Here’s a story that intrigues me immensely, and it’s in that “sudden animal death” category that every now and then we hear stories of, until the news drops them. We’ve all heard of these stories too: seals or whales or some form of aquatic life washes up (or in some of the more fanciful versions of these stories, beaches itself) on the beaches in vast numbers, and suddenly. One of my favorite versions of this type of story occurred a few years ago in Tennessee as birds appeared simply to drop out of the sky, more or less all at once. Usually, we’re given explanations that run to the “ordinary and mundane” such as that these flocks of birds or schools of fish or gaggles of geese suddenly, and more or less simultaneously, all succumbed to the same disease at more or less the same time. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
Well… it appears to have happened again, in Idaho this time, according to this article that was shared by many readers here:
Now you’ll note that in this version of the story, in the comments section, there’s a brief exchange between two commenters, one of whom notes strange intereference with his bluetooth signal as he was driving through Idaho, and another commenter who downplays the possibility of microwave interference.
What bothered me about this article was that it mentioned specifically Kuna county, and was datelined July 9, but it sounded like, and appeared to be to perhaps be based upon, these articles from earlier this year, in March:
There are some notable differences between the first story on the one hand, and the second and third stories on the other, in that the first story seems to suggest that various types of birds, including songbirds, were involved, while the second two are focused on snowgeese. But look at the explanation being offered in the USA Today version of the story:
MUD LAKE, Idaho (AP) — Some 2,000 migrating snow geese have died recently in eastern Idaho, likely from a disease that comes on quickly and can kill birds in midflight, wildlife officials say.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game says staff and volunteers collected the dead birds over the past several days at wildlife management areas near the towns of Terreton and Roberts.
The cause of death likely was avian cholera, which can cause convulsions and erratic flight, the agency said.
And here’s the Washington Post’s version of the “sudden avian cholera” theory, which notes it can cause strange behavior:
“Early symptoms can include lethargy, convulsions, a discharge from the mouth, matted feathers and erratic movements on the ground and in the air — including flying upside down, according to USGS. But many outbreaks of the disease are spotted only after the birds have died from it.”
I recall a similar incident, years ago in Tennessee, involving dead birds – of all types – just dropping out of the sky, stone cold dead, as if they had all suddenly died in flight. In that instance, as I recall, there were even some astonished witnesses that gave a few sound bites for the news. The story ran for a brief period, then,like such stories do, just disappeared. In that instance, I do not recall discussions of the mechanism of death, or of avian cholera, though such discussions may have occurred.
So I’ll come right out with what bothers me here, and it might bother some of you, I don’t know. Avian cholera apparently causes erratic behavior in birds, including flying upside down. And apparently it can bring on sudden death. But what bothers me is that this might not be adequate to explain why flights of geese appear to be dropping from the sky in one apparently specific region of Idaho, and do so apparently more or less simultaneously(we’ll get to that in a moment). Even if one assumes these geese all feed from the same pond or area, surely they would fall from the sky at slightly different periods. Note this statement in the Washington Post article, which to my mind, raises, rather than resolves, this point rather directly:
That’s because once birds become sick from the disease, they usually don’t have very long to live. Some contracting the acute form of the disease die within 6 to 12 hours of exposure, but more often, it takes 24 to 48 hours. Birds drop from the sky in otherwise “good body condition,” USGS says, “Death may be so rapid that birds literally fall out of the sky or die while eating with no previous signs of disease.” (Italicized emphasis added)
So one has an incubation-to-death time period of 6 to 48 hours, and this would mean, if one thinks about it, two things:
- The flock of geese concerned should be dropping from the skies individually, and possibly stretched out along the flight path of their migration from the source of infection to the moment of death. They would not be likely to be concentrated in one area of Idaho, but scattered linearly along their migration path from the point of infection; and,
- Even if they stayed put in one area, they would not be dropping out of the skies at more or less the same time, which is the impression created in the articles, though please note, in the second two articles there are no statements of any witnesses actually saying this. The impression of “simultaneity” is created by the articles’ headlines themselves. However, weirdly, if one looks at the first artcle allegedly from July 9, the picture of the birds in the road(if genuine) suggests a more or less simultaneous event, as many of the carcasses have apparently not been flattened by passing vehicles nor has the road been cleared by local law enforcement. The picture, in other words, suggests simultaneity, though certainly does not prove it. Granted the road appears to be in a remote section of Idaho, and may not get much traffic, and the birds might have dropped over time. But surely, in even the remotest areas, there would be at least one vehicle per hour, and with it, some smashed bird carcasses. We don’t seem to see that here.
What we’re left with, I suspect, is a mystery, and perhaps one which is being obfuscated by the “avian cholera” story, because the real mechanisms are known and disturbing. Avian cholera might explain birds, but sudden deaths of aquatic life won’t apply to that mechanism. Are we looking at unified phenomena? I don’t know. Are we looking at avian cholera in some of these cases? Well, probably, but it’s that prospect of “simultaneity” that makes that mechanism of explanation a bit wobbly in my opinion. Two high octane speculation alternatives might present themselves: is there some other cause of these events, and is avian cholera being put forward as the best explanation of the data in lieu of having the public look more closely at the data that doesn’t seem to fit that explanation(like the suggestion of simultaneity in the pictures in the first article)? Is planetary physics or environment being affected in such a way as to cause these events? And if so, are they being obfuscated by “disease” explanations because “they” don’t want to cause a “panic”? Maybe. Again, I don’t know. I find this possibility disturbing, to say the least, but not very likely. Could these events be caused by some sort of secret human technology, or could they be the unintended consequence of its use or other secret activity? Maybe. Again, I don’t know. The bottom line for me is that I find the avian cholera explanation a bit disquieting as well. It seems, if I may state it simply, a bit too convenient. The bottom line here, is that there may or may not be a mystery here, even on the avian cholera version, for that version, plus similar events from the oceans and other places around the world, might suggest that diseases themselves are mutating and species-jumping in odd and unpredictable ways.
See you on the flip side…
For a bullock with two heads, he’s mighty healthy.
A cattle saleyard in Mareeba, North Queensland, hosted an unusual sight on Tuesday when a livestock agent arrived to hawk a two-faced cow.
Its second face, mounted on top of its first, had one eye, a single tooth and functional nostrils, according to the saleyard. It was in ‘great condition’.
‘Mate, he’s as fat as a fool!’ said Elders selling agent Mark Peters, who witnessed the animal’s purchase yesterday.
Mr Peters said: ‘It was an absolute prime condition animal, he just had two faces’.
Unsurprisingly, the two-faced animal attracted curious glances at the saleyards.
‘It received a fair amount of attention,’ said Queensland Rural livestock agent Jack ‘Jacko’ Shephard, who sold the bullock.
Mr Shephard said he had not seen another two-faced cow during his 17 years on the job, although he had seen other abnormalities.
The 440kg animal successfully sold for $537AUD, or 122 cents per kilo.
But the future is not bright for this cow.
He was purchased by an abattoir.
December 2013: In Louisiana’s Barataria Bay Bottlenose dolphins are five times more likely to suffer from lung damage and adrenal hormone abnormalities than any other dolphin populations as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill, scientists have discovered.
