Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26th, 2014

Avoid Bed Bugs This Holiday Season

November 25th, 2014

According to AAA, more than 46 million Americans plan to travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving – the most for this holiday in seven years. With so many travelers heading to homes and hotels, via various modes of transportation, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), reminds the public that bed bugs remain a problem and that prevention is crucial to stem the spread of this pest.

“Thanksgiving is a time for family, gratitude and of course, good food. However, those happy memories can quickly be erased should a traveler find they’ve unknowingly brought bed bugs home,” noted Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the NPMA. “We advise everyone to keep our easy-to-remember prevention tips in mind when traveling to keep their holiday – and beyond – free of bed bugs.

According to a 2013 NPMA/University of Kentucky survey, 75 percent of pest professionals treated for bed bugs in hotels; 21 percent on public transportation (train, bus, taxi) and two percent on planes.

The NPMA offers the following prevention tips for holiday travelers:

  • Pull back hotel bed sheets and inspect the mattress seams for stains, spots or bugs. Also check behind the headboard and in sofas/chairs.
  • Immediately notify management of any signs of bed bugs and ask for a new room. Ensure the new room is not adjacent and/or directly above/below the original room.  Bed bugs can easily hitchhike via housekeeping carts, luggage and even through wall sockets.
  • Place luggage in a plastic trash bag or protective cover during the duration of the trip to keep bed bugs out.
  • Upon returning home, inspect luggage before bringing it into the house and vacuum it thoroughly before putting it away.
  • Dry all fabric items (even those that have not been worn) in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes to ensure that any bed bugs that may have made it that far are not placed into your drawers/closet.

This is fascinating: Stingless suicidal bees bite until they die

November 24th, 2014

Zoologger: Stingless suicidal bees bite until they die

Species: Trigona hyalinata, a stingless bee
Habitat: Across the tropics of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay

You’re a bee without a sting whose home is under attack. What can you do to drive off the enemy? Bite, and never let go.

Meet Trigona hyalinata, an aggressive, 10-toothed, highly suicidal bee. Its stinger is vestigial and has lost its defensive function, but this angry and altruistic bee doesn’t let that hold it back.

Stingless bees are closely related to their better-known cousins, the honeybees, which sacrifice their lives when they sting animals that pose a threat to the hive. When a honeybee deploys its sting, it self-amputates, causing lethal injury. Although stingless bees have lost this heroic ability, they still suffer predation and attack from animals ranging from anteaters to other bees – and have taken to biting instead.

“Bees are at their most aggressive when defending their colony,” says Kyle Shackleton of the University of Sussex, in Brighton, UK. The nest takes months to make, contains all the colony’s food stores, the queen, and all of an individual bee’s siblings. “If their colony dies, they have nothing.”


Defensive behaviours are well known in social insects, which share a high degree of genetic relatedness and act altruistically for the good of the hive or colony.

Now Shackleton, working with Francis Ratnieks, also of the University of Sussex, and colleagues, have identified a new self-sacrificial behaviour in these stingless bees – biting to the point of suicide.

Monstrous mandibles

Ratnieks was inspired to study aggression in stingless bees by a casual but painful encounter in 2012. “Trigona bees have painful bites and are very persistent,” says Ratnieks. “I allowed a worker to bite me for as long as it wanted to. It persisted in its biting for 30 minutes and left a large red mark on my arm.”

They decided to investigate this behaviour in 12 stingless bee species in Brazil. They waved small flags close to the entrance to a colony to provoke the bees, and then measured how long each bee spent attacking the flag. To gauge the level of pain inflicted by each species, the researchers offered their own forearms, and scored each bite according to a five-point scale, ranging from “could not pinch skin”, to “sharper unpleasant pain and capable of breaking skin if persistent”.

They found that the more aggressive a species was, the more painful its bite.

Worst of all were the three Trigona species they studied, which included an individual that attacked a flag for over an hour. Individuals from these species all scored five on the pain scale.

A closer look revealed the reason: these species have five “teeth” on their mandibles. And with tens of thousands of bees per nest, this makes for a powerful deterrent.

“I have been stung by honeybees over 10,000 times, so am pretty hardened to the pain,” says Ratnieks. But he says that even though a Trigona bite is much less painful than a honeybee sting, “when dozens of them start biting you, you have to retreat. It’s not nice at all.”

Suicidal tendencies

To see just how far the bees were prepared to go, the team devised a test that offered the bees a choice: stop biting and survive, or stay and suffer lethal damage.

The researchers first brushed a biting bee with a paintbrush, causing no harm. They then stepped things up by gripping its wings with forceps. Lastly, they started to tug on the forceps, attempting to pull the bee away by its wings, and putting the bee in danger of losing them if it didn’t loosen its bite.

“When bees were pulled by the wings, large segments of the wing membrane would tear off or the wing would separate at the joint, such that the bee could no longer fly,” says Shackleton. “In this state, the bee can no longer return to the nest or function in any of its duties, and has functionally sacrificed itself.”

Many species had individuals that were willing to die, but the highest proportion was seen in the super-aggressive species Trigona hyalinata, where 83 per cent of individuals would keep biting until they suffered irreparable harm.

Biting behaviour may have evolved as an adaptation to the bees’ particular enemies.”Stinging causes greater pain, but venom is metabolically expensive to produce,” says Shackleton. While stinging is a great way to defend against larger vertebrate predators, the main threats to stingless bees are ants and other bees.

“Biting is likely more effective against these more numerous foes where the objective is not to drive off a single enemy through pain, but fight off hundreds through killing them,” says Shackleton.

He admits though that from his own personal experience, biting is still a powerful deterrent to larger intruders.

But like the bees, Shackleton and the rest of the team show a persistently high level of self-sacrifice and daring.

“Despite being bitten hundreds of times and chased away on more than one occasion, I think we all thoroughly enjoyed the work,” he says, adding that they intend to return to Brazil next year to find out more.

Journal reference: Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology, DOI: 10.1007/s00265-014-1840-6

Health Checks – Rodent Infestations

November 21st, 2014

A guide to identifying common mice and rat species

November 20th, 2014

A guide to identifying common mice and rat species

During the winter season, it’s estimated that rodents seek shelter in more than 21 millions homes in the United States. This means that many homeowners will likely be dealing with mice or rats in their abode over the next few months – and you could be one of them.

Rodents can spread dangerous diseases and can cause major property damage, so it’s important for homeowners to familiarize themselves with the types of rodents that invade homes this time of year. Here is a guide to help you identify common mice and rat species.

Deer Mice

  • Region: Deer mice are found throughout the United States.
  • Habitat: Deer mice prefer to nest in rural areas, specifically in fence posts, tree hollows and log piles. Deer mice are rarely a problem in residential settings, but they can wander indoors during the winter months while searching for shelter from the cold weather.
  • Threats: Deer mice pose a significant health threat because they are the most common carrier of Hantavirus. This virus is transmitted primarily by the inhalation of dust particles contaminated with the urine, feces or saliva of infected deer mice.
  • Prevention tip: Don’t store pet food or birdseed in garages or storage sheds, where it is especially attractive to deer mice.
  • Unique fact: Deer mice always have a bicolored tail that is usually half brown, half white.

House Mice

  • Region: House mice are found throughout the United States.
  • Habitat: Unlike deer mice, house mice usually nest in dark, secluded areas within structures. They are excellent climbers and can jump up to a foot high.
  • Threats: House mice can cause serious property damage by chewing through materials. In fact, they have been known to spark electrical fires by gnawing on wires inside homes. These rodents are also a health threat, as they can contaminate stored food and spread diseases like Salmonella, tapeworms and the plague (via fleas).
  • Prevention tip: House mice hide in clutter, so it’s important to keep storage areas clean and store boxes off the floor. Also, keep food in sealed, rodent-proof containers.
  • Unique fact: House mice can fit through an opening as small as a dime. Although they have poor vision and are color blind, their other senses are very keen.

Norway Rats

  • Region: Like house and deer mice, Norway rats are found throughout the United States.
  • Habitat: Norway rats are primarily nocturnal and often burrow in piles of garbage or under concrete slabs. They tend to enter homes in the fall when outside food sources become scarce. Indoors, Norway rats nest in basements, attics and other undisturbed dwellings.
  • Threats: Norway rats can cause significant damage to property by gnawing through a variety of materials, including plastic and lead pipes, to obtain food and water. They are also vectors of disease, such as plague, jaundice, rat-bite fever, cowpox virus, trichinosis and salmonellosis. In addition, these rats can introduce fleas and mites into a home.
  • Prevention tip: Regularly inspect the home for signs of an infestation, such as droppings, gnaw marks, damaged food goods and grease rub marks caused by rats’ oily fur.
  • Unique fact: Norway rats can gain entry to a home through a hole larger than ½ inch, or the size of a quarter.

Roof Rats

  • Region: Roof rats are thought to be of Southeast Asian origin, but they are now found in the coastal states and southern third of the U.S.
  • Habitat: Roof rats live in colonies and prefer to nest in upper parts of structures or in trees.
  • Threats: Historically, roof rats and their fleas have been associated with bubonic plague. Although cases are rare, roof rats also spread typhus, jaundice, rat-bite fever, trichinosis and salmonellosis.
  • Prevention tip: Clean up fruit that may have fallen from trees in the yard. Also, ensure the garbage is stored in tightly covered receptacles.
  • Unique fact: The roof rat is also called the black rat or ship rat. These rodents are excellent swimmers.

If you suspect an infestation, contact a licensed pest professional. Rodents are known to reproduce quickly, and what may seem like a small problem can turn into a big issue overnight.

Rodent Awareness Quiz

November 19th, 2014

Bug Busters USA encourages public awareness of rodents during the winter season

November 18th, 2014

Bug Busters USA encourages public awareness of rodents during the winter season

As temperatures continue to cool across the country, rodents will begin to seek shelter from the elements, most often in homes and other structures. To promote public vigilance against rodents, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) recognizes November 16-22 as Rodent Awareness Week. Bug Busters USA is proud to take part in this observance by educating homeowners about the threat of rodents and the possible signs of an infestation this winter.

“Rodents may be small, but they pose a number of threats to human health and property,” said Court Parker, CEO at Bug Busters USA. “Rats are very likely to cause problems in the Southeast this time of year, so it’s important for homeowners to be on the lookout for signs of these destructive pests in and around their property.”

Aside from being a nuisance, rodents are vectors of a vast array of diseases, such as Salmonella, murine typhus, infectious jaundice, rat-bite fever and the potentially fatal Hantavirus. They can also chew through drywall, insulation, wood and electrical wiring, increasing the potential risk for fires.

Here are a few clues that rodents may be present in a home:

  1. Droppings: A trail of rodent droppings is typically found in kitchen cabinets and pantries, along walls, on top of wall studs or beams, and in boxes, bags and old furniture.
  2. Noises: Rodents often make scurrying sounds, especially at night, as they move about and nest.
  3. Gnaw marks: New gnaw marks tend to be rough to the touch and are light colored.
  4. Burrows: Inside, rodents often nest in various materials such as insulation, and they are drawn to areas that are dark and secluded.
  5. Damaged food packages: House mice prefer to feed on cereals and seeds, while Norway rats prefer meat, fish and dry dog food

“We encourage homeowners to complete a thorough inspection of their property before the winter weather strikes. They should look for cracks or holes in the foundation, loose mortar around the basement foundation and damaged screens,” added Parker “No crack or hole should be overlooked as mice only need an opening the size of a dime to find a way inside.”

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November 17th, 2014

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Student Brings Bedbugs to School; Questions Raised on Donated Mattresses

November 14th, 2014

WAAYTV.com (Huntsville, AL): Student Brings Bedbugs to School; Questions Raised on Donated Mattresses

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAAY) – Huntsville City Schools officials say Westlawn Middle School didn’t get a bedbug infestation after a child showed up with the parasitic insects.

The bugs likely came in contact with the child after he slept on a used mattress. Because of policy, school personnel sprayed chemicals in the school as a precautionary measure.

This incident brings to light concerns raised when people donate mattresses to secondhand stores.

Saint Vincent DePaul Thrift Store manager Carolyn Payne says people who donate mattresses should do inspections before calling them to pick up the item.

“Make sure there’s no stains, no mildew, no wet sports on the mattress,” Payne says. “You should also inspect it for any infestations.”

Neighborhood Thrift Store director Jamie Bush says these problems can sometimes be avoided for these high-demand items, but sometimes the mattresses become ruined because of improper storage.

“Someone called with a mattress…they wanted to donate,” Bush recalls. “Unfortunately they left it outside and when we went to get there roaches have crawled out of the mattress, and they had cut grass and grass had flown up all on the mattress so it was wet.”

Bush says if the mattress is in a condition where you wouldn’t want to sit or lay down on it, then they likely won’t accept it.

“We don’t want anything that a customer cannot take home and immediately be able to use.”

Mythbusters Can Cockroaches outlive a nuclear blast?

November 13th, 2014