Connect with us

Science

What to wear when you’re battling giant, venomous hornets – Ars Technica

Published

 on


What to wear when you’re battling giant, venomous hornets
Washington State Department of Agriculture

By now you’ve surely seen the pictures: A dozen humanoid forms encased in full-body, white nylon suits are working on scaffolding at the base of a saran-wrapped tree by the red glow of headlamps, one of them raising a plexiglass vacuum tube between its blue-gloved hands in triumph. Inside, 85 wasps, each the size of a human thumb, are piled against one another in cold-induced slumber. No, these weren’t scenes from the next great biothreat thriller. Over the weekend, Washington State Department of Agriculture workers took out the first Asian giant hornet nest found in the United States.

Come to think of it, it was sort of a biothreat thriller. A bit anticlimactic, perhaps. But it had great costumes.

The enormous honeybee-beheading predator, nicknamed the “murder hornet,” was first discovered in Whatcom County late last year. Since then, state entomologists have been working nonstop to track the invasive insect, using traps and radio transmitters in the hope of locating their nests and eradicating them before they can gain a foothold in the Pacific Northwest. But taking out a nest is dangerous work. With a 6-millimeter, automatically-reloading stinger, the hornet can inject massive amounts of venom into its victims. It can also spray that venom from a distance. In Japan, they kill about 50 people every year.

Normal beekeeping outfits won’t cut it. Last year, when a Canadian team tackled an Asian giant hornet nest in Nanaimo, British Columbia, where the hornet first turned up in North America, the person tasked with the extraction wore two pairs of pants as well as a Kevlar vest under his regular apiarist attire. Despite all that, he described the seven stings he suffered as “similar to having red-hot thumb tacks driven into the flesh.” So what’s an Asian giant hornet hunter to do? Head to Amazon, of course.

“Basically, we started this project with a relatively small budget,” says WSDA entomologist Chris Looney, who was charged with leading the Washington hornet eradication. A lot of that money had to go toward the thousands of traps his team ended up laying across the northwestern part of the state this year. “So when someone in our safety office said, ‘Here’s some on Amazon that we can afford,’ we gave it a shot.”

Washington State Dept. of Agriculture

The agency ended up ordering about 15 of the $170 suits, which, according to the Amazon listing, are made by a company called Vevin. They’re advertised as professional anti-wasp, -hornet, and –yellow jacket protective apparel—though not specifically as being protective against Asian giant hornets. The one-piece suits are constructed of three layers: a 20-millimeter-thick slab of foam sandwiched between an inner and outer coating of soft plastic mesh. Black nylon taping reinforces the seams, zipper, and the top of the attached hood, where a battery-powered fan moves air around and keeps the wearer cool. The look can best be described as Michelin-Man-meets-Navy-diver-circa-1945 chic.

But exactly who makes the suit and what they might think about its use for Asian giant hornet wrangling is something of a mystery. The brand name Vevin didn’t yield any hits in a search for a manufacturer’s webpage, and it’s not clear if the suits are actually made by the Chinese company that is selling them on Amazon. WIRED reached out to the seller through the Amazon contact portal, as well as through an email listed on a website that tracks data about Chinese businesses, but received no response. This company doesn’t seem to have a web presence, either. An Amazon spokesperson declined to provide any contact information for either the seller or manufacturer, citing company policy.

The WSDA team purchased the suits in February but didn’t know until last week whether they’d need to use them. After multiple failed attempts this fall to use tracking devices to follow captured wasps back to their nest, on Wednesday, October 21, they finally got a hit. Looney trailed the signal from the tagged insect, following as it grew increasingly stronger. But when it hit max signal, he didn’t see a nest on the ground, which is where Asian giant hornets usually build them. Then the hornet buzzed over his head. Then another one. Looney realized they were coming and going from an opening in an alder tree on what appeared to be private property. About 20 feet away, he spotted a children’s swing set.

That’s one of the reasons WSDA wanted to move so quickly—there were worries the insects might be getting close to people. So it was a good thing they had the suits already on hand. But they hadn’t expected to encounter a nest in a tree, so they needed a few days to get a new plan together. Around 5:30 on Saturday morning, more than a dozen WSDA workers gathered in the property owner’s yard, helping each other into the suits by the red light of their headlamps. (White lights tend to agitate the hornets.) Looney and others had set up scaffolding around the base of the tree earlier in the week, and now his colleagues stood atop it as they crammed dense foam padding into a crevice above and below the nest entrance. Then they wrapped the tree with cellophane, leaving just a small opening. Looney inserted a Shop Vac hose, sucking the insects out of their nest and into a secure container.

In the end, no one on the eradication team suffered any injuries, but Looney can’t give a verdict yet on how swarm-proof the suits are, because the insects simply didn’t try it. Normally, an assault on a nest would provoke the hornets to attack en masse. But on Saturday, the temperatures dipped into the thirties, making the bugs sluggish. And the team’s Shop Vac strategy worked well—no hornets even attempted to sting anyone or squirt venom at them.

