Archive for October, 2010

Forensic entomology dubbed scariest job of 2010

People scare local entomologist, not bugs
 
They live in a world of creepy-crawlies, collecting the flies, maggots and beetles that live off the dead. 
 

Because it’s such a macabre profession, forensic entomology this Halloween season has been dubbed the scariest job of 2010 by Careercast.com, a job-search website. In winning that dubious distinction, it edged out jobs such as communications tower technician, bomb squad technician, crime scene decontamination technician and medical test subject.

Not surprisingly, John Wallace disagrees.

The Millersville University professor is one of 15 forensic entomologists in the world certified by the American Board of Forensic Entomology.

“To me, there are many scarier jobs,” said Wallace, 49. “Bomb squad? Climbing a communications tower? I can’t see doing that. You can tempt fate only so often. What’s my risk? The person is already deceased.”

Wallace agrees that some aspects of his job might creep people out, especially those with a fear of insects. Forensic entomologists simply can’t afford that phobia because bugs are their bread and butter.

So to speak.

Still, it’s not every day a reporter hears someone ask an assistant, “Have you seen my jars of maggots?”

He didn’t find his maggots, but he does have a display case of insects, including blowflies, rogue and carrion beetles and other bugs that speed or hinder decomposition.

Because of popular TV shows focusing on crime-scene investigations, it’s often forgotten that forensic entomology has more uses than just determining how long a person has been dead.

Wallace once helped a veterinarian expose a false claim by a client who said his dog contracted maggots at the doctor’s clinic by determining the age of the maggots.

His expertise also is useful in cases of elder abuse and food contamination.

Wallace has one student working on wildlife entomology, which can be used to help in cases of poaching or other conservation crimes.

“She developed a technique to isolate wildlife DNA in maggot tissue,” Wallace said.

Still, there is no denying that forensic entomology can play an important role in solving murders, and Wallace has been part of that process.

In 2007, he helped the Innocence Project with a criminal appeal involving Kennedy Brewer, who was accused in Mississippi of raping and murdering a 3-year-old girl. The primary evidence against Brewer, who had been sentenced to death, were 19 sets of bite marks on the child’s body that the prosecution claimed were Brewer’s.

The defense, however, maintained that the bites were made by crayfish in the creek where the body had lain for three days.

Wallace traveled to the crime scene, collected three dozen crayfish and brought them back to his Millersville laboratory. There he kept them in a tank along with a dead pig.

He concluded that the marks left by the crayfish exactly matched the pattern of bites on the body. The evidence exonerated not just Brewer, but also Levon Brooks, who had been sentenced to life in prison after similar evidence had helped prosecutors convict him of a different homicide. Police later arrested Justin Albert Johnson, who confessed to both killings.

“So Kennedy Brewer was freed, and Levon Brooks was freed,” Wallace said. “They were wrongly convicted. That, for me, was a red-letter day.”

Closer to home, Wallace helped prosecutors during the trial of Micah Stewart, accused of the 2004 murder of his girlfriend, Courtney Fry. Visiting the morgue where her skeletal remains had been taken after being discovered in a Manor Township field in January 2005, he collected black soldier flies.

“Looking at the life cycle of that fly and the temperature data, I came up with a time interval of when those flies appeared on her body,” Wallace said. “That gave police a rough idea of how long she had been there.”

More recently, he examined pupa cases of flies found on the remains of Jonathan Moyer, who had been murdered by convicted killer Felina Billetdeaux in 2005 in a Brownstown apartment. His body was hidden in a closet for about a month before being buried by Billetdeaux and another woman, Steva Hagelgans.

Wallace said there were no live flies on Moyer, but a lot of pupa cases.

“At one point in this tiny apartment, thousands of flies had emerged while these two women were living there,” he said. “To me, that’s scary.”

Wallace admitted there is a ghoulish aspect to his job.

“I have seen some of the worst of humanity, and those images stay with you,” he said. “So some might say that’s pretty scary. But I just collect insects.”

Who has the scariest job?

After forensic entomologist, the top 10 scariest jobs of 2010, according to Careercast.com are:

2. Miner — The fear of confined spaces is one of the most common phobias, and there are few worse places for a person suffering from claustrophobia to be than a narrow mine shaft deep underground.

3. Broadcast tower technician — The tallest broadcast tower is the KVLY-TV mast in North Dakota at a whopping 2,063 feet high. And whenever routine maintenance needs to be performed on this massive structure, a broadcast tower technician goes all the way to the very top.

4. Bomb squad technician — While police departments are increasingly employing robots for bomb disposal, there are still plenty of instances where humans are needed to get the job done.

