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One Formosan termite may be little and vulnerable but together the insects can draw on many protective powers, including fecal microbes built into their colony walls.
Credit: Scott Bauer
Mixing their own poop into nest walls gives Formosan termites a bacterial boost in fighting off human attempts to destroy them with insect plagues.
A bacterial strain found in the fecally-enhanced nest walls of pest termites Coptotermes formosanus helps protect them from a potentially deadly fungus, says entomologist Nan-Yao Su of the University of Florida in Fort Lauderdale. Such live-in boosters could help explain why efforts to control the termites with fungal diseases have been a failure, Su and his colleagues report September 18 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“You can put the fungus on an insect in a lab dish and say, ‘Hah! We killed the termite,’” Su says. But for termites in their natural colonies, the soil-dwelling fungus Metarhizium anisopliae has failed to devastate.
Meanwhile Formosan termites are destroying homes, railroad ties and even living trees. Colonies of these termites have proven among the pests most destructive to wood in the southeastern United States and Hawaii. A subtropical species from Asia, it turned up in Texas in 1951. A single colony can grow to more than a million termites scurrying through multiple underground nests and a tunnel network ranging across 150 meters.
After millions of years of crowding into warm, humid nests underground, the termites have evolved both biology and behavior that can fight fungi, says coauthor Thomas Chouvenc, also at the University of Florida. Termites attend to personal hygiene and invite grooming by stretching out a leg or exposing a body area. Nest mates oblige by nipping off detritus, which passes into the formidable termite gut, where pathogens typically die. The new study, Chouvenc explains, explores how termites export their gut’s protective power to the walls of their nests. (More Info)
TAMPA, FL -Jonathan Simkins is an expert in flying insects. He has a degree in entomology from the University of Florida, and has been working in the industry for more than twenty years.
Simkins is the owner of Insect I.Q. He travels all over Florida to deal with honey bees, Africanized bees, yellow jackets and other stinging insects.
Recently, he faced the challenge of his life. Simkins was called to a large, privately-owned tract of land in Central Florida to deal with a huge yellow jacket wasp nest.
“I have never seen a nest this large in my entire life,” said Simkins. “This is the prehistoric nest from the dinosaur ages.”
He says the nest was more than six and half feet tall, and eight feet wide. It may have contained more than a million insects.
“To put it into perspective, a nest we deal with on a day to day basis might have a thousand to five thousand,” Simkins said.
Simkins shot his own video of the nest before he eradicated it.
As he approached the nest, the worker wasps attacked him and his equipment.
In the video you can hear hundreds of wasps hit the camera. The buzzing is non-stop, and Simkins’ voice is clearly tense.
“I have to be honest with you, I was terrified at one point, and there were several times that I had to pull out and get a breather. My heart rate was racing, I had hundreds of them on my veil,” said Simkins.
He used a spray and his own technique to kill the entire nest.
Simkins says if someone had walked up to the nest unawares, and riled the wasps, they could have been killed..
“We definitely did save lives. This land is hunted. It’s leased out for hunters, if somebody comes across this, you’re not going to get away. You can see in the video, I run a hundred yards away and I sill have thousands of yellow jackets chasing me, all over me, trying to kill me,” said Simkins.
The video ends the next day as Simkins walks up to the nest without his protective helmet on. Simkins stands next to the remains of the huge nest, and declares it dead.
If Lyme disease isn’t reason enough to avoid ticks, here’s another: the inability to enjoy a burger.
Odd as it seems, researchers say that bites from the voracious lone star tick are making some people allergic to red meat—even if they’ve never had a problem eating it before.
The allergic reactions range from vomiting and abdominal cramps to hives to anaphylaxis, which can lead to breathing difficulties and sometimes even death.
Unlike most food allergies, the symptoms typically set in three to six hours after an affected person eats beef, pork or lamb—often in the middle of the night.
The bite that seems to precipitate it may occur weeks or months before, often making it difficult for people to make the link.
Cases of the unusual allergy were first identified at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 2007, and are now being reported as far north as Nantucket, Mass., and on the east end of New York’s Long Island.
“It’s a huge problem out here,” says Erin McGintee, a pediatric and adult allergist in East Hampton, N.Y., who says she knows of more than 70 cases and sees several more each week. “I’ve been trying to get the word out—but there are still a lot of people who don’t believe it,” she adds.
