Small, whitish moths in the pantry? Could be Indian meal moth, Plodia interpunctella

Small, whitish moths in the pantry? Could be Indian meal moth, Plodia interpunctella

 

Sparkling scales of brown, black, and silver give the Indian meal moth a rather comely appearance.

Sparkling scales of brown, black, and silver give the Indian meal moth a rather comely appearance.

 

Holiday season is baking season. Pies, cookies, cakes, and breads are comfort foods many crave on chilly days. During this season of culinary delight, cupboards and pantries receive lots of attention and activity. On a recent socially-distanced visit to a friend’s home, we noticed tiny moths flitting about the kitchen. A peek inside the pantry revealed more than a minor swarm of said moths. During this holiday season, many hopeful bakers will open pantries and be greeted by clouds of these small wonders, a cosmopolitan raider of the pantry, the Indian meal moth, Plodia interpunctella. While fascinating for entomologists, this is an unwelcome surprise for most folks.  

Silk inside plastic bags or containers is a pretty sure sign of a meal moth infestation.

Silk inside plastic bags or containers is a pretty sure sign of a meal moth infestation.

The adult stage of this insect is a rather small moth just slightly larger than ½ inch in length, with wings banded white and rusty red. They flit about the pantry or cupboard in search of mates and tasty products rich in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. One recent infestation in my cupboard raged in a package of organic cashews. Within the package, small cream colored caterpillars spun silken webs and sallied forth to consume the nutritious nuts. In addition to spinning silken galleries, larvae deposited frass, the digested remains of their meal. The voided frass was entangled in silken strands to form a nasty messy web. Two excellent clues signaling the presence of meal moths are the presence of silk and frass within a bag of flour, grain, seeds, or pet food. After larvae complete development, they may gnaw holes and escape their plastic prisons. Nomadic caterpillars are often found wandering about the walls and ceiling of the pantry in search of a protected spot to spin cocoons and develop into pupae. Sometimes vagabond larvae enter cracks between shelves, lids of jars, electrical sockets, or seams behind baseboards to pupate. Soon the next generation of adults will appear, intent on finding new bags and boxes of stored products to infest.  

Within a plastic bag, scads of meal moth caterpillars spin silken webs and deposit frass while devouring my once tasty organically grown cashews. While caterpillars are a rich source of protein, this much extra protein with my nuts I don’t need.

How do meal moths colonize pantries in the first place? It is possible that original infestations of meal moths arrive with cereal, seeds, dried fruit, or grain as a few tiny eggs within a package from the store. After hatching from eggs, small caterpillars in a bag of seeds in the back of a closet could go unnoticed, but this vanguard is capable of generating sufficient moths to initiate a full blown mothagedon. Meal moths also survive outdoors and are commonly found in caches of nuts or seeds stored by squirrels or rodents. Adult moths originating outdoors can invade indoor pantries during warm weather when doors and windows are wide open. Mice often enter homes in autumn and winter seeking shelter and bringing stockpiles of seeds with them. These seeds might arrive contaminated with the associated moth eggs and may become a source of infestations indoors.  

Indian meal moth caterpillars can chew through plastic and invade other bags of grain, seeds, and fruit.

Indian meal moth caterpillars can chew through plastic and invade other bags of grain, seeds, and fruit.

What should you do if you find these rascals in a pantry or cupboard? First, remove all goods and products from the storage area. Vacuum the cupboard, pantry, or cabinet like there is no tomorrow. Carefully inspect all cracks, corners, crevices, and seams in the cupboard and remove any larvae or pupae you find. Seal as many of these refuges as possible with caulk. Remove and replace loose paper used to line shelves. Inspect any pots, pans, glasses or other items occupying the pantry where food will be stored and remove any meal moths on these items as well. Inspect opened and unopened bags and boxes of food for signs of silk, frass, larvae, or moths. If in doubt, toss it out. My pantry pest guru recommends the “deep chill” treatment for unopened packages you might want to salvage, but are suspect by association. Place unopened bags in the freezer for one week, remove them for one week, and then freeze again for a final week. The intermittent week of thaw tricks eggs into hatching and the tiny caterpillars are then killed by the second trip to subzero land. When you purchase items that might serve as food for meal moths, seal them in strong plastic storage containers with tightly fitting lids. This will help prevent any moths you might have missed during the crusade from laying eggs that hatch into larvae capable of infesting your food. Try not to store prime foods like grain or dried fruit for very long periods of time. The longer stored products remain on a shelf, the more likely they are to be infested by an itinerant moth that happens by.  

Pheromone traps can be used to capture male meal moths and gage their activity and numbers.

Pheromone traps can be used to capture male meal moths and gage their activity and numbers.

One approach useful in alerting you to an incipient invasion of meal moths is to purchase and deploy pheromone traps. These small triangular boxes are placed inside your pantry or cupboard. Inside the box is a sex pheromone bait that attracts the male meal moth from many feet away. The ever-hopeful male senses the pheromone, a chemical signal released by a female, and is tricked into believing that a receptive beauty waits inside the open-ended trap. He flies inside to find his mate, but instead becomes ensnared by a sticky substance lining the inside of the trap. By placing these traps within a pantry, you can detect the emergence of male moths that may be the harbingers of a burgeoning population of moths in your cupboard. This advanced warning serves as a signal to initiate a search and destroy mission. Good luck hunting moths and protecting your baking supplies during this season of culinary delight.   

Acknowledgements 

We thank Linda and Jeff for sharing their relentless Indian meal moths with Bug of the Week and Dr. Nancy Breisch for the wealth of information and advice about bugs. The Handbook of Pest Control, Ninth Edition, by Arnold Mallis was used as a resource.

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Fruit flies, Drosophila spp.: More than just an uninvited Thanksgiving guest!

 

Fruit flies like this African fig fly may join Thanksgiving festivities in your home. Photo credit: Maggie Lewis

Fruit flies like this African fig fly may join Thanksgiving festivities in your home. Photo credit: Maggie Lewis

 

Just before Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season, scads of questions show up in my mailbox about hordes of tiny flies buzzing around fruit bowls, kitchen sinks, and counters tops. They seem to appear from nowhere and lend credence to Aristotle’s notion of spontaneous generation, the theory that living organisms like flies somehow originate spontaneously from non-living or putrefying things. To help untangle this mystery, consider the change of seasons.  Late autumn in the DMV and many other parts of our land is characterized by cool damp weather. Moist evenings and mornings punctuated by warmish days are nearly ideal for decomposing tons of leaves, fruits, and other vegetable matter, the accumulated bounty of Mother Nature’s efforts during spring and summer. This week of Thanksgiving, my compost pile is a writhing mass of invertebrates intent on converting vegetable protein into animal biomass as quickly as possible. On warm days, a cloud of fruit flies hovers over my compost and some of these winged raiders undoubtedly infiltrate my home when doors open.

