Sharpshooter Symbiotics

The glassy-winged sharpshooter is one of the biggest pests to farmers in the west. It threatens countless vineyards in California and Arizona by infecting plants with Pierce’s disease. Scientists have been doing research on ways to control the pest that have led them to discover how it works with two symbiotic bacteria to create a balanced diet for itself. Understanding how the symbiotic process works could lead them to understand how to control these pests by messing with this relationship. Sharpshooters, like other sap-sucking insects such as aphids and cicadas, transmit the disease by sucking the sap from plants. So, understanding this relationship can provide information into how they transmit these diseases, and how scientists can thwart them.

The sharpshooter relies on the xylem they take from plants’ sap and the bacteria Sulcia mulleri to create their balanced diet. The sharpshooter takes nutrients from the xylem, which it then gives to the bacteria. The bacteria then transforms this into nutrients for the sharpshooter. The insect and the bacteria depend on each other in this three way interaction for each of their nutrition.

Do you think scientists can take this knowledge and turn it into a way to control these pests?

Insect Cleaning Habits

We brush our teeth and our hair. We take showers to wash off all the dirt from the day. So, how do insects keep from staying filthy? Some insects depend on their own energy to clean themselves. Bees have bristled appendages that they use to brush pollen off of their bodies. Fruit flies use the hairs covering their bodies to catapult dust off of them. Others depend on non-renewable strategies to fight back filth. Cicadas use the sharp points on their wings to pop airborn bacteria like a balloon before it even lands on them. This mechanism prevents the insect from being soiled by the environment in the first place.

These methods are similar to how our own eyelashes work against dust and dirt. Eyelashes minimize airflow to our eyes, and funnel particles away from our eyes. Pretty nifty, huh? Who knew we’d been created with automatic cleaners built into our system?

Do you ever wonder how insects stay clean? Did you know we have some of the same kinds of mechanism in our own bodies that help keep us clean?

Insect Infection

Don’t you hate it when you get an insect bite and all you want to do is itch the darned thing? The temptation can be unbearable. But even doing something as innocent as itching an insect bite could lead to disaster. For one man scratching his insect bite led to the possible loss of his entire leg.

Gary Darton was enjoying a relaxing holiday with his wife in Cuba when he got bitten, and naturally decided to scratch the terrible itch. Unfortunately, he picked a terrible time to give into this awful temptation. Gary happened to be swimming in the sea when he was bitten. By scratching his insect bite he created an open wound in his leg, the perfect place for the bacteria that cause cellulitis to enter his body and infect him. What was initially a small red bump turned into a mass of blistered, swollen skin all over his leg. At one point doctors even thought they might have to amputate his leg.

Thankfully, the IV antibiotics eventually killed the bacteria and healed his infection, but his story serves as a lesson to anyone tempted to scratch an insect bite. You never know what might be lurking around to enter that seemingly tiny wound. I’ll certainly be thinking twice the next time I want to scratch my bug bites.

Have you ever gotten an infection from scratching a simple insect bite? Did you think something this terrible was possible?

Insect Magnet

If you’re like me, the minute you step outdoors insects just seem to flock to you, especially mosquitos. There is no explanation. They just seem to love you. You are like catnip to them. Well, there happens to be a fun and environmentally friendly way to repel these unwanted lovers. You can place insect-repelling plants around your yard and patio. The essential oils in these plants naturally repel pesky insects. This way you get rid of the bugs and get to enjoy some beautiful flora.

Rosemary is a great insect repellant. The tiny globules underneath the rosemary leaves produce fragrant oils that evaporate into the air when it gets hot, and repel nasty insects like mosquitos. Humans might love the sweet scent of lavender, but moths, fleas, flies, and mosquitos hate it. Lemongrass, mint, and lemon thyme are also great mosquito repellents, and as a bonus you can use them to add great flavor to your food. Chrysanthemums repel a whole host of nasty bugs, including roaches, ants, bedbugs, fleas, and lice. You could basically protect your home from all of the nastiest invasive pests with this one pretty flower.

Do you have any insect repelling plants? Would you grow them?

LED Lights Equal Mosquito Madness

The use of solar power in homes is becoming increasingly popular. It is a limitless source of clean energy, and our Earth could use a little bit more of that. However, the LED lights that are used could come with an unwanted side effect. Disease-carrying insects are actually attracted to LED lights. And using low-energy LED light bulbs is even worse, as they emit more blue light, which these insects seem to flock towards.

The main insects to watch out for are domestic flies, which carry bacteria that cause trachoma, mosquitos carrying parasites that can cause malaria, dengue, and filariasis, and sandflies, which carry parasites that cause leishmaniasis. Officials are so concerned about this that they are looking to tune LED lights so that they attract less of these insects. Mosquitos are also attracted to the CO2 humans release when we breathe, as well as chemicals released by skin bacteria. So, with humans staying out later thanks to the technology of these lights, mosquitos are now presented with even more food sources later into the night, which is when they prefer to feed.

