Friday, December 16, 2011

Eastern Blood-Sucking Conenose

This time of year thoughts turn to Christmas and traditions. One tradition many of us are happy to indulge in is sneaking a kiss under the mistletoe with a special someone. No one however would be happy to be kissed by the Kissing Bug. Eastern Blood-Sucking Conenose Bugs (Triatoma sanguisuga) are often referred to as the kissing bug because of their habit of planting a big juicy, albeit painful kiss right on the lips of hapless victims. As if Blood-sucking conenose, and kissing bug weren't weird enough names, they are also called Mexican Bedbugs. None of these names are very reassuring and there is good reason, these bugs are just not something we want to share our homes with. They can and do make their way into our dwellings and once inside they may use us as a source of food. They seem to sense the carbon dioxide coming from our breathing, once they have landed on our mouth they will use their beak-like rostrum (mouth) to pierce our skin and suck our blood. They inject an enzyme along with their saliva that contains a deadening agent that numbs the area being bitten so that you will not feel the initial bite. This enzyme will  cause significant problems for some people who have an allergic reaction to it. It can cause nausea, vomiting, fainting spells, red blotches as well as burning, itching and swelling at the bite sight. It can also cause anaphylactic symptoms in some individuals. There are approximately 140 species of conenose bugs in the World, with 15 species found in the United States each belonging to the family Reduviidae. They all have the capability to bite humans but in some parts of the Southwest and into Mexico and areas further south they carry this ability even further by defecating while they feed. This behavior causes the spread of a disease called Chagas disease. 

The symptoms of Chagas disease vary over the course of an infection. In the early, acute stage, symptoms are mild and usually produce no more than local swelling at the site of infection. The initial acute phase is responsive to antiparasitic treatments, with 60–90% cure rates. After 4–8 weeks, individuals with active infections enter the chronic phase of Chagas disease that is asymptomatic for 60–80% of chronically infected individuals through their lifetime. The antiparasitic treatments also appear to delay or prevent the development of disease symptoms during the chronic phase of the disease, but 20–40% of chronically infected individuals will still eventually develop life-threatening heart and digestive system disorders. Chagas disease is contracted primarily in the Americas, particularly in poor, rural areas of Mexico, Central America, and South America; very rarely, the disease has originated in the Southern United States. (Taken from Wikipedia)

Females will lay clusters of eggs that hatch in a few days. After hatching, the nymphs must complete up to 8 instars (molts) before reaching adult size. These bugs need blood to survive, it is their sole source of food. Humans are not the first choice when choosing a host, they typically invade pack rat nests and feed on the blood of these mammals. They will also hang out in dog houses or other areas where dogs are bedded. They can and do bite dogs and may spread chagas disease to your pet where the disease is prevalent.

These bugs are nocturnal and are often attracted to lights at night. It is proximity to human structures that often leads them into our homes. Because of their potential to bite they should not be tolerated in our homes. If you notice a significant number of these around your home, you may want to consider extermination. Making sure homes are sealed tight leaving no cracks for them to crawl through should help keep them out of your home. Eliminating areas where rodents would be attracted to will also help as they are frequent feeders on rodents, and will definitely be attracted to areas where mice and rats are located.

There is no reason to live in fear of these bugs, especially in Missouri as they do not occur in large numbers. I've only ever seen two in 20 years. They are harmless outside in their natural habitat feeding on rodents and other mammals. Although I would not recommend sharing the mistletoe with this kissing bandit

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rarest Bumblebee in US Rediscovered

An elusive bumblebee, which was last seen in 1956, was recently found living in the White Mountains of south-central New Mexico, scientists announced Monday (Dec. 5).
Known as "Cockerell's bumblebee," the bee was first described in 1913 using six specimens collected along the Rio Ruidoso, a river located in the Sierra Blanca and Sacramento Mountains, N.M. Over the years, one more sample was found in Ruidoso, and 16 specimens were collected near the town of Cloudcroft, N.M.

The last Cockerell's bumblebee sample was collected in 1956. No other specimens had been recorded until Aug. 31, when a team of scientists from the University of California, Riverside, found three more samples of the bee species in weeds along a highway north of Cloudcroft.

"When an insect species is very rare, or highly localized, it can fairly easily escape detection for very long periods of time," Douglas Yanega, a senior museum scientist at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), said in a statement.

