Do we need to bring back DDT?

Written by Joe Ballenger

I’ve had a number of friends ask me to tackle the topic of possibly bringing back DDT. These requests go back months, and I’ve been hesitant to tackle the topic because of the politics surrounding this issue. I’ve also been hesitant, because if I tackle this topic, I want to do it right…which means this will probably be the longest article I’ve written on AaE to date. I hope that it will be the longest article, as well.

Paul Offit

I want to tell a short personal story about Paul Offit. In 2014, I was diagnosed as an adult with autism. In some of my non-science social circles, my parents were blamed. Offit’s book, Autism’s False Prophets, helped me understand why this viewpoint existed and how to explain how the antivaccine movement hurts autistic people like myself. I admire him, but I also disagree with him on this point.

This comes on the heels of a pair of articles which had widespread press back in Feburary. One is by a blogger popular in the Skeptic community, SkepticalRaptor. The other is from one of my idols working in public health, a vaccine expert named Paul Offit. I initially wanted to tackle this in February, but ultimately decided to wait until Earth Day and World Malaria day to post these articles.

The story of the failed malaria eradication program is far more complicated than either Offit or Raptor let on. They leave out huge chunks of the story, and many of those chunks completely change the narrative. Specifically, they leave out any serious discussion of the role of insecticide and antimalarial drug resistance. They do not discuss the many administrative failures of the campaign, and neither of them seriously consider the role of economic development in malaria epidemiology.

Instead of laying out the standard DDT story most are familiar with, I’d like to discuss why the WHO’s Global Malaria Eradication Program failed, while the US campaign succeeded. Comparing and contrasting these stories is very productive, because it demonstrates why vector control is really hard.

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Fair Use: Can I Use That (Bug) Picture in My Art?

Written by Nancy Miorelli
With help from Stephane De Greef

I’m an admin for the Entomology FaceBook Group and copyright comes up a lot. In fact, the admins had a long discussion about this particular picture.

PC: Cristina Samsa

We discovered that it closely resembles a photo by Igor Siwanowicz (who by the way is one of my favorite insect photographers and you should totally go check out his page!)

PC: Igor Siwanowicz

And it’s not just “closely resembles”. She digitally cut the mantis photo in half, mirrored the resulting image, and put a filter over it. So here’s the question. Is this image fair use? Or copyright infringement?

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Why are Insects Important?

Written by Nancy Miorelli

You know, it seems strange that it’s taken us more than 3 years to address this question! I’ve been doing a few interviews recently and I keep getting asked “Why are Insect Important?” In fact, it was the FIRST questions that I had to fill out for my Real Scientists welcome introduction!

So – I tweeted about it!

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Changing Times: How Will Climate Change Affect Insects?

Written by Nancy Miorelli

During my week curating Real Scientists, a twitter account with rotating scientists, communicators, and artists, I had some really great questions about insects come in. One I thought was particularly insightful was about climate change and insects.

When we think about Climate Change, as Jon Oliver points out, we usually think about a polar bear perched on a little chunk of ice. But it’s not just polar bears that are affected by climate change.

File:Polar Bear AdF.jpg

Photo Credit: Arturo de Frias Marques (CC by SA 4.0)

Everything is. And insects are no exception. We’ll see range shifts, species extinctions, increase in other species. But it’s not all bad news. We can use some insects as indicators for environmental changes, and that helps US prepare for the future.

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Is oxygen the reason insects were so big way back when?

Written by Joe Ballenger

I read a few things on the size of insects and the decrease of size from there ancestors to now are related to the oxygen levels from then to now.

I was wondering if anyone has raised a few generations in an oxygen enriched environment to see if they grew to larger sizes quickly in the favourable atmosphere or if there evolution was fixed to there new size?

Arthroplerua fossil myriapod (model) (Pennsylvanian)

Pictured: Life-size replica of Arthropleura, the largest land-dwelling arthropod which ever existed. Image credit: James St. John. License info: CC-BY-2.0

Oh, I love this question. There’s a lot of cool stuff here.

In the early day’s of Earth’s history, arthropods were huge.

The largest land-dwelling invertebrate in history was the millipede Arthropleura, which reached sizes of nearly 7 feet. It was a millipede much bigger than our current millipede expert, Derek Hennen. There were dragonfly-like insects the size of hawks, and grasshopper-like insects the size of small dogs. Any entomologist would have loved to be around those days.

We don’t see land-dwelling arthropods that big nowadays. The largest land-dwelling arthropod alive today is the coconut crab, Birgus latro. It “only” grows to about three feet long, and actually spends most of its life in water.

So why did insects get that big back in the day?

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Tough Shell – Is the Beetle Shell Related to Beetles’ Evolutionary Success?

Written by: Nancy Miorelli

Last week,  March 5 – 11, 2017 I had the most wonderful opportunity to tweet from the Real Scientists Twitter Account. Every week they pick a different scientist, science communicator, or artist to curate the account. And how lucky I am that I was selected!!

I talked mainly about butterfly wings, conservation, and SciComm but also did my best to answer some questions that came in.

This was one of of the questions after I posted this quick fact about beetles which I’ve mentioned before in this article.

PC: Nancy Miorelli

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Can I toss that bug outside during winter?

Do most bugs that you would find inside a home able to survive? For example, should I help rescue fruit flies and put them outside or are they better to remain inside? I know most spiders will die if you put them outside, but I’m just not sure about bugs such as moths, larger flies, ladybugs etc. I get worried about opening windows and doors in case they become trapped!

Hi. I live in Rhode Island, so it’s pretty cold here right now. There’s a ladybug living in my kitchen. Can I assume it’s too cold for him to live outside? He can stay inside as long as he wants, but I don’t want him to starve. What do they eat? Should I put him in a room that has potted plants? Or does he eat other bugs? Not sure what to do. I don’t want him starve inside the house, but I also don’t want him to freeze outside. What should I do?

The other day I caught a spider and put it outside. It was around 30 – 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside at the time. The spider was small, maybe the size of a US dime, yellow, and somewhat fast moving. When I put him outside I noticed that instead of moving fast, he walked slowly. I started to wonder if the cold (my concrete patio) was bothering him. Would he freeze to death out there? Or go dormant somehow? What if it’s even colder, like 0 degrees Fahrenheit?

If the cold does bother (or kill) spiders in the winter, do you have any recommendations on removing spiders I catch in the house without killing them? I’ve thought about putting them in my attached garage instead, which isn’t heated but isn’t quite as cold as outside.

During the winter, we get a lot of questions from people asking whether they can put insects outside while it’s cold outside. Or questions about why insects are even inside in the first place.

Hidden TreasureI think it’s a good question, because it exposes something of a riddle. Insects appear every year, so they have to survive the winter somehow…but they die if you toss them in the freezer. The insects you see inside are moving around, but the ones outside aren’t moving around because you can’t see them.

So are there differences between the ones you find inside, and the ones that stay outside? Do those differences mean that they can’t move between the two habitats, like they do in the warmer seasons?

As I said…these are excellent questions, and the answer depends on an understanding of the challenges insects face during winter. Continue reading

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