WebMD helps you identify bugs and their bites

Adult flea

Are you ready for a summer of no-see-ums and bloodsuckers? If you feel a little unprepared, here’s something to inspire you, courtesy of WebMd.com: health education, dermatology, and nice macro photography, all rolled into an informative slideshow.

Bad Bugs Slideshow: Identifying Bugs and Their Bites

After you’re through, you may want to read this:

6 Insect Repellents Get High Marks

For you lovers of natural products, one repellent uses lemon eucalyptus oil. For the rest of you, remember: never use a repellent with more than 30% DEET.

Here’s to a happy and healthy summer!

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More on lacewing eggs and mystical flowers

A friend of mine commented on my previous post regarding the lacewing eggs mistaken for a “rare Buddhist flower” by referring me to this article on EnvironmentalGraffiti.com, which unfortunately demonstrates some bad journalism. The article purports to “dig deeper” into the issue, but it merely muddles it with some incorrect assertions. My take on it: they want to keep all their readers happy, including those who believe in miracles–an unfortunate trait for an environmental publication.

Ficus racemosa, one of the plants traditionally considered an udumbara flower.

First, the article does little to debunk the idea that tiny flowers can grow on nun’s washing machines. It proposes several types of real flowers that are traditionally called udumbara, all of which are trees or lotuses (see above photo). Somehow, however, the author misses that that small “flowers” growing off of metal surfaces or Buddha statues could not be any of these udumbara. The bottom line: plants need accessible nutrients to grow. Washing machines are not generally a good place to grow roots and absorb nitrogen. To believe otherwise demonstrates, in my mind, a lack of any sort of desire to use rational thought. The Hindu concept of Maya applies here–humans’ fundamental illusion is that we are somehow separate from the universe (and nature). This separation, reinforced by a lack of education, is what makes us believe in the necessity of miracles. The irony is the world is plenty fabulous without magical thinking.

Second, the author’s assertion that lacewings are not common in China is simply not true. There are at least two lineages, each with multiple species, that occur in China. For instance, the Chinese green lacewing (Chrysopa sinica) is an important predator for aphids affecting the Chinese cotton crop.

OK, enough of my rant. For your reading pleasure, here’s a link to some interesting lacewing information, including more about the properties of the egg stalks and research about whether they could be used to produce silk: http://biocontrolbeat.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/lacewing-silk/ . Cool, huh?

Rare Buddhist flower?

News items have popped up purporting the blossoming of the rare Udumbara flower, which, according to Buddhist legend, only blooms every 3,000 years. According to followers of the Falun Gong, Buddhist scripture describes the Udumbara as a “product of supernatural phenomena…a celestial flower (that) does not exist in the mundane world.” Some sources that I’ve found say it’s a sign that a new Buddha has come to the world.

The problem is that it’s not a flower at all. It’s….lacewing eggs.

Here’s a picture published in the article Rare Buddhist flower found under nuns washing machine in the London Telegraph on March 1, 2010.

A rare Buddhist flower? No! These are lacewing eggs!

Here are some purported udumbara on a Buddha’s face:

For comparison, here are a couple of pictures of lacewing eggs. The eggs are laid atop the silken stalks to keep the the hungry larvae from eating one another.

Green lacewing eggs

Lacewing eggs

Lacewings are certainly wonderful predators to have in your garden for aphid control, and they’re available for sale (here’s one online source). Perhaps to the chagrin of the Buddhists, they will “bloom” again next year, and every year after as well. It’s too bad that the lacewing’s real story–and usefulness to humans–can be so easily obscured by a little superstition. This spring, look around you and see if you can catch a glimpse of the aphid lions patrolling your garden. Treat them well; your roses will thank you!

Lacewing larva, a.k.a. an aphid lion

Lacewing larva attacking an aphid

Lacewing adult

Make your own gummi insects!

gummi dung beetleKids of all ages like gross-out food, especially if it’s sweet. A Japanese company, Megahouse, aims to please with a DIY insect kit: the Gummi-X kit. It’s sure to up the ick factor at your next slumber party or Halloween get-together.

For  around 4,300 yen (just under $50.00), you can order the kit from Amazon Japan. The “mother center” gives you a base mold, beakers, tweezers, and a measuring spoon.

pillbugs

The molds allow you to create two different beetles, pillbugs and crayfish. Expansion kits include molds for a tree frog and another beetle, going for 1,529 yen (about $17.00) each.  If only it had botflies!!!

Check out this Japanese TV commercial for the kit – even the young actors can’t hide their “Eeeeeew!”

More pictures of the kit in use are available at this Japanese blog.

British bees go urban!

The "Beehaus" by Omlet, on the roof of a house in London.

A new and improved design of beehive could be used by city dwellers to harvest up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of their own honey each year, according to Natural England, a British government conservation agency. The hives could also help stem the decline of bee populations. Continue reading

Avocado growers fear spread of fungus-bearing beetle

Will guacamole become a sometime food? After enjoying a season of near record-high avocado prices, farmers of Florida’s second-largest tropical fruit crop are now worried about a potential invasive pest, the Asian redbay ambrosia beetle.The beetle is moving Southward, carrying with it a fungus that can kill trees, including avocado trees. To date, there is no known treatment for the fungal disease, although some trees in Asia have a natural resistance to it.

The beetle has evolved a symbiotic relationship with the fungus. It carries it in a pouch in its mouth, inoculates trees with it, and then feeds off it as the fungus digests the tree.

from the Miami Herald