Larry Goodwin, a 62-year-old farmer in Moody, Texas, met a painful death last Monday when he accidentally disturbed a hidden hive of Africanized honebees, a.k.a. "killer bees," as he drove his tractor on a neighbor's land.
The bees swarmed from their hive in overwhelming numbers, prompting Goodwin to run to a nearby house and grab a garden hose to try and spray away the fierce insects. But the hive with an estimated 40,000 bees, overtook the farmer and killed him with their stings.
Goodwin's was a horrific and unusual death -- but how exactly do these bees kill?
"These are extremely defensive and dominant bees," said Eric Mussen, extension apiculturist at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Africanized honeybees are extremely sensitive to vibrations," Mussen explained. "If a lawnmower goes off several houses away from a colony, for example, the bees could still likely detect the vibrations and sting everyone in the area."
When disturbed, the killer bees have extra soldiers on duty to respond to alarms. The bees are slightly smaller than honeybees and have the same venom load per sting, but a defensive attack, such as the one that killed Goodwin, can be devastating.
Mussen explained that if a European bee colony is disturbed, the victim may be stung 12 to 20 times, or up to 200 times if the entire colony is somehow tipped over or otherwise dramatically bothered.
If a killer bee colony senses a threat, on the other hand, the victim could be stung around 2,000 times.
Yet another threat comes from the double-damaging venom. Meletin, the primary pain-inducing compound in the venom, makes up about 50 percent of the mixture. Another component, called "phospholipase A2," gives the venom the ability to damage human tissue. The damage can be so severe that the material can overload the kidneys, resulting in kidney failure days after the individual was stung.
Some doctors overlook the latter problem and release patients before the kidney threat is treated, according to Mussen. In one case, Mussen had to advise a victim's wife to have her dying husband go through dialysis, which eventually saved his life.
Africanized honeybees resulted from a bee breeding experiment that went horribly wrong. Now their numbers continue to expand across the United States.
According to Mussen and an information sheet provided by the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the bees are connected to research conducted by Brazilian geneticist Warwick Kerr. The Brazilian Agriculture Ministry had Kerr bring African honeybee queens to Brazil for breeding experiments. (more)
<drop_initial name=”drop_initial” displayname=”drop_initial”>TAMPA Starting today, home and garden stores in Tampa and Pinellas County won’t be offering fertilizer that contains nitrogen, a nutrient vital to plant growth.
Ordinances passed by Pinellas in 2010 and by Tampa in 2011 prohibit the sale or application of nitrogen-containing fertilizer from June 1 through Sept. 30 in those jurisdictions. Hillsborough County communities outside the Tampa city limits are not subject to the ban.
The restrictions were enacted in an effort to reduce the amount of nitrogen washed into streams, rivers and bays during the rainy summer months. Nitrogen overload is the main cause of algae growth, oxygen depletion and fish kills in state waterways, scientists say.
“Storm-water runoff in general is a major source of nitrogen to the bay,” said Nanette Holland O’Hara, public outreach coordinator for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. “About 20 percent of the storm-water runoff is coming from residential runoff which includes fertilizer.”
The 40 or so local governments around Florida that have passed some type of summertime restriction on nitrogen-based fertilizer did so despite intense opposition from fertilizer and yard maintenance companies.
Industry lobbyists also tried this spring, as they have in years past, to get the Florida Legislature to prevent local governments from passing rainy season fertilizer bans. Their efforts failed.
Opponents of the fertilizer bans say lawns need nitrogen during the summer months when most growth occurs. During that period, they say, the plant’s roots suck up nitrogen quickly, leaving little residue to wash into storm drains.
Instead of a ban, industry lobbyists argued for educating homeowners on proper application techniques.
Brad Morgan, of Morgan Horticultural Services, said the bans could actually be counterproductive to what environmentalists hope to achieve. Many residents and commercial applicators will put twice as much fertilizer out in May and October to compensate for the summer ban, he said.
“You’re going to get a lot of runoff because the plant is not going to be able to take it up as fast,” Morgan said.
Plus, the ban is uneven. The Hillsborough County Commission declined to enact a total-summertime prohibition, despite recommendations from their own county Environmental Protection Commission and from scientists with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
Instead, the commission passed a weaker rule that prohibits nitrogen fertilizer use while it is raining, during a flood watch or 36 hours before a storm expected to dump 2 inches or more of rain in 24 hours.
