Styrofoam Meets Its Match

In 1941 scientists for the Dow Chemical Company developed an extruded foam product that resists moisture, is lightweight and buoyant and has tremendous insulating properties. Amazing stuff. So amazing that it became essential in the manufacture of life rafts and vests, building materials, insulation, road and structure building and floral arrangements, to name just a few of it’s many uses. This magic substance is polystyrene foam, developed by Dow as Styrofoam.foam-315556_1280

THE answer?

It seemed like the perfect answer to so many problems. Almost too good to be true, and it was. Along with the uses found for polystyrene foam comes many environmental issues. Hydrofluorocarbons are used in its manufacture which has been shown to increase the potential of global warming, or more politically correct, climate change.


If that weren’t enough, you can’t get rid of the stuff. Seriously, it will last indefinitely. Long after the meal has been eaten and the cooler has served it’s usefulness, the packaging sits in a landfill, perhaps for centuries, still holding a semblance of its original shape. It cannot be recycled, will not degrade. Which has caused some large cities to ban its use in the food industry. Landfills are clogged with non-biodegradable waste, which makes the magic substance something of a curse.

From a Pest Comes Hope?

But there seems to be hope. Researchers have found a mealworm who loves to eat plastic and, wait for it……polystyrene foam. Finally, something that can take on the indestructible substance!

Mealworms are the larvae for of the darkling beetle, the most common member of the beetle family. Apparently, mealworm larvae are commonly sold in pet stores as food for other animals such as birds, lizards and snakes. But the adult beetles are sometimes kept as pets, which seems odd to the portion of population that thinks pets should have at least some fur to stroke, but then, to each his own.beetle-562035_1280

But this mealworm and its appetite may be the salvation of landfills every where. Apparently the mealworm’s gut contains microorganisms that are able to breakdown and digest plastic and foam.
And the really good news is, they are not alone. It turns out that waxworms, the larvae of Indian mealmoths have been found to eat and digest plastic garbage bags, another bane of landfills everywhere.


Bring on the Mealworms!

This new discovery has given scientists hope that perhaps they will be able to develop substances that not only destroy polystyrene, but also other kinds of plastics that are seemingly indestructible.

The US produces around 33 million tons of plastic every year. While some is recycled, like the reusable grocery bag made from plastic water bottles that I purchased recently, less than 10 percent is actually reused, the rest ends up clogging landfills.

How ironic if the answer to the growing landfill issues lies with formerly detested and maligned mealworm. If so, bring it on, much better to be overrun with beetles than drowning in a sea of packing peanuts!

Autumn – The Buggiest Time of the Year?

Autumn – such a great time of year. After the heat and humidity of the summer, just the thought of cooler tree-99852_1280temperatures is enough to brighten your day. In some places trees turn shades of red, orange and yellow not formerly seen in nature. Pumpkins, squash and collards are the vegetables of the season. Just a deep breath of crisp cool air refreshes the spirit. Time to be outside.


Or not. Usually autumn is the time to go out, when one is safer from mosquitos, ticks and other biters, but apparently, not this year. Because of the hot, wet summer, insects in the southeast have been able to develop faster than normal. And, it’s not just ticks and mosquitos, but kudzu bugs, lady bugs and stink bugs have proliferated. Not to mention the ever-present, much hated termite. Yikes.

However, lest you think the southeast is exclusive in the propagation of insects, be assured that the rest of the country is having the same issues, sometimes different bugs, but weather related insect issues.


A very warm May followed by record setting rainfall and high humidity through the summer resulted in mosquitos and ticks doing quite well in the northeast. And they will continue on the same path until the temperatures go below 50 degrees. Don’t leave the house without the bug spray.

pumpkin-902493_1280The midwest also saw record rainfall, which in many places means standing water, the perfect place to raise bunches and bunches of little mosquitos. And as with the northeast, the mosquitos will be active until the weather gets too cold for them. However, places that experienced severe flooding may see a drop in pest populations because the insects may not have survived the extreme weather. An upside, or not, depending on whether everything you own was washed away, in which case the last thing on your mind is mosquito populations.


In the northwest things are a bit different. There was record breaking heat, and also drought conditions, which are not good for mosquito growth. The same can be said for ticks. It looks to be a great autumn for those who love the outdoors. That may be doubly true since the forecast is for ants and other insects to move indoors to find water. Outside may be the insect-free zone.

