Hello Everyone!!!

Well hello there. It has been QUITE a long time since I’ve graced these bloggy filled pages.  For the record (in case you can’t read the little auto-date stamp thing) it is the evening of Tuesday, the 24th of January, 2017.  It’s been quite a day for science.  If you’re reading this in our Hunger Games-like future world, then this may seem quaint by comparison, but we science-types were rather taken aback by a series of announcements by the new president.  Right now, there are scientists all across this country, terrified that they are going to lose funding for their research, they will have to lay off staff, and that their research will be silenced.  That’s right.  Taxpayer funded research will be kept from taxpayers.

Earlier in the day I saw a report that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had received a gag order on all research, similar to the one the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Parks Service (NPS) had been given.  That now doesn’t seem to be the case as far as the USDA is concerned.  But this news is still troubling.  It may very well come to fruition.  Agriculture is an essential component of our society and is the primary revenue source in many states, including my own.  As an entomologist, I know the absolute necessity of further investigations into arthropods.  Whether it’s Zika, Lyme, Malaria, stored product pests, or the famous Monarch butterfly, this research is essential for the survival of our species.  And our planet.

This post may not be very cohesive, as I am quite frustrated at the moment and a bit out of practice.  I had hoped to be wrong about the next four years.  I seriously did.  I still want to be wrong.  I want to see our economy improve.  I want to see our planet safe and still able to support human life in fifty years.  These things will not happen if science is denied and scientists silenced.

In response to these (and other) developments, a number of scientists on Reddit came up with an idea.  That idea became a plan.  And soon, that plan will become action.  When Scientists March on Washington we will make our voices heard.  Join the cause.  Science is for everyone.  Science is the future.  Wiping off every mention of climate change will not make the reality of it go away.

Can’t make it?  Want to do more?  GREAT!!!  Call your local representatives in your state legislatures.  Then call the ones in DC.  Be polite.  Tell them your position.  Do not be upset if you talk to a staffer.  They WILL deliver your message.  Make your voice heard.  Use those first amendment rights.

Be loud.  Be strong.  And be heard.

 

 

**Here’s a cat…because the internet demands it.**

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Herr Wolfgang McYubNub

Deep Thoughts: By Bugwitch

There’s been a lot of talk tonight about the “debate” between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.  Some attempt to be the placating middle man by saying both raised valid points and we should all just learn to get along.  Sorry, but the stated topic of the debate, “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” has a very simple answer; at least in regard to how Ham views creationism.  Nye was very good about qualifying his statements by saying “Ken’s creation model” or similar because he knows that Ham doesn’t represent all creationists.  If you are one of those who thinks similarly to Ham, that humans and dinosaurs coexisted and the planet is only around 10,000 years old with all modern live springing from the 7000 “kinds” which were on the ark 4000 years ago then NO, your model does not fit with a modern scientific era.

Not all creationists believe the same as Ham.  There are even a select few out there who would accept evolution in the same manner as modern scientists only with the added notion that God gave it a push in the beginning and then everything took off from there.  I say select few because this is not the same thing as Intelligent Design.  ID lies somewhere closer to Ham’s notion, only with a little more leeway for actual science.  The acceptance of evolution and natural selection does not preclude one from believing in a deity.  It should preclude you from a fundamentalist interpretation of whatever belief system you have.  “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” are some pretty famous words spoken by a devout Catholic scientist.

I have absolutely NO problem with theology being taught in schools, public or private.  However they should be taught in the context of a theology class, not a science class.  Theology is a very fascinating field and happens to be one of my favorites.  But it does not belong in a science classroom.  Period.

Some parting thoughts regarding those who think like Ham I’ll put it simply for you: To believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old is to deny every branch of science. You must deny and reject all of the scientific understandings and advancements based on clear and objective observation, experimentation, and analysis. Therefore you can no longer accept the treatment recommendations made by your doctor; nor undergo surgery for any medical condition. All of these things are based on reasoning which you find invalid.

