Great Pest Links and Resources from The Blogosphere! Enjoy!
Just as a homeowner might adopt a large dog with an equally large bark to protect his or her property, a certain orb spider makes a similar investment to protect its web, according to new research that finds this arachnid uses a chemical in its web silk to repel ant burglars.
“Ants are often found in webs of some web-building spiders, but they are rarely observed foraging in webs of orb-web spiders, though ants are potential predators,” study researcher Daiqin Li, at the National University of Singapore, told LiveScience in an email.
“There must be other mechanisms of protection of ant invasion. One possibility might be some chemicals that could deter/repel ants.”
To figure out what was chasing the ants away, the researchers collected wild orb-web spiders (Nephila antipodiana) and analyzed their silk for chemicals. They found one, called 2-pyrrolidione, present in the silk strands that ants seemed to avoid in the lab, including the widespread Pharaoh ant (Monomorium pharaonis) and two others. Even when tempted with a free tasty snack, the ants wouldn’t cross the silk strands that had been coated with this deterrent.
“Golden orb-web spiders produce a chemical in their web silk that deters ant invasion, which adds chemical defense to the impressive properties of spider silk, already known to be strong, elastic and adhesive,” Li said.
The researchers also discovered that young spiders don’t need to make this chemical, because their silk is too thin for even tiny ants to cross. Larger juveniles and adult spiders make the ant-deterrent to stop ants from invading their homes and their web, their fresh-caught prey and even the spiders themselves.
The researchers aren’t sure how the spiders make this chemical (whether they add it to their silk or paint it on later), or how it works. The chemical isn’t what scientists call “volatile,” so it doesn’t produce a smell. The ants could be “tasting” the compound, because they only avoid the silk after they come into contact with it, but will stay in the vicinity even after that contact.
“The orb spider is potentially vulnerable to attack from groups of ants while sitting in its web waiting for prey, so the chemical defense in web silk may have evolved to not only protect the spider, but to reduce the time and energy that would otherwise be required to chase away invading ants,” study researcher Mark Elgar, from the University of Melbourne, said in a statement.
They’ve also found similar chemicals in other spider silks, which indicates this type of chemical deterrent could be widespread in spiders. Interestingly, the same 2-pyrrolidione compound has been seen in glands of the ant Crematogaster sjostedti — the same glands that make chemicals that signal a warning to other ants. The spiders could be mimicking these chemical warning signals.
The study was published today (Nov. 22) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Hulett Environmental Services recommends the following steps to pest proof your home this winter:
- Seal up any cracks and holes on the outside of your home including areas where utilities and pipes enter your home. Frequent vacuuming can help to eliminate tiny pests that other pests feed on.
- Make sure vents are screened and gaps around windows and doors are sealed.
- Keep tree branches and shrubbery well trimmed and away from the house.
- Inspect boxes, grocery bags and other packaging thoroughly to curb hitchhiking insects.
- Keep basements, attics, and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry.
- Store garbage in sealed containers and dispose of it regularly.
- Store fire wood at least 20 feet away from the house and five inches off of the ground.
- Repair fascia and soffits and rotted roof shingles; some insects are drawn to deteriorating wood.
- Replace weather-stripping and repair loose mortar around the basement foundation and windows.
- Hulett Environmental is your best resource to ensure these steps are completed properly.
When the weather turns colder and the holiday season approaches, many opt to stay indoors and bake treats for friends and family. When digging through your cabinets and storage for baking necessities, like cookie cutters and containers of flour, make sure you are leaving unwanted “pantry pests” out of the mix. The National Pest Management Association offers consumers tips for keeping these pesky pests from spoiling your holiday baking traditions.
“Pantry pests” are insects that tend to gather around food often stored in pantries and cabinets such as flour, dry cereals, spices, candies and chocolate. Common pantry pests include Indian meal moths and Merchant Grain Beetles.
“Many families enjoy baking during the holiday season, and spotting a pest in your ingredients or supplies is a surefire way to ruin the fun,” says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for NPMA. “By following a few helpful tips, homeowners can feel comfortable in their kitchens and safe when enjoying their fresh baked treats.”
The National Pest Management Association suggests the following steps to avoid pantry pests:
- Immediately wipe up any crumbs or spills from countertops, tables, floors and shelves.
- Store food in airtight containers and dispose of garbage regularly in sealed receptacles.
- Only purchase food in sealed packages that show no sign of damage.
- Add a bay leaf to canisters and packages of dry goods like flour, rice and other grains- their pungent scent repels many pantry pests.
- Install door sweeps on exterior doors and repair damaged screens.
- Check expiration dates on baking ingredients before use.
- Eliminate all moisture sites, including leaking pipes and clogged drains.
If you suspect a pest infestation, contact a licensed pest professional to inspect, identify
Melanie Haiken, Contributor
Just because you haven’t heard much about bed bug-infested airplanes doesn’t mean that economy or business class seat is free of the icky pests. While the topic hasn’t hit the headlines the way bed bugs in hotels has, the stories are getting out.
