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An Insect As Small As A Grain Of Sand May Destroy A Local Ecosystem


Globalization is a phenomenon that has allowed insects to travel across the world and into different environments. A United States Forest Service Research Entomologist, Andrew Liebhold, firmly believes that the increasing pest problems, which we have all been hearing about on the news is a result of globalization. This line of thought seems reasonable since there have been numerous cases in which nonnative insects traveled across the ocean by cargo ship only to arrive in a different continent. Although many experts agree that our ecosystems are in danger from rapid global travel, this is not the only reason as to why we are seeing more and more damaging non native insects in the US.  Of course, the process of global warming is playing a part in mass invasive insect migration as well.

Back during the roaring ‘20’s hemlock trees from Japan were shipped to America for landscaping purposes. Unfortunately, many of the trees that were shipped to the US from Japan were likely riddled with spiders known as the hemlock woolly adelgids (HWA). As soon as the 1980’s rolled around, it became clear that the HWA’s were destroying numerous hemlock trees at rapid rates.

Unfortunately, destroying hemlock trees results in undesirable environmental consequences. Even after a hemlock tree dies it can still have a negative impact on the ecosystem. For example, ninety bird species, forty five mammal species, and a plethora of aquatic life all use the hemlock tree for shelter. Once hemlock trees die as a result of the HWA’s tinkering, many of the above mentioned classes of animals will perish from lack of shelter.

Many different species of bird also inhabit the hemlock tree. Although the birds are lucky enough not to die while the HWA’s are destroying the tree, the birds are still forced to migrate elsewhere. An abrupt change in bird migrations can also have unexpected negative consequences on the ecosystem, as well as on other animal species living within the same environmental conditions.

Scientists have tried combating the invasive HWA insects by employing a variety of different methods. One method had researchers bring the HWA’s natural predatory enemies into the HWA’s habitat. Another method involved releasing parasites that seek the HWA as an ideal host. These two different species of organism were imported from Japan, which is also the HWA’s home country. Currently public health professionals are attempting to halt the migration of insects via human travel by restricting what types of cargo passengers can carry onto a plane or a cargo ship. Anything  that could attract invasive insects may soon be prohibited in airports and train stations. For example, wood packing material, such as wooden crates and pallets, may soon be prohibited since the HWA insect loves hitching rides on old slabs of musty wood. Instead these particularly types of wood will be outlawed at many airports around the world. Instead TSA officials will start to allow for manufactured wood, such as plywood or composite wood, which the HWA’s find repellent.

Pests like the HWA’s cause four billion dollars in damage annually, and that is in the US alone. Unfortunately, these costs are often pushed onto homeowners. Scientists are currently considering the use of strategically placed surveillance systems, so that hemlock tree smugglers can be caught before their criminality destroys the environment.

Could the HWA become eradicated after releasing the HWA’s natural predator into the HWA’s environment? Could releasing another nonnative predatory insect from Japan cause the same environmental problems that the HWA insect has caused already in the United States?

House Spiders – How To Play Nice With Your Unwanted Spider Roommates

House Spiders - How To Play Nice With Your Unwanted Spider Roommates

Even the cleanest house plays host to a variety of insects including a number of different spiders. Which ones are safe for you to live with? How harmful are these spiders? Do they earn their keep with their extermination of other pesky insects, or do they need to be evicted? Here’s everything you need to know about living or not living with your neighborhood house spiders.

There are a number of different spider species that can be found in your home. The most common species you are likely to come across are daddy long-legs, cobweb spiders, brown recluses, black widows, the funnel-web spider, the jumping spider, crab spiders, wolf spiders, and sac spiders. So, where can you find these hidden housemates? Spiders will basically make their home wherever the food is. They also are drawn to areas where there are lights that attract flying insects. Some of their favorite spots to nest are in corners, behind or underneath furniture, in basements and garages, in cupboards, and other dark spots.

One plus to having spider roommates is that they aren’t picky eaters, and will often feed on the insects we love to hate the most such as mosquitos, crickets, moths, flies, and even other spiders. Most of the spiders you find in your house are harmless to humans even if they bite them. The only ones you really need to watch out for are black widows, brown recluses, and funnel-web spiders. Symptoms of a black widow bite include nausea, cramping, and respiratory problems. A bite from a brown recluse spider can result in horrible skin lesions (necrosis) that can take months to heal. Bites from the funnel-web spider cause similar symptoms as the brown recluse. Spider bites are often misdiagnosed, however, so try to make sure you actually catch the culprit before you diagnose a bite as having come from a spider.