West Coast

On the west coast some cities did see rainfall, but it was not enough to break the drought that has gripped California for several years now. The places that did see the rain may have higher than normal mosquito populations. Humans may see a decline overall, but the extreme drought have left trees and other vegetation more suseptible to bugs, such as the walnut scale, a tiny little insect that has wreaked havoc on walnut trees. The bugs have taken advantage of the weakened state of the drought-stricken trees and moved in to suck whatever moisture is left in it.


In the southwest there has been extreme heat and above normal rain, a perfect formula for mosquitos, ants, termites and flies.

It doesn’t seem to matter where you are, it seems the weather is the least predictable thing there is. All we can do is prepare for the worst, hope for the best and don’t put the bug spray away just yet.

The Fruit Grower’s Nightmare – The Oriental Fruitfly

Riddle: What is approximately 8.0 millimeters or 0.315 inches, loves fruit and is going to cost Florida anywhere from $700 million to $1.6 billion? Answer: the Oriental fruit

Just the name can send chills down the spine of any fruit grower. These particular fruit flies cause an alarming amount of damage to whatever fruit is available. They don’t seem to be picky eaters, they have been found in upwards of 300 different kinds of fruit. The females prefer to deposit their eggs into ripe fruit, but there again, they are not really picky, even unripe fruit has been found to host these insidious pests.

Multiplying Fast!

As with most insects, it doesn’t take long to go from egg to adult, approximately 10 days. Egg laying is a group activity, the females go in groups of 3 to 30 to lay their eggs under the skin of the fruit. Then if the temperature is just right the eggs hatch into larvae in about a day and a half. The larvae eat their way to maturity, tunneling their way through the chosen fruit, rendering it completely inedible by any self respecting human fruit lover.

When the larvae is mature it drops to the soil and continues its transformation. The adult fruit fly will emerge in approximately 10 days. And then about 8 days later the cycle begins again when the females mature and begin to lay their own eggs. In their lifetime, a female Oriental fruit fly can lay between 1200 and 3000 eggs. Adults can live for many months, all the while indiscriminately destroying fruit crops wherever they can.

Where to Begin?

The genesis of the Oriental fruit flies is, not surprisingly given the name, Asia. However, they have been found occasionally in the Hawaiian islands since 1944. There have been outbreaks of infestations in California, which were effectively eradicated by destroying all infested crops. But a few weeks ago they were discovered near Miami.


Since the discovery officials have acted quickly, quarantining 85 square miles of crops. The fruit was stripped and destroyed in all areas of known infestation. This coming at a time when the tropical fruits were just beginning to be harvested. Now instead of calculating their profits, farmers are spending their time trying to figure out how, or even if, they will survive this devastation.

Aerial Spraying?

Besides the destruction of infested fruit the next step of treatment will be aerial spraying of the crops. However, one of the most effective pesticides to use against the Oriental fruit fly is Malathion. Malathion is not only poisonous to the fruit flies, it is also dangerous for humans, which is why it requires a special clearance for use that must come from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Commission of Agriculture for the state of Florida has sent a team to negotiate with the EPA to get this special clearance. It has been used effectively on other infestations in California (1989) and elsewhere in Florida (1997). 

Organics – A Thing of the Past?

What this will do to the environment remains to be seen, but organic farmers are up in arms about the fact that their organic status will be invalidated by the aerial spraying. No crops within the sprayed area can be considered organic for 3 years, which will probably put the organic farmers out of business. As for the sprayed crops, the fruit flies may be gone, but will the fruit be harmful to eat?

This is a catch-22 situation if there ever was one. The Florida officials trying to make everyone happy while eradicating the Oriental fruit fly must feel this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt was penned just for them: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

Fallout from decisions will no doubt linger for years, but here’s hoping they far outlive the Oriental fruit fly.

Super Lice – Coming to a Head Near You

When I was in elementary school, many, many, too many, years ago, I remember the school nurse coming into the classroom pushing a cart with a light on it. She would go up and down the aisles looking at everyones head with this light. Being a curious kid I really wanted to know what they were looking for, but no one would tell me. I even asked one of the kids who got yanked out of his seat and had to stand in the hallway, but he didn’t know either. I know now. Lice. The bane of schools everywhere.louse-158325_1280

What Are They?

