Mad Scientists Create Three-Eyed Cyclops Beetle

August 26th, 2016

Most people are familiar with the stereotype of the “mad scientist”. They tend to have crazy hair that sticks out in every direction, are known to laugh maniacally every so often, and are fond of creating monstrous abominations through genetic experimentation. Of course, most people also know that they died out with Joseph Mengele…or did they? A team of scientists led by Eduardo Zattara, a postdoctoral researcher in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, decided to play God and recently created a three-eyed beetle with an added compound eye in the middle of its head, inspiring them to give it the nickname “Cyclops”.

Now, I know what this looks like, but these scientists weren’t actually living out their darkest fantasies of being the next Victor Frankenstein. They were actually studying the possibilities of genetic evolution by shutting off a specific gene in the dung beetle to see what kind of physical changes it might result in. This helped them understand how certain genes cause the evolution of new characteristics in insects. When they removed the orthodenticle genes, the beetle grew a third eye in the center of its head and lost its horns. This was a monumental leap forward in our understanding so far of how evolution works.

What external factor could possibly cause this gene to suddenly become active and spark an evolution in the beetle’s physical traits?

The Dangers Of Keeping Spiders As Pets

August 25th, 2016

There is a very odd group of people in this world who like, or would like, to keep giant hairy spiders as pets, and even play with them by letting them crawl all over their bodies. Now I understand dogs, and even cats, but keeping spiders as pets is possibly the most terrible idea that I have ever heard. Their terrifying ugliness is unquestionable. But is keeping spiders as pets safe?

There are few different problems that can arise from keeping spiders as pets, problems that pose hazards to your health as well as the spiders. For example, a spider owner must be very careful when handling their hairy spiders. Although a spider owner may consider his spider a friend, the feeling is not mutual, and it often happens that spiders will fling their urticating hairs at their owners face when being handled. So you already made one mistake by buying a spider as a pet, so don’t make a second one by forgoing the glasses and protective facial wear necessary for up close encounters.

Spiders may also escape, which will cause a bit of anxiety to your roommates. Not surprisingly, spiders do not enjoy being forced into a transparent box that does not resemble their habitat. There is also the chance your spider will injure itself with a fall. In fact even short falls are enough to cause death. If your spider makes it out of its box, it could pose a threat to your other pets. So be mindful of these potential issues, or buy a guinea pig instead.

How long have people been keeping spiders as pets?

 

Save Yourself From Scabies!

August 24th, 2016

Save Yourself From Scabies!

Scabies is an unpleasant skin condition to say the least. You get a horrible rash with pimple-like bumps, and the itching is almost unbearable. But, I think what really makes it a nightmare is the knowledge that it’s not just caused by some infection or virus, but rather an insect called the human itch mite that burrows under your skin to set up a little nest where it then lays its eggs and creates more mites. This is like that urban legend where spiders lay eggs under your skin, which then burst forth…except this is real.

Scabies is generally spread through direct and prolonged skin-to-skin contact with someone that already has scabies. So, on the bright side a simple handshake or hug isn’t going to give you scabies. However, crowded conditions such as in nursing homes, prisons, child care facilities, and extended care facilities can make for a perfect breeding ground. What’s worse is these little buggers can survive and thrive on a human for up to two months.

If you get scabies, you must go to a doctor immediately. There are no over-the-counter medications available, and the scabicide cream or lotion can only be gotten from a doctor. Usually, when one member of a household is treated for scabies, everyone needs to be treated for it, as it is highly likely at least one other person living there also has it.

There are ways you can prevent scabies. Scabies can’t survive off of a human for more than 72 hours, so you can seal up clothing for 72 hours to kill the pests. They are also killed in the laundry, so dump the bastards and put the spin cycle on high for a quick execution. Washing your hands can also lessen the chances of transferring the mites to another person. This one might seem obvious, but you might also want to limit prolonged contact with other people and avoid sharing clothes and other personal items…basically just seal yourself in a bubble and you’ll be safe.

Have you or someone you know ever had scabies? How awful was it and what did you do to get rid of it?

How Hemlock Wooly Adelgids Spread is Finally Discovered!

August 23rd, 2016

The hemlock wooly adelgid is one destructive little pest. They kill hundreds of thousands of trees in the U.S. every year, and are a major issue that experts having been trying to control for years now. The biggest question circulating is how these little critters are able to get around, spreading vast distances to destroy forests that are thousands of miles apart. They can’t fly, so how are they able to spread as fast as they do? Answering this question could help experts make huge strides in being able to control this destructive pest.