Like many kitchens, mine is home to a bowl of fruit that occasionally contains one item gone a little squidgy. Yeasty odors of acetic acid and ethanol emanating from an over-ripe banana serve as powerful attractants for fruit flies. After arriving at a slightly brown banana, the female fruit fly deposits eggs. Each gal lays roughly 500 eggs during the course of her life time. Small translucent larvae hatch from the eggs. They glide through the overripe fruit slurping-up nutritious fermenting fluids as they develop and grow. With warm ambient temperatures, fruit flies can complete a generation in less than two weeks. With their capacity for reproduction, populations around the fruit bowl can explode seemingly overnight. One careless week, I neglected to empty the stainless steel compost bin on my kitchen counter and I was rewarded with several hundred fruit fly maggots happily growing in the bin. Yikes!

Dozens of fruit flies could not escape the irresistible odors of vinegar. Once inside the jar, a perforated plastic cover prevented escape and sealed their fate. Photo credit: Ingalisa Schrobsdorff

Dozens of fruit flies could not escape the irresistible odors of vinegar. Once inside the jar, a perforated plastic cover prevented escape and sealed their fate. Photo credit: Ingalisa Schrobsdorff

Fruit flies can also enter home as stowaways with overripe fruits or vegetables from the market or garden. These goods may arrive preloaded with a complement of eggs or tiny larvae. To reduce chances of bringing home an infestation, inspect your produce carefully and wash fruits or vegetables before you set them out in a bowl. If fruit is unrefrigerated and displayed in a bowl, check it out regularly and toss over-the-hill items before they generate flies. Fruit flies often breed in sink or floor drains, garbage pails, or recycling containers in homes, restaurants, and offices where decomposing organic material accumulates. Inspect these areas regularly, clean up spills, and disinfect surfaces. For the cloud of fruit flies wafting around your home, consider building a vinegar trap to catch and kill these noisome rascals.  Traps can be purchased commercially and several trap designs are available on the internet. My do-it-yourself vinegar trap consists of an 8 oz. clear plastic tumbler filled with 4 oz. of apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar and a few drops of dish detergent. Within 24 hours of placing the trap on the counter, more than 100 fruit flies were lured to their death.  One clever modification of the trap includes fastening a bit of plastic wrap over the lid of the vessel with rubber bands a poking a few holes in the plastic. Apparently, this allows fruit flies to enter but confounds attempts to escape should they change their tiny minds about a vinegary death by drowning.   

More than just an indoor nuisance, several invasive species of fruit flies have now established in our region. The spotted-wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii, first detected in the US in 2008 in California, has now spread from coast to coast and border to border. It is a major pest of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, black berries, and cherries, and crop losses in the United Sates alone are estimated to exceed hundreds of millions of dollars annually. If spotted-wing drosophila was not enough, a second dastardly fruit fly, the African fig fly, Zaprionus indianus, first detected in Florida in 2005, has now spread to the Canadian border and can also be found here in the DMV. African fig flies infest a broad range of plants, including berry crops as well as figs, grapes, and cherries. Unlike spotted-wing drosophila, female African fig flies generally cannot cut through intact fruit skin to lay eggs; they instead are thought to oviposit (deposit eggs) into or near pre-existing cracks and wounds. In some varieties of grapes, the African fig fly may actually out-compete its Asian relative, the spotted-wing drosophila.

African fig fly is an invasive fruit fly species that was first detected in the United States in 2005 and has since established in Maryland. Adults can be identified by the white and black stripes running longitudinally down their back. While spotting an adult is easy, spotting a larva swimming in a raspberry is a bit harder and somewhat disconcerting if the raspberry is in your cereal.  Video credit: Maggie Lewis

African fig fly eggs are strange things with several long filaments at one end. These filaments help the egg obtain oxygen. Photo credit: Maggie Lewis

African fig fly eggs are strange things with several long filaments at one end. These filaments help the egg obtain oxygen. Photo credit: Maggie Lewis

Ah, but fruit flies are not all bad. The most famous fruit fly of all is, of course, Drosophila melanogaster. This tiny workhorse of scientific studies, a hero many of us met for the first time in high school biology, brought the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Thomas Hunt Morgan for his pioneering work on mechanisms of heredity and the location of genes on chromosomes. Fruit flies have ventured to the International Space Station to help scientists study the effects of zero gravity on cardiac function and immune responses to disease. Closer to home and in my compost bin, they provide a vital ecological service by unlocking nutrients tied up in vegetable waste and returning these nutrients to food webs. So for good or bad, hail the tiny but mighty fruit fly.

On this unprecedented Thanksgiving in the time of COVID-19, Bug of the Week wishes you a happy one. Be sure to share some of your unwanted vegetables with ever-grateful fruit flies in your compost!

References

The wonderful video, images, and ideas for this week’s episode were created by doctoral candidate Maggie Lewis of the Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park. We thank Ingalisa and Sahar Schrobsdorff for providing inspiration for this story and sharing an image of their clever fruit fly trap. The interesting references “Trapping spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii (Matsumura) (Diptera: Drosophilidae), with combinations of vinegar and wine, and acetic acid and ethanol” by P. J. Landolt, T. Adams, and H. Rogg, “Spotted Wing Drosophila: Potential Economic Impact of a Newly Established Pest” by M. Bolda, R. Goodhue, and F.  Zalom, “Effects of Interspecific Larval Competition on Developmental Parameters in Nutrient Sources Between Drosophila suzukii (Diptera: Drosophilidae) and Zaprionus indianus” by M. Edana Shrader, H. J. Burrack, and D. G. Pfeiffer, and “Flies, gnats, and midges” by W. A. Kolbe in “The Handbook of Pest Control” were used in preparing this Bug of the Week. To learn more about the African fig fly, please visit the following website:  https://academic.oup.com/jipm/article/10/1/20/5514212#136729274

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Tiny culprit behind my gnarly Nyssa: A leaf-curling gall aphid, Phylloxerina nyssae

 

Twisted gnarly leaves on my pretty Nyssa are the handiwork of a tiny gall-making insect.

Twisted gnarly leaves on my pretty Nyssa are the handiwork of a tiny gall-making insect.

 

The range of color in Nyssa’s autumn display is hard to beat.

The range of color in Nyssa’s autumn display is hard to beat.

Some call it tupelo, others call it black or sour gum, but I call it drop-dead gorgeous, Nyssa sylvatica. Of all the trees in the forest, I think this one takes home first prize in autumn with shades of scarlet, orange, yellow, and green swirled together in a raucous mix. A common native of eastern North American forests, this beauty is almost pest free and thrives in managed landscapes.

