The Bug Report

A New Unicorn Praying Mantis
& the Rediscovered Queen Bee

Without fuss, our relationship with insects has been wildly changing lately. First, we considered eating them in case of an apocalyptic scenario. Then came the worldwide alert: bugs are disappearing – led by a bee catastrophic fallout. Whatever happened to our lunch?
Then again, the same science that predicts climate change may cause the extinction of critters and humans alike, keeps finding new species to amaze us all. The latest: a stunning praying mantis, and the reappearance of the giant Wallace bee, not seen since 1981.
Bugs’ otherworldly beauty and, based on what we now know, crucial role in the food chain, reassigns our appreciation of these creatures. So utterly distinct from us, and yet, so essential to life. The poignant note about it all is that we may not get to discover them in time.
It was surprising, for instance, to find out that spiders eat in a year the weight of the entire mankind. Or that beetles, with over 380,000 species, are the most biodiverse, making up to 40% of all insects on Earth. Some would say, no wonder The Beatles are still so dominant.
But even before the troubling notion that we’d need to start eating them – ‘for the protein, they said’ -, they began to vanish. It’s still unclear how they’re being affected by the changing climate, but one thing is for sure: if they go, we all go right after.

Brazil’s Mata Atlântica, near Rio, is one of the world’s most diverse forests. Older than the Amazon, only 10% is now left from its original size. In this doomed place, however, life thrives, and it’s where a magical creature was discovered, among half a dozen new species.
Science has no place for praying, except for the praying mantis (pardon the poor pun). Their alien appearance is not very popular, though, even when looking like a dead leaf, or an orchid. And then, there’s that business of having their heads eaten while copulating.
Maybe that’s how evolution treated such a mortal threat: by developing horns. The hand-sized Zoolea praying mantis has one, along a pair of imposing metallic-red limbs. Thus, next time you see one, before running, check for the unicorn. And make a wish or something.

Over a decade ago, what became known as Colony Collapse Disorder was so serious that scientists feared for our food crops, without bees to pollinate them. Luckily, it wasn’t to be, not because of that, anyway. But bee populations are still declining, and now, other insects too.
That’s why the rediscovery of the Wallace‘s giant bee (Megachile Pluto) in Indonesia is so auspicious. Four times as big as a honeybee, it does not produce honey or live in hives. Also, confirming a trend (more)
Read Also:
* Racy Meals
* Heat Riders
* Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees

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Heat Riders

A Genetically-Altered Mosquito   
& the Arrival of Heat Wave Pests

As if a punishing drought in the middle west, and the threat of freak tornadoes in the east were not enough, now experts are warning us that such conditions may be ideal to a another wave of undesired guests arriving at our doorsteps: bugs. But unlike (most) of out of towners willing to camp in our cramped quarters, these visitors bite.
So since heat-seeker crawlers, such as ticks, bedbugs, and (dear lord) black widows, are expected to find shelter under our roofs, we may need protection. Some countries are already unleashing an army of genetically-modified mosquitoes, or coating whole villages with a special paint, and there’re home-made repellents too.
If none of these tactics seem appealing or even practical to a discriminating city dweller such as yourself, there’s always the old-fashioned swatter, and the screen window, and the round the clock vigilance. For those fortunate enough to not having to live in a hut, that should suffice, since our bug problem is mainly an annoyance.
But to large swaths of the planet, specially those facing a quickly changing weather pattern, it’s all a matter of survival. When serious diseases such as Dengue fever, or Malaria, or Chagas, and so many others, are real threats, almost everything is worth trying to stop them, even when some of the remedies create a whole new set of challenges.
As the climate continues to change in unexpected, and truly frightening, ways, insects have more than a leg up over us. They adapt faster and our homes offer them almost everything they’d ever want to remain alive and reproducing. That means that technology and human ingenuity – if not our changing appetites, if you catch the drift – will all be tested to the limit, to produce reliable ways to cope with their explosion.
In fact, if it serves to give you any perspective, among the huge variety of themes and issues Colltales has been covering, the subject of critters is one that has deserved almost the most posts. Everything seems to indicate that the trend will continue, so we’ll try to be brief about what’s out there about them, and how it may affect you.

There are many sites online that correctly point to the importance of bugs to our own survival. Some have more of a sympathetic ring to them, such as bees, and others just get all the bad press, and for as many reasons as they usually have limbs. Most of such sites also praise nature for having created such an amazing system surrounding us.
You won’t find any of that here. Which doesn’t mean that we consider them our enemies. But for as much as we understand their right to live and thrive, when a cockroach shows up at our home, we admit it: we crush it. Sorry, but we could invoke many sanitary reasons as to why we do that almost by instinct. The real reason, though, is that we’re simply not that evolved.
The National Pest Management Association seems to agree with us. In a stern warning, they stated that ‘homeowners (or renters; bugs are not pickers) will likely encounter more pests than usual. Even areas of the country that are receiving rain aren’t in the clear, as standing rain water breeds mosquitoes, which can spread West Nile virus.’
Oh, yes, there are plenty of virus too, those microscopic versions of the same thing. But we’ll leave that for yet another post, for now. Their list of threats also includes scorpions, but we have our eye out (and hair standing in the back of our necks) for spiders, of course. The point is, though, how can you prevent that from happening?

