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Bugs In The News is co-edited by Jerry and Andy Cates, and is an informative project sponsored by EntomoBiotics Inc. Forensics in conjunction with its not-for-profit biological research arm, the Megatherium Society. It is on the Internet for one reason, to serve you as a trustworthy source of carefully researched, unbiased, and pertinent information regarding human safety in the fields of zoology, entomology, arachnology, and herpetology. Each article contains links to relevant peer-reviewed scientific papers, if available, that help readers conduct further research.
The EntomoBiotics Zika Virus Research Project: It is our privilege to service a number of medical-related facilities throughout the state of Texas, all of whom are subject to mosquito infestations during certain times of the year. Our research into Aedes mosquito biology and Zika virus transmission is oriented toward finding effective methods, products, and materials that may be used to reduce or eliminate mosquito populations at such sites. This research is being funded by EntomoBiotics Inc. and the Megatherium Society, the not-for-profit biological research arm of EntomoBiotics Inc. The medical-related facilities where the products of this research will be tested and documented will not be charged for the installation of mosquito abatement/elimination devices or the documentation involved with this project. Latest test results suggest the devices used in this project will not require the use of toxic materials of any kind, and need to be serviced no more often than once every two months to ensure the devices are kept at peak operating efficiency.
Many of the photos and subject matter posted here are related to our on-going pest management work (we perform pest management services appropriate to every organism on which we study and report). We collect forensic specimens and post photos of them, taken under the microscope, to help inform others about the pests we encounter and deal with. Each is examined from a variety of angles, showing the full body, plus magnified details of their anatomical characters, supplemented textually with relevant biological facts.
We cover the waterfront in terms of the broad panoply of pests that afflict, annoy, or frighten our clients and customers throughout Texas. Our present focus, on the Zika virus and the biology of its primary vector, two species of day-active mosquitoes in the genus Aedes, has in the recent past been concentrated on on forensic analysis and pest management of bed bugs, triatomine bugs, dermestid beetles, mites, lice, and other organisms that annoy, pose epidemiological risks, and cause skin lesions in humans. Our research on each of these continues, alongside our focus on Zika, Aedes mosquitoes, and a multitude of other on-going scientific pursuits.
Back in the early 1990’s, for example, we focused on becoming more proficient at identifying snakes and spiders to genus and species, while developing improved methods for eliminating them from places where they are not wanted. In the process we became committed, permanent arachnophiles and herpetophiles, and have worked hard ever since to help others overcome their phobias regarding these unusually beneficial and interesting animals.
In the mid-1990’s, in conjunction with research carried out to develop our line of patented termite interceptors, we expanded our study of entomopathogenic nematodes and their symbiotic bacteria.
In 2013 — spurred on by the outstanding research conducted by amateur arachnologist Robert Smith — we researched the biology of burrowing wolf spiders in Central Texas, and will soon publish an article on an as-yet unidentified species of burrowing wolf spider we and Mr. Smith are studying in Kempner, Texas.
After expanding our work on native subterranean termites, we have enlarged our research into Austin’s unpublicized but highly destructive scourge, the Formosan subterranean termite. That latter species (Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, 1909) has now established a fierce grip on much of Central Texas, and poses an unusually serious threat to the homes it infests. Forensic analysis of Formosan subterranean termite infestations is unusually crucial, because these termites are able to create and maintain cryptic, isolated nests that have no established links to other parts of the home. Poorly conducted treatments sometimes appear to resolve an infestation of these termites, only to have them erupt in other parts of a home months later. The damage they produce while undetected can be extensive.
Our forensic analysis of infestations of bed bugs, triatomid bugs, mites, lice, and dermestid beetles in Central Texas continues. Understanding the biology of each of these organisms occupies much of our time. Papers on most of these families of insects, famous for striking fear in the hearts of a growing number of Texans, were published in 2013 and were expanded in 2014.
Some of these papers cannot be published immediately, but continue in preparation for years, as a paper we’ve been readying for publication on bird mites and lice since 2013 illustrates. We treated a large medical facility in far north Austin for bird mites and lice in 2013, and have monitored the results of that treatment since. The treatment involved removing bird nests (some of which occupied 8-15 linear feet of the vent pipes into which they were packed) from 55 infested vents, disinfecting the vents, and fitting each vent with bird guards to prevent future nesting activity. Within days of the treatment all complaints of skin lesions from the mites and lice ceased, and the facility’s administration breathed easier knowing the fire hazards posed by having vent pipes packed with volatile bird nesting materials were now gone. The paper on that treatment, with added notes regarding similar treatments at other locations in and around Austin, has been delayed as we analyzed the complex issues that surround resolution of so extensive an infestation that took place over more than a decade before being discovered, but is now in preparation and should be published sometime in 2015.
