Problem with Bugs on your Tomatoes?

Looking over the search history on my blog it seems you have some questions!  One that I encountered was from someone worried about their tomatoes.  I love tomatoes so I am more than happy to assist.

The Question: “bugwitch, found these little black beetle-like bugs on my tomatoes. are they harmful to my tomatoes?”

Without a picture I can’t confirm, but my best guess based on my experience with my own tomatoes is you’re seeing Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs (BMSB) (Halyomorpha halys: Pentatomidae: Hemiptera) on them.  Though they are brown as adults (hence their name) the nymphs can be black to blackish-brown with other accent colors.  It really varies depending upon their nymphal stage (instar).  BMSB’s are a pest of increasing concern.  They have been found feeding on numerous types of fruits and vegetable crops such as apples, apricots, corn, grapes, nectarines and peaches, soybeans, and of course tomatoes, among others.  As agriculture is a hugely important element of our health of our economy as well as our citizens, keeping these critters under control is becoming a huge deal.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug 4th Instar nymph Rutgers University

BMSB 1rst instar nymphs and eggs Recently emerged. UC Davis

Thankfully, the damage caused by their feeding doesn’t kill the plant or make the fruit unusable; but it does make it less visually appealing.  Pitting and scarring of the surface caused by their piercing/sucking mouthparts makes for a less attractive fruit.  Because most consumers want a pristine items from the store, these affected items are not usable for direct sale.  If it is a crop that can be turned into a secondary product this allows the farmer to recover some of their investment.  But, this means a decrease in expected annual income.  This isn’t a big deal for your small home garden, but when you have 40 acres of apples and can only recover half of your usual income due to pitted fruit, you’re not going to be a happy farmer.

BMSB’s on tomato

BMSB external damage to tomato.

BMSB damage to apple Mouthparts pierce through apple surface and damage tissues below making fruit unsellable.

These critters are also well known pests of homes.  With the changing season you’ll be sure to see them entering your home to find a nice space to hunker down for the winter.  Here in Ohio they will be coming inside within the next month or so (October-November).  However, you probably won’t see them in large numbers indoors until early Spring.  Some stragglers will likely come out in mid-Winter as you heat/cool your home.

There are currently no really effective chemical methods for control.  I meet people who are terrified to squish these critters. Why?  “They’re STINK bugs!  They’ll make everything smell horrible!”

No.  Yes, they do have a “stink” gland but the chemical produced isn’t necessarily horribly smelling to us, but it is irritating to potential predators.  The excreted chemical is quite similar to that which is produced in cilantro!  To some, this may smell bad; to others, it’s just ‘eh.’

Summary:

Probably BMSB’s

Not great for your tomatoes, will put little spots on it from their feeding, but you can eat them just fine.

Treatment?  Not many options. Squish. There are also a number of researchers working on them.  Maybe collect some and bring them to them.  If you’re worried about them getting into your home, be sure to seal up every crack and crevice you can.  Windows, screens, foundation, door jams, etc.

EPA Website

Ohio State Fact Sheet (Downloads)

Jack the Ripper Solved? Nope.

The other day I spent some of my morning playing around on the Book of Face when it seemed everyone was going bonkers.  Not only had the OSU Buckeyes lost but apparently someone figured out who Jack the Ripper was.  And they used SCIENCE to figure it out!  Wow!  Needless to say I was very excited. As a history nut and a science junkie I couldn’t wait to see how they did it.  And then I read the news about it and became sad.

“With the Vigilance Committee in the East End: A Suspicious Character” from The Illustrated London News, 13 October 1888 Wikipedia

I would like to start out stating that I am NOT a Ripperologist.  I didn’t even know that was a word until learning about it watching the show Whitechapel.  Why am I stating this right off the bat?  Because it seems part of the marketing campaign for this book has included an automatic jab at anyone who will dissent in its findings.  Claiming that Ripperologists will not accept the conclusions because they have a financial stake in the matter.  I’d wager that they are actually seeing a nice influx of income at the moment thanks to this book.  Regardless of their perspective on its conclusions.

The basics are this: DNA was found on a scarf which had belonged to Miss Eddowes, the 4th apparent victim of Jack the Ripper.  According to the news reports and this video, her DNA from blood and organ fluids was found as well as his DNA.  **I may have missed it but it seems to be implied that his DNA was recovered from semen stains?**  These were traced to modern descendents and relatives of the individuals to confirm not only the identity of Eddowes but also of a man named Aaron Kosminski.  Mr. Kosminski had been considered a suspect at the time but was not held or tried.  Many people were considered suspects at the time.  The presence of his DNA is touted as “proof” that he killed this woman, and therefore is Jack the Ripper.  I have a few thoughts about this…

Miss Eddowes, the 4th victim of Jack the Ripper http://www.casebook.org/victims/eddowes.html

They used Mitochondrial DNA for their work and this is great for molecular analysis.  It doesn’t change much over time (i.e. little genetic variation) which is why it’s been so useful for looking into our ancestral roots.  That’s great!  You can look at the mtDNA and figure out who is related to who.  .

But here’s where I would like to address a few concerns.  Let’s break down a few of my problems with what I’ve read about the matter thus far:

DNA degrades over time.  The DNA that would have been available for analysis was likely in poor shape.  Yes, there are methods of analyses which allow for testing of older and degraded samples, but it can increase the amount of error observed.  DNA from far older sources has been used to great effect in other fields such as archaeology, but this is always a point that never seems to be brought up.

It’s a big assumption that the presence of his alleged DNA on the scarf is only indicative that he came into contact with the scarf.  How do we know it occurred during the time of the killing?  Did they know each other?  Those who are more familiar with Ripper lore than I may know some answers to these questions.

Chain of custody issues aside, it’s difficult to make a solid determination and certainly not possible to “prove” that Aaron Kosminski murdered this woman.  We certainly cannot conclude that, even if he did murder Miss Eddowes, that he also murdered the other women as well.

Mr. Kosminski may have been admitted to a “string of lunatic asylums” but this is hardly evidence against him.  Admitting criteria were far different back then.  Someone with a trisomy disorder (Down Syndrome, etc) would have been held.

Granted, I have not read the actual book as it has yet to be released and many of my doubts and concerns may very well be addressed within its pages.  However, I do proceed with a large amount of skepticism.

Don’t get me wrong.  I find this fascinating and I look forward to checking the book out from the library when it is released.  This sort of thing really excites me and I just absolutely love it.  But, as I’ve learned over the years, by bringing science to the pop culture realm, we lose sight of some of the basic scientific principles we operate by.

 

Adventures in OKCupid

I’ve seen many things come in through my message box on OKC.  It’s been quite a ride, featuring the sweet, sour, and down right WTF moments.  I’ve always kept this blog rather focused on my love of bugs but I thought I might open it up to a bit more about myself.  No one is reading this anyway, so what does it matter.

Upon waking this morning, I noticed an email alert on my phone.  I had a new OKCupid message.  The pic looked good but, as I was still a little groggy, it took me a short time to be able to see the words clearly. : “You seriously think a size 18 is “average” body type? Are you off you’re fucking meds?”

As someone who has been overweight for significant portion of her life these sorts of comments are not rare.  For the most part, I have become quite accustomed to them and typically let them wash over me.  Besides, I have better things to do with my life than stress about the idiots of the world.  I have grad school to deal with…which brings with it a whole new set of idiots to stress over.

But I did decide to reply.  After all, this kindly fellow took the time out of his busy evening to write me, the least I could do was take time out of mine and reply.  That, and I just figured who gives a shit?

My reply:

“1) I’m not quite sure where my profile states I am a size 18. If it does, that would be from over 6 years ago when I first created it.

2) You would be correct that an 18 is not “average”, though I doubt for the same reasons that you decided to message me. Statistically speaking the average modern woman is approximately 5’4″, weighs around 145 lbs and is a size 12-14. If this is the average of which we are discussing, then I would be average, to slightly below (dress size) or above (height). Depending upon which metric we are using.

3) A brief glimpse of your profile shows me that you are rather slender and could be considered underweight, again, depending upon the metric we’re using. As someone who has run in/trained for marathons and a triathlon, I can tell you “average” and “fit” are quite variable terms. But I do know that ass hole is a term I’d apply to you. I’m certainly glad you took the time out of your oh so busy night to tell a random person on the internet she is fat. I hope you feel like a better human being. Good “Christian” values you have there.

Best Wishes
BIK “

The Black Death: Do Fleas Really Deserve All the Blame?

