Ento-musings from the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

Monday, February 28, 2011

Invasive Beetle Intercepted at KY Airport

According to WLEX News, U.S. Customs and Border Protection discovered a potentially destructive exotic beetle in unclaimed baggage at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport last week.

The insect was the Khapra beetle. The beetle is believed to have originated in Asia, and it is an important pest of stored grains. The critter has actually been found in the U.S. a few times before, but it's spread has been stopped each time. It looks like they successfully stopped it this time, too.

You can read the report here:

And here is a more detailed version of the story from The Cypress Times:

And you can read more about the beetle in this USDA-APHIS Response Guidelines factsheet:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bed Bug Video

New video on CNN showcasing bed-bug sniffing dogs:

These dogs are somewhat controversial. Apparently, they can sometimes give a "false positive." But there is no doubt that they are a useful tool against bed bugs. And there is also no doubt that they are cute!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Myth Slayer

Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

In the news today: the guitarist for heavy-metal band Slayer (a band that became famous in the 1980s for--among other things--pioneering a style of incredibly fast double-bass drumming) has been diagnosed with a form of flesh-eating disease. In news reports (like this one from the Toronto Sun), it has been speculated that the disease was caused by a spider bite.

While it is possible that the wound was caused by a spider bite, it was probably caused by something else. Over the last twenty-years or so, spiders like the brown recluse have gotten a nasty reputation, and they are often blamed for causing necrotic (that is: flesh-eating) wounds. While some studies have shown that these spiders ARE capable of causing such wounds, other, more recent studies show that these spiders probably do not bite people very often, and that necrotic wounds are usually caused by bacterial infections.

You can read more about the myths and misconceptions about the brown recluse and other spiders at Rick Vetter's website at the University of California-Riverside:

I'm going to call Rick the Spider-Myth Slayer. He has been working with brown recluses and other spiders for many years, and he has gathered voluminous evidence (from experiments, surveys, and literature searches) which suggests that brown recluses and other spiders probably don't cause many necrotic wounds. One of the most compelling pieces of evidence: while the brown recluse lives only in the central part of the U.S., brown-recluse bites are diagnosed by physicians all over the U.S.

When I preach about this subject, people often think that I am sticking up for brown recluse spiders. I'm a spider-hugger, right? This is only partially true. Sure--as an entomologist, I like spiders, and I feel bad when they are needlessly killed. But spiders are not the primary causality of the brown-recluse myth. The truth is: within their range, brown recluses can be VERY common. There is no way that people could wipe them out, even if they wanted to. No, I worry about these myths because they can cause people to become very afraid of spiders. They become so scared that they are uncomfortable inside their own homes. I think this is very unfortunate. I'm around these spiders all day, and there are few things that I find less frightening. They are not aggressive, they don't like to be around people, and most scientific evidence indicates that they don't cause many bites, even when they live (sometimes, by the hundreds!) inside homes. I was staying in someone's home in Oklahoma recently. Oklahoma is in the heart of brown-recluse territory. The brown recluses were so common in the home that you could see them on the walls at night (see picture below, taken with my phone camera at about 10pm). It didn't bother me in the slightest. No one in the house has even been bitten by a spider, by the way.

It is important to add that, while I'm not scared of brown recluse spiders, I am cautious around them. When I feed the ones in our lab, I make sure that I never touch them, and that they cannot escape. So if you see them around, keep your distance. And if you have a bunch of them in your home (unlikely in most parts of Kentucky), you may consider contacting a pest-control professional. But what you should not do is become frightened. These spiders are very unlikely to cause a problem.

Back to Jeff Hanneman, the guitarist for Slayer. Whatever caused his illness, I hope that he has a speedy recovery. I also hope that when he recovers, he does not become fearful of brown recluses and other spiders. Fear can kill happiness, but it can't stop wounds, whether they're caused by spider bites, bacterial infections, or head-bangin'!

Read more about Brown Recluse Spiders in our online factsheet.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bed Bug Assurance

Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomology

I just saw a commercial for a national hotel chain. In the commercial, a person was getting ready for bed, but she decided not to climb into the hotel bed because she was worried that the bed was dirty. So she changed into a yellow hazmat-style suit and then prepared to tuck herself in. The commercial went on to say that in Our Brand (I can't remember which brand!) of hotels, the bed linens are always freshly cleaned for each customer. The commercial did not mention bed bugs, but that was the first thing that came to my mind. I wonder if they were trying to imply that their beds were less likely to have bed bugs than other hotels? Probably not--I think I am reading too much into it.

But I wonder if hotels will ever begin to promote some kind of a bed-bug-free guarantee? I can't find anything like this on the net, and I can't predict whether this will happen in the future or not. On the one hand, it might be a good idea: if you can convince customers that YOUR hotel is bed bug free, and that other hotels are infested, you might get some customers. On the other hand, hotels probably don't want people to think about bed bugs AT ALL. We'll see.

In the meantime, you can take a look at the Bed Bug Registry. This is an online resource that purports to track bed bug infestations in hotels across the U.S. and Canada. It is based on user-submitted data. Please note: I do not know much about this site, and I cannot validate the accuracy of the info presented there. In fairness, though, the site doesn't guarantee accuracy either. Here is a statement from their FAQ:

How can you be sure these reports are true?
We can't - this is the Internet! All our bedbug reports are submitted through the site, and have not been vetted for accuracy. We do our best to flag posts that have been disputed, but we remind our readers to take things with a grain of salt.

Some reports are posted by malicious tenants. Some are posted by evil competitors. Some are posted by hypochondriacs.

So, if you use that site, be aware that just because a hotel appears on the list, that doesn't mean that it EVER had bed bugs. Also, a hotel may have treated the infestation since being flagged on the site. And, of course, just because a hotel isn't on the list, that does not mean that it is bed bug free.

Read more about Bed Bugs in our online factsheet.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beetle For The People

Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

In last night's Volkswagen commercial from the SuperBowl, I spied:
-a dragonfly
-bess beetles
-a centipede

Anything else? Also, does anyone have any idea what type of beetle the "main character" was supposed to be?