Lice are defined as: the plural of louse. That tells you a lot, eh? But under ‘louse” the dictionary gives a true definition: a small, wingless, parasitic insect that lives on the skin of mammals and birds.
It also defines a louse as a contemptible or unpleasant person, but that is a different story altogether.

Being parasites, living off of skin and other things found on their hosts body, lice cannot live long separated from a living thing. In years past all that was needed for treatment was to use the box of shampoo found at the drug store specifically for lice. Or louse, if he was alone.

Non-effective Treatment

But now, as is the case of so many irritating and troublesome bugs and infections, regular lice have become super-lice. They have mutated and formed a resistance to the usual removal methods. The results of a study done on super lice gave the following information:

“What we found was that 104 out of the 109 lice populations we tested had high levels of gene mutations, which have been linked to resistance to pyrethroids.”  Pyrethroids are insecticides that are derived from dried chrysanthemums. But now that treatment is ineffective for the most part. But, even if over the counter methods are not effective, prescription medications will still work, at least until the louse figures out how to overcome that one too.friends-589937_1280

Those Darn Selfies!

The usual age for contracting head lice is from 3 to 11 years, but lately more and more older teenagers have been treated for the malady. As to why, one suspect in this mystery is the “selfie”, the practice of taking pictures of oneself, and more often, oneself with a friend, which requires heads to come together so both can be included in the picture. Since lice can’t jump, a louse would have to be on the outside of the infected person’s hair to be transfered to the other person, so some experts doubt the selfie is to blame. But no one has come up with a more viable reason as to why the older kids are becoming infected. So, no more selfies, just in case. Yeah, like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Whatever the cause of the infection, how to get rid of them is the material point. If super lice come to call, seeing your doctor would probably be the best thing to do. Preventative measures would include teaching children not to share hair brushes or combs. And just to be on the safe side, no more selfies!

The Dangerous Fire Ant

ant-563286_1280Did you know that there are over 700 different kinds of ants in the US? Most of them are innocuous, they won’t hurt you even if you hunt them down or burn them with a magnifying glass, a cruel activity, to put it mildly. They can be annoying, especially if they find a route into your kitchen or invade your picnic. But dangerous, not likely.

However the one ant to be very wary of is the red imported fire ant. They originated in Brazil, but as most anything in this world that is growing smaller by the minute, they have come to our shores.

Not Picky

Most ants have certain foods that they like or need to live, but the red imported fire ants will eat anything or anyone, animal or plant. They have been known to kill small animals or rodents that have the misfortune to venture too close to the nest.

Ant Boat?

These enterprising little pests can can survive a flood by the whole colony coming together to form a ball that floats. The ball floats until it ends up on dry land, at which time they disembark from their makeshift ark and look for food, but don’t stand in their way because they are relentless in finding food and will attack with more venom than normal.

Their sting can be very painful, like being burned with fire, thus the name. The problems come because hardly anyone is stung only once. When they are fearful and feel endangered, the ants send out distress signals to the rest of the colony and their friends come running, stingers at the ready. Statistically, fire ant stings can send two percent of the population into anaphylactic shock. I know of a lady who accidentally stuck her hand into a nest, trying to brace herself from a fall. Her hand swelled to more than twice its normal size and she had to be treated in the emergency room. Fire ants are not to be taken lightly.


They nest in the soil, often near a water source. They are likely to hide their nests under rocks or logs, but if they have to build a nest in the open, it will be mounded. They were introduced into the US via the seaport of Mobile, Alabama and from there spread throughout the southern US, as far north as Virginia.

Enormous Cost!

According to the Food and Drug Administration, fire ants cost more than $5 billion a year on damage, damage control and medical treatment, not to mention the $750 million in agricultural damage, veterinary bills, livestock and crop loss. For something so little, fire ants are a big problem.

Avoidance is easier than eradication, as is the case with most invasive species. All we can do to protect ourselves is to be very careful and try not to anger any fire ants, which will no doubt mean keeping the magnifying glass far away from them.

The Buzz About Stingers

Here it is, the end of August. The time of year when most people are sick of summer and the oppressive heat and humidity, ready for some cooler temperatures. Its also the time of year when bee, hornets, wasps and other stinging insects become more of a nuisance than ever.

Ah, Fall!


The second half of summer and into the fall is the time when bees and other types of stinging insects are looking for extra food supplies to take to the queen to sustain the hive through the long winter to come. So, they are extra busy and woe to the human who accidentally crosses paths with them. The statistics indicate that over half a million people a year show up in emergency rooms due to being stung.


