Secret number one, is keeping it clean. Cleaning themselves, each other and their nest means that ants have a greater chance of survival. This frequent communal cleansing removes disease organisms therefore reducing exposure to deadly pathogens.
Secret number two, is some ant species use home-crafted “antibiotics” called Antimicrobials— chemical compounds that kill pathogens and boost their immunity. Ants apply these compounds to their own bodies, to their nest mates and to their nests. Sharing these antimicrobials among the colony is an important part of the insects’ communal life.
An individual’s health is dependent upon the health of the colony and vice versa.
The ants’ strategy when it comes to fighting disease is reminiscent of how we humans prevent outbreaks: early action is often decisive when it comes to successfully containing epidemics.
If, however, the ants fail to cure a nestmate, more drastic (inhumane in our view) measures are used to protect the colony. They throw the sick individuals out of the nest, preventing the spread of disease. It has been observed that in most cases only the young are forcibly exiled. Adult workers seem to accept their fate and leave on their own.
Research indicates that the most potent antimicrobials are produced by one of the smallest ants— Solenopsis molesta,
also known asthe thief ant(which lives in some of the smallest colonies) and also by the desert fire ant,,Solenopsis xyloni , whose colonies can contain hundreds of thousands of individuals.
It is crucial for any successful society to develop a means, beyond individual resistance, of controlling the spread of disease. Some of our largest cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco need to take advice from the insect world (excluding forced exile of course) and clean up the mess, take care of the masses of humanity living on the streets and reduce sickness and the spread of disease. If ants can do it so can we!
There are lots of flying insects out and about in our gardens, fields and other open areas and they are all busy at work fulfilling nature’s directives. So, since we humans are also frequenting these same places it’s important for us to steer clear of these busy creatures because some of them will sting if you invade their space. Beware! Being stung is no picnic and can ruin your day!
Bees are fuzzy pollen collectorsthat almost always die shortly after stinging people (the stinger becomes embedded in the skin, which prevents multiple stings). Bees don’t always die each time they sting, though; the primary purpose of the stinger is to sting other bees, which doesn’t result in the loss of the stinger. A bee can generally only sting you once and her death is assured.
The problem with explaining the difference between wasps and hornets is complicated in that, according to most definitions of wasps, all hornets are wasps.
Wasps are members of the family Vespidae, which includes yellow jackets and hornets. Wasps generally have two pairs of wings and are definitely not fuzzy. Only the females have stingers, but they can sting people repeatedly.
Yellow jackets are sometimes confused with bees because they look very similar. With a black and yellow body, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two at first glance. Yellow jackets are a type of predatory wasp that are part of the genera Dolichovespula and Vespula. Most are black and yellow, but some, like the bald-faced hornet, are black and white and all the females have stingers.
Hornets are a small subset of wasps not native to North America (the yellow jacket is not truly a hornet). Somewhat fatter around the middle than your average wasp, the European hornet (considered the only true hornet in North America)
is now widespread on the East Coast of the U.S. Like other wasps, hornets can be extremely aggressive and can sting multiple times.
Bees and wasps have different types of stingers, which affects the amount of venom that they can inject in a single sting. Wasps have smooth stingers, which allow them to sting a perceived threat, multiple times. Wasps in general are more aggressive than bees (excluding “Killer Bees”) and will sting more than once. Honeybees have barbed stingers that dig into the skin, remaining embedded as the bee flies away. Not all bees have barbed stingers. For example, the bumblebee’s stinger is smooth, allowing them to sting multiple times, just like wasps.
Bees and wasps inject different amounts of venom per sting. A honeybee, who can only sting one time, injects as much as 50 micrograms of venom in a single sting. As the stinger is embedded in the skin, it continually pumps this venom into the body, so the sooner you remove the stinger, the less venom it injects. It typically takes about 45-60 seconds for the full amount of venom to be released. A wasp injects a significantly smaller amount per sting — only 2 to 15 micrograms — but can do so more than once in a short period of time.
The chemical composition of bee and wasp venomare different but, they produce similar side effects. Both types of venom make your body release histamine, which causes symptoms like those of a mild allergic reaction: itching, swelling, redness and pain at the sting site. Because the venom typically makes the site of the sting sore and achy, applying an ice pack can help dull the pain. The site may remain sore for several days as it heals.
Different people have different reactions to bee and wasp venom. A person with a severe allergy may need immediate medical attention after a single honeybee sting, while a healthy person without a significant allergy can withstand 1,000 or more stings before reaching a lethal dose. If you don’t know whether you are allergic and you’ve been stung, watch out for the symptoms of an allergic reaction,which can develop immediately or within 30 minutes. They include difficulty breathing, hives that spread, facial swelling, chest tightness and difficulty breathing. These symptoms also can lead to loss of consciousness, so if you believe you may be experiencing this type of allergic reaction, contact emergency medical services immediately.
