Bright lights far away, small lights close by

October 23, 2014

Capturing stars and fireflies in the same shot takes some great skill and planning in a photographer.

Alex Wild did it.

From his Twitter feed:

Alex Wild @Myrmecos

Alex Wild @Myrmecos: And also trying more challenging lighting environments, like night shots of fireflies.


Not an emerald ash borer — but what is it?

August 21, 2013

Emerald green beetle, looks a lot like a longhorn.  I feared it to be a dreaded emerald ash borer, but it’s not.

Okay.  What is it?  Any body know?

From our Backyard Collection, two weeks ago:

What is this one? Looks like a longhorn beetle, emerald green.

What is this one? Looks like a longhorn beetle, emerald green. Not an emerald ash borer. Anyone know?

It’s too big to be an emerald ash borer.

Our mystery beetle is too big to be an emerald ash borer.

Our mystery beetle is too big to be an emerald ash borer. Brilliant orange underside.

Perhaps a flower longhorn beetle?

Caption from Field and Swamp Animals and their habitats:  Flower longhorn beetle (Encyclops caerulea), Glassmine Gap Trail, Macon County, NC, 5/28/13

Caption from Field and Swamp Animals and their habitats: Flower longhorn beetle (Encyclops caerulea), Glassmine Gap Trail, Macon County, NC, 5/28/13

Where’s Bug Girl when we need her?  (Moving?)  Roused Bear? Beetles in the Bush?

Update, mystery solved:  Ted C. MacRae said (see comments) it’s the bumelia borer (Plinthocoelium suaveolens).  He wrote about it here. So, Kathryn, what are they eating in our backyard? Bumelia lanuginosa is a Texas native; do we have one, or a relative, in the garden?  Dallas-area Dirt Doctor Howard Garrett says they’re mostly harmless in the garden.  (Here’s a closeup, from MacRae’s blog):

Brumelia borer, from Beetles in the Bush.  Photo by Ted C. MacRae

Bumelia borer, Plinthocoelium suaveolens,  from Beetles in the Bush. Photo by Ted C. MacRae

 


Joy of pollination, according to Louie Schwartzberg

November 21, 2011

It’s a TEDS Talk, of course

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.  Plants do it, too, but often with the help of animals.

Here are some of the most glorious pictures of sex you’ll ever see, filmed by Louie Schwartzberg.  Anyone who has ever tried to take a good photograph should marvel at these shots, and the skill and artistry and luck it took to get them:

What will we do if the bees vanish?

The lowdown:

http://www.ted.com Pollination: it’s vital to life on Earth, but largely unseen by the human eye. Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg [of Moving Art] shows us the intricate world of pollen and pollinators with gorgeous high-speed images from his film “Wings of Life,” inspired by the vanishing of one of nature’s primary pollinators, the honeybee.


Theological disproof of evolution? Hornworms and braconid wasps

November 7, 2011

“Nature red in tooth and claw,” the poet Tennyson said.

Darwin thought these critters a clear disproof of creationism — no god would make such creatures intentionally!

Mark reports at The Divine Afflatus:

Hornworm Hosts its Destruction

While admiring some ground cherries outside my front door, I noticed a number of leaves had been stripped off. Not grazed on by the deer that frequent the area, more like eaten by caterpillars. After a brief search I spotted a hornworm munching away. I didn’t bother killing the hornworm because, after all, the ground cherries are weeds growing amongst the black-eyed susans, and it’s less work for me if they take care of the weeds.

I looked again a few days later, and saw that the hornworm had sprouted numerous white appendages. These are the cocoons of pupating braconid wasps. Braconid wasps are parasitoids that inject their eggs beneath the skin of the host (hornworms are favored by the braconid wasp Contesia congregatus). After feeding on the convenient meal surrounding them, the wasp larvae emerge and spin their coccons, attached to the body of the unfortunate hornworm. In a few days, adult wasps emerge from their cocoons, leaving a dead caterpillar.

I later spotted a second hornworm, which suffered the same fate as the first.

Ewwwwwwww!


Crazy ants? Hey, I warned you . . .

October 2, 2011

Just over two years ago I noted the pending, rolling disaster of the introduction of Caribbean Crazy Ants, or Rasberry Crazy Ants, to the American South.

Associated Press is catching up.

Now, will you listen to me when I tell you not to vote for Rick Perry?   Will you listen when I tell you we need to control CO² emissions?


Red dragonfly in Colorado Bend State Park, Texas

August 9, 2011

Dragon flies are not my area of expertise:  Can anyone identify this beauty?

Red Dragonfly in Colorado Bend State Park, Texas (photo by Ed Darrell)

Red dragonfly in Colorado Bend State Park, Texas - photo by Ed Darrell

_____________

Kate wrote in to say it’s probably Libella saturata.  From other photos I’ve found, that seems a good, accurate identification.  Citizens of Arizona have been urged to help identify dragon flies, odonates,  in their state, and this site explains how to do it with a camera and a notepad — with a fine picture of a Libella saturata for illustration.  And, as a reward to Kate and yourself, you may want to hop over to her blog, The Radula, and see what she’s got to look at.


DDT “costly for Uganda”

July 22, 2011

To aid researchers looking for news from Africa on malaria and DDT, I’ll reproduce the entire news story from Uganda’s New Vision here.  Stories from this outlet frequently trouble me, in the unquestioning way writers take quotes from people where a more probing reporter might be more skeptical.  I am not sure of the status of New Vision among Uganda’s media, but it’s one of the few available to us here on a regular basis.

So, here’s the story, on DDT usage to fight malaria.  A couple of points we need to remember:  First, it’s clear that DDT is not banned in Uganda, and that DDT usage goes on, despite the crocodile tears of Richard Tren, Roger Bate, and the Africa Fighting Malaria, Astroturf™ group; second, this story relates difficulties in using DDT, including cost.  It’s not that the stuff itself is expensive.  DDT doesn’t work on all mosquitoes anymore, and it’s dangerous to much other wildlife.  Malaria fighters must do serious work in advance to be sure the populations of mosquitoes targeted will be reduced by DDT — that is, that the bugs are not immune to DDT — and care must be taken to control the applications, to be sure it’s applied in great enough concentrations, and only indoors, where it won’t contaminate the wild.

Here’s the story from New Visions:

DDT spraying costly for Uganda

Tuesday, 5th July, 2011

By Raymond Baguma and Gerald Kawemba

INDOOR residual spraying as a strategy to control malaria in Uganda is too costly and has affected the programme countrywide.

According to Dr. Seraphine Adibaku, the head of the Malaria Control Programme, this is why other malaria control strategies such as use of insecticide-treated nets and Artemisinin-based combination therapy are considered to be ahead of indoor residual spraying.

The Government is implementing the indoor residual spraying using pyrethrum-based and carbon-based insecticides in 10 malaria-endemic districts in the northern and eastern regions.

They include Amolatar, Apac, Kitgum, Kumi and Bukedea.

“About three million people in the 10 districts have been covered. We have reached over 90% of the population,” Adibaku said.

She added that under the Presidential Malaria Initiative, the budget for indoor residual spraying is sh4.5b per district each year.

Adibaku said it would be much cheaper if the ministry distributed insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

She, however, said indoor spraying has an advantage of delivering immediate impact compared to treated nets.

Adibaku disclosed that the health ministry is re-evaluating the effectiveness of using DDT for malaria control.

Dr. Joaquim Saweka, the World Health Organisation (WHO) resident representative in Uganda, said indoor residual spraying is highly effective and has been successful in Zanzibar and Rwanda.

He, however, added that it is capital intensive and needs a lot of money for each application done twice a year.

Saweka cited his previous posting in Ghana during which a town of 300,000 inhabitants required $3m for spraying each year.

He said with the high cost of spraying and low financial resources available, Uganda needs to prioritise usage of insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

Saweka added that Uganda is on the right path to eradicating malaria with efforts in prevention, diagnosis and treatment as well as universal coverage of insecticide-treated nets.

Health minister Dr. Richard Nduhura yesterday kicked off a nationwide programme to distribute 11,000 bicycles to health volunteers who will diagnose and treat malaria in homes. The programme is supported by the Global Fund.

It is part of the Government’s home-based management of malaria, which is part of a larger national strategy to deliver treatment to children within 24 hours after diagnosis.

 


Cicada killers, 2011 edition

July 6, 2011

It’s slower population growth than in the past, but earlier, too.

In earlier years we’ve had cicada killer wasps — cicada hawks, in some parlance — as early as July 7.  Rains fell all spring in 2010, which discouraged the emergence of cicadas and their predators.  First certified sighting in our backyard did not occur until July 18.

Cicada Killer, with cicada - photo by Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Cicada Killer, with cicada - photo by Ronald F. Billings, Texas Forest Service, Bugwood.org, via University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

We had modified a planter, and that may have killed some of the larvae.  Generally 2010 was a slow year for the large wasps.  My guess is that they were less active locally because the ground remained wet through July and into August.  I still get e-mails asking about how to get rid of them, and I still recommend watering the spots you want them to leave.  The females sting and paralyze a cicada, then plant that cicada in a tunnel underground with one wasp egg.  The young wasp hatches and feeds on the cicada, emerging usually the next summer to carry on the cycle (in a long summer, there may be a couple of hatchings, I imagine).  Females do not like to tunnel in wet ground, partly because it collapses on them, and I suspect wet ground is conducive to fungi and other pests that kill the eggs or hatchlings. Our wet weather kept them away last year.

I waited to say anything this year because I wanted more, but we saw the first cicada killer wasps this year on June 27, 2011, the earliest date we recorded here.  I had hoped to get a good photo, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Down at Colorado Bend State Park, the cicada killers greeted our arrival, much to the panic of the little kids in the campsite next door.  They were happy to learn the wasps don’t aim to sting them, and the kids actually watched them at work.  One of the wasps reminded me of just how much they like dry ground — she kept tunneling into the fire pit, unused now because of the fire bans that cover 252 of Texas’s 254 counties.  Covering the holes, putting objects over the holes, nothing could dissuade her from using that site.  I hope for the sake of the larvae that they hatch soon, and get out, before someone builds a fire in the pit.  Some of the cicadas in that area hit 110 decibels at least, and they badly need the discipline of a force of cicada killers, if you ask me.

Prowling the yard this morning I found two more emergence holes.  The wasps leave a smaller hole than the cicadas, so I’m pretty sure they are back in force.

Nature, red in tooth and claw, the poets say.  Or in this case, moist in sting.

It’s summer.  By the weather, it’s late summer.   Hello, cicada killers, Sphecius speciosa.

Earlier at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

More:


But the Earth still warms

January 18, 2011

Political activists who oppose working to stop or slow greenhouse gas emissions in order to slow global warming find themselves in awkward positions recently.

Before, during and after the Copenhagen meeting in December 2009 they predicted that warming had stopped, and that we are entering a period of global cooling.  Alas for their claim, the planet refuses to cool.  The decade ending in 2009 was the warmest in human history; 2010 itself turned out to be one of the warmest years in history, worldwide.

NOAA graphic: Indicators of global warming: “Seven of these indicators would be expected to increase in a warming world, and observations show that they are, in fact, increasing. Three would be expected to decrease and they are, in fact, decreasing.”

Somebody stole hundreds of e-mails from one of the climate research clusters in England, and the anti-action activists claimed that the messages would reveal wrong-doing on the part of scientists, perhaps even criminal action.  Instead, five separate investigations discovered no wrong-doing on the parts of scientists, but a lot of hard work gone for too little action because of the anti-science shenanigans of the anti-action crew.  The science showing global warming remains untouched, with no significant body of research showing contrary.

One of the loudest voices against claims of global warming, Christopher Monckton, was unmasked as a blowhard and a fraud.    Scientists organized to refute the hoax claims of the anti-action activists.

So, the anti-action activists are sore.  They don’t take criticism well, and they especially don’t like anyone who points out their errors.

Sadly, they didn’t learn from the their past hoaxes.  So if even a lowly high school teacher should point out an error of history, they resort to making false claims and censorship against the teacher.  They have no data to back their case, nothing but invective to rebut with.

And so it was that a rather new site, hauntingthelibrary, took my comment noting where they could find the data to disabuse their wild claims, stripped it out, and substituted words I did not and would not write.

Fraud again, this time from hauntingthelibraryHoaxFraud even in small things.

The movement against the science of global warming is rotten to its core.  (Seriously — most sites would be happy to note the pingback from this blog; the blogger had to act to block the pingback from showing up.  What are they so afraid of?)

Legend says that Galileo, backing out of the audience with the Pope in which he was put under house arrest after having “recanted” any claim that the Earth orbits the Sun, said quietly, “Still, it moves.”  Even the Pope’s powers through the Inquisition could not stop the Earth orbiting the Sun.  No matter how powerful the denial propaganda machines, no matter how many anti-science bloggers they recruit, the Earth keeps on stubbornly warming up.

Or, as Galileo might have said, “Eppure, lei si scalda!”

_____________

Update: Then there is Anti-Gore Effect Sillies Syndrome — claiming Gore erred, when he didn’t.  It’s demonstrated with the infection fully affecting the judgment of its victims at this odd place, XD Talk Forums.

 

More:

Earlier at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

Photo by W. W. MacFarlane - Pine bark beetle damage in Teton National Forest

Photo by W. W. MacFarlane – NPR caption: “Many dead trees appear gray and red on the high-mountain slopes of Union Pass Bridger in Teton National Forest in Wyoming”


Butterflies are free, to move about the country

October 24, 2010

Great mysteries of science, history and spirit call to us:  How do the monarch butterflies do it?

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) fly north from their enclave in Mexico every spring, stopping to lay eggs on milkweed plants.  After a migration of several hundred miles, that first group that left Mexico dies off.  Their offspring hatch in a few days, devour the milkweed, make a chrysalis, metamorphose into butterflies, then fly farther north, where they repeat their parents’ behavior:  Lay some eggs, and die.  Within three generations, they’ve spread north into Canada.

Kathryn's butterfly plantings, October 2010 - photo by Ed Darrell

Inviting the monarchs in: You can see how Kathryn worked to attract butterflies. In this photo, you can see the butterfly weed (a milkweed), red Turk's cap, and blue ageratum especially for the monarchs.

Then the fourth generation does something so strange and wonderful people can’t stop talking about it:  They fly back to Mexico, to the same trees their great-great-great grandparents left.  There they sip some nectar, get some water, and spend a lot of time hanging in great globs, huddling over the winter, to start life for generations of monarch butterflies the next spring.

Sometimes in Texas in October, we can see clouds of monarch butterflies winging south.  If we’re lucky, they stop to visit our backyards and gardens, and we might provide some water and nectar to urge them homeward.  Kathryn, of course, plants the stuff the monarchs like, to help them, and to give us a chance to see them.

Monarch habitat in Mexico is under severe stress and threat.  Late storms and early freezes decimated monarch populations over the last decade [yes, that’s the proper use of “decimated;” look it up].  Human plantings are more critical to the monarch butterflies than ever before.

Two years ago Kathryn and I spent a September morning outside the library at Lawrence University, in Appleton, Wisconsin, watching monarchs sip nectar from local flowers for their journey.  Those same butterflies — we hope — passed through Texas a couple of weeks later.

Two weeks ago . . . well, see for yourself:

Monarch butterfly on blue porterweed, Dallas, TX October 2010 - photo by Ed Darrell IMGP5343

A monarch butterfly feeds on blue porterweed in Kathryn's garden, October 2010 - photo by Ed Darrell

Monarch butterfly on blue porterweed, Dallas, October 20101 - photo by Ed Darrell IMGP5347

. . . we're here with the camera, little guy, just open up those wings, please . . .

Monarch  butterfly on blue porterweed, Dallas, Texas October 2010 - photo by Ed Darrell IMGP5345

That's it! Beautiful! Have a safe trip, and come back next spring, will you?

Resources, more:

Conoclinium coelestinum


Tupper takes up the quill

September 23, 2010

Karl Tupper of the Pesticide Action Network started blogging at PAN’s site, GroundTruth, a few days ago.  His carefully-thought out, informative writing turns to the issue of bedbugs and DDT in his first post.

GroundTruth, the blog of the Pesticide Action Network

Is there room for another blog?  Any blogging about science, with accuracy, is always welcome.

Karl’s second post updates us on EPA’s hearings on atrazine, and the industry campaign to slander any agency who dares to ask the tough questions about chemical safety.  Shades of the 1962 campaign against Rachel Carson, eh?


DDT can’t fight bedbugs

September 19, 2010

Newsweek magazine, even in its much reduced form (bolstered by a good on-line site), still provides essential reporting.

A week or so ago Newsweek published a piece of reporting on the politics of bedbugs.  To wit:

  1. DDT doesn’t work against bedbugs, and hasn’t worked against them since the late 1950s.
  2. Astroturf organizations, so-called “think-tanks” set up by corporate interests jumped on bedbugs as another way of attacking the 46-years dead Rachel Carson, environmentalists, scientists and government — falsely.  The Heartland Institute is singled out as one group spreading false claims in favor of poison and against environmental protection.
  3. The recent resurgence of bedbugs is more related to changes in fighting other pests than in the discontinuation of DDT against them.  Had DDT been the magic answer, bedbugs should have made a resurgence in 1960 when DDT use against them was stopped, not 2010, a full half-century later.
  4. The many screeds in favor of DDT are politically driven, not science driven.

Think about that — every claim that we need DDT to fight bedbugs is a planted, political advertisement, and not a fact-based policy argument.  Each of those claims is based in a political smear, and not based on science.

The really weird part is that so many writers and bloggers spread the false claims without being paid.  Selling one’s soul for money is understandable; giving one’s soul away for nothing is stupid, or evil, or both.

Newsweek reported:

DDT “devastated” bedbug populations when it was introduced in the 1940s, says Richard Cooper, technical director for Cooper Pest Solutions and a widely quoted authority on bedbug control. Mattresses were soaked in it, wallpaper came pre-treated with it. It also killed boll weevils, which fed on cotton buds and flowers (by far, the majority of DDT was applied to cotton fields), and, incidentally, it killed bald eagles and numerous other species of birds, the phenomenon that gave Carson her title. In the laboratory, DDT can cause cancer in animals; its effect on human beings has long been debated, but since it accumulates up the food chain, and stays in the body for years, the consensus among public-health experts was that it was better to act before effects showed up in the population. But long before the United States banned most uses of it in 1972, DDT had lost its effectiveness against bedbugs—which, like many fast-breeding insects, are extremely adept at evolving resistance to pesticides. “Bloggers talk about bringing back DDT,” says Bob Rosenberg, director of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, “but we had stopped using it even before 1972.”

Resources:

Evolution has bred DDT-resistant bedbugs. Chart from

Evolution has bred DDT-resistant bedbugs. Chart from “Understanding Evolution, Bed Bugs Bite Back Thanks to Evolution,”


Gulf fritillary on blue porterweed

August 9, 2010

Gulf fritillary on blue porterweed - photo by Ed Darrell - copy free with attribution IMGP4824

Gulf fritillary butterfly on blue porterweed, Dallas, Texas — photo by Ed Darrell — use free with attribution

A gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae (Linnaeus, 1758)) on blue porterweed, Stachytarpheta urticifolia, also known as blue rats tail, or nettleleaf velvetberry.  Dallas, Texas, August 9, 2010.

