Bug Archives: Climate Change

Acorn + Mouse = Lyme Disease?

Lyme Disease Surge Predicted for Northeastern US: Due to Acorns and Mice, Not Mild Winter

ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2012) — The northeastern U.S. should prepare for a surge in Lyme disease this spring. And we can blame fluctuations in acorns and mouse populations, not the mild winter. So reports Dr. Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY.

What do acorns have to do with illness? Acorn crops vary from year-to-year, with boom-and-bust cycles influencing the winter survival and breeding success of white-footed mice. These small mammals pack a one-two punch: they are preferred hosts for black-legged ticks and they are very effective at transmitting Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

“We had a boom in acorns, followed by a boom in mice. And now, on the heels of one of the smallest acorn crops we’ve ever seen, the mouse population is crashing,” Ostfeld explains. Adding, “This spring, there will be a lot of Borrelia burgdorferi-infected black-legged ticks in our forests looking for a blood meal. And instead of finding a white-footed mouse, they are going to find other mammals — like us.”

For more than two decades, Ostfeld, Cary Institute forest ecologist Dr. Charles D. Canham, and their research team have been investigating connections among acorn abundance, white-footed mice, black-legged ticks, and Lyme disease. In 2010, acorn crops were the heaviest recorded at their Millbrook-based research site. And in 2011, mouse populations followed suit, peaking in the summer months. The scarcity of acorns in the fall of 2011 set up a perfect storm for human Lyme disease risk.

Black-legged ticks take three bloodmeals — as larvae, as nymphs, and as adults. Larval ticks that fed on 2011′s booming mouse population will soon be in need of a nymphal meal. These tiny ticks — as small as poppy seeds — are very effective at transmitting Lyme to people. The last time Ostfeld’s research site experienced a heavy acorn crop (2006) followed by a sparse acorn crop (2007), nymphal black-legged ticks reached a 20-year high.

The May-July nymph season will be dangerous, and Ostfeld urges people to be aware when outdoors. Unlike white-footed mice, who can be infected with Lyme with minimal cost, the disease is debilitating to humans. Left undiagnosed, it can cause chronic fatigue, joint pain, and neurological problems. It is the most prevalent vector-borne illness in the U.S., with the majority of cases occurring in the Northeast.

Ostfeld says that mild winter weather does not cause a rise in tick populations, although it can change tick behavior. Adult ticks, which are slightly larger than a sesame seed, are normally dormant in winter but can seek a host whenever temperatures rise several degrees above freezing. The warm winter of 2011-2012 induced earlier than normal activity. While adult ticks can transmit Lyme, they are responsible for a small fraction of tick-borne disease, with spring-summer nymphs posing more of a human health threat.

Past research by Ostfeld and colleagues has highlighted the role that intact forest habitat and animal diversity play in buffering Lyme disease risks. He is currently working with health departments in impacted areas to educate citizens and physicians about the impending surge in Lyme disease.


Summer Vacations, Beaches, Sleeping In And Bed Bugs?

Bed Bugs: the summer vacation souvenir no one wants

Posted by Rona Fischman  June 14, 2012 02:06 PM

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the opportunity to learn about bed bugs at a local conference. On June 15, you have the opportunity to learn all you need to know about bedbugs, and more. The event is sponsored by the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS) in collaboration with Cambridge Health Alliance.

Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association writes today about how bed bugs get into a house. The NPMA, a non-profit organization with more than 7,000 members, was established in 1933 to support the pest management industry’s commitment to the protection of public health, food and property.

Imagine coming back from your summer vacation, relaxed and recharged, but within days of your return you wake up with red bumps on your legs and arms. Maybe you even notice pepper-like flakes on your bed sheets and you quizzically wonder what could it be? Unfortunately, the answer may be bed bugs, the vacation souvenir no one wants to bring home.So, what’s a vacationer to do? According to a 2011 National Pest Management Association and University of Kentucky survey 80 percent of pest professionals have treated bed bugs in hotels and motels. Although bed bugs are found in numerous places other than hotels, most travelers will stay in a hotel at one point or another during their vacation, putting themselves at risk of picking up these hitchhiking bugs.

Although bed bugs are not known to be vectors of disease, they can cause anxiety, sleeplessness, and emotional reactions in response to the knowledge that you’re sharing your bed with small bugs that suck your blood.

As with most pests, prevention is key. Here are several, easy but important tips, to keep in mind when traveling to ensure vacation memories, photos and actual souvenirs are the only things you bring back home:

• At hotels, pull back the sheets and inspect the mattress seams, particularly at the corners, for telltale stains or spots. If you see anything suspect, notify management and change rooms or establishments immediately.
• If you do need to change rooms, be sure that you do not move to a room adjacent and/or directly above/below the suspected infestation. Bed bugs can easily hitchhike via housekeeping carts, luggage and even through wall sockets. If an infestation is spreading, it typically does so in the rooms closest to the origin.
• Consider placing your suitcase in a plastic trash bag or protective cover during the
duration of your trip to ensure that bed bugs cannot take up residence there prior to departure.
• After traveling, inspect your suitcases before bringing them into the house. Vacuum your suitcase thoroughly before storing away. Consider using a garment hand steamer to steam your luggage, which will kill any bed bugs or eggs that may have hitched a ride home.
• Wash and dry all of your clothes – even those that have not been worn – in hot temperatures to ensure that any bed bugs that may have made it that far are not placed into your drawers/closet.

It’s A Hard Decision For Families, DEET VS Lyme Disease…


By Liberty Goodwin, Director, Toxics Information Project (TIP)

Consumer Reports printed an article entitled “Protection at a Price-DEET’S DOWNSIDE”. (July 1993, pg. 453) It points out that: “DEET is readily absorbed into the bloodstream, and medical reports have shown that absorption of DEET sometimes has serious consequences.” Among the most dramatic instances: Six girls under age nine developed toxic encephalopathy, a swelling of the brain that can cause disorientation, convulsions, and death. An ABC PrimeTime Live segment reported the stories of Tim Christiansen, who at 26 years old, died after using DEET twice one summer day in 1994; and of Elijah Harrison, an 8-year-old boy whose mother sprayed him with a 25% DEET product once a day for two days – he still suffers from seizure.

Duke University Medical Center pharmacologist Mohammed Abou-Donia has been doing extensive research on DEET. He says that children in particular are at risk for subtle brain changes caused by chemicals in the environment, because their skin more readily absorbs them, and chemicals more potently affect their developing nervous systems. Commonly used preparations like insecticide-based lice-killing shampoos and insect repellents are assumed to be safe because severe consequences are rare in the medical literature. Yet subtle symptoms — such as muscle weakness, fatigue or memory lapses — might be attributed erroneously to other causes, according to Abou-Donia.

On the Safe2use website, Patricia Taylor brings up another concern – that senior citizens using higher dosage applications of DEET should also be specifically precautioned about misuse. They should especially be told to use DEET sparingly only on exposed skin and to not use DEET underneath clothing. A senior citizen being brought into an emergency room suffering from incoherence, altered behavior, headache, restlessness, irritability, ataxia, rapid loss of consciousness, hypotension or seizures will not necessarily be screened for pesticide poisoning, but rather for other, more common, conditions to the elderly. Seniors with chronic skin conditions should be extremely cautious about applying DEET to their skin. DEET can exacerbate certain skin conditions and enters the body more quickly through wounds, where it is more toxic in the gut and eventually excreted through the kidneys. Ms. Taylor also questions the high dosage of DEET in some products as being too toxic for this age group.

The point has been made that short-term applications, especially of the lower-strength DEET formulas, do not appear to cause reactions in many people. However, it is my observation that our society tends to minimize or miss the long-term, chronic effects of many chemicals. Over and over, substances thought to be safe are later banned when evidence of their toxicity is finally unavoidable. Years ago, the “safety” of DDT was loudly proclaimed. The popular pesticide Dursban was recently forced off the market after years of use, because of health concerns.

In addition, research tends to focus on immediate, acute reactions, and examines only individual chemicals, though synergistic effects between multiple substances can be significant. Research is often done by persons with connections to the industry producing a product, raising questions of possible bias. Moreover, it is not unheard of for findings to be stifled, and scientists to find their careers impeded by over-zealous attention to unwelcome results. Product safety is at best an uncertain thing.


Lyme Disease is an infection that causes an inflammatory disease affecting the skin, joints, nervous system, and other organ systems. Symptoms usually appear within a week or two of infection but may develop up to 30 days after the tick bite – or not at all. The symptoms of early Lyme disease may include a red-ringed bull’s-eye rash which appears either as a solid red expanding rash or blotch, or as a central red spot surrounded by clear skin that is ringed by an expanding red rash.

The rash persists for as much as 3 to 5 weeks. It may be warm to the touch and is usually not painful or itchy. Other early localized signs include: Swelling of lymph glands near the tick bite, fatigue, headache, achiness, joint pain , chills. More serious symptoms, even death, may follow.


There are a variety of natural insect repellents, including Bite Blocker , Buzz Away, Herbal Armor, Jungle Juice, Natrapel, citronella or lavender oil, catnip oil (avoid felines while using this one), rosemary, pennyroyal, lemongrass and cedarwood. Some have proved very effective when tested in comparison with DEET – but with a caveat. The major advantage of DEET seems to be its lasting power. For example, a 7 % DEET formula (relatively low strength) might provide two hours protection, whereas the citronella (5-10 %) or lavender oil only about 30-60 minutes. At this time, TIP has insufficient information to recommend any one product. However, there is some research indicating that Bite Blocker may be competitive with DEET in protection time. Watch the TIP Web Site for links and updates – and tell us what works for you.


What then to do? There is some comforting news. First, ticks are unlikely to be found on well-mowed grass. Second, the first line of defense according to most experts is avoidance. This would include covering up, tucking jeans into socks, staying in the center of the path while walking, avoiding tall grass, not sitting on the ground. It’s also good to know that, according to kidshealth.org/Nemours Foundation, your child’s risk of developing Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick is only 1.4%. To be safe, though, you’ll want to remove the tick as soon as possible because risk of infection increases between 24 to 72 hours after the tick attaches to the skin. This is a very important point. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), “The transmission of B. burgdorferi (the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) from an infected tick is unlikely to occur before 36 hours of tick attachment. For this reason, daily checks for ticks and promptly removing any attached tick that you find will help prevent infection.” The American Academy of Pediatrics says that transmission of the bacteria that causes Lyme “usually requires a prolonged duration of attachment (> 48 hours). Of course, there is no guarantee of safety– I have heard a few reports of earlier infection.

Finding the ticks may be enhanced by wearing light colored clothing and by examining your skin in the shower after returning from an excursion. Embedded ticks should be removed using fine-tipped tweezers. DO NOT use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish, or other products. Grasp the tick firmly and as closely to the skin as possible. With a steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin. The tick’s mouthparts may remain in the skin, but do not be alarmed. The bacteria that cause Lyme disease are contained in the tick’s midgut or salivary glands. Cleanse the area with an antiseptic.” If you must remove the tick with your fingers, use a tissue or leaf to avoid contact with infected tick fluids. Do not prick, crush or burn the tick, as it may release infected fluids or tissue.

TIP’s present thinking about the DEET question is to use non-DEET alternative repellents, (preferably fragrance-free) – and apply them more often if needed. Always check carefully for any ticks after possible exposure. It is probably unnecessary to apply insect repellent vs. ticks unless either entering a wooded or long grass area. If you feel you must use DEET, use a product with the smallest percentage of it that seems effective. Read labels carefully. “DEET should be applied sparingly, according to product label instructions, only to exposed skin, and not to a child’s face, hands, or skin that is irritated or abraded. After the child returns indoors, treated skin should be washed with soap and water,” advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both the CDC and the AAP have issued cautions against any use of DEET on children under 3 years old. This is because DEET enters the bloodstream through the skin (and can even pierce fabrics) and children seem especially susceptible to DEET-related problems.

You Can Prevent A Tick Bite And Here Are A Few Steps To Show You How

Finding an engorged tick on your body is never fun. Ticks do carry diseases, which might make you think twice about your next hike into the woods. You don’t have to avoid the outdoors, though. Your first line of defense is avoiding their bites. Follow these 10 tips to avoid ticks, and more importantly, tick bites, when you head outdoors.

  1. Use a product with 20% DEET or higher on both skin and clothing. Carefully apply the repellent by hand to your face, neck, and ears – you don’t want DEET in your eyes or mouth! Adults should apply DEET products to young children. You may need to reapply DEET products after several hours.
  2. Apply permethrin to clothing, hiking boots, tents, and camp chairs. Permethrin products should never be used on skin. It remains effective on clothing through several washings. Permethrin is sold under the names Permanone and Duranon.
  3. Wear light-colored clothing. You’ll have a better chance of seeing a dark tick crawling on you before it makes its way to your skin.
  4. Wear long pants with sneakers or hiking boots. Tuck your pant legs into your socks, and keep your shirt tucked into your waistband. In areas where ticks are abundant, you might even want to wrap some duct tape around your ankles, over the top of your socks. You’ll look ridiculous, but it works.
  5. Outfit yourself in bug repellent apparel. Want a sporty, outdoor look with built-in tick protection? Ex-Officio sells a line of clothing that is pretreated with permethrin. The treatment lasts through up to 70 washings.
  6. Stay on the trail. Ticks hang out in high vegetation, waiting for a passing host. When your leg brushes through the vegetation, the tick transfers to your body. Walk on designated trails, and avoid blazing your own through meadows or other high vegetation areas. You’ll avoid ticks and leave a minimal impact on the wild places we love.
  7. Avoid tick-infested places. In some places, ticks may be too abundant to avoid, even with the best repellents and long pants. If you venture a few feet into a wooded area or field and find your legs covered with ticks, turn around.
  8. Be vigilant – do a daily tick check. Strip down and search all those places that ticks love to hide: in your hair, under your arms, between your legs, behind the knees, and even in your belly button.
  9. Put your clothes in the dryer, and tumble them on high heat. Research shows many ticks can make it through the washing machine, even when you wash in hot water. Most ticks will die during a cycle in the hot, dry air of your clothes dryer, though.
  10. Check your pets and your kids before letting them loose in the house. Ticks can easily drop off on carpets or furniture, where they will wait for a bloodmeal to come along. Give Fido’s fur a check, and make Junior remove clothing and do a tick check.

What Is A StinkBug? Do They Really Stink?

Stinkbug, the common name for a family of insects. There are thousands of species, found in most parts of the world. Stinkbugs are so named because they secrete a foul-smelling liquid that is repulsive to most predators. Most stinkbugs are dull in color, usually gray or brown, but some are such colors as black (often with red or orange markings), green, or blue. They generally range from 1/4 to 1/2 an inch (6 to 13 mm) in length. Some species are serious pests of such crops as cotton and cabbage; others are beneficial because they feed on other harmful insects. One of the best-known North American species, the harlequin cabbage stinkbug, is destructive to plants of the mustard family.

Does a Stinkbug Really Stink?

A stinkbug gives off a very bad smell if it is bothered. The smell comes from a stinky liquid that flows from two glands on the bug’s thorax. Once released, the odor remains on whatever the stink bug touches. To most predators, a stinkbug tastes as bad as it smells. Many birds spit out stinkbugs right after biting into them. However, other birds don’t seem to mind a stinkbug’s taste.

What Do Stinkbugs Feed On?

Most kinds of stinkbugs suck the juices of plants. Some kinds suck the body fluids of insects. Others feed on both plants and insects. Plant-sucking stinkbugs feed on the juices of young fruits and seeds. Some also suck the sap from plants as well as the nectar from flowers. Green stinkbugs often suck on crops like soybeans, rice, and tomatoes.

Some stinkbugs can greatly damage a farmer’s crops. But others can be helpful to farmers. The helpful stinkbugs kill other insects that do more harm to plants than they do themselves. Such insects include certain types of beetles and caterpillars and even some other stinkbugs.