Know Your Eight-Legged Friends!

Know Your Eight-Legged Friends

It is a little known fact that most spiders are not only harmless, but beneficial. We fear what we do not understand, and a little spider knowledge can catapult you from former average-joe to amateur entomologist.

The tarantula is well known and inhabits a wide range in the U.S, — in the southwestwern, midwestern and southeastern states. They do have fangs, but are usually gentle and their bite does not sicken or kill humans (at least in this country). Non-tropical tarantulas generally grow from 2 – 4” in leg length, and come in a range of colors and patterns, mostly variations of brown and black

Another relatively large breed, the wolf spider, can also be intimidating at first sight. Plus, they jump. They tend to lurk outside your house, have a black and white striped pattern covering their somewhat furry bodies. Wolf spiders are very beneficial, as they dine exclusively on other bugs.

The cellar spider, sometimes confused at first glance with the fiddleback (or brown recluse) spider, is also not dangerous. This variety tends to be found on or near the ceiling and preys on other spiders.

The black widow is dangerous to humans, and can kill – although rarely. They are black, glossy and bulbous with a tell-tale red hourglass on their abdomens. Although their bite is poisonous, they are generally shy and will only bite when aggressively provoked.

The brown recluse is also dangerous, and is more likely to be aggressive than a black widow. They live in dark corners, and about 25% of people bitten will develop a sore that can become quite serious.

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Mistaken Identify Case of Bugs for Minnows

Mistaken Identify Case of Bugs for Minnows

In Constance Bay, Ottowa, the river watchers have proven their worth.  What seemed to be an unfolding problem in the river near Buckham’s Bay is actually a seasonal pattern of insect death and rebirth.

River watcher Hank Jones was one local who saw the vast numbers of dead creatures in the water, and became alarmed at the possibility of dead fish.

“It’s a false alarm,” he said later, after taking samples from around the boat launch area and brining a bag full of bug shells in for analysis to Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown.

The death of thousands of minnows would be worrisome to those who monitor the health of this ecosystem.

But in fact, the strange evidence turned out to be an aquatic insect, shedding its exoskeleton before taking flight.  This season, there are many more Mayflies and scad flies, who are busy laying their eggs under water.

The eggs exist below the surface, where they grow until larvae reach the hatching stage.  In hatching, they cast away their exoskeletons, which float to the river’s surface.  Around this time of year, all the bugs reach maturity around the same time, which creates a massive amount of bug detritus in the waters.


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Raccoons After the Flood

Raccoons After the Flood

Raccoons can be finicky creatures, but ultimately they are survivors.  Even though they like to wash all their food in water, they don’t like living in it. Rains and floods push raccoons to higher, dryer ground.

For those living in areas with recent flooding, this means a raccoon or two may show up on your doorstep.

Casper, Wyoming is one of the larger cities in the state, but it’s surrounded by miles of open country.  Casper is like many urban centers in the midst of wilderness: a great home for raccoons.  They’ve been spending more time in this town recently, and that development is not making residents happy.

“They’ll figure out your pet doors. My neighbor had one where a raccoon came up and peeked in her screen door,” says Jerry Lawis of RKR Nuisance Animal Control and Removal.

Raccoons carry a variety of diseases.  The most common is roundworm, which can transmit to pets and people.  They have been known to carry rabies as well.  They may look cute, but will attack pets if given a reason.

To discourage raccoons from living in your personal space, secure your garbage.  Like any nighttime bandit, their crimes are ones of opportunity.  If you spot one who is coming around too often, call an animal control expert.  Don’t try to deal with the raccoon yourself, and keep pets indoors.

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Biological Control Works Wonders on Spurge

Biological Control Works Wonders on Spurge

Leafy spurge is not the kind of green you’d want to add to your salad.  Or have in your garden, for that matter.  It is listed as one of the 11 noxious weeds in North Dakota and has a bad reputation for taking over huge areas of usable land.