Still, Looney says, they did run into a mobility issue the moment they stepped up onto the scaffolding. They discovered they couldn’t raise their arms high enough to reach the top of the nest opening, which was about 10 feet off the ground. “They’re very constraining,” he says of the suits. It’s not so much the thickness of the material as the cut. “If they were designed by a high-level tailor, I’m sure they would move better,” he continues. “But I don’t think they were.”

All that foam might have been hard to move in, but at least it kept people cozy during the five-hour eradication mission, says Looney. Except for one place—the attached rubber boots. They were too small for most people to wear thick socks inside them. “We all had very cold toes,” he says.

Those are lessons the team can take with them for the next time they have to suit up. Though the WSDA was successful in capturing this nest, a series of individual insect captures over the past few weeks indicate that there is at least one—or possibly two or three—more nests elsewhere in Whatcom County. The team will continue to put out traps until the end of November, with the hopes of getting lucky. But their window is rapidly closing. By early December, the nests will start to go dormant for the winter; male and worker hornets will die off, and any queens that have mated will disperse and burrow underground to hibernate until spring, when they’ll form new hives.

“Without a specimen to track back through some of the terrain we’re in, it would be very difficult to locate a nest,” Washington State managing entomologist Sven-Erik Spichinger told reporters on Monday. That means the hornet hunt will almost certainly continue into 2021, at least. But Spichinger says the area where they are believed to have spread is small enough that it’s still worth the battle. No one is calling the Asian giant hornet endemic just yet. “Right now, we’re cautiously optimistic that we’re still ahead of this,” he said.

Washington State Dept. of Agriculture

Spichinger emphasized that Washington citizens don’t need to go out and buy anti-hornet apparel. The insects attack only if their nest is disturbed. But if you were thinking Murder Hornet Hunter would make the perfect Halloween costume, you’re right. And you’ll want to act quickly. On Monday, the suits were listed as sold out on Amazon and, according to the shopping site, were discontinued by the manufacturer. Curiously, on Tuesday, a few more suits had been added and the discontinued messaging removed. WIRED was also able to find available units on various Chinese retail sites. But so far, none of them ship to the US.

As for the fate of the captured hornets? All 85 survived the extraction and went back with Looney and into a cooler in his home lab. (The WSDA facilities have been limited because of Covid-19.) He was tasked with freezing most of them to send to research partners around the world who will extract their DNA and study the kinds of pheromones they produce. But before he sentenced them to flash-frozen death, he decided to squeeze in some last-minute experiments of his own. He suspected WSDA’s live traps weren’t as good at keeping the hornets contained as they’d hoped. So he’d pulled out a few different trap designs to see if the bugs could crawl out on their own. “It looks like they’re going to,” he said. And as he chatted on the phone with WIRED on Monday night, Looney realized he had an opportunity to run a second at-home experiment: He could test how well the suit stood up against stings. “It’s out in my car, I could go get it,” he mused. “And I have a bunch of living wasps. I should just try that. Hmm.”

We’ll keep you posted if we ever hear back from him.

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Science

Landmark wheat genome discovery could shore up global food security – New Food

Published

 on


Project leader, Curtis Pozniak, compares the findings to locating a missing piece of your favourite puzzle, and hopes this will transform the way wheat is grown globally.

Scientists believe the genome sequencing will lead to higher wheat yields around the world.

An international team led by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) has sequenced the genomes for 15 wheat varieties representing breeding programmes around the world.

This landmark discovery will enable scientists and breeders to identify influential genes for improved yield, pest resistance and other important crop traits much more quickly.

The research results, published in Nature, provide what the research team has called the most comprehensive atlas of wheat genome sequences ever reported. The 10+ Genome Project collaboration involved more than 95 scientists from universities and institutes across Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Israel, Australia and the US.

“It’s like finding the missing pieces for your favourite puzzle that you have been working on for decades,” said project leader Curtis Pozniak, wheat breeder and director of the USask Crop Development Centre (CDC). “By having many complete gene assemblies available, we can now help solve the huge puzzle that is the massive wheat pan-genome and usher in a new era for wheat discovery and breeding.”

Scientific groups across the global wheat community are expected to use the new resource to identify genes linked to in-demand traits, such as pest and diseases resistance, which will accelerate breeding efficiency.

“This resource enables us to more precisely control breeding to increase the rate of wheat improvement for the benefit of farmers and consumers, and meet future food demands,” Pozniak added.

As one of the world’s most cultivated cereal crops, wheat plays an important role in global food security, providing about 20 percent of human caloric intake globally. The university says it’s estimated that wheat production must increase by more than 50 percent by 2050 to meet an increasing global demand – knowing which wheat genomes ‘best perform’ could be crucial in delivering this target.

The researchers explain that they were able to track the unique DNA signatures of genetic material incorporated into modern cultivars from several of wheat’s undomesticated relatives by breeders over the last century.1

“These wheat relatives have been used by breeders to improve disease resistance and stress resistance of wheat,” said Pozniak. “One of these relatives contributed a DNA segment to modern wheat that contains disease-resistant genes and provides protection against a number of fungal diseases. Our collaborators from Kansas State University and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, showed that this segment can improve yields by as much as 10 percent. Since breeding is a continual improvement process, we can continue to cross plants to select for this valuable trait.”

