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Friday, October 6, 2017

Where do stinkbugs lay their eggs?

Now that fall’s here, stinkbugs are starting to appear inside again. A patron called asking about their lifecycle and reproduction, hoping to catch them before they hatched.

Brown marmorated stinkbugs only arrived in the U.S. in the late 1990s, but they’re a widespread pest now. We found a lot of information online, such as the Washington Post livechat with University of Maryland entomologist Michael Raupp, and pest control websites like AssuredEnvironments.com and Terminix.com.

Stinkbugs like to come inside to stay warm through the winter, but they don’t eat or reproduce until they go back outside in the springtime again. Once the weather gets warm and the days get longer (usually in April or May), you’ll see them appear again as they make their way outside to feed for a few weeks and then mate. A female will be ready to lay eggs as early as five days after mating, according to AssuredEnvironments.com, and she can lay from 100 to 400 in her lifetime. (We found different figures – it probably depends on the climate of the state where she’s found. A stinkbug in warmer climes will be outside eating and reproducing longer.)

The stinkbugs will only lay their eggs on the underside of leaves. The eggs are barrel-shaped and about a millimeter in diameter. The female lays twenty to thirty at a time and they take four to seven days to hatch. It takes a little over a month for the baby bugs (or nymphs) to grow into full adults – they go through five stages (or instars) before they’re fully grown, each lasting about a week. When they first hatch, they don’t look much like the adult bug. First instar stinkbug nymphs are rounder, resembling ticks, and black and orange in color.

If you come across these eggs or nymphs underneath a leaf, you can scrape them off and drown them in soapy water. (This also works on the adult bugs and keeps them from releasing their smell.) Scientists in New York and Oregon, where the bugs cause a lot of agricultural damage, are experimenting with biological control in the form of samurai wasps. These tiny parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside stinkbug eggs, killing them before they can hatch.

If nothing else, you can take comfort in knowing that stinkbugs only live for about six to eight months, and the bugs bothering you this fall won’t be back next year – but their children might.

Friday, September 1, 2017

What makes tomatoes go from green to red?

We checked several of our gardening and food science books to no avail, although we did learn from Lynn Coulter’s Gardening with Heirloom Seeds that tomatoes, native to South America and members of the nightshade family, took a while to catch on among Europeans.

However, Brian McMahon at MentalFloss, Mandy Kendrick at Scientific American, and the University of Cambridge’s IntoBiology website all had the answer to our question. Chlorophyll makes the tomatoes green and, as they ripen, the chlorophyll begins to dissolve. Lycopene, a chemical in the tomato that has a red color, shows through as the chlorophyll dissolves. As this happens, the tomato will also become sweeter, softer, less acidic, and ready to eat.

Fruits produce a chemical called ethylene in certain conditions, including as they ripen, and other fruit will respond to it. According to Jeremy Dore at GrowVeg and McMahon at Mental Floss, a green tomato in a paper bag with a ripe banana will respond to the ethylene given off by the banana, and it will begin to ripen itself.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Did the eclipse have any effects on the wildlife?

Newton Falls wasn’t in the path of totality for the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21 (though it will be in 2024), so things didn’t go completely dark. The moon only covered about 80% of the sun. However, in parts of Georgia, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, Kansas, Wyoming, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, the moon covered the entire sun and it briefly appeared to be night.

The moon is simply following its normal path, but when everything suddenly gets dark, some animals are confused into beginning their twilight rituals, according to John Dvorak in his book Mask of the Sun. Frogs and crickets may begin to sing. Chickens will roost, cows will head back to the barn, and bees will return to the hive. Plankton will rise toward the top of the water and trout will head toward the bottom, just as they do at twilight. Once the eclipse is over, the animals resume their normal daylight behavior. Dogs, cats, horses, and deer are among the animals that did not appear to notice the eclipse.

Friday, August 11, 2017

How do you treat a chigger bite? What causes it?

It turns out that there is no one creature called a chigger – the word actually refers to the larval stage of a trombiculid mite. The mites are usually reddish in color and are also known as red bugs, harvest mites, and berry bugs.

One of our patrons had heard that chiggers burrowed into the skin or laid eggs in the flesh. While this is true of certain parasites (ticks and botflies, respectively), it isn’t a problem with chiggers. What they’re actually doing is drilling tiny holes in the skin with their specialized mouthparts and injecting a fluid that breaks down skin cells and allows the chigger to digest them. The itchy red bump accompanying a chigger bite is the skin’s adverse reaction to all this abuse.