Twenty-nine of the total 32 dolphins sampled in Barataria Bay received comprehensive physical examinations, including ultrasound examinations to assess lung condition and researchers assigned almost half (48 percent) of the dolphins a guarded or worse prognosis. In fact, they classified 17 percent as being in poor or grave condition, meaning the dolphins were not expected to survive.
The researchers also found that 25 percent of the Barataria Bay dolphins were significantly underweight and the population overall had very low levels of adrenal hormones, which are critical for responding to stress.
These findings are in contrast to dolphins sampled in Sarasota Bay, Florida, an area not oiled by the Deepwater Horizon spill. For Dr. Lori Schwacke, the study’s lead author and veteran of a number of similar dolphin health studies across the southeast, the findings are troubling: “I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals — and with unusual conditions such as the adrenal hormone abnormalities.”
The study was conducted in August 2011 as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) by a team of government, academic and non-governmental researchers and results were published were published December 2013 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
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December 18, 2013
Bottlenose dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay have lung damage and adrenal hormone abnormalities not previously seen in other dolphin populations, according to a new peer-reviewed study published Dec. 18, 2013 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
The Deepwater Horizon spill heavily oiled Barataria Bay. The study was conducted in August 2011 as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) by a team of government, academic and non-governmental researchers. In the NRDA process, federal and state trustee agencies working cooperatively with BP identify potential injuries to natural resources and lost public uses resulting from the spill, along with restoration projects to ensure that the public is fully compensated for its loss.
The publication details the first evidence that dolphins in heavily oiled areas are exhibiting injuries consistent with toxic effects observed in laboratory studies of mammals exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons. The dolphin health study concludes that the health effects seen in the Barataria Bay dolphins are significant and likely will lead to reduced survival and ability to reproduce.
Twenty-nine of the total 32 dolphins sampled in Barataria Bay received comprehensive physical examinations, including ultrasound examinations to assess lung condition. The researchers assigned almost half (48 percent) of the dolphins a guarded or worse prognosis. In fact, they classified 17 percent as being in poor or grave condition, meaning the dolphins were not expected to survive.
These findings are in contrast to dolphins sampled in Sarasota Bay, Florida, an area not oiled by the Deepwater Horizon spill. For Dr. Lori Schwacke, the study’s lead author and veteran of a number of similar dolphin health studies across the southeast, the findings are troubling: “I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals — and with unusual conditions such as the adrenal hormone abnormalities.”
The NRDA researchers found that moderate to severe lung disease was five times more likely in the Barataria Bay dolphins, with symptoms including lung masses and consolidation. The researchers also found that 25 percent of the Barataria Bay dolphins were significantly underweight and the population overall had very low levels of adrenal hormones, which are critical for responding to stress.
The researchers examined alternative hypotheses for the dolphins’ disease conditions, such as exposure to other man-made chemicals that have previously been measured in high concentrations in marine mammals and also associated with impacts on health. Blubber samples from the Barataria Bay dolphins, however, showed relatively low concentrations for the broad suite of chemicals measured, including PCBs and commonly detected persistent pesticides, as compared to other coastal dolphin populations.
Based on the findings from the 2011 dolphin health study, researchers performed three additional health assessments in 2013 as part of the Deepwater Horizon NRDA. The studies were repeated in Barataria Bay and Sarasota Bay, and also expanded to Mississippi Sound, including both Mississippi and Alabama waters. Results from these more recent health assessments are still pending.
Researchers conducting the NRDA studies are collaborating closely with the team conducting an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) investigation in the northern Gulf of Mexico under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Investigations of this type follow stranding events that are unexpected, involve a significant die-off and demand an immediate response. The observed increase in the number of dolphin strandings now includes more than 1,050 animals that have stranded along the Gulf Coast from the Texas/Louisiana border through Franklin County, Florida. Ninety-four percent of these animals have stranded dead.
The UME investigation, spanning from February 2010 to present, is the longest UME response since 1992, and includes the greatest number of stranded dolphins in an UME in the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Teresa Rowles, lead for the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program and a co-author on the dolphin health publication, indicates that “these dolphin health studies will contribute significant information for both the NRDA and the UME investigation as we compare disease findings in the wild, living dolphins to the pathologies and analyses from the dead animals across the northern Gulf.”
CC BY-ND 2.0 Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel
So what is with all the dying bees? Scientists have been trying to discover this for years. Meanwhile, bees keep dropping like… well, you know.
Is it mites? Pesticides? Cell phone towers? What is really at the root? Turns out the real issue really scary, because it is more complex and pervasive than thought.
Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch’s brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.
The researchers behind that study in PLOS ONE — Jeffery S. Pettis, Elinor M. Lichtenberg, Michael Andree, Jennie Stitzinger, Robyn Rose, Dennis vanEngelsdorp — collected pollen from hives on the east coast, including cranberry and watermelon crops, and fed it to healthy bees. Those bees had a serious decline in their ability to resist a parasite that causes Colony Collapse Disorder. The pollen they were fed had an average of nine different pesticides and fungicides, though one sample of pollen contained a deadly brew of 21 different chemicals. Further, the researchers discovered that bees that ate pollen with fungicides were three times more likely to be infected by the parasite.
The discovery means that fungicides, thought harmless to bees, is actually a significant part of Colony Collapse Disorder. And that likely means farmers need a whole new set of regulations about how to use fungicides. While neonicotinoids have been linked to mass bee deaths — the same type of chemical at the heart of the massive bumble bee die off in Oregon — this study opens up an entirely new finding that it is more than one group of pesticides, but a combination of many chemicals, which makes the problem far more complex.
And it is not just the types of chemicals used that need to be considered, but also spraying practices. The bees sampled by the authors foraged not from crops, but almost exclusively from weeds and wildflowers, which means bees are more widely exposed to pesticides than thought.
The authors write, “[M]ore attention must be paid to how honey bees are exposed to pesticides outside of the field in which they are placed. We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load. Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to.”
While the overarching issue is simple — chemicals used on crops kill bees — the details of the problem are increasingly more complex, including what can be sprayed, where, how, and when to minimize the negative effects on bees and other pollinators while still assisting in crop production. Right now, scientists are still working on discovering the degree to which bees are affected and by what. It will still likely be a long time before solutions are uncovered and put into place. When economics come into play, an outright halt in spraying anything at all anywhere is simply impossible.
Quartz notes, “Bee populations are so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country’s surviving colonies just to pollinate one California crop, almonds. And that’s not just a west coast problem—California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, a market worth $4 billion.”
HUNDREDS of sea turtles are washing up dead on the beaches of Central America and scientists don’t know why.
One hypothesis is that the killer is a potent neurotoxin that can be produced by algae during red tides, which are large accumulations of algae that turn sea water red or brown.
What puzzles scientists is the fact that red tides have come and gone before without taking such a deadly toll on turtles.
Making things worse, some of the turtles that are dying are endangered species.
In El Salvador, for instance, from late September to the middle of October, 114 sea turtles were discovered dead on Pacific coast beaches, according to the environment ministry.
They were black turtles (Chelonia agassizii), Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) and ones that are a cross between the two.