That means residents in unincorporated Hillsborough County, where two-thirds of the county’s population lives, can buy nitrogen-containing fertilizer at their local stores. Tampa residents can easily drive outside the city limits to get theirs.
“No matter what ban is in effect, there are always going to be companies that put out fertilizer too heavy,” Morgan said. “You’re still going have pollution based on people using improper practices.” (More)
Central Florida’s Agri-Leader Central Florida residents typically spend more time outdoors during the summer months, which means we may be exposed to insects making their homes in the lawn or garden. Hot summer temperatures may also drive insects indoors, seeking food and shelter from the heat. Ants are one of the most difficult pests to control, both indoors and out. While most species of ants are merely a nuisance, there are some that can deliver a painful sting or damage the structure of your home. The Florida carpenter ant is a common central Florida pest. These ants are often found living under rotting tree stumps, beneath rocks and around trees, especially palms. Carpenter ants prefer nesting sites that are safe from predators, easy to access and have an abundance of food and moisture.
This means that your home may be just the spot they are looking for. Some places they may be found nesting are underneath attic insulation, beneath dishwashers and behind wood paneling. Heavy infestations of carpenter ants can be especially problematic, because they often cause serious damage to the structure of the home when they tunnel through wood to make their nests. Indoors, ants will eat most any food in your kitchen, which means they can contaminate your food and make you sick. Fire ants are also a problem during the summer in our area. These ants are aggressive and can deliver a painful sting to both humans and animals when threatened. When the weather is cool, fire ants prefer to make their nests in outdoor areas exposed to the sun, but may move indoors when the weather gets hot. It is important to prevent ant infestations to avoid damage to your home, as well as eliminate potential health risks. There are some things you can do this summer to keep ants outdoors where they belong. First, be sure to eliminate any areas of standing moisture in your yard and garden. Get rid of anything that collects rain water such as flower pots, buckets and old tires.
Since ants often nest underneath wood, keep firewood well away from your home. Tree branches can provide ants with an easy entrance point, so keep branches trimmed. Ants often feed on plant pests such as aphids and whiteflies. Using an insecticide on your plants and shrubs will eliminate this source of food. Take the time to look around the outside of your home. Inspect around your window sills, door jambs and faucets for any cracks that ants can use to come inside. Be sure to use caulk to seal any cracks and crevices to keep them out. You must also be sure to reduce any areas of food and moisture inside your home. Keep pet food dishes clean and clean up any spilled food and dispose of garbage on a regular basis. Be sure to keep all food in containers with tight fitting lids and clean your counters to reduce infestations. While there are many home remedies that are believed to reduce ant infestations, most do not work effectively. The University of Florida, IFAS Extension recommends homeowners avoid using soap solutions, gasoline and bleach solutions to eliminate ants. Instead, rely on EPA approved chemical products to keep them under control.
Granular baits are often applied directly to ant mounds or spread over larger areas. Dusts contain active ingredients such as pyrethroids and are available for ant control. These products typically work best when spread over an undisturbed mound. (More)
Eastern sub workers. / James Castner/Special to The News-Press
Ants in your pants?
See invading ants? Find where they’re coming from. Look for a trail, or a pattern in their appearance. The best way to control them in the house is to kill them in their nest. If you find the nest outdoors, apply an ant insecticide directly to it. If it’s inside a wall, drill a 1⁄8-inch hole and squirt an insecticide or boric acid dust into the cavity. If you can’t find the nest, use ant bait. The containers look like tiny flying saucers with holes in the sides. They do work, but it can take weeks to kill them all, so be patient.
Have you ever heard the old joke about the termite colony that crossed the road?
Probably not, because the rapacious invaders aren’t a laughing matter in Florida, which has a reputation as the nation’s “termite belt.”
The National Pest Management Association estimates that subterranean termites cost homeowners throughout the United States $5 billion per year. That’s more than fires, floods and hurricanes combined.
And now may be a good time to check your property for signs of the ravenous, winged critters because ideal swarming conditions are settling upon Southwest Florida. What’s the perfect environment?