 

 

Perils of Air Travel…or, How I got to be put on one of those Do Not Fly lists

As I write this I am (somehow) on the plane flying home.  The Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America was great as always, with many amazing presentations and the spread of arthropophilia (if that’s not a word it should be so Bam!…it is) to young and old.  But that’s not what this little post will be about.  This little post is about my current frustration and experience at a display of arthrophobia and how its pervasiveness almost led to me being kicked off this flight.

At the meeting, as happens every year the company BioQuip was there selling their normal wares including beautifully pined, and live specimens.  On opening night I found myself crowding around with the other fascinated folk, ogling the tarantulas, scorpions and millipedes.  Like many of the attendees, I’m arachnophobic.  Believe it or not, that extra pair of legs can make all the difference in the world.  To be honest, it’s probably more honest to say I am an aranaeaphobe as I don’t mind scorpions, whip scorpions, and such, just the spiders.  So while I was there and feeling the fervor of it all I decided to buy a tarantula.  Not just any tarantula, I purchased a little pink toe.  I also decided to snag a vinegaroon (whip scorpion) whom I promptly named Balsamic.  After chatting with the salesman about transportation considerations I felt confident that getting them home would be no problem and thus began my exciting (but short) tenure as a spider owner.

This is what my very young specimen would have grown to be. Full grown it would be about palm-of-your-hand size

Vinegaroon. Again, mine was small, about a 1.5 inch long body.

I was told that I could technically carry it on or check it but it would probably be better to check it.  The banging around shouldn’t be a problem for them as they were mailed to the conference to begin with and that had to be a heck of a bouncy ride, right?  Still, I was nervous about that and when I returned to my hotel sent an email to TSA asking about traveling through with the tarantula and vinegaroon**.  Their form-letter reply told me that it wouldn’t be a problem, I just had to declare it to the TSA when I got there and comply with requests by the TSO’s (Transportation Security Officers, just fyi) about carrying them and such.  Great!  Right!?!  Well, I wouldn’t be writing this if it had all been that simple.  As it turns out, the Airline gets to trump the TSA on some counts and Southwest refused to let me fly with them…carry-on or checked.

Because I tried to be a good little scientist I asked the Southwest check-in-lady what she recommended, checking or carrying.  After conferring with her boss she said that (or at least my interpretation of what she said) was that they couldn’t check it and TSA wouldn’t let it through.  Well, I had an email from TSA saying the contrary so I figured I would just go on through.  Silly me…..

Once I made it through with no problem I was called over to a Southwest counter and told that “since you went through after being told not to” that I was not going to be flying at all today.  I also had to find some other way to handle the specimens as they were not going to be going on the plane.  I could be booked for the following day but, no spider and no vinegaroon.  A colleague flying on American offered to carry them for me if they would allow it.  American would not.  What about FedEx?  They had a location somewhere in the Austin airport, perhaps I could mail them overnight.  While on the phone with them to set up an account (an insane series of steps that requires you to essentially have your credit report memorized) they told me they would not transport live [sic]  “insects”.  Really?  “We’ve shipped live maggots for forensic analysis through FedEx.  It’s the official service we use per protocol.  You’re not going to ship these?”  – “No.  We cannot ship live animals like that.”  (Post-flight lesson: FedEx will do it for research/institutions only.  UPS ships them no prob).

By this point I think the Southwest boss-type people were feeling bad for me or just frustrated and wanted to get rid of me (leaning more towards the latter on that one) and had relented, saying I could travel today if I figured out what to do with them.  However, at the same time the only things I could think to do with them, whether I traveled today or tomorrow, was to throw them away and to be honest, the thought of that started me tearing up a bit.  What can I say, I can get a bit emotional when it comes to the image of an animal – creepy-crawly or not – being squished by a trash compactor.

So how did I come to be sitting here on a bouncy airplane?  The manager of the Southwest boss-lady said he would take them…and now he has a pet Pink Toe tarantula with no name (Spider-that-shall-not-be-named?) and a Balsamic Vinegaroon.  And I’m spiderless and balsamicless.  A number of lessons have potential to be learned this day, let’s run through those, shall we class:

The responsible thing would have been to contact airline directly when I did the TSA and gotten their point of view.  If I had done this, I wouldn’t have been in this predicament at all and could have found another method of travel for them.

Or

I could have done what the rest of the people probably did; Not say a damn thing and just check them. (this idea was confirmed when a fellow ESA traveler told me and the Southwest-Boss people that a number of his students did the same thing and that he was expecting a FedEx shipment of caterpillars that next day when he got back to his office.)

I’m sure there are other lessons but that’s all I got right now.  Basically I’m out seventy bucks, am spiderless and balsamicless and I’m probably on some Do-Not-Fly list now.  Great.

And here is why I write this…it’s not just to bitch, which I am gladly doing even though I know full well this whole thing could have been averted by taking a simple ten extra steps.  No, why I write this post is the following: There was absolutely NO reason that a fully contained tarantula could not go on a plane.  Southwest will only accept cats and dogs on the planes.  I imagine American is similar.  The tarantula and vinegaroon were securely stored in sealed containers inside my sealed bag.  The odds of them escaping from those containers, crawling through the mass of clothing and out through the hard case are quite small.  I might win the lotto first.  However, the dog behind me in a flimsy cage on my flight down to Austin easily could have if not properly trained/handled.  A dog or cat that is in a heightened state of anxiety (and let’s face it, we’re all in a heightened state of anxiety when we fly, aren’t we?) is far more dangerous than that spider ever could have been.  Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE dogs and cats.  Seriously…I am irrationally in love with cats.  I am THAT person.

The irrational perception of arthropods (be it a spider, whip scorpion, butterfly, or crab) that our society has makes it difficult to have logical conversation and interactions with many people about topics ranging from pest control to gardening and agriculture, to keeping a bloody pet.  I used to be one of those terrified of anything-and-everything spider kind of people, but with experience and education I have learned so much about these creatures that my fear has diminished. – Diminished…not gone –

One of the Southwest boss-ladies asked what I did/planned to do with them: “Besides being “pets” I use them for educational programs, teaching adults and kids about these creatures, helping them understand science and our world.”  I probably didn’t state it that eloquently, but I did my best to get that point across.  The irrational fear of these creatures leads to poor understanding about many aspects of our natural world.   Arthropods are EVERYWHERE!  They are involved in every aspect of our lives, we just don’t think about it.  Be it the mites that keep us clean, the wasps that control cockroaches or garden pests, to the wasps in your Fig Newtons (best part of the Newton if you ask me).  They are everywhere.

I have always liked Southwest and have racked up a decent number of miles with them.  I understand that when it comes down to it I was clearly in the wrong today.  They were just doing their jobs and I do appreciate them letting me on the plane.  What I’m pretty sure I won’t appreciate will be the frequent pat downs that I am undoubtedly going to be receiving every time I travel in the future.

And, for the record, the TSO’s were great and did their jobs well.  Don’t harp on them.  For the other record, I call them Boss-ladies because I have absolutely no idea what their official title was.  I’m sure she told me but I was too frustrated and anxious that I didn’t retain that information.

I hope that guy takes good care of my critters.

**These specimens are cleared as pets and therefore are not subject to in-country regulation the way we control for unknown and known pests.  There is a big difference between bringing a tarantula (which can be purchased at most pet stores) and bringing an unknown caterpillar.

Pesticides & Pot

Smoke it up kids!

 

 

Yup, last year my home state legalized the use, sale, growing and distribution of marijuana.  Not just for medical purposes either.  Since then the state government has been working to figure out the best regulations to have in place and standards to keep the product safely managed.  This is going to be quite a money maker for Washington…I hope Colorado finally gets their butts moving.