5. Field epidemiologist — Protected by little more than a hazmat suit, field epidemiologists get up close and personal with germs, blood, needles and dead bodies on a daily basis — not to mention the risk they run of contracting a deadly disease themselves.

6. Crime and trauma scene decontamination — Unless you’ve got the stomach for regular exposure to blood and dead bodies, this might not be the job for you.

7. Pharmaceutical test subject — Many people carve out lucrative professions as human guinea pigs, enduring injections, blood draws, dangerous side effects and the risk of permanent injury or even death on a regular basis.

8. Bush pilot — Some studies put the chances of an Alaskan bush pilot dying in a crash at one in eight during a 30-year career.

9. Cryonics technician — Cryonics is controversial among scientists, but no matter what your opinion is of the practice, there’s no denying that any profession which involves removing the heads of people who’ve just died and preserving them at -200 degrees Fahrenheit is a little bit scary.

10. Comedian — For anyone gripped by a fear of public humiliation, having to stand in front of a large crowd and tell jokes to a potentially hostile audience can be a traumatic experience.

Forensic Entolmology is the science of determining a time frame and/or circumstance from the empirical evidence of insect activity on or around the site in question. A time of death can be reasonably determined by factoring in ambient temperature , availability of corpse to insects, and the progress of blowfly larvae through their life cycle on that corpse.

Approximately fourteen days is necessary for a blowfly to go from egg to adult.

 

Advertisements

Creepy Crawlers Take Contest to Another Dimension

‘Ugly Bug’ contenders boast on ‘Bugbook’ page

TEMPE, Ariz., Oct. 29 /PRNewswire/ — “You’ve just entered another dimension – a dimension of insects, a micro dimension, where milkweed bugs, assassin bugs, crickets and fruit flies crawl, walk or fly side by side to show off features that are the envy of the insect world and quite possibly beyond.” This isn’t the opening narration of the late 1950s television series “The Twilight Zone,” but the introduction of a video announcing the 2010 Ugly Bug Contest.

Last year’s Ugly Bug Contest attracted insect enthusiasts from around the world. Some 8,025 insectophiles cast their vote for their favorite ugly bug. This year, voters will have until Dec. 15 to show their support for the bug they deem the most fascinating, unique, or downright detestable. Until then, each bug’s fate hangs in a virtual balance.

Yellow Dragonfly

The adaptation of the Twilight Zone theme for this year’s video is well-suited for a contest whose contenders, all somewhat alien to a human viewer, resemble creatures one might see on the show. The house cricket, for example, with its passion for decayed insects while dining, resembles a flesh-eating zombie; while the assassin bug, whose beak-like mouthparts inject toxic saliva into its prey, becomes multiply monstrous in multifaceted eyes of insect victims.Assassin Bug

Other creatures determined to be crowned the ugliest bug of 2010 include the earwig, flour beetle, fruit and house flies, male ant, milkweed bug, jewel wasp and yellow dragonfly. The video is at http://askabiologist.asu.edu/video/ubc2010.

The annual contest, now in its third year at Arizona State University, was created by Marilee Sellers of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz. For 10 years, it was a local fixture – part of the Flagstaff Festival of Science and the Mount Campus Science Day. In 2008, Sellers teamed up with ASU’s Charles Kazilek to bring the competition to the Web.

House Fly

The contest is housed online in connection with ASU’s popular children’s science education website “Ask A Biologist” created by Kazilek, director of technology innovation and outreach in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Sporting the moniker “Dr. Biology,” Kazilek says the contest not only provides a chance for individuals to become engaged in viewing insects, but is also a great opportunity for learning to occur.

Visitors to “Ask A Biologist” have access to downloadable wallpapers, a poster and coloring pages. The site also houses modules designed to improve students’ basic reasoning skills and a variety of experiments and “how-to” projects. Additionally, viewers find stories about scientists and their career paths. The entire website activities offer students of all ages insight into the capacious field of biology, says Kazilek.Earwig

The creators of the Ugly Bug Contest added something new to the contest this year: the True Bug Story. The story teaches visitors that the word “bug” has a very specific usage within entomology, says Kazilek. The tale also explains that while all bugs are insects, not all insects are bugs. “True bugs” belong to a very specific subset of insects and the contest allows viewers to see some of them up close, explains Kazilek.

Each of the contest’s 10 competitors has a personal photo and biography on the website, complete with details such as its size, weight and Latin, genus and species names. The biographies also include interesting facts about the insects, which range from the enlightening to the somewhat frightening.

