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insects

Deer graze on tall prairie grass. Bushy-tailed foxes chase rabbits across a windswept landscape. Bald eagles perch along cliffs overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and snow-capped Olympic Mountains.

The southern tip of Puget Sound’s San Juan Island is a wildlife-viewing wonderland.

Normally by late June, wasps are a common nuisance at summer barbecues. But this year, entomologists have noticed a drop-off in Washington state and wasp populations are lower than usual.

When Anthony Planakis was going through the New York Police Academy, they told him to write his interests down on a little card.

"Beekeeping, of course I put that down," says 54-year-old Planakis, who is a fourth generation beekeeper. "And the very first job, the sergeant comes right up to me and I just look up and go, 'Hey, Sarge,' and he goes, 'Bees?' and I go, 'Yeah, where?' 'Harlem.' And I go, 'Cool.' That was it, that was the first job I handled," he says.

Mountain pine beetles will be challenged by the current cold weather.
Flickr Photo/Government of Alberta (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/o3U8ax

You can thank this cold weather for making Washington's forests healthier in the new year. Forests, and backyard gardens, rely on bouts of cold weather to kill off destructive and invasive pests.

This winged water beetle at Nue on Capitol Hill tasted like a salt lick chased by an apple Jolly Rancher. Click through for images of reporter Ruby de Luna tasting the water beetle (which isn't on the menu, by the way.)
KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman

You can order water bugs the size of a Post-It note at Nue, a trendy restaurant on Capitol Hill. They’re full-bodied, winged, and you have to suck the meat from their abdomens.

Nearby at Poquitos, an upscale Mexican restaurant, are spicy chapulines, or grasshoppers, that taste vaguely of flour.

Audio Pending...

If you think your job is painful, try spending a workday with Justin Schmidt.

Schmidt is an entomologist who focuses on a group of insects called Hymenoptera — we know them as stinging ants, wasps and bees.

Schmidt has traveled all over the world looking for bugs ... and getting stung by them. The result of his work is an alarmingly comprehensive pain index, ranking 83 insect stings on a spectrum of 1 to 4.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture plans to spray an organic insecticide across thousands of acres of North Portland and Vancouver, Washington, over the next month to eradicate invasive gypsy moths.

Courtesy of Coalo Valley Farms

Eating bugs might sound like something you’d do if you lost a bet. But a few companies have cropped up that are marketing insect powder as a nutritional supplement.

Requiring little food or water, bugs also have a low-carbon footprint, a fact that makes them very attractive here in drought-stricken California.

But could cricket-packed cookies and milkshakes be the next big food trend?

Could A Mushroom Save The Honeybee?

Aug 18, 2015

Honeybees need a healthy diet of pollen, nectar and water. But at a bee laboratory in Eastern Washington, Steve Sheppard fills their feeding tubes with murky brown liquid from the forest.

His bees are getting a healthy dose of mushroom juice.

“If this does what we hope, it will be truly revolutionary,” said Sheppard, who heads the Department of Entomology at Washington State University. “Beekeepers are running out of options.”

As any CSI enthusiast understands, the tiniest details can help forensic scientists figure out how and when people died. These days, investigators are taking advantage of information about microbes that live on human bodies and the insects that come to feed on corpses to crack cases.

Insects can be a great source of protein, and in many parts of the world, people gobble them up.

But here in the U.S., a certain "ick factor" has kept consumers from eating crickets, locusts and mealworms. To combat the ickiness and convert skeptical consumers, bug-food advocates are trying a specific marketing tactic: be clever and cute.

Baltimore's seaport is a world of big, noisy steel machines: giant cargo ships, cranes and roaring trucks.

In the middle of this hubbub, David Ng, an agricultural specialist with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, tries to find things that are small and alive: snails, moths and weed seeds of all sorts.

This week, Oregon may join Washington in backing away from a proposal to protect bees by restricting certain pesticides.

Oregon Restricts Pesticides Responsible For Bee Die-Offs

Nov 25, 2013
Xerces Society Photo/Rich Hatfield

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is restricting the use of two pesticide ingredients implicated in the deaths of more than 50,000 bumble bees earlier this year.

Living Gears Help This Bug Jump

Sep 13, 2013

Greg Sutton was closely inspecting the back legs of a planthopper nymph — a small green, flightless insect — when he noticed something odd.

Still smarting from a wasp sting this summer? Well, you're not alone. It's been a "banner year" for yellow jackets in the Northwest by many accounts.

Bugs, Bill Nye And Flotsam

Aug 21, 2013
Flickr Photo/Efrafan Days

Sue Hubbell: Author, Beekeeper And Bug Lover

Sue Hubbell is the author of many books on entomology, including “A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them.” She wrote for The New Yorker, Smithsonian and Time. Steve Scher talked with Hubbell back in 1993 about the many reasons to appreciate bugs.

Bill Nye On Getting People Interested In Science

Bill Nye, forever dubbed The Science Guy, is an author, comedian, scientist and former television host. Though his Disney/PBS show, "Bill Nye The Science Guy," is long off air, his legacy as a science educator lives on. Many people can still remember this tune "Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill!" Dave Beck talked with Nye in 1993, the first year his television show aired.

Flotsam With Curtis Ebbesmeyer: The Secret Life Of Ocean Debris

Oceans are full of many mysterious things, some of which make their way to shore. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer tracks the debris that makes its way around the world. Steve Scher talked with Ebbesmeyer back in 2003 about the many objects — plastic ducks, glass balls, tires — that show up on our beaches and what that tells us about our oceans.

Phantom Rouge / Flickr

If you’ve been working in the garden lately, or have taken a trip down to the basement, you’ve probably encountered a few spiders. Maybe you’ve even wondered if you’re in danger of being bitten by a brown recluse spider, whose venom can be toxic. A Washington State University entomologist says odds are you probably won’t run into one, at least not in the Pacific Northwest.

For about seven years, many Western beekeepers have been plagued by unexplained die-offs in their hives. It happened recently to Mark Emrich.

"I was doing great until about five weeks ago," he says. "Then I came down and opened up the hives and I had five dead boxes of bees. That was a huge hit."

He lost one third of his production on his small farm near Olympia.

Who knew that the flower nectar of citrus plants — including some varieties of grapefruit, lemon and oranges — contains caffeine? As does the nectar of coffee plant flowers.

And when honeybees feed on caffeine-containing nectar, it turns out, the caffeine buzz seems to improve their memories — or their motivations for going back for more.

"It is surprising," says Geraldine Wright at Newcastle University in the the U.K., the lead researcher of a new honeybee study published in the journal Science.