Scientists throughout Central America are alarmed, and the only laboratory that specialises in turtles is taking tissue and organ samples in a bid to figure out what is going on.
The death toll elsewhere is high – 115 so far this year in Guatemala, 280 in Costa Rica and an undisclosed number in Nicaragua. Another 200 died in late 2012 in Panama.
And in Nicaragua there is yet another problem: the turtles showed up weeks late, at the end of September, to crawl up onto the beach and lay their eggs.
“Some say it could be due to climate change, sea currents or the techniques used by fishermen,” said biologist Ivan Ramirez of the Foundation for the Sustainable Development of Nicaragua (Fundenic).
The head of wildlife and ecosystems at the Salvadoran environment ministry, Nestor Herrera, said the strongest hypothesis over the death of the turtles is that they were killed by saxitoxin – which affects the nervous system and can be produced by a red tide.
In one area of El Salvador’s coast, dogs that started eating dead turtles stopped breathing and died almost instantly.
In 2006, saxitoxin killed about 500 sea turtles in El Salvador, and four years later, another 100 died of the same cause.
However, there is a red tide almost every year, while such widespread turtle deaths have never happened before, said Angel Ibarra, coordinator of Ecological Unity of El Salvador, who added more study is needed to shed light on the phenomenon.
Others worry that the recent spate of turtle deaths can be traced more directly to human activity.
In Guatemala, the National Council of Protected Areas said some turtles are caught up by industrial-size fishing boats that drag nets along the sea bed and capture everything in their path, a process called trawling.
And drift net fishing, in which very long nets float behind a ship and near the surface of the water, could also be a threat to turtles.
Jose Leonidas Gomez, who works with a sea turtle conservation project in El Salvador, said turtles discovered dead on one beach were found not to have eaten, so it is presumed they got caught in nets.
Biologist Fabio Buitrago of Nicaragua’s Fundenic said turtles are also being killed by fishermen who use explosives, among other techniques. “The fishermen themselves say so,” he said.
Antonio Benavides, a veteran turtle conservationist in El Salvador, said protecting the creatures is all the more difficult because the mortality rate for juveniles is already high.
Only one out of a thousand babies that hatch and make it out into the sea ever returns to the beach as an adult to lay eggs.
Fertility is yet another issue: in September scientists in Honduras said turtles on one beach laid 40 per cent fewer eggs.
October 17, 2013 – MONTANA – All across the U.S., moose are dying – and scientists yet don’t know how to save them. Moose populations across swaths of the U.S. – from the West Coast to the East Coast, from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River – are declining at an unprecedented rate, imperiling fragile ecosystems and putting the moose tourism industry on edge, the New York Times reported. But though scientists have a long list of culprits – disease; climate change; over-hunting – it’s not clear just what is causing moose to die in droves. And that means that scientists are at the moment unsure how to save America’s moose. Once, moose made headlines for doing a bit too well in the U.S. As the largest members of the deer family, Cervidae, blooming moose populations meant more accidents on rural, mountain roads, and more reports of moose attacks against humans. But the news has changed. In New Hampshire, the moose population has dropped from some 7,000 moose to around just 4,600 animals.
In Montana, numbers have fallen about 40 percent since 1995, and in Wyoming there are just 919 animals left – a quarter of the state’s target moose population. In Minnesota, the population in its northeast has been halved since about 2010, and moose have disappeared almost entirely from its northwest. Only Maine has seen an increase in its moose population, with some 75,000 animals living within its borders. Scientists suggest that climate change is a probable factor, but pinpointing just how climate change affects the moose has been difficult. In New Hampshire, scientists have proposed that longer falls and shorter winters has allowed the winter tick population to bloom, the Washington Post reported. Up to 150,000 ticks can beset a moose at one time, bleeding it out until the moose is little more than ribs, antlers, and some loose skin. In Minnesota, where the average midwinter temperature has risen some 11 degrees over the last 40 years, climate change is also a fingered culprit, the Minnesota Public Radio reported in 2008.
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It began in July 2011. Indigenous hunters in Alaska’s Arctic noticed ice seals they rely on for food and other uses covered in oozing sores and losing hair. They were sick and some were dying. Ultimately, more than 200 ice seals turned up with similar symptoms, prompting the federal government to declare the phenomena an “unexplained mortality event,” thus opening up research funding and attracting science minds to try to solve the mystery.
As of this month, despite the international group of scientists and researchers the declaration pulled together, no cause has been officially identified for the illness plaguing the ice seals.
In the time since the first sick seal was discovered, walruses and polar bears have turned up with similar ailments. The smallest of the species — seals — has fared the worst. Polar bears seemed to weather their sickness the best, with no fatalities connected to the illness and no clear clues about whether walruses and polar bears were afflicted with the same disease that had struck the seals.
Curiously, the symptoms seem to have diminished since the first sightings of sick seals and other animals began in mid-2011. And Bruce Wright, a scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, thinks he knows why.
“I suspected right from the beginning it was UV radiation,” Wright said in an interview from his Anchorage-based office this week. “I was expecting there would be consequences for an ozone hole that had formed over the Arctic.”
Between March and April 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) documented “unprecedented chemical ozone losses” in the Arctic. Less ozone means more of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays reach Earth. Perhaps counter intuitively amid an era of climate change, it was cold temperatures in 2011 that lead to the UV increase. As NOAA explains, cold temperatures in the stratosphere allow polar stratospheric clouds to form, which create a good surface for chemical reactions to occur, namely the creation of chlorine, a gaseous agent capable of rapid ozone depletion.
Wright isn’t suggesting all symptoms uncovered during necropsies of the affected seals are sun-burned related. Some of the animals were found to also have bleeding and swelling in their lungs, livers, lymph nodes and other internal organs. Scientists contemplated whether this was the result of secondary bacterial or fungal infections or depleted immune systems. Still, Wright questions the inter-relatedness of multiple stressors, including sun and UV radiation exposure, and other illness or nutritional deficiencies on the overall health of the animals.
He plans to present his theory in May at a science conference in Russia. “It all just made sense to me. I have just been baffled that nobody else has proposed this (sunburn) hypothesis,” he said.
When told about Wright’s theory, Kathy Burek-Huntington, an Eagle River veterinarian who’s assisting with the federal study of sick seals, said, “I think that that’s pretty unlikely.”
If sunburn were the culprit, she’d expect a more straight-forward pattern to the injuries, such as burns or lesions on the top of the head or the back — areas where seals would be most likely to get sun exposure.
Still, the team of scientists Burek-Huntington is assisting has been looking into whether something called photo-sensitization is an aspect of the mystery illness. They wonder whether some other illness in the body is producing light-sensitive blood chemicals, similar to what can happen with hepatitis.
Some skin injury patterns detected on seals support this theory, with lesions consistently found on the eyes, mouth and flippers. Yet, severe hepatitis hasn’t been found in the sick seals. And so the mystery deepens.
One theory? A large algal bloom started in 2009 and which has continued every summer since in the Kotzebue Sound / Chukchi Sea is also being investigated as a factor. Could the bloom cause some chemical reaction in the Arctic animals that in turn has creates photo-sensitivity? Possibly.
