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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?

 

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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?

 

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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?

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The Terrifying Attic Discovery That Explained A Long-Running Wasp Presence In A Family’s Home

Wasps can be menacing creatures, some people can describe the terror of being caught outdoors amidst a wasp swarm. Others, sadly, have not survived the wrath of aggressive wasps. The late summer and early fall is the time of year that sees the greatest degree of wasp activity, and therefore, the greatest wasp-related injuries. For a period of several weeks, one particular family in Australia had several close calls with wasps. Sometimes, members of the family found themselves surrounded by several of the fierce flying insects. Amazingly, every single dangerous encounter this family had with the insects occured within their own home, completely shut-off from the outdoors. When the family discovered the reason for these encounters, they were taken aback to say the least.

The Australian family had been exposed to wasps several times, but they were most noticeable in the home’s bathroom. In an effort to find the source of the wasps, the woman inspected her yard and the areas around her home, but she did not find a nest of any sort. Eventually, the woman called a pest control professional, and after he noticed a wasp around the bathroom’s ceiling fan, he had a pretty good idea as to where the insects were coming from. Upon inspecting the attic, the pest control professional, Shane, found an enormous wasp nest, the largest one that he had ever seen. Shane found the nest coiled around a duct-pipe. After finding the nest, he was forced to turn off the lights, as it disturbed angry wasps that seemed intent on attacking him.

As it turned out, the wasps had been traveling down a steam pipe that led into the family’s bathroom. Later on, Shane discovered that the massive nest had been housing around 2,000 wasps. The infestation had to be eradicated by killing the queen as well as the rest of the colony. According to Shane, the unusually hot weather in parts of Australia this fall has been helping wasp nests grow to incredible sizes. The uninhabited nest remains in the family’s home at their request, as they want to show-off its monster size to their children and neighbors.

Have you ever found a wasp nest located within a hidden location of your home?

 

 

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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?

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Persian Kings Paid Bounties For Dead Scorpions As An Ancient Form Of Pest Control

Persian Kings Paid Bounties For Dead Scorpions As An Ancient Form Of Pest Control

Who has not, at one point in life, chosen a favorite animal? Children are especially opinionated when it comes to this topic, but even many adults favor one particular type of animal over others. Monkeys, lions, bears or wolves are common animal favorites, but it is rare to hear anybody speak highly of scorpions. This is not hard to understand, as scorpions are unsightly creatures that are notorious for delivering painful and sometimes deadly stings. Not surprisingly, scorpions have been universally hated for ages. Some of the earliest surviving texts from the Roman era have contained passages that describe scorpions with great disdain. A couple thousand years ago, scorpions caused many problems for both Romans and Persians. Persians were especially ill-disposed toward scorpions, as they inhabited desert regions where scorpion species were abundant and diverse.

The ancient Roman historian Pliny the Elder described scorpions as being “worse than a plague.” Elder further described how scorpion stings were worse than viper stings, as scorpion sting-victims would suffer in agony for three days before finally dying from the toxic effects of venom. Another Roman historian, Aelian, wrote about the unfortunate abundance of scorpion life in middle-eastern regions where the creatures could be found beneath every rock in the desert. Although this may be an exaggeration, scorpions posed a serious threat to those traveling along the historic trade route known as the Silk Road and other caravan routes. This meant that shipments from Asia would sometimes be held up by deadly scorpion attacks. This problem was serious enough for Persian kings to put bounties on dead scorpions. These bounties resulted in numerous scorpion hunts where the highest bounties would be paid to the individuals who captured the greatest number of scorpions. Aelian wrote about winged scorpions, and winged scorpions were depicted on different forms of early Mesopotamian art.

Of course, we can be grateful that flying scorpions do not actually exist, nor have they ever existed. Modern scholars believe that ancient historians mistakenly referred to venomous flying insects as scorpions. However, Pliny the Elder was the first Roman historian who hypothesized that so called “winged scorpions” were actually normal scorpions being pushed through the air by strong wind gusts during sandstorms. This may be the case, as airborne scorpions will straighten their legs to resemble wings during sandstorms.