The images of the insects are taken using a scanning electron microscope, which allows viewers to explore a magnified view of the competitive world of bugs – a world that would otherwise be unattainable with the human eye. Viewers are provided with colorful mug shots of the bugs, as well as the original black-and-white images of the bugs as actually seen through the microscope. The two contrasting images provide viewers a kind of before and after view that few can see outside of a laboratory.Milkweed Bug

Bugbook, another new feature of the contest, gives viewers a look at bugs as they’ve never been seen before. Modeled after the homepage of the social networking site Facebook, Bugbook is filled with the bug’s own status updates and comments to each other. The comments reveal each bug’s personal thoughts about the contest, while giving viewers some unique insights into the life of a bug. “What’s on your mind” comments include some of the bug’s thoughts on the current results of the contest.

With more than 400 votes, the jewel wasp was leading in the polls. Also known as Nasonia vitripennis, this winged stinger is one of the spookiest critters in the contest. The jewel wasp lays its eggs inside a living host. As the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the host from the inside out.

Will the jewel wasp win the title of Ugly Bug Champion 2010? Only the public can decide. To seal this bug’s fate, a vote can be cast at http://askabiologist.asu.edu/activities/ubc. There, a new, real-time tabulation feature will show how each vote is counted toward making “some lucky bug’s dream come true,” says Kazilek.

Last year’s champion, the snake fly, might be considered by some far less fearsome in the insect world in comparison to the jewel wasp. Kazilek admits that his favorite bug this year, the yellow dragonfly, resembles a character one might see in the Disney movie “Monsters Inc.”

When asked what draws people to the competition, which has already received almost 1,800 votes, Kazilek said: “Most people don’t have a scanning electron microscope. The contest presents an opportunity to see these insects up close in a way that you typically are unable to.”

The Ugly Bug Contest offers an intimate look at some of the insects who inhabit our world and who are often overlooked, he says. While one main objective of the contest is to allow visitors to become engaged in science, Kazilek notes that another goal is “capturing the imagination.”

The contest is sponsored by Northern Arizona University Imaging and Histology Core Facility, Dow AgroSciences, and ASU’s International Institute for Species Exploration, School of Life Sciences and W. M. Keck Bioimaging Laboratory.

Beucher & Son Will Keep The Creepy Crawlers Out Of Your Home!

Call Us Now!     727-388-6759

Bedbugs hitch at ride to Fresno for a bite

By Barbara Anderson / The Fresno Bee

Add Fresno to the list of cities under attack by bedbugs.

The bloodsucking pests have been a growing and highly visible problem in New York City for months — and now they’re here in force, pest-control operators say.

While the New York outbreak has struck hotels and public places, bedbugs in Fresno are mostly turning up in homes, pest-control operators say.

But the bugs can spread quickly, and there’s no way to know just how many there are. The Fresno County Department of Public Health doesn’t keep track of bedbug complaints like they do measles or mumps.

A bedbug is about the size of an apple seed when mature. The bugs feed on human blood, like ticks, and multiply quickly, hatching more than 12 eggs a week, Clay said. They can be clear, but after a blood meal, they can be reddish-brown, he said.

Tale of the Headless Dragonfly: Ancient Struggle, Preserved in Amber

In a short, violent battle that could have happened somewhere this afternoon, the lizard made a fast lunge at the dragonfly, bit its head off and turned to run away. Lunch was served.


Headless dragonfly. This ancient species of dragonfly is seen largely intact in amber, missing only a few feet and its head – presumable in the mouth of the lizard seen fleeing at the left. (Credit: Photo by George Poinar)

But the battle didn’t happen today, it happened about 100 million years ago, probably with dinosaurs strolling nearby. And the lizard didn’t get away, it was trapped in the same oozing, sticky tree sap that also entombed the now-headless dragonfly for perpetuity.

This ancient struggle, preserved in the miracle of amber, was just described by researchers from Oregon State University in Paleodiversity, a professional journal. It announced the discovery of a new sub-family of dragonflies in the oldest specimen of this insect ever found in amber.

More importantly, the study and others like it continue to reveal the similarities of behaviors and ecosystems separated by many millions of years, said George Poinar, a professor emeritus at Oregon State University. Poinar is one of the world’s leading experts on life forms found preserved in this semi-precious stone that acts as a natural embalming agent.

“Dragonflies are still eaten by small lizards every day, it’s a routine predator/prey interaction,” Poinar said. “This shows once again how behaviors of various life forms are retained over vast amounts of time, and continues to give us insights into the ecology of ancient ecosystems.”

Dragonflies are one of the world’s more colorful, interesting and successful insects, Poinar said, having managed to survive for a very long time. This is the oldest fossil ever found in amber, but other stone fossil specimens of dragonflies date back as much as 300 million years, including some that were huge, with wingspans up to three feet.

Amber is a semi-precious stone that originates as the sap from certain trees. Later fossilized through millions of years of pressure, it’s unique for the ability to capture and preserve in near-lifelike form small plant, animal or insect specimens that provide data on ancient ecosystems.

“Dragonflies are now, and probably were then, very quick, evasive, and greedy predators,” Poinar said. “They feed on other larvae and insects, mosquitoes, gnats, lots of things. Some are quite beautiful, very popular with insect collectors. And some modern populations like to migrate regionally, going south to mate.”

But as the new amber specimen shows, dragonflies are now and for a long time have also been prey, particularly of small lizards. Young and hatchling dinosaurs also probably dined on them, Poinar said.

The quick and merciless battle preserved in this stone took place in the Early Cretaceous somewhere between 97 million to 110 million years ago in the jungles of the Hukawng Valley of Burma, now known as Myanmar. The dragonfly — with one notably missing part — is preserved almost perfectly. Only the foot and tail of a small lizard remains in the stone, presumably as the animal was trying to flee.

“It’s unfortunate we don’t have the entire specimen of the lizard, because it probably had the dragonfly’s head in its mouth,” Poinar said. “Both died when they were trapped in the tree sap in the middle of this duel.”

Like a never-ending feud, these battles are still going on today. Scientists have documented in some sites near waterfalls in Costa Rica that there are many dragonflies of a certain species. But if lizards are present, there are no dragonflies — it appears they all get eaten.

Sometimes things change. Sometimes they don’t.

 

Flesh-eating ants bit elderly heart patient hundreds of times on legs and genitals as he lay in intensive care

An elderly man was bitten hundreds of times on his legs and genitals by a swarm of flesh-eating ants as he lay in his hospital bed.

Cornelius Lewis, 76, was in the intensive care unit at Gulf Coast Medical Center in Florida, recovering from an operation to fit a pacemaker the day before the ant attack.

Remarkably, because he was attacked beneath the bed sheets, medical staff didn’t even notice the ants were literally feasting on him until they pulled back the covers hours later.

Ant attack: A swarm of ants bit a heart patient hundreds of times (file picture)
Ant attack: A swarm of ants bit a heart patient hundreds of times (photograph © Alex Wild 2005)

Lewis remains at Gulf Coast Medical Center and is said to be in a serious condition, although that is related to his previous heart surgery, rather than the ant attack.

According to his son, Mr Lewis was bitten ‘a couple hundred’ times on his legs and genitals by Pavement Ants.

‘He was supposed to be monitored every 10 minutes,’ Neil Lewis told Florida website Newspress.com.

‘My mom was there, and they didn’t give her any information.

‘They said, “Let’s just get him out of the room.” And my father was so exhausted he didn’t have the ability to complain.’

After the attack, Mr Lewis said his father was moved to another room but that it, too, was infested with ants.

Lee Memorial Health System, which runs the hospital, says it is taking preventive steps at their hospitals to stop any repeat of the incident.

‘We have confirmed there were ants,’ said Karen Krieger, director of public relations at Lee Memorial Health System.

She added: ‘There were no reports of other patients being bitten by ants and Gulf Coast is the only hospital with an ant problem.’

The company’s other premises at Lee Memorial Hospital, Cape Coral Hospital and Health Park are now being treated by pest control experts.

The intensive care unit at Gulf Coast Medical Center has been evacuated, sprayed and treated and exterminators will check for the insects every three days.

Rooftops and exteriors are being sprayed weekly. This will continue until there is no ant sightings for 30 days.

It is understood the checks for ants previously took place on a monthly basis, which indicates the hospital knew it had a problem with the ants.

A pest control expert in Florida, a hot and sticky climate that is a perfect breeding ground for insects, told WINK News that Pavement Ants, which are the type believed to have bitten Lewis, don’t usually attack because they generally live outside.

‘Pavement ants are omnivores,’ said Allen Fugler Jr.

‘Every pest needs food, water and harborage. If lacking in one of those three, they will aggressively seek out a food source, water or a place to live.’

Bats force closure of Cocoa Beach Aquatic Center’s pavilion

BY BRITT KENNERLY and J.D. GALLOP • FLORIDA TODAY • October 26, 2010

The winged mammals hanging around Cocoa Beach Aquatic Center’s picnic pavilion have nothing to do with Halloween — and it looks like they’ll be visiting long past the haunted holiday.

Trick, no treat.  

