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.