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So You Think You Know Everything About Dragonflies

Dragonfly facts

Almost everyone has seen a dragonfly at least once in their lifetime. They’re big, colorful, and generally well-liked, as they kill many insect pests and leave us humans alone. But while these insects may seem pretty normal and you probably don’t get too excited whenever you see one, you might be surprised at some of the incredible things you don’t know about these rather amazing creatures. Here are some crazy facts about dragonflies that will blow your mind.

Dragonflies were actually one of the first insects to exist on the Earth, having come into existence around 300 million years ago. And no other insect can match them when it comes to aerial feats. Dragonflies are masters of flight, able to literally calculate the trajectory and speed of their prey and masterfully ambush them mid-flight. They also hold the record for the longest migration and can reach speeds of 18 miles per hour. But that’s not all! Dragonflies are super agile fliers, able to fly in any direction, including backwards and sideways, and can even hover in one spot. This incredible agility is due to their four wings being able to each move independently of each other, allowing them to alter each wing’s angle. They are basically the stealth fighter jets of the insect world. If you are a small bug such as a gnat or fly, beware because they have a 95 percent rate of success. That’s not even the most terrifying part. Dragonflies have incredibly sharp, serrated mandibles, which they use to tear apart their prey, first ripping their wings off to prevent them from being able to escape and then devouring their victim like a shark ripping into a seal.

Dragonflies also have eyes that are almost supernaturally powerful. These compound eyes make up most of their heads that have 30,000 facets, giving them almost 360-degree vision. Not only do they have unbelievable eyesight, but they are also able to discern an array of colors unimaginable to us humans. While every color we see is a combination of the colors red, blue, and green, dragonflies see combinations made up of as many as 30 different color variations. So, let’s see – that makes them ancient, all-seeing, razor-toothed, “fighter jet” flying mutant insect gods…in a nutshell.

What kind of conditions do you think caused dragonflies to develop so many incredible physical features?

A Symphony Of Insects

A Symphony of Insects
If you have been eagerly awaiting the new groundbreaking CD and book entitled The Songs Of Insects, which features a symphony of bugs singing in harmony, then I am afraid that you just missed it. However, for the five or six people who love the sound of crickets and grasshoppers grooving, the world’s most musically talented bugs can still be heard at the website associated with the book and CD. So what exactly is this bug symphony thing? Well, it is indeed an actual thing, and there is a good chance that you have already heard the majestic chorus of the katydids but did not realize that you were hearing a concert put on for bugs.

Back in 2007 two men, Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger, published the above mentioned book and CD for all the world to enjoy, and history was changed forever. Well, that might be going a bit far since the book is now out of print, but there is no denying the refreshing originality of their creation. The two men, probably fed up with trying to teach themselves guitar for their own band, set out into the wild in order to record the unique and harmonious sounds coming from the nearby forest.

The CD featured bugs belonging to the order of insects known as Orthoptera and Hemiptera. The Orthoptera include grasshoppers, katydids and crickets, and it is only the males of this particular order that are capable of singing complex tunes. As far as bug-music goes the males of the Orthoptera order are on par with the great masters of opera.

The Orthoptera order of insects do not have vocal chords, but they are able to produce sounds that are reminiscent of bird chirping. Crickets and katydids, for example, resort to a method known as stridulation to create unique sounds. Both of these insects use the base of their forewings to scrape against the underside of the upper wing, or the file as the experts call it.

The concert also features cicadas, which is the only member of the Hemiptera order to be included in the epic bug-musical. The cicadas produce sounds via a physiological process that is vaguely similar to the manner in which humans produce sounds. Cicadas possess organs called “tymbals” which are located on the abdomen directly behind the wings. Muscles cause the tymbal to contract which produce sounds that are amplified through the trachea. The cicadas could be considered the main feature at the bizarre concert due to the extremely loud sounds that they emit with each contraction. In fact, cicadas are currently known to be the loudest of all insects, far louder than the chorus produced by the orthoptera. I am sure that the insect symphony sounds a bit unusual, but I would take it over today’s music.

Can you remember a time in your life when you experienced the confining sounds of cicadas? Could the cicadas orotund sounds serve as a selective advantage?

Don’t Fall For These Insect Repellent Frauds

Zika Repellent Fraud

You might want to do some research before you go out and buy insect repellent to ward off mosquitos. It seems that some companies are taking advantage of the Zika virus panic to falsely market their products, capitalizing on people’s fear and duping them into buying their questionable products such as anti-Zika wristbands and bogus insect repellents. Some recent advertisements from some companies making outlandish claims about their products have even been forcibly taken down from their web sites by officials trying to control the situation. And even the companies that aren’t making outright false claims are doing what they can to take advantage of this environment of fear. Off! displays can now be seen to include the warning to customers, “Repel the mosquitos that may carry the Zika virus.