Just in time for Halloween, a bat infestation has closed a picnic pavillion near the Cocoa Beach Aquatic Center. (Craig Rubadoux FLORIDA TODAY)

//  

//

Brazilian free-tailed bats
  • Found statewide except in the Keys
  • Have extended tails that look like mouse tails
  • Form colonies of 50 to 20,000 bats in manmade structures like buildings and bridges
  • Are medium-sized, have musky odor; have short, dark-brown to grayish-brown fur; and a wingspan of 11 to 13 inches
  • Can fly at more than 25 mph and hit altitudes of more than 9,000 feet — Bill Kern, Florida Wildlife Extension,University of Florida; and Florida Bat Conservancy
  •  

    City officials say a colony of up to 3,000 bats, most of which are of the Brazilian free-tailed species, apparently have been making a home of the sheltered picnic space on Tom Warriner Boulevard for several months. The bats were discovered only recently by workers at the aquatic center, forcing officials to close off the area as they consider a
    number of ideas on how to handle the problem.

    Cocoa Beach Aquatic Center facility director Sara Joyce-Webb said workers and volunteers hope to lure the bats away from the pavilion before next spring. City officials are consulting with a non-profit bat conservancy group to come up with plans, including building a bat house.

    And two local Eagle Scout groups want to build a bat house that could attract the mammals once a bat exclusion company comes in to seal off the picnic pavilion, Joyce-Webb said.

    “We think the bats are really cool but we want our pavilion back for people and the bat house for the bats so they can help eat our mosquitoes,” she said of the protected species.

    “It’s actually something that really is kind of exciting.”

    Brazilian free-tailed bats are plentiful in Florida, also home to 12 other bat species, according to Bill Kern, associate professor of urban entomology at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center.

    They consume moths, flies, beetles and mosquitoes and are the primary predator of night-flying insects. While some use “Mexican free-tailed” and “Brazilian free-tailed” interchangeably, there’s a difference in the bats, Kern wrote on UF’s Florida Wildlife Extension website.

    “Our southeastern free-tailed bat differs in two very important ways from the Mexican subspecies: Our free-tailed bats do not migrate and are never found in caves,” Kern wrote. “The Mexican free-tailed bat migrates to Mexico in the fall and returns north in the spring and is one of the most abundant species in caves.”

    And don’t worry if you see a bat headed your way. It’s a misconception that all of the maligned mammals carry rabies: Less than 0.5 percent carry the disease, according to Florida Wildlife Extension.

    Rather than being the stereotypically scary creature, the type found at the Cocoa Beach pavilion serves a great purpose, said Susan Kwasniak, marketing director for Bat Conservation International. According to its website, the Texas-based group conducts and supports science-based conservation efforts worldwide.

    In Texas, the Mexican free-tailed species consumes countless insects regarded as agricultural pests, including the cotton boll worm moth, and also eats insects over woodlands and forests, Kwasniak said. About 100 million Mexican free-tailed bats live in Central Texas caves.

    “Those little critters are good for farmers: Here in Central Texas, the free-tailed population saves cotton farmers up to $1.7 million a year in pesticide use,” she said. “The moths do terrible destruction to cotton and corn fields.”

     

    Tiny Brained Bees Solve a Complex Mathematical Problem

     Bumblebees can find the solution to a complex mathematical problem which keeps computers busy for days.

    New research shows that bumblebees can find the solution to a complex mathematical problem which keeps computers busy for days. (Credit: iStockphoto/Alexey Kryuchkov)
     

    Scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London and Queen Mary, University of London have discovered that bees learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they discover the flowers in a different order. Bees are effectively solving the ‘Travelling Salesman Problem’, and these are the first animals found to do this.

    The Travelling Salesman must find the shortest route that allows him to visit all locations on his route. Computers solve it by comparing the length of all possible routes and choosing the shortest. However, bees solve it without computer assistance using a brain the size of grass seed.

    Dr Nigel Raine, from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway explains: “Foraging bees solve travelling salesman problems every day. They visit flowers at multiple locations and, because bees use lots of energy to fly, they find a route which keeps flying to a minimum.”

    The team used computer controlled artificial flowers to test whether bees would follow a route defined by the order in which they discovered the flowers or if they would find the shortest route. After exploring the location of the flowers, bees quickly learned to fly the shortest route.

    As well as enhancing our understanding of how bees move around the landscape pollinating crops and wild flowers, this research, which is due to be published in The American Naturalist, has other applications. Our lifestyle relies on networks such as traffic on the roads, information flow on the web and business supply chains. By understanding how bees can solve their problem with such a tiny brain we can improve our management of these everyday networks without needing lots of computer time.

    Dr Raine adds: “Despite their tiny brains bees are capable of extraordinary feats of behaviour. We need to understand how they can solve the Travelling Salesman Problem without a computer. What short-cuts do they use?’

    Editor’s Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.