“We don’t have a complete answer yet,” said Burek-Huntington, conceding that while many causal agents have been ruled out, there’s much work yet to be done.
Preliminary tests to determine whether exposure from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant accident in Japan have also not revealed any answers. More tests on tissue samples for radionuclides associated with the event are being conducted, but those done so far have not yielded any direct connection.
Metabolic and nutritional testing is also being conducted.
Adding to the puzzle is the fact that the cases have tapered off, suggesting either a viral infection or some unique convergence of multiple factors that hasn’t repeated itself. Researchers are also checking if the illness might be just a common ailment in the general population of the animals, like colds are among humans, or if it’s a more limited agent that results in some immunity after first exposure.
Burek-Huntington is suspicious that while there is no proven illness link between the sick seals, walruses and polar bears, there is reason to look for connections. Both seals and walruses showed up with observable illness in 2011, and in both species, some died. Polar bear symptoms were discovered the following spring, in 2012, but none died and none were as ill. The timing makes the veterinarian suspect they are all somehow related. But if they are, connecting the dots will likely be difficult.
Only seals and walrus are included in the current federal study because polar bear symptoms — hair loss, irritated skin, mouth sores — were different and less severe, and there have been previous periods of documented hair loss in the polar bear population. But ringed seals, the ice seal species thought to be most affected by the disease, are a primary food source for polar bears. It stands to reason bears may have become ill after feeding on sick seals in the months leading up to spring 2012.
Unfortunately, when the illness may be linked to multiple factors, it’s harder for scientists to pinpoint the cause.
“The one thing I’ve learned about studying the environment is that it is always more complex than you think,” said Wright, acknowledging there are complexities even to his simple sunburn theory.
And the truth is, many times with investigations of “unexplained mortality events,” the outcome is a frustrating “we don’t know.”
Burek-Huntington remains hopeful this investigation will turn out differently.
“There’s still a lot of possibilities that we are investigating (but) no definitive answers at this point,” she said. “We haven’t given up.”
Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com
Chinese officials maintain that the drinking water is still safe despite the surge in swine found in the city’s Huangpu River. The carcasses are believed to have been dumped by farmers following police efforts to halt the illegal trade of pork products from diseased pigs.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 3:10 PM
The Shanghai government announced on Tuesday that some 5,916 swine carcasses have been pulled from the Huangpu River.
BEIJING — The number of dead pigs found floating in a river flowing into Shanghai has reached nearly 6,000.
The Shanghai municipal government said in an online announcement that 5,916 swine carcasses had been retrieved from Huangpu River by 3 p.m. Tuesday, but added that municipal water remains safe.
City officials say the municipal drinking water is still safe to consume.
The surge in the dumping of dead pigs – believed to be from pig farms in the upstream Jiaxing area in the neighboring Zhejiang province – has followed police campaigns to curb the illicit trade of pork products harvested from diseased pigs.
Shanghai authorities said the city has taken proper measures to safely dispose of the pig carcasses and that the city’s water plants are stepping up efforts to disinfect public water and testing for six common swine viruses.
Officials believe the carcasses were dumped by farmers in a neighboring province.
The Shanghai government reported no major swine epidemic, widespread pig deaths or dumping of pigs within the city boundaries of Shanghai.
The state-run China News news agency said Monday that Zhejiang province had reported no swine epidemic but that a provincial agriculture official blamed cold weather for the deaths of the pigs.
Authorities check the dead pigs, not seen, which have been pulled out from the river on Monday.
The official, who was identified only by his family name Gu, told China News that the practice of dumping dead pigs into rivers lingers among some pig farmers in the city of Jiaxing. “We are still introducing the practice of collecting dead pigs,” Gu was quoted as saying.
Shanghai authorities have been pulling out the swollen and rotting pigs, some with their internal organs visible, since Friday – and revolting images of the carcasses in news reports and online blogs have raised public ire against local officials.
Beijing-based writer Li Mingsheng expressed shock when he learned of the latest number of dead pigs in Shanghai.
“This is not only an environmental issue but also a public moral problem,” Li wrote. “What’s been polluted is not only Shanghai’s river water but also the spirit of our country people.”
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/number-dead-pigs-floating-shanghai-river-rises-6-000-article-1.1286389#ixzz2NPNSv000
Note: The real elephant in the room: What killed all these pigs? I saw mention of a suspected swine virus, which doesn’t make any sense unless it’s an airborne plague that has 9000 pigs dropping dead within day’s of each other. From what I’ve learned thru researching Earth changes, it sounds like farmers are having problems with massive hydrogen sulfide releases into the environment. See jumpingjackhypothesis.blogspot.comfor more information and preventative measures.
illustration Doug Chayka
Late in the spring of 2011, the pale grass blue butterflies seemed no different. Flitting about the meadows of Fukushima Prefecture, their satin wings shimmered as they moved among the notched leaves of wood sorrel and feathery pampas grass. When Joji Otaki began looking closely at the delicate insects the size of a silver dollar, however, he was struck by abnormal patterns in the dark dots on their wings. Then he noticed dents in their eyes and strangely shaped wings and legs.
It was two months after the March 11, 2011 tsunami led to the meltdown of three reactors at Japan’s Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The cesium, plutonium, and other radioactive emissions had already forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 residents caught in the cloud of contamination from one of the worst environmental disasters in history. Otaki, a professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, was in the Abukuma Mountains west of the disaster site collecting butterflies to study their response to the accident. The explosion at the power plant had rained radioactive particles onto fields and forests the butterflies share with warblers and flycatchers, deer and bear in the rugged region north of Tokyo.
As Otaki and his research partners studied the Fukushima butterflies, the aberrations they found took them by surprise. Abnormalities in the first generation were within normal boundaries. But when Otaki bred these butterflies in his laboratory, mutations in the offspring increased to 18 percent. That suggested inherited genetic damage. Field samples collected in September 2011, representing the fourth or fifth generation of butterflies since the disaster, had even higher abnormality rates. The changes may not all have been caused by radiation; Otaki had previously found evidence that temperature can affect wing markings. But the deformities his team found in antennae, legs, and other body parts are truly unusual, says Hokkaido University entomologist Shin-ichi Akimoto, who is studying the impact of Fukushima fallout on aphids. The abnormalities are troubling not only because insects are commonly assumed to be more resistant to radiation than humans, but also because they suggest the Fukushima nuclear disaster may be changing individual species, even entire forests.
“There is no question that ecosystems as a whole are suffering,” Otaki says. “There has been a sudden, large change.”
How large and how long term are questions scientists are trying to answer as they study the effects of nuclear contamination on Fukushima’s forests. This is not the first landscape to provide such a grim opportunity. The worst nuclear accident in history occurred on April 26, 1986 when the Number 4 reactor at the VI Lenin Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. More than two decades of research in this disaster-created outdoor laboratory, however, have failed to resolve many questions about radiation’s effects on wildlife.
Now, as scientists move about these evacuated, largely forested regions thousands of miles apart, some like Otaki are finding evidence that even low levels of radiation can cause genetic damage that is passed down to new generations. It’s a controversial conclusion with an even more hotly disputed interpretation: As plants and animals continue to live in these irradiated environments, forests themselves may be evolving into different ecosystems.