Passengers Go Viral with Bed Bug Complaints
According to the Daily Mail, British Airways was forced to fumigate two planes after discovering a bed bug infestation on a Los Angeles-London flight. However, BA did not act quickly; the business class passenger, Zane Selkirk, became so disgruntled by the airline’s lack of response to her complaints that she set up awebsite and posted photos of her bite-covered arms, legs and feet online and they went viral and it wasn’t until then that BA conducted an investigation and found the bugs. Another passenger wrote an op-ed letter to the New York Times last year after flying United Airlines to Washington D.C. from L.A. – again in business class – and arriving covered in bites his doctor diagnosed as bed bug bites.
Yet search for official reports or statistics about bed bugs on airplanes and you won’t find much. “There are numerous cases of bed bugs being spread on airplanes,” according to Bed-Bugs.com, a referral site for extermination services. “Bed bugs can spread through close proximity with fellow travelers as well as their belongings. They also thrive where there is frequent turnover of people. On airplanes, people are in close proximity, are not able to move other than on the plane, and their belongings are required to stay untouched for long periods of time. This is an excellent recipe for bed bug transmittal.”
Of course, it’s easy to imagine that the last thing the airlines want to talk about is passengers bringing home a bed bug infestation as a result of an overpriced, under-served flight. And they’re not likely to add fumigation to their standard cleaning procedures. So what can you do to protect yourself?
How to Stay Bed Bug-Free While Flying
Several companies are coming to the rescue with products designed to protect against bed bugs in transit.
- Cover Your Seats Invented by a New York entrepreneur fed up with worrying about bed bugs at the movies, Bug Off seat covers are light stretchable plastic covers that are easy to slip over airplane or movie theater seats. They’re light and packable and provide a bug-proof layer between the upholstery and you. You could accomplish the same thing by bringing a box of saran wrap and encasing your seat in plastic, but these seat covers are much easier to use and the fabric is also comfortable to sit on. Several other companies, BedGuard and Seat Defender have also jumped into this market, but I’ve tried Bug Off covers myself and can attest that they’re big enough to go over any airline seat and the strong fabric doesn’t rip even on a long flight. At $2.99 they’re also not a big investment.
- Bring your own pillow and blanket. In Zane Selkirk’s horrific experience, it was the blanket “crawling with bed bugs” that caught her eye. It doesn’t have to get that extreme, though, to suggest it’s best to beware airline blankets. After all, during last year’s H1N1 flu epidemic, many airlines pulled the blankets fearing they could transmit the virus. Pack a travel pillow (inflatable if you’re tight for space) and a blanket or pashmina shawl. Or just dress in warm layers instead.
- Plastic Bag Your Carry On Since it’s way to easy for bed bugs to slip into your carry on while it’s stored under your seat. The best way to prevent this happening is to encase it in a plastic bag, such as a shopping bag or kitchen-sized garbage bag.
- Stop Bed Bugs Before They Get In Your House The real problem with bed bugs isn’t when they bite you en route (the bites heal quickly and don’t cause any lasting damage), it’s when they come home with you and set up housekeeping in your home. The way to keep this from happening is with stringent preventive measures. Don’t bring luggage or carry-ons inside your home, but empty them outside and wash clothes and anything else that’s washable. A hot dryer will also kill bedbugs, so dry anything you don’t want to wash. Put the suitcase and bag itself in a plastic bag and store for two weeks.
Bed bugs aren’t the only health problem on planes, of course; ever since the H1N1 epidemic last year there’s been increasing attention on the problem of flu and cold transmission on airlines. Luckily, there’s lots you can do to stay flu-free while traveling
Everyday Bedbug Prevention Tips
- Vacuum suitcases after returning from a vacation.
- Check your sheets for tell-tale blood spots.
- Consider bringing a large plastic trashbag to keep your suitcase in during hotel stays.
- Carry a small flashlight to assist you with quick visual inspections.
- Never bring second-hand furniture, especially mattresses and box springs, into a home without thoroughly examining for signs of a bed bug infestation. You might consider having a pest control professional inspect the furniture as it is difficult to detect an infestation without training.
- Regularly inspect areas where pets sleep for signs of bed bugs.
- Bed bugs are elusive creatures, so it is imperative to seek professional pest control assistance to address an infestation.
What are crazy, hairy ants? Are they referred to as Rasberry Crazy Ants or Caribbean Crazy Ants?
- These are probably all one and the same species Nylanderia pubens with multiple common names.
- Rasberry crazy ants were first found in Texas in 2002. They are believed to be related to a species from the Caribbean.
- Caribbean crazy ants are found in Florida – have likely been there since the 1950’s but pest professionals have been receiving more and more reports since 2000.
- The more common Crazy ant (Paratrechina longicornis) looks similar to the Rasberry and Caribbean crazy ants, but have marked differences. Their antennae and legs are significantly longer and their bodies are slightly larger. Their populations are also more spread out around the U.S.
Why are they called “crazy” ants?
Crazy ants get their common name from their habit of running in an erratic, jerky manner when searching for food.
Is there a specific reason these ants are a problem this time of year?
Crazy, hairy ants are an invasive species by definition so are very good at invading new areas. Ants react to drought and rainfall in different ways so weather can play a role in their movement. Additionally, they are very good hitchhikers and can be transported to new areas as stowaways in cargo.