Given the scorpion’s lobster-like pincers, do you believe that scorpions share a close lineage with aquatic arthropods as opposed to winged arthropods?

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Scorpions Stings Are A Major Public Health Concern In Many Countries

A recent survey found that scorpions are more commonly feared than spiders, at least when it comes to American college students. This fear is justified, as scorpion related health emergencies are far more common than medical emergencies involving spiders and insects. In fact, scorpion stings are even more prevalent than snake bites. Here in the United States, scorpions are by no means rare, as there exists numerous different scorpion species dwelling along the southern most American states from California and Arizona, where scorpion species are most diverse and abundant, to North Carolina and Tennessee. The farther east one travels along the southern US border, the more benign scorpion species become. While there exists two scorpion species in the US that have the potential to kill humans, the most dangerous scorpion species is undoubtedly the Arizona bark scorpion. Although the rate of scorpion related injuries is high in the US when compared to other arthropod fatalities, the countries of Africa, India, the Middle East, Mexico, and South America see much higher scorpion fatality rates.

When taking the entire world into account, the annual rate of scorpion stings is around 1.2 million and 3,250 of these stings result in death. To put this in perspective, for every person killed by a snake, ten people are killed by a scorpion sting. The country of Mexico has a particularly high rate of scorpion related fatalities, as these fierce looking arachnids take the lives of 1000 people every year in the country. Considering that the US shares a border with Mexico, one would think that the rate of scorpion fatalities would be be as high in the US as it is in Mexico, but this is not the case, as only 4 scorpion related deaths have occured in the US during the past 11 years. California and Arizona see the greatest number of scorpion related hospital visits, while the scorpion species in the southeast US are largely harmless and rarely seen.

Have you ever spotted a scorpion species in the southeast US?

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Do Insects Expel Liquid Waste?

Do Insects Expel Liquid Waste Like Humans And Other Animals Do?

For those of you who have ever wondered if insects urinate in the same manner as humans and other mammals, you are in luck, as numerous studies exist that have explored this very topic. Of course insects expel waste, but not many insects expel waste in liquid form. However, some insects do, and a few expel massive amounts of liquid waste. In order to address this particular topic accurately, it may be necessary to define urination. If urination is taken to mean the expulsion of liquid waste from the genitals, then it can be said with certainty that this is not the typical manner in which insects expel waste. Most insects expel only one form of waste despite consuming both liquids as well as solid food items.

Insect waste is usually expelled in the form of mucky droppings. The excretory system of insects can be found in their gut, as they do not possess true kidneys as mammals do. However, many insects possess what are called Malpighian tubules. These are tubes that protrude from their guts in order to filter nitrogenous excreta from the blood. Although the collected nitrogenous excreta is a fluid, it is not expelled as a fluid because it winds up in the hindgut where it is reabsorbed for hydration purposes. Nitrogenous excreta is the closest thing to urine that insects possess, but since it is redirected to the hindgut where solid waste exists before ultimately being reabsorbed, insect waste is expelled through one single orifice. Considering this excretory process, it could be said that most insects do not urinate at all; instead, insects only defecate. For example, caterpillars do not urinate, but they do often defecate. Caterpillar feces is commonly spotted by gardeners in the form of tiny black bags around plant stems. Of course, numerous insects do expel liquid waste, but they are in the minority. Aphids expel a droplet of liquid waste called honeydew which provides other insects with a tasty snack. Cicadas are notorious for expelling voluminous amounts of liquid waste, as some unlucky outdoorsmen have been inadvertently showered with the fluid while standing beneath a tree canopy inhabited by the insects.

Have you ever witnessed an insect expelling waste of any form?