The prospect of a permanently altered ecosystem is even more disturbing because of the decades – perhaps centuries – these nuclear forests will remain dangerous. Still beautiful in spite of the contamination, they stare us in the face with the uncomfortable truth that when our human adventures in high technology go awry and crash through the natural world, we are utterly unable to control the consequences. Nuclear forests may be the ultimate Anthropocene environment.
Both the Chernobyl and Fukushima power plants were located in small cities surrounded by farms and woodlands. When the disasters struck, radioactive fallout hit trees, shrubs, and grasses. In Chernobyl as much as 70 percent of the radionuclides fell on forests. Over time rain and snow washed plutonium, radiocesium, and other radioactive particles onto the forest floor. Plants and fungi soon began taking up these particles and passing them on to the leaves, berries, and pollen that insects and other animals eat. Traveling the very same biological pathways that normally bring sustaining nutrients to forest life, the radionuclides permeated entire ecosystems.
In Fukushima, many plants and animals are already highly contaminated, according to government and independent tests. One wild boar captured in December 2012 had 11,000 becquerels of radiocesium per kilogram of flesh – more than 100 times the level permitted for human consumption. Last spring, researchers found herons nesting in an area where radioactive cesium in the soil measured more than 24,000 becquerels per kilogram. “We humans can do a lot to avoid exposure. Animals can’t. They don’t know it’s dangerous,” says Kiyomi Yokota, a naturalist who had devoted his life to exploring the forests of Fukushima.
Forever Is a Long Time
Even when nuclear power plants perform as designed, they present a problem: What to do with the radioactive wastes? Some types of spent fuel will be dangerous for 240,000 years, others for more than 2 million years. Taking responsibility for these contaminants stretches the proverbial seven generations of sustainability to 11,000 human generations – an inconceivable time span.
So far the nuclear industry has not come up with a safe solution. Engineers have considered a range of possibilities that verge on science fiction at one extreme and reckless abandon at the other. The industry has considered sending radioactive waste into outer space – an option it considers attractive because it removes it from our environment. The risks, however, are potentially catastrophic: If the vessel carrying the waste has an accident, it could spread radioactive material into the atmosphere. Then there’s the
Antarctica solution – placing radioactive wastes on ice sheets where their own heat would bury them. But international treaties ban such activity and the notion of violating the planet’s last pristine continent has put a damper on the scheme.
There have been discussions about burying nuclear waste in the sea floor. One option involves encasing spent fuel in concrete and dropping it in torpedoes designed to penetrate it into the ocean bed. Even more audacious is the proposal to deposit radioactive waste in a subduction zone, where plate tectonics would slowly carry it downward into Earth’s mantle. Violating international oceanic agreements is just one of the reasons these approaches are not being seriously considered. Another is the fear of leaks and the resultant widespread contamination.
The current focus is on burying radioactive wastes underground. Finland is in the process of constructing the first of these deep geological repositories – a 1,710-foot-deep facility called Onkalo, which means “cavity” in Finnish. Engineered to last 100,000 years, the facility is supposed to be large enough to accept boron steel canisters of spent fuel for up to 100 years, when the cavity will be backfilled and sealed. Canister burial will begin in 2020.
The United States has also been pursuing deep burial. In 2002 Congress designated Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as a repository for spent fuel and other radioactive wastes. By then planners had already constructed a five-mile-long tunnel and a series of cathedral-like chambers to experiment with various storage designs. The Obama administration quashed the controversial project in 2010, leaving the country without a long-term storage site. The 65,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from the 104 nuclear power plants in the US are currently stored onsite – 80 percent in water-filled pools, which are considered less safe than the steel casks that store the remaining 20 percent.
In addition to the technical challenges, nuclear power presents a political dilemma. No nation has lasted for 1,000 years, much less the 240,000 years plutonium will remain dangerous. Who will oversee radioactive waste when the governments of the 31 countries now producing it have crumbled? And how will these toxic repositories be identified when current languages are obsolete and the metal warning signs have rusted away?
The nuclear power industry faces an uncertain future unless it can successfully address waste management, says Allison Macfarlane, chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The post-Fukushima world demands redefining a successful nuclear power program to include not only the safe production of electricity but also the secure and sustainable lifecycle of nuclear power – from uranium mining to the disposal of spent fuel. If this cannot be achieved, Macfarlane says, “then the public in many countries will reject nuclear as an energy choice.”
—Jane Braxton Little
Even 27 years after Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor explosion, much of the 1,000-square-mile “Zone of Alienation” around the power plant is considered far too hot to allow residents to return. As much as 96 percent of the radionuclides that did not blow sky high and spew across the Soviet Union and northern Europe are still right there – in the fungi, needles, branches, roots, and soil of the forests that now cover almost three-fourths of the evacuated area. Instead of releasing the radiation into the atmosphere and water systems, the Chernobyl forests are holding it, a landscape-scale model of phytoremediation. It may be decades more before it is safe for human habitation.
Ukrainian officials have enshrined this “barrier function” of the contaminated forest in law, mandating that these lands be managed to contain the radionuclides. Japan, meanwhile, is leaning toward very different policies that would attempt to remove some of the contaminants from forests by cutting down trees, scraping up forest litter, and burying or burning the debris. The enormity of that task, however, means that Fukushima’s forests will likely end up holding fallout for many years.
The upshot for plants and wildlife is prolonged exposure to nuclear contaminants, with impacts that begin in the microscopic world of individual cells. As radionuclides decay, they emit energy. That energy can damage any part of a cell. If it damages DNA, the result can be cancer. If the damaged DNA is in sperm or egg cells, the changes can be passed to offspring and cause inherited deformities or illnesses. More radiation means a higher chance that these changes will occur. Scientists agree that high levels of radiation can cause fatal damage to living organisms, including humans. The debate surrounding Chernobyl, and now Fukushima, is over the effects of extended exposure to low levels of radiation.
Some scientists have disputed the causal link between the mutations Otaki found in pale grass blue butterflies and the radiation they were exposed to, but the results do not surprise Timothy Mousseau, a research biologist at University of South Carolina. A decade of field work in Chernobyl, and more recently in Fukushima, have convinced him that protracted exposure to radiation can have severe genetic consequences for organisms living in these contaminated environments.
On an early October afternoon, Mousseau crouched on a crumbling sidewalk in the middle of the ghost city of Pripyat patiently extracting a marsh tit from a mist net, one tiny toe at a time. Above the scientist and his quarry, the cracked and peeling walls of apartment buildings rose to 10 stories, their deserted balconies sporting poplar saplings instead of deck chairs. The long-abandoned city was built by the Soviets to house the families of workers at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Marsh tits are fairly tolerant of radiation, but other birds are not, Mousseau says. Since he and his colleagues began studying 14 different species of birds found in Chernobyl, they have documented reduced numbers and decreased longevity, smaller brains in some birds, and as many as 40 percent of male birds without sperm. They have also found that barn swallows living in areas surrounding Chernobyl have genetic damage that appears to be increasing with subsequent generations. Mutation rates in young swallows are between two to 10 times higher than their parents, according to one study. Chronic exposure to radioactive contaminants 27 years after the accident continues to cause tumors and mutations in breeding swallows, Mousseau says. He has found no evidence that species are evolving in ways that protect them from radiation.
