Health officials from two counties in northern Arizona are warning the public that fleas are testing positive for the Yersinia pestis bacterium that causes plague.

Following a similar announcement from the Coconino County Public Health Services District, on Friday officials at Navajo County Public Health said that fleas there had also tested positive for the bacterium, ABC News reported.

“Navajo County Health Department is urging the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits and predators that feed upon these animals,” the public health warning stated. “The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal.”

Plague is the infamous flea-borne infection that killed millions of Europeans in the Middle Ages, decimating populations. The advent of better sanitation and modern antibiotics has held the disease largely in check, although small outbreaks can still occur.

Health officials are advising that people who live, work or visit the two Arizona counties avoid contact with sick or dead animals, and keep any pets from roaming loose, to minimize the chance of contact with rodents or fleas.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plague symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, chills, headache and weakness, as well as inflamed lymph nodes.

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Why are the bugs so bad this year?

With weather data in mind, how does a dry and mild winter affect overwintering insects? Some might think warmer temperatures would increase the chances of insect survival. Perhaps that is true. But there are many factors that influence successful overwintering and are worth strong consideration. Some winter survivorship factors are highlighted here:

  1. Insects that overwinter above ground (e.g., bean leaf beetle adults) may be more likely to survive with fewer cold days. But a lack of snow cover can expose insects to those days with below-freezing temperatures, and could increase mortality compared to year with insulating snow.
  2. Insects that overwinter below ground (e.g., Japanese beetle grubs) will not likely be affected by a mild winter because soil temperatures are more constant. However, there could be more survivors than normal if the frost layer is shallow.
  3. All insects develop based on temperature. A warm winter day could cause insects to become active (e.g., woolly bear caterpillars) when they normally would be dormant. Activity uses up stored fats they depend on to survive until the spring. Without access to food, these active insects could starve to death before food becomes available.
  4. Most insects adapt to cold winters by slowly preparing in the fall and staying dormant until the spring. Therefore, large temperature swings can be detrimental to insects; the body can be injured or death can occur. We would expect some insect mortality due to cold intolerance when temperatures regularly fluctuate from 0-50 degrees.

Also, there are other factors to understand before we can predict how successful insects will be in the spring and summer. The same survival factors outlined above also apply to beneficial insects, like predators and parasitoids, and insect-killing pathogens. So ultimately it might not matter too much if more pests survive in a mild winter, because more beneficial insects will likely survive and help regulate spring populations. The uncertainty of insect survival in the winter can make predicting pest populations very difficult.

Lastly, there have been questions about how to calculate degree days with winter days that exceed the lower developmental temperatures (i.e., 50 degrees for most insects). In other words, should we include those warm days in estimating insect development? This is a difficult question to answer, given we do not have a lot of experience with predicting insect development with an especially warm winter. Our educated guess is to calculate accumulating degree days from Jan. 1, 2015. As we observe actual insect development this spring and summer, we will see if temperature models are accurate or need to be slightly modified.

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Spring is just around the corner here in NWA, which means flowers are blooming, trees are budding and hibernating animals are stirring. It also means new paper wasp queens are swooping around, looking for the perfect place to build a nest and lay their eggs.

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t want the queen to settle in or around your home. Fortunately, there are ways to help control new wasp colonies.

What is a Paper Wasp?

As the name suggests, paper wasps are a type of wasp that make their nests from paper. They belong to the sub-family Polistes, and chew wood and vegetation to build their nests.

A typical mature paper wasp colony contains a few dozen wasps, though it can grow larger. However, each nest begins with a single fertilized queen. In the spring, each new queen that survived winter will emerge from the sheltered area in which she over-wintered and set out to establish a new colony. The paper wasp queen then lays her first brood of eggs.

After she raises the larvae, they become worker wasps that forage for food, raise future broods and build any additions to the nest. The queen continues to lay more eggs until late summer. Some of these larvae will be reproductives. Male and female reproductives mate and then the fertilized female reproductives will leave the colony to find a secure place to over-winter. In the spring they’ll come out of hiding to start their new colonies and the cycle begins again.

Where Will I Find Paper Wasp Nests?

paper wasp nest

If paper wasps have built a nest in or around your home, there’s a good chance you’ll see it although this isn’t always the case. The round nest will look like it’s made from gray paper. Additionally, it will hang upside down on a single stalk from a horizontal location.

Paper wasps need to keep their nests protected. Because of this, they tend to build in sheltered locations. Here are several common areas in which you may spot a paper wasp nest:

  • Undersides of balconies or arches
  • Porch ceilings
  • Under overhanging eaves and awnings
  • Window corners
  • Beneath porches and decks
  • Inside gas grills and hose reels
  • Attics and crawl spaces

How to Remove Paper Wasps

Before you decide to remove a wasp nest, you need to remember that paper wasps sting. Their queen is the key to their survival, and they have to keep her safe somehow. Stinging is all they have.

