What makes homes attractive to pests?

Pests are attracted to food, water and shelter. Exclusion techniques and removing food and water sources will help deter pests. Simple measures such as keeping food in sealed containers and cleaning up after each meal to avoid leaving crumbs can help. Fix leaky pipes and drains to ensure that if pests do get in, they won’t have ideal conditions in which they can thrive.

How do pests get into homes?

Pests enter structures through cracks and crevices around windows, doors, along foundations, ripped screens, uncapped chimneys, and also through holes where utilities enter a structure. Firewood, groceries, and other deliveries can carry pests in, too. Seal any openings with silicone caulk or steel wool, and to avoid hitchhiking pests, examine packages thoroughly before bringing them inside.

Where are pests most likely to settle in?

Pests have direct access to basements and attics through roofs and foundations, so they should be kept well ventilated, dry, and clutter-free. Also, because of the concentration of food and water, kitchens and bathrooms are other common areas.

The Zika mosquito is here; not the virus

Controlling the Cicada

You know that incredibly loud buzzing you hear in the summer. You might be reading a book or just falling asleep when a sound almost as loud as a jackhammer coming from not just one but many many insects interrupts the blissful silence. Who’s causing this racket? The seemingly harmless cicada. But, don’t let their docile nature fool you. These insects aren’t just a pain on our ears, they also wreak havoc destroying your trees and shrubs when they all get together for a party, which can include thousands of these pests.

The female cicadas are the main culprit here. They find deciduous trees and cut two small pencil sized slits into the trees branches and twigs, where she then lays her eggs. She doesn’t just do this with one branch, though. Oh no, she’s got to cover as much ground as she can, spreading her eggs all over innocent trees. The number of eggs she lays can reach up to 600. The twigs and branches in which these eggs are deposited usually die and break off. Her egg laying habits can even kill young trees and bushes, although mature trees can usually make a recovery.

Insecticide is often used to control this destruction, but the most effective way to prevent the female cicadas from laying their eggs in your trees and bushes is to place insect netting over them. Make sure you tie and seal it off so they can’t find any way inside, though.

Have you ever seen plants destroyed by cicadas? Do you deal with this problem? How do you protect your trees and shrubs?

A Zika Virus Vaccine

The Zika virus crept up on the unsuspecting world population this past year, causing widespread panic, but there may be hope in a possible vaccine for the virus. According to experts a Zika virus vaccine may be available for initial testing on people within the next year. How are scientists able to develop one so quickly? Scientists already have a basis to work from. The Zika virus is conveniently a close relative of two other deadly viruses, dengue fever and West Nile virus. Experts already have an existing vaccine platform to jump off from.

The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are currently working on two different approaches to a Zika virus vaccine. The first approach involves a DNA based vaccine, which was used for West Nile virus. Scientists take a piece of DNA from the germ and use it to stimulate the immune system. The other approach involves creating a “live” vaccine. In this approach scientists take an actual virus that is damaged, so it cannot cause an infection, and inject it into a person in order to train the immune system to be able to recognize the actual virus if it is contracted.

Would you get the Zika virus vaccine if it were available? What approach do you think sounds the most promising?

Amazing Ant Architecture

Scientists have marveled at the intricate nests ants build for decades, especially as thousands of ants are somehow able to coordinate themselves to build these elaborate nests with no guiding central authority. So, a bunch of scientists decided to put together a multi-institutional research team in France to discover the answer to how ants are able to accomplish these amazing feats. They found that chemicals play a large role in the ants’ architectural process.

These ants’ build complex networks of underground galleries and above-ground mounds that contain interconnected chambers that are created through the formation of pillars around them. That’s some pretty complex work for such a tiny creature. Apparently, in order to achieve this, the ants add a pheromone to the building material that leaves a chemical signal for other ants, instructing them to on top of a particular spot, creating the individual pillars. They deduce what size to make the pillars by looking to their own body dimensions. When a pillar reaches the length of an ant’s body they know to finish that pillar and move on to building a new one somewhere else. The ants essentially leave behind building instructions for the next worker to build upon at each site they work on.

Have you ever studied an ant mound? What do you think of their complex architecture?

Five Things to Know About Zika Virus

Pollinators: the ‘Other Guys

When we think of insects that help pollinate our crops, we usually go straight to honey bees, but there are actually many other pollinators out there that also need our concern and attention. The decline in honeybees has begun to worry officials across the world, but maybe one answer is to look to the other pollinators out there. A recent study revealed that the non-bee pollinators are playing a much larger role in our lives than we had thought.

We need pollinating insects. There’s no beating around the bush. These guys are essential to our continued existence. Around three fourths of the world’s food crops are dependent on pollinators. Some plants such as almonds and melons depend on pollination to produce their fruit or nuts, while others such as carrots need them for seed production. Honeybees are not the only insects that we depend on to fulfill this need. Other pollinators such as flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, and wasps are just important. In Sweden pollination of rape seed by wild insects can vary from 5 to 80 percent. While there are many programs in place to reward farmers for encouraging bees to inhabit their land through planting more woody vegetation, there are none for these other pollinators. This doesn’t help the other pollinators who have different adult and larval stages, and therefore have very different needs when it comes to resources. We’ve been focusing so hard on the honeybee that we might be missing out on the bigger picture when it comes to the pollination of our food crops.

Did you know about these other pollinators? Do you think we should consider their habitat needs as well as those of the honeybee?

Boozy Bugs

Wasps apparently play a large role in the creation of those foamy brews and fruity wines we love to drink. Researchers found in a recent study that wasps actually help yeast to get its groove on and make our alcohol. Scientists found that wasp guts encourage yeast to have sex and multiply. When wasps eat some of the yeast, and their stomachs serve as the perfect breeding ground for the fungus.

During the study, scientists fed five wasps different strains of yeast. They then tricked them into going into hibernation by dropping the temperature to mimic winter. After letting the wasps chill for around two months, the scientists found new hybrid strains of yeast in a third of the wasps. Scientists theorize that the wasps intestines provides a good chemical environment for the yeast to complete reproduction, and the period when they are hibernating gives the yeast a good amount of time to reproduce without interruption.

The wasps spread this yeast around onto different plants such as grapes for wine and help speed up fermentation. Nature finds a way to take care of our every need it would seem. Even our penchant for a nice cold brew is helped along by nature.

Did you know that wasp intestines served as mating grounds for yeast? Did you know that any insect was involved in the creation of alcohol?

Millipede Warfare

Millipedes aren’t usually thought of as incredibly dangerous insects, but they actually have quite an array of chemical weapons at their disposal, some of which have been known to blind chickens. Ok, so they might not be a huge threat to us, but their chemical warfare is still pretty cool in the world of bugs. Some millipedes are immune to cyanide while others can actually produce it to use against their enemy, and some millipedes are even deadly to the touch for some animals. A new study published in the journal Biological Systematics and Ecology by William Shear of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia reveals the extent of their chemical warfare.

The millipede group can produce an impressive array of chemicals such as alkaloids, quinones, ketones, terpenes, esters, phenols, various acids, and even hydrogen cyanide. Almost none of them can run fast enough to escape their enemies, so this ability is a very important one. So, they have to fight them off, either using sharp teeth, spines, or chemicals. Most millipede shoot out their chemical weapons through special glands, but some secret sticky substances that they use to bind and trap intruders.

Have you ever seen any of these secreted chemical weapons? Did you know that millipedes could produce such powerful chemicals?

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