Recently the WA Department of Agriculture released a list of 200 pesticides that can be used on marijuana plants.  The thing is, since this plant has been illegal for the last thirty-fourty years there are not EPA standards regarding the use of pesticides on this plant.  I’ve tried a few quick searches online to get a hold of this list but so far I haven’t found it.  I could just not be looking hard enough.  According to KUOW, a local NPR/PRI station in western Washington, this list has earned “praise” for its comprehensiveness.  I’m looking forward to seeing this list.

Aside from possible mold problems or attacks from overeager cats, there are some legitimate concerns in regard to pests of this plant.  According to RollitUp.org pests include: Mealybugs, Aphids, Spider Mites, Whiteflies, Thrips, Beetles, Caterpillars and a few others.  Basically, your pest concerns are going to be consistent with most other plants grown in similar conditions.  Growing in a greenhouse type environment?  Be ready for mealybuggs, whiteflies, thrips and especially spider mites.  Be ready for spider mites wherever you are.  Those suckers are just, well, suckers.  Some good recommendations are to encourage natural enemies (lacewings and lady beetles) to feed on your pests.  Lacewings are especially good at this.  Some of the other recommendations are maybe not so useful.  Grinding up your pests and then spraying them on the plants to serve as a sort of warning to other pests?  Why not just pee on the plant and call it good?  And the bleach-water solution just sounds like a bad idea.  But hey, feel free to smoke that bleachy-leaf bro.*

When I see the list I’ll update you on what I think.  I am particularly interested in what they will recommend for organic treatment methods.  And, keep in mind none of these are official recommendations.  It’s just a list of 200+ things you can use.  I know many who are on the everything-has-to-be-organic-raised-by-virgin-monks kick who would happily smoke a bowl.  I wonder if they will be just as picky with their pot as they are with their tomato choices?  There will very likely be organic and low-impact methods of dealing with pests and if you have low pest levels it probably won’t be that much of an issue anyway.  IPM (Integrated Pest Management) tactics are best.  Cultural and other control and treatment methods combined are the best paths to any treating any pest problem.

Just to be smart, ALL of you, if you’re using any pesticide be sure you read the labels FIRST!  If it says it’s good for grubs but you have aphids, don’t use the bloody stuff.  And, as always, if your plant is outdoors and flowering, be aware that it is likely attracting pollinators.  Bees, butterflies and other pollinators are insects and as such, can be susceptible to insecticides.

 

*Sarcasm does not act as an actual endorsement for smoking bleach drenched plants of any kind. Do not sue me…my cats need to eat.

Bee Decline, Politics, and Passion

I’ve been writing a lot about bees lately.  They’re quite topical, bee-ing in the news a lot; with the EU banning the sale/distribution of certain neonicitinoid products they’re pretty big news in many parts of the globe.  Heck, bees ARE important, not to mention hella adorable.  But how should we go about protecting our bee populations?  What is causing the ‘ailment’ Colony Collapse Disorder?  The answer is we don’t really know just yet.  There are a lot of ideas and much evidence to supports that it is far more than one item but most likely a combination of multiple factors.  A recent study reinforce this perspective.

What is causing CCD?  First off, this is not a new phenomena.  We have examples of brood die offs which match what we now call CCD from almost a hundred years ago.  Prior to being called Colony Collapse Disorder it was called Fall Dwindle Disease as well as a myriad of other things.  Different regions had a different name for it and it wasn’t until 2006 that it was solidified as CCD.  Neonics have been around for a while and are getting a bad rap for killing bees.  Well, you know what?  They do kill bees.  These products are insecticides and, though not all insecticides are harmful to bees, these can be.  So is banning their use completely a good idea?  Not at the present time.  Our economy is agriculturally dependent.  We want our oranges in December and soybeans need to go in everything.  That’s just how it is at the moment.  And if you want those and other items you’re going to need both the bees to pollinate them and the insecticides to keep the pests away.    Transgenic crops have done much to help cut back on the amount of insecticides needed for these agricultural crops but some are still needed and other methods, such as coating the seeds so the spray is not needed have helped too.  BUT, even that coating can be a potential hazard as a recent investigation suggests.

Other factors that we need to keep in mind is just what is it we are feeding to the bees?  I’m not talking about these studies that load up sugar water with unlikely-to-come-into-contact-with levels of pesticides and then report that the bees had (amazingly!) suffered as a result.  No, what I’m talking about is how we use our bees, how we manage them, and what it is we’re actually making them pollinate.  There is A LOT more to the story than just pesticides.  I received a reply to a previous post from a person who stated that ALL pesticides were responsible for bee deaths and that pretty soon bumble bees and honey bees would all be gone unless we stop using the pesticides.  She cited blogs as sources (not a problem, feel free to cite me…some blogs have good information, I just spout off ramblings about stuff but some have good info) and after reviewing those blogs I noted a common theme.  No. Supporting. Objective. Evidence.  Everything was purely that visceral, I’m gonna yell and scream about this because it makes me sad and I want to do something about it – blog.  Trust me, I know what that feeling is like.  But, I do my best to provide evidence and make that evidence relate-able and understandable.

Pesticides are not great for insects.  Duh.  That’s part of the point.  And when used inappropriately or with little objective research to back up the products, we can have problems.  Back to the person commenting on my Bee post, this idea about pesticides are all bad is not unique and is growing in popularity.  In this instance, ignorance and/or laziness was to blame…in my opinion.  But, after researching it a little more I learned a new tidbit of information…those trees the bumble bees were feeding on?  Toxic in high quantities.  Yup.  There is supporting evidence that when exposed to the nectar of those trees in high doses it can be harmful to bees.  Is that was caused this problem?  I’m gonna say No.  Again, see previous post about the stupid.  But this isn’t the only example of possible complications due to poor management tactics.  The vast majority of honey bees (60%!!!) in this country are used to pollinate almonds.  Forcing pollinators to feed only within a monocrop you are severely harming their health.  The actual value of almond pollen and nectar isn’t even that great.  (For an interesting read of pollen nutrient values check this article out). Almonds are even potentially toxic as well.  So, when we have these bees going out, pollinating only one select crop, which is of low nutrient quality and potentially toxic in high amounts, and then we see die back, why do we automatically scream “PESTICIDES!!!  IT’S THE PESTICIDES!”?

What is likely going on, (and again, more and more evidence supports) is the bee decline is a result of multiple factors.  We stick the bees with one crop and one crop only to pollinate.  And if that crop happens to be of poor nutrient value, oh well; with no, or little, sugar supplementation.  Additionally, these bees are trucked across the country where they can encounter other bees which may have been exposed to a number of viruses and pathogens.  Particularly the varroa mite.  Varroa Mites are bad.  And I mean B.A.D.  If you get the mites in your hive, you have to treat with an acaricide to get rid of them.  And when the bees are being exposed to the mites, nosema, poor food quality, limited resource diversity, viruses, and pesticides, yeah, the bees are going to suffer.  There are far too many confounding factors to say that only one thing is the cause.  We can’t even really say that TWO things are the cause.  Think of it as if the bees have HIV.  There’s this thing living in the bee hive.  It’s slowly weakening them.  Sometimes they’ll get some amazing food or have some years without disease and mites.  Then they prosper.  But after years of fighting this off, they get exposed to something, be it a poor food year, pesticides, mites, etc, and it’s all down hill from there.

If you take one thing away from this post I hope it’s this…take a breath, chill for a bit, and then try and approach management and pesticide programs with the understanding that there is more to it than just disease, or just pests, or just pesticides.  Pesticides can be harmful.  Improperly researched and used pesticides can be very bad for a species or even ecosystem.  I have a lot to say about my frustration regarding pesticide research being done by companies and not universities or other (relatively) unbiased sources, but this post is already too long.  Take your time, do some research, and the next time someone on Facebook starts screaming about banning everything because it’s all going to kill us!!!!AAAAAhhhhhh!!!!!  Do your own version of a Snopes check and look into the validity of their statement and educate yourself and others.  Then, use that information to make educated and pro-active advocacy decisions.  I like bees and don’t want to lose them.  Let’s work together, smartly to make sure that we keep those cute, fuzzy, ladies.

Bees, Politics, and Nothing Gets Done But Stupid

Remember that post from a few weeks ago?  No?  That’s okay, I forgive you.  Basically a pest control operator didn’t follow label recommendations and sprayed an insecticide on some flowering trees in a Target parking lot.  The label specifically states to not use it when bees may be present (i.e. when the bloody plant is flowering) because it might kill bees.  What happened?  Bees died.   A bunch of them.  Depending upon where you look this can be 25,000 or 50,000.  This number will depend upon the slant of the article/blog post that you’re reading.

So what do you think should happen? When we last spoke about this issue, there had not been a decision made.  The company, state and company were trying to figure out what was going to happen.  Would they sanction the company for not following the law?  Would the company have to pay a fine?  Would nothing at all happen and everyone could just ride off into the sunset and eat cookies?  Well, apparently none of the above have happened yet.  But what HAS happened is the ODA (Oregon Department of Agriculture) has placed a 180 moratorium on products containing dinotefuran (the active ingredient in the Safari product the company used) in the state.  This appears to be only applicable to agricultural, turf, and ornamental products, not other products such as flea and tick treatments (which I’ve talked about before).

What does this mean?  Well, the ban has been placed while the state assesses what to do.  It seems silly but I can kind of understand it in a superficial, gotta keep politics-politics and keep the screaming masses happy sort of way.  I’ve seen House of Cards, I know what’s up in the legislatures.  But what does this mean for the bees?  Probably not a whole lot really.  Politicians will squabble.  Activist groups who are split between those who understand science and those functioning on pure visceral reactions will bicker with said politicians and eventually nothing of consequence will be done.  The question here isn’t so much “How do we keep the bees safe?” but rather “How do we make sure people are using these products APPROPRIATELY, SAFELY, and LEGALLY?”  Come on people!  If you’re going to spray something at least read the bloody label first.

Totally legit Bumble Bee

Happy Darwin Day Everyone!!!

12 February, 2013 is the 204th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin the British naturalist who helped revolutionize the way we understand biology today.  There is no question that evolution by means of natural selection has, is and will continue to occur.  Those who deny truth need to visit any number of scientific sources which can easily explain evolution and natural selection (they are two different concepts).  If you’re one of those who simply refuses to accept evolution as a natural phenomena, regardless of the overwhelming evidence in support of it, then I politely invite you to no longer educate the youth of this nation and/or leave congress.

Hear Representative Rush Holt (New Jersey) speaking today before US Congress in an effort gain recognition for this day.  I for one, support this effort wholeheartedly.

“Transcript: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the birth of Charles Darwin.

Only rarely in human history has someone shown a fundamentally new way of thinking about the world, an insight so revolutionary that it has made possible further creative and explanatory thinking.

In my previous field of physics, we have Galileo and Newton and Einstein. In biology, at the top of any list would be Charles Darwin.

Without his insights – without his recognition that natural selection enables ever-increasing complexity and functionality and enables the development of ever-more wonderful forms of life – our modern understandings of biology, ecology, genetics, and medicine would be impossible, and our comprehension of the world around us would be vastly poorer.

I’ve introduced a resolution to honor February 12th as a ceremonial Darwin Day to recognize the importance of scientific thinking in our lives and to honor one of humankind’s greatest thinkers.”