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.”
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.
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.
Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests – CBC.ca
A southern Alberta mother and father are grappling with the sudden, unexplained death of their 17-year-old daughter, and with few answers, they’re left wondering if she could be the province’s youngest victim of COVID-19.
Sarah Strate — a healthy, active Grade 12 student at Magrath High School who loved singing, dancing and being outdoors — died on Monday, less than a week after being notified she’d been exposed to COVID-19.
While two tests came back negative, her parents say other signs point to the coronavirus, and they’re waiting for more answers.
“It was so fast. It’s all still such a shock,” said Sarah’s mother, Kristine Strate. “She never even coughed. She had a sore throat and her ears were sore for a while, and [she had] swollen neck glands.”
Kristine said Sarah developed mild symptoms shortly after her older sister — who later tested positive for COVID-19 — visited from Lethbridge, one of Alberta’s current hot spots for the virus.
The family went into isolation at their home in Magrath on Tuesday, April 20. They were swabbed the next day and the results were negative.
‘Everything went south, super-fast’
By Friday night, Sarah had developed fever and chills. On Saturday, she started vomiting and Kristine, a public health nurse, tried to keep her hydrated.
“She woke up feeling a bit more off on Monday morning,” Kristine said. “And everything went south, super-fast.”
Sarah had grown very weak and her parents decided to call 911 when she appeared to become delirious.
“She had her blanket on and I was talking to her and, in an instant, she was unresponsive,” said Kristine, who immediately started performing CPR on her daughter.
When paramedics arrived 20 minutes later, they were able to restore a heartbeat and rushed Sarah to hospital in Lethbridge, where she died.
“I thought there was hope once we got her heart rate back. I really did,” recalled Sarah’s father, Ron.
“He was praying for a miracle, and sometimes miracles don’t come,” said Kristine.
Searching for answers
At the hospital, the family was told Sarah’s lungs were severely infected and that she may have ended up with blood clots in both her heart and lungs, a condition that can be a complication of COVID-19.
But a second test at the hospital came back negative for COVID-19.
“There really is no other answer,” Ron said. “When a healthy 17-year-old girl, who was sitting up in her bed and was able to talk, and within 10 minutes is unconscious on our floor — there was no reason [for it].”
The province currently has no record of any Albertans under the age of 20 who have died of COVID-19.
According to the Strate family, the medical examiner is running additional blood and tissue tests, in an effort to uncover the cause of Sarah’s death.
‘Unusual but not impossible’
University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who was not involved in Sarah’s treatment, says it is conceivable that further testing could uncover evidence of a COVID-19 infection, despite two negative test results.
However, she hasn’t seen a similar case in Alberta.
“It would be unusual but not impossible because no test is perfect. We have had cases where an initial test is negative and then if you keep on thinking it’s COVID and you re-test, you then can find COVID,” she said.
According to Saxinger, the rate of false negatives is believed to be very low. But it can happen if there are problems with the testing or specimen collection.
She says people are more likely to test positive after symptoms develop.
“The best sensitivity of the test is around day four or five of having symptoms,” she said. “So you can miss things if you test very, very early. And with new development of symptoms, it’s always a good time to re-test because then the likelihood of getting a positive test is a little higher. But again, no test is perfect.”
Sarah deteriorated so quickly — dying five days after she first developed symptoms — she didn’t live long enough to make it to her follow-up COVID-19 test. Instead, it was done at the hospital.
‘An amazing kid’
The Strate family now faces an agonizing wait for answers — one that will likely take months — about what caused Sarah’s death.
But Ron, who teaches at the school where Sarah attended Grade 12, wants his daughter to be remembered for the life she lived, not her death.
Sarah was one of five children. Ron says she was strong, active and vibrant and had plans to become a massage therapist after graduating from high school.
She played several sports and loved to sing and dance as part of a show choir. She was a leader in the school’s suicide prevention group and would stand up for other students who were facing bullying.
“She’s one of the leaders in our Hope Squad … which goes out and helps kids to not be scared,” he father said.
“She’s an amazing kid.”
Sarah would often spend hours helping struggling classmates, and her parents hope her kindness is not forgotten.
“She’d done so many good things. Honestly, I’ve got so many messages from parents saying, ‘You have no idea how much your daughter helped our kid,'” said Ron.
“This 17-year-old girl probably lived more of a life in 17 years than most adults will live in their whole lives. She was so special. I love her so much.”
China launches key module of space station planned for 2022
BEIJING (Reuters) -China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.
The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket, at 11:23 a.m. (0323 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.
Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.
“(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech.
Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.
The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).
In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.
Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.
Both helped China test the programme’s space rendezvous and docking capabilities.
China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.
In contrast, the fate of the ageing ISS – in orbit for more than two decades – remains uncertain.
The project is set to expire in 2024, barring funding from its partners. Russia said this month that it would quit the project from 2025.
Russia is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise.
Moscow has slammed the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration programme and instead chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)
NASA Pays Rich Homage To Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins – Gadgets 360
NASA on Thursday paid a rich tribute to Michael Collins, the American astronaut who was the command module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Collins, 90, passed away on Wednesday after battling cancer, his family said. Sharing a photograph on Instagram, NASA said the picture was clicked by Collins, who spent seven years of his career as an astronaut with them. The photograph shows the lunar module, “Eagle,” returning to the command module, “Columbia,” after landing on the Moon. The Earth can be seen in the background of the picture. NASA said the picture had all of the humanity in it, save for Collins who captured it.
Collins kept the command module flying while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. “We remember Michael Collins, @NASA astronaut and crew member of Apollo 11, who passed away on April 28, 2021,” NASA said.
In the post, NASA also quoted what Collins had said during a transmission to Mission Control on the trip back to Earth from the Moon on July 21, 1969. “This trip of ours to the Moon may have looked, to you, simple or easy… All you see is the three of us, but beneath the surface are thousands and thousands of others, and to all those I would like to say, thank you very much.”
NASA further shared what the mission control stated during Apollo 11. “Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins is experiencing during the 47 minutes of each lunar revolution when he’s behind the Moon with no one to talk to except his tape recorder aboard Columbia. While he waits for his comrades to soar with Eagle from Tranquility Base and rejoin him for the trip back to Earth, Collins, with the help of Flight Controllers here in Mission Control Center has kept the Command Module’s system going.”
Besides, the space agency also released a statement, saying the nation had lost a “true pioneer and lifelong advocate for exploration” in Collins. NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said that as the pilot of Apollo 11 some referred to him as the “loneliest man in history”.
“While his colleagues walked on the Moon for the first time, he helped our nation achieve a defining milestone. He also distinguished himself in the Gemini Program and as an Air Force pilot,” he said.
Jurczyk shared that Collins would say, “Exploration is not a choice, really, it’s an imperative,” adding “What would be worth recording is what kind of civilisation we Earthlings created and whether or not we ventured out into other parts of the galaxy.”
Jurczyk added that Collins’ own signature accomplishments, his writings about his experiences, and his leadership of the National Air and Space Museum helped gain wide exposure for the work of all the men and women who have helped our nation push itself to greatness in aviation and space. “There is no doubt he inspired a new generation of scientists, engineers, test pilots, and astronauts.”
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