All posts by Hulett Environmental

New White-Winged Moth

New White-Winged Moth

A new moth with immaculate white wings was discovered recently in Florida. It prefers drier habitats such as the sandhills of the peninsula of Florida. So far it is only known to eat the evergreen sand live oak. At first it was mistaken for other moths with pale whitish wings, but upon further inspection scientists noticed that this moth’s forewings are immaculately white. Its hindwings are a pale grey, and it is not spotted, unlike its close relatives.

Its pale white color reveals its habitat preference. The moths’ white wings are meant to blend in with the sandy areas prevalent in the Florida peninsula, as well as other dry habitats containing sandy deserts. While the moths’ preference for drier climates is unique among moths and butterflies, it is quite common in other insects and spineless animals.

Have you spotted this beautiful white-winged moth? Why do you think it prefers to live in drier areas, unlike most moths and butterflies?

6 Common Spider Beliefs that are False

6 Common Spider Beliefs that are False

Here are 6 common myths about spiders, provided by PRI:

Myth #1: Spiders are aggressive

According to PhD student Catherine Scott, the commonly feared black widows are “actually very shy, unaggressive spiders that really don’t deserve their poor reputation.”

Myth #2: Spiders want to bite you

“Spiders really have no interest in biting people, unlike a lot of other arthropods like mosquitos and ticks and mites that feed on human blood… the only reason a spider would bite you is if you’re crushing it or otherwise harassing it and it feels like it’s got no other choice but to try to defend itself,” Scott says.

Myth #3: Spiders are dangerous

Only 2 kinds of spiders exist in North America that can significantly hurt someone; widow spiders and the brown recluse spiders. Scott says that if you find a black widow crawling on you to just let it be and allow it to crawl off.

According to one of Scott’s tricks, she says “The way that I get black widows to move around is by gently brushing their hind legs with a soft paintbrush. So if you’re sort of tickling them from behind, then you might be able to convince them to walk off of you.”

Myth #4: Spiders crawl on you when you’re sleeping

“The chances of having a spider on you are pretty low. Contrary to popular belief, spiders do not go into your bed at night to bite you or try to go into your mouth. That myth that you swallow spiders is totally false,” Scott says.

Myth #5: Spiders venom is bad for you

Lauren Esposito, Curator of Arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences, is currently studying the medical properties of spider venom. There are multiple different components to venom that are being researched for their therapeutic properties- “everything from treating erectile dysfunction to treating drug resistant bacteria…to treating things like muscular dystrophy and Alzheimer’s,” Esposito says.

Myth #6: Spiders are ugly, scary and bad

“Spiders and scorpions and other arachnids are cuddly creatures,” Esposito says. Scott agrees saying I think spiders are a lot more fascinating than scary. And if you learn more about them, start watching their behavior, their behavior is really cool, and they’re beautiful.”

Lauren Esposito regularly milks scorpions. Catherine Scott lets black widows crawl on her. Both of these spider experts love arachnids, and they want you to love them, too.

Sexy New Insecticide

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

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

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

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 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

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

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?