One summer’s day while enjoying my Nyssa’s deep glossy leaves, I was miffed by several gnarly leaves at the tips of branches. Along the margins of said leaves were numerous yellowish-white crescent shaped galls. Galls are abnormal plant growths often associated with an insect, mite, nematode, or microbial pathogen. To get a closer look at this aberration, I plucked a few leaves and dissected the galls under the lens of a powerful microscope. The galls were hollow pockets packed with hordes of tiny yellow sucking insects known as phylloxerids, close kin to woolly aphids we met on beech trees and alder branches. These suckers are tiny, about a millimeter in length. Within each gall several of these gals were surrounded by dozens of pill-shaped translucent eggs, offspring produced asexually, without contributions from males.

Early in the growing season, phylloxerids induce small crescent-shaped galls along the margins of leaves.

Early in the growing season, phylloxerids induce small crescent-shaped galls along the margins of leaves.

How do they make galls? Well, galls form when an invading biotic agent, in this case a tiny insect, takes control of the genetic machinery of the undifferentiated cells in the developing leaf. Compounds released by the insect as it feeds tell the cells of the leaf something like this, “don’t expand to form a normal flat leaf, curl over along the margin and form a nice hollow pocket, a home where I can lay eggs and my children and I can dine unseen and unmolested by hungry predators.”  How clever is that! Pretty clever indeed, but one small problem exists. During autumn when my Nyssa drops its gnarly leaves, surely these leaf-bound gall-dwellers do not fare well in the soil. Where do the tiny phylloxerids go? 

Early in the season, marginal galls created the phylloxerid twist and distort young leaves at the tips of Nyssa’s branches. Within each gall are female phylloxerids laying dozens of pill-shaped eggs. Phylloxerids are strange looking creatures. Between the first set of legs in the center of the body are sucking mouthparts used to initiate gall formation and to remove sap from the leaf’s cells.

Up in the treetop, flocculant tufts of wax mark the location of tiny insects. Are these overwintering phylloxerids that will lay claim to my Nyssa next spring?

Up in the treetop, flocculant tufts of wax mark the location of tiny insects. Are these overwintering phylloxerids that will lay claim to my Nyssa next spring?

In a remarkable treatise on all things phylloxerid published some 116 years ago, Theo Pergande of Cornell University described the overwintering stages of the phylloxerid. He observed tiny wax covered phylloxerids in protected locations on the bark of the Nyssa. This week I scaled my Nyssa and several meters up in craggy folds along the trunk and in rough patches of bark were small white tufts of wax housing tiny sucking insects, presumably the overwintering generation of phylloxerids. While the exact molecular mechanisms by which gall-makers control their plant-hosts remain largely unknown, hundreds of species of insects and mites have discovered astonishing ways to alter the plants they live on and in during millions of years of intimate association.

Acknowledgements

We thank Drs. Fredericka Hamilton and Gary Miller of USDA for help in identifying the tiny creature featured in this episode. “North American Phylloxerinae Affecting Hicoria (Carya) and Other Trees” by Theo Pergande, and the amazing ‘Aphids on Worlds Plants’ website were used as references for this episode.

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Look out Pennsylvania, an invasive pest is headed your way: Euonymus leaf- notcher, Pryeria sinica

 

Adult euonymus leaf-notcher moths fly in autumn and mimic wasps. This one was found less than 10 miles from the Pennsylvania boarder in Hampstead, Maryland. Photo credit: Charles Krause

Adult euonymus leaf-notcher moths fly in autumn and mimic wasps. This one was found less than 10 miles from the Pennsylvania boarder in Hampstead, Maryland. Photo credit: Charles Krause

 

Followers of Bug of the Week have witnessed the tale of spotted lanternfly unfold from its first discovery in Berks County, PA in 2014 to its spread across states lines, including Maryland’s border in 2018. With a recent sighting of euonymus leaf-notcher adults in Hampstead, MD less than 10 miles from the PA border, it looks like some of Maryland’s troubles may be heading Pennsylvania’s way. Let’s review how we got here. Back in 2002 a new pest was discovered in Fairfax, VA when a homeowner noticed a voracious caterpillar munching her ornamental euonymus. The caterpillars were sent to Eric Day at the Insect Identification Laboratory in Blacksburg, VA. Eric reared the larvae and sent the unknown moths to specialist John Brown at the Systematic Entomology Laboratory, USDA. Dr. Brown identified the moth as one not known to occur in the US – a new, exotic, invader. The scientific name of this alien is Pryeria sinica. Prior to its discovery in Fairfax, this pest was only known from eastern Russia and China through Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.  

Hordes of caterpillars strip leaves and create frass fouled foliage (repeat three times fast).

Hordes of caterpillars strip leaves and create frass fouled foliage (repeat three times fast).

In 2003 more moths were collected in Northern Virginia and on May 28, 2003 Gaye Williams at the Maryland Department of Agriculture identified specimens of Pryeria sinica from Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Somewhere along the way the new pest was dubbed the euonymus leaf-notcher due to the distinctive pattern of feeding caused by the caterpillar. As the large caterpillars eat, sections of leaf along the margin disappear down their gullets, hence the name leaf-notcher. The leaf-notcher passes winter as taupe colored eggs deposited in clusters of 150 or more on pencil-sized twigs near terminals of branches. Eggs hatch in mid-March and early April, and tiny caterpillars first feed in tight silken webs spun around unfolded leaves at terminals. As larvae grow, they move to expanded leaves to feed and are often found in large groups. Their presence is easily recognized by marginal notches and coarsely shredded leaves on the ground below. When abundant, these caterpillars can entirely strip shrubs.  

After completing development in early summer, larvae wander from the plants seeking protected locations to pupate. Large numbers of wandering caterpillars may alarm homeowners, but citizens should remain calm as caterpillars are not known to eat humans or pets. Caterpillars spin pupal cocoons amidst fallen leaves and adult moths appear in the autumn to fly, mate, and lay eggs on the terminals of euonymus branches. Unlike many moths, these are day fliers. They have unique patterns and colors on their body and wings that make them closely resemble wasps. The fact that they mimic wasps may help them avoid being eaten by day feeding predators such as birds. In North America, the leaf-notcher has been reported on Euonymus japonicus and E. kiautschovicus ‘Manhattan’. In its native range in Asia, the pest has been reported feeding on E. sieboldianus, E. japonicus, and E. alatus. Moreover, other members of the Celastraceae such as Celastrus punctatus and C. orbiculatus are recorded as hosts for this pest.

In early spring, euonymus leaf-notchers hatched from eggs and scores of caterpillars began to strip leaves of euonymus. After completing development in spring, caterpillars spun silken cocoons in protected locations. In late October and November, adult moths emerged from very cute pupae, mated, and deposited overwintering eggs on twigs of euonymus.

 The pest has two obvious weak points that provide excellent opportunities for management. From the time that egg laying ends in December until eggs hatch in spring, eggs can be crushed on the plant or simply removed by pruning off the terminal and disposing of it. If larvae are small or in restricted areas on a plant, then they too may be removed by a gloved hand or pruner. If larvae are widely distributed, abundant, or otherwise difficult to control manually, then several insecticides should perform well. Some of the most “environmentally friendly” insecticides for killing caterpillars contain Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk) or the active ingredient called spinosad. Btk destroys cells in the gut of the caterpillar, a slow and painful death to be sure. Spinosad acts on the nervous system of the caterpillar, inducing a more rapid, twitchy form of death.   

In 2009, surveys conducted by the Maryland Department of Agriculture discovered euonymus leaf-notcher in Anne Arundel and Prince Georges Counties in Maryland. Image credit: Maryland Department of Agriculture

In 2009, surveys conducted by the Maryland Department of Agriculture discovered euonymus leaf-notcher in Anne Arundel and Prince Georges Counties in Maryland. Image credit: Maryland Department of Agriculture

Euonymus leaf notcher, where are you now? While no formal records are being kept at the present time by most state agencies, if you think you have spotted this pest you are always welcome to send an image to Bug of the Week care of Mike Raupp at [email protected]. Of course, you can also contact your state Department of Agriculture or University Extension Service and give them a heads-up. Happy leaf-notcher hunting!

 

Acknowledgements

 Many thanks to Charles Krause for sharing his wonderful images of euonymus leaf-notcher and providing the inspiration for this episode. Thanks also to Gaye Williams of the Maryland Department of Agriculture for confirming the identity of the adult moth.

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A gorgeous speedy spider: Marbled orb-weaver, Araneus marmoreus

 

Marbled orb weavers can be found in residential landscapes, fields, and forests from spring until late autumn in Maryland. Despite its scary appearance this orb-weaver poses little threat to humans greater than 2 inches tall. Photo credit: Frederic Zeldow

Marbled orb weavers can be found in residential landscapes, fields, and forests from spring until late autumn in Maryland. Despite its scary appearance this orb-weaver poses little threat to humans greater than 2 inches tall. Photo credit: Frederic Zeldow

 

A few weeks ago, we visited a rockin’ orb weaving spider, the black and yellow garden spider, and watched it dispatch a dastardly brown marmorated stink bug. This week we meet another amazing orb weaver, the beautiful marbled orb-weaver. Usually in mid-autumn Bug of the Week begins to receive images of these fantastic predators and this year was no exception. I had the good fortune to bump into one of these beauties while wandering a trail along the Patuxent River in Columbia, MD. One look at the ornate coloration and patterns on the abdomen of this spider leave no doubt about how this beguiling spider got its name. The marbled orb-weaver is found throughout the contiguous lower 48 states and as far north as Alaska. It is also a common denizen of forests and fields in Europe.  

Markings of this immature marbled orb-weaver are stunning.

Markings of this immature marbled orb-weaver are stunning.

Like other members of its clan, the marbled orb-weaver spins a web of radial threads like the spokes of a wheel upon which spiral sticky capture-threads are placed. Capture-threads are remarkable evolutionary products of millions of years of bioengineering. Each capture-thread has a core of silk bearing scores of tiny droplets of viscous glycoproteins. These glycoproteins give the web its stickiness. Hapless insects that blunder into the web are trapped by the sticky silk until the spider zooms to its future meal, where it delivers a lethal paralyzing bite. The marbled orb-weaver has a clever strategy to capture prey while limiting exposure to its own enemies. After constructing its amazing web of death, the marbled orb-weaver hides in a retreat near the web. The retreat might be a cluster of dead leaves or a piece of loose bark. A strand of silk called a signal thread runs from the web to the retreat. When a potential victim is snared by the web, vibrations travel along the thread and alert the orb-weaver to the presence of its prey. The message is simple and clear – dinner is about to be served. 

Hiding in a folded leaf near its intricate web, a marbled orb-weaver awaits a victim. In a flash that even slow motion fails to capture, the orb-weaver descends to the center of the web to find its prey. Good fortune befalls a small wasp that strikes the web as it somehow manages to escape. Just to share what the orb-weaver might have done, I included a short clip to show how its cousin, the spotted orb-weaver, wraps up its prey.

Acknowledgements   

“The National Audubon Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders”, by Lorus and Margery Milne, and “Estimating the Stickiness of Individual Adhesive Capture Threads in Spider Orb Webs”, by Brent D. Opell, were used as references for this episode. Bug of the Week gives special thanks to Frederic Zeldow for the nice picture of a marbled orb-weaver and inspiration for this episode.

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Just in time for Halloween, insect zombies! Mind-altered crickets, ants, beetles, flies, and cicadas

 

Next spring Massospora fungi will zombiefy periodical cicadas, taking control of their minds and behaviors while turning their abdomens into buff-colored fungus gardens.

Next spring Massospora fungi will zombiefy periodical cicadas, taking control of their minds and behaviors while turning their abdomens into buff-colored fungus gardens.

 

For a variety of reasons, Halloween is one of Bug of the Week’s favorite holidays. In years past we have visited many bugs dressed in orange and black including monarch and Gulf fritillary butterflies, milkweed bugs, assassin bugs, and milkweed tiger moths not to mention several scary spiders like black widows, recluse spiders, and tarantulas.  But what could be more fun and in sync in the year of the pandemic than a visit with some zombie insects? These are not the kind of Haitian voodoo zombies where a corpse is reanimated by a bokor to conduct some dastardly deeds. Nor are these the ilk of George Romero’s zombies intent on consuming flesh of other insects, as in the Night of the Living Dead Insect. Nah, insect zombies are more akin to zombie apocalypse creatures, hapless victims of a mind-altering pathogen directing deadly actions to further the spread of its own kind. In a delightfully ghoulish paper, D. Donald Steinkraus and colleagues define zombie insects as “… insects infected with an entomopathogen or parasite that alters their behaviors and morphology in ways that benefit the pathogen or parasite.” Boom, insect zombie apocalypse!

Crickets committing suicide

Crickets become “suicidal” after being infected by horsehair nematode worms. Click here to see images of horsehair worms.

Crickets become “suicidal” after being infected by horsehair nematode worms. Click here to see images of horsehair worms.

One amazing case of an insect zombie involves a European cricket called Nemobius and a horsehair worm called Paragordius. To breed, the horsehair worm must encounter its mate in water. However, the nematode’s eggs are laid near riverbanks where they are often ingested by hosts in which they will develop, arthropods including Nemobius. Inside the cricket, the parasitic nematode grows to its full extent which may be more than 5 inches. To complete its life cycle, the parasite must return to water and here is where the zombification part of the story happens. By a mechanism not yet fully understood, the nematode takes control of the cricket’s mind and alters its behavior, forcing the cricket to wander from its usual dank habitat into open, brighter areas until It encounters a body of water. The water body could be natural such as a stream or pond or human-made such as a swimming pool. The latter is where scientists documented a second bizarre behavior. Upon encountering the swimming pool, infected crickets took a “suicidal” leap into the water. By making the cricket take a plunge, the nematode can escape from its cricket host and seek a water-bound mate to complete its life cycle.

Ants take a drive from treetops and lock-jaws on leaves

Ready to release their spores, parasol-like fruiting bodies of Ophiocordyceps rise from the corpse of their zombie ant host. Photo courtesy of David P. Hughes

Ready to release their spores, parasol-like fruiting bodies of Ophiocordyceps rise from the corpse of their zombie ant host. Photo courtesy of David P. Hughes

Several species of fungi also play mind games with their insect hosts. Zombie ants often make splashes in the news. These unfortunate creatures were first described by famed naturalist Alfred Wallace more than a century and a half ago. Zombie ants are found in tropical forests on many continents and in temperate forests in South Carolina and Florida. Zombie ants are members of the genus Camponotus, commonly known as carpenter ants. The carpenter ant destined to be a zombie is arboreal, spending most of its time high in the canopy of a tree. Occasionally, to get from one tree to the next, it must descend to the earth where spores of the fungus Ophiocordyceps lie in wait. Upon contacting the surface of the ant, these spores awaken and bore into their host. As the ant ascends back into the treetop the fungus, which has now reached the brain, causes the ant to spasm and tumble to the ground. Like the slow moving, foot dragging ghouls in Romero’s films, the fungus causes the zombie ant to seek a microhabitat with just the right conditions of temperature and humidity for the fungus to survive. Once the location is found, zombie ants ascend a plant and use their powerful jaws to lock onto the midvein of a leaf in a “death grip.” Some 4 – 10 days later a fungal fruiting body erupts from the body of the dead ant and releases infective spores into the environment to await the next victim. Widespread infections by Ophiocordyceps sometimes produce massive graveyards of zombie ants.  

A soldier beetle’s last salute

Other species of fungi gain mind control over other insects including flies, beetles, and cicadas. Soldier beetles, a.k.a. leatherwings, are cousins of fireflies. Like other members of this clan, soldier beetles are natural born killers in both adult and juvenile stages and are highly beneficial insects to have around the garden. But it is not all fun and games for soldier beetles in the garden during cool moist seasons. A fungal pathogen called Eryniopsis lampyridarum lurks in the landscape waiting to infect soldier beetles. Once the beetle unwittingly picks up a spore from the landscape, the spore germinates and penetrates the exoskeleton of the hapless beetle. Inside the beetle it multiples and takes control of the beetle’s nervous and muscular system, turning it into a zombie. The fungus causes the soldier beetle to march to the upper leaves of a plant in a behavior called summiting. There the beetle clamps onto a leaf with its jaws and dies. Spore producing structures within the cadaver cause the beetle’s abdomen to swell and in a grisly final act, the wings of the beetles open to expose the swollen abdomen, a final postmortem salute.  This allows fruiting bodies to erupt from the upper surface of the beetle and spew their spores into the environment, where they disperse and infect other victims.

When normally active soldier beetles become infected with Eryniopsis, they do a zombie walk to the tips of leaves, grab onto leaves with their jaws, and die. After death, the fungus within causes their wings to spread, facilitating the release of spores into the environment.

Dead flies deceiving hapless suitors

Seedcorn flies infected with Entomophthora climb high on plants. Their grotesquely swollen abdomens are attractive to male flies that will attempt to mate with them, thereby becoming infected and furthering the spread of Entomophthora.

Seedcorn flies infected with Entomophthora climb high on plants. Their grotesquely swollen abdomens are attractive to male flies that will attempt to mate with them, thereby becoming infected and furthering the spread of Entomophthora.

Cool, wet springs also spawn legions of seedcorn maggots, a pest of many horticultural and food crops including soybeans, corn, peas, onions, potatoes and beans. As temperatures warm, peril awaits adult seedcorn maggot flies. Hiding on the springtime vegetation are infective spores of a fungus called Entomophthora muscae. When the fly alights on vegetation, unseen spores attach to the surface of its exoskeleton. When the right combination of temperature and humidity conspire, spores hatch and fungal hyphae penetrate the skin of the fly, establishing a lethal infection. Once inside its host, the fungus invades the fly’s tiny mind and body transforming it into a fly zombie.  By taking control of the fly’s nervous system, Entomophthora causes the doomed, but inherently fidgety fly to move ever more slowly upward and outward on a plant until it creeps to its final resting spot at the tip of a leaf or branch. From this elevated perch, the fungus erupts from the skin of the fly and spews spores into the air, all the better to distribute its spawn on vegetation where other flies will inadvertently become infected.  In a related species of fly, the common house fly, Musca domestica, another strange twist happens in this zombie insect tale. The fungus infection causes the abdomen of a fly to swell dramatically. This large abdomen is highly attractive to male houseflies seeking a mate. Large abdomens may be an indicator of higher fecundity in a potential mate and, yes, just like Sir Mix A Lot, male houseflies like big butts. Causing the abdomen to swell may increase the chances of attracting a randy suitor that will become infected, further helping the fungus to multiply and disperse.     