Gulf fritillary on blue porterweed - photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution IMGP4820

This fritillary hung around for a few minutes.

Kathryn plants butterfly-attracting plants — a concept that was new to me when she introduced it at our home in Cheverly, Maryland, with several plants that acted like butterfly magnets, to my astonished delight.  We first ran into the brilliant orange gulf fritillaries in 1988 or 1989 here in Dallas.  For the past few summers, fritillaries have not been frequent visitors in our yard.

Kathryn stepped up the butterfly plantings this spring, including passion vine (Passiflora incarnata).  The passion vine twines toward one of the bird feeders, but in the past week or so has been losing leaves — to caterpillars of the gulf fritillary, it turns out.  Blue porterweed attracts all sorts of butterflies, but the fritillaries have been rather common, no doubt hoping to give their progeny a little boost with the passion vine, their favored food.

Butterfly afficianadoes in Dallas are urged to plant milkweed and butterfly bush to help the monarchs, whose populations are stressed by the recent cold winter, dramatic reductions in habitat, and destruction of their sanctuary trees in Mexico where they migrate each winter.  But all butterflies could use some habitat help, I think.  The rewards are great.

Gulf fritillary on blue porterweed - photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution - IMGP4822

Gulf fritillary on blue porterweed, catching the morning sun

Gulf fritillary butterfly on blue porterweed - photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution - IMGP4823

Butterfly plantings will attract butterflies, guaranteed. Gulf fritillary enjoys some blue porterweed nectar.


First cicada killer sighting of 2010

July 19, 2010

Cicada killer wasps appeared as early as July 7, in our yard.  This year we had a cold winter, with snows that appear to have stymied even the nasty, invasive Argentine fire ant.  But June was dry and hot.  July came with rains, and cicada killers don’t like wet soil to dig in.

For that matter, we don’t have many cicadas, either.

Plus, we had to tear down a planter box attached to the dining room window, since it hid termites too well.  No doubt that planter had young from the cicada killers in it.

Early yesterday evening, as we finished dinner, we watched the house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) escorting their young to the bird feeders, the cardinal “babies” (Cardinalis cardinalis) breaking out of their baby feathering, we looked for the family of red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) — and there it was:  One lone cicada hawk zooming across the patio, yellow-and-black striped abdomen standing out among the other paper wasps (almost certainly Sphecius speciosa).

They’re back!

Earlier at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

More:


Malaria tough to beat: Canadian Press review of The Fever

July 5, 2010

At Canadian Press, Carl Hartman reviewed The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, a dramatic work of non-fiction about malaria and mosquitoes by Sonia Shah (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2010).  Hartman concluded:

Evidence of mosquito resistance to the drug has been recently reported.

Shah is skeptical of a surge of private charity that emphasizes the use of mosquito nets following the decline of government-led anti-malaria programs in the 1990s. Acknowledging the contributions of Bill Gates and former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, she lists Veto the ‘Squito, a youth-led charity; Nothing but Nets, an anti-malarial basketball charity; and World Swim Against Malaria. She quotes The New York Times as decrying “hip ways to show you care.”

Her own comment: “Just because something is simple doesn’t necessarily mean that people will do it.”

“(T)he schools, roads, clinics, secure housing and good governance that enable regular prevention and prompt treatment must be built,” she concludes. “Otherwise the cycle of depression and resurgence will begin anew; malaria will win, as it always has.”

Anti-environmentalists, anti-scientists, and other conservatives won’t like the book:  It says we can’t beat malaria cheaply by just spreading a lot of poison on Africa and Africans.

Especially if you’re doing the noble thing and vacationing in the Gulf of Mexico in Alabama, or Mississippi, or Louisiana, you may want to read this.  If you’re vacationing in the Hamptons, Martha’s Vinyard, or Cannes, buy several copies to pass out at dinner with your friends.

More:


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