Stories tagged bugs

Aug
17
2011

LOL
LOLCourtesy dan mogford
Can you believe it’s been almost two whole years since you had your last Science Buzz Extravaganza?!

What a bleak two years those were, eh? In that time you’ve probably been married and impregnated, and then birthed a really boring baby. What did you name it? “Dullton”? “Cloudface”? “Eeyore”? Or could you not even think of a name, because everything has just seemed so boring and pointless?

You know what? I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’ve just been so preoccupied in the last couple years, what with the economy being so bad and all. I’ve been trying to figure out how to keep my horseracing operation financially feasible. But I think I’ve finally figured it out—whenever one of my horses looses a race, I have to stop setting them free in the woods. Or, if I really need to get that loser out of my sight, I’ve got to at least sell it to a glue factory or restaurant. (Sure, get all self-righteous. You’ve clearly never eaten horsemeat, or stuck two pieces of paper together with horseglue. Unparalleled experiences.)

So the Extravaganza is back! At least as a limited edition. I was so excited to do it, I couldn’t even wait for the usual Friday post. And so a Wednesday Extravaganza it is! A Food Extravaganza! A Foodstravaganza!

You may be aware that the Science Museum will soon be opening an exhibit called Future Earth, which explores how the many billions of us humans will get by in the coming decades. You might also be aware that food is going to be a big deal in our future (there will be more of us, and we’ll be eating more stuff that takes more resources to produce), and so, as both a Future Earth worker bee and a consumer of food, a couple of stories caught my eye this week.

Story the first: humans of the 20th century weren’t the first to screw themselves over with agriculture.

Whoops! A little background information: agriculture isn’t screwing us over—it’s keeping us from starving. However, in our effort to keep ourselves from starving (a noble goal!) we’ve converted about 40% of the land surface of the Earth into cropland and pastureland, and not all of that is sustainable. I don’t mean that in the “cute animals have nowhere to live” way, I mean it in the “we weren’t always careful, and have caused tremendous environmental degradation” way. When farming practices allow topsoil to be stripped of nutrients, or erode too extensively, or contaminate water sources, it’s bad news. But at least we aren’t the first people to have done it. According to some recent archaeological work, ancient Peruvians were up to the same tricks. By looking at the ancient trash pits and the buried plant remains in the desolate-looking Ica region of Peru, archaeologists found that the area’s residents originally survived by gathering shellfish and the like from the coast, but eventually transitioned to an intensive agricultural lifestyle—that is, they cleared a lot of land, and grew a lot of food. They grew corn, beans, pumpkins, peanuts, and chillis for hundreds of years, and all was well. Until it wasn’t. It looks like they cleared too much of the natural plant life, and flooding, erosion, and nutrient depletion became problems (the natural trees and shrubs fixed nitrogen nutrients in the soil and held dirt and moisture in place in a way that the crops couldn’t.) The whole area went to pot, and the locals had to go back to eating snails, mussels and sea urchins again. Aw, nuts.

So what could they have done? For that matter, what can we do, if it looks like our conventional food sources can’t sustain a human population which will rapidly exceed 7 billion?

That brings me to my next story! Oh, good!

You know what everybody likes? Animal protein, also known as “meat.” The problem there is that animal protein requires animals to produce it, and not all animals make it very efficiently—a cow, for instance, eats about 30 pounds of cow feed to produce each pound of steak. There are more efficient creatures out there, but we don’t usually eat them: bugs.

Naturally, we’ve talked about bug eating on Science Buzz already. But that focused more on bug eating (or entomophagy) as a concept). An article I read this weekend examines bug eating in practice, and it’s pretty wild.

While the story does talk about some straight up bug recipes (e.g. “mealworm fried rice”), it also looks at a company in the Netherlands that’s already raising and processing insects just for their protein. The advantages of farm-raised bugs are that you get a pretty generic, healthy product (it sounds sort of like … hotdog filling, or something, but without all the fat) from animals that require less food and produce a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gases created by normal livestock. However, efficiently separating the bug meat from the rest of the bug parts is a challenge, as is processing it without having it turn funky. Apparently, in the mysterious world of bug meat, funkiness is very much a possibility. But, really, when are we ever totally free of the threat of funkiness?

In any case, I’d like it if your takeaway message of this extravaganza was this: You should eat bugs, and like them, or you will be forced to eat bugs (and you probably won’t like them). Amiright?

If you can’t handle a takeaway message with that much raw power, try digesting this one instead: producing food has some serious challenges, so it behooves us to be innovative and foresightful with regards to our food sources.

Rendered insect meat!

There's still time to purchase this most unique Valentine's Day gift for your dear, especially if he/she is into entomology or dirty apartments.

Jun
30
2009

Robots are stealing our jobs: Even when our job is to eat bugs.
Robots are stealing our jobs: Even when our job is to eat bugs.Courtesy manbartlett
Yeah, hooray, robots can walk. I’ve been walking for, like, most of my life. A robot can make sad faces. Whatever. That’s practically my specialty. A robot can simulate excruciating pain and horror. So? Nuts to “simulate”—I live it.