Unfortunately, some people are very allergic to paper wasp stings and may experience some very serious symptoms. Regardless of whether you’re allergic, a sting does not feel good. Nest removal puts you in the path of dozens of potentially aggressive paper wasps, each of which is capable of doling out multiple stings. It’s not a pleasant scenario.

DIY wasp nest removal is not a good idea. It’s a much better idea to leave wasp removal to the professionals. After evaluating the issue, your pest control professional will customize a wasp prevention and control plan to suit your needs.

A paper wasp’s mission in life isn’t to sting you. However, it’s understandable if this isn’t a risk you’re willing to take, especially if you have small children or someone who is allergic to bee or wasp stings living in your home. If that’s you, contact NWA Ladybug Pest Control for help.

 

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The bed bug’s most closely guarded secrets — stashed away in protective armor that enables these blood-sucking little nasties to shrug off insecticides and thrive in homes and hotels — were on the agenda at a major scientific meeting. In a talk at the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, scientists are describing identification of the genes responsibe for pesticide-resistance in bed bugs, and the implications for millions of people trying to cope with bed bug infestations that have been resurging for more than a decade.

The bed bug presentation was part of an international research award symposium at the ACS National Meeting, which includes 12 other research papers on topics ranging from pesticide resistance to monitoring chemicals in the environment to tick spit.

“Every living thing on Earth has a unique set of strategies to adapt to life-threatening situations in the environment,” says Fang Zhu, PhD, a leader of the research who spoke at the meeting. “The surprise discovery we never expected is that most of the genes responsible for pesticide resistance in the bed bug are active in its outer skin-like shell or cuticle. This is the unique adaption that has not been discovered in cockroaches, termites, ants or other insects.”

Zhu of Washington State University and colleagues, who are with the University of Kentucky, quickly realized that the location was the ideal spot for genes that mute the effects of pyrethroid insecticides — today’s mainstay home and garden pesticides. The bodies of bed bugs, she explained, are extremely flat before the creatures slurp up a meal of human blood. That profile adapts bed bugs for a life of hiding in the seams of mattresses, upholstered chairs, the lining of suitcases and other concealed locations. But it also creates a vulnerability to environmental toxins, giving bed bugs an unusually large surface area where pesticides can enter their bodies. The shell is tough — and accounts for the difficulty in squashing a bed bug. But research by Zhu’s team and others has established that it’s also a metabolic hot spot to protect against insecticides. Some genes in the cuticle, for instance, produce substances that tear apart the molecular backbone of insecticides, rendering them harmless. Other genes manufacture biological pumps that literally pump insecticides back out of the cuticle before they can enter the body.

Zhu’s team sifted through the bed bug’s genome — its complete set of genes — to identify the genes responsible for this pesticide resistance. They studied 21 populations of bed bugs from cities in Ohio and Kentucky (Cincinnati, Lexington and Louisville) that were plagued with bedbug infestations.

“We took advantage of cutting-edge next-generation genetic sequencing technology that’s now available. It enabled us to perform quickly an analysis that would have taken years in the 1990s — a genome-wide analysis of the insecticide-resistance related genes in bedbugs.”

They found 14 genes that in various combinations help bedbugs survive pesticide treatments with pyrethroid-type insecticides. Most were active in the bug’s cuticle, and block or slow an insecticide from reaching the nerve cells where it can kill. In addition to this first-line of defense, Zhu’s team discovered that bedbugs have developed a second layer of protection. In case insecticides slip past the armor, other genes kick in to prevent the toxins from attacking the nervous system.

Zhu says the findings suggest that development of new pesticides should focus on chemicals that shut down or mute genes in the cuticle that thwart today’s pesticides. New pesticides alone, however, will not be enough to cope with the bed bug resurgence. Zhu cited evidence that bed bugs in laboratory colonies exposed to lethal doses of pyrethroids begin to develop resistance within a few generations, which can be less than one year.

“It reminds us how quickly a new insecticide can become ineffective,” she says. “In the future, efficient bedbug management should not rely on any single insecticide. We need to combine as many chemical and non-chemical approaches as we have to get rid of the infestation.”

She cited, specifically, integrated pest management for bed bugs, approaches in which careful use of pesticides combines with other, common-sense measures. Those include removing bedroom clutter where bed bugs can hide, frequent vacuuming of dust and other debris, washing bed linens in hot water and heat-drying in a dryer, and sealing cracks and crevices to eliminate hiding places.

Zhu’s colleagues with the University of Kentucky include Subba R. Palli, Ph.D.; Kenneth F. Haynes, PhD; Michael F. Potter, PhD; Hemant Gujar; and Jennifer R. Gordon.

For more information on the bed bug problem: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/publications/bed_bugs_cdc-epa_statement.htm.

 

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