Ominous as these results are, Mousseau does not predict an eventual science fiction world of three-eyed rabbits and headless horses. Instead, he believes irradiated forests will simply become less vibrant versions of their former selves. “The net effect will be fewer offspring and smaller populations until some species just disappear,” he says.
Like Otaki, Mousseau was initially surprised by his findings. He assumed that natural selection would weed out abnormal individuals as time passed. “The irony is that because the radiation levels are low and nonlethal, organisms survive long enough to reproduce and thus transmit the mutations from one generation to the next,” Mousseau says.
Other scientists have documented genetic changes in the cells of Scots pines, the dominant Chernobyl forest tree. Higher levels of exposure stunted growth and led to oddly bushy trees. Vasyl Yoschenko, head of radioecological monitoring at the Ukraine Institute of Agricultural Radiology, says that could benefit more radiation-tolerant species with significant forest-wide impacts: “If the Scots pine disappears, this will be a different ecosystem,” he says. Even one generation of weakened Scots pines would have cascading consequences. When pines produce less pollen, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators suffer. Reduced pollination affects fruit trees, which in turn affects birds. Few studies have tracked these chain reactions. “It’s not something you see quickly, and for that reason the research is difficult,” Otaki says. Mousseau is more direct about the potential impacts: “It’s very likely that these Chernobyl and Fukushima areas will be permanently affected unless we come up with some magical way to remove and eliminate the radioactive material.”
Many scientists reject these conclusions. Numerous laboratory and field studies around Chernobyl have failed to document elevated rates of mutations or reduced survival rates among animals in higher radiation zones. As proof, some researchers tout the abundance of mammals – moose, roe deer, otters, and wild boar proliferating in the evacuation zone despite the radiation. Removing humans from the landscape is an ecological benefit of the accident, says Robert Baker, a biology professor at Texas Tech University.
Baker’s research, first published in 1996, found no tumors in any of the 400 bank voles he studied from the Chernobyl region, despite radiation exposure of many generations during all stages of their life cycles. In a 2009 project with several colleagues, Baker found voles in radioactive sites genetically similar to those elsewhere in Ukraine. He says the results suggest that genetic changes in radioactive regions of Ukraine are probably a function of natural geographic variation.
Although Baker and Mousseau disagree about the effect of radiation on forest species, both have called for more research. The largest body of evidence on inherited mutations comes from multigenerational studies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors. It is inconclusive: A higher incidence of inherited deformities and disease has been neither confirmed nor definitively disproven in the children of survivors. Field research in Chernobyl, which got a late start due to Soviet politics, remains much less systematic than the atom bomb studies. And so far only a handful of biologists have launched field studies in Fukushima. Otaki believes the reason for that is partly political. “People are trying to forget what happened,” he says. As a result, funding for research like his is hard to come by. Baker hopes that will change. “Perhaps the accident in Japan will serve to highlight again the undeniable fact that our scientific grasp of radiation risk to the environment is surprisingly limited,” he says.
Pale grass blue butterflies still flutter in the Fukushima countryside, unaware they may be flirting with danger. Barn swallows dart around the forests of Chernobyl oblivious of the contamination they are carrying. For the hundreds of thousands of people forced to leave their homes in Japan, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, the radiation cycling from soil to treetop is an unnerving omnipresence. The forests they knew and depended upon now threaten instead of soothe, hiding unknowns where they once nurtured a community.
Kiyomi Yokota, the Fukushima naturalist, rarely takes his daughters to play in the woods as he did before the accident. The stress of making sure his three-year-old never touches the dirt or licks her fingers is simply too exhausting. “Just like that, everything changed,” he says. Amid the stress is a sadness fueled by the knowledge that the changes are human caused, that they are irrevocable, and that they will last long after those responsible for the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima have passed away.
Winifred Bird writes about the environment from Nagano, Japan. Jane Braxton Little is a science writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. A grant from the Society of Environmental Journalists covered the travel costs for this story
Please share freely, the bees are in a race against pesticides…and the clock!
As SBBA leaders suspected, there were several commonly used pesticides found in bee food stores, brood cells and wax. These include bifenthrin (found in hundreds of agricultural and household pesticide products), chlorpyrifos (used on orchards, golf courses, and crops, and banned from residential use), cyhalothrin (found in household and commercial products like Demand, Karate, and Warrior), and fipronil (used in over 50 products to control ants, termites, fleas and other insects, e.g., Frontline, Goliath, Nexa, and Regent). All of these chemicals are known to be highly toxic to bees. Also found at low levels were two legal miticides used by beekeepers to control mites. While this does not prove that pesticides were behind the die-offs, it does point to them as a possible factor. According to Penn State Senior Extension Associate, Maryann Frazier, “Honey bees across the country are being exposed to a great diversity and sometimes high levels of pesticides. While the evidence associated with the Montecito die-off is not conclusive, the symptoms of colony deaths and detections of low levels of pesticides toxic to honey bees are suspicious and cause for concern.” While SBBA is very upset about this loss, its leaders hope that by spreading the word about the die-off, community members will become more aware of the potential dangers of pesticides for honeybees and other pollinators. The organization encourages pest control companies, horticulturalists, landscape contractors and homeowners to evaluate the products that they are using and how they are being applied and work to reduce risks to honeybees and other beneficial insects.
Honeybees have been in decline worldwide. Frazier notes, “We believe that pesticide exposure is an important factor contributing to pollinator decline and possibly Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).” Colony Collapse Disorder has wiped out honeybee hives in the US and elsewhere, threatening both the viability of commercial beekeeping and the sustainability of the pollination services that honeybees provide to agricultural crops, domestic gardens, and wild plants. Whatever the cause of the Montecito die-off – whether acute pesticide poisoning, CCD, or other stresses – it may be symptomatic of a general decline in the quality of our environment for honeybees. “Honeybees and other pollinators are getting hit hard, but there are things we can do to reduce the threats to them,” said SBBA President, Paul Cronshaw. Pesticides applied to plants that are in bloom can be transferred to the hive by bees foraging for nectar and pollen, and thus the pesticides can impact the entire colony. SBBA urges Santa Barbara community members to please speak with your gardener, pest control company and anyone else that may use these products to make sure that they are being used properly. Commercial pesticides should only be applied by registered, licensed pesticide applicators. They should be applied carefully, according to the instructions on the label, and only as needed, avoiding applying them to blooming plants and at times when pollinators are active. “Working together, we can reduce both our own exposures to pesticides, and also the honeybee’s, so that she may continue to help us feed the planet,” says SBBA Vice President, Todd Bebb. – RSOE EDIS.
USGS scientist Thierry Work takes a sample from diseased coral at Tunnels Reef on the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii.
An unusual epidemic of coral disease has been killing a large number of corals on the north shore of the Hawaiian island, Kunai, according to researchers at the University of Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
Examination of the diseased areas, called lesions, suggests a mysterious cyanobacterial infection. Known for causing blooms in freshwater lakes, some species of Cyanobacteria, a type of blue-green algae, produce toxins that can sicken aquatic life, animals and even humans. However, the researchers said the current outbreak appear limited to corals.
The coral disease outbreak is said to be the first such cynobacterial infection documented in Hawaii on such a large scale. The university researchers are collaborating with USGS scientists to identify the cause of infection and what is promoting the outbreak.
“An unusually large amount of sediment is present on two affected reefs, and this is known to adversely affect corals in other areas. However, what role sediment or other land based pollution has in driving this disease remains unclear,” USGS said in a release.
Climate Change linked to Outbreak?
Climate change has adversely affected the coral reefs of Hawaii and it’s likely that like other possible causes such as land-based pollution, climate change could also be responsible for the coral disease outbreak.
“Wildlife disease outbreaks are indicators that something is awry in the environment. Understanding causes of disease and what drives those causes is important because this information helps management agencies make informed decisions to prevent further spread of the disease or minimize impact of disease. Understanding the role and causes of disease in corals and their prevention may contribute to prevention of additional outbreaks and aid in their recovery.”
Coral reefs around the world support over one million species of plants and animals. They are important both environmentally and economically.
“Coral reefs are important to Hawaii’s underwater environments and the financial well-being of its tourism industry. Like it or not, ecosystem health is closely intertwined with human and animal health,” said USGS scientist Thierry Work.
Wed, 01 Aug 2012 16:01 CDT
The skin cancer lesions (black spots) found on the coral trout living on the Great Barrier Reef were surficial, and appeared nearly identical to that in humans.
The first case of skin cancer in a wild marine fish population looks eerily similar to the melanoma that plagues humans, researchers report today (Aug. 1).
Coral trout living on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are directly beneath the Antarctic ozone hole, the world’s largest, which is the result of the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere that normally protects humans from harmful UV rays.
“Further work needs to be carried out to establish the exact cause of the cancer, but having eliminated other likely factors such as microbial pathogens and marine pollution, UV radiation appears to be the likely cause,” study researcher Michael Sweet, of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.
Sweet and his colleagues examined 136 common coral trout (Plectropomus leopardus), and found 20 individuals, or 15 percent, showed dark skin lesions.
The lesions ranged in size from small (covering just 5 percent of the skin) to large, covering the fish’s full body, they report online in the journal PLoS ONE.
“The individuals we looked at had extensive – but only surface – melanomas,” Sweet said. “This means the cancer had not spread any deeper than the skin, so apart from the surface lesions, the fish were basically healthy.”
The skin cancer found on coral trout ranged in coverage from about 5 percent of the fish’s body to nealy 100 percent, the researchers reported Aug. 1, 2012.
The lesions looked nearly identical to skin cancer found in humans, he said.
Once the melanoma spreads, Sweet added, fish would likely show signs of sickness, becoming less active and maybe feeding less. As such, the sick fish would be less likely to get caught. “This suggests the actual percentage affected by the cancer is likely to be higher than observed in this study,” Sweet said in the statement.
While the diseased fish were caught around Heron Island and One Tree Island, the researchers do not know how many coral trout living elsewhere on the reef have skin cancer.
Until now, researchers had reported melanoma caused by UV exposure in fish only in lab conditions; these fish have been used as a model for studying human skin cancer.
Could this be a result of mutations taking place due to changes with the sun and incoming cosmic radiation pouring onto the planet, mutations the scientific and metaphysical communities both expected would transform life on the cellular level? For the moment lets pretend and overlook all the radiation, corexit, mercury, pcb’s and everything else that might be causing mutations.
Published on Jul 24, 2012 by Marygreeley1954
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In the Houston area, where the ants are much more prevalent, they have already made some homeowners miserable, said Roger Gold, professor of entomology at Texas A&M University.
“People that have them said they wish they had the fire ants back,” he said. “We have pictures of families sweeping them up with brooms where there are piles of ants. … They can get into AC systems and short them out.”
When the ants get electrocuted they produce a pheromone that causes other ants to rush in, Gold said, leading to so many ants in the electrical system that it shorts out. An infestation of the ants temporarily shut down a Pasadena chemical plant, causing a $1 million loss, he said.
“They have huge populations made up of hundreds of thousands to multiple millions,” Gold said.
Ed LeBrun, a research associate at the University of Texas’ Brackenridge Field Laboratory, said the crazy ants haven’t caused Central Texas the problems that have been seen in the Houston area, where they were discovered in Pasadena in 2002 by exterminator Tom Rasberry.
The ants were first sighted in Travis County when a homeowner found them at a condominium complex in the Briarcliff area on Lake Travis in November, said Harvey Jacks, who owns an extermination company called Assassin Pest Control.
“There were hundreds just covering the floor, and after we cleaned them up more of them just came back in,” Jacks said.
He said he found out that the insects were crazy ants after sending a specimen to an entomology laboratory at Texas A&M.
Now he’s treating three of the units monthly with pesticides and trying to get the rest of the neighbors involved, Jacks said. “There’s no eradication for them; only control,” he said.
No one knows exactly where the crazy ants came from because their species has not been identified, Le-Brun said, but “they are most likely the South American crazy ant.”
Rasberry crazy ants have been discovered in 21 Texas counties, mostly in South Texas.
Crazy ants have also been found in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida, but they are not the same species as those in Texas, said Danny McDonald, a graduate student and research assistant in the entomology department at Texas A&M.
In addition to infesting homes and electrical systems, the ants attack and kill honeybees with acid that they secrete from their bodies, McDonald said.
Gold said the ants could also pose a danger to livestock, such as chickens, by overwhelming their respiratory systems and causing them to suffocate.
Rasberry crazy ants are smaller than fire ants but are successful at driving them away because they compete with fire ants for food and usually win, LeBrun said.
Unlike fire ants, crazy ants will enter homes in search of sugar and pet food, Gold said.
LeBrun said thousands of the crazy ants are living under rocks along a 700-meter segment of Lake Travis in the same area as the condominiums where the ants were first found in Travis County.
“The most likely way they got there is they were brought in with landscape material from Houston,” LeBrun said.
“The amount of area occupied by these ants out at Travis indicates that they have been there for a few years and gone unreported,” he said. “It takes time for these populations to become dense enough that people find them problematic and call pest control operators.”
Crazy ants don’t live in mounds like fire ants but instead live under natural materials or under things people leave on the ground like mulch, landscaping materials and wood, he said.
Wizzie Brown, an extension program specialist with Texas Agrilife Extension Service, said she is working with people in the area to educate them about the ants.
She said she caught five to six crazy ants using hot dog slices as bait in a fire ant trap in a greenbelt in the Old Settlers Road area of Round Rock in October, but she wouldn’t be specific about where the greenbelt was located.
LeBrun said it’s hard to predict whether the crazy ant population will explode in Central Texas.
“This is as far west and as dry as they’ve been,” he said. “They seem to be restricted to areas near the Gulf right now where there’s high rainfall and high humidity,” he said.
Gold had a grimmer view. The ants “will spread this year,” he said.
One of the problems is there’s no state or federal money available to study them, he said.