Scientists recently did a thorough study of how they could be hitching rides on birds in order to spread these vast distances, and a recent report outlined exactly how they most likely do this. Researchers found that the birds migrating and taking a short rest on the hemlock branches were the prime targets for the wooly adelgid. There are two ways the insect hitch a ride on the birds. The adelgid nymphs known as “crawlers” will disperse after emerging from their egg sack and find a free space on the tree to feed. When a bird lands on the tree and happens to brush up against places where crawlers are feeding, those crawlers happen to get picked up by the birds. The birds that brush up against branches pick up the most crawlers, however, the little crawlers don’t just leave everything to chance. Many birds that simply perch on a branch will also pick up a good number of crawlers, meaning the adelgida aren’t simply passive hitchhikers. Researchers also found that birds picked the most adelgids during the month of May. The researchers plan on continuing these studies in the hopes that having a better understanding of when and how the birds disperse the adelgids will then lead to better way of controlling the spread of these destructive pests.

In light of this study, how do you think researchers could use this information to control the spread of the hemlock wooly adelgid?

Beetle Bracelets, Nightcrawler Necklaces, and Silver Slug Rings! Oh My!

August 22nd, 2016

Insects might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of expensive couture jewelry, but there’s a new trend emerging among the fashion icons (dictators…) of the world. High fashion designers such as Gucci are putting the spotlight on insect inspired jewelry, modeling their pieces on insects such as bees, spiders, beetles, ants, wasps, dragonflies, and even scorpions. Fans at first were somewhat taken aback by this new style, but soon warmed up to it after they noticed the many diamonds and gold used to make many pieces. I guess you can make anyone like something as long as it’s sparkly, and worth a small fortune.

Gucci’s new insect inspired jewelry focuses entirely on bees, with the creative director Alessandro Michele even giving it the honor of being an essential element in their new line. Other fashion designers that have jumped on this bandwagon are Stephen Webster and Jennifer Herwiitt, who made arachnids the focus of her latest jewelry line.

What kind of insect-inspired jewelry would you want to flaunt on the red carpet?

How Climate Affects A Spider’s “Personality”

August 19th, 2016

When we think of spiders we do not think of them as being rich with personality. Spiders are more like mindless organisms that live for nothing more than satisfying their instinctual needs. However, a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill believe that spiders do indeed have personality, and what type of personality a spider has can determine its fate.

The researchers believe that climate change could potentially have a major effect on how spider populations are constituted from generation to generation. In order to test the idea that temperature could influence gene flow in spider populations the researchers used the tangle web spider in the experiments. Tangle web spiders are known for possessing one of two possible personality traits–docile and aggressive.

The researchers learned that the aggressive spiders would die if the temperature in their environment reached ninety three degrees Fahrenheit, while the docile spiders were able to survive and thrive when exposed to temperatures in the nineties. Interestingly all of the spiders were able to survive the 93 degree heat when they were all mixed together. So the aggressive tangle web spiders can only survive high heat environments when they are sharing an environment with docile spiders. This finding indicated to scientists that the selective pressures were to heavy to bear for the aggressive spiders when they were not mixed with their docile counterparts. In other words diversity is a good thing for tangle web spiders, and it makes you wonder if diversity would not also be a major benefit to human survival as well.

In this particular experiment what would have been the most likely cause of the mass deaths of the aggressive spiders? Did they all kill each other fighting over resources?

Don’t Room With Bed Bugs This Fall

August 18th, 2016

Bug Busters USA Back to School Bed Bug Advice for College Students

bedbugs

As college students prepare to return to campuses nationwide, many plan to bring secondhand furniture including mattresses, futons, dressers, couches and more. As bags are being packed, and students begin to move in, Bug Busters USA is urging students in the Southeast United States to inspect new lodgings, personal belongings, and secondhand items, for bed bugs as these pests can cause painful, red itchy welts and can also spread quickly when introduced to new environments.

According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), bed bugs pose serious concerns to dorm rooms and thrive in university environments as there are often many people living in a confined space. In fact, a 2015 survey, conducted by the NPMA and the University of Kentucky, found that bed bug infestations in the United States continue at high rates, with 99.6 percent of pest professionals treating for bed bugs in the year prior.

