Gay Moths? A Humane Approach to Limiting Reproduction Moths are a hardy, adaptive creature who used to be controlled using old-fashioned moth balls. But like several substances from our grandparents generation, these small round white pellets are toxic to not only moths, but humans. In recent years, fighting moths has proven more difficult for a number of reasons. The flying critters love natural materials, and wearing cotton and linen is definitely “in” again. At the same time, improvements to home heating systems, including insulation, provide excellent moth habitats. What to do when they begin to reproduce? A team of scientists may have discovered an effective and non-toxic birth control method. The British agricultural and technology company Exosect has researchers using a substance that confuses mating male moths, so that they seek out other males instead of females. By using wax tablets injected with tiny amounts of moth pheromones, the scent rubs off on the male moth. Carrying this scent, he attracts other males. "The powder overwhelms their senses and they aren't able to detect regular females anymore," Exosect spokeswoman Georgina Donovan explained in a recent press release. The company has partnered with the London Natural History Museum to take research into the realm of the marketplace.
A New Fabric Brought to You by . . . Spiders A coveted fabric in the fashion world and by consumers who can afford it, silk is not only beautiful but strong and insulating. And it has always been produced by silk worms, who are raised and farmed to spin this precious textile. Spiders also produce silk, quite skillfully from their nether regions. Spider silk is even superior to the kind from worms, but until recently spider farms have not worked out well. Unlike silk worms, spiders tend to fight for territory and sometimes eat each other. A Mad Max scenario quickly evolves and no silk spinning gets accomplished. But a new company called Bolt Threads has found a way to get the silk without using spiders at all, and their revolutionary method may transform the fabric industry. Scientists at the company have developed a method using bioengineered yeast cells to produce the necessary protein. Bolt is considering many uses for this fantastic new fabric, and is able to use genetic engineering to alter qualities in the fabric itself. For example, by modifying the protein sequence features such as softness, durability, and strength can be reduced or enhanced.
Trapping Bugs May Save a Few Good Trees In Massachusettes, the Asian Long-Horned beetle is killing trees by eating them from the inside out. This pest is a particularly nasty one, so an aggressive trapping approach is being used to eradicate it. The beetle comes from China and North Korea, but its point of origin is moot as it has taken up residence quite comfortably in the U.S. In appearance, it is black and shiny, with white spots and white stripes appearing on its “horns.” It has a rather boxy body and two very long horns that extend backwards to almost create an oval around the body. Traps are set using Asian long-horned beetle pheromones combined with plant volatiles from host trees (or trees where others of the species reside). Typically, this insect will lay eggs inside the same tree from which it is born, and only seek out new territory when the tree becomes too crowded with beetles. In one county alone, 34,000 trees have been removed as a result of the beetle invasion, out of 5 million trees surveyed. Officials are amazed that they have managed to conquer the beetle so far, by restricting it to such a small area.
Wheat Crop Killer May Have Met Its Match The wheat stem sawfly is a tiny insect that does devastating damage to wheat plants. Like many insects that kill plants, it is not the adult bug but its larvae that do the damage. The sawfly lays eggs in the stem and its hatchlings devour the plant from the inside as they grow. It is estimate that the yearly loss in wheat across the northern plains states is upwards of $300 million. Scientists developing a new insecticide, called Thimet 20-G, may have found the answer. It works well, but has a glitch: this insecticide can be tricky to apply to crops. In order for Thimet to work, it has to be inside the plant stem at the right time, but be gone from the mature wheat by the time it is harvested. So the chemical must be applied within about an 85-day window. In addition, the new insecticide is harmful to mammals so must be handled with care and buried in the ground about an inch deep so that birds won’t encounter it. Thimet 20-G is what’s termed a systemic insecticide, meaning it needs to be applied to the roots of the plant so it can do its work in the whole system of the plant. By the time the wheat has reached maturity, all traces of the chemical – and the sawfly – are gone.
Can you prevent a termite infestation? The termite is famous for destroying American homes. This tiny creature is single-handedly responsible for five billion dollars in property damage each year in the U.S. Dr. Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist at the National Pest Management Association, hands out some valuable tips for banishing this destructive beast from your residence. Termites come in two varieties: subterranean and dry wood. The latter are found from Virginia through Florida, parts of the southwest and northern pacific coast and Hawaii. The former are found everywhere. The key in controlling termites is to keep them away from your home’s foundation. Subterranean termites are attracted to moisture. To prevent their appearance, Dr Fredericks give several practical tips: remove standing water and investigate damp spots, keep water away from the foundation of the home, repair leaky water pipes and faucets, and eliminate moisture from attics and crawl spaces. Termites also like wood, so woodpiles should be kept away from the foundation. To prevent these bugs from getting into the home, any mulches used in the yard should be separated from the foundation by a stone barrier at least 18 inches wide. Mulches will be appealing to termites, so consider using an alternative ground cover like straw or rocks. Websites like PestWorld.org are also a great resource for educating yourself about how these bugs operate. By knowing their habits, you can protect one of your most valuable assets: your home.
Pest Experts and Builders Complain of Overkill Termites cause uncontested structural damage, and most municipalities have tight regulations on inspecting new homes for this destructive bug. But builders in Minnesota are up in arms at the new proposed restrictions to prevent termite damage. Costs for developers run to $1,000 per new home built, the pricetag for pre-treating the structure with pesticides. Builders say it’s unnecessary and up until now the state of Minnesota has been exempt from such regulatory codes. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made this change when updating regulations to simplify housing codes. Termites are a known – but occasional -- problem in the very southern part of Minnesota, but the rest of state, including the Twin Cities, has always been free of them. Pest control agencies, who have every reason to support regulations that call for more pest control, agree. “This is ridiculous overkill,” said Jay Bruesch, technical director for Plunkett’s Pest Control in the Twin Cities. He reports that when out-of-staters ask for termite protection he will do the job, but feels almost guilty since he knows the bugs don’t live in the area. “And we’re a little embarrassed by them because we’ll take someone’s money for preventing a pest that isn’t here,” he said. Although capable of surviving Minnesota winters by burrowing below the frost line, the bugs have simply never had a presence in most of the state.
The Bed Bugs of Summer May Follow You Home If you live in a home that is bed bug free, you’ll want to keep it that way. Once they arrive, only a professional exterminator can rid you of them. Unlike ticks and mosquitoes, their bite does not carry disease. But they do create red itchy spots and, for those susceptible, large red welts. Worse, once they’ve invaded a space they are difficult to eradicate. One way bed bugs gain access to your inner sanctum is through travel. They quite happily nest in some hotel rooms, and will enthusiastically hitch a ride home with you. Summertime is when they are most active, so follow these tips to stay bed bug free. For further details from the experts, see the website put out by the Professional Pest Management Alliance. First, do a quick check of your hotel room. Bed bugs are small but perceptible to the naked eye. Look over the sheets and bedspread. Aside from the actual bug, inspect the area for black spots that look like mold (fecal matter) or pieces of castaway skin shed by the bugs Bring a flashlight to assist in all inspections (and because they are handy to have around). Store luggage out of the way, where bugs cannot crawl onto or into it. Good spots include the bathtub, linoleum floor, or even hanging you luggage up in the air. Avoid putting luggage on the bed; instead, use the luggage rack. When you arrive home, wash all clothes on high temperature and store your luggage anywhere that is not near your bed.
A Surprising Trigger for Allergies: The Roach Common allergens, like pollen, are annoying but hardly life-threatening. For some individuals, however, allergens can cause anaphylactic shock or trigger asthma reactions. Asthma is entirely separate from the phenomenon of anaphylactic shock, but a person with asthma may experience allergies more intensely and their reactions can trigger an asthma attack. A little known trigger for asthmatics is the cockroach. Partly because these bugs are so common in homes, and partly because a great percentage of humans are allergic to them, they can cause a lot of grief for people who suffer from asthma. The offending allergens come from cockroach feces, saliva and body parts. These allergens mix with common household dust, thus circulating throughout the house. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America states that between three quarters and 98% of homes in the U.S. have cockroach allergies, and about one quarter to one half of individuals with asthma are sensitive to cockroach allergens. Physicians can test for a wide array of allergens, including sensitivity to cockroaches. If an allergy is present, the next step is to contact an exterminator to rid your house of roaches.
The Complex World of Ants If you’ve ever tried to remove an ant colony, you know how tough and persistent these creatures are. They are a nuisance and can be destructive, but they also have amazing abilities, build complicated structures, and share more than a few traits with humans. Most people know ants are incredibly strong. They can lift objects 25 times their own body weight. The common American field ant has a neck joint that can withstand 5,000 pounds its body weight. Like humans, ants are highly social, yet also possess a competitive and sometimes warlike nature. Some species build colonies, and others travel like nomads to find the best food sources. Their societies have many rules, and use division of labor to find and store food as well as building and sustaining colonies. They have intricate means of communication, using odors to give and receive vital information. They mainly exchange news about impending danger and food. If an ant is killed violently (by crushing) it sends out signal to all other nearby ants, who will go into a state of frenzy in response to the alarm. Ants have been observed closely by humans, and we’ve determined that they may be the only other species (besides us) who can learn simply by watching another ant. This is known as vicarious learning, and hasn’t been recorded anywhere else in the animal kingdom.
Sticky Business Scientists study biological systems to understand how nature works, perhaps with the ultimate aim of understanding man’s place in it. A side benefit of observing natural systems, however, are the marvels of engineering that non-humans animals possess. Insects are perhaps the most remarkable of creatures when it comes to movement, whether flying, crawling or hanging upside down. The stick insect sometimes needs to hang upside down under leaves, and climbs vertically along branches. How does this creature accomplish adherence when upside down and ‘normal’ striding when right side up? Turns out a complex system of adherence explains these incredible feats – no pun intended – of travel. Research from the Cambridge Department of Zoology breaks it down for us nonscientists in a three point system. But first it’s helpful to understand that stick bugs have heel pads and toe pads, each with their own independent friction features: toe pads are sticky, while heel pads are not sticky. The heel pads have three separate features to regulate grip strength. First, rounded hairs – both on the pad itself and of the hairs. This feature means that as pressure is increased, surface area instantly increased as well. Second, varying lengths of hairs. This feature allows for more hairs to come in contact with the surface as pressure increased. Third, there is a back-up system with hairs that make side-contact when the most pressure is applied. Without any pressure, there is no friction and therefore no “stickiness.”