Friday, May 24, 2019

What’s This Bug? The Asian Tiger Mosquito.

Close up of a black and white striped mosquito - The Asian Tiger Mosquito - Aedes albopictus
Aedes albopictus
Here at ARBICO we get a lot of people
coming in clutching their phones or carrying in carefully preserved specimens in glass jars or baggies
(not to mention those that send us emails with pictures) and they all ask a variation of the same question: “What’s this bug?’. And we love it. Not only are we generally crazy bug people, we embrace every opportunity to direct a person away from wholesale poisoning in the name of pest control and to guide them to a better, nature-loving choice. Some of what we come across is interesting in a “that’s weird” kind of way and some is interesting in a “oh, that’s what that looks like” way. These interactions can be entertaining as well as informative and I’d like to share some of this with you. So, with this post, I am initiating an on-going series to highlight some of these.

Close up of a tiger resting in the shadows -  photo by Edewaa Foster on Unsplash
We begin with the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Most people are surprised when they really get a look at these small guys (about 1/4" long) because they are actually quite lovely and way more decorative than one might think a mosquito could be. Their trademark black and silvery white striping may vary somewhat, but this species is easily identified by the white “racing” strip that runs from the front of the head down to its back. If this coloration seems more zebra than tiger, there may be a hint to this name thing in its origin story: In 1894, an entomologist, F.A.A. Skuse, in Sydney received a previously undocumented specimen from Calcutta. He referred to the insect as his “banded mosquito of Bengal” and gave it the albopictus name, which means “painted white”. Somewhere over time, this reference to Bengal became connected to this most famous animal of Bengal, the tiger. The ferocity of this insect probably played a part is the name as well. Besides, “Asian Zebra Mosquito” just doesn’t sound right.

Three Lucky Bamboo plants in white pots
Lucky Bamboo
The part in its name that is accurate, is the “Asian” part, as it is native to Southeast Asia. It has not stayed there, though. It has proven to be extremely successful as an invasive species. In fact, it is one of the Top 100 World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species according to the Global Invasive Species Database and can now be found in a good portion of the world. The reasons for its success lie in the adaptability of this insect. It can thrive in a wide variety of climates from wet to dry in tropical and temperate areas; it feeds on multiple types of hosts (people, domestic and wild animals and birds); it is a container breeder that can breed in small amounts of water (both natural and manmade) and it is active year-round in many areas. It is believed that these pretty little biters first came to the Southeastern U.S. in a shipment of tires in the mid-1980’s. California had managed to stay clear of these invaders until 2001, when they were found in several counties. It was determined that these mosquitoes had been introduced by a shipment of ornamental “Lucky Bamboo” plants from Taiwan.

White Aedes aegypti larvae hanging in water on a black background
Aedes aegypti larvae
So, what’s the deal with these? First of all, these tigers are difficult to ignore. The females are aggressive biters and might bite the same person several times; she is persistent about getting that all-important iron and protein needed to produce eggs. In addition, Asian Tiger Mosquitoes work during the day, unlike other species that will feed at dawn and dusk. This day-drinking habit means they can come into contact with greater number of people than other mosquitoes and it also makes them more difficult to control. Most large-scale spraying for mosquito control takes place at night in order reduce the effects on humans and other insects and because atmospheric conditions in daytime make it less effective. By the time these guys go to work in the morning, the sprays broadcast at night will have already dissipated.

A brown dog sitting by a table in the grass with brown lawn chairs around itThis biggest issue with these mosquitoes is that they are reliable vectors for some very serious diseases. These diseases include Chikungunya, Zika, Encephalitis, Dengue, Yellow Fever, West Nile Virus and Heartworms in dogs. Of all the big names of viral diseases carried by mosquitoes, the only one the Asian Tiger does not carry is Malaria; that virus belongs to the Aedes aegypti species. It is important to note that the viruses carried by the Asian Tiger in the U.S. have (to this date) only affected animals; there is no evidence of human disease. So, although your risk may be fairly low, take care to protect your animals from potentially devastating bites as you are outside enjoying yourself this summer. Here are some ideas from my blog.

In late 2017, the EPA approved the use of male Asian Tiger Mosquitoes that have been infected with the Woolbachia bacteria as a biopesticide. These non-biting boys are then let loose to breed with wild females. The bacteria renders their offspring unviable, eventually causing the population to drop. These bacteria-ridden deadbeat dads are being sold under the moniker “ZAP Males”.

A green plant with some standing water in the middle of it
These mosquitoes are pretty but they can be a real nuisance to you and a real danger to your animals. The best way to protect yourself is to cover yourself up when outdoors and to deprive them of breeding space, but remember that they can breed in something as small as a bottle cap - even a flower or plant. We offer a comprehensive assortment of mosquito control products to help you and further information here.

If you are interested in what the USDA has to say about the Asian Tiger Mosquito, here is a Public Service Announcement video they put out. You can also keep up to date with these insects and other invasive species on their website here.