Often, several chiggers will bite at once, causing a rash of red welts. They typically bite in folds of skin or where clothing is tight against the body (like waistbands or the tops of socks). Wear insect or tick repellent to minimize the chance of bites. Healthline recommends trying not to brush against vegetation, but that may not be feasible. Since chiggers usually take about an hour to attach to the skin, showering after spending time in wooded areas might be enough to avoid bites. If you have been bitten, it can take anyway from one to three weeks for the bites to heal. While chiggers don’t carry diseases, the bites can get infected if they’re scratched too much. Keep them clean and relieve this itch with ice, hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, or a baking soda and water paste.

We found our information on boyslife.org, healthline.com and in The Complete Guide to Camping and Wilderness Survival by Vin T. Sparano. While it didn’t have anything on chiggers, Wilderness Medicine by William Forgey includes information on how to treat snake bites, stingray stings, and scorpion stings.

Friday, July 21, 2017

How long do fireflies live and where are they during the day?

One of our younger patrons wondered where fireflies spent most of their time, if she only saw them at night. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders told us that fireflies are nocturnal and enjoy moist places, with some living under bark, decaying plants, or other debris. The website www.firefly.org added that they also like long grass: it hides them during the day, but at night, they can climb up and get a good vantage point to signal with their lights.

They mainly use their lights to attract mates, though the writers at firefly.org hypothesize that they may also use them to warn away predators. Different species have different flashing patterns. Some female fireflies will mimic the patterns of other species to lure the males, which they will eat. However, some species of adult fireflies have not been observed eating at all – they likely only live long enough to lay eggs.

According to the basic lifecycle on firefly.org, a firefly spends more of its life in the larva stage – about one to two years. The larvae are carnivorous, feeding on snails and worms, and also often light up. They spend three weeks as pupas before maturing into adult fireflies, which only live for about a month. If they’re successful, the fireflies lay eggs which take approximately three weeks to hatch.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Is there anything I can do for my cracking fingernails?

Although we are not dermatologists here at the library, we found some tips in the book A Complete Guide to Manicure and Pedicure by Leigh Toselli and the Globe and Mail article “Why do my fingernails peel and crack?” by Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe that our patron may be able to use.

Both sources suggest protecting nails from water and harsh chemicals – wearing gloves while cleaning and washing the dishes, for instance, and using a non-acetone nail polish remover when necessary. Commercial nail oils and strengthening formulas are available, but we cannot vouch for their efficacy.  Toseli also suggests using almond oil or even just a regular hand cream or lotion to keep nails moisturized.

According to Toseli and Wijayasinghe, calcium and vitamins A, D, and B12 are important for healthy nails. Calcium can be found in bitter greens, tofu, dairy, and nuts; vitamin A is in fish, liver, egg yolk, milk, and many vegetables; vitamin B12 is also in eggs and dairy, and vitamin D can be absorbed from a few minutes of sunlight or found in fish, liver, and milk.

Nails grow slowly, so it may take up to six months for them to show significant improvement. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Why are my plants rotting?

“I keep potted succulents indoors, and a few of them that I’ve had for years suddenly got mushy and rotted away. What’s wrong and how do I keep it from spreading?”

According to Succulents Simplified by Debra Lee Baldwin and The Idiot’s Guide to Succulents by Cassidy Tuttle, root rot is a common malady affecting succulents. Caused by overwatering, root rot causes the roots to have a mushy texture and is often fatal. If it’s the suspected culprit, our patron can try to remove the infected roots, let their plant dry out, and repot it in clean soil, but this may or may not save it.

If our patron does not believe that they have been overwatering their plants, or if the roots still seem healthy, diseases that could be causing the problem. We couldn’t get an exact diagnosis since the symptoms were so similar, but all of our sources suggested the same basic treatment: cut away the infected tissue if possible, and then repot the plant in new soil in a sterilized container, and throw away the old soil. It also would be a good idea to quarantine the plant to lower the risk of it infecting its fellows. If the disease hasn’t gotten into the roots, the prognosis is better, but it still may not be salvageable. 

Fortunately, we found that succulents are some of the easiest plants to propagate, so our patron may be able to produce a clone of their plant if healthy leaves remain. Though the method of propagation depends on the plant, many succulents will grow from leaves or cuttings.