Pozniak’s team, in collaboration with scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and National Research Council of Canada, also used the genome sequences to isolate an insect-resistant gene (Sm1). This gene enables wheat plants to withstand the orange wheat blossom midge, a pest which can cause more than $60 million in annual losses to Western Canadian producers.1

“Understanding a causal gene like this is a game-changer for breeding because you can select for pest resistance more efficiently by using a simple DNA test than by manual field testing,” Pozniak concluded.

References 

  1. www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2961-x 

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Science

T. rex got huge via major teenage growth spurt – CBC.ca

Published

 on


Large meat-eating dinosaurs attained their great size through very different growth strategies, with some taking a slow and steady path and others experiencing an adolescent growth spurt, according to scientists who analyzed slices of fossilized bones.

The researchers examined the annual growth rings — akin to those in tree trunks — in bones from 11 species of theropods, a broad group spanning all the big carnivorous dinosaurs including Tyrannosaurus rex and even birds. The study provides insight into the lives of some of the most fearsome predators ever to walk the Earth.

The team looked at samples from museums in the United States, Canada, China and Argentina and even received clearance to cut into bones from one of the world’s most famous T. rex fossils, known as Sue and housed at the Field Museum in Chicago, using a diamond-tipped saw and drill.

Sue’s leg bones — a huge femur and fibula — helped illustrate that T. rex and its relatives — known as tyrannosaurs — experienced a period of extreme growth during adolescence and reached full adult size by around age 20. Sue, measuring about 13 metres, lived around 33 years.

Sue inhabited South Dakota about a million years before dinosaurs and many other species were wiped out by an asteroid impact 66 million years ago.

Other groups of large theropods tended to have more steady rates of growth over a longer period of time. That growth strategy was detected in lineages that arose worldwide earlier in the dinosaur era and later were concentrated in the southern continents.

Examples included Allosaurus and Acrocanthosaurus from North America, Cryolophosaurus from Antarctica and a recently discovered as-yet-unnamed species from Argentina that rivaled T. rex in size. The Argentine dinosaur, from a group called carcharodontosaurs, did not reach its full adult size until its 40s and lived to about age 50.

Big theropods share the same general body design, walking on two legs and boasting large skulls, strong jaws and menacing teeth.

“Prior to our study, it was known that T. rex grew very quickly, but it was not clear if all theropod dinosaurs reached gigantic size in the same way, or if there were multiple ways it was done,” said paleontologist and study lead author Tom Cullen of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University, also affiliated with the Field Museum.

The research was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Theropod dinosaurs represent the largest bipedal animals to have ever lived and were also the dominant predators in terrestrial ecosystems for over 150 million years — more than twice as long as mammals have been dominant,” added University of Minnesota paleontologist and study co-author Peter Makovicky

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Science

Slow and steady or a big spurt? How to grow a ferocious dinosaur – Cape Breton Post

Published

 on


By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Large meat-eating dinosaurs attained their great size through very different growth strategies, with some taking a slow and steady path and others experiencing an adolescent growth spurt, according to scientists who analyzed slices of fossilized bones.

The researchers examined the annual growth rings – akin to those in tree trunks – in bones from 11 species of theropods, a broad group spanning all the big carnivorous dinosaurs including Tyrannosaurus rex and even birds. The study provides insight into the lives of some of the most fearsome predators ever to walk the Earth.

The team looked at samples from museums in the United States, Canada, China and Argentina and even received clearance to cut into bones from one of the world’s most famous T. rex fossils, known as Sue and housed at the Field Museum in Chicago, using a diamond-tipped saw and drill.

Sue’s leg bones – a huge femur and fibula – helped illustrate that T. rex and its relatives – known as tyrannosaurs – experienced a period of extreme growth during adolescence and reached full adult size by around age 20. Sue, measuring about 42 feet (13 metres), lived around 33 years.

Sue inhabited South Dakota about a million years before dinosaurs and many other species were wiped out by an asteroid impact 66 million years ago.

Other groups of large theropods tended to have more steady rates of growth over a longer period of time. That growth strategy was detected in lineages that arose worldwide earlier in the dinosaur era and later were concentrated in the southern continents.

Examples included Allosaurus and Acrocanthosaurus from North America, Cryolophosaurus from Antarctica and a recently discovered as-yet-unnamed species from Argentina that rivaled T. rex in size. The Argentine dinosaur, from a group called carcharodontosaurs, did not reach its full adult size until its 40s and lived to about age 50.

Big theropods share the same general body design, walking on two legs and boasting large skulls, strong jaws and menacing

teeth.

“Prior to our study, it was known that T. rex grew very quickly, but it was not clear if all theropod dinosaurs reached gigantic size in the same way, or if there were multiple ways it was done,” said paleontologist and study lead author Tom Cullen of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University, also affiliated with the Field Museum.

The research was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Theropod dinosaurs represent the largest bipedal animals to have ever lived and were also the dominant predators in terrestrial ecosystems for over 150 million years – more than twice as long as mammals have been dominant,” added University of Minnesota paleontologist and study co-author Peter Makovicky.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending