Nelson Ruiz No Comments

A Massive Art Exhibition Is Allowing Visitors To Explore Termite Habitats From A Termite’s Perspective

You probably have not heard many artists claim to have been inspired by insects, let alone termites, but one famous artist, Nicholas Mangan, is an exception in this regard. Mangan has recently contributed an art display to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum as a part of the museum’s exhibit titled: Post Nature–A Museum as an Ecosystem. Most of Mangan’s work highlights aspects of the ecosystem that many people are unfamiliar with. For example, Mangan’s latest exhibit focuses on the positive effect that termites have on the ecosystem.

Mangan is calling his exhibit Termite Economics, and it consists of 3D printed models of different termite habitats, including nesting mounds, earthen tunnel networks and dwelling chambers within blocks of wood. All of his 3D models were constructed from plaster, dirt, synthetic polymer paint, and plywood. In addition to the habitat models, Mangan also commissioned drone footage of particular regions of Australia’s arid landscape where termites are known to be active. This footage is played on a continuous loop in order to provide spectators with a termite’s point of view as it navigates terrain and approaches its nest. The footage is played on a computer that is situated amongst Mangan’s models. This exhibition was inspired by current termite research being conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO.

Researchers working for CSIRO are currently studying how subterranean termites can lead humans toward rare mineral sources that are located far below the ground where they cannot be viewed by humans. Mangan believes that CSIRO research shows how social cooperation among termites allows the insects to achieve feats that are beyond human capabilities, such as complicated mound architecture, and in this case, mining, so to speak. Mangan’s exhibit allows people to understand how the mining and world-building capability of termites reflects manmade economic systems and social hierarchies. For Mangan, a termite colony is like a tiny universe that closely resembles human sociality.

Do you believe that termite sociality is similar to human sociality?

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

A 130 Million Year Old Fossil Contains Insects

Discovering ancient insects that are well preserved within amber is always exciting for entomologists, but a recent fossil discovery is unlike anything ever discovered before. A recent study describes a fossil that contains insects that are emerging from their eggs. This is an extraordinarily unique find and researchers are not exactly sure how such a fossil could come to exist. Also, the insects contained within the amber possess a strange anatomical feature that allows them to break free from their hard egg shells. These fossilized insects are now extinct, but they are closely related to modern green lacewings.

The tool that these extinct insects used to break free from their shells is aptly referred to as an “egg buster.” According the study’s author, Dr. Michael Engel, egg bursting anatomical features detach from the bodies of newborn insects very quickly, but this recent fossil is the only one in existence that shows this feature on extinct insects. The fossil was determined to be 130 million years old, which means that this egg bursting bodily feature existed on insects as far back as the cretaceous period, a fact that was previously unknown to experts. The fossil also demonstrates that egg bursting physical features have not changed much over the past 130 million years of insect evolution. However, researchers are not in precise agreement concerning the circumstances that allowed these newborn insects to become fossilized within amber right as they were hatching. The most likely scenario is that the eggs had been placed on a tree trunk before sap bled from the trees, effectively covering the insects right as they were hatching. Egg bursting features are diverse in shape and location, but the fossilized insects possess an egg bursting appendage that resembles the ones possessed by their modern relatives living in the same location. This feature resembles a jagged blade and it is quickly discarded upon hatching.

Have you ever witnessed an insect hatching from its egg?

 

 

 

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

You Would Not Believe What The World’s Most Venomous Scorpion Sting Can Do To A Small Child

The venom of an Indian red scorpion is, by far, the most toxic of all scorpion venoms, even more so than the venom produced by the notorious deathstalker scorpion and the Arizona bark scorpion. In addition to being the most toxic, and therefore, the most deadly form of venom, red scorpion venom, when injected into a human, causes physical symptoms more rapidly than any other scorpion venom. These scorpions pose a serious threat to villagers in India, as transportation is usually not available to these populations and small villages are normally located far from medical facilities where red scorpion stings can be treated. Most victims of red scorpion stings are Indian adults living in small agrarian villages, as most villagers go barefoot while working on local farms, therefore increasing the chances of contact between bare skin and red scorpions. Also, since these rural villages are lacking in modern construction and other forms of urban development, red scorpions dwell in close proximity to villagers and their homes. In addition to being the most scorpion affected group of people in India, rural villagers also die from red scorpion stings at greater rates than other Indian populations, as rural villagers often choose to address their scorpion stings by visiting local spiritual healers as opposed to visiting a medical facility, as urban residents almost always do. By visiting local spiritual healers before seeking modern medical aid, sting victims sometimes die before arriving at a hospital. While most red scorpion sting victims are adults, it is not uncommon for children, toddlers and even babies to be stung by these scorpions. As you can imagine, children suffer far worse than adults in response to a red scorpion sting.

A 2016 study described how being administered a common medicine called prazosin dramatically lowered the death rate of children stung by Indian red scorpions. Although prazosin has saved many lives, young victims of red scorpion stings almost always experience a range of terribly painful and life-threatening physical symptoms. These symptoms include pedal edema (the buildup of fluid in the legs and feet), pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), liver enlargement and cardiac failure. These symptoms are not uncommon. In fact, out of 40 children who had been hospitalized after sustaining a red scorpion sting, 80 percent experienced peripheral circulatory failure, and 15 percent developed myocarditis (swelling of the heart). One child also arrived to the hospital already dead, as his parents visited a spiritual healer first. Strangely, 5 percent of these children experienced priapism, which occurs when blood fails to exit the erectile tissues. This condition, unless treated in time, can result in lifelong impotence in males.

Have you or anyone you know ever sustained a scorpion sting of any kind? If so, was it medically serious?

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

An Arachnophobic Man’s Terrified Screams And Profane Shouts Over A Spider He Found In His Home Nearly Gets Him Arrested

While the world is full of people who suffer from arachnophobia, not all sufferers respond to the physical presence of a frightening-looking spider in the same way. For example, some people freeze upon finding a nearby spider while others literally cannot help but to reflexively scream when spotting an unwanted arachnid. Considering the fact that most experts claim that spiders are largely harmless to humans, as well as the fact that most arachnophobes are aware that their own fear of spiders is not at all rational, you would think that such a fear could be controlled well enough to at least approach a spider with a wad of kleenex in order to flush it down the toilet. But, many arachnophobes are not even able to do this; instead, they rely on a friend or relative to dispose of the hideous arachnid specimen for them.

For arachnophobes, having one of these helpers on hand is important when a spider is spotted crawling around within their home, but how do such people respond to house spiders when no such helper is available? For one arachnophobic man who found a spider within his home, the answer to this question happened to entail screaming and shouting profane words in a desperate attempt to kill the invading spider that had been responsible for causing his fear-induced panic attack. Obviously, pedestrians that had been outside his home overheard his tantrum, which prompted one of them to contact the police out of concern for the man’s safety, as it sounded as though the man was being pursued by a murderer.

After an individual heard the man scream the words, “why don’t you die?” The individual called the cops, as he believed that the man was being attacked. This meant that the frightened homeowner was forced to explain that his screams resulted from his cowardice in dealing with an unwanted spider pest that frightened him. However, the man probably emphasized that the spider had been really big and super-scary.

Have you ever screamed in response to spotting a spider or insect within your home?

 

 

 

 

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

The Most Venomous Scorpion Species Is Not The One You Think

The Most Venomous Scorpion Species Is Not The One You Think

The United States is home to numerous scorpion species, the most dangerous of which is the Arizona bark scorpion. Despite this species’ highly toxic venom, it is not the most dangerous species known to exist in the world. For those who fear scorpion bites, be thankful that you do not live in India, which is home to the world’s most dangerous scorpion species.

It is often claimed that the notoriously venomous and aptly named deathstalker scorpion is the most dangerous scorpion species to humans, and while an argument can be made to support this claim, many experts would insist that the Indian red scorpion deserves the title of the world’s most deadly scorpion. As its common name suggests, this scorpion species is mainly found in India, but populations are also found in neighboring Pakistan and Nepal.

The Indian red scorpion sting can cause a plethora of unpleasant symptoms such as  nausea, heart problems, discoloration of the skin, and in some cases, pulmonary edema, which is an accumulation of fluid in the lungs. The chances of dying from a red scorpion bite depends on the amount of venom injected into a wound, but in many cases, stings are fatal. However, when the blood pressure medication called prazosin is administered to sting victims within a quick enough timeframe, fatality rates decrease to only 4 percent. Deaths from Indian red scorpion stings most often result from fluid buildup within the lungs, which is certainly not a pleasant way to go out. Despite this species being well studied for several decades, experts are still not sure as to how the venom triggers such violent physiological reactions in humans and other animals. This species of scorpion is rarely encountered in Pakistan and Nepal, but unfortunately for citizens of India, red scorpions are often found nesting near human settlements.

Have you ever encountered a potentially deadly arachnid of any species in the wild?

 

 

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

Bizarre Insect Defense Mechanisms

Your average Joe assumes that insects defend themselves by biting with their mouth parts or by stinging with their stingers. It does not occur to most non-experts that insects vary just as much in their defensive features as they do in their physical features. Some insects have adapted to surviving on this planet by evolving excessively strange and complicated physical defense mechanisms that seem to defy logic. A particular group of sap-sucking insects provide an apt example of this sort of strangeness. A type of sap-sucking insect known as a “sharpshooter” uses a truly unique catapult-like physical feature to fling its urine for reasons that are still unknown. These insects are capable of flinging their urine at incredibly high speeds, and after years of research, scientists are finally able to understand how this insect achieves such an outlandish feat.

It is not unheard of for people to become doused with the urine of sap-sucking insects after walking near a tree infested with the seemingly mischievous insects. According to the engineer who led the recent study on how sharpshooter insects propel their urine, it is not known why these insects developed this odd ability, but it could be to avoid being exposed to their own urine, as the scent of urine can attract predators. The engineer who led the study, Saad Bhamla, of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, recorded the urine-propelling behaviors of two sap-sucking species with high speed video footage in order to determine how these insects achieve such remarkable urine-speeds. The two species are commonly known as the glassy-winged sharpshooter and the blue-green sharpshooter. Video footage revealed that tiny barb called a stylus, which is located at the insects’ rear, works like spring to propel urine into the air. As soon as a drop of urine falls onto the stylus, the mechanism springs forth, launching the urine droplet into the air at an acceleration of 20 times that of earth’s gravity. The stylus is outfitted with tiny hairs that also work to launch the urine droplets into the air.Sharpshooting sap-suckers do a lot of damage to the natural environment, as they transmit bacteria that causes disease in plants. Unfortunately, sharpshooters have recently expanded beyond their native southeastern US habitat to infect vineyards in Northern California.

Have you ever found a sap-sucking insect in the wild?

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

Disease-Carrying Fleas Sometimes Infest Homes In Arizona And They Are The Same Ones That Caused The Bubonic Plague

Disease-Carrying Fleas Sometimes Infest Homes In Arizona And They Are The Same Ones That Caused The Bubonic Plague

Plague-ridden fleas are well known to have facilitated the spread of the most destructive pandemics in history, most notably the bubonic plague. While the plague is no longer considered a serious public health threat, fleas still spread the disease in parts of Africa and even within the western United States. The plague-carrying flea species that exists in the western US is the very same species that spread the plague in Europe centuries ago. This flea species is commonly known as the oriental rat flea, and plague carrying specimens have been spotted in two Arizona counties as recently as 2017.

It may surprise some people to learn that oriental rat fleas exist in the US, but this species can be found worldwide, even ones that carry the plague. Despite this species common name, two researchers, N.C. Rothschild and Karl Jordan, first identified this species in Egypt back in 1903. These fleas are abundant wherever their host animals are found, which are mainly rats. Therefore, ORFs commonly dwell within sewer systems, and they prefer warm and humid tropical and subtropical habitats. ORF species are far less common in cold areas, but they have been found in sub-arctic conditions.

