Wasp nest wanted
Anyone in New Zealand who has a giant German yellowjacket (called wasp in the article) nest on their property is asked to call this guy.
Just read that an entomology professor at Washington State University, just south of us, earlier this month served up a variety of insect delicacies. The event was part of the "Insects and People" class. Mealworm tacos and cricket chili... how did I miss this?
According to this National Geographic article, scientists estimate that between 50 and 80 percent of the world's population eat insects as a regular part of their diet.
Flying like a fly
Have you ever thought about how houseflies... fly? Most of us probably don't. When that annoying, filthy pest is buzzing around your kitchen, the more pressing question is, "Where's the flyswatter?"
Leave it to some clever engineers to think about what we could actually learn from the flight patterns of the housefly. There's its speed... up to 50 km per hour. Its acceleration ability... 3 g's, or 3 times the force of the earth's gravity -- equivalent to what the astronauts feel when the space shuttle takes off. And the fact that it can fly straight up, down or backward, and can somersault to land upside down on a ceiling.
Here's what they hope to accomplish:
The researchers are taking the lessons they learn from Musca domestica to try to build something called a micro air vehicle, or MAV, a tiny flapping-wing tobot that could be used for military reconnaissance, disaster rescue efforts, or other kinds of work requiring remote sensing.
And here's a firsthand description of the research from the gentleman in the United Kingdom who's spearheading it. It's fascinating to read about the possible military uses he envisions:
A soldier mired in combat could take a few MAVs from his backpack and throw them into the air to scout the interiors of nearby buildings. Equipped with video cameras, the tiny flyers could surreptitiously locate hidden adversaries, downed comrades, or scared civilians. MAVs could find equal application in bomb detection and bomb deployment -- the US Air Force, for one, is interested in using MAVs for precisely delivering tiny bombs, to take out, say, a single computer.
A painful second-grade science lesson
This is quite late in the year for yellowjackets to be in the news, especially in the Northeast.
Some second-graders in Baltimore were stung today after one of the kids stumbled upon a nest while they were outside for a science class. Out of 100 students, 47 had painful encounters with the yellowjackets.
Luckily someone in charge had been forward-thinking:
"Officials said having the students' medical cards on record was very helpful in determining which students were allergic."
Interviewing the insects
"One of the biggest challenges in the business of creating insect traps and attractants has long been that it's impossible to interview the insects. No one can assemble an insect focus group and ask them what kind of fragrances or foods they like, what scents repel them, what colors catch their eyes or whether they would rather enter a trap from a top, bottom or side opening."
I wrote the above copy recently as an introduction for the product catalog used by our sales force. After that paragraph, I went on to explain that our company, Sterling, can come closer than anyone else in gathering information on insect behaviors necessary to make our existing pest control products better and create new products.
(An aside: I'm not going to launch into a sales pitch because that's not what this blog is about. I just think what our technology here allows us to do is intriguing. Plus, this fits into a larger series of blog posts on which I'm working this week. I've come across many articles recently about scientists who are studying insects in fascinating ways, and what their findings may allow them to create.)
The main tool that allows our R&D personnel to study the insects is a machine in our lab called a Gas Chromatograph-Electro Antennagram Detector.
Simply put, this machine lets us "interview" an insect. The bug communicates through its antenna, even after it's detached from the rest of the body. We attach electrodes to each end of the antenna and let it "smell" different scents to see which scent registers a reaction. A strong reaction could indicate a scent that either attracts or repels the insect. From there our chemists can re-create the scent and then test it in the field to see how it would work as a product.