Annoying bug bites

It’s spring and soon the blackflies and mosquitoes will be out and biting Tincture of iodine applied while a mosquito bite is still fresh can neutralize the itching–I wonder if it would help with other bites, and whether it’s the iodine or just the alcohol that’s helping. I don’t think I’ve ever had a chigger bite. Black flies slash rather than sucking. Some of their bites hurt and some can’t be felt. They’re worse than mosquitoes, and relentless. And small. They look like tiny, burly houseflies. Or largish, burly black fruit flies. They are the reason the bug jacket was invented.

That made me wonder if we had the itchiest biter of all, the chigger. I found the Missouri chiggers page. Chiggers, it says, are bright orange-red, fast-moving, larval tick-like objects. I’ve seen something like that, but I thought they were bird lice.

Regular mosquitoes repellents will repel chiggers. All brands are equally effective. Applying these products to exposed skin and around the edge of openings in your clothes, such as cuffs, waistbands, shirt fronts and boot tops, will force chiggers to cross the treated line get inside your clothes.
Unfortunately these repellents are only potent for two to three hours and must be reapplied frequently.
By far, the most effective and time proven repellent for chiggers is sulphur. Chiggers hate sulphur and definitely avoid it. Powdered sulphur, called sublimed sulphur or flowers of sulfur, is available through most pharmacies. Dust the powdered sulphur around the opening of your pants, socks and boots. If you plan to venture into a heavily infested area, powdered sulphur can be rubbed over the skin on your legs, arms and waist. Some people rub on a mixture of half talcum powder and half sulphur.
But a word of warning: sulphur has a strong odor. The combination of sulfur and sweat will make you unpleasant company for anyone who has not had the same treatment. Sulphur is also irritating to the skin of some people. If you have not used sulphur before, try it on a small area of your skin first.

Chiggers bite us only incidentally in N. America; their hosts are other species. It may take them an hour or more to settle on a place to bite, so a bath with warm, soapy water can remove them before they get around to it. They suggest a few things for the itching.

What makes locusts swarm?

I saw something on Daily Planet tonight about locusts. They look like grasshoppers. They have a solitary, weakly flying or non-flying form. And when they get crowded, they develop into a new form that is brightly coloured, social to other locusts, and a strong flyer. That encourages them to leave their dwindling food sources and find new ones.

A Dr. Steve Rogers of Cambridge University has discovered that what makes locusts change is serotonin, which is produced when the locusts rub their legs together (rub up against each other?), see or smell one another, or are tickled. If serotonin is inhibited, they don’t change and become sociable. If serotonin is injected, they change. A mystery solved!

Aaamazing nature photographs

Image by Igor Siwanowicz

Image by Igor Siwanowicz

OK, these are pictures, mostly of insects, that have been posed and perhaps coloured — I don’t know if there are any red or green pillbugs — but they sure are beautiful. Many of them are extreme closeups:  photos by Igor Siwanowicz.

The page has at least 60 large images on it, so try it only on a fast connection.

Excellent, my minions!

more funny caterpillar pictures

This very cute caterpillar is steepling its fingers… er, hands… er, pods.

New ant species hits the ground running

worker ant

A previously unknown species of ant was discovered in Texan coastal counties around Houston in 2002, by an exterminator, Tom Rasberry. So far they are known in five counties. They are prolific and tend to run around crazily. They are similar to a Columbian species, Pareatrechina pubens, and may have evolved from them. The ants have more than one queen in a colony.

Mr. Rasberry demonstrated in a patch of woods not far from his business, Budget Pest Control, that the ants were swarming under every clod of grass and over every tree branch and limb.

And the ants’ seasonal gestation period, which reaches its peak in the summer, is just beginning, said Paul Nester, a program specialist for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service of Texas A&M University.

“They’re the ant of all ants,” said Dr. Nester, who said they had infested five coastal counties, “and are moving about half a mile a year.” But he said broad areas of Texas and beyond were probably not threatened because the ants preferred the warmth and moistness of the coast.

Variants of the species found in Colombia have been known to asphyxiate chickens and even attack cattle by swarming over their eyes, nasal passages and hooves, according to the Center for Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M, which is conducting much of the research on the ants. It lists some of the findings on its Web site:

Jason Meyers, a doctoral student in urban entomology at Texas A&M who is writing his dissertation on the ants, described them as enigmatic and confirmed that they were discovered by Mr. Rasberry. They belong to the genus Paratrechina, like others seen in Colombia, the Caribbean and Florida, Mr. Meyers said, but are different enough for entomologists to only guess at their species, listing them for now as “near” pubens.

Nobody wants to confront their weight in ants; but Afarensis on points out that there is already some hysteria about the new ants.

How do the people in Columbia deal with their close relatives?

Books: Bugs in the System by May Berenbaum

book, Bugs in the System, by May R. BerenbaumThis is a book that I read several weeks ago Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs is a breezy look at the taxonomy and economic impact of insects. The author, May R. Berenbaum, is an associate professor of entomology.

It’s so breezy that she thinks xylem and phloem are kinds of sap. But I was enlightened about the costs of controlling insects and the benefits of useful insects to our lives.

Prof. Berenbaum covers taxonomy, physiology (the physics of being very small), behavior and senses, social lives, herbivorous insects, predatory insects, parasites, other appetites, the effects of insects on people (e.g. diseases, pest control), and appreciating insects.

Under the Museum…

Roy Campbell, Directory of Exhibits, NC Museum of Life Sciences

Roy Campbell, Director of Exhibits, gave a tour of the North Carolina Museum of Life Sciences to a group of science-bloggers. Above, he’s telling us about the arthropod festival before an impressive model of one of the larger arthropods, a preying mantis.

Hmmm, I don’t have a picture of the real catacombs, where scientists work for weeks and months with tiny drills and picks to liberate fossils from their stony beds; but I do have few pictures of the sub-basement, even lower, where research materials, specimens not on display, and yet-to-be-liberated fossils are stored.

science bloggers at the museum, with ostrich …. First, there’s a science blogger looking an ostrich skeleton in the eye.

science bloggers at the museum, research collection of bird skins …. Here’s a science blogger inspecting the museum’s collection of hawk skins.

science bloggers at the museum, goat and pig skeletons …. Some skeletons were too large for the cupboards.

science bloggers at the museum, whale bones …. Especially the bones of a right whale.

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