Did you know that your LED lights attract these disease-carrying insects?

Mosquito Wrist Bands

Putting on insect repellent can be a major hassle, especially when you’re dealing with children. And, to make matters more difficult, you can’t just place it here and there, willy nilly. You need full coverage for complete protection. So, people are forever looking for easier ways to repel those nasty mosquitos in a quicker, easier manner. Some insect repellent bracelets, wrist bands, and patches have been introduced that claim to repel mosquitos as effectively as topical repellents, but do they truly stand up against this vile foe?

Insect repellents work to ward off mosquitos by masking the smell of CO2 on our skin so that the mosquitos are either repelled by the unpleasant odor or confused by it. Studies done on the wrist bands reported to ward off mosquitos with the vapors from their botanical ingredients have been shown to be pretty ineffective. Researchers found that mosquitos were repelled by the odors, but only for a few centimeters on either side of the wrist band. That’s hardly complete protection. The ones that have DEET in them work marginally better, but still offer nowhere near the level of protection as the topical sprays and lotions.  So, basically we’re back to square one. You just have to suck it up and slather on that gross lotion or spray.

Have you tried these insect repelling wrist bands or bracelets? How well do they seem to work for you?

Wasp Warfare

Wasps do not have the greatest reputations. They’re often thought of as mean, nasty creatures that sting without provocation. They are a bigger, scarier version of the hard-working, friendly bumblebee. They are also a destructive pest, killing bees needed for pollination and other insects that serve as food for birds and bats. They also consume nectar that would normally provide sustenance for birds and bats, taking away their food source and reducing their population. However, a new pesticide may just turn the tide against these vicious pests.

The creation of a new pesticide called Vespex is currently underway. The bait contains the insecticide fipronil and has proven to eliminate wasp populations by 95 percent after only one week, and a whopping 99 percent after a month. The pesticide is also protein-based rather than sugar-based, which means bees aren’t also in danger of being attracted to the pesticide. This is important, as bees are one of the insects researchers are trying to save with the development of this pesticide. The pesticide is also non-toxic to humans and animals.

Do you have wasp problems? Would you consider using this new pesticide to get rid of them?

Insects that Feast on Plants are Costing us Billions

There is a hungry threat to the vegetation of this country, invasive insects. During the summer, swarms of insects attack gardens, agriculture and the environment costing the U.S. almost $120 billion each year in damages, according to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). While the United States works hard to get a handle on this problem, they are a “serious threat to our economy,” says AHIS spokeswoman Abbey Powell.

Within the last few years, the nation’s orange industry has taken over a $4 billion hit, due to a spreading incurable disease. The disease is referred to as huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening. The effects of this disease are causing oranges to be too bitter for juice and too misshapen for fruit. Farmers are arming themselves with sprays, tents and steam treatments to help calm the storm. If the USDA cannot get a handle on the disease we may not be seeing breakfast juice and fruit trees in our yard moving into the future.

Currently, the other possible solution, which is undergoing some controversy, is genetically modifying the fruit in order to make them more durable against pests and disease. The short-term solution is to crossbreed oranges while the long-term solution is GMOs. Unfortunately it will take 4 years to see if these approaches are measurable.

Produce isn’t the only thing being affected by these insects either; they are also attacking forests and trees around the country. The Asian longhorn beetle is one of the biggest threats and is currently under federal quarantine.

In Hawaii and California the light brown apple moth is known to damage avocadoes, grapes, raspberries and thousands of plants and trees, the USDA-APHIS reports.

We can help with the problem though officials say! They offer tips such as “not moving firewood, not bringing plants or produce across state lines, declaring agriculture items at customs and washing the soil off tired and outdoor gear before and after trips.” Are you using any of these tips?

Beetles Battle Hemlock Insect

The hemlock wood adelgid, or HWA, has been spreading through American forests, destroying hemlock forests throughout the eastern part of the country. The HWA have so far destroyed 95 percent of the hemlock trees in Shenandoah National Park alone. Officials have been using soil injections of insecticide injected into the tree roots to control the invasive pest so far, but the process is costly and labor intensive. The HWA originally come from Osaka, Japan, which is where officials have obtained a new species of predatory beetle to destroy the pest.

Officials are releasing the predatory beetle, which feeds exclusively on the HWA, as a form of biocontrol that will get rid of the need for the insecticide. In Japan the beetle is the primary predator of the HWA and the two species have co-evolved life cycles due to their shared home environment. This makes the beetle the ideal biocontrol to use on the HWA. Releasing the beetles will have no significant impact on the environment according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Have you noticed the destruction of hemlock trees? Do you think introducing this predatory beetle is a good solution?


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