Fun Fact:Bees stopped buzzing during the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse.
on August 21, 2017, while millions of Americans took a break from their daily routines, to witness a total solar eclipse, a similar phenomenon was happening unnoticed nearby: Bees took a break from their daily work schedules, too.
In a first time study of a solar eclipse’s influence on bee behavior, researchers at the University of Missouri organized a group of citizen scientists and elementary school classes in setting up sound monitoring stations to listen in on bees’ buzzing—or lack thereof—as the 2017 eclipse passed over. The results, published today in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America, were clear and consistent at locations across the country: Bees stopped flying (therefore buzzing) during the period of the total solar eclipse.
Eros and the Bees
A bee stung Eros on the nose
While he was smelling on a rose
“Mother Venus, ay,ay,ay
Please help me or I’ll die
What a terrible disgrace
A dragon bit me on my face”!
Venus comforts first her son
then speaks to him with mocking fun:
The little bee’s tiny sting
Is for you an earnest thing
But more painful and real hard
are your stings in human’s heart
image: A. Dürer, 1514: Eros, Venus and the bees; the poem is from the Anacreonteia
Spring is the time of renewal and is associated with the beauty of the “reborn”. Birds are on the wing and so are beautiful butterflies, but there is something bad and ugly winging it’s way into our neighborhoods and right into our homes. It’s the mosquito!
What causes mosquito populations to diminish and explode? According to entomologists, it’s a combination of weather and climate. Mosquitoes arevery sensitive to their environment. Temperature and rainfall are the two major factors determining mosquito populations. These two factors have an extreme effect on their survival and ability to reproduce. How much it rains at one time, when it rains, how long a cold or warm spell lasts and when it happens are all important when it comes to predicting what kind of mosquito season will be in our future.
Mosquitoes can complete theirlife cyclesfrom egg to adult in about a week, therefore it is extremely important to eliminate breeding sites by; emptying collected water or use it within the week. Rain barrels and containers must be tightly sealed to prevent mosquito entry, and green, unmaintained pools should be emptied and cleaned. And don’t forget to get rid of the water collected in the pans under potted plants. Mosquitoes can breed in less than a ½ inch of water. Mosquito larvae are completely aquatic, and they need a source of standing water that will support them until they are ready to emerge as adults.
Huckleberry Finn was an amature raft builder and river rafter, when compared to Red Imported Fire ants.
As fire ants are flooded out of their underground nests, they hold onto each other for dear life, forming a fire ant flotilla that allows them to survive. Actually, they hold themselves together by linking mandibles (mouth parts) to the legs of other ants and locking leg to leg to mouth to leg.
Instead of scattering, with every ant for him or herself, red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) have the unique ability to gather together as a colony and form living rafts on the surface of rising flood waters.
Their rafts are so tightly woven together, that water cannot penetrate the raft. This structure also holds a layer of air, called a plastron layer, tightly around the raft.The plastron layer (air bubble) facilitates buoyancy and keeps ants on the bottom of the raft (those underwater) alive. This unique “air bubble” and a waxy coating on their bodies allows these ants to stay afloat for weeks if necessary, so that they have a fighting chance to reach dry land and save their colony.
To make sure the colony survives, the queens and their eggs (there can be one or more queens in a colony), are given the driest accommodations on the raft, near the center. The raft itself is in constant motion, with ants moving across the top and joining the stationary layer on the bottom. In this way the raft is kept in tip top condition.
Scientists don’t really know why some ants get to be the bottom raft crew, but it seems that there is some indication that this is not a voluntary position.
The colony must survive. So while floating down the river on natures currents, these ants are constantly searching for new and safe places to set up housekeeping.
So, what do these ants do when they finally hit dry land? Abandon ship of course!
All ashore that going ashore!
The South American or Red Imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) was initially introduced into Southern California in 1998 (Orange County) and is a major concern as an invasive species. It is similar in general appearance to our native southern fire ant (S. xyloni), except the head and thorax of the red imported fire ant is a little darker and their dirt excavations for colony sites are much larger, almost the size of gopher mounds!
The sting of both species of fire ant is about the same pain level, and leaves a raised reddish welt, especially in tender areas. A single bite or sting is not pleasant but watch out for a whole colony may decide to attack at once if a threat to the colony is perceived and this can be a definite health concern as they can inflict significant damage and a whole lot of fiery pain.