Even if you aren’t allergic to any type of sting, its still not a pleasant experience. No one in their right mind would choose to be stung by anything. However, there is no need to stay inside, even if it is in air conditioned comfort. There are ways to minimize the chances of being a victim of a vicious sting.

No Fragrance

One thing is not to wear any kind of fragrance, cologne, perfume or after shave. Even certain types of soap and hair products put off enough of a fragrance to make the bees or other stinging insects think they have hit the mother lode of pollen sources. There are fragrance free soaps and shampoos which may be a very good investment if you plan to spend much time outdoors.

Wear White

Also, the color of your clothing has an effect on what the insects see. If you wear a Hawaiian shirt with big hibiscus flowers on it, the bees might think its the real thing. Dark colors are also a no-no. Be aware the bumblebees and hornets sometimes nest on the ground, so wear substantial shoes. Open toed flip-flops might be cool until you walk up on a hornet’s nest in the grass. The expression “mad as a hornet” was most likely coined after just such an encounter.

Be Careful With Food

If you are eating anything make sure it is covered and not left open to attract stingers. They are looking for food after all and the smell of your potato salad might cause them to come running. Probably the most important thing to remember though, is to keep calm. When confronted with something buzzing around your head remember that flailing and thrashing around will only make matters worse. Stand still and allow the insects to see that you are not lunch, have nothing to offer and they will leave. Just remember, they are looking for food, not you.

Watch for Nests


Finally, keep an eye out for nests and call your pest prevention folks if you find any. By using good sense and keeping our heads we will be able to enjoy the outdoors any time of the year.

The Beauty of Spider Webs

If you are arachnophic, you may want to stop now. Or medicate yourself. Because you won’t want to read about an amazing, unbelievable spider web. Probably.

In order to make the news, a spider web would have to be absolutely spectacular, and believe me, this one is. Found in a park just outside of Dallas, one report said it was about a quarter mile long and goes up into the trees at least 40 feet. No wonder it made the news.

Working Together

Apparently this incredible web is a communal nest. It is made up of many different types of spiders and their individual webs. The spiders collaborated in a joint effort to create a massive web that is attracting all kinds of yummy (to the spider) insects like mosquitos. They have draped their webs over tree branches like shrouds. Thousands of spiders can be seen in the webs, spinning and eating and doing all the things spiders do. The spiders are not poisonous, so there is no danger to humans, in fact they are doing quite a public spider-webs-597649_1280service if they are eating the mosquitos that would otherwise be eating human blood for breakfast. Go spiders!

How do they do that?

Spiders weave their webs using glands located at the tip of the abdomen that produces the silk. Amazingly, they produce different types of silk for different uses. Some spiders are capable of producing up to 8 different types of silk. The silk is sticky when the web is new, so its easier to catch their prey. Which is good because just spinning the web depletes their protein and they probably wouldn’t have enough energy to chase down their dinner, if they had to go about it in that way.

Some spiders recycle their webs. When the web dries out and becomes less sticky, its harder for insects to stick to it, so the spiders eat their webs to recoup the spent energy. This happens every day in some cases.

Writing Spider

One of the most striking webs is woven by the writing spider. While a spider web might be nearly invisible in some light, the writing spider’s silk is pure white and they weave and “X” form, or a sting of zigzag designs or, you could say, stitches of a sort, it does look like it was done on a sewing machine. Apparently the designs have something to do with luring prey to the web. Perhaps to the insects it looks like a neon sign that says: “EATS”. Or “Joe’s Pool Hall”. No one has been able to break the spider code to date.spider-638436_1280

Save the Spiders

But whatever the spiders are saying with their webs, I wish them well in catching and eating many, many mosquitos and other bugs. Spiders are an essential part of the eco-system and need to be left alone to do their thing. Next time you see a web, stop and look at it closely, at the intricate weaving work and see the beauty in it. If you like spiders it will reinforce your admiration. If you don’t like spiders it might make you look at them differently.

Bee Vaccinated

One of the latest controversies being discussed on social media these days involves vaccinations. Many people feel that the vaccinations being administered to small babies cause more problems than the illnesses they are supposed to protect the child from. Even among the scientists there is disagreement. It has gotten to the point where it comes down to: Who do you trust? The one thing I know is, my children were vaccinated well over 30 years ago, so I have no dog in that fight. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Bee Vaccinations

Now researchers have discovered the way that bees “vaccinate” their babies from disease. When it comes tobee-259983_1280 vaccinating their babies, bees don’t have a choice — they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how they do it.

