Zika Virus – Are GMO Mosquitos the Answer?

The Zika virus scare has taken people everywhere by surprise. For most of the population, being bitten by a mosquito carrying the Zika virus would not be a big deal. Some show no symptoms at all. Those who are affected might experience a fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, headache and a general malaise. These conditions, usually mild, may last for a couple of days or up to a week.

However, for some it may be worse. In Brazil there has been a rise in Guillain-Barré syndrome, seemingly connected with the Zika virus, but the study is not complete on the exact causes.

Far worse than that though, is the possible connection of the Zika virus with babies born with microcephaly, a medical condition in which the brain develops abnormally resulting in a smaller than normal head, usually resulting in intellectual disability and other related disorders.

Up to now the only preventative measure has been to encourage mosquito repellant and protective clothing whenever out of doors. But now Oxitec, a British firm, has genetically modified the type of mosquito that carries lab-385348_1280not only Zika but also dengue fever and chikunguny so that the offspring of these mosquitos will not live.

This is still in the developmental stages, but the early results are promising. In testing on Grand Cayman Island they were able to reduce the mosquito population by 80%. In 2011 another test was done in Brazil which reduced the mosquitos by 80-95%. Very encouraging results.

This year the government in Brazil, where most of the birth defects have occurred, has allowed the company to use this method to try and combat the Zika virus in one town in Brazil.

But is it too little too late? The damage has already been done to countless families throughout the Central and South America. And who knows where it will spread next?

And what will be the after effects of redesigning nature? We can only hope that there is nothing found down the road that will make the decision of the governments involved look short-sighted.mother-434355_1280

But for right now the focus is to reduce the number of babies born with microcephaly and any solution to that problem will be welcomed.

The Case of the Grass Killing Chinch Bug

grass-340458_1280April, the time of year when everything is green. In your world, if everything is green but your lawn, you may have a chinch bug problem.

While chinch bugs are not poisonous or harmful to humans or animals, they can destroy your lawn of St. Augustine grass in no time at all. They suck the sap out of the roots and stems of the grass. The first signs of infestation will be a change in the grass from green to yellow and then it will turn reddish brown. This usually happens in irregular patches. The blades of grass will curl up and die, with the bugs sucking the juices out.

They thrive in sunny areas and areas afflicted with drought, where the grass is already stressed. They just kill it off for good.

Chinch bug’s eggs can hatch in as little as one week during the summer. It takes about four to six weeks for the nymphs to mature. Chinch bug adults are about one-fifth of an inch long and are black with white patches on their wings. Chinch bug nymphs range in color from pink to red with a white stripe across their middle. Being so tiny, they are hard to see. You can get on your hands and knees and inspect your lawn, but you may still have trouble seeing them. One way to make sure if you have chinch bugs or not is to make a tube of a can by cutting both ends off. Then push the tube into the ground and pour water into it. If there are chinch bugs in your lawn they will start floating to the surface.

tree-970850_1280In order to get rid of chinch bugs, treatment needs to begin as soon as any infestation is expected. A call to your pest control expert is the way to go. And the sooner the better to save your green lawn from ending up nothing but brown.

Formosan Termites – Nature’s Destruction Crew

Spring is such a great time of year! The flowering trees are in bloom, azaleas are splashing color everywhere, wisteria is dangling purple blossoms from huge pine trees. And the termites are coming to life, the unpleasant side of spring.

There are several kinds of termites, but the Formosan termites, sometimes referred to as super-termites, are the most destructive species. All termites need moisture to survive, but the difference with the Formosan termites is their ability to build nests that collect moisture, so they can survive until they find a more permanent water source. Their colonies are bigger than other species of termites, ranging in size from hundreds of thousands termites-34672_1280-1to millions of members.

A mature colony of Formosan termites can consume as much as 13 ounces of wood a day. It only takes about 3 months at that rate, to severely damage a structure. Once they become established, it’s possible that they will never be completely eradicated from that area.

