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A LOOK BACK AT THE BIGGEST PESTS OF 2016

Mosquitoes and the Zika Virus
Mosquitoes, and the Zika virus in particular, was easily the biggest pest featured across all news sources throughout the year. It seemed as if the Zika virus just exploded out of nowhere and each week something new and horrible would be revealed about this mosquito transmitted virus. The two mosquito species that transmit the disease include Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, both existing in a good majority in the United States. The virus was mainly a concern for those who were pregnant or planning to become pregnant. First, in February, it was revealed that this virus was linked to microcephaly, a condition in which a baby is born with a head and brain significantly smaller than typical, as well as other poor outcomes of those who are infected early in pregnancy. Later, it was found that this virus could also be transmitted by not only a mosquito bite but also through sexual contact.

The Zika virus had large outbreaks across Brazil which caused concerns for those attending the Summer Olympics being held in August in Rio de Janeiro. Zika caused some athletes to make the decision to not attend to compete in the 29th Summer Games, and it even caused some conflict between countries via social media posts. This virus also caused many issues relating to government funding and tourism industries. Although temperatures have now dropped and mosquito activity has decreased in many areas across the U.S., this virus is definitely not dead. It will be interesting to see how continuous research and mosquito control will affect keeping this virus under control in 2017.

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The Kissing Bug

 – A Bed Bug Relative
Triatomine bugs or “kissing bug” invaded headlines for the first couple of weeks of the year as the Center of Disease and Control had reported the deadly bug had made its way into the United States. The reason this became a concern and major headline is due to the parasite the bug carries in its feces which can transmit and cause Chagas — a deadly disease if left untreated — in humans, dogs, and other mammals if bitten by the bug. Chagas disease infects about 8 million people worldwide, predominantly those being in Latin America.

These bugs are known at “kissing bugs” because they prefer to bite humans around the mouth or eyes during the night in order to get their blood meal. After the skin gets affected, other body tissues can eventually get infected and inflamed, especially tissues of the heart and intestinal tracts. They are commonly mistaken as bed bugs, wheel bugs, and other similar looking insects. This bug was reported in many states across the southern United States including Texas, Georgia, Florida, and even as far north as Indiana and Illinois.

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The Once Presumed as Extinct “Tree Lobster” Reproduces
A giant stick insect, known as the “tree lobster” due to its size and lobster like exoskeleton, used to habitat Lord Howe Island off of the coast of Australia. Due to rat infestation on the island in 1918, the insect disappeared by 1920, and was presumed extinct by 1960. Fast forward nearly 80 years later, in 2001, these giant stick insects were oddly re-discovered by two scientists on Ball’s Pyramid, a giant rock protruding from the sea which is the remains of an old volcano that emerged from the sea about 7 million years ago.

In order for the insect to be released again on Lord Howe Island, they would need to get ahold of their rat problem, so for the time being the insects are being kept in captivity in museums, schools, and zoos. The Melbourne Zoo established colonies in other locations, including the San Diego Zoo. The second batch of eggs that were sent to San Diego successfully hatched in February 2016, and in September, the females began to lay second generation eggs.

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The Insect with the Worst Sting

After being stung by a honeybee on his tongue during a bike ride, Justin Schmidt, a University of Arizona entomologist, was inspired to sting himself with honeybees multiple places all over his body — 24 places to be exact, from the top of his head to the tip of his middle toe. He is already known for developing the 

Schmidt Pain Scale for Stinging Insects, but combining this second chart that covers areas of stings with the first covering the various stinging insects gives a good roundup of worst-case scenarios for stings.

Justin Schmidt claims to have been stung by insects at least a thousand times during his research. This new study gained quite a bit of press though because Schmidt did not dodge any areas of the body and included the nipple, scrotum, and penis to his chart. He has concluded though that the worst places to be stung are the nostril and upper lip and that the worst possible combination would probably be a bullet ant sting to the nostril with a warrior wasp to the nose or lip also being up toward the top.

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The Rodent-Toting Spider aka Australia’s Version of “Pizza Rat”
A video recording a giant huntsman spider in Australia carrying a rodent pretty much broke the internet in similar ways as “Pizza Rat” did in 2015 except the spider version is not nearly as cute considering, especially for all those Arachnophobes out there. The video shows the huntsman spider, nicknamed Hermie, dragging a dead mouse up a fridge in Queensland, and while it is unclear whether the spider actually killed the mouse, it is terrifying all the same.