No matter how beneficial they may sometimes be, there are still times when you might just need to kill your unwanted houseguests. There are safe ways to do it, though. One good way to exterminate an unwanted spider and its web is to simply suck it all up with a vacuum. Make sure you empty and destroy whatever you’ve sucked up right away. This way any eggs you might have sucked up won’t have time to hatch. You can also capture the spider in a glass and release it back into nature at least several feet from your home. If you have a problem with any of the poisonous spiders such as the black widow, however, it’s best to call in an exterminator to take care of the problem.

How do you deal with spiders in your home?

The Real Life Insects That Inspired Fantastical Harry Potter Creatures

The Real Life Insects That Inspired Fantastical Harry Potter Creatures

First, are you a fan of the Harry Potter series, and if you’re not, have you been living under a rock?! Did you ever wonder if any of those magical creatures in the novels are actually based on real life creatures? Well, it turns out that they do! There were even some inspired by insects! Here are a few creatures from the series that you might recognize from our regular world.

The Bowtruckle is a small tree guardian that looks like a bunch of twigs patched together. They eat insects and are found primarily in western England and southern Germany where they protect trees that grow wand-quality wood. You might have already realized that in the real world we have our own insect that looks like a bunch of twigs, or what we like to call stick insects. While most of them are brown, their nymphs are actually a bright green color. Some Bowtruckles are specifically leaf mimics, which have a rather strong resemblance to true leaf insects.

Another fantastical creature from the world of Harry Potter is the tiny Australian bug called a Billywig, and it flies so fast that non-magical humans (sometimes referred to as Muggles) can’t see them despite their brilliant colors. Their sting carries a powerful punch, with venom that causes at first giddiness and euphoria, followed by uncontrollable levitation. The real world orchid bee, also called euglossine bees, was the inspiration for this creature. They are tiny bees that come in all shapes and colors such as blue, green, red, and gold. They only inhabit the Americas and have 200 different species. These are some seriously magical looking bees.

Do you know of any other creatures from Harry Potter that were inspired by real life insects?

Mosquitoes Deliver a Double Whammy of Diseases


New studies have revealed some rather bad news about the mosquito’s ability to pass on diseases. It turns out they’re even better at it than we’d previously thought. So, you know how mosquitoes can carry more than one disease, as in they might be carriers of both the Zika virus and chikungunya? Well, it turns out they can give you both of those diseases with just one bite. How did we find discover this?

Well, it would seem some scientists were playing around with infecting lab mosquitoes with both the Zika virus and chikungunya, and the experiment worked! However, when they looked at the amount of mosquito saliva that is transferred in one bite they also found that those mosquitoes could now also infect a person with both diseases at the same time. The saliva contained enough of each virus that both could be transferred in one bite. Now doesn’t that just make your day? But wait! That’s not all!

It turns out that simply eradicating the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus may not actually end this epidemic. A new research study found that female mosquitoes can pass on the Zika virus to their offspring directly into their eggs. So, even if we kill all the adults carrying the virus, we’ll still have the next generation to deal with, and the next, and the next…you get the idea. Scientists believe that this is a defense mechanism that helps the virus to survive in an adverse environment. At the moment the pesticides being used to try and control the virus is able to kill off adults but not the eggs, meaning researchers are going to have to step up they’re game and come up with an insecticide that is able to kill off both the adults and their eggs. Mosquito eggs can also lie dormant for months when the weather is dry and then hatch once it rains. So, even if only a few eggs survived and carried the disease, they could start the epidemic all over again. We could have episodes of the disease popping up again after a dry spell and spreading on and off for years to come.

Do you think researchers will ever develop a way to completely eradicate the Zika virus?

Armor-Covered Spiders

Armor-Covered Spiders

Spiders are scary enough even when they don’t have any special adaptations. One species of spider called tetrablemmids has special body armor that is extremely strong and durable. These spiders have multiple layers of thick, hardened exoskeleton covering its body, including its abdomen. They may even be unsquishable!

While other spiders may have some armor, it is very rare for any to have armor on their abdomen. Scientists initially thought this tough armor was simply for protection, but new research suggests it has other uses too. Their armor is also much thicker and fused together at the seams, preventing any sharp point from making its way in and injuring them. The amount of thick exoskeleton on their body would be similar to wearing a layer of chainmail under a full suit of armor. Arachnologist at the Natural History Museum of Bern, Switzerland Christian Kropf compares them to miniature tanks. So, why all the added protection?

Tetrablemmids can be found in the forests of South East Asia, where another formidable foe lurks. Predatory wasps that feed specifically on spiders share the same living space, and they are voracious buggers. Their usual hunting technique involved swooping down to deliver a sting to the poor victim spider, which paralyzes them, allowing the wasp to then carry off the immobilized spider back to its lair. The wasp then lays an egg on the spider, and when they egg hatches it already has a hearty meal waiting for them in the form of the paralyzed spider.