With the amount of rain and snow, in California this year, and the extensive number of areas destroyed by fire, flooding is a major problem for we humans and animals alike. You can be sure, as we deal with disastrous flooding, Fire Ants will be industriously building rafts, and river rafting their way to safety and, like Christopher Colombus, new lands to colonize.
Every time I sit with my grandkids and watch their favorite movie, Disney’s, Ratatouille, I can only picture in my mind the “cute”, humanized rats running around a kitchen, peeing and pooping uncontrollably even shedding hair and their fleas and mites as they create fantastic meals for their human patrons. I am so grossed out! You see, being in the pest control industry for over 20 years has taught me a lot about animal habits and physiology, and although it is a myth that they have no bladders and no sphincter muscles, it’s a fact that rats and mice constantly eleminate their waste wherever they happen to be and quite frequently. So, wherever they roam, they leave a trail of feces and urine behind. “ICKY”!
These pests are more than just a nuisance. Rodents, such as rats, mice and even rabbits, are associated with a number of health risks. Rats and mice alone are known to spread more than 35 diseases and these diseases can be spread directly to humans, by the handling of live and dead rodents, through rodent bites and through contact with rodent feces, urine and saliva. Indirectly, diseases can be transmitted through fleas, ticks and mites that have fed on the infected rodents. Rats and mice carry parasites, like tapeworms and are also responsible for eliciting allergic reactions, as their hair, dander and particles of feces become airborne.
Scary fact; a single mouse is capable of depositing up to 25,000 fecal pellets in a year. That’s approximately 70 pellets each day (not to mention free flowing urine). So, there is no question that prevention and prompt removal of these dirty guys, is of paramount importance.
Vector control (a county program) has several suggestions for minimizing rodent infestations like trimming back trees and shrubs, cleaning up pet food and fallen fruits outside, closing entrances to your home larger than a quarter inch and cleaning up rodent feces and urine with a disinfectant that is rated for killing viruses. They warn to not use a vacuum. It could push pathogens into the air and increase the chance of someone breathing them in. It is suggested that if you must use a vacuum, thoroughly spray entire infected area with a disinfectant that kills viruses, then let it stand until it’s dry. Then vacuum carefully with a hepa-filter equipped vacuum. Don’t forget your face mask!
Spiders and their webs are synonymous with Halloween.
Spider lore has changed over time. According to medieval superstition, people believed that if you saw a spider on all hallows eve, it was the spirit of a dead loved one watching over you. When humanity started the witch hunt era, spiders became associated with magic, witches and the supernatural, right along with bats and black cats. They also become representatives of danger, fear, ensnarement, and deception (think of the phrase “caught in a web of lies”).
Their odd anatomy and physiology (multiple eyes, crushing mandibles, 8 legs, and bulbous abdomen) creates aversion and fear in some individuals.
Add in their habit of seeking out cracks and crevices to hide in, their skittering and jumping movements and their nocturnal foraging activity, not to mention their ability to create great sticky webs, and what you have is the basis for “arachnophobia”, or the fear of spiders.
So now that we are convinced that spiders are loathsome creatures, our imaginations add magnitudes of size and deadliness, making them truly Halloween icons.
The true nature of spiders isn’t to be scary. But if you are perceived to be scary, then nobody messes with you, hence you may live longer.
Spiders have acquired a bad reputation over the centuries. Going from lucky charms to fearsome, evil specters. What they really are, are natures clean-up crew. Spiders eat other insects. Their diet consists mostly, of flies, roaches, moths, earwigs, aphids, caterpillars and even pesky mosquitoes. Some of these delicacies, spread disease, so spiders help humanity stay healthy.
While we fantasize spiders into huge, deadly, horror creatures, remember they are also the inspiration for a much beloved super-hero, Spider Man.
You may be noticing more spiders out and about. It’s Fall, otherwise known as Autumn, and this is the time of year when manymale spiders are out searching for a mate. This is true for house spiders and garden spiders, alike. If you are seeing more spiders inside your home, they may have came in from the cold, but more likely that they have been hiding in your wall voids all summer, venturing out, now into your living areas looking for mates. Once they mate, chances are, the males will die and the females will go back into hiding, lay their eggs and then, you know, “die”.
Fall is a time of change. The weather is cooling, leaves are falling, plants and animals are going into overwintering mode and for animals this means heading out of the landscape for safer, warmer places, like inside your home, inside your car or inside your BBQ (not to mention inside pool equipment cabinets).
The most frequent unwanted visitors, this time of year, are Mice and Rats.
