A Question for my Fellow Entomologists

What ecological service do mosquitoes provide?  Yes, there is one species that is a predator of other mosquitoes but if mosquitoes didn’t exist, what pest populations would flourish?  Besides humans that is.  I ask this because after spending a couple of hours outside in my garden I am now covered in mosquito bites and am itching like mad!  Argh!!!  Yes, I should have smothered myself in DEET or Picardin or something but that’s beside the point.  All I wanted to do was get some plants in the ground and tend my veggies and now I look like I have the Plague!!!

So I ask you…Mosquitoes: Why should I care?


Wait…insecticides kill bees? Well color me flabbergasted!

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of posts regarding the loss of 25,000 bees in Oregon.  One site that was shared with me says the death toll has risen to 50,000 however I have not seen any other sources citing this.  It may well be true.  But this isn’t the problem many are making it out to bee (get it?  Bee?  Yeah, I know…stick with the science).   Here’s the scoop on what happened…

The Linden trees apparently had aphids and the company that owns/leases that parking lot (Target) called in a company to treat the aphids.  The company used a product called Safari a very common and quite effective insecticide.  The active ingredient is Dinotefuran which, if you’ve read some of my previous posts you know it is used in a lot of insecticide products include Vectra, a flea treatment for some pets (do NOT use Safari on your pets!!!!!!!).    If you read the label for Safari, this is what it says regarding bees:

“This product is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment or residues on blooming crops or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area.”

So what happened that caused these bees to be killed?  The company, not complying with label instructions applied this insecticide to blooming trees which were clearly being pollinated by the bumble bees.  The bees came in to obtain pollen from the trees, were exposed and then died.  These deaths have nothing to do with what is termed Colony Collapse Disorder.  How do I know?  Because these are bumble bees, not honey bees.  Apis mellifera (The European Honey Bee, which we use for our pollination services in this country) are what have been associated with CCD.

Bumble Bee (Bombus terrestris)
The European Honey Bee (sometimes called The Western Honey Bee). Apis mellifera

The Oregon Dept. of Agriculture as well as the manufacturer of Safari are presently determining what to do in regard to the company.  Whatever they decide we clearly have a problem here.  Not with insecticides, but with how these products are used and treated.  Did these people make a simple mistake and not know?  Well, as someone who had to apply herbicide for an organization before, I can tell you they were negligent in their duties as we were required to read ALL labels of the different herbicides we were going to use.  You also have to be state certified (study and pass a test) in order to apply most of these products, especially on a commercial level.

Were they fully aware of the potential damage that could be done and they just didn’t care?  I doubt malice was a factor…who goes out and says, “I’m gonna kill some bees today!?!”  No one.

No, the reality of the situation is probably much simpler yet in application, more complex.  It comes from a misunderstanding of pesticides and how they interact with the environment.  Where does that come from?  A lack of scientific literacy…as well as a need for the all mighty dollar.

Supposedly nets have been place to help prevent further bee deaths but this could easily have been avoided by following label instructions and selecting the appropriate treatment methods which can include non-synthetic chemical methods.  However, those methods are typically more expensive or just plain old more time intensive.  But sometimes taking that extra time is worth it.  And in this case, I would say adding an extra hour to the shift would have been preferable to a potential lawsuit.

***Note: After posting this I would like to add that it is possible that the company didn’t know the bees were pollinating the trees.  If they went out on a cool day when the bees weren’t flying it is possible they didn’t notice them.  Please keep that in mind.

When is a Mosquito not a Mosquito? When it’s a Robber Fly…or Anything Else Too…

A friend of mine alerted me to a news story that had the below image.  It was associated (though not located on) a story about “genetically modified” mosquitoes and how we crazy, genome-slingin’ scientists are going to destroy the planet with our lust for fame, money and power…or something.   Now, I’m not trying to make the majority of people feel bad about this for believing it initially.  Most people don’t have a clue about what “genetically modified” (what we call transgenic…Shih Tzu’s are genetically modified…we like to be accurate…but I digress) really means and just as few know much about insects.  That’s why I’m here!  To try to clear the air and help out.  Because if there’s one thing I live for… **insert concerned & loving expression**…it’s helping people.  🙂  So Bring It On!

600190_473399606081514_1907169112_n (2)
This “genetically modified” mosquito isn’t even a mosquito AT ALL!!! It’s a Robber Fly!

First off, the article I mention is right on one count and one count only; insects will be released by scientists which have had their genome manipulated (this can be done using radiation or molecular techniques) will be released into Florida.  This is NOT the first time this sort of thing has happened and in fact this exact same type of program has been done before and to great success!  What the scientists are doing (or rather did, because this was year or more ago) is part of what’s called the Sterile Release Method.

These sterile release programs are nothing new and have occurred many times. The first use of this technique successfully eradicated a major pest and health hazard the Primary Screwworm Fly. What happens is they release males that are sterile (hence the name). These males can still mate though but they won’t produce offspring with the female. Female things she’s gonna have eggs, doesn’t mate again, dies = no eggs. This has been demonstrated to be a very successful method of eradicating pests. What they are trying to do is prevent vector borne diseases (i.e. diseases transmitted by this particular mosquito species) from becoming prevalent in the US. Think about Malaria in Africa. Point two on this little thing…the mosquito we’re talking about isn’t even native. It is an invasive species and can transmit disease!

The image is that of a Robber Fly. Same order as the mosquito (Diptera = True Flies) but a completely different family (Mosquito = Culicidae; Robber Fly = Asilidae). Robber flies are predators of other insects and also sometimes pollinators.   Some are claiming is is a mosquito somewhat common in Florida called a Galliniper (Psorophora ciliata).  As I said earlier, it is a Robber Fly, though I am not certain of the actual species.  Come on, there are over 7000 species of robber flies that we know of.

Check out the below comparisons between a Gallinipper (Top) and a Robber Fly (Bottom).  First off, there are two big things that distinguish these guys, the legs and the neck.  The mosquito neck is quite constricted and you almost don’t see where the thorax and head join.  When you compare that to the robber fly you see almost a muscle builder neck by comparison!  Additionally, the heads of mosquitoes are much smaller in relation to their body than the robber flies.

Gallinipper (Psorophora ciliata) http://bugguide.net/node/view/85638
Typical Robber Fly (Family: Asilidae) http://bluejaybarrens.blogspot.com/2011_08_01_archive.html
What would you rather have, sterile mosquitoes that aren’t going to reproduce…or dengue fever?
 Please stop reading that website. It’s horrid.
For more information on the program here’s a decent CNN post.

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