Male cicadas get in touch with their feminine side  

One of the strangest twists in the zombie insect genre is set to take place in millions of backyards next spring with the return of the Big Brood, Brood X periodical cicadas. Beneath trees where cicadas spend their youth sipping sap, spores of the fungal pathogen Massospora cicadina have been waiting for 17 years. During April and May as cicada nymphs escape from the earth, resting spores of Massospora adhere to their exoskeletons. Compounds on the surface of the cicada send a signal to the spores that dinner is served and it is time to germinate. The fungus penetrates the skin of the cicada and multiplies, turning the cicada into a fungus garden. Spores of Massospora are then released into the environment where a second, more sinister wave of infection takes place. At this stage of their cycle, thousands of newly molted adult cicadas populate the landscape to begin their courtship rituals. Ubiquitous spores of the fungus spewed from the nymphs adhere to the skin of adult cicadas, germinate, and begin to infect the airborne legions. The infection sterilizes both male and female cicadas, but does nothing to quell the libido of sex-crazed male cicadas. Infected males continue to seek and attempt to mate with females despite their contagious infection. In a game of tit for tat, female cicadas infected with Massospora remain attractive to healthy males that soon become infected and then mate with other cicadas.  If this was not weird enough, Massospora twists the minds of infected male cicadas. Male cicadas adopt female courtship behaviors including a coy wing flick, the female’s signal that she is ready to accept a mate. This results in hyper-sexed uninfected males attempting to mate with infected drag queen males, further enhancing the spread of Massospora. Massospora becomes a cicada STD as it moves from one cicada to another by the behavior modifying process called Active Host Transmission or AHT. As the fungus develops within its host the abdomen of the cicada disintegrates, leaving behind a buff-colored mass of fungus. Infected cicadas are flight capable and their peregrinations carry the fungus to new habitats as they fly about. A second wave of infections produce resting spores that inoculate the soil with Massospora that will await the return of the cicadas in 17 years. While the loss of an abdomen spells instant death for a human, this is not the case for a cicada. Throughout cicada land male and female Massospora zombies walk and fly about missing their abdomens, macabre reminders of a very clever fungus.

As cicada nymphs emerge from their galleries next spring, Massospora spores lurking in the soil for 17 years will germinate on their exoskeleton, bore their way in, and multiply within the cicadas. Soon the cicada’s abdomen will disintegrate, enabling fungal fruiting bodies to disperse spores. Sterile but still randy males spread Massospora to other cicadas in futile mating attempts. In a mind control coup, infected male cicadas mimic female courtship behaviors that entice uninfected males to mate with them, further accelerating the active transmission of Massospora in the cicada population.

Jack o' Lantern.jpg

Bug of the Week hopes you have a happy and safe Halloween without any worms or fungi trying to make you a zombie unless, of course, you wish to be one.        

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks Bronwyn Mitchell-Strong for providing the inspiration for this episode and for affording the opportunity to share insect zombie stories with the Natural History Society of Maryland. Many thanks to Dr. David P. Hughes for sharing his gruesome image of an ant infected with Ophiocordyceps. The following fascinating studies were consulted in preparation for this episode: “Do hairworms (Nematomorpha) manipulate the water seeking behaviour of their terrestrial hosts?” by F. Thomas, A. Schmidt-Rhaesa, G. Martin, C. Manu, P. Durand & F. Renaud; “Water-seeking behavior in worm-infected crickets and reversibility of parasitic manipulation” by Fleur Ponton, Fernando Otálora-Luna, Thierry Lefèvre, Patrick M. Guerin, Camille Lebarbenchon, David Duneau, David G. Biron, and Frédéric Thomas; “Zombie soldier beetles: Epizootics in the goldenrod soldier beetle, Chauliognathus pensylvanicus (Coleoptera: Cantharidae) caused by Eryniopsis lampyridarum (Entomophthoromycotina: Entomophthoraceae)” by Donald C. Steinkraus,  Ann E. Hajek, and Jim K. Liebherr; “A fungus infecting domestic flies manipulates sexual behaviour of its host” by Anders Pape Møller; “Behavioral betrayal: How select fungal parasites enlist living insects to do their bidding” by Brian Lovett, Angie Macias, Jason E. Stajich, John Cooley, Jørgen Eilenberg, Henrik H. de Fine Licht, and Matt T. Kasson; and “A specialized fungal parasite (Massospora cicadina) hijacks the sexual signals of periodical cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae: Magicicada)” by John R. Cooley, David C. Marshall  Kathy B. R. Hill.

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Waxy ladies dance like someone’s watching: Woolly beech aphid, a.k.a. boogie-woogie aphid, Grylloprociphilus imbricator

 

That’s not snow you see on the branches of an American beech tree. You’re looking at white wax produced by thousands of tiny sap-sucking woolly aphids.

That’s not snow you see on the branches of an American beech tree. You’re looking at white wax produced by thousands of tiny sap-sucking woolly aphids.

 

American beech, Fagus grandifolia, an iconic stalwart of North American deciduous forests, is prized for its massive size at maturity, dark glossy green foliage, and smooth grey bark. While wandering in a forest here in the DMV, I was startled to find an American beech with dingy black leaves and strange growths on its branches, several of which were flocked with a pulsating blanket of brilliant white wax. What mischief befell this paragon of the woods? The answer lies within the coat of white wax on the branches. A strange aphid called the woolly beech aphid, a.k.a. beech blight aphid and boogie-woogie aphid, makes American beech its home. This aphid is capable of producing incredible amounts of fluffy white wax from specialized wax glands lining its abdomen.

Life for a beech blight aphid begins with an egg that has survived winter’s chill on the bark of a beech tree. From this egg hatches a nymph that eventually develops into a wingless adult capable of producing legions of offspring. These youngsters develop into winged adults, some of which remain on the host while others depart to find a swamp cypress tree. Here they enter the soil, settle on the tree’s roots and develop by removing sap from the vascular bundles of the roots. How strange is that? Those that remain on beech trees will be parthenogenetic; a legion of Amazonian females reproducing in the absence of males. You go girls!

Honeydew excreted by legions of aphids rain down on leaves and branches below. This sugar-rich solution is the substrate for a specialist sooty mold fungus, Scorias spongiosa . This fungus cloaks leaves and branches and sometimes forms dense sponge-like mats several inches thick.

Honeydew excreted by legions of aphids rain down on leaves and branches below. This sugar-rich solution is the substrate for a specialist sooty mold fungus, Scorias spongiosa. This fungus cloaks leaves and branches and sometimes forms dense sponge-like mats several inches thick.

The colony will grow from just a few in spring to thousands by late autumn. Like other members of their clan, these aphids suck nutrient rich phloem sap from the vascular tissues of the beech. Excess fluid is excreted as a sugar rich product called honeydew. Vast amounts of honeydew rain down on leaves and branches below the colony. This sticky coating serves as a substrate for the growth of a unique sooty mold fungus, Scorias spongiosa, which, at first, is a thin black coating on leaves and bark. Later, as honeydew accumulates from thousands of aphids, the fungus forms a large dark sponge-like mass that may be crowned with yellow fruiting bodies of the fungus. Although sooty mold is not believed to be directly pathogenic, it may cloak leaves and reduce photosynthesis. Luxuriant honeydew and attendant sooty mold beneath infested beech trees may reduce survival of beech seedlings struggling to grow below.   

While taking a photograph of the colony I disturbed a branch, which instantly sent the aphids into paroxysms, with myriad aphids waving their wax covered rear ends up in the air. The rhythmic swaying of aphid posteriors gives rise to the moniker boogie-woogie aphid. This remarkable behavior is thought to confuse predators considering an attack on members of the colony. It certainly confused me. So, when someone is watching, aphids may dance.