Many of these ads are totally ridiculous and probably didn’t convince too many people to buy them anyways…hopefully. Most of these ads involve rebranding products as “Zika fighters” and “Zika-protective.” One website called “anti-zika.com” has claimed that their insect repellent is made up of a special formula that has been tailor made to combat the Zika virus, although they haven’t offered any details about this magic formula. People should particularly watch out for those companies selling products like ultrasound bug zappers and wristbands that contain insecticide such as “Mosquitno” and “Spotz” as well as insect repellent stickers that are supposed to keep mosquitos away for an amazing three days. One wristband maker claimed that his product created a five foot invisible barrier around the wearer that would protect them from mosquitos…come on, even I am not falling for this one. He was fined $300,000 by the Federal Trade Commission for his false claims.

And insect repellent companies aren’t the only ones trying to cash in on this opportunity. Since the Zika virus can also be spread sexually, one condom retailer, Australia’s Ansell Ltd., is apparently supplying the country’s Olympic team with condoms that are lined with a “special” antiviral gel that kills that Zika virus right on contact! Wow! Officials quickly cut in on that one and revealed that any old condom will do the job.

Have you seen any suspicious Zika-fighting products?

IBM Is Joining The Fight To Prevent The Spread Of The Zika Virus

IBM Is Joining The Fight To Prevent The Spread Of The Zika Virus
The Brazilian Ministry of Health, is ramping up its fight against the zika virus by making use of new technology developed by IBM. This new technology can accurately predict the spread of zika by using data gathered from social media as well as analyzing human travel patterns. The program uses data from various databases to visualize the spread of infectious diseases.

This sort of technology has been used before by the Brazilian government, most notably during the world cup of 2014.The Brazilian government can use this data to notify public health officials in advance of an outbreak in order to prevent the spread of the disease as much as possible. IBM helped the Brazilian government in the past when IBMs technology was used to scan millions of chemical compounds in order to ascertain how effective they could be as a chemical that could destroy Zika.

Currently IBM is working to develop more advanced computer programs that can be used to help contain the zika virus. IBM has already developed a program that can use data regarding rainfall, humidity and temperature to determine where on the planet the Aedes Aegypti mosquito will proliferate.

Recently the chief of The World Health Organization claimed that the risk of becoming infected with zika is low and the disease can be easily managed during the olympic events taking place in Rio. However, it is clear that many people from around the world are calling off their plans to travel to Rio to catch the olympics since only one third of all tickets have been sold.

Margaret Chan, the director general of The World Health Body, claimed during a speech in China that the risk of zika infection is currently low in Brazil. She also made clear the importance of taking measures to prevent infection and insisted that doing so is essential to containing the virus. For example, she strongly promoted the use of condoms to prevent the spread of the disease, and she claimed that recent studies have shown that women can spread the disease to men, and not always the other way around. It seems that worrying about traveling to Rio this summer is not necessary, as long as you remain cautious.

Do you think that the most recent studies regarding the spread of zika support the claim that traveling to Rio this summer is low-risk?

 

 

Bed Bug Trap

Bed Big Trap
While a bed bug infestation almost certainly means you will have to make a call to your local pest control company, it turns out there is something you can do on your own to help curve your pest problem. Some ingenious researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences created a simple bed bug trap you can make yourself with common household items. If you have two disposable plastic containers, some baby powder, masking tape, and a little glue then you are good to go.

This trap is designed to catch bed bugs in areas where people sleep, and so need a little extra protection there. You first need to take a disposable plastic container such as a soda bottle and cut the bottom off, which you will use as the inside section of your trap. Then take four pieces of rough-surfaced tape and line the inside surface of this small container. Make sure the pieces of tape are long enough to cover the entire inside surface of the container.

Next, find a larger disposable plastic container such as a plastic jug of milk and again cut the bottom off. You will be placing the smaller container within this one, so make sure it is big enough that the smaller one will act like a smaller chamber within this bigger one. Take some more tape and wrap it around the outside of the larger container, covering the entire outside wall. Then take the smaller container and glue it in the center of the larger one. Finally, you’ll want to put some baby powder in the space between the walls of the large and small container, and place the trap around one of the posts of your bed.