Where are these ants found?
In the U.S. these ants are found in South Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Houston and surrounding areas of coastal Texas.
Specifically for Texas, according to Texas A&M University’s Center for Urban & Structural Entomology, “high numbers of the ants have been found in localized spot infestations in southeast Houston (Harris County), including Houston, Pasadena, Deer Park, Friendswood, San Jacinto Port, Pearland, Seabrook and La Porte. Localized infestations have also been confirmed from areas in Bexar, Brazoria, Cameron, Fort Bend, Chambers, Galveston, Hardin, Harris, Hidalgo, Jefferson, Jim Hogg, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, Nueces, Orange, Walker and Wharton counties. This ant has the potential to spread well beyond the current range in coastal Texas.”
These ants prefer tropical/semi-tropical climates. Colonies typically grow in warmer months with populations peaking in August/September. Their numbers remain high through October and November.
Why are they problematic?
Although these ants usually nest outside, they will forage indoors in large numbers in cooler temperatures or after rainfall. Inside, crazy ants usually nest underneath floors or carpeting, inside wall voids and soffits.
Crazy ants can become a problem when they infest a home or another structure for a couple of reasons:
- Extremely large colonies resulting in massive infestations which can be difficult to treat, often requiring multiple treatments. Colonies may grow to about 1 million.
- These ants also have an odd propensity to nest in electrical boxes and around electrical equipment, causing short – outs and electrical equipment failure.
Are these ants harmful to humans and/or pets?
Crazy ants feed primarily on live and dead insects, seeds, fruits and honeydew. They are capable of biting, but it’s rare. It’s the size of their colonies that poses the biggest problem.
What can homeowners do to prevent infestations?
- Seal points of entry around the house including small openings and cracks around doors and windows.
- Clean up food spills, keep honeydew in closed containers in the fridge and remove other potential attractants as soon as possible.
- Remove potential nest sites/debris from around the exterior of the home
- If you suspect an infestation, Just Call Hulett to evaluate the best course of treatment.
DUKE (US) — A new wirelessly powered telemetry system is lightweight and powerful enough to study the neurological activity of dragonflies as they capture prey on the wing.
Past studies of insect behavior have been limited by the fact that remote data collection, or telemetry, systems were too heavy to allow the insects to act naturally, as they would in the wild. The new system uses no batteries; its power is beamed wirelessly to the flying dragonfly.
Duke University electrical engineer Matt Reynolds, working with Reid Harrison at Intan Technologies, developed the chip for scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), who are trying to better understand the complex flight control system of dragonflies.
They gather their information by attaching tiny electrodes to individual cells in the dragonfly’s nerve cord and recording the electrical activity of the dragonfly’s neurons and muscles. Because existing systems are so heavy, experiments to date have been carried out with immobilized dragonflies.
“Our system provides enough power to the chip attached to a flying dragonfly that it can transmit in real time the electrical signals from many dragonfly neurons,” Reynolds says. The researchers expect this system will enable studying behavior of small animals remotely for the first time.
Reynolds, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, presented his work last week at the annual Biomedical Circuits and Systems Conference, held by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in San Diego.
Tons of data
The wireless power transmitter works within a flight arena used for the experiments. It can send enough power to the chip to enable it to send back reams of data at over five megabits per second, which is comparable to a typical home Internet connection.
This is important, the scientists say, because they plan to sync the neuronal data gathered from the chip with high-speed video taken while the insect is in flight and preying on fruit flies.
“Capturing this kind of data in the past has been exceedingly challenging,” says Anthony Leonardo, a neuroscientist who studies the neural basis of insect behavior at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Virginia. “In past studies of insect neurons, the animal is alert, but restrained, and observing scenarios on a projection screen. A huge goal for a lot of researchers has been to get data from live animals who are acting naturally.”
Weighs less than a stamp
The average weight of the dragonfly species involved in these studies is about 400 milligrams, and Leonardo estimates that an individual dragonfly can carry about one-third of its weight without negatively impacting its ability to fly and hunt.
Currently, most multi-channel wireless telemetry systems weigh between 75 and 150 times more than a dragonfly, not counting the weight of the battery, which rules them out for most insect studies, he says. A battery-powered version of the insect telemetry system, previously developed by Harrison and Leonardo, weighs 130 milligrams—liftable by a foraging dragonfly but with difficulty.
The chip that Reynolds and his team developed is just 38 milligrams, or less than half the weight of a typical postage stamp. That makes it one-fifth the weight of earlier telemetry systems, but with 15 times greater bandwidth, Reynolds says.
The researchers expect to begin flight experiments with dragonflies over the next few months. The testing will take place in a specially designed flight arena at HHMI’s Janelia Farm complex equipped with nature scenes on the walls, a pond and plenty of fruit flies for the dragonflies to eat.
The chip, with two hair-thin antennae, will be attached to the belly of the insect so it does not interfere with the wings. Being carried like a backup parachute on the underside of the animal also gives it uninterrupted radio contact with the power transmitter on the ground.
The project is supported in part by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
More news from Duke University: http://today.duke.edu/