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SPRING SUNSHINE SENDS ANTS SEARCHING INDOORS
Hulett Environmental reveals common ant species that are more than just a nuisance
When spring arrives, ants often become a nuisance for homeowners as they move indoors in search of food. And, with more than 700 species in the United States, Hulett Environmental says it’s likely most people will encounter this pest during the warmer months.
As the temperature continues to rise across the country, homeowners might start to find tiny ants crawling around throughout the home. This pest can be a nuisance, but most people don’t realize that certain ant species also pose health and property risks depending on geography.
The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) encourages homeowners to be on the lookout for the following ant species this spring:
Argentine Ants: Colonies of Argentine ants are found throughout the southeastern parts of the U.S. and California usually in wet environments near a food source. Argentine ants do not pose a health threat, but they can contaminate food and give off a musty odor when crushed.
Carpenter Ants: This aggressive species of ant is found nationwide, especially in the northern region. Carpenter ants attack wood and can cause severe property damage, which is usually not covered by homeowners’ insurance.
Crazy Ants: First found in Texas in 2002, crazy ants have spread to other southern states, nesting in both dry and moist habitats. This species does not pose a health threat, but they can become a nuisance.
Odorous House Ants: This species is found in every region of the U.S. and commonly nests in basements, crawl spaces and adjacent structures. Odorous house ants do not pose a health risk, but they give off a strong, rotten coconut-like smell when crushed.
Pavement Ants: These black ants are found throughout the eastern portion of the U.S., and in California and Washington. They get their name from making nests in or under cracks in pavement. Pavement ants can contaminate food and should be avoided.
Red Imported Fire Ants: These red ants are found in the southeastern U.S., from Virginia to Texas, as well as California and New Mexico. They are commonly introduced to new areas through potted plants, shrubbery and trees. Fire ants will sting humans who disturb a nest, often causing painful welts.
If you suspect an ant infestation, contact a licensed pest professional to identify the species and recommend a course of treatment. For more information on ants, please visit www.bugs.com
The coneheads are about to swarm.
A ravenous Caribbean termite with a pointy head – hence the name – is awaiting the start of rainy season to send out clouds of winged colonists to found new nests, threatening to spread the species beyond its square-mile foothold in Dania Beach.
Hoping to stop the advance of a uniquely dangerous, difficult-to-control species, the Florida Department of Agriculture last week deployed crews to destroy nests as part of a broader campaign seeking federal aid and a partnership with the pest-control industry to devise the best way to control them.
Crews spread out west of the intersection of Interstate 95 and Griffin Road and found nests on 13 properties, where the termites were shredding walls, broom handles and anything else made of wood. They placed the nests in plastic garbage bags and brought them to a nearby trash incinerator, said Mark Fagan, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture.
The work, building on past efforts in the neighborhood, is intended to drive down their numbers before swarm season, when tens of thousands take to the air to conquer new territories. Although there’s no evidence they’ve spread, experts say it’s possible because termite colonies take years to build up to the point where the nests are visible.
“We know the population in Dania Beach has been sending out their fliers since the early 2000s,” said Barbara Thorne, research professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Entomology, who is working on the campaign. “We have these colonies out there cooking and eating the dead wood in the trees. It’s likely there are young colonies hidden in trees, shrubs, stumps, structures.”
The termite, formally known as Nasutitermes corniger, first turned up in Dania Beach in 2001, most likely in wood pallets arriving at a nearby marina from the Caribbean. They form above-ground nests shaped like basketballs and watermelons, and they tunnel up the sides of trees and houses, leaving behind a distinctive web of dark brown trails.
The agriculture department plans a public relations campaign in the coming months to alert residents beyond the borders of the termite’s known range, with door-hangers and other methods.
“We want it to be an early warning system,” Thorne said.
As part of the effort, experts inside and outside the government have concluded the termite needs a new name. The species had been known as the tree termite – in addition to its clunky Latin name – but there are other species of tree termite and the name may give homeowners a false sense of security, implying the termites only consume trees.
They settled on conehead, catchy, easy to pronounce and reminiscent of the Saturday Night Live family of aliens from the planet Remulak (who claimed to be from France). They plan to submit the proposal to the Entomological Society of America, which approves new common names.
Termites are nothing new to South Florida; 20 or so species provide a challenge to homeowners and a steady income to the pest-control industry. What makes this termite different is that it lives above ground, so it doesn’t compete with the more common subterranean termites.