Because the several species of triatomine bugs — members of the Triatominae subfamily (Hemiptera: Reduviidae) of true bugs — found in Texas, unlike the bedbug and its 73 closely related cousins (Hemiptera: Cimicidae), are often endemic occupants of the Texas landscape, their control is directly amenable to the application of habitat modification techniques around the dwellings they infest.
The hastisetae of larval lifeforms of dermestid beetles often produce skin lesions — in susceptible individuals — that mimic those produced by bed bugs. Treatments for bed bugs that do not eradicate dermestid beetles sometimes result in recurring call-backs that fail to produce relief.
For this reason, we’ve conducted microscopic studies of larval members of the dermestidae as a means of understanding how hastisetae exposure affects susceptible individuals. Our papers on these insects take pains to address the peculiar habitat modifications most appropriate to their effective control.
Having now collected large numbers of specimens of bed bugs from dwellings scattered all over central Texas, we’re now analyzing their discrete morphological characters, in minute detail, as a means of identifying them to genus and species.
Texans travel the globe; the bed bugs they encounter in their travels and bring home with them likely include several of the known 74 species found worldwide. How many? To answer that question we’ve invested thousands of dollars in new microscopes and related equipment. We hope to publish a paper on our findings in 2016.
In 2014 our focus expanded, not only to include more detailed analyses of dermestid beetles, but pestiferous rat and bird mites and lice as well. Some 30-40% of the calls we receive for bed bug infestations turn out, on inspection, to involve another organism altogether. Sometimes bed bugs are present, but often no bed bugs are observed while one or more other organisms capable of producing skin lesions are present. These include dermestid beetles (Coleoptera: Dermestidae), rodent and bird mites (Mesostigmata: Macronyssidae), and rodent, bird, and wild animal lice (in the order Phthiraptera, and the four suborders Anoplura, Rhyncophthirina, Ischnocera, and Amblycera).
Although the dermatological signs and symptoms are similar for all of these organisms, the treatment regimes appropriate to each is markedly different. Often, particularly in the case of mites, lice, and beetles emanating from wildlife nests proximate to the human habitations experiencing infestations, treating human living spaces won’t resolve the infestation, while locating, removing and disinfecting the wildlife nests themselves accomplishes a complete resolution. We are conducting on-going research to find and apply the best means and approaches to deal with these vexing affronts to human comfort, using the least toxic methods and materials available. Sometimes the only remedy needed is to conduct a thorough cleaning, vacuuming, and wiping down of affected surfaces.
As the foregoing illustrates, we strive to shed light on things that affect your peace of mind. With your help, we’ll continue to obtain and pass on answers to your questions on these subjects into the future.
The information provided here is regularly updated. It is intended to cover each topic in considerable background detail, not just a surface skim, yet devoid of the rampant speculation too often found in journalistic science today. Some of these topics affect your life in serious, earth-shattering ways. We strive to provide truthful details, as free of sensationalism and bias as possible, in a form that enables you to become better educated and better prepared. Authors of specific articles are encouraged to add personal insights, to round out the topical information and keep things grounded in the real world, so long as those insights are helpful and germane to the thrust of the report.
By ensuring that the background details in our articles are bolstered with contemporary accounts, supplied by viewers and contributors, the reader benefits by reading about the ways these topics impact them and their world. Whenever possible, despite a limited budget, we conduct field trips and interview laypeople and authorities alike, to document and verify the information our viewers send in. And, through it all, you — the ultimate beneficiary — receive free and unlimited access to all the information we provide.
We cannot do this work without your help. The most important contributions come from those who send us photographs and textual descriptions of the organisms they encounter in their everyday lives. We study those inputs, expand our knowledge, and post what we learn.
And, yes… we’ve learned a lot, thanks to you. But we have so much more to learn and do.
Bugsinthenews began with nothing but a dream, and with your help we’ve managed to scratch the surface on a lot of important subjects. During 2010 alone over 3,000 reports and inquiries came in from viewers with urgent questions concerning spiders, snakes, stinging caterpillars, and other organisms. In 2011 that number increased by more than 50%. A similar increase was expected in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and — as of the beginning of 2016 — that expectation has been met, if not exceeded.
Thanks for everything! We couldn’t have done anything in the past without you. Inasmuch as the past is prologue, let’s make this the best year ever.