Join me this year as a Citizen Scientist?
In the meantime, enjoy these comics from Bird & Moon. See you outside!
Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch begins November 10th.
Join me this year as a Citizen Scientist?
In the meantime, enjoy these comics from Bird & Moon. See you outside!
After picking blackberries two weeks ago, and subsequently suffering from the itchiest bites I have ever sustained, I am ready to share the results of my latest inquiry into...
Chiggers=Really Itchy Bites!
It looks like a tick, but only if you use a microscope; these practically invisible mites are the larvae stage of an 8-legged arachnid. Boy's Life states: "Red bugs, chiggers, berry bugs, scrub-itch mites and harvest mites are all terms used to describe members of the family of insects known as Trombiculidae. These reddish-orange mites can be found worldwide, but they really enjoy hanging out in damp, grassy and wooded areas, especially at the edges of forests." Approximately 50,000 species have been described, although there are an estimated 1 million species currently living.
I was lucky, I only picked up about 15 of these tiny creatures while out picking blackberries (which, to add insult to injury, were infested with fruit fly larvae); I woke up in the middle of the night with an intense itching in my belly button-seven bites-and the next morning found an additional eight bites around my waist and in the inside of my elbow and knee. (I am NOT including photos, as my bites are red, crusty, and oozy: impressively disgusting.)
I wondered...spider or flea bites? or, ewwww, bedbugs?
My research led me to confirm a textbook case of chiggers and to the prolonged and continuing study of the most effective way to stop the confounded itching.
First, from Dragonfly Woman:
Unlike many blood feeding insects and their relatives the ticks, chiggers have very short mouthparts. Those little dangly bits at the front end of the chigger in the picture above are the chelicerae, their mouthparts. Now imagine the chigger in that photo shrunk down to a milimeter or a half milimeter in size, their actual size. Like I said – very short mouthparts! Chiggers don’t just eat the top layer of skin cells though – they go for the good stuff underneath. To do this, they pierce the skin with their chelicerae, then inject saliva to digest the tissue and expand the wound. The goop that is produced is slurped up by the chigger. Remarkably, they also inject compounds into the wound that cause an immune response in the host animal, one that hardens the tissue around the bite site. In essence, the hardened tube-shaped structure that forms (called a stylostome) is a straw that expands deeper and deeper into the host. The chigger injects more saliva and sucks up more liquified tissue as the stylostome gets longer and longer. That’s right! Chiggers have tiny mouthparts, but they use their host’s own immune system to enlarge their mouthparts into a stylet like those of mosquitoes or a beak like those found in the true bugs! Now if that isn’t amazing, I’m not sure what is.
So the chigger bites you, dissolves some of your tissue, and eats it. Big deal, right? Wrong! These tiny little creatures are capable of producing some truly awful allergic reactions. These aren’t the send you to the hospital, carry an epi-pen with you kind of response in most people. Instead you itch. You itch like you’ve never itched before. Some people get massive itchy welts. The itching is intense, so severe that people have been known to gouge welts out of their skin as they scratch and many people have reported that the pain of doing this and the ensuing scars are much easier to deal with than the itch of the bites. Now the itching wouldn’t be so bad if it were just a few bites, but most people don’t get that lucky. Instead they get tens or hundreds of bites from many individuals at one time (chiggers tend to be clustered together) that are located in inconvenient places (want to be observed scratching your armpit or your bra straps vigorously hundreds of times per day?) and don’t go away for 5-10 days. That’s right – these little tiny animals can cause massive itching for 10 days or longer! (Are you itchy yet?)
Along with experimenting with all of the above remedies, I would take 25-50 mg of Benadryl when the itching became intolerable (and also when my belly had a dessert-plate sized rash on it, which was most of the second week) once or twice a day, and especially before going to bed. I kept a bag of frozen peas and used that often, along with Ibuprofin. In addition, I dapped the wounds with tea tree oil and honey, for their antibacterial goodness, and also tried Cortisone*10 cream with aloe, and Aveeno's Anti-Itch concentrated lotion with triple oats and calamine. Taking an oatmeal bath is a lovely temporary solution, but-honestly, nothing really works.
I am two weeks in and considering using the Swiss Army knife cure. Arghhhhh.
Hmm, I had no idea-really. So...googled it, and the first answer came from "Ask an Entomologist"
This second image is a still-shot of a really cool gif created by Seattle's Eleanor Lutz (and if I ever figure out how to embed the gif, I will update this post!) Meanwhile:
I will have more interesting bug research for you soon, but wanted to lead with some fun facts. Enjoy! (and be sure to check out Tabletop Whale for additional awesome science illustrations!)
EWG's new Shoppers Guide is out!
Environmental Working Group is a one-stop shop to keep you informed on how to make healthier choices, and what to look out for when shopping for alternatives to toxic products.
It is pretty crazy when you start to understand the insidious consequences of using pesticides to grow our food! To begin with, by killing off such large numbers of insects, humans have created a trophic cascade, with a not-so-positive result of bird populations dropping by 50-75% in the UK (and elsewhere). Personally, I would rather not eat poison, and I love to watch the bugs and birds in my backyard, so I stick to organics. I strongly believe in supporting our local organic farmers and co-op, and enjoy fruits and vegetables that not only taste better but also support our natural systems.
To really scare your pants off, check out EWG's Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptor infographic (with safe choices included). Why on earth are we allowing corporations to get away with this? Yikes.
