Archive | Bugs, Insects, & Invertebrates

Monarch Butterfly Population Recovers, But Still in Danger

Monarch butterfly colonies in Mexico have seemingly bounced back from last year, when bad storms decimated their numbers by 75 percent.
The orange-and-black butterflies, which migrate from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico each year, have more than doubled since last year’s low – but their numbers remain below average, scientists say.
A study sponsored by World Wildlife Federation Mexico along with the Commission on Natural Protected Areas and the cell phone carrier Telcel found that the colonies increased by 109 percent this year to coat about 10 acres of forest.
“These figures are encouraging, compared to last year, because they show a trend toward recovery,” said Omar Vidal, director of the conservation group World Wildlife Federation Mexico, according to The Associated Press.
But the numbers suggest the species remains under threat: this year’s colonies were the fourth-smallest since data collection began in 1993.
“Fluctuations in insect populations are normal in nature,” the study’s sponsors said in a statement. “With regard to the monarch butterfly, these fluctuations could be due mainly to climatic conditions.”
But scientists said that natural fluctuation doesn’t account for huge drops like they’ve been seeing. Illegal deforestation in Mexico’s Michoacan state has played a role, and extreme weather conditions caused by global warming represents a long-term threat. Genetically modified crops and pesticides also hurt the butterflies’ numbers by crowding out milkweed, their food of choice during migration.
“The caterpillars feed on milkweed so changing soil use in the United States and Canada is definitely having an impact on the butterflies,” said Vidal, according to AFP.

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Giant Crayfish Species Found in Tennessee

A new species of giant crayfish has been discovered in Tennessee that is twice the size of other species, researchers said Wednesday.

Scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Eastern Kentucky University found the first specimen of the new crustacean under a rock in a well-explored Tennessee creek.

The new species belongs to the genus Barbicambarus, which have distinctive “bearded” antennae, covered in hair-like bristles called setae that boost sensory awareness.

“This isn’t a crayfish that someone would have picked up and just said, ‘Oh, it’s another crayfish,’ and put it back,” said University of Illinois aquatic biologist Chris Taylor, who co-discovered the new species with Eastern Kentucky University biological sciences Professor Guenter Schuester.

“If you were an aquatic biologist and you had seen this thing, because of the size and the setae on the antennae, you would have recognized it as something really, really different and you would have saved it,” Taylor said in a statement.

The crustaceans, which can grow nearly as large as lobsters, are about 5 inches (12 cm) long and have been officially named Barbicambarus simmonsi.

“We spend millions of dollars every year on federal grants to send biologists to the Amazon, to Southeast Asia — all over the world — looking for and studying the biodiversity of those regions,” Schuster said.

“But the irony is that there’s very little money that is actually spent in our own country to do the same thing. And there are still lots of areas right here in the United States that need to be explored.”

North America is home to more than half of the world’s 600 known species of crayfish.

The report was published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

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Russian Waterworks Uses Giant Snails as Air Pollution Sensors

A Russian waterworks facility is using six giant African snails to monitor air pollution from its sewage incinerator.

The Achatina snails, which can grow up to 20 cm in height, have been fitted with heart monitors and motion sensors so that researchers can keep an eye on the effects of air pollution. Their readings will be compared with a control group, AFP reports.

The waterworks chose the snails as air pollution sensors because they have lungs and breathe air, the Vodokanal state utilities company said.

Dmitry Artamonov, the head of the Saint Petersburg office of Greenpeace environmental campaigning group, criticized the move as a publicity stunt.

“Burning sludge emits toxic dioxins,” AFP quoted Artamonov as saying. “I don’t know if snails get cancer, but even if they do, it won’t happen straight away, and we will not hear about it from Vodokanal.”

The sewage treatment facility, which is located on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg, is one of the biggest in Russia.

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Destructive Beetle Found in L.A. Airport

Customs officials said Wednesday they had intercepted one of the world’s most destructive grain and seed pests in a shipment of rice at Los Angeles International Airport.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Jaime Ruiz said in a statement that agents discovered the khapra beetle in a shipment of Indian rice from Saudi Arabia last week.

Entomologists from the Department of Agriculture identified the live adult insects and larvae.

Ruiz said the khapra beetle is one of the world’s most dangerous pests because of its ability to survive for long periods of time without food and its tolerance to insecticides and fumigants.

The shipment was quarantined and destroyed under U.S. Customs and Border Patrol supervision, Ruiz added.

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Bumble Bee Populations Dive More than 90 Percent in U.S.

Bumble bee populations in the U.S. have declined sharply over the past 20 years, with some species plummeting over 90 percent, according to a new study.

Scientists at the University of Illinois assessed the populations of eight of North America’s 50 species of wild bumble bees. University of Illinois entomology professor and head researcher Sydney Cameron says four of the species “are significantly in trouble.”

“They could potentially recover; some of them might. But we only studied eight. This could be the tip of the iceberg,” Cameron said.

The scientists said the bumble bees exhibit low genetic diversity and are more likely to be infected with Nosema bombi, a parasite that has afflicted European bumble bees. Both of these factors may have contributed to the sudden die-off, which has taken place in the last two decades.

“It’s just an association. There may be other causes,” Cameron said, adding that climate change appears to play a role in the drop-off of bee populations in Europe.

The relative abundance of the four species in question has dropped by as much as 96 percent, and the surveyed geographic ranges of those species have diminished by 23 percent to 87 percent.