Brilliant white wax produced by thousands of beech woolly aphids turn small beech branches snowy white. When disturbed, aphids break into a massive swaying dance routine with abdomens and wax held high. This group reaction is thought to confuse or distract predators. Or could it be that ladies just like to dance?

Ah, but the aphid has one more defensive trick up its sleeve or, should we say, at the end of its nose. The piercing mouthparts inserted into the vascular tissue of the tree to remove sap are comprised of tiny needle-like stylets. Researchers discovered that when caterpillars were introduced to the colony, squads of hostile female soldiers attacked and stabbed the caterpillars causing them to fall from the branch. A colleague tempted the ferocity of the aphid defense when he unwittingly grasped a branch infested with aphids. He described the encounter as “…something like a cross between a burning and stinging sensation.” In the waning days of autumn, take a walk in the woods and see if you can discover a colony of boogie-woogie aphids. Maybe bust a move with them. Dance like no one’s watching.       

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks Joe Boggs for providing inspiration for this episode after enduring an attack by beech woolly aphids. His Bug Bytes Blog “Attack of the Boogie-Woogie Aphids” and two fascinating studies, “Colony defense by wingpadded nymphs in Grylloprociphilus  imbricator (HEMIPTERA: APHIDIDAE)” by Shigeyuki Aoki, Utako Kurosu, and Carol D. von Dohlen, and “Cascading effects of a highly specialized beech-aphid–fungus interaction on forest regeneration” by Susan C. Cook-Patton, Lauren Maynard, Nathan P. Lemoine , Jessica Shue, and John D. Parker were consulted to prepare this episode.

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Eastern Equine Encephalitis-Infected Mosquitoes Found in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Department of Health Warns Public of Second EEE Case of 2020

Health officials have reported finding mosquitoes infected with Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in areas of Massachusetts, including Bridgewater.

The mosquitoes collected on August 7, 2020, are part of an ongoing testing initiative across the state. Each of these mosquitoes tested positive for the virus. The infected mosquitoes were collected in the Northeastern part of Bridgewater.

Additionally, a positive sample was collected on August 4, 2020, in Hanson, Mass. Other positive samples were collected in Middleboro, Carver, Plympton, Kingston, and Wareham during the month of July this year.

On August 3, 2020, a boy under the age of 18 became the first Massachusetts resident to test positive with Eastern equine encephalitis in 2020.

The state confirmed its second case on August 15, when a 60-year-old woman was exposed to the virus in Hampden County.

Massachusetts residents and visitors are urged to take precautions.

Dusk until dawn are considered peak hours for mosquito bites, outdoor activities should be rescheduled for earlier in the day.

And even though the temperatures are rising, long-sleeve shirts and pants can help protect your skin from potential bites.

What is Eastern Equine Encephalitis? 

Eastern equine encephalitis virus was discovered in 1933 during a large-scale equine epizootic in the mid-Atlantic area of the United States.

It was only five years later, in 1938 when the first confirmed human case was discovered in Massachusetts.

The mosquito-transmitted virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, is also referred to as Triple E, EEE, or sleeping sickness. It is classified as an arbovirus, which is a disease spread by a mosquito or other arthropod.

When we think of mosquito-transmitted viruses, West Nile virus typically comes to mind first, as it is much more prevalent. But EEE tends to be more debilitating, even deadly.

What are the Risks of EEE to Humans?

EEE is transmitted through an infected mosquito bite and can lead to a brain inflammation known as encephalitis.

The virus can also cause ongoing neurological problems, even death.

People at the highest risk of developing a disease or complication due to EE are individuals under the age of 15 or over the age of 50.

Those who live in wooded or swamp areas, like some areas of Massachusetts, have a greater chance of potential exposure.

What are the Symptoms of EEE?

If a person has been bitten by an infected mosquito, they can anticipate developing symptoms of EEE in approximately four to 10 days.

The symptoms of EEE include the sudden onset of fever, chills, headaches, and vomiting. Symptoms can then progress to disorientation, seizures, and then a coma.

At this time, there is no treatment for EEE. Options like anti-viral drugs and antibiotics have proven to be ineffective against the virus. But there is an EEE vaccine for horses.

Supportive therapy including hospitalization, respiratory support, and IV fluids can be used to help make the person a little more comfortable.

How to Prevent Mosquito Bites & EEE Transmission

As we enjoy our time outside, it can feel nearly impossible to prevent mosquito bites.

But there are ways to discourage groups of mosquitoes (known as scourges) from lingering on your property.

Homeowners and business owners are encouraged to take precautions in an effort to eliminate a mosquito infestation on their property.

Standing water is a favorite spot for the pest as it is an ideal place to lay their eggs. Standing water areas can include wetlands, pools, plastic toys, tarps, even plant saucers, or water bowls.

Eliminating the standing water, removing debris and/or clutter from the property can help encourage mosquitoes to look elsewhere.

To further reduce the possibility of an infestation, Catseye Pest Control offers a one-of-a-kind organic program that helps eliminate mosquitoes and ticks.

Our Organic Tick and Mosquito Program includes an in-depth inspection of the property, establishing a customized treatment plan, and monthly visits to create an organic protective barrier around the property.

The products used by our technicians are environmentally friendly, safe for your family, guests, and pets while providing a protective barrier around the property.

To learn more about how Catseye can protect you from unwanted pests like mosquitoes, contact our pest and wildlife professionals today.

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An unusual but not unpleasant home invasion by a beneficial beetle: Big-headed ground beetle, Scarites subterraneus

 

The big-headed ground beetle, Scarites subterraneus, sometimes makes a surprise visit to homes in autumn. Photo credit: Frank Roylance

The big-headed ground beetle, Scarites subterraneus, sometimes makes a surprise visit to homes in autumn. Photo credit: Frank Roylance

 

The waning weeks of summer and first few weeks of autumn are times when many six and eight-legged critters begin to invade homes here in the DMV. Previous episodes of home invasions featured nefarious brown marmorated stink bugs and multicolored Asian lady beetles lurking on walls and windows, a wolf spider wandering in a sink, camel crickets and house centipedes milling around bathtubs, and a velvety soldier beetle larva that somehow find its way indoors. Many of these creatures, like spiders and larval soldier beetles, are predators on the prowl for a tasty arthropod to eat. Others, like stink bugs and lady beetles, are simply trying to find a safe place to chill out and spend the winter until food returns in spring.  

Several days ago, I received a fine image of a striking predator known as the big-headed ground beetle, Scarites subterraneus. This beauty had been found trespassing in a friend’s kitchen. The big-headed ground beetle is part of a very large family of beetles called ground beetles, a clan more than 40,000 species strong. Scarites is a fierce predator both as larva and adult. I often find them under mulch or beneath rocks lining my flower beds. On several occasions I have seen Scarites larvae dashing across patios and walkways as they move from one planting bed to the next. Both life stages attack and kill a wide variety of pests that frequent our gardens and landscapes, including ground dwelling caterpillars such as cutworms and armyworms, as well as wireworms, fly larvae, ants, aphids, snails and slugs.

Ground beetles are super important predators in gardens and landscapes as both adults and larvae. They hunt and kill a wide variety of pests including snails, slugs, grubs, and soil dwelling caterpillars like cutworms and armyworms. Both adults and larvae are fast movers and are often seen beneath stones, mulch, logs, and sometimes running across sidewalks, roadways, and patios. It is not unusual to have them as guests entering your home in autumn. Simply collect them in a jar or water glass and release them back into your landscape where they enhance sustainability by reducing populations of pests.

Calosoma wilcoxi (right) is about one third the size of its cousin, the fiery searcher Calosoma scrutator (left). Both climb trees to devour caterpillars.

Calosoma wilcoxi (right) is about one third the size of its cousin, the fiery searcher Calosoma scrutator (left). Both climb trees to devour caterpillars.

As their common name implies, most species of ground beetles forage and live at the interface of soil and air. However, a few species such as the fiery hunter, Calosoma scrutator, and its smaller cousin, Calosoma wilcoxi, trend arboreal. They devour gypsy moth caterpillars and cankerworms in the treetops and feast on unlucky inchworms that fall to the ground.  Ecosystem services provided by ground beetles don’t stop at demolishing insect pests. Many ground beetles are omnivores and when not consuming meat, they feed as granivores on the seeds of weeds. Harpalus pensylvanicus and Anisodactylus sanctaecrucis are two common granivorous ground beetles that occur throughout much of North America. Scientists have found Anisodactylus and Harpalus adept at removing seeds of important agricultural, lawn, and garden weeds including lambsquarter, pigweed, foxtail, crabgrass, and velvetleaf.  After snapping a shot of Scarites, my friend scooped up his unusual house guest and released it back into the landscape. In its natural surroundings it will continue to provide excellent service by removing pests from the garden, just as Mother Nature intended.

References

Special thanks to Dr. Shrewsbury for providing insights and references for this episode. We also thank Frank Roylance for providing the great image of Scarites that inspired this episode. The fascinating study “Ground beetles as weed control agents: effects of farm management on granivory” by Jonathan G. Lundgren was consulted in preparation of this episode.

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EPA Approves Zika-Fighting Genetically Modified Mosquitoes

Florida Residents can Expect Species of Genetically Modified Mosquito to be Released into Environment in 2021

Just when we thought we’d heard and experienced it all for 2020, we’ve now learned the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the release of genetically modified mosquitoes.

Despite objections from some Florida residents, over 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes are expected to be released in the Florida Keys in 2021 and 2022 to help battle diseases like Zika Virus.

Purpose of Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes

After years of investigating the impact of disease-spreading mosquitoes and the possible outcome of releasing some of the genetically altered insects, Oxitec was given approval to proceed with its project to do so.

It was no easy feat. In fact, it took nearly a decade to obtain project approval in the state of Florida.

The genetically modified mosquitoes in question, named OX5034, have been altered to produce female offspring that don’t live past the larval stage. This means they will not hatch or grow large enough to bite or spread disease.

Male mosquitoes typically only feed on plant nectar, so they are less likely to carry disease.

Approved by the EPA in May 2020, the project is designed to test if a genetically modified mosquito is a practical way to control the Aedes aegypti — instead of insecticides.

Aedes aegypti is a species of mosquito that carries several deadly diseases, such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever — making it a risk for many Florida residents.

Federal approval was also given for the mosquitoes to be released in Harris County, Texas, beginning in 2021. State and local approval has not been granted as of August 2020.

The British-based company is hoping to protect area residents against vector-borne viruses and harmful insecticides.

Vector-Borne Illnesses in Florida

Although mosquitoes found throughout the country are culprits of spreading numerous diseases, like Eastern Equine encephalitis, dengue fever and yellow fever are most commonly found in warm or tropical areas.

During 2009 and 2010 outbreaks of dengue fever occurred in parts of Florida, particularly Key West, leaving many searching for a new option. And, despite the best efforts of some in the area, the Aedes aegypti mosquito prevailed and proved insecticides were ineffective.

These outbreaks led the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to seek an alternative solution from Oxitec.

So, how does genetically altering a mosquito help the current mosquito situation?

Oxitec has developed a male mosquito, OX513A, that is designed to die before reaching adulthood, unless it is grown in water containing the tetracycline antibiotic.

Batches of these male mosquitoes would then be allowed to live with and mate with female mosquitoes. But the offspring would inherit the altered DNA and die, thus limiting the population.

The male OX513A mosquito has been tested in areas like Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands. Oxitec reported great success rates, including a 95% reduction of the Aedes aegypti mosquito in an area of Brazil.

The new male mosquito, OX5034, is programmed to kill female mosquitoes, leaving males to survive for multiple generations. During this time, the modified genes will be passed along to subsequent offspring.

Oxitec is required by the EPA to notify state officials 72 hours before releasing the mosquitoes. The British-owned company is also required to conduct ongoing tests for a minimum of 10 weeks to ensure the females do not reach adulthood.

Organic Mosquito Control Concerns

Despite this news, Florida residents and environmental groups worry about the spread of a genetically modified mosquito.

Their concern is for the safety and health of birds, insects, and mammals that feed on mosquitoes. With many endangered species of birds found throughout the state, the cause for concern is valid.

Protecting residents while also reducing the risk of spreading diseases like Zika, dengue, and yellow fever is important, but protecting the environment is also important.

Harmful chemicals, insecticides, and genetically altered mosquitoes are not the only option when it comes to mosquito control.

Catseye Pest Control offers a one-of-a-kind Organic Tick and Mosquito Program designed to help protect your property from the nuisance pests.

It’s not easy to keep your business, home, family, and pets safe through the high-alert tick and mosquito seasons. But it’s possible for our technicians.

Taking an all-natural approach to pest control that utilizes the latest and most effective preventative services to help control ticks and mosquitoes leaves you with peace of mind throughout the season.

Our program includes:

  • An in-depth inspection of the property.
  • Tailor-made treatment plan for the property.
  • Consultation with a Catseye technician to learn ways to eliminate breeding sites and other conditions conducive to mosquitoes and ticks.

Catseye is committed to using organic, environmentally friendly solutions that provide much needed protection for the property without putting endangered species at risk.

Contact us today to learn more about the organic solutions we have to offer and how we can help keep your property safe from mosquitoes and other pests.

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