“Ample rain, food and warmth,” says Faith M. Oi of the University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department — and that mirrors spring and summer here. “Ideal conditions are Florida conditions,” she says, noting that they abate only during drought conditions.
Subterranean termites can hide out undetected and munch on wood for five years, says Phil Jackson, South Florida district manager for the HomeTeam Pest Defense. When the colony “is at full size, the queen lays eggs and begins producing reproductive swarmers and they are sent out to start another colony,” he says.
Jackson explains that swarmers take off in high humidity so they don’t “dry out” before returning to damp soil, while worker termites remain burrowed in the soil and can’t withstand open-air travel. (Swarmers are limited in flight, and may not even cross the road.)
According to HomeTeam’s research, 35 percent of homeowners have experienced a termite problem. Some people may see winged ants and panic. But you don’t have to if you know the basic difference: Termites’ wings are equal in size and they have straight beadlike antennae, while ants’ wings are larger in front and smaller in back. Also, ants have elbowed antennae.
There are generally two types of termites in this region: subterranean and dry wood. Here are some things to watch for in your house:
• Mud tubes: Termites use long tunnels, made of soil and partially digested cellulose, as a means to get to their food source — wood
• Swarmers: Check near doors and window for a termite swarm, as it can be one of the first signs of an infestation.
• Wings: After termites swarm, they shed their wings near windows, doors and light fixtures. Piles of wings could mean there is a colony hiding out in the walls.
• Subterranean damage: Check the wooden areas of your home for mud tubes and hollowness; termites can feed for years before an infestation is discovered. “Unless you find tunnels, they’re almost invisible until you see damage,” says Jackson.
• Dry wood damage: If you see little piles near baseboards, furnishings or along outside walls that look like ash or ground-up tobacco, and the pile reappears after you have cleaned it up, that’s a sure sign of dry wood termites. They live in walls and furnishings, and keep their “home” clean by removing excretion.
To make matters more challenging, the Florida Department of Agriculture is reportedly planning to launch a public relations campaign in South Florida about a new threat: the Caribbean conehead, which became established on the East Coast in Dania Beach in 2001, though at this point, it’s believed they’re limited to a 1-square-mile area.
How can homeowners prevent an infestation? (Continue)
PUBLISHED:05:45 EST, 24 January 2013| UPDATED:04:41 EST, 25 January 2013
To look at this flourishing mass of plant life you’d think David Latimer was a green-fingered genius.
Truth be told, however, his bottle garden – now almost in its 53rd year – hasn’t taken up much of his time.
In fact, on the last occasion he watered it Ted Heath was Prime Minister and Richard Nixon was in the White House.
Scroll down for video
Still going strong: Pensioner David Latimer from Cranleigh, Surrey, with his bottle garden that was first planted 53 years ago and has not been watered since 1972 – yet continues to thrive in its sealed environment
For the last 40 years it has been completely sealed from the outside world. But the indoor variety of spiderworts (or Tradescantia, to give the plant species its scientific Latin name) within has thrived, filling its globular bottle home with healthy foliage.
Yesterday Mr Latimer, 80, said: ‘It’s 6ft from a window so gets a bit of sunlight. It grows towards the light so it gets turned round every so often so it grows evenly.
‘Otherwise, it’s the definition of low-maintenance. I’ve never pruned it, it just seems to have grown to the limits of the bottle.’
The bottle garden has created its own miniature ecosystem. Despite being cut off from the outside world, because it is still absorbing light it can photosynthesise, the process by which plants convert sunlight into the energy they need to grow.
Lush: Just like any other plant, Mr Latimers’s bottled specimen has survived and thrived using the cycle of photosynthesis despite being cut off from the outside world
HOW THE BOTTLE GARDEN GROWS
Bottle gardens work because their sealed space creates an entirely self-sufficient ecosystem in which plants can survive by using photosynthesis to recycle nutrients.
The only external input needed to keep the plant going is light, since this provides it with the energy it needs to create its own food and continue to grow.
Light shining on the leaves of the plant is absorbed by proteins containing chlorophylls (a green pigment).
Some of that light energy is stored in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that stores energy. The rest is used to remove electrons from the water being absorbed from the soil through the plant’s roots.
These electrons then become ‘free’ – and are used in chemical reactions that convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrates, releasing oxygen.