Environmental Health News (repost)
New data released recently by the FDA shows a disturbing rise in the occurrence of pesticide residues detected in thousands of samples of commonly consumed foods. In addition, the latest USDA residue report found that fruits and vegetables showed the highest frequency of pesticide residues in the findings.
Of the 10,000 foods sampled, roughly 82 percent of domestic American fruits and 62 percent of domestic vegetables carried residues of weed killers, insecticides and other pesticides commonly used by farmers. Among the domestic food samples, FDA said 97 percent of apples, 83 percent of grapes, 60 percent of tomatoes, 57 percent of mushrooms and 53 percent of plums carried residues. Looking at imported fruits and vegetables, the FDA found that roughly 51 percent of imported fruits and 47 percent of imported vegetables carried residues. Overall, the imported foods had more illegally high levels of pesticide residues than did domestic foods sampled. (12/21)
These pesticides are poisons that persist in our soil, contaminate our water, drift in the air, and are in and on our flowers and foods. The constant and accelerated use of pesticides in the last forty years is not only killing insect pests, but also the myriad of beneficial flora, fauna, and soil micro-organisms that provide us with the ecosystem services that keep our planet balanced. The evidence is clear that our children are also at risk, as pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence. Unfortunately, this information is not readily available to the public and is not making the headlines that it deserves. Luckily, watchdog groups are creating user-friendly apps and websites so you can be informed and make safe choices for your family.
To see what's on your food visit Pesticide Action Network's
What's On My Food?
Warning: prepare to be absolutely terrified
...this is just a partial list of the toxin residues found on apples :^(
I realize that because I have an affinity for backyard bugs, it is easy for me to recognize the difference between a bumblebee and honeybee. It is a combination of repeated experience and keen interest. (FYI, I am quite useless when it comes to identifying sports teams, cars, or types of deep sea mollusks :^)
I have had this handy Bee Basics: An Introduction to our Native Bees booklet available on my Biodiversity page, and I thought I would highlight it here as a free download (or, you can take yourself over to Amazon and pay $27 for it. Seriously!)
This 48-page gem is full of lovely drawings and jam-packed with interesting tidbits. A gift to you from Pollinator Partnership, the USDA, and the US Forest Service. Make friends with your backyard bees.
This Woolly Bear caterpillar was high speed cruising across our path at Seward Park last week. I LOVE Woolly Bears, but I do not see them very often, and I wondered why. I did a little research and found out that if you google them, you will get a lot of information on whether or not you can accurately predict the severity of the upcoming winter by the width of their colored bands =Nope :^)
I also found out that the Banded Woolly Bear can travel up to a mile a day looking for a protected place to spend the winter and that they like to burrow under piles of leaves. It turns out that a Woolly Bear needs the cold to complete its metamorphosis; that is, they almost freeze solid and when spring arrives they thaw out, eat some greens, and then spin a cocoon (that looks a bit like a cat hairball), before transforming into its adult form as a Tiger Moth. The Tiger Moth has only one task to complete in its two-week life: find a mate and lay eggs. They do not even have mouth parts, so need waste no time looking for food.
Does the Woolly Bear hibernate like its mammalian namesake? I dug a little deeper ...
Infinite Spider explains: "For a long time scientists weren't sure if the woolly bear caterpillar used a strategy of diapause (insect equivalent of hibernation) or quiescence to survive winter. Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania did some studies of different caterpillars collected in fall and winter and then compared their development and metabolic rates. They found that the woolly bear caterpillar goes into quiescence, hiding under leaf litter and literally going dormant until conditions change. They could wake easily if it got nice outside, unlike their diapausing cousins."
Xerces Society has created a slew of cute #LEAVETHELEAVES graphics to encourage folks to enjoy the benefits of leaf litter. Cheers for mulch and overwintering sites for our insect friends!
One of the first things I did as an empty nester (in addition to BeePeeking) was to teach myself to knit. Next, I enrolled in a graduate program and earned a Masters of Teaching in Advanced Biological Inquiry (MAT/AIP). Knitting My Graduate Degree encapsulates the projects that I knitted during my three years of research into the realms of urban biodiversity, biophilia, and environmental stewardship.
Knitting allows me time to be reflective, to recognize patterns, and to consider the many possible outcomes that might occur--not only in my knitting--but in whatever inquiry task or puzzle I am working on. For me, the act of knitting involves contemplation, focus, and the ability to visualize; these are powerful skills to practice when one is taking on the task of making the world a kinder, safer, and healthier place.
Ultimately, knitting is about creating change through love, and it certainly is hard to beat that.
This is a big shout-out to Sherrie Pelsma, the face behind Portland's Pollinator Parkways (also seen on my Biodiversity page). Sherrie has created a Do-it-Yourself Manual for home-owners who would like to "Flip their Strip", i.e. convert their turf-grass parking strip into a pollinator habitat. This is an excellent resource that will guide you through all the steps of transforming your "hell-strip". The manual is packed with clear instructions, shady/sunny plant lists and planting guides, and photos. You can also follow Pollinator Parkways on Facebook for updates and to share your photos. I have included Sherrie's manual as a pdf download. Have fun with your strip!
Pollinator Parkways has created over 6000 square feet of pollinator habitat. Thank you Sherrie, for your community spirit and inspiration!
Pollinator Parkway's Do-it-Yourself Manual: