Monday, December 15, 2008

Insect-related Gifts - Part 2

Shown: Lucite Ladybug Bracelets - available here.

Today we bring you more ideas for gifts from the world of bugs. They go way beyond that cute dragonfly T-shirt you picked up for your niece. These are gifts that would make any entomologist happy. 
1. World Bugs has real insects, tastefully framed for display, available on their website. Our favorite is a collection of green beetles set in a circular pattern, mounted in a sturdy cedar frame between two panes of glass. The product notes confirm that only "A" quality insects are used. The same website offers a variety of bugs, everything from the peanut-head lantern fly to a Tail-less whip scorpion. Check it out!
2. The "Bug Gift Shop" online - in spite of its name - is not a site for buying your favorite bug a gift. Rather, it is an emporium of bug-related gift items. Part of a larger site called "Animal Den," you'll fin dragonfly address labels, plush grasshoppers, lightening bug shirts, and butterfly bracelets, blankets and charms are just some of the items available for purchase. 
3. Nature Pavilion carries a nice selection of life insect kits - kits to raise ladybugs, butterflies, or even mealworm beetles - not to mention the once-popular sea monkeys! They also carry insect nets and catchers, plus an amazingly large collection of framed insects, insect paperweights, and keychains. This diverse site offers books, DVD's, nature toys, craft kits, jewelry, clothing, stationery and posters. 
4. Looking for something different? Really different? Browse through "Wings in Motion." The site contains over 400 different insect items with pictures and facts. We were fascinated by the 
Electronic Butterfly Kits, Twilight Firefly Insect Lighting Effects, and Glow in the Dark Fridge Magnets. This is also the place to go if you are interested in live butterflies for release at a special event.
5. Last but certainly not least, you can create your own insect-related gift at CartoonStock, a site with hundreds of bug-themed cartoons which can be applied to a variety of gifts: T-shirts, tote bags, mouse pads, mugs, greeting cards, business cards, aprons, magnets, etc. For the record, they catalogue cartoons with all kinds of different themes - not just bugs.
Happy shopping!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Insect-related Gifts - part 1

With the holiday season upon us, our blogs will focus on insect related gifts. In fact, three of the "10 Top Science Toys for Kids" on US News and World Report's list this Christmas are bug-related. We are not selling any of these toys, just making you aware so your options are open to all things buggy. Here are the three toys on a current list:
1. Inflatable insects. We are not sure how these giant inflatable bugs "let kids build their new pets houses and cages" as advertised, but the ladybug, dragonfly, grasshopper, ant, and bee are colorful and fun. According to the copy, they inspire kids to learn more about insects. The blow-up bugs come with a repair kit and activity guide. Ages 3 and up.
2. Big Bad Booming Bugs may be a more interactive toy. It is an electronic observation station that lets kids capture insects and then examine them closely. The kit contains a "scooper," magnifying lens and earphones to let you get up close and personal with bugs. It also comes with information about ants, beetles, and grasshoppers. As advertized, the dome's base surface is sensitive enough that larger insects can be heard walking across it. Information on bugs is included. Ages 6 and up.
3. EyeClops BioniCam is "much  more than a microscope." Parents' Choice calls it an "eyeball on a stick." It lets kids zoom in on all kinds of tiny things - including bugs. Photos taken with the camera can also be uploaded to a computer for even closer inspection. Ages 8 and up.
Tomorrow's blog will look at insect-inspired art, home goods and clothing items for the bug lovers on your list.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Quiz Answers: Pantry Pests

Here are the answers to yesterday's quiz on pantry pests. As the weather gets colder, there are fewer outdoor bugs and our attention is turned to household invaders. But pantry pests can and do infest during all seasons. 

1. The best way to find the source of a grain moth infestation is (d) inspect all dry goods. Pheromone traps will catch adult moths and may help you target a particular area, but the best way to find infested product is to look in every bag, box and package - whether opened or not. If you find frass, the silky webbing pantry moths leave behind, discard the dry goods in which the frass is found. Usually one box or bag will contain the primary source, and you will know it when you find it. But secondary sources may be present. Don't stop until all dry goods are inspected. And check also for webbing on the under side of stored canned goods!

2. Cigarette beetles are most commonly found in (c) dog food and paprika. When checking for the source of pantry pests, don't forget the spices and dry pet food. If you have decorative items like wreaths that are made out of natural products, check these too.

3. Pantry moths develop from egg to adult in (b) around 10-14 days, depending on temperature. If you have removed all the adult moths and their larvae, but find more in 10-14 days, there was a source you missed. Check dry goods again, and clean the shelves with a disinfectant cleaner to kill any remaining eggs.

4. Meal worms usually spend the winter (b) as larvae. It is difficult if not impossible to determine what the adult bug will be just by inspecting larvae. And larvae are not commonly susceptible to pesticide sprays. But boric acid will stop them in their tracks. If you find any kind of larvae, clean the area with a good disinfectant cleaner and look for the source. These pests love to hang out in bird feeders too.

5. It is rarely effective to use insecticides against pantry moths because (a) larvae and pupae are not controlled with insecticides. As noted above, larvae crawl right through liquid chemicals. And if the larvae are not controlled, the problem will persist.

6. (B) Larval Indian meal moths leave webbing, or frass. They spin the web as they become fully grown and leave behind silken threads wherever they crawl. This is the frass mentioned above - and is easily noticed as it caused clumping in rice, oatmeal or cornmeal and is sometimes apparent on the outside of a box or bag of infested product. Since the frass usually contains excrement, it should be disposed of immediately.

7. Small, wormlike bugs in the pantry are usually (c) larval moths. But as mentioned, larvae are difficult to identify. Any larvae found should be taken seriously as a pantry infestation. They can (and will!) chew holes through cardboard or plastic packaging materials to get to the food inside. One method of killing pantry pests before they hatch is to store dry goods in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Since the product may be infested when you bring it home from the store, storing it in heavy plastic or glass containers may not be sufficient.

We hope you've learned something useful about common pantry pests. As with all pests, if you cannot solve the problem yourself, contact a pest professional. But in the case of pantry pests, what you can do yourself is really the best solution to the problem.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Pantry Pests

Today's quiz asks you to test your knowledge of common pantry pests. These are stored product pests that infest dry goods in your pantry - including moths and weevils. See how much you know about these uninvited guests.

1. Grain moths often come in pre-packaged food from the store. What is the best way to find the source of infestation?
a. Put out traps.
b. Look in whole grain foods like rice and oatmeal.
c. Call a pest professional to check your cabinets.
d. Inspect all dry goods.