Besides being disgusting, noisy and destructive, rats and mice can contaminate food, spread diseases, bring on allergies and even invite their friends; fleas, ticks and lice into your home. Rats, especially, have been known to greatly damage property by chewing through drywall, insulation, and electrical wiring (including vehicle wiring). If you park your car outside, don’t forget to check under the hood frequently.
Removing yard debris and trash. Always look for places you think rats might like to live such as wood piles and thick ground covers. Take time to thin out the vegetation and move firewood away from the home. Frequently restacking the wood will also discourage rodents from the area.
Keeping trash cans tightly closed.
Storing pet food or bird seed in metal cans with secure lids.
Picking up fallen fruit. (Don’t feed the rats!)
Bringing in pet bowls and bird feeders at night when rodents are the most active.
Keeping your home in good repair. Check for openings where rodents can get in. Remember that a mouse can squeeze through a hole as small as a dime, and rats can enter through quarter-sized holes. Covering the openings with metal, concrete or mesh wool or copper mesh wool will stop them from getting in.
They’re not looking to add wiring or building materials to their diet, they are doing what they need to do to promote good dental health. Yes, rats gnaw to take care of their teeth. Their front teeth constantly grow and without gnawing and chewing to reduce the size of their choppers, the teeth would grow right out of their mouths until they would be unable to eat therefore starving to death or the bottom incisors would poke through the roof of the mouth stabbing into the brain. Not a good way to go.
A new “Red Dawn” is here. Invaders from all over the globe are taking over our neighborhoods and these guys and gals “Bite” and “Suck Your Blood”. The newest of the bunch is theAedes notoscriptus, the Australian Backyard Mosquito. Joining the other two invasive, non-native, Aedes Mosquito species (aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus) this hungry mosquito is plaguing Southern California and together with its’ companions is bringing the risk of disease (Zika virus, dengue fever, yellow fever, chikungunya and in dogs, heartworm).
The Aedes albopictus (the Asian tiger mosquito) arrived in California in 2011 and theAedes aegypti(the yellow fever mosquito), in 2014. The newest arrival, Aedes notoscriptus has been identified here since early 2017 and its’ populations are increasing exponentially, (that means really fast) due to the hot humid weather we have been experiencing.
Back yard breeders and daytime feeders.
Females of this dark colored mosquito, with outstanding lighter markings, banded legs, and a white band across the proboscis, bite humans chiefly by day in shaded areas. These mosquitoes don’t fly very far, so much of their spread has been helped by the transport of their eggs in everything from flower pots and old tires to trains, planes and automobiles. They are known to prefer breeding in container environments.
Being extremely tiny and aggressive, people never see what’s biting them, leading to misidentification of the attacks as coming from spiders, bed bugs, sand flies or fleas.
Their bites, often concentrated on ankles and legs below the knees, look like clustered pinpricks. They quickly become red and inflamed and grow into big red welts and rashes with scratching. These bites seem to be extra itchy and that can be because our immune systems haven’t gotten used to them yet.
According to vector controlofficials, these three species, lay eggs on the sides of barrels (and other containers), not just in standing water, so even though you dump out the water, they can remain alive (and in wait) in people’s yards for years.
Keep safe from mosquitoes by following a few rules.
In your yard and around your house:
Decrease watering schedules
Remove standing water
Limit outdoor activities when mosquitoes are most active.
Cut back (prune) dense foliage
Mow tall grasses
Fix broken screens
Move outdoor lighting away from windows and doorways
Burn citronella candles or torches on or around the patio or other outdoor areas where activities are being performed.
The two most dominant factors of mosquito attraction have to do with sight and smell, so there’s no brushing these guys (oops! Girls) off when they’re out looking for a quickie in the moonlight.
Here are four reasons a Mosquito may pick you for the love of their life.
Your Fresh Breath
Mosquitoes don’t bite randomly. Instead, they find a victim by following their steady output of carbon dioxide. Researchers say that mosquitoes are adept at figuring out where their target is by following trails of exhaled carbon dioxide.
Unfortunately, there is no way to cut down on your carbon dioxide emissions besides holding your breath. So, if you are being bitten you might want to head indoors.
Your Hot Body
While carbon dioxide is how mosquitoes lock onto you as a target, heat may be how they figure out the best place to bite you.
With the ever-increasing number of people keeping fit by exercising out of doors, mosquitoes are having an easier time finding what they love most, blood. Those who are over heated or who have just finished working out will have blood closer to the surface of the skin throughout their body. Faster respirations and an increase in carbon dioxide output identifies “Prime Targets” for love starved mosquitoes.
Exercising outdoors at dawn or dusk (prime time for mosquitoes) also ups the risk for more love bites.
Although a few small studies have speculated that mosquitoes were after specific blood types, the CDC says that’s false. By the time the mosquito bites you, they’ve picked you as their target.