These tenacious creatures can also venture around 130 feet from their nest in their search for food and water. And then when they find it, they leave a trail of sorts for the others to follow.
And they don’t sleep! Twenty-four hours a day the workers can be chewing on your home. They can get in by way of a crack in the foundation that is no more then one sixty-fourth of an inch. Once inside, they work tirelessly to bring food to the colony, food that used to be part of your home.

Termites cannot survive in the sunlight or open air for more than a few minutes, which is why they tunnel their nokomis-701849_1280-1way into the foundation. It’s amazing to think how these tiny little insects can reduce a wooden structure to sawdust in record time.

So, with that thought, it’s time to call the pest control expert. Let them treat your home so the termites will go elsewhere for their nutrition.

Opossums: Making Meals of Ticks and Rattlesnakes

With spring here and summer well on the way, the one thing that we have to worry about are the biting insects that carry disease. Like mosquitos that carry malaria, encephalitis and right now the big scare from mosquitos is the Zika virus. Ticks too carry many diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and many others.

There are many things on the market to keep these insects off us, like sprays and devices, supposedly guaranteed to keep the bugs away, but these often don’t work as advertised or contain things we would rather not put near our bodies. Ideally we would like something that is natural, not going to poison us or the environment.

And, Voila! it has been found, strangely enough, in the common opossum. And it is opossum, for those of us in the possum-478162_1280western hemisphere, as opposed to those possums that live in Australia and have bushy tails. Interesting reading found at http://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-opossum-and-vs-possum/

The wild marsupial whose life expectancy is 2 to 4 years due to being hunted for food and being run over by cars, can actually help rid your yard of the ticks that cause disease. Opossums are omnivores, which means they eat everything, from the trash that isn’t secured well enough to ticks and rattlesnakes. They are nature’s clean up crew, eating dead animals and overripe fruit and nuts that falls from trees. They hunt mice and snakes.

But best of all, when a tick falls on them, they eat it. They are immune to its poison, same thing with rattlesnakes, they are not affected by the venom. And being nocturnal, they do all this while we are asleep.cayenne-tick-542169_1280

Even if we had a yard full of opossums, we would still need to wear some sort of repellant to insure that the mosquitos and ticks don’t bite, but it’s nice to know that if we do have an opossum or two in the yard, they will do their part. So, if you see the funny looking guys hanging from your trees, be sure and be nice to them. Unbeknownst to us, they are making meals of things we detest, like ticks. Think of them as the invisible pet we don’t have to feed or clean up after.  Can’t ask for more than that!

Fleas and Ticks and Pets – Oh My!

Spring. Just the word can make us think of flowers and trees budding, of the resurgence of new life. It can also make pet owners think of unpleasant things, like fleas and ticks.

It is the time of year when fleas try to take up residence in the fur of your favorite cat or dog. Or ferret. Or any other warm blooded furry creature. Fleas aren’t picky, but cats and dogs sure are.

You can tell when fleas are looking for a new home by the increase of scratching going on. Cats will groom themselves extra hard to try and rid themselves of the little pests. Dogs will scratch more and more. But the annoyance of fleas is nothing compared with the danger that fleas and ticks can pose to your pets.

Fleas breed ridiculously fast, with your pets fur being the perfect incubating place. And the fleas saliva can cause anemia, dermatitis and can even transfer tapeworms.

tick-1271763_1280Ticks can transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever to humans, but they can also cause tick paralysis in dogs. This can cause muscle weakness, loss of coordination and even death to an infected dog.

So, how can we keep dogs and cats and other furry pets safe from fleas and ticks? The National Pest Management Association has put out some tips designed to prevent fleas and ticks. Most are just common sense, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat them, especially where the health of our pets is concerned. Some of the tips are:

Check pets frequently for fleas and flea dirt. Be aware of excessive scratching, licking and nibbling grooming behavior in pets

Avoid walking in tall grass, low growing brushy vegetation, like along the edge of the woods or trail, where ticks and fleas flourish

Wash pet bedding and toys frequently, same with human bedding. Vacuum carpets and furniture frequently.

