Category Archives: Pest Control

Bugs a Major Source of Inspiration in Robotics

Bugs a Major Source of Inspiration in Robotics

Robotics is a relatively new science, really gaining traction in the early 1980s. Back then, robots shaped like insects were large enough to carry human passengers on their backs. But scientists have made huge strides in recent years, both in reducing the size of robots and equipping them with all the bells and whistles that our silicon-valley age offers.

Despite progress in creating sensors to help navigation and report data, the challenge remains how to move through – and around – obstacles. Insect movements are a perfect template, because most insects spend their lives crawling, climbing, dangling, and scuttling on every imaginable surface.

One design that continues to be improved is the VelociRoach. Recent upgrades have included spines on its legs and a super svelte ovoid shell. The spiny legs give the robot greater traction, while the rounded shell allows for roll-and-tumble maneuvers that allow that roach to slip between barriers.

“What’s so great about nature is, what we’re trying to do with robotics is solve a lot of really hard problems like how to get around, how to walk on difficult terrain, and nature has already solved it,” said Nick Kohut, chief executive of Dash Robotics, a company that produces little robots for home assembly.

Webspinner Leads Amazing Life

Webspinner Leads Amazing Life

She’s called Embioptera, or webspinner, and she lives her whole life in a complicated maze of silk. Neither spider nor silkworm, she nonetheless can spin just as effectively: those who’ve studied her say she is in evolutionary holdover, the only insect silk-spinning legs.

The webspinner is often mistaken for the prey of a spider, as she is found deep inside what looks like a prison of silk strands. She lives inside tree bark, where she spends her entire life constructing an extremely elaborate, multi-layered web, full of tunnels and rooms. A web mansion, you might call it.

Specialized structures on this insect’s legs create silk. Looking much like a long-bodied ant or termite, this bug can crawl very rapidly both forward and backward. Considering the complexity of her home, she needs to be able to move fast in tight spaces.

The male webspinner is an odd creature, sometimes wingless, who has to generally crawl in order to find a mate. Because crawling through someone else’s tunnel can be confusing and exhausting, the males prefer to pick family members for mating. After the larval stage, the winged males develop into adulthood and never eat again. Their anatomy doesn’t allow for it – they get wings, but no mouths.

The mouth parts are really only there to grab a female, and mate. Unable to eat, they starve and become a food source for any of the tribe’s females.

Rats and Roaches Plague Vets

Rats and Roaches Plague Vets

The Veteran’s Administration treats every veteran that comes through its doors. It’s the largest non-private healthcare plan in the country, outside of Medicare and Medicaid. And the VA has struggled with funding, because many of the patients seen there have chronic conditions that are expensive to treat but also due to factors of underfunding and poor administration.

The James A. Haley VA in Tampa, Florida is a recent example of how underfunding rears its ugly head. In this case, the problems come in the form of rats and cockroaches. The building is infested, and dead rats and roaches are being found in large numbers.

An email sent internally noted that three dead rats had fallen through the ceiling of a single area of the hospital. Officials are concerned that the roach problem is even worse, with the probability that some roaches may have crawled their way into patients’ meals.

Hospital officials maintain this is not a long term problem, but came about due to construction on a property adjacent to the VA building. A recent pest-control contract will cover the next five years, and is scheduled to begin in the canteen and food preparation areas.

The Mating Dance of Lightning Bugs

The Mating Dance of Lightning Bugs

In the Eastern States there is a fantastic flying creature that lights up the darkness of forests and back yards alike – the lightning bug.  He doesn’t roam farther west than Kansas, and avoids yards with too much light or pesticides.  Sometimes called fireflies, they are the same creature.

In fact, Lampyridae, as they are known scientifically, are not flies but from a family of beetles called Coleoptera.  Their magical ability to light up is a result of a unique trait called bioluminescence.

Along with their entertainment value, lightning bugs dine on a variety of slimy animals, including snails and slugs.  They are also fond of earthworms, when available.

The light itself is produced as part of a mating dance.  Males produce light as they sail through the dark air, sending out a signal to any nearby females.  On the ground, the female also lights up.  Occasionally, signals get crossed and a male chooses the wrong female.  So she promptly eats him, abruptly ending what was a beautiful mating dance.

Some people say the term “femme fatale” grew out of this mating ritual gone awry.

Scientists do not fully understand how lightning bugs regulate the use of their bioluminescent power.  The current theory is that they control output of chemicals by somehow restricting the oxygen in their bodies.

Spider Silk Crawling Toward a Market Near You?

Spider Silk Crawling Toward a Market Near You?

Could silk from spiders be the next breakthrough in fabrics?  Scientists and entrepreneurs have been searching for decades to find a way to get this amazing substance to market.  But starting a spider ranch is not as straightforward as one might suspect – and all sorts of attempts have been made.

Spiders are not cooperative in the ways that silk worms are.  They are territorial, for starters.  Another barrier to setting up a successful colony of silk-weaving arachnids is that they tend to be cannibalistic.  Not ideal for fashioning a bustling spider neighborhood.

A startup with $40 million in funding called Bolt Threads may have broken through the silk barrier, however.  The trick to making the best spider silk is to do it without actual spiders.  Bolt has developed genetically engineered organisms, through a yeast fermentation process, that can produce large quantities of silk.  That part of the process has been known for years, but the new technology uses a proprietary liquid bath to coat the silk proteins and transform them into the usable end product of solid fibers.

Bolt CEO Brian Widmaier recently explained that the process is superior to using raw spider silk because the proteins can be manipulated to emphasize various qualities of the fiber. Bolt can make spider silk that’s stronger, stretchier, or waterproof, for example, depending on preference. “What we’ve learned is we could prod nature a little bit in the lab and engineer these new properties in,” says Widmaier.