The way the tetrablemmids are able to escape death by paralyzing wasp venom is that the wasps target the soft spots spiders generally have in between their plates of exoskeleton. However, since the tetrablemmids’ armor is fused together, there are no vulnerable soft spots for the wasp to attack.

But the armor is just for protection. It actually helps them conserve energy and move easier than other spiders. The plate on their abdomen is also thought to act like a bellows. The spiders can expand and squeeze it at will in order to pump fluid around their bodies. Scientists even think the armor may serve a function during sex. There are apparently quite a few advantages to having this thick exoskeleton. In fact, the tetrablemmids body has actually changed and adapted to work better with this armor, so they can benefit from its protection and the advantages it brings.

What other advantages might come with having such thick, strong body armor?

Why Are People So Afraid Of Insects And Spiders?

Why Are People So Afraid Of Insects And Spiders

According to the diagnostic manual of mental disorders, people who suffer from pathological fears of spiders and insects have what is referred to as “entomophobia.” Of course people can be afraid of creepy-crawlies without having a full-blown pathological fear of creepy bugs. It is estimated that twenty five percent of the general population actively fear spiders and insects. So what is it about bugs that makes them so scary to so many people?

One reason bugs are so scary is because many bugs actually can harm you. For example, mosquitoes cause more human deaths than any other animal. However, most people are not afraid of mosquitoes as much as, say, tarantulas. Researchers believe that humans evolved the fear of spiders, insects, and snakes in order to avoid potentially dangerous encounters with these creatures. After all, many snakes and spiders possess venom that can harm humans. Also, simply being bitten by a harmless spider can be enough to cause an infection, sometimes fatal, such as necrotizing fasciitis.

Also, people do not fear certain arthropods, such as spiders, because they pose the same sort of threats as lions and bears. We don’t think that bugs can overpower and kill us like other larger and aggressive animals. Instead our fear of bugs is closely related to the feeling of disgust. Researchers studying how disgust and fear are related use the term “rejection response” to describe the human tendency to keep something unfamiliar, and/or disgusting, far away from us. Much like how we are disgusted by feces and rotting food due to their potential to make us sick, we are also disgusted and avoid bugs for their potential to make us ill. Cockroaches, for example, are one of the most feared arthropods, and for good reason, they are disgusting. It is likely that we find cockroaches more disgusting and fear inspiring than most other bugs because cockroaches actually can spread disease due to their love of rotten food, among other reasons.

Lastly, people may fear bugs because they look so different from us. Humans and bugs do not share a close evolutionary bond, which makes many bugs appear otherworldly. In addition to their alien appearance, bugs can also scare us when we witness them operating in large swarms or colonies. The reason for this, according to some researchers, is because seeing a large amount of bugs in one place can overwhelm the human psyche and can damage the highly valued human beliefs regarding individuality. Seeing a swarm of locusts all working together can serve to undermine a person’s belief about what they can accomplish on their own. This particular theory was born out of a specific school of psychoanalysis, so this way of thinking about fear is not as common as most.

Obviously people want to stay clean and free of disease, and when we are in our homes we don’t expect intruders that may compromise our health and cleanliness. So naturally, seeing insects in your home can be quite distressing since your home is the one place where you don’t want to see potential threats to your health. In any case, bugs are here to stay, and they do much more harm than good, except for cockroaches of course.

Do you have a pathological fear of spiders and/or insects? If you do, what method, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, do you use to reduce your fear, if any?

Bill Gates May Have Developed a Way to End the Zika Virus

Bill Gates May Have Developed a Way to End the Zika Virus

For the most part news about the current situation with the spread of the Zika virus is not incredibly positive. However, Bill Gates developed some far out technology that might just be the answer to our prayers, and he is now helping countries like Brazil and Columbia use it to fight the mosquitos spreading the virus.

The method Bill Gates developed to fight mosquitos is pretty astounding, sounding more like science fiction that cold hard science. His method actually takes mosquitos from the wild and infects them with bacteria that prevents them from being able to ever spread the Zika virus to people again. They then release these infected mosquitos back out into the wild to spread the bacteria to all the other wild mosquitos. While it may seem counterintuitive to actually put more mosquitos into our environment in order to stop them from spreading the virus, it is truly genius.