Happy bite-dodging this summer!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Dragons Live Among Us

Since I work in an insect-centric business, I decided to look at dragon insects in honor of the last episode of Game of Thrones (yes, I’m one of “those” people). Dragons are most closely associated with reptiles and there are many of those that look like dragons. There are also many sea creatures that are dragon-like. Not to mention real life flying dragons, like in this video. In the insect realm, there are some insects that have latched onto the dragon name for one reason or another, even though they don’t really resemble dragons much. Let's take a look at some of these:
Close-up of a beautiful yellow-orange dragonfly. Photo by James Wainscott on Unsplash.
Dragonflies – These are the creatures that first come to mind when thinking “dragons + insects”. There are 5,000 species of these fascinating flying insects and it seems that each one must be vying with the next to be the most beautiful. Here are some top contenders for that title. As lovely as they are, dragonflies are deadly predators who devour fellow insects. But how did they come to be called dragonflies? Interestingly enough, the name comes from folklore, although their homicidal inclinations may be what made the name stick. If you are interested in seeing an award-winning video of the dragonfly world, check it out here. The super-macro photography is simply amazing!

A brown and grey moth on a white background - the Spotted Apatelodes Moth (Apatelodes torrefacta)
Apatelodes torrefacta
Dragon Moths – This interesting guy is the Spotted Apatelodes (Apatelodes torrefacta), a native of the east coast of North America. These are not an energetic moths; it is common for them to stay motionless for many hours at a time. Here is a video that really shows why people call them Dragon Moths – fair warning, though:  it’s not doing anything. An interesting side note on this insect is that, for a short time, there was an airplane named after it.

Dragonhead Caterpillar – Now we get to an insect that actually has dragon features,specifically armored heads with multiple pointy horns and spines down the length of the body. At least, those are the basic ornamentations in this group of caterpillars, as each of the 400 different species in this group has its own spin on the dragon look. Some have Darth Vader-type black helmets and some look like fuzzy Gummi worms. Dragonhead caterpillars are found across the world in tropical and temperate environments and their looks are as varied as their environments. Check out a cool one trucking along here.

A black and white butterfly on a daisy - the White Dragonfly butterfly (Lamproptera curius)
Lamproptera curius
Dragontail Butterfly – As the name indicates, these butterflies have long and flowing tails like one would might see on a dragon. These beauties are common throughout most of Asia; but, unfortunately the White Dragontail Butterfly is defined as vulnerable and in need of protection in Pennisular Malayia. Here is a video that show how beautifully their spectacular tails move.

Close up of a golden colored ant - the The Pheidole viserion ant
Pheidole viserion

Dragon Ants – A few years back, scientists discovered two new ant species in New Guinea. While this may not be terribly surprising given the teeming cauldron of biodiversity that New Guinea is, these particular ants have a very unique appearance. Their very large heads are not unusual amongst ants, but their curve, hooked spiky armor along their bodies is. Apparently the scientists who got to name them are Games of Thrones nerds, because somewhere along in the naming process they decided that the ants look like Khaleesi’s dragons. So they became Pheidole drogon and Pheidole viserion. You can learn more about them and watch a virtual dissection here.

Closeup of three scarab beetles - Gymnetis drogoni, Gymnetis rhaegali and Gymnetis viserioni scarab beetles  
From left: Gymnetis drogoni, Gymnetis rhaegali and Gymnetis viserioni 
Dragon Scarabs – An entomologist from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Brett Ratcliffe, recently named some of his latest scarab beetle discoveries after the Game of Thrones dragons. Drogon became Gymnetis drogoni, Rhaegal became Gymnetis rhaegali and Viserion became Gymnetis viserion. Dr. Ratcliffe is an  admitted GOT fan, but his main reasoning for the names was to ride in on the pop culture wave and bring attention to the wondrous diversity in nature.The tactic is thoroughly effective; I did not know before I read about this that one in four living things on Earth is a beetle. Kudos to you, Dr. Ratcliffe!

Closeup of a black baby dragon on a fingertip - really ral
Nope, not really real...
Game of Thrones is not the only dragon franchise that is everywhere these days. A much-loved child in my life is and has been obsessed with the colorful creatures in the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy. So, it’s been all dragons all the time around me lately. Nevertheless, I draw the line at disturbing baby dragon dolls (which you can get for the rock bottom price of $1,334.42) and I’m not buying that this is real, either. But, like all true Game of Thrones fans, I have cleared my calendar for Sunday night and am hoping that at least one dragon survives.


Submitted by Pam

Friday, May 10, 2019

Can You Compost Without a Yard or Garden? Yes, You Can!

A variety of fruit and vegetable scraps in a large glass jar with a white topDid you know that this week is International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW)? I didn’t either until a few days ago, even though it’s apparently been around since 1995. The goal is “to raise the awareness of the public regarding the benefits of using compost to improve or maintain high quality soil, to grow healthy plants, reduce the use of fertilizer and pesticides, improve water quality and protect the environment”. With such lofty aspirations, what can an individual do to participate, especially someone who does not garden or lives in an apartment (or some other dwelling without a yard)? Plenty, as it turns out.

Colorful poster that says' "Cool the Climate - Compost! International Compost Awareness Week May 5-11, 2019" Artwork by Evan Clark, poster contest winner
2019 ICAW Poster Contest Winner
If you are on the fence about taking the leap into composting, you should know that the many benefits of compost more than make up for the little bit of effort that it takes to do it. Compost can significantly reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills (as much as 75% of municipal waste), reduce methane gas emissions, clean up toxins in the soil and improve soil structure and health. All of which helps cool down and green up the environment.

Even if you are serious about your commitment to a better Earth, you may still have some concerns about the composting process, especially in small-space homes. Most of these are probably very common and can be overcome. For instance:

The hassle of it all – Granted, there will be a change in the way things are done, but they do not necessarily mean more work and can actually reduce waste-related work. For instance, you will be making fewer trips to the dumpster and your trash will be lighter. Bear in mind that, when making a lifestyle change, the greatest effort is often in changing an attitude.

A small glass bowl filled with kitchen scraps sitting next to a soap dish on a stainless steel sink.
It will take up too much room – All you really need is a bit of counter or floor space to place a bin in. There are many fine options out there that are designed with indoor composting in mind and we carry several of them. If you are a DIY kind of person, you could re-purpose a plastic bin or make your own from scraps of wood.

It’ll smell up the place – Don’t accept the myth that all compost is disgusting and smelly. The odor should be closer to dirt than decomposition. If you are adding the proper items in the proper way, any odor problem you may have comes from the way the compost is being maintained. Your compost can start stinking if it is not mixed enough, or has too much moisture, or not enough green material. All of which can be fixed easily. For more details, look here.

So, release your misgivings and start having fun with this simple yet effective way to help our planet.

Earthworm toys made from wooden beads in green, pink & blue. Earthworms by Begin Again Toys.
No, not these kind of earthworms.
There are a couple of options that work exceptionally well for indoor composting that I’d like to mention. These are Vermiculture and Bokashi. In Vermiculture, earthworms are used to accelerate the composting process and, ultimately, to create castings. These castings are rich in nutrients, microbes and bacillus and work exceptionally well to elevate soil. Vermiculture is done in contained worm bins and produce very little to no odor. See what we offer in the world of worms here. The process of composting with Bokashi originated in Japan, where creativity in maximizing living space is a way of life. There are pros and cons to this method, however. You can incorporate more types of matter into the compost (which makes that part easier); but you will not produce a traditional compost, it will be a fermented liquid which has specific application requirements (which makes that part harder). You’ll find more information here and a video here. Should you decide this is the method for you, we have all you need to get you started and keep you going.

Four young children with plastic gardening tools crouched around a garden,
So what is a poor, non-gardening apartment dweller to do with all the compost that will be produced? After all, you can only fill so many potted plants. There are some interesting options out there, including:

Farmers Markets – Ask the vendors if they would like donations to their compost piles, either in the form of compost itself or thoughtfully collected scraps. Even if they are a “no”, they may have other ideas for you. Markets close to you can easily be found online.

Schools – Many schools have gardens and most are happy to accept donations of nearly any form. Here at ARBICO, we donate compost and other gardening supplies to the kids at La Paloma Academy.

Close-up of a black rooster with red wattle and comb. Photo by Mai Moselund on Unsplash.Community Gardens – Neighborhood gardens are common in many, if not most, places these days. You are already a part of a community, with your new-found composting spirit, you can become part of the community gardeners. You can find one near you here.                                     

Chicken Lovers – Raising backyard chickens is all the rage and the community is strong. While they may not need compost, your scraps could be greatly appreciated. Reach out on the BackYard Chickens site or go back to the Farmers Market and look for someone selling eggs.

Go Online – Offer compost and/or scraps on Craigslist or some similar site. Of course, always take the necessary precautions when opening yourself up to strangers. A more gentle approach would be to post on your Facebook.

City/Local Services - Check out local colleges and universities to see if they have sustainability programs you can tap into. Go to your municipality’s website to see what they have going. If you contact your local county extension office, someone there will probably have some good suggestions for you.

Silhouette of people standing on a ridge in the woods with the sun setting behind them.Give Back -  Why not give back directly to Mother Earth? The next time you are hiking or walking your dog or just out in nature, sprinkle some compost around a tree or in a field. As long as you make sure you are not on private property and that the compost is clean, it should be a win-win type of thing. For extra fun, make it a family affair and put your heads together to find new and interesting spots to visit for each compost drop.
If, after having read all this, you still don’t want to start yet another time-consuming project, I recommend purchasing some of the compost, castings and compost teas we have to offer. These are all exceptional products, but, this week, I’d like to draw your attention to what we have from Tank’s Green Stuff. They are dedicated to everything that  International Compost Awareness Week stands for (learn more about them here). We are proud they are here in Tucson and working with us.

Submitted by Pam

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