All posts by Hulett Environmental

State Insects

State Insects

The state insect of Illinois has been monarch butterfly for 40 years, however now Hoosier state Rep Kevin Mahan wants it to be a symbol of Indiana.

Starting on January 5th, lawmakers will convene their 10-week session where Mahan will propose the General Assembly to declare the monarch Indiana’s state butterfly.

Both states identify the cardinal as their state bird, so this would not be the first state symbol to be shared by both Indiana and Illinois. In time for the states 200th birthday, Indiana may also be getting its own state insect. As recommended by students at Cumberland Elementary School is West Lafayette, the state is planning to propose the firefly as its state insect.

What is your states symbol?

The Real Life Monster From Alien

The Real Life Monster From Alien

I’m a major lover of horror films, and I still cringe every time I see the baby alien burst forth from John Hurt’s chest in Alien. That is just plain disturbing. Well, guess what? There is an organism that does pretty much the same thing…and it glows green. Luckily for us humans its victims are insects.

The bacteria Photorhabdus hangs out in the gut of a tiny worm called a nematode. When the nematode finds a suitable victim such as a nice fat caterpillar it worms its way into the victim’s bloodstream and spits out the bacteria. This is where the fun really begins. The bacteria spits out toxins that kill the insect before spewing enzymes that then liquefy it, and it finally releases antibiotics that prevent anyone else from being able to enjoy in the meal. In this new gooey habitat the nematode and its bacteria reproduce until there are so many tiny worms inside the insect that they literally burst forth out of its body. Hence the comparison to Aliens.

Did you think there was a creature in this world that actually burst out of an organisms body like the baby alien in Alien? Isn’t it kind of awesome, though?

Stopping the Spread

Stopping the Spread

As crazy as it sounds (or maybe not crazy at all) invasive insects cost the U.S. an estimated $120 billion a year in damages to our environment, agriculture and native species. Below I will list out 5 invasive pests, and how you can stop their spread!

Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP):

A disease-infected insect that spreads Huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening disease) throughout citrus producing states. I order to stop the spread of the ACP; consumers must avoid moving citrus plants. Unfortunately once a tree is infected there is no cure, leading the tree to produce green, misshapen and bitter fruit.

Imported Fire Ants:

Both black and red fire ants commonly move to new, non-infested areas by doing so naturally or by spreading colonies, and potentially even by hitchhiking on agricultural commodities. Reduce their spread by cleaning all farm equipment that may be caked in mud and dirt before moving them between properties.

Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB):

These beetles attack 12 different types of trees, with the most being maple. Once a tree is infested with ALB the tree will due. We can help by reporting signs of ALB that way the spread can be prevented by the state. Signs of ALB include ¼ inch or larger exit holes, egg sites, frass (sawdust-like material) on the ground or in brand crotches, dead or fallen branches and an larva or tunneling holes in cut wood) Make sure you do not move firewood either because you may be moving ALB or other damaging pests.

Khapra Beetle:

Although this beetle has not been detected in the United States, we want to be sure that it stays this way as it is one of the world’s most destructive pests. They are a threat to stored agricultural products, including grain, spices, packaged and dried food and animal products. The plants at risk include wheat, barley, oats, rye, maize, rice and flour. To help prevent this beetle from entering the U.S. be sure you are always declaring all agricultural products when traveling internationally.

The Mosquito Hunter

The Mosquito Hunter

Leslie Vosshall eats, sleeps, and breathes mosquitos. She spends her days and nights studying mosquitos in the effort to find a new better repellent against them. She originally thought she had found one based on her previous work with flies. Ms. Vosshall discovered that flies use a set of proteins called odorant receptors to smell and that one in sub-unit of these proteins in particular, called Orco, is responsible for their ability to smell at all. If you take Orco away, they can’t smell.

So, she thought she could bring this knowledge over to the world of mosquitos and develop a repellent that inhibited their ability to smell period. However, she found out that mosquitos are much more adaptable than flies. Mosquitos integrate multiple pathways in order to sense their prey, so simply blocking one doesn’t actually do that much good. After this colossal failure, Vosshall and her team are taking a completely different approach to developing a new mosquito repellent. Instead of focusing on one thing, they are studying the cues that are important in detection of prey to a mosquito, how those cues are detected, and how all these signals come together in a mosquito’s brain to direct them towards a specific prey. Vosshall wants to find out every plan they use and develop and counterattack for each one. She feels this varied approach will have much more success with the wily mosquito.

 

Did you know mosquitos had such a complex way of tracking down prey? What do you think of Vosshall’s new method?

Public Surveillance Helps Officials Track Chagas

Public Surveillance Helps Officials Track Chagas

Inspired by a successful community-based effort to track Chagas in Central and South America, researchers at Texas A & M set up their own citizen science program to track Chagas in Texas. They provided the public with information about the disease and the program using pamphlets, educational websites, local news station announcements, and phone communication. Through these outlets citizens were encouraged to submit kissing bug specimens to local authorities. The samples were sent to a laboratory for the researchers to study. The researchers tested the samples for the parasite carrying Chagas, and notified the citizens of the infection status of their sample. Using all of the data they collected, the researchers created an interactive map of the location of all the submissions and posted it on their website. With the overwhelming number of responses and submissions they received, the researchers were able to study the geographic distribution of the insect, including what kind of environment they were mostly found in.

Do you think using citizens as a means of studying the spread of these insects and the disease is a good way to study them?

Fastest Insect On Earth

Fastest Insect On Earth

We all know what the fastest animal in the world is right? It’s the cheetah, in case you didn’t. But most people don’t ever ponder what the fastest insect in the world is. Well, one scientist raised up to that challenge, and the results are in. Thomas Merritt set out in 1999 to discover the fastest running insect in the world. There are a few rules, though. The insect has to have been timed five times and the results have to appear in a scientific journal.

The bronze medalist is probably going to make you want to run away screaming. The American cockroach can run 5 feet in one second., which equals a speed of 3.4 mph. Yep, those nasty cockroaches that hide under the cupboard in your kitchen are one of the fastest insects on the planet. You can never escape them. Coming in second  and first place are two species of Australian tiger beetle, Cicindella eburneola and Cicindella hudsoni. They each clocked in at 4.2 mph and 5.6 mph respectively. The gold medalist runs so fast that at its top speed its visual system cannot keep up, so it’s literally running blind.

Did you know insects could run that fast? Does it terrify and concern you that the cockroach is in third place? It certainly does that to me…

House Centipedes

House Centipedes

Have you ever had a house centipede? I am sure you wondered where the creature came from… Let me explain.

House centipedes are not able to survive winter weathers, so they turn to heated indoor structure to accommodate them. More often then not, the encounter between a human and house centipede are just as surprising for both parties.

House centipedes are beige, with brown stripes and are slightly longer than an inch and have very long legs. Centipedes are able to travel at almost 1½ foot per second, which make them and their appearance much scarier than they are a real threat.  In fact, these centipedes are only a threat to their predators, of which include many creatures that we would want to get rid of anyways. These creatures include bedbugs, silverfish, cockroaches, spiders, carpet beetles and even other kinds of centipedes.

The house centipede is a nocturnal hunter that used its antennae (sensitive to both touch and smell) for hunting. It is also great to know that house centipedes do not care any transmittable disease. Their bites only cause mild swelling and temporary pain; however they will only bite you if you try to catch them by hand.

Although they can serve a purpose to us in our homes, and are essentially harmless they are ways to get rid of house centipedes. The best way is to eliminate the insects they feed on. Other great techniques include drying up any wet locations under sinks and in basements and to seal up crack in basement walls.

New Chigger Mice Species

New Chigger Mice Species

There have been 3 new species of chigger mice discovered in Thailand. Across 11 provinces of Thailand, there are now 99 known species of chigger mice, including the additional 3 that were found.

All three mice belong to different genera, however they all belong to the same family, Trombiculidae. This finding is very important because these mice can be vectors of scrub typhus. The three mice found are Trombiculindus kosapani, Helenicula naresuani, and Walchia chavali.

Trombiculindus kosapani is named after Kosa Pan, a Siamese diplomat and minister in the 1600’s. The second mouse, the Helenicula naresuani, was named after one of the most glorious kings in Thailand between 1590 and 1605. The last mouse, Walchia chavali, was named after Yannick Chaval, a wildlife author who has contributed a lot to the authors’ field studies.

You can find out more about the checklist of chiggers HERE!

Praying Mantis with Glasses!

Praying Mantis with Glasses!

3D glasses for praying mantises?! Researchers are giving praying mantises 3D glasses, but they are not just for fun!

This understanding of how praying mantises use 3D glasses will help scientists develop new ideas on how to use 3D in technology.

Dr. Jenny Read, a professor of vision science at Newcastle University said “Despite their minute brains, mantises are sophisticated visual hunters which can capture prey with terrifying efficiency. We can learn a lot by studying how they perceive the world,” she said. “Better understanding of their simpler processing systems helps us understand how 3D vision evolved, and could lead to possible new algorithms for 3D depth perception in computers.”

Researchers were able to attach the glasses to the praying mantises using beeswax. The researchers then showed the insects 3D short movies of simulated bugs moving around on a screen, of which the mantises viewed as prey.

When the researchers showed the preying mantises videos in 2D, they did not react. You can watch a video HERE of the preying mantises with the 3D glasses. One of the applications of 3D vision is robot navigation. “Robots rely on getting information from the environments. You want the robot to understand somehow its environment and perhaps move towards particular goals and it needs some sort of understanding of the environment based on visual input,” Dr. Ghaith Tarawneh a research associate at Newcastle said.

74 New Beetle Species

74 New Beetle Species

A Cornell professor has found 74 new beetle species on a volcano! Cornell University entomology professor, James Liebherr brought his students to work on the cold, mist-shrouded Haleakala volcano where they searched for rare beetle species.

More than 100 field days were spent on the Hawaiian volcano over the course of 20 years, during which time 116 species of round-waisted predatory beetles were found, 74 of which were new to science.

“It’s not just that he found 74 new species, which is in-and-of-itself remarkable, but he found them all in one volcano, and he was able to define these different micro-regions across the volcano — it’s just astounding,” University of Hawaii Insect Museum Director Daniel Rubinoff said.

Very few entomologists have the opportunity to study on this volcano because the government doesn’t want people exposed to the dangers of its few trails, heavy rain and low temperatures. Liebherr obtained special permits in order to backpack through the area for his research.