Fortunately for farmers, leafy spurge has met its archnemesis, the flea beetle.  For years, farmers have been using the flea beetle as an ally in their campaign to reduce leafy spurge.

Last week, a field trip was scheduled to collect as many beetles as could be netted, and the proceeds were distributed to any farmers who wanted a non-pesticide spurge solution.

In 1986, the first experimentation with flea beetles began.  They were known to feed on the spurge’s leaves, with larvae munching on the plants roots.

The flea beetle and spurge combat continues, and creates a genuine natural balance in the fields.  When the insects have plenty to eat they also destroy most of their food source, so their own population declines.  Once the spurge makes a comeback the beetles again have sustenance, and their numbers rebound.

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City of Pittsburgh Trapping Fewer Animals

City of Pittsburgh Trapping Fewer Animals

The old policy was to trap any animal that was spotted in city limits, especially those that caused complaints.  But city Animal Control doesn’t have an unlimited budget, so to save money they now only trap the animals that look or act sick.

This is not a policy change that is sitting well with some Pittsburgh residents, who’ve complained to their city council person.  The councilwoman, Darlene Harris, not surprisingly sides with her constituents.

One local news channel, Target 11, did some investigation and found that, in fact, Animal Control is true to its word.

The news station’s researchers discovered that in the last three years, about 1,400 raccoons were trapped in the city annually.  But in just the first six months of this year, only 213 of these ring-eyed critters have been captured.

Some residents complain that if they see an animal, especially a potentially dangerous one like a raccoon, they want it trapped.  Animal Control’s new policy doesn’t allow for that

Councilwoman Harris noted that her concern is that some residents have taken a vigilante stance against the animals.

“One of the councilmembers told me they are actually shooting the animals in her district, and we don’t need that in the city at all,” she said.

No word yet on whether the raccoons are shooting back.


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Switzerland Crawls Toward Sensible Food Policy

Switzerland Crawls Toward Sensible Food Policy

The Swiss government has said yes to insects, opening a whole new world to culinary artists eager to experiment with bug-based sauces and cricket-covered casseroles.

The Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office of Switzerland currently requires a permit to serve insects, but this step is still seen as a green light to making insect-based meals a normal part of life here.

Members of the Swiss parliament have been methodically revising food policy to make a wider array of foods available, and to craft outdated regulations into a better fit with the rest of Europe.  The emphasis is on food safety, and ecologically sound practices.

This move has been influenced by a recent United Nations report noting that nine billion humans are likely to inhabit Earth by 2050, and food production will need to double in order to sustain all of us. The document, prepared by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, noted that 80% of humans consume insects, and that nutritionally speaking they are higher in protein and lower in fat than meat products.

Meanwhile, a test meal was served in the Swiss parliament to help elected officials appreciate insect-based foods.  On the menu were cricket rissoles, mealworm burgers and grasshopper mousse. Most left the table completely satisfied.

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GM Wheat A Failure in the Fields

GM Wheat A Failure in the Fields

To keep away a particularly destructive pest, the aphid, scientists have spent years and significant funds to develop a genetically modified wheat plant.  After being tested carefully in the lab, the GM wheat has not proven pest resistant when planted in open fields in the United Kingdom.

The wheat was altered to include an odor that deters aphids, commonly known as green fly or black fly insects.  These creatures cause significant loss of wheat crop by sucking nutrients directly from the plants sap.  Their interaction with wheat can also introduce viruses.

Scientists who worked on the trial now have to take a step back and rethink this GM product.

Professor Huw Jones, senior molecular biologist at Rothamsted Research, who oversaw introducing the genetic changes in the plants, noted: “As scientists we are trained to treat our experimental data objectively and dispassionately but I was definitely disappointed.”

GMO for food crops have been publicly criticized on several fronts in the UK.  The general public has protested “frankfoods” and many farmers would prefer more funding for less risky pest-control methods with known efficacy.

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