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Bugs In The News 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 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.
RATS, MICE, SNAKES AND RAPTORS: EntomoBiotics, in a cooperative effort with our clients, is working hard to resolve the myriad ecological conditions that enable commensal rodents to thrive in urban environments. The objectives of that program are three-fold: limiting (1) the epidemiological risks posed by rats, mice and the microbial pathogens they carry, (2) the risks of envenomation from rattlesnakes and copperheads that prey on rodents, and (3) the secondary poisoning of raptors and other rodent predators that conventional rodent control programs often cause. Slowly but surely, one venue at a time, we are achieving some success in our efforts with all three objectives. That work is part of our Enhanced Ecosystem Monitoring, Management and Control (E2M2C™) program. An important element of the E2M2C™ program is a versatile control device whose use is governed by a strict methodology.
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, many of which are 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 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 efforts targeting the Zika virus and its mosquito vectors, and a multitude of other on-going scientific pursuits.
left: Mature female Bed Bug (Cimex lectularius). This bed bug was collected from a heavily infested bedroom; the dark spot in the bug’s belly is from its last blood meal. One treatment of this residence was sufficient to completely eradicate the bed bug infestation, which is the typical result of our bed bug treatment program.
In the early 1980’s, when the effectiveness of all pesticides against the German cockroach was at low ebb, we developed methods to eliminate them from nursing homes, hospitals, medical clinics and residential homes despite the lack of strong pesticidal remedies. To do that we combined all the adjunctive products available — including the then-newly-developed insect growth regulators — with specially constructed delivery equipment of our own design. It worked, and the dedication that made that happen still drives our work with cockroaches in medical facilities and restaurants. Cockroaches are amazing insects that, over time, develop resistance to every pesticide used against them. Knowing that, we monitor for evidence of resistance and constantly change the products we use and the way we apply those products.
In the early 1990’s 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 even more committed arachnophiles and herpetophiles. Snakes and spiders don’t usually go where they are not needed. Where snakes are needed there is usually an abundance of rodents that — in the main — pose more serious threats to human health than the snakes that prey on them; in such places we concentrate on rodent control and — as expected — once the rats and mice are under control snakes cease to be seen. Spiders are needed where there is an abundance of insect activity, mostly in our yards and meadows, where they work hard day and night to keep insects under control. The use of broad-band pesticides kill these spiders and always results in more insects. Knowing this, we use targeted pesticides that eliminate the spider’s prey without harming the spiders. This reduces both the spiders and the insects, and keeps everybody happy. We also gently help our clients overcome their phobias regarding these unusually beneficial and interesting animals.
In the mid-1990’s, in conjunction with research we carried out to develop our line of patented termite interceptors, we expanded our study of entomopathogenic nematodes and their symbiotic bacteria. That work was highly educational, and though it did not result in our use of nematodes for termite control on a wide scale, it proved that these organisms were capable of totally eliminating termite colonies using non-toxic methods. Unfortunately, because nematodes do not provide a residual effect (their populations quickly drop to zero once their prey has been eliminated), their utility for termite control is limited. We continue to use nematodes today, however, to control fleas in grounds and yards, because they eliminate fleas quickly, without the use of toxic pesticides that kill beneficial organisms.
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 continue to study an as-yet unidentified species of burrowing wolf spider we and Mr. Smith collected on the Smith’s ranch 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 later, and are constantly updated.
Some of the informative papers we have in process 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 that 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, was delayed as we analyzed the complex issues that surrounded the resolution of so extensive an infestation that took place over more than a decade before being discovered. That material — though not published as a stand-alone article — has now been integrated into the content of a number of related articles published here.
The several species of kissing, or triatomine bugs — members of the Triatominae subfamily (Hemiptera: Reduviidae) of true bugs — found in Texas, are unlike the bedbug and its 73 closely related cousins (Hemiptera: Cimicidae), in that bedbugs are an introduced insect, while triatomines are often endemic occupants of the Texas landscape. Also unlike bedbugs, Triatomine bugs spread a serious, often debilitating disease (Chagas disease, caused by the protist Trypanosoma cruzi).
We developed methods to control triatomines by, first, treating the dwelling for them with pesticides that target them specifically, then eliminating the rodents that bring and sustain them in the homes they infest. Once both of those approaches are taken, the triatomines disappear and, as long as their rodent hosts are kept under control at that site, the triatomine bugs cease to be a problem as well.
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 research on these insects takes 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. That’s important, because different species of bed bugs have different habits, and that makes controlling them more complicated.
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 digital microscopes and related equipment. The findings from our analyses of the specimens we’ve collected all over Texas have made us more proficient at bed bug eradication.
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 as the ubiquitous but generally harmless dermestid beetle. 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. Locating, removing and disinfecting the wildlife nests themselves, however, often 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 — actually, quite often — the only remedy that is needed is to conduct a thorough cleaning, vacuuming, and wiping down of affected surfaces. When we encounter a situation of that kind, where sanitation is the proximal cause of what is perceived to be a pest infestation, we encourage our clients to perform the needed sanitary remediation work rather than have us apply pesticides.
As the foregoing illustrates, we strive to shed light on things that affect not only your body, but also 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, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and — as of the beginning of 2021 — 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.