The Black Death was one of the most devastating events in history.   Originating from central Asia, it is believed to have traveled along the Silk Road until it reached the Crimea around the mid-1340’s.  From there it spread to become a pandemic in the truest sense of the word.  The Black Death was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 30-60% of the European population, and as many as 100 million deaths worldwide.   You all probably know this much already.  You also probably know that this was vectored via the Oriental rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) living on black rats that made their way on merchant ships in the Mediterranean initially and then ventured north.  The Oriental rat flea is a nasty bugger, vectoring not just the plague (Yersinia pestis) but also Rickettsia typhi, and tapeworms.  But what if we can scratch one of those off that list?

Oriental Rat Flea

Skeletons unearthed a year ago during a work on a new rail line in London are shedding new light on some of our well established ideas regarding our not-too-distant past.  The bones were believed to be from a cemetery of plague victims.  Molars were removed from the skeletons and DNA then extracted from the teeth.  The plague bacterium was found in several of the teeth, indicating these individuals were exposed to and most likely died from the Black Death.  These results are not unexpected, of course so researchers continued to “dig”.  Archaeologists, geologists, historians, physicists, and microbiologists worked to better understand the circumstances surrounding these individuals lives and deaths.

They were generally poor people showing clear signs of malnutrition, and a history of hard labor.  One may have even been a vegetarian later in their life, possibly indicating a shift to monastic life at some point.  Not completely surprising considering the land was at one time part of a monastery.  These plague victims didn’t come from the same time period either.  With radiocarbon dating indicated the graveyard was used multiple times between the earliest outbreaks (1348-1350) and later ones in 1361 and the early 15th century.  Archaeologists are planning on more digs as they estimate the total number of bodies may number anywhere in the “low thousands”.

Black death researchers extracted plague DNA from 14th century skulls found in east London. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

But that’s not the whole story, not by a long shot.  I may be an history buff but I’m also a buggy person right?  So why would I be blogging about this if there were not some new interesting entomological tidbits to be shared?  Because I’m bored, yeah….fascinated with dead things, yeah…but there is buggy stuff to share!  Traditionally the belief has been that the Black Death was spread via the Oriental rat flea, as stated earlier.  But evidence derived from those teeth suggest that this may not be the case; or at least not always the case.

When researchers compared the genome from the molar-derived bacterium with that of more recent plague victims they found the genome largely unchanged.  The recent outbreaks of the plague such as in Madagascar last year saw the majority of deaths from a pneumonic or pulmonary plague.  This new information suggests that the transmission of the plague was likely not just via the rat flea but also likely the pneumonic strain.  This is a more virulent strain of the bubonic plague.  Exposure to the plague from the rat-borne fleas is treated with antibiotics and has a higher survival rate than its cousin.  The pneumonic form, acquired via inhalation and human-human contact, is very highly fatal with death typically resulting within 24 hours of exposure if not treated.  The 60 deaths attributed to the pneumonic plague (84 deaths in total) were believed to be spread in part because of increasing political turmoil in the area resulting in poor hygiene and a decline in living conditions.

This mirrors much of what is believed to have happened during the Black Death.  Political and social instability, significant decreases in living conditions and healthcare availability created a perfect storm of underlying problems.  Perhaps the rat flea gets a bit of a reprieve.  Initial introduction via the rats is likely to have occurred with the more virulent strain of pneumonic plague taking over and doing the most damage.

Research continues and I look forward to hearing about it.

 

ESA Meeting – Yup, Another One!

Yes, I’m at another meeting for us bug folk.  This time I am in Des Moines, Iowa.  After the 11 hour drive here I’m settled in with a nice local beer, working on my presentation and about to kick back and relax for a while.  Stop by tomorrow or come by my talk on Monday.  Don’t worry, it may be boring but it’s only ten minutes.

Tasks for this trip:

1) Give a successful presentation.  By “successful” I mean ‘speak using words that resemble English and do NOT go over 10 minutes.’

2) Schmooz

3) Try not to get too sad because I miss my kitty.  For those not in the know, my JD kitty has radiation therapy just over a week ago.  He seems to be okay but I still worry.  We’ve been together just over 14 years.  Talk about a long term relationship!

4) Finish my bloody exit seminar presentation!  Yes, that’s coming up in just under two weeks!  That’s right! I’m almost done.  Wish me luck world.  Hope to see you on the other side.