2. Cigarette beetles are a common stored product pest (see illustration above). In which stored products are they most commonly found?
a. sugar and flour
b. cornmeal and oatmeal
c. dog food and paprika
d. rice and coffee

3. Pantry moths develop from egg to adult in about
a. 3-5 days
b. 10-14 days
c. 16-20 days
d. 3-4 weeks

4. How do meal worms usually spend the winter?
a. in hibernation
b. as larvae
c. as pupae
d. under ground

5. It is rarely effective to use insecticides against pantry moths because
a. the larvae and pupae are not controlled with insecticide
b. the moths actually feed on insecticides
c. insecticides have little or no residual effect
d. moths can fly away from the poison

6. Indian meal moths are one of the most common of stored product pests. The "webbing" or silk mat that identifies their feeding area is left by
a. the adult moths
b. the larvae
c. the pupae
d. all of the above

7. Small, wormlike bugs in the pantry are usually
a. parasites that feed on moths
b. undeveloped beetles
c. larval moths
d. worker moths

Answers to today's quiz will be published in tomorrow's blog.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Superorganism

We have not actually read the new book on social insects by Hoelldoebler and Wilson, but it is on our Christmas list. The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies looks to be the latest important volume by these award-winning scientists. Bert Hoelldoebler is Foundation Professor at Arizona State University and has been the recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and the Leinbniz Prize - Germany's most highly endowed research award. Edward O. Wilson is a Harvard professor with nearly fifty years experience, more than twenty books published, and the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes and the National Medal of Science. The two have teamed up for the second time to explore the world of insects. Eighteen years ago their book The Ants became the definitive scientific study of these diverse creatures. Their latest book expands our knowledge of social insects - ants, bees, wasps and termites. They are identified as superorganisms because they live in tightly knit colonies formed by altruistic cooperation, complex communication, and division of labor. From a scientific and entomological viewpoint, their Superorganism book brings insight to how transitions between levels of evolution have occurred and how life has progressed from simple to complex forms. On a sociological level, perhaps the two scientists give us food for thought on how we interact and function together as humans. 
We would recommend attending a lecture by Hoelldoebler and Wilson tonight, but it takes place in New York City and is sold out. Next best thing: put the book on your Christmas list!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Quiz Answers: Wasps and Bees

Here are the answers to yesterdays quiz on wasps and bees. Both insects are most often beneficial to yards and the world - but care is required in each case to avoid painful stings. 

1. The true statement is (b) all yellowjackets are wasps. Yellowjacket wasps are a variety of  "social wasp" often found in southern California.

2. Paper wasps make their nests (d) under the eaves of houses - this is where we most often find paper wasps in the city. In more rural areas their nests may be seen under tree branches or vines - so give yourself credit if you chose (b) in trees.

3. Honey bees are attracted to (a) flowers. If you spot a buzzing insect flying around your picnic table it is probably a wasp.

4. Yellowjackets are attracted to (d) all of the above: soda cans, meat (giving them the common misnomer "meat bees") and other insects - an important part of their diet.

5. Only female bees and wasps can inflict stings because (a) the stinger is a modified egg-laying apparatus. Although it is true that male bees spend most of their time in the hive, and that females are more aggressive, the plain physiological fact is that the stinger is a gender-specific organ.

6. The insect pictured above is a (a) yellowjacket wasp. Note the distinctive markings, narrow waist, and absence of hair (see question 7). The pictured insect is in fact a German yellowjacket queen.

7. Although bees and wasps are often confused, they can be distinguished by the wasp's narrow waist, the bee's thickened hairs, and the distinct markings and coloration of each insect. While honey bees are mustard-colored and black, yellowjackets are usually a brighter yellow - hence the name.

8. Wasps are important to the balance of nature in several ways. They are used in agricultural pest control, as a natural predator for destructive bugs, and they are an important part of the food chain. However, they do not supply foot for other insects, and as far as we know they are not used in drug research. So the correct answer is (a) parasitic wasps are used in agricultural pest control.

We hope you've learned something useful about the flying insects that share space with you here in Southern California. The bottom line is that bees and wasps can inflict painful stings, and should not be allowed to nest on or near homes. They have important roles to play in the ecology, but can pose risks especially to children, pets and the elderly. The best way to eliminate a nest that becomes a threat to your home is to call a licensed professional.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Wasps and Bees

Today's quiz poses questions that will lead to better identification of wasps and bees. How are they different? How do they impact residents of San Diego? Take the quiz and see how much you know about the local buzz.

1. Which of the following statements is true:
a. All bees are yellowjackets.
b. All yellowjackets are wasps.
c. All wasps are yellowjackets.
d. All yellowjackets are bees.

2. Paper wasps make their nests
a. in paper
b. in trees
c. in abandoned rodent burrows
d. under the eaves of houses

3. Honey bees are attracted to
a. flowers
b. meat
c. other insects
d. all of the above

4. Yellowjackets are attracted to
a. soda cans
b. meat
c. other insects
d. all of the above

5. Only female bees and wasps can inflict stings because
a. the stinger is a modified egg-laying apparatus
b. male bees are not allowed outside the hive
c. female bees are more aggressive
d. the stinger usually remains in the skin, and female bees are expendable

6. The insect pictured above is a
a. yellowjacket
b.  bee
c.  wasp
d.  hornet

7. Although bees and wasps share many qualities, they can be distinguished by
a. the wasp's narrow waist
b. the bee's thickened hairs
c. the distinct marks and coloration of each insect
d. all of the above

8. Although wasps do not pollinate nor make honey, they are important because
a. parasitic wasps are used in agricultural pest control
b. social wasps supply food for other insects
c. wasps are used in research for drug studies
d. all of the above

Monday, December 1, 2008

Meat Wasp Attack

According to a recent article in the La Jolla Light, a small group of children were attacked by "meat wasps" while exploring La Jolla Summit canyon last week. Because the wasps were so aggressive and the children were stung multiple times, it was originally assumed they were attacked by Africanized Honey Bees. Two of the children were taken to Rady Children's and Scripps hospitals for treatment , where they identified the insects as meat wasps.
Apparently, the children stumbled on a hive just before dusk, disturbing the insects and causing them to aggressively defend their territory. Although one 6-year-old was stung more than 50 times, all the children were fine - fortunately, none were allergic to wasp stings. They were able to run to a neighbor's house, who then called paramedics and washed away remaining insects.
The story ends well, but raises a few questions for residents of San Diego County. First, what are "meat wasps"? How common are they? And how might the attack have been prevented? 
In the western United States, there are two distinct types of social wasps: yellowjackets and paper wasps. Of the two, paper wasps are much less defensive and rarely sting humans. Yellowjackets can be more troublesome. The term "yellowjacket" refers to a number of different species of wasps.  The western yellowjacket  (Vespula pensylvanica - pictured above) is a ground-nesting variety, sometimes called a "meat bee." This is most likely the insect from the La Jolla story. Unlike other local wasps whose nests usually die out by the end of summer, the western yellowjacket continues its life cycle well into late autumn. These pestiferous wasps are the ones we sometimes see at picnics or outdoor eateries, because they are scavengers. They usually nest in  hilly areas - often using abandoned rodent burrows for their hives. While they are considered a useful pest because they help naturally control other more destructive insects, yellowjackets will protect their nest if they feel threatened. This seems to be what happened in La Jolla. 
The children probably did nothing wrong, but their encounter should serve as a learning experience for others in the area. If your children are playing in a canyon or undeveloped area, be sure they are wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts and proper footwear. Apply the same precautions to yourself if you are hiking off trail. Be aware of sights and sounds that may indicate hive activity and avoid exploration near possible nesting sites. Tomorrow's quiz will look at the differences between bees, wasps and hornets. Give the quiz a try to test your knowledge of these stinging bugs and learn how to avoid them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quiz Answers: Dung Beetles

Here are the answers to yesterday's quiz on dung beetles. If you missed the quiz itself, you can find it here. A great video on the under-recognized dung beetle can be found here. Enjoy!

1. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the humble dung beetle (scarab) because (d) they believed the sun was rolled across the sky each day by a mythical dung beetle, and buried at the end of each day - only to be reborn the next.

2. Dung beetles are found on every continent except (b) Antarctica. Too cold. Enough said.

3. Female dung beetles lay eggs in (a) dung. In some species, the mom and dad dung beetle roll a perfectly spherical dung ball together, until they find a soft piece of soil in which to bury it. After mating under ground, they prepare the "brooding ball" and the female lays her eggs inside it. Hatching larvae then have plenty of easy access to food (dung).

4. Dung beetles are the farmers' friends. They (a) aerate and fertilize soil, and (b) recycle animal droppings which has the added benefit of (c) reducing the population of flies and other insects which would be attracted to animal waste. So the answer is (d) - all of the above.

5. Dried dung beetles are used by Chinese herbalists for (a) curing many different diseases.

6. Dung beetles have been literary characters in the works of (d) - all listed authors. With an explanation. Aesop wrote the fable, "The Dung Beetle and the Eagle," Aristophanes' play "Peace" features a hero who rides to Mt. Olympus on an over-sized dung beetle, Kafka's character in "The Metamorphisis" is called an "old dung beetle," Poe wrote "The Gold-Bug,"and  Wodehouse wrote of the theft of a prized scarab in "Something Fresh." But the Faulkner listed in the quiz is not William but Raymond, an English Egyptologist and philologist, the author of  "A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian." 

7. As mentioned in question 3 above, dung beetle larvae feed on (a) dung upon hatching from the brooding ball. It is a convenient system, which gives the larvae a storehouse of nutritious food.

8. Dung beetles have the ability to roll balls of dung weighing (c) 50 times their weight. If you have not seen this colorful activity, take a look at another great video here. After learning a bit more about the dung beetle, we hope you give thanks for this humble bug this weekend.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Dung Beetles

Because it is Thanksgiving week, our quiz is centered on one of the bugs for which we might be most thankful: the dung beetle. Perhaps you had not thought to give thanks for these lowly creatures. In a Newsweek article published earlier this year, it is noted that dung beetles, although nowhere near as photogenic as Polar Bears, deserve a place in our hearts. Without them, life would be much smellier. See how you do on this quiz, then find answers in tomorrow's blog.

1. Dung beetles, known to ancient Egyptians as "scarabs," were deified in that culture because:
a. Gold-plated, they became a jewelry item for pharaohs.
b. The shape of the dung beetle was found in astrological formations.
c. Dung beetles were an important part of the Egyptian diet.
d. The way dung beetles roll dung balls reminded Egyptians of the movements of the sun.

2. Dung beetles are found on every continent except
a. Africa
b. Antarctica
c. Australia
d. Asia

3. Female dung beetles lay eggs in
a. dung
b. loose soil
c. seed pods
d. nesting mounds

4. Dung beetles are important to agriculture because
a. They aerate and fertilize the soil.
b. They recycle animal droppings.
c. They keep other insects from overpopulating.
d. all of the above

5. Dried dung beetles (qianglang) are used by Chinese herbalists for
a. curing diseases
b. making poultices
c. an invigorating tea
d. an aphrodisiac

6. Dung beetles have been literary characters in which of the following authors' works?
a. Aesop and Aristophanes
b. Kafka and Poe
c. Wodehouse and Faulkener
d. all of the above

7. Dung beetle larvae feed on
a. dung
b. other dung beetles
c. soft plant matter
d. a special food created and stored by male dung beetles

8. Dung beetles have the ability to roll balls of dung weighing
a. 10 times their weight
b. 20 times their weight
c. 50 times their weight
d. 100 times their weight

Answers appear in tomorrow's blog, along with a link to a dung beetle video.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cockroach Research

Cockroaches have survived for millions of years in various forms, with species of roaches today numbering around 4,000. It should not be surprising then that scientists continue to study the resilient cockroach - a pest that seems to be able to adapt and live through whatever nature or humans throw at it. In fact, throwing things at cockroaches is at the core of a new study on how cockroaches keep their predators guessing.
According to a report in Science Daily, when roaches flee from predators they seem to run randomly along one of several preferred escape routes. Their very unpredictability aids their escape from harm. This alone seems intuitive - but these bugs have been studied for many years as a model for understanding animal escape responses. Apparently, cockroaches most often choose an escape path directed at a 90 to 180 degree angle from the attack. Trying to stomp on a fleeing cockroach? This only gives you a slight advantage - they are among the fastest of insects.
In another study, 50 roaches were placed in a situation where they had a choice of three hiding places, each with a capacity for 40 cockroaches. When startled, the bugs ran to two of the hiding places, leaving the third empty. If given a choice that included a shelter that would house them all, they preferred the one shelter and left the other two empty. They seem to use two pieces of information to decide on where to hide: (1) How dark is it? and (2) How many friends are there? We use the term "friends" loosely, as there is no evidence that cockroaches live in social groups.
If you are interested in knowing more about cockroaches and studies about these small creatures, click here for a bibliography of cockroach books and articles.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mosquito Prevention Checklist

This checklist is taken from written materials provided by the County of San Diego Vector Control Program. It is a thorough list of things you can do to check your home for mosquito breeding sources. Mosquitos can transmit West Nile Virus and other diseases. Please help keep your neighborhood safe by following these simple directions.
1. Birdbaths: Clean weekly
2. Chain link fence: Cap uncapped fence pipes
3. Containers: Cover or turn upside down
4. Decorative ponds: Stock with mosquito eating fish that eat larvae
5. Drains: Keep outdoor drains flowing freely
6. Dumpsters: Keep covered and remove any water inside or underneath them
7. Faucets and hoses: Fix any leaks
8. Flat roofs: Inspect for puddles after it rains
9. Irrigation: Do not over water, and repair areas with standing water
10. Lawn ornaments: Check for areas that hold water
11. Machinery: Cover and clean any areas that may hold water
12. Playground: Drill drainage holes in tire swings and play ground equipment that holds water
13. Pools/spas: Drain, cover, or stock mosquito fish in unused pools and spas
14. Potted plants: Do not over water and empty saucers weekly
15. Rain gutters: Clean out debris so water flows freely
16. Tires: Dispose or drill holes for water drainage
17. Tool sheds: Eliminate water around foundation
18. Trash cans: Clean weekly and keep covered
19. Unused pipes: Store flat so no water collects
20. Water troughs for animals: Replace water weekly, stock with mosquito fish for larger animal troughs
21. Wheelbarrows: Store upright so water does not collect

See previous blogs for more information on mosquitos and West Nile Virus.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus Cycle - click on image to enlarge

