decidedly poor choice in dining.
Burger King corporate offices and health inspection officials have given conflicting reports about whether the restaurant was temporarily shut down on June 18th. But, given the evidence of rodents, perhaps it should have been if it wasn’t.
Several health code violations were nothing too unusual. Boxed soft-serve ice cream was being stored on the floor; liquid eggs were left on the counter at 56 degrees. But a string of other violations, like grease build up and soiled ceiling tiles, were also noted during the inspection.
Worst of all – and the reason for the alleged closing – were evidence of rodents. Hamburger buns had been gnawed when left under the front counter. In the same area, and near the sink and storage unit, were scattered rodent droppings.
Burger King head offices disputed the closure, but the health code violations are a matter of public record.
Most insects use taste to ward off other insects. They shoot out foul-tasting liquid or cover their eggs in sticky gross substances to keep away predators. The Extatosoma tiaratum, however, does just the opposite. It coats its eggs in a substance that is irresistible to certain ants. Why does it do this? Well, when the ants are attracted to the egg, they bring it back to their nest and eat off the coating, throwing the egg in the trash. When the egg hatches, the baby Extatosoma mimics the behavior of the ants and grows up within their protection.
But their odd habit of fending off attackers with delicious substances doesn’t end there. When an Extatosoma is attacked they squirt out a gooey substance that researchers claim smell like peanut butter. The insect basically adds a delicious topping for the predator to enjoy. I’m not entirely sure how this is supposed to protect it, or how this insect has managed to survive in the wild, but it is certainly unique.
Have you ever heard of a bug that covers its eggs in a substance designed to attract predators? Why do you think they squirt peanut butter goo at their attackers?