To many people, who’d rather live an uncomplicated life (bless them), going camping, or swimming, or picnicking mean only an extra stop at the local drugstore, for some bug spray. But despite makers of the oily solution have improved its smell, most of them are rich in something that we shouldn’t be slathering our bodies with: DEET.
The initials stand for an almost unpronounceable product developed by the U.S. Army for jungle warfare. Tested as a pesticide in the late 1940s, it’s used ever since, even though it’s proven to be toxic to birds and aquatic life. Even that you may use it sparsely (more)
Read Also:
* Bug Time
* Airborne Bites
* It Bugs Them
* Honey, We’ve Shrunk the Bees
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Spring Quickens

Colors Are Bright But
Critters Are Crawling

We’re deep in the age of freaking out about nothing, while getting numb about what screws us up. If that sounds hyperbolic, take Spring’s arrival in the Northern Hemisphere, and its annual rites of wonder and obsession with sights, smells, colors, and specially, crawlers.
Yes, along with flowers and the birds, the music in the air, and the light afternoon breeze, there’s no end to the sheer terror of being touched not by an angel but by a bug. And there are plenty of them. We give you three of the most distinctive: cicadas, snails and cockroaches.
It may be hard to grasp why city folk is so terrified about the prospect of being covered by these minute aliens, utterly different from us, and yet, way more necessary to the natural world than our stinking behinds, but what’s really over the top is the language with which they’ve been greeted in the media.
‘Billions of Cicades to Swarm the East Coast.’ ‘Giant African Snails Invade Miami.’ Or ‘Roach Infestation Disables Greyhound Bus.’ Note the use of superlatives, of ‘enhanced,’ albeit cliche-ridden, imagery, all documented with detailed pictures of the little monsters in all their otherness and difference.
It’s all true, of course, even though that we are the ones who’re invading them, or at least causing them to multiply and seek refuge in our dwellings. Pollution, climate change, pesticides, it’s all our own doing, really. And the inclusion of roaches here is because, let’s face it, there are simply very few places on earth they won’t show up.
As for those who blame the media for all the alarm, let’s keep in mind that both language and imagery come from or are based upon the greatest compendium of advertising horrors we’ve ever known: the bible. That’s where such fears can be tracked to, plus the gory flair that pious writers, such as Dante Alighieri, have added throughout the years.

So when locusts showed up in city-size dark clouds over the Middle East, last month, that creaky mother of all qualifying cliches of news coverage trudged right along with it: ‘biblical proportions.’ Followed, of course, by words such as ‘plague’ and ‘apocalyptic.’ Never mind that the phenomenon, however its disturbing look and destructive power, has been happening since, well, biblical times.
It doesn’t matter. We’ll freak out about it all the same. War, poverty, hunger, slavery, exploitation, disease, all of which also playing leading roles in the gospels, seem to have somehow lost Continue reading

Bug Time

Here Comes The Sublime &
Hell Raising Insect Season

Ah, spring. The bright days, the warming weather, the million bug bites. And also the spread of pollen through the air, which turns some of us into anti-allergy pill-popping fiends this time of the year.
Not to dive too deep into that, but being of the half-empty kind, diving anyway, let’s review the latest in the hairy, alien, crawling world of praying mantis, ants and spiders. Which happens to be beautiful, too.
The way we figure, you’ll be encountering these and other insects anyway, in the months ahead, mostly uninvited inside your home, but hopefully in small amounts, lest not even mention the nightmarish idea of an infestation of any kind.
The few minutes you’ll spend reading this post may prove instructive to what’s coming up, regardless whether you remain to bake in the city Continue reading

Airborne Bites

Art Traps, Laser Beams & DNA
in the War Against Mosquitoes

Except for a few days, winter has been mild in the Eastern Seaboard so far. That’s no excuse not to envy those living in warmer weather.
Which brings us to today’s subject: mosquitoes. Aha! Feel the sting? That’s what you get for daring to wear shorts in November.
We all know the multitude of miserable infectious diseases they can carry, but instead of dwelling on demonizing them, let’s just skip to the very new ways being devised to annihilate them, shall we?
It turns out that this is prime season both for those mosquito-infested regions of the globe, and the business of trying to trap and eliminate them for good.
Laser barriers, mutant armies, genetically-altered species, the brave Continue reading

It Bugs Them

Giant Wetas, Smart Moths & a
Wasp That Never Forgets a Face

A report about a giant bug found in New Zealand caused a storm this week in the world of insects and those who love them.
Feeling the bite, we added our own roundup of true tales of tiger moths fooling hungry bats and wasps with an outstanding memory.
The story that mesmerized tabloids around the world was about the wetapunga (“god of ugly things”) in Māori, an endangered cricket-like species native of New Zealand.
Known to its friends as Grand Weta, it’s a sizeable, flightless bug, but it’s neither the biggest in the world nor as rare as the stories about it led most to believe.
That characterization incensed entomologists all over, who think it’s utterly unfair to other bugs such as the Titan, the Goliath and the Elephant beetles that are the truly heavyweights of the category.
For those who don’t feel any kinship with these alien lookalikes, Continue reading

Vermin News

Flies that Like Beer &
A Cockroach Hall of Fame

In the culinary world, eating bugs may be the last frontier. But it may take a while for your corner deli to stock dried cricket snacks.
For flies, though, the pickings are never slim; guess that’s why they like beer. And someday, there’ll be a Roach Museum in every city.
It’s all part of the exciting and fleeting world of urban vermin, those shy roommates of ours, that have been with us since we built our first cities and, most certainly, will outlast us.
Their fierce competitiveness drives us to stay a step ahead or die of starvation and disease, and much of the way we store food and develop medicines has been shaped by the threat of their omnipresence.
So much so that many a nutritionist or adventurous gourmet has been suggesting ways for us to control their population, other than taking our chances with poisoning and other unsafe extermination methods. Continue reading