Sunday, September 23, 2018

Coming in October....

Fighting Flame Skimmer dragonfly males

Several new posts will be coming to this blog in October. You can look forward to a diversity of topics aimed at a variety of audiences. It is easier for me to write during the colder months of the calendar year without the distracting urge to be outdoors observing insects and spiders, so expect a few more posts in general through the winter.

"Don't Try This at Home" will feature the drawbacks of do-it-yourself pest control using over-the-counter products.

"Why I No Longer Collect" will discuss my personal reasons for not collecting insect and spider specimens, which may give aspiring young scientists and hobbyists reasons to pause.

"A Couple of Weirdos" will highlight some surprising species discovered by accident during the past summer.

"Remembering National Moth Week" will revisit the excitement of putting out blacklights in various locations in Colorado this past July.

There will be other posts that spotlight the few trips we took close to home and far away this year in search of insects and other wildlife. Additionally, I plan to feature posts that offer tips on circumstances and situations that are not to be missed if you want to find unique insects; and how to get images of insects and spiders engaged in various behaviors.

So, grab that pumpkin spice beverage and prepare to be engrossed next month. That's different from just "grossed." It means "captivated," "enthralled." I'll do my best to live up to your anticipation.

Friday, September 7, 2018

No Exterminator Necessary

Modified from © Pests.org

If this blog is successful at achieving only one thing, let it be a widespread understanding that you almost never need a pest control service. Here is your one stop post for how to tell if you need a service, and what you can do instead.

Just Passing Through

Every household, business, and workplace will have the occasional insect or spider visiting. Arthropods are masters at finding their way through the tiniest crack, crevice, hole, or other access point, which they hope will lead them to greener pastures, not indoors. They are not out to get you and they are not a sign that you are in for more creatures like them. It is usually a one-time event. Do not panic and dial up an exterminator.

One recent scientific study found that the average home is occupied, at one point in time or another, by somewhere between 30 and 200 species of insects, arachnids, and related arthropods. Still no reason for fear. In fact, the greater the biodiversity the better. It is a sign that your home is not sterile, but running on all natural cylinders. Most insects are so small you do not even notice them anyway.

The Pest Control "Racket"

While most pest control enterprises are ethical and fair, here are some points to consider:

  • The technicians that visit your location are usually not entomologists trained to properly identify pests. They are schooled almost exclusively in proper application of insecticides to insure compliance with state and federal regulations.
  • It is in the best interest of a pest control company to identify as a pest any insect that concerns you, regardless of whether it is a pest.
  • Most pest control companies require a contract that guarantees repeated visits to your premises. Think about that. We expect plumbers and electricians to do the job right the first time.
  • When was the last time a "product" or "service" solved anything? In the case of pest species the answer is almost never. The best solution is prevention and attitude adjustment.

You DO Need a Service When....

There are some situations in which you do need professional help. Those are:

  • Bed Bugs are challenging for professionals, let alone do-it-yourselfers, and you will need to find a reputable company to deal with them.
  • Structural pests like termites and carpenter ants. Make sure, however, that you are not mistaking an outdoor swarm event for an indoor infestation. A termite inspection is usually a requirement for home sale and purchase. Find an unbiased agent to conduct that inspection. Request an inspection if you suspect a termite or carpenter ant infestation before employing a pest control company.
  • Social bee or wasp nest in a troublesome location. Always employ a bee removal service if you find a nest in a location that impedes your day-to-day life. Otherwise, note the location of the nest so you can simply avoid it. In most regions of North America, nests of yellowjackets, paper wasps, and the European Hornet are not perpetual, nor re-used the following year. Feral honey bee hives are perennial.
  • Cockroach infestations that have reached extreme population levels. It is important to note that cockroaches have only been implicated in transmission of bacteria, never proven. Prolonged exposure to dense populations of cockroaches, their shed exoskeletons and feces may trigger allergies and asthma in some people, especially children in multi-family dwellings. Insist on a pest control service that uses baits rather than sprays for a longer-lasting, near permanent effect instead of repeated visits to spray insecticides.

The Cure is Prevention

Here are some ways to reduce the potential for pest problems in your home:

  • Repair worn weatherstripping on doors and repair holes in window screens (or replace them).
  • Seal all cracks and crevices, including around places where pipes and electrical conduits enter or leave the home. Pack steel wool into such situations, use caulking elsewhere.
  • Inspect all objects coming indoors from outside, especially plants, firewood, toys, gardening tools....Inspect new plants before you leave the nursery or store.
  • Do not reach your extremities into locations you cannot see into. Be careful moving items out of long-term storage to avoid spider bites, disturbing a wasp or bee nest, etc.
  • Do not leave clothing, gloves, or footwear outdoors overnight, nor in the garage or shed. It never hurts to shake out shoes and clothes anyway.
  • Reduce outdoor lighting or employ motion-sensors or bulbs that are less attractive to nocturnal insects. This will also discourage spiders from stringing their webs across your front and back doors.
  • Never stack firewood against the side of your home, as this will help termites and carpenter ants to become established. Reconsider wood mulch as groundcover.
  • Learn tips for how to avoid bed bugs in your travels and thrift store shopping. Entomologists estimate that soon one out of every four homes will have bed bugs.

Treatment for You!

Nobody wants to hear the suggestion that maybe they are the source of a problem, but sometimes that can be the case. Please seek professional help if you have phobias of insects (entomophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), or related creatures. It will save you a great deal of money and emotional turmoil to go that route. Otherwise, visit an entomologist for a gentle "attitude adjustment." We can cite example after example of the beneficial qualities of insects and the potentially disastrous effects of continued addiction to chemical pest treatments.

Please feel free to share this post widely. I also welcome comments, even dissenting opinions, as long as they are worded in polite language. Everyone deserves to make a living, and we will always need pest control services for situations where every other alternative has been exhausted.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Stop This Meme

Here at Bug Eric, I have better things to do with my time than constantly fight wave after wave of misinformation, superstition, and outright hoaxes. The latest is this one purporting that a "new" and "deadly" spider has invaded North America. Utter nonsense!

The spider depicted in the images is the very much harmless Woodlouse Hunter, Dysdera crocata. This spider is originally from the Mediterranean region of Europe, but made its way to North America ages ago, not recently. Yes, it has wicked-looking jaws and fangs, which are used solely to turn over its roly-poly and sowbug prey so that it can inflict a lethal bite on its food, not on human beings. The venom of this spider has not been scientifically proven to be the least bit dangerous to the average, healthy person.

"But, but...." you say, citing the watermark on one of the images in the meme as being from the University of Nebraska. Surely we can trust our institutes of higher learning, right? Yes, but not if their image has been stolen by some malicious individual out for hits on his or her own website. The university should consider filing suit against whoever is using this image. There are laws against copyright infringement, which is what is happening here. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) exists to protect our "works" from unscrupulous individuals who seek to profit from our efforts at education and enlightenment.

By sharing this meme, and others like it, without doing due diligence of fact-checking (a quick check on Snopes would have yielded the truth about this one), serves only to perpetuate ignorance at best, and participate in crimes of "fake news" and, in this case, copyright violation. Stop it.

© Jenn Rose #jennrosefx

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Pseudoscorpions: The Strangest Arachnids?

Yes, the image below is of a crane fly in the family Limoniidae, but what is that other thing attached to it? The crane fly showed up at our backyard blacklight a few nights ago in Colorado Springs, and by itself would have been interesting. Its hitchhiking companion made it even more spectacular.

Crane fly with pseudoscorpion gripping its leg

Pseudoscorpions are tiny arachnids, most of them under five millimeters in length, that never fail to provoke head-scratching among people unfamiliar with them. They look like they could be baby scorpions that are missing their telson ("tail"), but they are literally in an order unto themselves: Pseudoscorpiones. They are fairly common, but seldom seen because they frequent microhabitats under bark on trees, stumps, and logs, or leaf litter or topsoil, or in mammal nests or caves, or other places that require a dedicated effort to uncover them. It is only those species that occasionally turn up in our "caves" (homes) that catch our attention.

I wrote about pseudoscorpions previously, for Missouri Conservationist magazine, thanks to fantastic photographs by Ashley Bradford and Ted MacRae, but this week's find finally allowed me my own imaging opportunities. It is interesting that the insects favored as transportation by pseudoscorpions are frequently those associated with decaying wood: longhorned wood-boring beetles (Cerambycidae), braconid wasps that are parasites of wood-boring beetles, and in this case a female crane fly which I would bet oviposits (lays eggs) in decaying wood.

Pseudoscorpions are predatory on other small invertebrates such as springtails, barklice, fly larvae, and mites. They seize their prey with the pincer-like chelae at the ends of their "arms." Those heavy, muscular appendages are actually modified mouthparts called pedipalps. Many species of pseudoscorpions have venom glands in the chelae that help subdue struggling victims. From there, the prey is passed to the plier-like chelicerae, or jaws, that puncture the body wall of the prey, or crush it, and allow for the introduction of regurgitated enzymes to begin the extraoral digestive process. The resulting liquified material is then ingested by the pseudoscorpion.

Bizarre? We are just getting started. The chelicerae also house silk glands, and pseudoscorpions spin silk to encase clutches of eggs, for shelter during molting and overwintering, or even as a retreat from which they can wait in ambush for unsuspecting prey to pass within reach.

Using another animal for transportation is a behavior called phoresy, and that appears to be the chief means of dispersal for pseudoscorpions. They do not have wings, after all, and are so tiny that getting from one optimal niche to another under their own power is almost impossible. Also, they do not "balloon" as many spiders do, spinning silken threads that are caught by the wind and waft the spider to a new home.

After the crane fly died, the pseudoscorpion disembarked and I was able to get the images you see here. I discovered they are much more agile than I anticipated. This one could scuttle backwards fairly rapidly, run forward quickly, and it could easily climb the slick walls of our casserole dish "studio." Maneuvering the tiny creature with an artist's paintbrush was challenging since the animal could simply grip a single bristle and refuse to let go.

The social life and love life of pseudoscorpions is surprisingly complicated. Members of some species can live side by side without antagonizing each other, displaying unique and rhythmic movements of their bodies and/or pedipalps to communicate. Meanwhile, courtship between male and female in nearly all species is accomplished through a variety of behaviors. In all cases, the male packages his sperm in a spermatophore. In the most primitive scenario, he simply deposits on the ground or other substrate where he hopes a female encounters it. She will then pick up the spermatophore in her genital opening.

Males of other pseudoscorpion species will only deposit a spermatophore if they encounter a female. These males may then spin a simple or elaborate, three-dimensional silken bower to help funnel the female to the location of the spermatophore. This greatly improves the male's chances of reproductive success.

Mating can be more intimate in the most "advanced" species. This involves what is best described as dancing, the male grasping the female's pedipalps in his, and gently but firmly guiding her over the spermatophore he has just deposited. There may be subtle choreography and pre-programmed body movements involved in that. They may even kiss, if you will, interlocking their chelicerae.

Pseudoscorpion from leaf litter in Massachusetts

Despite the extent of our collective knowledge of pseudoscorpions, new species are discovered with a surprising degree of regularity. Those who study caves and other specialized habitats; and those who study rodents and other vertebrates, would be wise to keep their eyes out for pseudoscorpions. Meanwhile, carefully inspect the insects at your porch light and you might eventually find one of these arachnids on an insect attracted by your beacon.

Sources: Johnson, Elizabeth A., and Kefyn M. Catley. 2002. Life in the Leaf Litter. New York: American Museum of Natural History. 28 pp.
Weygoldt, Peter. 1969. The Biology of Pseudoscorpions. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 145 pp.