The “good” mosquitos these scientists are releasing back into the wild carry the Wolbachia bacterium, which keeps the Zika virus from flourishing inside the mosquito. So far tests have shown that the bacteria spreads very fast throughout the mosquito population once these infected mosquitos are released, the entire population being infected within a few weeks and can stay infected for decades. This means that this method would wipe out the spread of this disease for many years to come after only releasing the mosquitos once. It’s kind of like a new mosquito vaccine. Gates is now giving major funding as well as his time and energy to continuing to develop this new method of Zika pest control. What’s even more exciting is that this method may also help stop mosquitos from spreading many other viruses such as dengue fever and malaria.

Would you welcome this new method of fighting against mosquitos spreading diseases such as the Zika virus? Would you be willing to release these genetically modified mosquitos into your backyard?

Why Do Some Worker Insects Occasionally Kill Their Queen?

Why Do Some Worker Insects Occasionally Kill Their Queen? Most people probably assume that worker insects cannot possibly commit matricide against their birth-giving queen leaders. Well, most people are wrong because it happens all the time. There are indeed some rare circumstances in which matricide, committed by the dead queen’s offspring, does indeed take place. But why? Researchers at the University of California at Riverside have attempted to shed more light on the phenomenon of matricide among social insects. The researchers eventually determined that worker wasps will become much more likely to kill the queen of the colony if worker wasps find themselves sharing the colony with a large amount of their siblings. However, if the worker wasps are surrounded by a mix of half and full siblings, the worker wasps will avoid killing the queen. If a wasp is surrounded by other wasps that are composed of nearly identical genetic makeup, then the behavior of the worker wasps will be more predictable and more given to collective cooperation by virtue of their similar genetically predisposed behaviors. The worker wasps are more likely to kill the queen if the worker wasps are able to sense that they have a substantial amount of egg-laying sisters present in the colony. The idea is for the sister-worker-wasps to bear the responsibility of egg laying for the colony instead of the queen. This preference on the part of the male wasp is due to the queen’s willingness to resort to destructive and violent behaviors, such as eating the eggs. Also, So, in other words, the worker-wasps will kill the queen in favor of the sister siblings laying the eggs for the colony since the eggs are safer with the sister than with the queen. Why would the queen of the wasp colony consume her own eggs, what advantage would that bring to the queen and/or the colony?

Can Spiders Hear What We Are Saying?

Can Spiders hear What We Are Saying

For decades, entomologists around the world have all agreed that spiders cannot hear sounds. But how could arthropod researchers be so sure that spiders are unable to hear? Well . . . they just looked at the spiders with a magnifying glass and did not find any ears – case closed!

This line of lazy thinking changed when a study conducted by a team of researchers noticed that spiders were able to hear people talking from meters away. Later on, a lead bug researcher from Cornell University discovered that spiders do, indeed, possess an acute sense of hearing.

However, despite a spider’s lack of ears, as well as all of the necessary components that allow an organism to register sounds, such as an eardrum, spiders are able to register sounds through tiny sensitive hairs located on their legs. Once the outside sound waves make contact with the hairs, the hairs begin to vibrate. These vibrations are translated into neural activity, so, in other words, spiders don’t just experience the sensation of vibration, rather, the spiders are hearing the sound waves, and not just feeling them.

The North American Jumping Spider served as the subject for these experiments. Now, the very same team involved with the NA Jumping Spider wants to subject wolf spiders, and fishing spiders to the very same experiment in order to see if these two popular spiders possess the same ability.

Do you think that nearly all spider species possess a medium (like the vibrating leg hairs in the case of the jumping spider) that receives information which is eventually translated into neural activity that the spider can cognize into sound?


What Engineers Can Learn From Insect Survival Methods

What Engineers Can Learn From Insect Survival Methods

The first ever study exploring the biomechanics of arthropod bone repair has been conducted. This may not sound too exciting, but scientists believe that the field of biomechanics and bioengineering can be advanced by studying the interesting way in which bugs repair their own bodies after injury.

When an insect sustains an injury, it can repair itself by laying a patch of cuticle underneath the wounded area of the insect’s body. This new cuticle functions like a bandage and it successfully strengthens the wounded area allowing the insect to continue with its day. This may sound amazing, however, we humans are able to regrow broken bones, while insects cannot. Instead insects use something like a permanent cast or splint that allows them to continue using their injured limb.

The repaired limb is not as strong as the original limb before it was injured, but the repaired limb is strong enough to not make any difference in the insect’s ability to function in the wild. For example, locusts are able to repair their limbs up to two-thirds their original strength, which is enough for the locusts to continue using their legs for jumping long distances, their primary method of evading predators. This method of bone repair in insects has engineers interested in learning more about the biomechanics behind this unique biological process. Researchers are hoping to mimic this ability through engineering.

Why would engineers be interested in learning more about the process of bone repair in insects? What sorts of things could engineers produce if they could successfully reproduce this biological process through engineering?

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