It’s not a picky eater, as long as it’s wood. And because its habits are so different from the typical South Florida termite, pest-control companies can’t deploy their usual tactics, such as treating the soil with insecticide.
“Its behavior and biology are entirely different from what the industry is accustomed to,” said Allen Fugler, executive vice president of the Florida Pest Management Association. “It will build a nest in a tree. It looks like a paper wasp nest, and it could be easily overlooked, even by trained professionals.”
The department of agriculture is working with the Florida Pest Management Association and Certified Pest Control Operators of Florida to devise consistent, reliable control methods the average pest-control operator can use.
The department has requested $202,000 from the state Legislature and the National Pest Management Association is lobbying Congress for matching funds on a three to one ratio, for a maximum of $606,000 in federal money. The funds would go toward training and subsidizing termite control for property owners who can’t afford it, said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association.
The season generally lasts from March through May, depending on the species, with the coneheads being among the last to swarm. You may see clouds of what appear to be flying ants around your home or piles of wings on the ground. They chew off their wings after they’ve served their purpose. Although most of the swarmers fail to found new colonies – getting eaten by birds, spiders and other predators – a few are successful and that’s enough to keep South Florida’s termite populations thriving.
Bedbugs are a growing public health issue in the United States and around the world, but their resurgence in recent years may have been aided by humans who unwittingly helped the pests evolve numerous ways of thwarting a common insecticide, scientists say.
In a new study published online today in Scientific Reports, researchers examined the genes of bedbugs from different U.S. cities and found that several of the populations had multiple means of resisting a class of insecticides called pyrethroids.
Pyrethroid insecticides are commonly used in bedbug control because of their relative safety for humans and pets, effectiveness, and low cost, but their use has also led to widespread development of resistance in the pests.
To investigate how some bedbugs were defending themselves, scientists compared the genes of 20 pyrethroid-resistant populations of the insects from around the country against a susceptible colony from Los Angeles, California.
The team identified 14 genes that coded for proteins that were expressed at higher levels in the resistant insects, compared with the nonresistant Los Angeles population.
Further investigation revealed that all of these “overexpressed” genes were active in the tough outer shell of resistant bedbugs, and either helped neutralize pyrethroid insecticides before they could take effect or prevented them from entering the insects’ bodies in the first place.
“Many mechanisms of resistance seem to be in play in these various populations simultaneously,” said study co-author Kenneth Haynes, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky.
The study also revealed that despite sometimes being separated by hundreds of miles, resistant bedbug colonies utilized many of the same genes to protect themselves against pyrethroid insecticides.
Bedbugs by themselves aren’t very mobile, but Haynes suspects the bugs are catching rides with humans-or rather, their furniture.
“The transcontinental transport of furniture is likely a major source of [bedbug] movement,” he said.
Human involvement would also explain another puzzling pattern, recently discovered by scientists at North Carolina State University, in which bedbugs from different cities were sometimes more closely related to one another than to other populations from the same city.
“We see isolated pockets where bedbugs across town may not be closely related to each other, but populations in [North Carolina] might be closely related to one out of Michigan,” Haynes said, indicating that the bedbugs hitched a ride with a human moving to another part of the country.
Haynes cautioned that his idea is “highly speculative” and still unproven, but entomologist Zachary Adelman of Virginia Tech said the hypothesis makes sense.
“If local populations evolved their own [insecticide resistance] strategy and then mixed [with other populations], the result would be quite similar to what we see now,” said Adelman, who was not involved in the study.
An intriguing question raised by the new findings, researchers say, is just when did bedbugs evolve their resistance?
“[Was it] in the past ten years? The past 50? Or are we looking at the past several hundred years or more?” Adelman said.
Figuring out the resistance time line, Adelman added, could provide insights about how fast evolution is working in bedbugs and could have implications for the future of bedbug control.
A New Prescription
Changlu Wang, an entomologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said the new findings are already providing valuable clues about how to better handle bedbugs.
For example, knowing that the cuticle, or protective outer layer, plays a key role in insecticide resistance in bedbugs “implies that better formulations can be designed to penetrate the cuticle more effectively and thus provide better control,” said Wang, who was not involved in the research.
Study co-author Haynes said the findings also suggested that rotating different insecticides or targeting specific bedbug populations with a more “prescription-like” use of insecticides could be effective.