This trap works by making it easy for the bed bugs to climb up the rough outside surface of the trap if they’re trying to climb up onto your bed, and traps them in the space between the large and small container due to their lack of ability to climb on smooth surfaces. They’ll be able to climb in, but will just slide around the inside of the trap when they try to climb out. The trap also takes care of bugs climbing down your bed by letting them climb up the inside wall of the smaller container due to the rough tape you place there, but then traps them in the slippery outer space once they climb over the edge.

It may seem pretty simple, but this ingenious trap is really effective and foolproof. You’ll be surprised at how many bed bugs you end up trapping, if you do have bed bugs. You will need to call a professional if you want to get rid of the bed bugs for good.

Do you know of any other effective traps you can use against bed bugs? If you have bed bugs, just call HULETT!

Why Are Jumping Spider So Intelligent?

Jumping Spider Facts
Jumping Spiders are fascinating creatures. They are not the typical representatives of the arachnid family, and for many reasons. One reason, and perhaps the most well known reason among spider enthusiasts, is their superior eyesight relative to other arachnids. Their eyesight is so acute that it is on par with vertebrats. But they are also unique in that they are surprisingly aggressive for their size. For example the Jumping Spider considers just about any other spider fair game as potential prey. Jumping Spiders serve as predators to other predators. In other words, the jumping spider is so advanced as a spider that it can make a meal out of spiders that are the biggest and most feared killers in the spider world, and this is despite the jumping spiders small size.

It is supposed by researchers that if a Jumping Spider is able to resort to extra cunning in order to attack and eat even bigger spiders, then the jumping spider must be, as a result of a yet to be discovered adaptation, more intelligent than the vast majority of other spiders. So researchers decided to test this hypothesis by constructing a complicated trail that would end in bug parts and other desirable types of food that all spiders can agree are pretty tasty.

The researchers set loose a variety of different arachnids in order to see if any of them were capable of the abstract thought that was necessary to find the food. Of course all the spiders failed to find the end of the trail where the food was waiting for them, except, of course, for the Jumping Spiders. The Jumping Spider was the only spider capable of changing its directory to the path that led to the food. As a result of the experiment researchers are convinced that a Jumping Spider’s brain, despite being as small as a sesame seed, is advanced enough to reason its way to the correct food source in spite of the many tricks that were laid upon its path.

Do you believe that there is a clear correlation between brain size and mental sophistication?

Insect Bomb Detectors

Why use big clumsy dogs when you can use tiny, barely detectable insects to sniff out bombs? It turns out the military is looking into retiring man’s best friend and turning to insects to use as bomb detectors. At the moment researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are doing experiments with cyborg insects to see if they can harness their incredible sense of smell to turn them into biorobotic sensing machines that will be used to sniff out bombs in the near future.

Apparently, insects such as locusts have an incredible sense of smell, many times more powerful than that of dogs, and can detect masked odors that no dogs could ever hope to find. Scientists and the military are teaming up to see of they can capitalize on this unique ability by experimenting with putting implants of microscopic sensors in insects’ antennae. The insect is then sent out to find a bomb, and if the insect detects one, a small red LED light on its’ back lights up and alerts the bomb squad.

But that’s not all the military is thinking of using these creepy crawly critters for. They are also playing around with developing a way to control the insects movement so they can direct the tiny soldiers to be something akin to a remote control spy. Their current attempts to control their movement involve heat lasers. The researchers’ idea is to point a laser at the insect’s wing, heating it up, which should then make the insect move in the direction of the heat. I’m not sure if this idea is the most solid they’ve had, as in my experience, insects tend to move away from fire when you point it at them…not that I’ve ever chased around an insect with a lit match before…

The military is already in this for the long haul. The Navy has given the research team a three year grant of $750,000. It looks like bug bomb detectors are going to be a reality for us in the near future. I wonder what else they have planned for our tiny six-legged friends…

What else do you think the military could use insects for?

Being a Mosquito Magnet is in Your Genes

Being a Mosquito Magnet is in Your Genes
Do mosquitoes flock towards you whenever you dare to step outside? Well, according to a recent study you can blame a good part of this on your genes. We already knew that biology had something to do with how attractive or repellent a person is to a mosquito. We know that pregnant women are much more attractive to mosquitoes than those that are not pregnant. We know that a person’s body odor can attract or repel mosquitoes. Bacteria on your skin is partly responsible for your body’s odor, but skin cells also most likely play a role. This could mean that your genes could play a role in your body odor that attracts or repels mosquitoes.