Cockerell's bumblebee has the most limited range of any bumblebee species in the world, having been spotted only in an area of less than 300 square miles (777 square kilometers), according to the researchers. By comparison, the rare "Franklin's bumblebee" species, which was last seen in 2003 and is on the verge of extinction, is known from a distribution covering about 13,000 square miles (33,670 square km).
Cockerell's bumblebee was able to fly under the radar for so long because the area where the species lives is rarely visited by entomologists, Yanega said. The bee species has also "long been ignored because it was thought that it was not actually a genuine species, but only a regional color variant of another well-known species," Yanega explained.
An assessment of the genetic makeup of the three newly discovered specimens gives fairly conclusive evidence that Cockerell's bumblebee is a genuine species, the researchers said.
It is not unusual for an insect species to be rediscovered after several decades, when people might otherwise have believed it had gone extinct, Yanega said. UCR entomologists rediscover many "lost" insect species like the Cockerell's bumblebee, as well as discover entirely new species, at the rate of several dozen species every year.
"There are many precedents – some of them very recently in the news, in fact – of insects that have been unseen for anywhere from 70 to more-than-100 years, suddenly turning up again when someone either got lucky enough, or persistent enough, to cross paths with them again," Yanega said. "It is much harder to give conclusive evidence that an insect species has gone extinct than for something like a bird or mammal or plant."
Cockerell's bumblebee does not appear to be facing extinction. The bumblebee dwells in an area that's largely composed of National Forest and Apache tribal land, it is "unlikely to be under serious threat of habitat loss at the moment," Yanega said.
However, the researcher notes that since the bee species' biology is completely unknown, it may require additional formal assessments in the future.

You can follow LiveScience writer Remy Melina on Twitter @remymelina. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience  and on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A New Blog

As many of you know, the only thing I love more (or as much) as insects is SNAKES! I've had a fascination with them since I was a little girl. I recall once when I was about 14 my younger brother Marty brought a garter snake into the house, unbeknown st to our mother, who is terrified of snakes. The snake lasted about one day in its enclosure before escaping. My brother came and found me to inform me that I HAD to help him find the snake BEFORE mom found out it was gone. I suppose this was especially important since she didn't know a snake was in the house to begin with. I agreed to help him. So we began our covert mission, trying to be as quiet (OK..... Sneaky) as we could be. Apparently when kids are whispering and sneaking around from room to room that is evidence that something is up. Mom yelled at both of us and wanted to know what we were up to. I looked at Marty and he looked at me......and.....well.... I caved, I told her everything. You never saw someone jump as high as she did, and she did the most graceful landing right in the middle of the kitchen table you would ever see. She DEMANDED we find that snake IMMEDIATELY! Well heck, that's what we'd been trying to do when she detained us. That snake could be anywhere. Finally it dawned on me that I had hamsters....and they look surprisingly like mice. Snakes eat the snake had to be in my room. Sure enough, that sneaky snake was laid out behind one of my hamster cages, flicking its tongue in anticipation. I am not sure who saw who first, because as soon as we walked towards the snake, it bolted off the desk, onto the floor and disappeared into my closet. I was not the neatest kid on the block....and that closet was down right scary. I think the door was the only thing holding the contents in. After dragging as much stuff out of the closet as we could, we cornered the snake.

Now....I'm not sure if you all realize this, but a cornered garter snake is not much different than any other cornered animal. That snake came out fighting, mouthed, and bent on scaring the hell out of us. My brother was very he stood behind me yelling...."well go on catch it!"

It was then that I realized my brother was as scared of the snake as our mom! I accused him of being a chicken.....and all he said was "SO?" It took several minutes and numerous attempts before I finally caught the snake. Marty fetched a brown paper bag to put it in and he walked it up the road to an abandoned field. When he got back, and mom got done scolding him for bringing a nasty vile creature into the house, I had the chance to ask him how it got out in the first place. He took me into his room, with a puzzled look on his face and said "I don't know, I had it in this large jar and made sure to put a paper towel over it" I nearly died laughing.

I've had many other interesting experiences with snakes and each one as reinforced my love of them. Recently I joined a group of conservation minded individuals called the RARR (Rise against rattlesnake roundups). This group is trying to bring about necessary changes to the way rattlesnake roundups are being done. Numerous (1,000's) of rattlesnakes are removed from their natural habitat and thrown into buckets and boxes.

They are transported to the event, where they are often frozen for several hours to allow for easier handling when they sew their mouths shut. These snakes with their sewn mouths are then passed around from person to person to have their picture taken with for a fee. These snakes die from stress within hours. Many of the snakes are skinned while still clinging to life and sold by the pound. The snakes are exposed to the elements and left in the sun with no water or shelter. Many snakes die from exposure alone. The officials that run the roundups claim they hold the event to control an overpopulation of rattlers. They want to make it a safer environment for people. This all sounds upstanding and full of good intentions, until you find out that they are shipping snakes in from Texas and other areas. If they are so overrun with venomous snakes, then why bring more into the state? It is obvious the snake populations are plummeting and they can no longer find them in large concentrations. Many snake hunters will locate a den site of hibernating rattlesnakes and gas out or burn out the snakes. They are able to remove many many snakes in one fell swoop. Rattlesnakes only mate every other year and they do not have large litters when they do. It is very easy to hunt these snakes to the point of extinction. Many counties throughout these snakes range our now free of rattlesnakes.

Missouri traditionally could claim that timber rattlesnakes were found in every county in the state.....not anymore. There are more counties without timbers than with them. The few that have them remaining are showing signs of reduced numbers. We as humans have to stop our way of thinking when it comes to creatures that we do not understand, or like, or that make us fearful. We have no moral right to try and remove every animal that we deem unworthy of existence. No one will argue that snakes aren't cuddly or cute. Snakes can be creepy, simply because they are so different from 4 legged mammals. These differences should be respected and we should try to understand that snakes serve a vital role in the habitats where they are found. Killing them out only causes an unbalance in that ecosystem.

I am proud to be a part of a group that is working so hard to protect a species that many find unworthy of our consideration. As part of my involvement with this group I created a new blog entitled Rattlesnake Education and Awareness. My hope is that like me, many of you like the creepy side of nature. The side of nature that is often misunderstood. The side of nature, that makes nature and being outdoors so much more interesting. Please take time to visit the blog, become a follower and help us support the ongoing effort to educate the public. Hopefully through education we can all become better informed and make wiser decisions where wildlife is concerned.

If anyone is interested in contributing content to the new blog, just email me. We will be happy to have writers come on board and share their reptile (and amphibian) experiences with our followers.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Giant Red-Headed Centipede

Photo by: John Miller with the Missouri Department of Conservation

These magnificently large centipedes are only found in a few scant counties in Southern and South Western Missouri, particularly near the Arkansas state line. Giant Red-Headed Centipedes (Scolopendra heros) belong to the family Scolopendridae in the order Scolopendromorpha.  

All centipedes have odd numbered pairs of legs and only one pair of legs per body segment. They are commonly mistaken for way to tell the difference is to look at the legs. Millipedes always have two pairs of legs per body segment. Centipedes tend to have a flattened body whereas millipedes are more rounded. Millipedes lack venom, although some species can emit a chemical from their legs that can cause skin irritation. 

S. heros range in color by location, in Missouri they are unmistakable with a black body, 21 to 23 pairs of yellow legs and reddish head. This color is referred to aposematic and offers a warning to would-be predators that they are potentially dangerous. Humans should especially heed this warning, as they can and will bite if handled. They have front legs that are modified fangs. Bites are reported to be painful and will cause swelling at the bite site. If swelling persists or other symptoms appear, medical attention should be sought. It has been reported that the legs of this species can leave tiny pin-pricks in the skin, and each leg contains venom that can be dropped into each wound. This can cause inflammation and irritation.

 (Photo by: John Miller)

According to one story cited by Dr. Baerg, an officer in the Confederate Army, while sleeping in his tent, was suddenly aroused by the creepy feeling of a large centipede crawling on his chest. A number of spots of deep red, forming a broad streak, indicated the arthropod’s passage across the man’s chest and abdomen. Violent pain and convulsions soon set in, accompanied by excessive swelling in the bitten area. The victim fought with death for two days and then succumbed. The agony suffered by the bitten officer was described by an eyewitness as the most frightful he had ever observed. The famed arthtopod scientist J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson once explained that “centipedes seem to exert a weird fascination on the morbid appetites of the hysterical and insane.”

These centipedes commonly reach lengths up to 6 1/2 inches, but lengths of 8 inches have been reported. They are found on rocky hillsides, glades, under logs, stones and other protected locations. They are rarely encountered by humans because of their secretive nature, but should you come across one you won't soon forget the experience. John Miller of MDC in Southern Missouri has promised me one to add to our exhibit animals at the office where I work. He said several are brought into his offices each year to be identified and they release them. He assured me he would retain one for me. I am so excited by the prospect of having one of these amazing centipedes to use for educational purposes.

Like all centipedes they are predators and feed on a broad diet of insects, and spiders. They are fond of pinkie mice, small snakes and small amphibians too. S. heros has excellent eyesight which aids them in hunting down prey. They are also fast moving creatures and very little escapes their notice or their grasp.

Female centipedes lay eggs in rotting wood and will guard the eggs by wrapping her body around them. When the eggs hatch she will continue to stay with her offspring and look after them for a short period of time. This parental care is unusual among arthropods. The offspring will look similar to the adult, except they are lighter in color and have fewer legs. They will gain the adult coloration and proper amount of legs as they age.