It is certainly not unheard of for homes to become infested with ORFs, as they often accompany rat infestations. Not only have plague-carry fleas of this species been found in Arizona, but a recent study confirmed that numerous rats within New York City also carry the dreaded disease. Researchers collected more than 133 Norway rats in New York City which were infested with 6,500 types of mites, fleas and lice. Of these 6,500 pests, 500 were ORFs. Despite the relatively smaller population of rats within urban areas of the southwest US, more people become infected with the plague in this region than anywhere else in America. In the southwest, ORFs infest prairie dogs and squirrels as their hosts, and roughly 10 people each year become infected with the plague in states like Arizona and California.

Were you aware that plague-carrying fleas are more common in the southwest US than in any other US region?

 

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

Why Problematic Termites Are Beneficial In Times Of Drought

Why Problematic Termites Are Beneficial In Times Of Drought

Just about everyone is well aware of the fact that termites inflict significant damage to timber-framed structures, but fewer people are aware of the fact that termites consume wood in order to secure the nutritious cellulose that makes up all forms of plant material. Therefore, termites can also consume smaller wooden items, the paper in books or even champagne corks. Termite damage to structural wood is almost always inflicted by subterranean termites, while both dampwood and drywood termites are the most frequent culprits behind infestations found in smaller objects containing cellulose. Pest control professionals encounter subterranean termite infestations in structural wood far more often than they encounter drywood or dampwood infestations in smaller wooden objects. Subterranean termite damage to structures accounts for a majority of the economic costs of termite damage, which is around 5 billion dollars per year. While subterranean termites may be one of the most economically devastating insect pests that exist, they may also mitigate the negative effects of long-running droughts.

Scientists have long known that termites play an essential role in the health of the ecosystem, as they aerate soil with their subterranean tunneling activity and convert dead plant matter to fertile soil. But now, scientists have found evidence that termites allow soil to retain significant levels of moisture during times of drought. In a large forested area, researchers compared the moisture levels in soil that had been inhabited by subterranean termites with soil that had been free of termites. When droughts did not occur, moisture levels in each area of land remained the same, but during a 20 year drought, termite-inhabited soil retained enough moisture to allow for plant growth. Considering this finding, subterranean termites, although harmful to structures, can maintain a soil fertility during even the most significant of drought periods, thus allowing for the survival of economically valuable cropland.

Considering the above described study, do you believe that subterranean termite activity in crop-soil could be of benefit during dry spells?

 

Nelson Ruiz No Comments

Man Is Arrested For Transporting Exotic Scorpions, Spiders And Earwigs Via Airline Travel

A Man Is Arrested For Transporting Exotic Scorpions, Spiders And Earwigs Via Airline Travel

It is well known that transporting certain animals across national and/or state borders is illegal, and this is especially the case when it comes to the international transport of endangered species. In addition to endangered species, it is obviously in violation of most country’s national and/or state laws to transport potentially dangerous animals, and animals that are known disease vectors across certain set borders. This makes the international transport of many insect and arachnid species illegal. US laws prohibiting the transport of certain insects and arachnids vary from state to state, but in some countries where certain exotic bugs are plentiful, individuals can be met with harsh penalties when caught smuggling particular arthropod species beyond national borders. Although such laws are usually well known to citizens of such countries, it is not uncommon for customs agents to catch individuals violating these laws. For example, in the country of South Africa, the act of transporting certain arthropods out of the country is well understood by its citizens to be legally prohibited. Despite this, one individual was recently arrested for being in possession of certain scorpion, spider and earwig species with the intention of smuggling them out of the country by airline.

Authorities with the Prince Albert and Stock Theft Unit at Beaufort West in Western Cape, South Africa arrested a 23 year old man after 21 scorpions, 2 spiders and 2 earwigs were found in his hotel room. This man, who’s name has not been released to the media, was arrested for failing to provide documentation to prove that was in lawful possession of the arthropods. The arthropods were found in buckets within his hotel room closet, and the particular species of each arthropod group were not mentioned. The arthropods were seized and handed over to the Nature Conservation in South Africa. The arthropods are highly valued on the black market, as they are estimated as being worth R16,000, which is around 12,000 US dollars. The Nature Conservation will later provide an exact dollar amount.

Have you ever witnessed an individual being taken into custody for smuggling arthropods at an airport or border check?