Researchers from Arizona State University, University of Helsinki, Norwegian University of Life Sciences and a University in Finland, the name of which I won’t even begin to try to pronounce, made the discovery after studying a bee blood protein called vitellogenin. They knew that this protein played a part in protecting bees from disease, but they had no idea how they did it. What they have discovered is that the worker bees, while gathering pollen and nectar to bring to the queen, pick up many other things that could possibly cause disease. They return to the hive and use this pollen to create the royal jelly which is the queen’s food, which also contains the bacteria from the environment outside. The queen digests the bacteria and stores it in the “fat body”, which is similar to a liver.

Helpful Bacteria

This is where the vitellogenin comes in, because pieces of the bacteria bind to it and it is carried along to the eggs. This is what they refer to as “vaccination”. These researchers are working on a way to introduce other bacteria to the bees, such as in a cocktail that they would eat and carry back to the hive, thus ‘vaccinating’ the young bees against many of the things that would otherwise kill them.

Bee Savior?

This could be an extremely valuable discovery as the populations of bees have been steadily declining, being victims of disease or perhaps as a result of pesticide use. Also, colony collapse disorder has been the cause of the death of many honey bees. No one is sure what causes this, but it is possibly linked to things that humans are introducing into the environment.

Who Do You Trust?

If these scientists can find a way to make bees less susceptible to harmful things in the environment, I doubt if anyone who likes to eat would make a fuss about it. But then, everyone has an opinion and there will be those who don’t like the idea of messing with nature. And truthfully, man has been messing with nature for thousands of years with many adverse effects. If this is something that counteracts those actions, that would be a good thing. But it is possible that perhaps we should leave nature alone. I guess like human vaccinations, it comes down to: Who do you trust? And that is a loaded question.

Snakes Are Good – Seriously

Snakes. Just the thought of a snake slithering through grass or hanging amid the branches of a tree can send chills down the spine. I remember mowing the lawn when I was a kid and having a snake slither right in front of me, I screamed like, well, like a girl. Only because it scared the bejeepers out of me. It was only a harmless garter snake, but it scared me so bad it might as well have been a giant anaconda, like the ones that have been rumored to eat king-snake-502263_1280loggers in the rain forest. My brother had to finish mowing the lawn.


Snakes have been getting a bad rap ever since Eve let a snake talk her into trading paradise for a piece of fruit. They are maligned and reviled and hated to the point that some people feel that the only good snake is a dead snake.

Good Snake – Not an Oxymoron

However, to be fair, snakes are imperative to a healthy eco-system. They are beneficial to the environment and to bio-diversity. They eat insects and rodents, ones that can carry diseases that can infect humans. If you think the insect population is bad now, what would it be like if we didn’t have snakes to help out? Thankfully, we can only imagine. And personally, the thought of snakes eating rats and mice doesn’t bother me one bit.

Will You Die?

There are 151 species of snakes in North America, but only 20 of these are poisonous. If you are going to be out among them it is good to know which ones are harmful and to treat them with the respect their venom deserves. This old rhyme was devised as a way to identify a dangerous snake:

Red Touch Yellow – Kills a Fellowsnake-860522_1280
Red Touch Black – Venom Lack
Yellow Touches Red – Soon You’ll Be Dead
Red Touches Black – Friend of Jack

No idea where that came from or who wrote it, but whoever did must have thought a person would have time to run it through their head as they stare down a snake. Kind of like having to go through the whole alphabet to see what comes before “M”. Personally, I would have been bitten long before I realized that red and yellow do indeed touch on this fellow.

Beneficial Venom

Speaking of venom, one thing that is not widely known is that snake venom is used to treat many serious health ailments like cancers, heart disease and stroke, Parkinsons disease and many more.
The benefits of snakes can be overshadowed by the adverse effects of some, such as the Burmese pythons that have overrun the Everglades. But the pythons were introduced to Florida, they are not native. I’m sure in their true natural habitat they would be beneficial to that particular ecosystem.

I am not a snake lover, but I feel the same way about them as I do about spiders, I know they benefit the ecosystem and do much good, and as long as they stay in their world, doing their thing, I will stay in mine and leave them alone.