The study raises serious concerns because bees are essential for the pollination of crops such as tomatoes, peppers and berries.

“We need to start to develop other bees for pollination beside honey bees, because they are suffering enormously,” he added.

The three-year study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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Spotted Knapweed Control Provokes Opposition from Beekeepers

Spotted knapweed, a thistle-like plant with purple blooms, looks innocent enough, but it’s the bane of any gardener’s existence.

An invasive species, it releases a toxin from its roots to stunt the growth of native vegetation. In an effort to keep the spread of knapweed under control, researchers released bugs that feed on the plant earlier this year – and beekeepers in Michigan aren’t happy.

They claim the flowering plant is an integral source of nectar and pollen for their honeybees.

“If it wasn’t for this plant, we wouldn’t even be here,” said Kirk Jones, the founder of Sleeping Bear Farms in the northwest Lower Peninsula community of Beulah, according to the Los Angeles Times. If scientists do succeed in restraining the plant, he said: “It could be detrimental to the future of the beekeeping industry.”

It is unclear why beekeepers in Michigan have raised concerns while those in other states have not opposed the knapweed control so vehemently. But Michigan is among the country’s top 10 honey producers and plays a primary role in the beekeeping business.

Ken Rauscher, director of the pesticide and plant pest management division for the Michigan Department of Agriculture, says officials are looking for native flowers to sustain bees and maintain vegetation diversity.

“It’s not an attempt to take away a resource that beekeepers find valuable, but to replace it with one that might have more functionality,” Rauscher told the Times.

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Endangered Puritan Tiger Beetles Create Housing Problems in Chesapeake Bay

LUSBY, Md., March 23 (UPI) — Homeowners on a stretch of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland are frustrated by an endangered beetle that prevents them from measures to halt cliff erosion.

Marcia Seifert, a retired teacher and insurance company executive, and her friend, Phyllis Bonfield, bought a house 10 years ago in Chesapeake Ranch Estates in Calvert County. Since then, about half their backyard has crumbled to the beach below.

“It would be funny if it weren’t so absurd,” Seifert told the Baltimore Sun. “We were never told there was an endangered species along the cliff that would prevent us from protecting our homes.”

The only known populations of Puritan tiger beetles live in the sand and clay cliffs of Calvert County along one river on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and on the Connecticut River in New England. State and federal laws prevent steps that could harm their habitat.

A state Senate committee was considering a bill Tuesday that would allow homeowners to take some steps to stabilize the cliffs without worrying about the beetles. But Lauck Ward, a geologist at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, said the cliffs are eroding at both bottom and top and efforts to keep them in place will fail.

Ward recommends moving cliff-top houses away from the edge.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Pine Beetles Threaten North American Forestry

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, March 18 (UPI) — The pine beetle infestation of western Canadian forests is expected to close at least 16 major sawmills and cut exports by half, a report said Thursday.

The International Wood Markets Group forecast released in Vancouver, British Columbia, said losses due to the insects would also cause lumber prices to rise, the Vancouver Sun reported.

“Sawlog shortages caused by the mountain pine beetle could trigger the permanent closure of about 16 large primary sawmills and/or plywood production facilities within the British Columbia interior by 2018,” the report said.

The pine beetle is expected to kill 11 billion square feet of timber in British Columbia and western Alberta, the report said.

Eradication efforts have been under way for the past 10 years in what the group called the largest-ever natural environmental disaster in North America, the Sun said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Varied Landscapes Help Insect Conservation

YORK, England, Feb. 16 (UPI) — British researchers say they’ve demonstrated rugged, hilly landscapes with diverse habitat types lead to more stable butterfly populations.

Scientists from the Center for Ecology & Hydrology, Butterfly Conservation and the University of York said they used satellite images to identify topography and habitat diversity of various sites. They said they analyzed population data of 35 British butterfly species during an 11-year period. The population data had been collected by volunteers of the U.K. Butterfly Monitoring Scheme from 166 sites.

Researchers said their data showed sites with varied terrain and more diverse habitats, such as a site that had both woodland and grassland areas, tended to have more stable butterfly populations.

“More stable insect populations are better for conservation,” said lead study author Tom Oliver. “Our research shows that populations of species such as the Brown Argus and Dingy Skipper butterfly are more stable when they are located in hilly landscapes with a range of habitat types.”

The scientists say their findings could help communities design landscapes that promote the conservation of insect species.

The research appears in the journal Ecology Letters.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Bugs, Insects, & Invertebrates, Conservation0 Comments

Migration Might Shape Butterfly Wings

ATHENS, Ga., Feb. 11 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve determined monarch butterflies that migrate long distances have evolved larger and more elongated wings than other butterflies.

The University of Georgia study examined the size and shape of monarchs from migratory and non-migratory populations using sophisticated and precise computer imaging. Associate Professor Sonia Altizer and doctoral student Andy Davis compared migratory monarchs from the eastern and western United States to those in Hawaii, Costa Rica, South Florida and Puerto Rico that do not migrate.

They said their findings in monarchs were consistent with previous studies comparing migratory and non-migratory bird species, which indicate the best shape for long-distance flight involves long wings with a narrow tip to help reduce drag.

The team said it found monarchs from the migratory populations differed in body size, suggesting each population could have adapted in subtly different ways to the demands of migration.

The study was published in the online edition of the journal Evolution.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Bugs, Insects, & Invertebrates, Other0 Comments

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