And, to be absolutely sure your pet is safe, talk to your veterinarian about flea and tick prevention treatments. That way you can enjoy the spring without worrying cat-1231368_1920about what’s biting your pet.

Roach Robots to the Rescue!

Cockroaches. The most hated of all insects. Just the word can make some people shudder in dread of the creepy critters. But scientists have found the cockroach to be the perfect model for a robotic design.

Cockroaches can withstand 300 times their body weight as they moved through tight tunnels and could take 900 times their body weight before they experienced any bodily injury. Wouldn’t it be great if we could control how they move?image

Researchers at UC Berkeley have designed a robot based on a cockroach design that can move through ridiculously tight areas at high speed. This could be extremely helpful in search and rescue situations for spaces too tight for humans or dogs to squeeze through.

However, researchers at Texas A&M university have decided to use the Frankenstein approach and fuse a cockroach with a computer. The aim is to have a controllable insect that could carry a camera, microphone or other tiny sensors that could go into areas human cannot to see and hear if there is anyone there to rescue or just what the situation is.

The computers were placed in tiny backpacks fitted on the back of the cockroaches. The backpack contains a computer chip that sends signals down wires connected to nerves that control the cockroaches movement. The scientists stimulate nerves making the cockroach go in the direction the scientists indicate.

imageIt’s a great idea, in theory, but in actuality it needs work. When the scientists put the roaches on little leashes they steered correctly about 70% of the time. But when they were left to roam freely, controlled remotely, they only obeyed the instructions about 60% of the time, not a stellar outcome.

But the researchers are not disheartened. They are investigating how to make the roaches respond more reliably.

It really is a good idea, whether it’s a remotely controlled live insect or a robotic facsimile of a cockroach, if it could help in search and rescue it’s worth the time and money for research.

A life saving cockroach, as unbelievable as that sounds, would be a marvelous thing.

It’s a Dog Eat Bug World

Watch out bed bugs, there’s a new dog in town and he’s got you in his sights. Yes, there are hunting dogs, mainly beagles, blood hounds, Labradors, even Jack Russell terriers, really any pup with a good sense of smell, that are being trained to sniff out bed bugs and even their eggs, with a 98 percent accuracy rate. And where it might take a human all day long to rip a hotel room apart looking for bed bugs, the dogs can do it in a matter of minutes if not seconds.image

There are facilities popping up all over, many being in Florida, designed to train these dogs. And one of the great things is the fact that they are using shelter dogs to do the work.

Many of the dogs are smaller so that the handler might be able to pick them up so they can search book shelves and areas that are higher up.

Training these dogs takes a lot of time and patience. Most likely spending between 800 and 1000 hours, the handlers need live bed bugs to use in their training. These can be purchased, then kept alive by the handler allowing the bugs to feed on their own blood once a month, sounds sort of Dracula-ish, but it must be done. The handlers must be trained as well as the dogs and they have to work together well, for the training to be effective.

imageWhen all is said and done, these dogs will be able to tell the difference between an old infestation that has already been located and treated and a new infestation of live bugs.

It is hoped that this will speed up the search in the future and minimize the effect that bed bugs can have on hotels, apartments and other places where an infestation will cost money and sometimes even the reputation of the establishment.

And the best part is, they give the rescued dog a home, not to mention a job and a purpose. So this is one of those situations where everyone wins, except the bed bugs

Keeping Insects Out and Home Value Up

Insects are great for the environment, each of them has their own job to do and for the most part they do it well and when they are outside, we hardly notice them. But inside bugs can do a lot of harm to a home. Harm that can affect the value of your home.

A list has been compiled of some of the most damaging insects and it will probably surprise no one that termites top the list. We all know the damage they can do if left unchecked. But did you know that besides regular termites there are also dry wood termites? These termites do not need soil to live, but live entirely on the wood in your home, whether it’s the joists that hold it together or the wood frame of your sofa.

Some of the other destructive insects that made the list are: wood-imageboring beetles, carpenter ants, fire ants and cockroaches. But probably the most surprising insect on the list is honey bees.

We have all heard about the honey bees dying and the fear that they won’t be around to pollinate the crops, which could lead to food shortages. So why would they be on the destructive insect list?