 

Rapidly Evolving Roaches Just Say No To Sugar

Rapidly Evolving Roaches Just Say No To Sugar

Within a few years, roaches have evolved to avoid sugar.  Remarkably, their adaptation is a result of sugar-laced traps.  Unlike humans, they don’t have to use willpower.  Instead, roaches have a built-in aversion based on taste:  sugary flavor comes across as bitter.

Roaches in a recent studied were sampled from colonies in the U.S, Puerto Rico, South Korea and Russia.  Among the 19 populations examined, seven included roaches with the sugar-aversive behavior.

Researcher Coby Schal of North Carolina State University noted that the evolution came about “incredibly fast” but also pointed out that some bacteria evolve even more quickly.

In a simple experimental design, researchers filmed roaches to understand their behavior.  The study videotaped groups of roaches as they chose between two food sources.  The bugs were given a choice of a glucose or fructose based jelly, and later, peanut butter or jelly, and observed as they made their choice.

The phenomenon of glucose aversion has been for known some time in the extermination industry, and profession pest-control companies have switched to new types of bait, either high carbohydrate or high protein.

This latest research demonstrates just how well cockroaches learn, and how exceptionally adaptable they are to a variety of challenges.

Fruit-Eaters Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Fruit-Eaters Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Summer is here and fruit trees are nearer to producing their delicious cornucopia of juicy, sweet delicacies ripening in back yards across Florida.  Yet humans are not the only creatures waiting.  An amazing number of insects enjoy fruit just as much as we do.

Aphid, whiteflies, scales and psyllids are potential threats to your trees, and knowing what to look for can save not only the fruit but, sometimes, the tree itself.

Aphids are tiny insects that come in green, reddish-brown, black or gray.  They are identified by their small size and tendency to infest the bottom of tree leaves.  If your tree has aphids, you will likely see a sooty mold that precipitates a white sticky substance called honeydew.

The whitefly is another scourge to be on the lookout for, and are very similar to aphids in behavior and result.  Their presence, in large enough numbers, will also produce mold.  They are identified by their diminutive size and white appearance.

Like aphids and whiteflies, scales also produce mold.  In Florida, where fruit trees abound, there are three types:  wax scale, purple scale and soft brown scale.  Their presence leaves trees weakened and leads to a fruit of low quality.

 

Regular maintenance of your trees requires observation, which should happen weekly.  In most cases, once a problem is identified, it is often manageable with swift and appropriate intervention.  Asian psyllids are another issue altogether, however.  This invasive species attacks all types of citrus and once identified, the tree must be destroyed and removed.

Massive Bee Die-Off May Be Driven By Parasite

Massive Bee Die-Off May Be Driven By Parasite

Bee populations around the world are experiencing an alarming and unprecedented decline. Biologists and entomologists are desperately searching for the reason, since pollination of plants – critical to our food supply – is largely accomplished by honeybees.

Recent research indicates that a parasite may be responsible for decline in bee population, associated with a phenomenon called “colony collapse.” There may be more than a single cause for the massive decrease in bee populations, and scientists have speculated that pesticides, mites, pathogens and some beekeeping practices may all be involved.

The latest discovery centers around called Nosema Ceranae, a variety of fungal pathogen that is spread by spores. Previous research in labs has shown no infection by the pathogen in honeybee larva, but new field research shows that the infection may lie dormant and only emerge in adult bees.

James Nieh, a professor of biology at Univesity of California in San Diego, expressed the importance of this research in providing a better understanding how the pathogen is transmitted and how it may be expressed in both larvae and adult bees.

The War Between Ants and Termites Is Ancient

The War Between Ants and Termites Is Ancient

Scientists who study insect behavior are well versed in ant and termite conflicts, which are common among known species of both types of bugs.  But a recent find shows these wars have been raging for millions of years.

In southern Mexico, in the state of Chiapas, a French research team has found evidence of ants and termites, encased in amber, and engaged in combat.  Insects in amber are not a common find, but to have discovered a moment of battle preserved in this substance is a rare and amazing phenomenon.

The piece of amber in question measures only 1.2 centimeters long, 1 centimeter wide, and 1.2 centimeters high and had to be examined in slices.  To do this, a CT scan was used to get fine resolution when viewing the slices.  The result showed a raid by ants on a termite colony.

This discovery confirms that ant and termite behavior is largely unchanged over a vast expanse of time. The only other amber to show similar behavior was documented in a specimen found Venezuela, circa 1850.  The recent piece of amber discovered in Chiapas is estimated to be between five and 20 million years old.

How Bugs Solve Crimes

How Bugs Solve Crimes

Scientists who study the clues left by bugs are forensic entomologists, and are moving the field – quite literally – forward by watching bodies decay.  As a corpse lies outside in the elements, it is visited by a crowd of tiny creatures, and researchers in forensic science watch, and wait.

Researcher and entomologist Natalie Lindgren worked for a full year at the Southwest Texas Applied Forensic Science facility to observe what kinds of insects visit bodies, and the nature of the evidence they leave behind.  She found some fascinating new facts.

What can insects and other arthopods (like spiders and tics) tell us about crime?  More than you might expect, even if you’ve seen CSI detectives explore insect behavior. Bugs land and feed on dead bodies in a certain order, and hang out for a period of time that can reveal a lot about the stage of decomposition of the body.  Knowing the timeline of corpse decay is a key factor in establishing time of death.

Lindgren watched as scorpion flies were the first to find the decomposing bodies, and stayed for more than a day and a half.  Next, through extended observation, she discovered a type of caterpillar that left bite marks resembling wounds.  Even trained crime scene investigators can mistake bug activity for wounds inflicted during the crime, so her insights have added important information to the field.