“We don’t even have a handle on the spectrum of chemicals that are really effective on them,” Gold said.
It’s time to BOYCOTT BAYER until they stop the use of “neonics”!!
If it were a novel, people would criticize the plot for being too far-fetched – thriving colonies disappear overnight without leaving a trace, the bodies of the victims are never found. Only in this case, it’s not fiction: It’s what’s happening to fully a third of commercial beehives, over a million colonies every year. Seemingly healthy communities fly off never to return. The queen bee and mother of the hive is abandoned to starve and die.
Thousands of scientific sleuths have been on this case for the last 15 years trying to determine why our honey bees are disappearing in such alarming numbers. “This is the biggest general threat to our food supply,” according to Kevin Hackett, the national program leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s bee and pollination program.
Until recently, the evidence was inconclusive on the cause of the mysterious “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) that threatens the future of beekeeping worldwide. But three new studies point an accusing finger at a culprit that many have suspected all along, a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids.
In the U.S. alone, these pesticides, produced primarily by the German chemical giant Bayer and known as “neonics” for short, coat a massive 142 million acres of corn, wheat, soy and cotton seeds. They are also a common ingredient in home gardening products.
Research published last month in the prestigious journal Science shows that neonics are absorbed by the plants’ vascular system and contaminate the pollen and nectar that bees encounter on their rounds. They are a nerve poison that disorient their insect victims and appear to damage the homing ability of bees, which may help to account for their mysterious failure to make it back to the hive.
Another study published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology journal implicated neonic-containing dust released into the air at planting time with “lethal effects compatible with colony losses phenomena observed by beekeepers.”
Purdue University entomologists observed bees at infected hives exhibiting tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions, all signs of acute insecticide poisoning. And yet another study conducted by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health actually re-created colony collapse disorder in several honeybee hives simply by administering small doses of a popular neonic, imidacloprid.
But scientists believe that exposure to toxic pesticides is only one factor that has led to the decline of honey bees in recent years. The destruction and fragmentation of bee habitats, as a result of land development and the spread of monoculture agriculture, deprives pollinators of their diverse natural food supply. This has already led to the extinction of a number of wild bee species. The planting of genetically modified organism (GMO) crops – some of which now contain toxic insecticides within their genetic structure – may also be responsible for poisoning bees and weakening their immune systems.
Every spring millions of bee colonies are trucked to the Central Valley of California and other agricultural areas to replace the wild pollinators, which have all but disappeared in many parts of the country. These bees are routinely fed high-fructose corn syrup instead of their own nutritious honey. And in an effort to boost productivity, the queens are now artificially inseminated, which has led to a disturbing decline in bee genetic diversity. Bees are also dusted with chemical poisons to control mites and other pathogens that have flourished in the overcrowded commercial colonies.
In 1923, Rudolph Steiner, the German founder of biodynamic agriculture, a precursor of the modern organic movement, predicted that within a hundred years artificial industrial techniques used to breed honey bees would lead to the species’ collapse. His prophecy was right on target!
Honey bees have been likened to the canaries in the coal mine. Their vanishing is nature’s way of telling us that conditions have deteriorated in the world around us. Bees won’t survive for long if we don’t change our commercial breeding practices and remove deadly toxins from their environment. A massive pollinator die-off would imperil world food supplies and devastate ecosystems that depend on them. The loss of these creatures might rival climate change in its impact on life on earth.
Still, this is a disaster that does not need to happen. Germany and France have already banned pesticides that have been implicated in the deaths of bees. There is still time to save the bees by working with nature rather than against it, according to environmentalist and author Bill McKibben:
“Past a certain point, we can’t make nature conform to our industrial model. The collapse of beehives is a warning – and the cleverness of a few beekeepers in figuring out how to work with bees not as masters but as partners offers a clear-eyed kind of hope for many of our ecological dilemmas.”
PHOTO: A bumblebee sits on a rhododendron bloom on a sunny spring day in Dortmund, Germany, March 28, 2012. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender
That the panicked news stories about it have died down doesn’t mean that the honeybee die-offs due to “colony collapse disorder” have gone away. It’s still happening with a vengeance, and it’s almost certain that pesticides are to blame:
Although news about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has died down, commercial beekeepers have seen average population losses of about 30 percent each year since 2006, said Paul Towers, of the Pesticide Action Network. Towers was one of the organizers of a conference that brought together beekeepers and environmental groups this week to tackle the challenges facing the beekeeping industry and the agricultural economy by proxy.
“We are inching our way toward a critical tipping point,” said Steve Ellis, secretary of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board (NHBAB) and a beekeeper for 35 years. Last year he had so many abnormal bee die-offs that he’ll qualify for disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In addition to continued reports of CCD — a still somewhat mysterious phenomenon in which entire bee colonies literally disappear, alien-abduction style, leaving not even their dead bodies behind — bee populations are suffering poor health in general, and experiencing shorter life spans and diminished vitality. And while parasites, pathogens, and habitat loss can deal blows to bee health, research increasingly points to pesticides as the primary culprit.
“In the industry we believe pesticides play an important role in what’s going on,” said Dave Hackenberg, co-chair of the NHBAB and a beekeeper in Pennsylvania.
Of particular concern is a group of pesticides, chemically similar to nicotine, called neonicotinoids (neonics for short), and one in particular called clothianidin. Instead of being sprayed, neonics are used to treat seeds, so that they’re absorbed by the plant’s vascular system, and then end up attacking the central nervous systems of bees that come to collect pollen. Virtually all of today’s genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonics. The chemical industry alleges that bees don’t like to collect corn pollen, but new research shows that not only do bees indeed forage in corn, but they also have multiple other routes of exposure to neonics.
So obviously something must be done. It’s one thing for the fossil fuel industry to get in the way of doing something about a problem as lacking in immediate impact as climate change. It’s quite another when the problem has not only immediate urgency, but immediate impact that people can easily get their heads around.
But will something be done this year? Not likely. Too much legalized bribery in the system during an election year:
Since this is an election year — a time when no one wants to make Big Ag (and its money) mad — beekeepers may have to suffer another season of losses before there’s any hope of action on the EPA’s part. But when one out of every three bites of food on Americans’ plates results directly from honey bee pollination, there’s no question that the fate of these insects will determine our own as eaters.
Ellis, for his part, thinks that figuring out a way to solve the bee crisis could be a catalyst for larger reform within our agriculture system. “If we can protect that pollinator base, it’s going to have ripple effects … for wildlife, for human health,” he said. “It will bring up subjects that need to be looked at, of groundwater and surface water — all the connected subjects associated [with] chemical use and agriculture.”
Future generations will look back at this country and its system of legalized bribery of politicians one day in the same way that they look back on slavery and say: “why did people not revolt in moral outrage?”
The answer is the same today as it was then: power, money, and a whole lot of regular people who just don’t give a damn or think they can’t do anything about it.
Also, the people like Scalia and Roberts who perpetuate and glorify the system know that by the time the public is ready to scorn them as much as they scorn the authors of the Dred Scott decision, they’ll be long gone from this world, and their comfortable progeny will be safe from the consequences of their rulings.