Because, if the bees set up housekeeping within just a few days they can increase in number to around 30,000 bees and build a hive that weighs several pounds, which can become very expensive to remove. If just the bees are removed and not the hive also, it can cause scavengers to proliferate, like moths and rodents. Removal of the nest is tricky, it can be done without killing the bees, but that will also take more time and cost more.

With any of these destructive insects the best course of action is to get your pest control expert to assess and take care of the situation before it gets bad enough to affect the value of your home. Your home is probably the most expensive purchase you will ever make and keeping the bugs out will no doubt increase the chances that your home will imageretain as much value and even gain value as the years go by.

So, make friends with your pest control expert and keep the insects outside where they belong.

Carpenter Ants: Nature’s Destruction Crew

It’s March, time for the carpenter ants to make an appearance. No doubt they will be anxious to get moving after a long winter’s nap and will be looking for wood to make their nests. It’s time to make sure they will not find it on your window sill.

ant-954015_1280These ants are rather large, being over half an inch long. Their coloring ranges from red and light brown to black. They are not usually visible during the day, their movements starts after the sun goes down and into the night.

Carpenter ants get their name because they chew wood to create their nests. They are not eating the wood like termites do, just chewing on it, destroying any wood that they find to their liking, whether it’s a rotten tree outside or a major part of your home. They like soft wood, so they gravitate toward areas of your home where the wood has been softened by moisture, like your window sills. Any moisture damaged wood is like a belly-up-to-the-bar ant buffet, and they will flock to it.

Once the trees have fully leafed out, they will head out of doors to make nests in trees, unless you have inadvertently fed them so well they stay where the breakfast bar is always open. This makes them quite a insect-56815_1280nuisance but the fact that they are abundant in number makes them doubly so.

Their nests can be spotted by small piles of what looks like sawdust, formerly a major part of your home. This is the key to ridding your home of these pests, to find and get rid of the nests. They start moving just after sunset and if you spot one moving, you can often follow it back to their food source and nest.

So get your pest control expert on the line now, and make sure your home is safe from carpenter ants and the mess they can make of it. It is much better to take care of the situation now than to have to replace parts of your home that the ants turned into sawdust.

The Bigger the Fear, the Bigger the Spider

spider-538572_1280When I was a kid one of my brothers used to sleep walk. He woke up my mother one night screaming about a huge spider in the corner of his room. He told my mother it was “this big”, holding his arms aloft, forming a circle with them. My mother’s response, as would be the response of any woman who had birthed seven children, was a calm “Get the fly-swatter.”

That story has been a source of humor to my family for the past 40-some years. But now there is proof that people’s fear of spiders affects how large they perceive the spider to be, the bigger the fear, the bigger the spider.

Graduate students at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Israel came across this topic for a scientific study when one of the students who was arachnophobic, noticed a spider and asked another one of the students if they would kill the “big” spider. The other student thought that was a strange statement since the spider was rather small. So, they gathered together women, who are more likely to be arachnophobic than men, for a study to see if fear distorts perception. http://www.livescience.com/53765-arachnophobes-perceive-spiders-as-bigger

The answer was, it definitely does. The students who were afraid of the spiders guessed the size of the spider to be much bigger than it really was in every instance, whereas those who were not afraid had no such distorted view. Then they did the study with other things like wasps, beetles and butterflies. Surprisingly enough, the group with the worst fear of spiders rated wasps as unpleasant, but didn’t overestimate the size of the wasps, only the spiders.

The conclusion was, just unpleasantness doesn’t cause the estimation of size to be distorted, but emotion can play a big part. The researchers also said it raises more questions such as, is it fear that causes the size distortion or is size distortion what causes fear in the first place.

Whatever the answers are, a person who is afraid of spiders is going to picture the tiniest spider to be the fly-swatter-295234_1280size of a basketball, every time. Just like my brother whose nightmare included a huge spider on the wall of his bedroom. And those without fear of spiders, like my mother, will always think that a fly-swatter is the answer to everything.