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June 1, 2011 | By Amanda Leigh Mascarelli, HealthKey
Choosing an insect repellent that prevents bug bites but that doesn't contain potentially risky chemicals might be one of summer's peskier problems. Synthetic repellents with the chemical compound DEET have been the standard for more than 50 years, ever since the U.S. Army developed it to protect soldiers from insect-borne diseases such as West Nile virus, malaria, Dengue fever and Lyme disease. A synthetic compound — N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, or DEET — was approved for use by the general public in 1957.
June 1, 2011 | By Amanda Mascarelli, HealthKey
Consumers now have an array of "natural" insect repellents from which to choose. These are made from benign-sounding plant extracts or oils such as citronella oil, soybean oil, peppermint oil, cedarwood oil, lemon grass oil and geranium oil. What consumers don't always have is proof that they work. Many natural insect repellents, deemed "minimum-risk pesticides" by the Environmental Protection Agency, are exempt from safety testing because their active and inert ingredients have been deemed safe for the intended use. These ingredients have been used for long enough in consumer products that they're generally regarded as safe, says Scott Carroll, director of Carroll-Loye Biological Research Consulting, an independent company that does extensive testing on insect repellents.
April 29, 2011 | By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
The mystery behind the remarkable ability of fire ants to turn themselves into a living, crawling life raft has been unlocked by scientists: The insects use air pockets that form around their bodies to keep themselves from drowning. The analysis, published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could one day provide a useful model for building robots that can perform complex functions quickly and cooperatively, the study authors said. Fire ants, named for the burning sting left by their bites, possess incredible powers of floatation when they work together, turning themselves into life rafts that can survive flash floods in their native Brazilian rain forests and travel for months before making landfall.
April 6, 2011 | By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times
Thomas Eisner, who became known as the "father of chemical ecology" as a result of his pioneering studies of how insects use chemicals to mate, elude predators and capture prey, died March 25 at his home in Ithaca, N.Y. He was 81 and had Parkinson's disease. Eisner, who spent his entire professional life at Cornell University, combined the observational skills of Charles Darwin with an inquisitiveness that caused him to look far beyond superficial characteristics. At a 2000 celebration of Eisner's career, biochemist John Law of the University of Arizona said: "Thousands of people can look at the same plant or animal and see the same thing, and there is the one person, like Tom, who comes along and sees something different.
March 5, 2011 | By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
The sound of hundreds of goat hooves echoed through a small valley overlooking the ocean Saturday in the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, surprising passerby who watched as the animals munched their way through yard after yard of invasive weeds. FOR THE RECORD: Goat grazing: An article in the March 6 Section A about the use of goats to clear invasive weeds in the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve referred to boar goats. The correct term is Boer goats. ? The 230 goats are the first step in a project to restore natural flora and fauna to a 12-acre portion of the 1,400-acre preserve that was burned in a fire in 2009.
February 6, 2011 | By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times
Humans like to think of themselves as residing at the top of the evolutionary chain, but the tiny water flea beats them out by at least one measure ? the size of its genome. The creature, which lives in freshwater ponds around the world, requires nearly 31,000 genes to complete its genetic blueprint, almost a third more than humans and 50% more than the common housefly, researchers reported last week in the journal Science . That gives Daphnia pulex , only 1 millimeter long, more genes than any creature whose genome has been decoded to date, according to geneticist John Colbourne of Indiana University, who led the team that performed the sequencing.
February 6, 2011 | By P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times
The federal investigator took the witness stand and described the crime scene: a sprawling field clogged with boulders, native grasses and knee-high sagebrush. The defendant, a California farmer, had said the site was a 200-acre wheat field. But the investigator found no tilled soil, no tractors, no plows. In fact, she testified, she found no wheat. The field was just a field ? and a prime example, federal prosecutors allege, of a wave of agricultural insurance scams sprouting across the nation.
December 21, 2010 | By P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times
An insect known to carry a disease that has been devastating to Florida's citrus industry has been found in a bug trap in a citrus grove in Ventura County. The Asian citrus psyllid, which is the size of a fruit fly, feeds on the leaves of lemon and orange trees. It is also known to carry citrus greening disease, also called Huanglongbing or HLB, that ruins the taste of citrus fruit and juice and then kills the trees. The disease does not affect humans. This is the first time an Asian citrus psyllid has been found in Ventura County, a key producer of California citrus.
October 25, 2010 | By Chris Woolston, Special to the Los Angeles Times
Bedbugs combine all of the bloodsucking annoyance of mosquitoes with the survival instinct of cockroaches. No bigger than apple seeds, the adult bugs hide in ingenious places ? inside electrical outlets, behind baseboards, deep in carpet fibers ? during the day and attack their victims during the night. You may never know that you have a bedbug problem until bites start showing up on your skin. Bedbugs don't spread any illnesses, but still. Ick. The bugs are tough, they're devious and they're gaining new ground in homes and hotel rooms across the country, says Susan Jones, an entomologist at Ohio State University in Columbus.
October 7, 2010 | By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
Planting genetically modified, pest-resistant corn can provide a halo effect ? offering protection from insects to nearby corn plants that have not been engineered to kill bugs, scientists said Thursday. Since its introduction in 1996, Bt corn ? so called because it has been engineered to produce insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis ? has effectively suppressed the European corn borer, a widespread pest in the U.S., according to new research published in the journal Science.
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