Although the weather is cooling down, the threat of West Nile Virus is still with us. The blog today and tomorrow will largely be taken from a letter sent out by San Diego County's Vector Control Program, part of the Department of Environmental Health. Perhaps you've received a similar letter warning that West Nile Virus (WNV) has been detected in your neighborhood. Here are some notes from the letter, copied in an effort to better educate our readers and customers - and keep you safer.
West Nile Virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. The symptoms of WNV include: headache, fever, nausea, fatigue, skin rash or swollen glands. About one in 150 people infected with WNV develop more severe symptoms, such as meningitis, encephalitis, or myelitis. If you think you have symptoms of WNV, contact your healthcare provider.
The best protection against WNV is to prevent mosquito bites and mosquito breeding. To prevent mosquito bites it is very important to use mosquito repellent, avoid going outdoors at dawn and dusk, wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors, and keep door and window screens closed and in good repair.
You can also protect the health of your family, friends and neighbors by controlling mosquitoes and eliminating the places where they breed. Mosquitoes can lay their eggs in as little as a quarter inch of standing water. Look for and remove standing water from your property.
Vector Control Technicians are constantly surveying and treating mosquito breeding sites in San Diego. See our previous blogs here for more information on the Vector Control Program, one of the finest in the country. If you know of any sources of standing water or mosquito breeding sites, including neglected "green" swimming pools, please call them at 858-694-2888. They will send a technician to investigate and treat the site. For more information on mosquitoes or WNV, visit the Vector Control website at or call 888-551-4636.
Tomorrow's blog will give Vector Control's checklist of things you can do to maintain your property and increase personal safety against West Nile Virus.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quiz Answers: Bees

Here are the answers to yesterday's Bee quiz. 

1. The ancient civilization which used honey as currency and later minted coins with the image of a bee on them was (c) the Roman Empire. Ancient Romans honored the honeybee for its industry. Egyptians and Greeks kept bees anciently, but did not use them as currency.

2. A single colony of honeybees can contain (c) 20,000-80,000 individuals. That's a lot of bees! Consider full capacity at Petco Park is less than 50,000.

3. Their first week on the job, adult worker honeybees (a) clean the hive. The second week they are promoted to feed the young. Third-week bees make and repair wax cells, and graduate their fourth week to guarding the hive.

4. The Australian "karbi" bee uses a form of torture on intruders which was borrowed years ago in the form of the "rack." The correct answer is (b): guard bees latch onto the intruder's limbs and pull - stretching them to their full extent for an hour. Does this make for taller bees? Or fewer intruders? Kind of explains Australian football, doesn't it?

5. Of the 15 states which have identified the European honey bee as the official state insect, (b) Nebraska and New Jersey are the two listed. Complete list: Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. To the best of our knowledge, Utah is the only one to have a minor league baseball team actually named "The Bees."

6. It would take (d) 9-10 bees to equal the weight of one M&M's plain candy. This factoid will not do much for bee control, but it may be a fascinating conversation starter. Or not.

7. A queen bee must eat (d) 80 times her weight each day to produce 2,000 eggs. To put this in perspective, this would be like a 12-year-old human eating 6400 pounds of food. That's a lot of M&M's!

8. Surprisingly, the average life span of a queen bee is (d) 2-8 years. Obviously, after all that food, they must work out.

For an interesting video on the life cycle of bees, click here. Another great video taking you inside the hive is found here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Bees

This week's quiz takes on your knowledge of bees. See how much you know about these industrious insects, then check your answers in tomorrow's blog.

1. What ancient civilization used honey as currency, then later used the image of the bee minted into coins?
a. Egyptian
b. Babylonian
c. Roman
d. Sumerian

2. A single colony of honey bees can contain how many individuals?
a. 5,00-6,000
b. 10,000-15,000
c. 20,000-80,000
d. 120,000-150,000

3. What do adult worker honeybees do their first week on the job?
a. clean the hive
b. feed the young
c. make and repair wax cells
d. guard the hive

4. An Australian bee, called a "karbi," has an unusual way of dealing with intruders. What do they do?
a. Intruders are stacked in cells where they wait to be eaten by young bees.
b. Guards cooperate to grasp the intruders' limbs and stretch them to their full extent for an hour.
c. Intruders are paralyzed and used like hockey pucks.
d. Guard bees take intruders to the nearest body of water and hold their heads under water.

5. Fifteen of our 50 states hail the European honey bee as the official state insect. Which of the following states are included in these fifteen?
a. California and Arizona
b. Nebraska and New Jersey
c. Oregon and Idaho
d. Hawaii and Alaska

6. How many bees would it take to equal the weight of one M&M's plain chocolate candy?
a. 3-4
b. 5-6
c. 7-8
d. 9-10

7. How much does a queen bee have to eat each day to produce 2,000 eggs?
a. 5 times her weight
b. 20 times her weight
c. 50 times her weight
d. 80 times her weight

8. What is the average life span of a queen bee?
a. 7-8 weeks
b. 3-4 months
c. 10-12 months
d. 2-8 years

Monday, November 17, 2008

Buzzing Off: Bee News

According to an article in National Geographic' online news section, scientists are hard at work studying bees in order to solve the mystery of why the world's honeybee population is in serious decline. Perhaps you've wished unwanted bee's nests in an attic or shed would buzz off - and of course if they are Africanized, the bees are dangerous and need to go. But U.S. beekeepers began noticing a few years ago that huge numbers of bees are dying off for no apparent reason. These are bees that contribute around $15 billion to the U.S. economy every year, and are necessary for pollinating 90 major crops. So studying the problem and finding a solution are critical to farmers and humankind in general. As zoologist Martin Wikelski puts it, "Everything depends on pollinators."
The key to understanding what's causing the honeybees' decline could be creating tracking tags that are small enough to fit on their backs. Scientists have already created electronic tags that are easily carried by two of the larger bee species. These tiny trackers are about the size of three of four grains of rice, and weigh in at 0.006 ounces (170 milligrams). They are attached to the backs of orchid bees and carpenter bees with just a bit of eyelash glue and superglue.  Still smaller tracking devices need to be created to study honeybees, but the team of scientists is hopeful engineers can shrink them by another 40 percent. In the meantime, native wild bees are picking up the slack, helping pollinate crops that were previously pollinated by the vanishing domesticated bees.
We suggest homeowners call in a professional to help with bees nesting in any structures. If Africanized, the bees can be dangerous - especially to children, the elderly, and pets. If it is determined that bees on your property are not Africanized, a bee removal service may be able to keep the nest intact and simply relocate the bees.
Click here for a video on "Disappearing Honey Bees: Beekeepers on What's Happening."

Friday, November 14, 2008


drain fly

fruit fly

Unidentified Flying Insects: Do you have little flying bugs bugging you? Often when we see a swarm of small flying insects in the house, we think swat first and ask questions later. But recognizing the type of tiny fly helps us eliminate the problem. Flying bugs in the house usually don't bite, but they can be a nuisance. This week we highlighted Pharaoh ants - a bug that can have wings and invade homes. Termites also swarm this time of year - looking like flying ants. These bugs require professional help. Here are a few other tiny invaders you might see around the house that don't necessitate a professional, and some hints on how to avoid or eliminate them.
First up: fruit flies. You may have seen them hovering over a bowl of fruit or a bunch of bananas on the kitchen counter. They are about an eighth of an inch long and have red eyes with tan bodies (see the illustration above). Although usually found around ripe fruit, they can reproduce in anything that has a moist film of decaying particles, like drains, garbage disposals, cleaning rags, mops, or garbage cans. As with all flying insects, the best way to eliminate them is to find the source of breeding and remove it. Put that fruit in the fridge - or if overripe, dispose of it in an outdoor bin. Launder mops and cleaning rags, and clean out garbage cans. If some adult flies persist, use a household spray or set up a homemade trap by placing a paper funnel (a rolled piece of notebook paper will do) in a jar baited with a few ounces of cider vinegar. This simple trap will clean up residual fruit flies in a kitchen.
Second UFI: fungus gnats. In appearance, they are very similar to fruit flies, and are often lumped into the same category. They are about the same size, slightly smaller, but are usually gray to black in color. You will most often find them around house plants. Often they fly up from the soil when watering. To control these pests, simply avoid over-watering house plants. Let them dry out between waterings, and clean any dishes under the pots. Do not let water stand in drain dish areas. Usually fungus gnat larvae live in the top layer of the soil. Let this dry out, and the problem is solved.
The third UFI is the drain fly. Larger than fruit flies or fungus gnats, these flying insects look almost like tiny black moths (see picture above). They are fuzzy and have larger wings than the other two bugs. You may find them hanging around the bathroom, perhaps on the shower wall or near the toilet area. Control of these pests is a bit more difficult. The most effective method is to clean the interior of drain pipes with a stiff brush, removing the slime they breed in. An over-the-counter drain cleaner will help, especially if used with very hot water. But these bugs are hard to drown, as they can trap air bubbles and live under water for a day or two.
With proper identification and application of control methods, all these pesky bugs can be controlled. Take a closer look, and rid your home of UFI's.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quiz Answers: Pharaoh Ants

Here are the answers to yesterday's quiz on Pharaoh ants. The hope is that in learning more about these difficult pests, we can work together to control infestations and secure homes against invasion.

1. In the human world, polygynous means more than one wife. In the ant world, it indicates (b) colonies have more than one queen. Mature colonies of Pharaoh ants contain several queens, winged males, workers, eggs, larvae, prepupae and pupae. 

2. Pharaoh ants are usually very small (approximately 1/16 of an inch long), and yellow to light brown in color. One distinguishing characteristic is the (c) three-segmented club at the end of their antennae. 

3. Although Pharaoh ants can be found in apartments, hotels and grocery stores, they are often associated with (a) hospitals. They can be especially troubling in health care areas, as they infest small spaces are are very difficult to eradicate. Unfortunately, they are capable of mechanically transmitting diseases and contaminating sterile materials - making them an especial nuisance in the health care industry.

4. The best way to treat Pharaoh ants is to (c) bait only. For this reason, we recommend you (d) call a pest professional. A successful Pharaoh ant control program will involve intensive baiting using baits that contain insect growth regulators. Unlike the more common Argentine ants, spraying can be counterproductive with a Pharaoh ant infestation. Chemical sprays tend to induce colonies to spread and divide, making control much more difficult.

5. Part of the reason baiting is more successful is that the percentage of Pharaoh ants typically out foraging at any given time is around (a) 5%. That means the best shot we have at control is to use the foraging ants to take poison bait back to the nest.

6. In severe infestations of larger buildings, like warehouses and hospitals, it could take (c) up to a year before total elimination is achieved. 

7. A mature Pharaoh ant colony can house (d) up to 300,000 ants. That's a lot of ants. A single queen can produce many hundreds of workers in just a few months. And remember, the colonies of Pharaoh ants often house multiple queens. Unlike many other ants, they breed continuously throughout the year in heated buildings.

Now that you know more about these difficult pests, be aware of the ants around you and be sure to report any suspected infestations of Pharaoh ants before they take over!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Pharaoh Ants

Today's quiz takes a closer look at a rare but difficult variety of ant: the Pharaoh ant. Although most ants infesting San Diego neighborhoods are Argentine ants, we recently identified a colony of Pharaoh ants living in an apartment complex. Here are a few questions to test your knowledge of these tiny invaders.

1. Pharaoh ants are polygynous. What does this mean in the ant world?
a. Worker ants carry both reproductive parts.
b. Colonies have many queens.
c. Queens lay many eggs and then die.
d. Only queens have wings.

2. Pharaoh ants can be identified by
a. their dark, black color.
b. their distinctive odor when squashed.
c. a distinct club at the end of their antennae.
d. a turban-like appendage from which they get their name.

3. Pharaoh ants are often associated with infestations in
a. hospitals
b. apartments
c. hotels
d. grocery stores

4. The best way to treat Pharaoh ants is to
a. spray and bait
b. spray only
c. bait only

5. What percentage of a Pharaoh ant's nest is typically out foraging at one time?
a. 5%
b. 20%
c. 50%
d. 75%

6. In severe infestations of larger buildings, how long might total elimination take?
a. 2-4 weeks
b. 2-4 months
c. up to a year
d. 2-4 years

7. Pharaoh ant colonies are large and very mobile. How many ants might one colony contain?
a. up to 1,000 ants
b. 2,000-5,000 ants
c. 50,000-80,000 ants
d. up to 300,000 ants

For answers to today's quiz, click here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Good Bug/ Bad Bug

While researching last week's blogs on "good bugs," the kind that eat destructive bugs in our yards and communities, I was struck by the claim on one website that "If all the good bugs were taken from the earth, mankind could only live for a few weeks." Of course, we depend on good bugs for pollination and balance in the insect world. But in light of this claim, I was interested to read in our Sunday newspaper supplement that the world would be no worse off without mosquitos. They do not fall into the "good bug" category.  According to Parade Magazine's Marilyn Vos Savant, if all the mosquitos on earth disappeared other bugs would take their place in the food chain and we would be safer from the diseases spread by these noxious insects. As mentioned previously here, mosquitos are carriers of malaria, encephalitis, yellow fever, dengue fever, meningitis, and - more significantly here in Southern California, West Nile virus.
So how do we maintain a healthy yard, keeping bad bugs at bay while encouraging the good ones? Several approaches can be helpful. First, take precautions in your yard to diminish the favorable habitats of bad bugs like mosquitos. Empty any containers that may have filled with water from the recent rains. Keep pools chemically balanced and keep water off pool covers. Consider obtaining Gambusia fish, for decorative ponds. These "mosquitofish" are often available at no cost through the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health: 858-694-2888. Other ways to safeguard your home against mosquitos: change water in bird baths at least once a week; keep litter and garden debris out of rain gutters; do not over water your yard; fill holes in landscaping left by tree removal; make an inspection of your yard to assure that you do not have standing water anywhere. 
Another aspect of maintaining a healthy balance between good bugs and bad bugs is to avoid broadcast spraying, or trying to kill every bug in sight. Customers occasionally call who do not want to see bugs of any kind. Rather than specify an insect which is causing concern, such as cockroaches or fleas, they want us to just "kill everything!" Hopefully last week's series on good bugs will cause homeowners to think twice about those hard-working bugs that keep the planet buzzing. We are not sure about the idea that mankind would only survive a few weeks without good bugs, but we would rather not find out. Help us maintain a good balance by identifying targeting only the harmful bugs. For a list of good bugs in California, click here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Local Bug News

Today's edition of the Union-Tribune features an article on Michael Wall, a former entomology curator at the San Diego Natural History Museum who was recently appointed director of the museum's Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias. What makes this interesting bug news is not just Mr. Wall's extensive education and experience in the field of entomology, but the enthusiasm he will bring to the area of biodiversity in San Diego. In the article, he is quoted as saying that bugs "have a special place in my heart." We won't take him too literally, but welcome the focus he brings to the insect populations in the county and the increased awareness the museum hopes to achieve.
Last May, Mr. Wall generated public interest with a BioBlitz in Balboa Park. Experienced scientists and volunteers conducted a 24-hour inventory of species found in the park, with nature hikes, science talks and museum exhibits as part of the day's activities. Another BioBlitz is planned for May 1 & 2, 2009. To visit the BioBlitz website, click here. Also available online is a site specific to the Entomology collection at the Museum of Natural History, which holds over 900,000 labeled specimens. The collection is especially strong in beetles and butterflies, and represents well the bugs of San Diego, Southern California, and northwestern Mexico. To see lists of specific insects in San Diego County, click here for butterflies, or here for spiders. There is also a checklist here that shows spiders of Baja California. If you are interested in California beetles, click here
From the FAQ section of this terrific website, we have the last word on San Diego's three resident tarantulas. They are not only shy and docile, their venom is considered non-toxic to humans. Local tarantulas are beneficial predators who feed on sowbugs, pillbugs, insects and even other spiders - making these big, scary-looking arachnids actually good bugs! We are grateful to the museum and its staff for supporting such a helpful and informative website.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Quiz Answers: Good Bugs

This week we have been featuring some of the good bugs that inhabit our yards and neighborhoods. What constitutes a good bug? One that helps pollinate plants or eats the destructive bugs that eat your garden. Monday's blog gave information on ground beetles, one of the unsung heros of the bug world. Today we have answers to yesterday's quiz on good bugs. How did you do?

1. (a) The praying mantis is one of the classic good bugs that works to kill bad bugs in your yard. In fact, they are so good for plantings that you can buy praying mantis egg cases online as a natural garden helper. Known as the "dragons of the insect world," praying mantis have excellent eyesight, heads that can rotate 180 degrees, and quick reflexes - making them formidable predators. They eat moths, crickets, flies, and in the case of females, their own mates. 

2. As you may have learned in Monday's blog, ground beetles are good bugs because they (c) eat slugs, among other pests. 

3. An average ladybug eats around (c) 5,000 harmful bugs in its lifetime. Technically called lady beetles or ladybird beetles, these colorful garden helpers can also be purchased for release in the yard, either at a local garden center or online. And they are among the cutest of bugs. Definitely good guys!

4. Beneficial nematodes are (a) microscopic parasites. They live in the soil and prey onground-dwelling insects like fleas, ants, termites, and grubs. If you choose to buy beneficial nematodes for your yard, be sure you buy from a reputable supplier. Ask your local garden center what kind of nematode might be most beneficial in your area.

5. Earthworms thrive in (c) moist soil. As for their importance, Charles Darwin noted, "... it may be doubted if there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized creatures." They not only aerate the soil by plowing tunnels through which air and water can more easily flow, but leave nitrogen-rich "castings" in their wake, enriching the soil.

6. Of the plants listed, (a) parsley and sage are the most attractive to good bugs. Other attractive plants include clover, foxglove, cosmos, marigolds, and sunflowers.

7. Wasps are helpful because they (b) lay eggs on caterpillars, which hatch to larvae that then eat their host. This colorful process is the featured photo in yesterday's blog. The Braconid wasp is especially good to have in your tomato patch - they are a major predator of tomato horn worms.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Good Bugs

Today's quiz tests your knowledge of insects that can be beneficial around the garden. Some are more familiar than others. The hope is that we'll all take a second look at some of the "good bugs" out there and give them a chance to help the ecological balance in our yards.

1. Which of these is considered a "good bug" - they kind that eats more destructive bugs?
a. Gypsy moth
b. praying mantis
c. aphids
d. mosquitos

2. Ground beetles are "good bugs" because they:
a. aerate the soil
b. pollinate flowers and fruit trees
c. eat slugs
d. help clean stagnant water

3. How many unhelpful bugs does an average ladybug eat in its lifetime?
a. 1,000
b. 3,000
c. 5,000
d. 10,000

4. Beneficial nematodes are what kind of bug?
a. microscopic parasites
b. tiny larvae that eat harmful insects
c. small flying insects that cross-pollinate
d. aquatic insects that filter water

5. Earthworms are some of nature's most efficient composters. In what kind of soil do they thrive?
a. Sandy soil
b. Heavy clay
c. Moist soil
d. Alkaline soil

6. Which of the following are plants that attract good bugs?
a. parsley and sage
b. rosemary and thyme
c. hostas and agapanthas
d. roses and gardenias

7. How do wasps help destroy destructive bugs?
a. They sting grasshoppers and locust.
b. They lay eggs on caterpillars, and the larvae then eat the caterpillars.
c. They build nests near water, then feed on mosquito larvae.
d. They emit an odor that is offensive to slugs.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Good Bugs

As a follow-up to last week's focus on spiders, this week we'll look at other "good bugs" - those beneficial to gardens. The term "good bug" may seem like an oxymoron until we mention a few by name: lady bug, praying mantis, honey bee, ground beetle. These are bugs you WANT in your yard - bugs that either help plants or eat the bugs that eat plants. Let's start with the most unlikely on the list: Ground beetles.
Ground beetles are from the family Carabidae. Although sometimes confused with cockroaches at first sight, these common beetles seldom invade homes and can be useful in the garden. There are about 2,500 known species of ground beetles in North America. Adults, referred to as "Carabids," can be anywhere from 1/16 to 1-3/8 inches long, flat and elongated with a narrow head and hard wing covers. They are generally nocturnal, running quickly at night and feeing on potentially harmful insects. Usually found under rocks, logs or boards, they love to chow down on slugs, snails, cutworms and root maggots, and the larvae of many harmful insects. The worst thing we can say about ground beetles is that some varieties can produce an offensive odor - garnering them the moniker "stink bug" or "stink beetle."
Pictured above is the ground beetle and larva of the genus Calosoma in the family Carabidae. These beetles are often called "caterpillar hunters." During April of 2005, when there was an abundance of painted lady butterflies in the Anza-Borrego Desert, these beetles were very abundant - feeding off the pupae. For more information and some great pictures of other types of local beetles, see the website here.
If you have an over-abundance of ground beetles, eliminate any debris or rubbish outside where they may hide. Weather strip or seal off openings and crevices in outer walls in order to exclude them from the home. Also, it may be helpful to reduce exposed night lights, as these night-active bugs are often attracted to lights. Try to remember, even though they may not be the most attractive bugs around, they are not harmful. If you find you have more than you can handle, call a pest professional.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hallowe'en Bug News

We saved the scariest and most disturbing bug news to share today, in honor of all the little vampires and ghouls out there. This strange but true news comes from Discover Magazine's blog, in an article here. Apparently, scientists have discovered a new tendency in bugs: they crave blood! For mosquitos and bed bugs, this is not unusual. But these are insects that generally have been attracted by sweet substances, and are now looking for salt.
According to the article, research teams studying insects in Peru became puzzled when they were attacked by swarms of tiny bees. The bees were trying to get a taste of their sweat! Animals, and apparently even insects, need salt to maintain water balance in their cells.
Armed with new evidence and theories to test, the scientists baited ants on the Peruvian forest floor with vials of both sugary and salty water, then counted the ant species they baited. Ants living close to the ocean, and thereby near a source of salt, preferred the sugar. Inland ants preferred salt. Further, the scientists found the salt cravings were only seen in vegetarian ants, as carnivorous ants got enough salt from the bodies of their prey. Their report was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Which brings us to vampire moths. In another study, entomologists researched a population of fruit-feeding moths (Calyptra thalictri) which evolved the habit of feeding on blood. These moths, native to Russia, use their long, sharp  tongues to pierce human skin now instead of peaches and pears. They have been observed sucking blood from the scientists' hands for more than 20  minutes at a time. According to the Discover article, only male  moths engage in blood-feeding. The scientists suspect they are offering the salt from the blood as a gift to females during copulation. Happy Hallowe'en!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More on Spiders - Spooky or Friendly?

In light of the Hallowe'en festivities all around us, we will share more information on spiders today, with a look at what makes them spooky and  how we can focus on their more redeeming qualities. Spiders have amazingly bad press. They have been cast as villains in horror movies, murder mysteries, and even fairy tales! The truth is that most spiders are harmless, and extremely beneficial. Part of the delicate balance of nature, spiders eat harmful and nuisance insects in our yards and homes. As noted in this week's bug quiz, only two varieties of spiders in San Diego County can be considered dangerous: The black widow and the desert recluse. Of those two, the black widow is most common. The desert recluse is, as its name suggests, reclusive - preferring to live in remote and unpopulated areas. Bites delivered by these two spiders may be painful, but reactions vary widely and are most often no more serious than a bee sting.  So how can you avoid the scariest spider in San Diego? The more you know about the black widow, the easier it will be to avoid their bites. 
Black widow spiders (pictured above) are shiny, black spiders with thick legs and bulbous abdomens, on the underside of which they sport a distinctive red hourglass marking. Females are around 1/2-inch long, males much smaller - around 1/4-inch, with a longer, narrower abdomen and somewhat longer legs. Black widows are shy, preferring to build their webs in dry, protected locations. Outdoors they are most often found in woodpiles, under rocks, beneath benches, under decks, etc. The web of the black widow is thick, sticky and irregular in shape. If you see this kind of web, use care in knocking it down - although spiders typically have eight eyes, their vision is not good, so they are most often alerted by vibrations. If you encounter black widows or their webs inside (very rare) use a vacuum to remove spiders, webs, and egg sacks - then seal the vacuum bag and discard immediately. Like so many other pests, spiders may be looking for harborage as the weather cools down - so inspect doors and screens to be sure your house is secure. And wear shoes outside! If you are seeing too many spiders in the house or yard, call a pest professional. But remember - spiders eat flies, moths and mosquitos, so as long as they are not bothering you or multiplying out of proportion, let them do their job.
Finally, although we don't see a lot of big scary spiders here, you can rely on videos and news reports from around the world to see the kind legends are made of. Check out the photo and article on a bird-eating spider from Australia here. Take a look at a photo and video of camel spiders here. Or check out the truly scary Monster Spider Web found in Texas here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Quiz Answers: Spiders!

Pictured: The eyes of a brown recluse spider

Spiders have been big news in San Diego this year. We continue to receive more calls for spiders than usual - indicating a population surge for spiders. Perhaps it is the weather, or maybe more people have been putting out bird seed. Whatever the reason, it is not necessarily a bad thing! The overwhelming majority of household spiders are good for the ecological balance of your yard. Because of the bad press of a scary minority of spiders, it seems the whole group has a bad aura. Here are the answers for yesterday's quiz:

1. The number of spider species that have been identified world wide is (d) 37,000. This is of course an approximate number. But taking that number into consideration, it should become immediately apparent why we are not always able to identify spider samples. What we can do is rule out the most dangerous of local spiders. Which brings us to:

2. The number of spiders in San Diego County which deliver poisonous bites: (a) two. According to the County of San Diego's Pest Management website, "The only poisonous spiders in San Diego County are the Black Widow and the Desert Recluse." From the same source, the Desert Recluse is not the same as the Brown Recluse - and it is found mainly in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts, the foothills of the lower Joaquin Valley and areas close to the Mexican border. Check their excellent site here for more information on these two local spiders with attitude.

3. The largest spiders in the world can be found in (c) South America. In fact,  South American Tarantulas are about the size of a dinner plate - around 12 inches in diameter, with 1-inch fangs. For a video on these "killing machines" see the video here. The good news? Their sting is usually  no worse than a bee sting. There are no reported cases on human death by tarantula!

4. The most  reliable distinction between a brown recluse and a wolf spider is (d) the number of eyes. While it is true that the brown recluse has a dark, violin-shaped marking behind the head (on its cephalothorax), many brown spiders, including varieties of Wolf spider, have markings that could be interpreted as looking like a violin. While the 6 eye pattern of the brown recluse is easy to see with magnification, we do not recommend looking closely at the eyes of a live spider! Some spitting spiders do have a similar eye pattern, but do not have a violin. See the photo above for the distinctive eye pattern of the brown recluse. For more on how to identify the brown recluse, visit the website here. To view a map of where brown recluse spiders are found, see here. Note: The city of San Diego is NOT identified as a brown recluse zone on the map.

5. The largest family of spiders is (a) Jumping spiders (Salticidae), followed by Sheet Weavers (Linyphiidae) and Orb-weaving spiders (Araneidae). Using a well-developed hydraulic system which extends their limbs by altering the pressure of body fluid, jumping spiders can jump 20-60 times their body length as they pursue prey. They typically have eight eyes in two or three rows. Tarantulas are the largest of spiders, but not the largest family of spiders.

6. The best way to avoid spider bites is to (b) wear shoes outdoors. Keeping exterior house doors closed is also a good idea, but unless you are able to close even the smallest breaches under doors and around windows spiders are likely to find their way inside. 

7. The correct FALSE answer is (b) - all arachnids are spiders. In fact, all spiders are arachnids - but not all arachnids are spiders. One case in point is the Daddy-longleg, which is an arachnid but not a spider.

8. This is a trick question. Remember, this is the Hallowe'en edition of the quiz! Depending on what species of spider you were, and how tall you stand proportionally, you might be able to jump (a)85 feet, (b) 130 feet, (c) 260 feet (best answer) or (d) 350 feet. Remember, there are around 37,000 varieties of spiders in the world, with various abilities. Now that you know a little more about spiders, we hope you will not  jump when you see one! For more information in a short video about spiders, click here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Spiders!

Just in time for Hallowe'en, we present Tuesday's Quiz with a focus on spiders this week. Are they the scariest bugs? Certainly one of the creepiest! Test your knowledge of arachnids today and find the answers in tomorrow's blog.

1. How many spider species have been identified worldwide?
a. 1,600
b. 16,000
c. 3,700
d. 37,000

2. Of the many spider species in San Diego County, how many deliver poisonous bites?
a. 2
b. 4
c. 6
d. 8

3. Where would you find the largest spiders in the world?
a. Africa
b. Australia
c. South America
d. Asia

4. The spider pictured above is a Wolf spider, fairly common in North America and often mistaken for the Brown Recluse spider. What distinguishes a wolf spider from a brown recluse?
a.  Brown Recluse are bigger
b. Wolf spiders are nocturnal
c. Brown Recluse have a distinctive marking behind the head
d. Wolf spiders have more eyes

5. The largest family of spiders is 

6. The best way to avoid spider bites is to
a. Wear strong perfume
b. Wear shoes outdoors
c. Keep doors closed
d. Hang garlic around your neck

7. Which of the following is false?
a. all spiders are arachnids
b. all arachnids are spiders
c. arachnids do not have antennae
d. Daddy-longlegs are not spiders

8. If you were a spider, how high could you jump, proportionately?
a. 85 feet
b. 130 feet
c. 260 feet
d. 350 feet

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Quiz Answers: Weird Bug News

Here are the answers to yesterday's quiz on weird bug news. These are actual news stories we gleaned off the internet - so you know they are true! Have fun reading the answers, and perhaps learning a bit more about the wonderful world of insects.

1. From Liverpool, England, we have a story about a 50-foot mechanical spider, placed on one of the biggest buildings in town by a French arts collective called La Machine. The three-story arachnid is lovingly named (d) "La Princess." We are not sure why they chose the name (we like our fake names better) or the location for this giant bug, but it makes a great photo op (see photo above). 

2. From Tokyo, a Japanese monk accidentally set fire to his temple while trying to eradicate (b) hornets. The story, from, reports the Buddhist monk had lit rags attached to a stick and tried to apply it to the hornet nest in the temple - but dropped the torch when the hornets attacked him. So much for attempting your own pest control! 

3. From Eagle Rock, California, a school teacher was recently praised by PETA for (a) appointing an insect monitor to prevent the squashing of bugs in the classroom. The teacher, Melodie Conrad, said she is  not exactly an insect rights activist, but she wanted to emphasize to the children that there is already too much violence in the world.

4. From New Jersey, another man's attempt at do-it-yourself pest control ends in disaster. According to the story on Isias Vidal Maceda was not injured but destroyed 80 percent of his apartment in Eatontown when he attempted to (a) spray for roaches. Although the article does not give details, we suspect Mr. Maceda may have used an over-the-counter bug bomb without turning off pilot lights, or perhaps used too many. Whatever the details, the bug spray reportedly ignited a blast that started a fire in the apartment and caused smoke damage in the apartment above.

5. From Pennsylvania, via an article on the Fox News website, (c) giant beetles from Taiwan were discovered in a postal package. The contents were listed as toys, gifts and jellies - but when the postal workers heard scratching noises coming from inside the box, they became suspicious. The parcel was X-rayed then opened, revealing 26 of the largest beetles imaginable - averaging 5-6 inches in diameter. For the record, it is illegal to ship live beetles into the United States without a permit from the Department of Agriculture, as they can cause a great deal of damage to fruit and vegetable crops.

6. From Brazil, ants have been observed (c) sacrificing themselves to seal the entrance to their nest. A few ants, probably the older ones in the colony, remain outside the entrance to kick sand over the hole until it becomes invisible. Being unable to reenter the nest, these ants die from exposure to the cold. It is apparently a pre-meditated task, performed each night at sunset - whether or not there is a clear danger from predators. The covering of the entrance takes about 50 minutes, as the ants heroically kick sand backwards with their hind legs. 

7. According to an article in the Marin Independent Journal, a 250 million-year-old fossilized dragonfly had a wingspan of (b) 28 inches! The article goes on to note that dragonflies can be beneficial to gardeners, feeding on other more harmful garden pests. In case  you were wondering, the "dragon" portion of their name comes from the fierce jaws they use to catch their prey. And as mentioned in a previous post, they are the fastest of all insects, able to reach speeds of up to 60 mph.

We hope you have enjoyed this brief detour into the wide world of bugs. More local pest items tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Weird Insect News

Today's quiz features odd and interesting news items related to insects from all over the world. So have fun today and look for answers to these questions in tomorrow's blog.

1. A French arts collective recently unveiled their latest creation: a 50-foot mechanical arachnid placed strategically on the side of one of Liverpool's biggest buildings. The three-story spider is called:
a. Big Mamma
b. Spot
c. Ringo
d. La Princess

2. On September 3, a Japanese temple burned to the ground when one of the monks accidentally dropped a torch he had fashioned for the purpose of ridding the temple of:
a. cockroaches
b. hornets
c. spiders
d. rats

3. PETA gave an award to a teacher in Eagle Rock, California last spring for what classroom innovation?
a. appointing an insect monitor to prevent the squashing of bugs
b. a science experiment that led to a humane mouse trap
c. relocating a bee hive that had formed outside the classroom
d. studying the habits of ants in an effort to help them multiply

4. A New Jersey man recently blew up his apartment, destroying 80% of the home.  What was he doing?
a. spraying for roaches
b. using fire crackers to scare rodents
c. mixing homemade insecticide in his kitchen sink
d. chasing a rat

5. Customs agents in Philadelphia, alerted by noises inside an overseas package, inspected the parcel and found what inside?
a. Pet roaches from Madagascar
b. Baby mice from New Brunswick
c. Giant beetles from Taiwan
d. Honey bees from Ghana

6. A recent article gives evidence of a variety of ants native to Brazil that have been observed doing something heroic. What are they doing?
a. the ants join together to carry drowning beetles to safety
b. individual ants perform a kind of ant-CPR on the queen if she is in danger
c. several older ants sacrifice themselves by covering the entrance to their nest
d. worker ants form a chain that enables weaker ants to return to the nest

7. A fossilized dragonfly from 250 million years ago was found to have a wingspan of
a. 12 cm
b. 28 inches
c. 15 mm
d. 3 feet

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fire Ants

As noted in a previous post, Argentine ants are the most common  household pests in San Diego County. However, there are about 200 different ant species in California, including the southern fire ant (Solenopsis xyloni) and the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta). A recent article in the Riverside Press-Enterprise discussed an infestation of fire ants in Rialto, where these pests have been devouring crops and threatening residents for the last 10 years. Fire ants came to the United States on cargo ships from South America in the 1930's. Today they are a problem that has cost millions in dollars per year, especially in Riverside and Orange counties. The battle against fire ants got tougher after funding for a statewide eradication program was cut in 2003. All of Orange County and parts of Riverside and Los Angeles counties are under a red ant quarantine, limiting the movement of plants and soil in those counties.
Fire ants vary in size, ranging from 1/16 to 1/4 of an inch long, and are yellow to dark red-brown. They have a stinger at the tip of the abdomen. Colonies range in size from 80,000 to 250,000 workers in a single-queen colony. Queens can produce approximately 1,500 eggs per day. They are called "Fire Ants" because of the fiery, painful sting they inflict. The venom on these tiny ants causes painful, itchy welts or blisters. For individuals who are allergic, the bites can be fatal.
Because their nests are so large, sometimes several treatments of insecticide are needed to reduce or eradicate the colony. Baits which contain an insect growth regulator (IGR) and/or a slow stomach poison can also be effective. Here in San Diego, we don't see many infestations of fire ants - but with populations growing nearby, we want to offer suggestions to homeowners that apply to control of all varieties of ants. Here are the basics:
1. Determine what the ants are attracted to and remove the source.
2. Vacuum trails, clean with soapy water or spray with window cleaner.
3. Locate entry points and fill with caulking or petroleum jelly.
4. Place ant bait stations or gel bait labeled for ant control near the entry points.
5. Continue to clean up trails, as baits require time to work.
6. If ant invasions continue, call your pest professional.