Your Cool Outfit
Black may be the best color for a fashion statement and it’s great for hiding body flaws but it’s the worst for hiding from mosquitoes.
If you’re heading to an outdoor event and looking to avoid becoming a mosquito’s meal, avoid anything in dark denim or all-black outfits because some mosquitoes are visual hunters that search you out by looking for signs of life against the horizon. If you dress in dark colors, you stand out against the horizon and mosquitoes can see you.
Your Party Spirit
When you drink alcohol, your blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to the surface of your body. You may feel a flushed, warm feeling. This increased blood flow makes it easier for a lovesick mosquito, to target you.
Movement can also draw these biting insects in, so gyrating party dancers and avid hikers on the move should wear plenty of bug-repellent.
Even though DEET has been the recommended repellent of choice, there are still those who look for a more natural solution to stop mosquitos from biting. According to theCDC, lemon eucalyptus oil could be a much safer and more natural solution. TheCDC confirmed that lemon eucalyptus oil can be as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes.
Need more information on mosquitoes and how to keep them from ruining your day?
Giant Rats: Giant rats are no longer just figments of the imagination. Now, it seems, these once mythical rodents are in fact real, and they’re absolutely, ginormous. That’s really, really big!
A rat, which was called “Vika” by locals onVangunu (one of the many islands making up the group known as the Solomon Islands) was for decades the stuff of legend. It wasn’t until a logging company (in 2015) accidentally flushed one from hiding, while clearing trees, that the Vika stories changed from fiction to fact. Then in 2017, researchers were able to hunt one of the rats down and through DNA testing found that this huge rodent, was a brand new species.
Now known as Uromys vika , this rat has orangish brown fur, measures a foot and a half long and weighs more than 2 pounds. To put that in perspective, the average rat in the US., tops out at about 8 ounces with a body 7-11 inches long and tail another 7-9 inches. This new rodent, thought to be strictly herbivorous (plant eating), feasts mainly on nuts whose shells are thicker than that of a coconut. The animal’s massive teeth easily gnaw through the outer layer of the nut to make a meal of its tasty insides.
the largest rats, according to the Smithsonian Institution. A Smithsonian biologist discovered this new species of giant rat in 2009 in the crater of Mount Bosavi, an extinct volcano in Papua New Guinea. It weighed close to 3.5 lbs. and measured 32 inches long, including the tail. This gigantic rat has a thick silver-gray coat and was not unafraid of humans. According to researchers, this species may only live inside this volcano.
The African orGambian pouched rat,Cricetomys gambianus, (is also on the exremely large side. It weighs between 2 to 3 pounds and grows to around 3 feet long (including its’ tail). In its native Africa, the pouched rat lives in colonies of up to twenty, usually in forests and scrub areas, but also very often around termite mounds. It is omnivorous, preferring palm fruits and palm kernels while also feeding on vegetables, insects, crabs, and snails. It is not a true rat but is part of an African branch of muroid rodents. It derives its name from the pouches inside its mouth (in the cheeks) that are used to store extra food.
For all it’s scary and perceived nastiness this rat rates right up there with the famous “Master Splinter” of Ninja Turtle fame for his save the world attitude. Known universally as the “Hero Rat” for its work as a trainedlandmine detector and in the medical field for its ablity to detect, sniff outtuberculeosis ,. A single Hero rat can clear 200 square feet of landmine infested g round in an hour (done manually, the same area would take 50 hours to clear). A TB-detection rat can evaluate 50 samples in eight minutes (almost a day’s work for a lab technician).
Since 2000, these rats have cleared mine fields in Tanzania, and detected 6,693 land mines, 26,934 small arms and ammunitions, and 1,087 bombs across hundreds of miles in Mozambique. They’re also hard at work in Thailand, Angola, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Since 2002, trained tuberculosis-detecting rats have been used in 19 TB clinics in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam. They’ve successfully screened 226,931 samples and identified 5,594 TB patients. Get more info on these amazing Heros and the innovative research company (Ngo Apopo) that trains and provides their services at https://www.apopo.org/en/. You can even adopt a rat!
Being intelligent, playful and very affectionate, they are sometimes kept as exotic pets. Unfortunately, when a group of Gambian pouched rats escaped from a breeder in Florida and colonized an island called Grassy Key, they become an invasive species. In addition, in 2003 they played a role in an outbreak of monkeypoxin the United States. They are now a restricted animal and can only be imported for scientific research, exhibition, or educational purposes with a valid permit issued by the CDC.
Featured Picture: Giant Gambian Pouched Rat finds a landmine (photo by Xavier Rossi).