“Bed bugs are opportunistic and elusive pests,” says Court Parker, COO  at Bug Busters USA “As students return from summers filled with travel they may unknowingly be transporting bed bugs to college campuses. Or, they could be returning to an environment where bed bugs are already a problem. It is essential that students inspect all belongings to help keep these pests at bay. Bed bugs are not only undesirable for students but also for parents who don’t want their children bringing these pests home on breaks.”

Bug Busters USA offers tips to help prevent bed bugs from taking up residence in dorms:

  • Fully inspect suitcases prior to re-packing for a return to school, especially if you have traveled during the summer. Wash all clothes, even those that haven’t been worn, in hot water.
  • On move-in day, thoroughly inspect the entire room including mattress seams on beds, behind the headboard and in furniture using a flashlight for good visibility. If you see anything suspect, immediately contact a university facility manager or landlord.
  • If you are considering bringing “secondhand” furniture to campus, properly inspect it for telltale signs of bed bugs. If you notice and signs of shed skins, small blot marks/pepper-like stains do not bring it to campus.

Students are urged to follow prevention tips when packing for school and before unpacking in a new room. For more information on preventing bed bugs, visit www.bugbustersusa.com  

A New Approach to Beating the Zika Virus

August 17th, 2016

When you’re trying to find the answer to a problem it makes sense to explore every avenue possible. The more directions you come from and the more exploration into different answers you employ, the faster you’re likely to discover the answer. So, it makes sense for our scientists to approach beating the Zika virus from every angle. Thankfully, some scientists at Penn Vet are studying the Zika virus from a whole new direction, looking at how the mosquitos are infected with the virus in the first place.

Since we catch the Zika virus from mosquitos doesn’t it make sense to look at how they are infected with it? According to experts, the mosquito’s immune system is incredibly strong. Within minutes of being exposed to a threatening pathogen the mosquito’s immune response goes on red alert. This makes sense, as their anti-viral defenses are heavily influenced by the many many bacteria that regulate their stomachs and ability to digest food. Experts argue that we need to understand the immune response of the mosquito before we can explore how we can escape the clutches of the Zika virus. Since their immune response is already so strong, it’s possible that creating a genetically altered mosquito that is completely immune to the disease could be achieved in the near future. If mosquitos can’t catch it, then neither can we.

What other possible approached to solving this Zika virus epidemic do you think could prove beneficial?

Interesting Ways People Use Spider Webs

August 16th, 2016

How much do you know about spider silk? Probably not much and surprisingly scientists have known very little about the composition of spider silk until recently. Researchers at The University of Akron have studied the fibrous material produced by spiders and believe it is unique in its effectiveness as an adhesive. Extracting or reproducing this highly elastic and sticky substance could lead to products like stickier glue and never fail band-aids.

The head of the study describes spider webs as feeling like chewing gum and is capable of being stretched long distances without giving any hint of snapping. This same researcher has also studied how geckos stick to walls, and does not make any secret about being obsessed with what makes things stick. The group of researchers all stress how adept spiders are at adapting and surviving, and how important it is that humans learn to take advantage of their unique abilities.

Are there any ethical concerns regarding the harvesting of spider silk from arachnids?

The Four Kinds of People Mosquitos Love

August 15th, 2016

Do you ever feel like mosquitos seem to seek you out more than other people? Well, you may actually be correct. There are four things that can make you much more of a mosquito magnet than other people. Unfortunately, not all of these conditions are possible to change, so you may just be stuck spraying insect repellent all over you every time you go outside.

Scientists already knew that mosquitos are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale, but you might not have known that pregnant women produce a hell of a lot more, which means they also attract way more mosquitos. This is even more dangerous with the recent Zika virus outbreak, which is a particular threat to pregnant mothers and their unborn babies. Another thing that can make you a mosquito magnet is exercise. Mosquitos love lactic acid, which your muscles produce in very large quantities when you strain them during exercise. Mosquitos will also flock towards people with a higher temperature, meaning you should stay away from drinks that will raise it. Alcohol in particular will make your temperature go up, meaning mosquitos will flock towards your warm body. For some reason blood type can also affect how much mosquitos are attracted to you. If you have type O blood, you have an 83% chance of getting bitten by a mosquito…or many mosquitos.

How much of a mosquito magnet are you? Do you have any tips for repelling mosquitos?