This photosynthesis process is the opposite of the cellular respiration that occurs in other organisms, including humans, where carbohydrates containing energy react with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide, water, and release chemical energy.
But the eco-system also uses cellular respiration to break down decaying material shed by the plant. In this part of the process, bacteria inside the soil of the bottle garden absorbs the plant’s waste oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide which the growing plant can reuse.
And, of course, at night, when there is no sunlight to drive photosynthesis, the plant will also use cellular respiration to keep itself alive by breaking down the stored nutrients.
Because the bottle garden is a closed environment, that means its water cycle is also a self-contained process.
The water in the bottle gets taken up by plants’ roots, is released into the air during transpiration, condenses down into the potting mixture, where the cycle begins again.
Photosynthesis creates oxygen and also puts more moisture in the air. The moisture builds up inside the bottle and ‘rains’ back down on the plant.
The leaves it drops rot at the bottom of the bottle, creating the carbon dioxide also needed for photosynthesis and nutrients which it absorbs through its roots.
It was Easter Sunday 1960 when Mr Latimer thought it would be fun to start a bottle garden ‘out of idle curiosity’.
He said: ‘At the time the chemical industry had changed to transporting things in plastic bottles so there were a lot of glass ones on the market.
‘Bottle gardens were a bit of a craze and I wanted to see what happened if you bunged the thing up.’
Habitable zone: The spot under the stairs where Mr Latimer has kept the bottle garden for the past 27 years
A SELF-CONTAINED WORLD: HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN BOTTLE GARDEN
The idea of a bottle garden is to create a world in microcosm. It will have its own special habitat and should require little maintenance, writes NIGEL COLBORN.
First choose a glass container. It will need a wide neck for easy access and to look attractive. A goldfish bowl is ideal, or for children, a big jam jar might do.
You’ll also need some good-quality potting compost, shingle or coarse grit and, of course, the plants.
Use a large spoon to insert a layer of grit into the jar and cover that with compost deep enough to accommodate the plant roots.
Finally, introduce the plants. You’ll need very few and they must be tiny specimens – unless it’s an enormous receptacle. Little ferns such as indoor maidenhair or Adiantum, small varieties of Tradescantia and baby plants of Chlorophytum will all establish easily. Miniature trailers such as ‘Mind-your-own-business’ (Soleirolia) will also flourish.
Move each plant gently into position, adjusting them with a stick or with kitchen tongs until you’ve got them where you want them. Adding a final layer of grit after planting will hold the compost down and make your micro-garden look prettier.
Water with extreme care (your jar won’t need much) and place the finished mini garden in a well-lit spot, but not on a hot south-facing windowsill.
Into a cleaned out ten gallon carboy, or globular bottle, which once contained sulphuric acid, he poured some compost then carefully lowered in a seedling using a piece of wire.
He put in about a quarter of a pint of water. It was not until 1972 that he gave it another ‘drink’.
After that, he greased the bung so it wedged in tightly… and has not watered it since.
The bottle stands on display under the stairs in the hallway of his home in Cranleigh, Surrey, the same spot it has occupied for 27 years after he and his wife Gretchen moved from Lancashire when he retired as an electrical engineer.
It was revealed to the world when he took a photograph of it in to BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time and asked the panel of experts if it is ‘of scientific or horticultural interest’.
Garden designer and television presenter Chris Beardshaw said: ‘It’s a great example of the way in which a plant is able to recycle… It’s the perfect cycle of life.’
He added that this process is one reason why NASA was interested in taking plants into space.
‘Plants operate as very good scrubbers, taking out pollutants in the air, so that a space station can effectively become self-sustaining,’ he said. ‘This is a great example of just how pioneering plants are and how they will persist given the opportunity.
‘The only input to this whole process has been solar energy, that’s the thing it has needed to keep it going. Everything else, every other thing in there has been recycled. That’s fantastic.’
Organic gardener Bob Flowerdew was less enthusiastic.
‘It’s wonderful but not for me, thanks. I can’t see the point. I can’t smell it, I can’t eat it,’ he said. Mr Latimer agrees the bottle garden is ‘incredibly dull in that it doesn’t do anything’, but remains fascinated to see how long it will last.
He hopes to pass on the ‘experiment’ to his grown-up children after he is gone.
If they do not want it, he will leave it to the Royal Horticultural Society.
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