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Allergic Attacks from Bugs: The Basics

Allergic Attacks from Bugs: The Basics

A quarter of allergic reactions come from bug bites. Some of us just don’t react well to what are benign encounters for the majority of people. Other allergies are the result of food (about half) or drug (the last quarter) reactions, but allergic responses to bugs can be quite deadly.

The lethality of an insect bite is linked to the reaction known as anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is a sudden drop in blood pressure, typically accompanied by itching, feeling hot and flushed, possible palpitations and difficulty breathing, and sometimes a racing heart. With these symptoms, a person may become unconscious.

Any anaphylactic reaction should be considered a medical emergency. People with bug allergies of this type should carry an Anapen or Epipen and a written action plan, so that medical workers can treat the reaction swiftly and properly. For more details on first aid treatment for allergies, the ASCIA provides a website.

Other potentially dangerous allergies come from the stings of honeybees, ants, and wasps. These are some of the more common insects that cause serious problems for those susceptible to anaphylaxis.

Tick allergies are much more rare, but do occur. Ticks should be removed gingerly but if you have an allergy the tick should not be removed by any means. Instead, seek medical attention at your nearest emergency room.


The Evolutionary Advantages of Not Having Sex

The Evolutionary Advantages of Not Having Sex

Entomologists are struggling to answer basic questions about how an “anti-sex” pheromone has developed in honeybees, ants, and wasps. Scientists who study animal behavior say that explaining the use of this pheromone, which keeps “worker” insects sterile, involves a great deal of speculation at our current level of research.

Buff-tailed bumblebees are considered “eusocial” and have queens that engage in all the reproduction. Female worker bees do not develop ovaries, but pass on their genes via the good of the larger group. Their worker status helps the whole hive, and since all bees within one hive are closely related, genetic materials are passed on more indirectly.

Yet scientists are still mystified as to why eusocial insects involved the trait of sterility. It is difficult to understand how a trait that reinforces lack of reproduction could benefit any species.

The mechanism of enforced sterility is better understood, however, with recent research. It turns out that the queen produces a chemical (pheromone) that signals to workers to not engage in reproduction. This compound is a long-chained hydrocarbon that is abundant within the queen bee. Scientists speculate that development of the pheromone happened millions of years ago, when insects lived more solitary lives, perhaps as a way to attract males or deter other females.

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.

Hungry Grubs Call for Three-Pronged Strategy

Hungry Grubs Call for Three-Pronged Strategy

Lurking in your turf may be a large white grub.  You can see its signs by noticing holes and brown patches in your lawn, and it may need to be treated.

Before trying an insecticide, there are two other approaches to contain these hungry critters.  But first, you must understand them.  They are in larval stage as white grubs, but grow into a brown beetle in adulthood.  They are a golden brown but with darker heads and about three quarters of an inch in size.  They lazy their eggs in the ground (that is, your yard!), the grubs generally hatch in late summer then feed on roots of turf, until winter puts them into a hibernation-like state.

In Spring the grubs rise again, eating their fill until they reach pupation in early or mid summer.

If you spotted signs of the grubs, your approach should be to first determine the extend of the infestation.  Steps must be taken if you find more than six of these critters per square food of lawn.  First, aerate.  Next, try using beneficial nematodes.  Only as a last step will you want to treat with insecticides.

Snakes May Hold The Secret Ingredient to Killing Pain

Snakes May Hold The Secret Ingredient to Killing Pain

A protein in spider venom may be the gateway to developing a class of cutting-edge painkillers. Researchers have discovered that spider venom is made up of molecules that can interfere with proteins that transfer pain signals between the nerves and the brain.

In humans, the pathway that is critical to transmitting pain is activated by a protein called Nav1.7.  The proteins that spiders are capable of producing in their venom blocks this channel, and are apparently available in a variety of species of spiders.  Scientists are working on understanding which of the many spiders produce the most potent and biologically stable protein.

Worldwide, there are 45,000 known species of spider, and only about .01% of these have been tested as a possible source for compounds that would block Nav1.7.  Researchers are gathering data on which types of spiders carry the type of compound that will block Nav1.7 by screening over 200 species of spiders.

The potential for treatment is vast, as current painkillers have limited efficacy, are sometimes addictive, and wear off relatively quickly.  Drugs developed from spider venom would block pain at its source, preventing the nerve signals from reaching the brain.

The Darker Side of the Cereal Weevil

The Darker Side of the Cereal Weevil

The Cereal Weevil is about the size of a kernel of corn, and is a brown bug of no apparent distinction.  Yet, their complicated growth and life cycle reveals how individuals who survive are highly dependent on bacteria.  This weevil gets its name because it is known as a pest that destroys cereal grains.

Brown in color, the size and hue of the weevil depends largely on its early exposure to microbes called Sodalis pierantonius that inhabit the weevil’s cells.  The cells themselves are protected within a structure called a bacteriome that keeps the microbes safe and sheltered from both the outer environment and the weevil’s own immune system.

The amount of this microbe will determine the vigor of the individual weevil:  those that have microbes grow stronger, faster and create tougher outside shells.  In fact, the microbes are used only when weevils reach adulthood, and only in the highly specialized job of manufacturing a tough outer shell.  This takes about a week and by the end of the process the shell is thick and dark brown; weevil’s who lack enough microbes produce thinner, lighter colored exterior shells.

Once the growth-inducing bacteria have done their jobs, the microbes are killed by the weevil.  But not all the bacteria die; some are recycled to be passed on to the next generation.  To learn more about the fascinating relationship between creature and its bacteria, visit national geographic.

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.

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