Great. It’s all great. Robots are programmed and built to do all sorts of inane stuff, and people love it. But I’ve been able to do this stuff forever, and nobody’s giving me high-fives and kisses. Cool, a robot can remember your name. I can usually so that. A robot can remember your credit card number. I can for sure do that. Give me a chance people, and you’ll see how much better than a robot I am.

But no. Robot development rumbles onward, and, once again, robots are taking a brave new step where I’ve stepped years ago: they fuel themselves by eating bugs.

Some artsy science people in London have designed self-sustaining robotic furniture. The robots digest organic matter (bugs) in “microbial fuel cells,” creating enough power to run a clock (I can do that) or light up lamp (I could probably do that), and eat more bugs (done). Microbial fuel cells, by the way, are sort of like batteries that run on decomposing matter. Chemicals in the fuel cell (I think) pretty much steal the electrons being produced by bacteria as they break down organic fuel. I can’t do this, but, then again, no one is asking me to. MFCs seem like pretty interesting technology, actually. More about them here, if you’re interested.

The designers have made working models of a fly-attracting lamp that works like a pitcher plant to capture its victims, a wall-mounted clock with a sticky conveyor belt, and a table that attracts mice onto its surface and into a trap door, where (I guess) they are digested to death. (I can’t help it… it’s like the Pit of Carkoon! Argh. I’m always going to be this way.)

It’s all pretty neat, although the small mammal attracting and digesting table might be a little much. That one seems like a case of somebody getting a little too arty or a little too sciencey for their own good. I mean, I could lure and eat a mouse, and hold your food for you, but would you want me to?

Oct
07
2008

Almost 50 years ago in Canada, a 14-year old boy was sentenced to death for the alleged murder of a 12-year old classmate. The 12-year old was found murdered two days after she was last seen with the 14-year old. Public opinion resulted in the boy being sentenced to life, due to what many thought was an improperly carried out investigation. Some of the evidence from this investigation included photographing and collecting some maggots from the body of the 12-year old. In 2000, the case was reopened.

Part of the research of the defense centers on the maggot evidence collected in 1959. In 2006, the corpses of three pigs were placed at the crime scene to collect additional maggot specimens. For those not in the know with regard to fly lifecycles, the development of a fly from egg to larva (maggot) to pupa to adult is tied to local environmental conditions, such as the temperature. Richard Merritt, a fly specialist from Michigan State University reviewed the specimens and environmental data. After examining the small size of the 1959 maggots, larval growth rates and the temperature, Merritt determined that there was no way that the boy could have committed the murder the day the girl disappeared (the boy had an alibi for the following day).

To check out some maggots in action on a pig corpse, check out Liza's pig cam log on Science Buzz pig!

http://www.smm.org/buzz/topics/forensic-entomology/lizas-pig-cam-log

Eat a bug

by Gene on Jun. 05th, 2008

Forget all that noise about eating dirt. The UN Food and Agriculture Association is apparently encouraging people to eat insects. They are a good source of protein, and, since they grow naturally, do not require large farms changing the environment. All together now: ewwwww!

Oct
05
2007

I was looking around at the number of people that visit which stories on our website this morning and noticed a huge spike in traffic to this story we wrote back in 2006 on Boxelder bugs. Just yesterday alone the number of people searching for the story went from an average of 40 people to about 250 in one day. This got me wondering, are you starting to notice that seasonal invasion of these bugs?

Leave a comment here to tell us about your box elder stories. 2006 was a big year for the little buggers and I wonder what differences you might see this year.

If you haven't spent any time surfing the "What's that Bug?" website, you must do it now. Really. "Carnage, "Bug Love," plus insect identification and links... It's the best.

Jun
01
2006

I've had some too-close encounters with wood ticks lately. (None were feasting, however. Thank goodness!) And not while hiking around in brushy places, either. Some of them were right out in the open.


Tick2: aka wood tick, or American dog tick. Yuck.

I wondered if this meant that Minnesota was experiencing a tick population boom? And if there was a corresponding increase in tick-borne disease?

So I asked around. David Neitzel, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health's Acute Disease Investigation and Control Division, told me:

"This is the time of year that wood ticks are really abundant in Minnesota. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats from wooded areas to grassy areas, and sometimes very open areas (i.e., lawns). Wood ticks don't transmit disease in Minnesota, but deer ticks (also called blacklegged ticks) transmit Lyme disease and a couple other diseases. Deer ticks are only found in wooded or brushy areas.

Please check out our website and click on 'diseases and conditions' then 'Lyme disease' for more information."

Science Buzz also did a feature on ticks and tick-borne disease. We want to hear your gross tick stories!

Ick. Just thinking about it makes me feel all itchy, like one is crawling on me.