 

Stop by if you see me this week.

Sharing is Caring

I’m heading into the PCR lab in a bit (yup…it’s a Sunday, I’m not resting, guess I’m not God) and I thought I’d share a little bit of myself with you.  Yesterday’s post about my experience as a nursing assistant was only a small tidbit of my life yet it was definitely a huge chunk.  You don’t spend 12+years doing something and then just toss those days out the window.  But grad school is definitely a one of a kind experience.  I’ve blogged a bit about this before.  Will do so again if you’re interested…but for now I’d like to share with you a little bit of my driving motivation/keeper-of-sanity…The Mountain Goats.  From middle school through my years at a community college I was always involved in music.  I played four instruments (my favorite will always be the bassoon) and have always felt the arts are an all-too-often neglected portion of our educational system.  This may sound strange coming from someone who is in the sciences, but contrary to popular belief, the brain isn’t divided between artsy and sciency folk.

That being said, music has, and continues to be, an important component of my life.  Whether it’s karaoke or just screaming along with classic rock in my car as I drive down the highway, music is important to me.  Many artists provide the soundtrack for my life and I will forever be grateful for their work.  Whether it’s Elton John, Jim Byrnes, Dvorak, or Aaba, I appreciate and even love their work.  Here’s a little tune that I listen to when I need a little reminder of why I do what I do.

“Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive…”

Dementiaville!!!

I’m going to take a bit of a break from my normal ramblings about bugs, science, and weird random things to talk about something hugely important to me.  Those that have known me for a long time know that I spent a significant amount of time employed as a nursing assistant.  Split rather evenly between nursing facilities and home care I spent in total about 12 years dedicated to this.  Though a few of my clients/residents were sound of mind and body, needing help with things such as cleaning, cooking, and shopping, the majority of my time, and by choice I might add, was spent with people with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or some other developmental disability.  I worked with a few children but the vast majority were seniors, and that’s what I preferred.  When I say I “by choice” I am quite serious.  I vastly preferred working with someone with dementia than some one who was “”sane””.  The facilities I chose to work at were dedicated to care for those with dementia.  When providing home care those were the clients I would choose.  Yes, this did often mean I would eventually be providing hospice an end of life care but that wasn’t so much of a burden as it was just a natural progression of things.  Some people have problems with that but I never did.  I couldn’t handle the kids, let them do it and every one will be happier for it, that’s what I thought.

The way we treat the elderly in our society is quite troubling to me and often confusing.  We supposedly teach children to respect their elders but when things get too tough we ship them to a facility.  Yes, in many cases the level of care needed and cost associated make it difficult to provide an idea home care scenario (and egregiously inefficient, money-grubbing way many private insurance companies handle these situations).  Home care is great but, even in an idea situation, not always a possibility.  A few years into my career as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) I began work at my first dementia-focused facility.  When built the designers had a simple idea, make it resident-friendly.  This line of thinking also played into the next place I worked at (for the record, I worked at both of these places for a time…why? because I’m insane).  Circular designs allow for continued movement.  Chairs and couches throughout providing resting areas when needed were in place and occasionally someone had a pet.  Simple little touches made so much of a difference in the resident’s lives.

Taken to the next level (or a few levels) is a new “facility” in The Netherlands.  It’s not so much a facility as it is a village.  Yes, an actual village.  Complete with shared apartments with live-in staff (in street clothes, not scrubs), supermarkets, etc.  And while I may not care for all of the design elements incorporated and don’t particularly understand some of their choices, I brush that off to being cultural aesthetics or similar.  Either way, this is some serious mind shifting in how we address the aging population and the fact that 1 in 3 seniors have dementia.  When I say “aging population” I mean us.  You and me and everyone who isn’t reading this rambling bambling blog.  I’ve seen many times over the realization on a person face when then know their mental faculties are fading.  When they realize they’re in a place that’s not their home but is. It broke my heart years ago and it still does.  But breaking heart or no, reality needs to be addressed.  Places like this need to get more air play.  Designs and thinking like this needs to be more readily accepted and appreciated.  Whether it’s your grandmother, your mother, or you, remember this will affect you.

Check out the Gizmodo article where I first learned about this.

Want to know more about Alzheimer’s disease or need some resources?  Check out the Alzheimer’s Association website.