Scientists performed a study on 18 identical twins and 19 fraternal ones, who were made to put their hands in a glass tube that would allow the test mosquitoes to smell their hands without letting them bite them. The idea behind using twins for the experiment was that if a mosquito is attracted to one of the twin’s scent, then they are likely to be attracted to the other one as well if genes do in fact play a role in whether a person attracts or repels mosquitoes. The researchers released 20 mosquitoes into these Y-shaped tubes and gave them 30 seconds to smell the scents inside, after which the researchers opened a gate and watched which hand the mosquitoes chose to go towards and which they avoided. The results proved that around 62 to 83 percent of a person’s level of attracting mosquitoes was attributed to DNA. Some unfortunate people are literally programmed by their genes to be attractive to mosquitoes.

Are you genetically programmed to attract mosquitoes? What do you think of these new findings? How could they help scientists develop ways to better protect humans from mosquitoes?

New Super Soldier Termite

Asian Subterranean Termite
You may have heard of the Formosan “super termite” that has been eating through houses along the Southern U.S. Until recently this termite was thought to be the most destructive in the world. However, Nan-Yoa Su, professor of entomology at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), has just discovered a new termite ravaging houses in Florida that is even more destructive and terrifying.

This new super soldier termite, known as the Asian subterranean termite, was thought to only live in tropical climates in places such as Brazil and the West Indies. Unfortunately for us Americans, it has just been discovered in Florida, and seems to have a well-established foothold in South Florida. Scientists are puzzled by its rapid spread as they believed it could not survive in areas north of the tropics. The terrifying termite is now considered to be a serious threat to homes in Florida. Infestations have already been found in four buildings in Riviera Beach in South Florida, and officials believe there are probably more buildings infested. Officials are asking people to contact them at the UF/IFAS if they see this termite.

This new destructive termite is considered one of the most destructive pests in the tropics and now the Southern United States. Su, along with assistant professor of entomology Brian Cabrera, is working to track and hopefully stop the advance of this invasive insect.

Officials are asking residents to look out for the winged termites, which may be seen around dusk and in the evening flying around lights. The termite can be identified by its dark brown head and dorsal surface on the top of its body, which stands out in contrast to its yellow-brown underside. The “two-toned” appearance of the termite makes it fairly noticeable when compared to other termites. The termite “soldiers” can be identified by the teardrop shape of their heads and a pore on their body that secretes sticky, milk-like fluid. Officials recommend that any homeowners unsure of whether the termite has infested their homes should immediately contact a pest control professional and have them thoroughly inspect their property.

Thankfully, a successful baiting system has been developed that can control the new Asian subterranean termite. The bait system uses a chemical called noviflumuron, which is a growth regulator that stops termites from being able to molt. Without the ability to molt the worker population of the termites cannot sustain their underground colonies. We’ll beat this bad guy in no time!

Have you ever had a termite infestation in your home? How did you get rid of them?

Insect Colonies Share Brain Power

social insects

Scientists recently performed a study comparing the complexity of brain function in social insects as opposed to solitary insects. They found that unlike vertebrate species, which evolve to have increasingly complex brains the more complex the society becomes, social insects that share information among the members of the colony reduces their need for complex brain function and the complexity of their cognitive brain functioning actually decreased as the complexity of their societies increased.

In vertebrate animal societies as the social environment grows more complex over generations the cognitive abilities of the individuals in that society are forced to adapt and also become more complex. More complex social societies tend to have an increased amount of competition between their individuals. As individuals have to navigate more and more challenges such as conflict over resources, their cognitive abilities are forced to evolve in order to continually sharpen their intelligence so they can continue to survive in more and more complex societies.

However, in social insect species the colony tends to be made up of family groups, with the children staying to help their parents, and while there may be some conflict in these colonies, the survival of the group depends on their ability to work together as a cohesive unit. The more cooperative structures of social insect colonies end up affecting the evolution of the brain differently.

Researchers studied the brains of 29 related species of wasps from Costa Rica, Ecuador and Taiwan. They studied both solitary and social species that had varying colony sizes and structures. They found that the solitary species had evolved to have larger brain parts associated with complex cognition used for such things as spatial memory, associative learning, and multi-sensory integration. On the other hand, the social insect species had less complex cognitive function. The researchers believe that this is because social insect colony members are able to rely on group members, meaning they don’t have to invest as much energy in more complex individual cognitive functions. These social species evolved to survive cooperatively, utilizing such things as sharing information among colony members, which reduces the need for individual cognition.

Do you think humans could have evolved in this manner if we had more cooperative societies, or is that impossible due to our conscious brains? How might our humans society be different if our brains had evolved in the same way as our societies became more complex?

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