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Termites Can Monitor The Communication That Takes Place Between Termites Of Competing Species

Termites Can Monitor The Communication That Takes Place Between Termites Of Competing Species

While apex predators do exist, animals that exercise total dominance over a particular region’s resources are rare in nature. Unlike the very few apex predators that exist, most animal species are forced to indulge in frequent battles over resources, and these violent battles can be costly for species. It is for this reason that most animals dwell within particular locales that are free of other hostile animals. It is when animals forage away from their nests or shelters that they become faced with threats that could erupt into full blown battles. Considering the relatively small size of termites and the isolated and well fortressed nesting sites that they inhabit, the daily life of a termite clearly entails constant threats from other competing animals, especially ants. In addition to ants, termites face significant competition from other termite species. This is because most regions of the world, especially tropical regions, are home to a variety of different termite species, all of which are competing for the very same resources. Despite the naturally belligerent relationship that exists between most termites of different species, it is surprising to learn that multiple species often inhabit the same nesting site. As you can imagine, interspecies battles between termites occur frequently when they inhabit the same nest. However, by eavesdropping on their more dominant subterranean counterparts, drywood termites can escape from violent encounters before they occur.

It may seem odd that competing termite species may dwell within the same nest, but sometimes, having access to the resources that a nest provides outweighs the risk of falling victim to a violent encounter with an enemy species. However, researchers have long been confused by the presence of drywood termites in pieces of wood that are dominated by a far greater number of subterranean termites. Drywood termite colonies grow to contain a few hundred individual termites, but subterranean termites dwell within colonies containing millions of individual termites. Considering this, it would seem that drywood termites are at a tremendous disadvantage, but how do they continue to survive within such a hostile environment? As it turns out, the Cryptotermes secundus species of drywood termite is blessed with the ability to recognize the vibro-acoustic communication signals that take place between their nearby subterranean enemies, the Coptotermes acinaciformis species. The drywood termites of this species are attracted to their own vibration signals, but they are repelled by the vibrations produced by subterranean termites. In fact, as a cohabitated piece of wood becomes smaller as a result of constant feeding, the drywood termites become progressively more repelled by the vibration signals produced by their subterranean enemies. This makes sense considering that the chances of falling victim to a subterranean termite attack increases as the piece of infested wood becomes smaller. To put it simply, these drywood termites indulge in espionage in order to gain an advantage over their more powerful subterranean enemies.

Do you think that subterranean termites are capable of differentiating between their own vibration signals and those of other species?

 

 

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How The Irish Potato Famine Led To A Deadly Outbreak Of Diseased Lice In The United States

Typhus fever is an infectious disease that was considered a significant public health threat in most populated regions of the world prior to the 20th century. According to the World Health Organization, the disease is relatively rare these days, as only 1 in 5 million people fall ill from typhus fever worldwide each year. To be precise, typhus fever comprises three distinct infectious diseases, each of which is normally associated with a particular arthropod. These diseases are known as epidemic typhus, scrub typhus and murine typhus. Scrub typhus is spread by chiggers and murine typhus is spread by fleas. Epidemic typhus spreads rapidly within dense populations by means of body lice, making this form of typhus the deadliest, most widespread and most historically significant of the three types.

The most notable outbreak of epidemic typhus in the United States occurred in 1846, which is the same year that the Irish potato famine occured. These two events share a causal relationship, as the disease was transported to the US by starving Irish immigrants who were escaping their impoverished conditions back home. Prior to this American epidemic in 1846, a smaller-scale typhus outbreak occurred a decade prior in Philadelphia. This outbreak was found to have originated within an impoverished Irish community. Since many longtime American citizens felt threatened by the rapid spread of the disease via body lice, anti-Irish sentiment became common in the northeast US. By the time the massive waves of Irish immigrants brought the diseased lice with them to the US, citizens of the US had already started to associate the disease with Irish populations.

Despite Americans’ fear of contracting diseased lice from nearby populations of Irish immigrants, typhus fever remained almost exclusively limited to the Irish immigrant population. For example, in just one New York hospital, 138 patients with typhus fever were admitted in just a one month period in 1847, but only five of these patients were regular American citizens. The same year, a New Orleans hospital accepted 1,045 typhus patients, only 9 percent of which were non-Irish immigrants. Unfortunately, New Orleans suffered epidemics of typhus after charitably treating Irish typhus victims in the city’s hospitals. A vaccine for typhus prevention does not exist, but antibiotic treatment is often sufficient to eradicate the disease in the rare cases when it occurs.

Do you fear that the United States could once again fall victim to disease-carrying insects transported into the country by immigrants?