California’s Killer Bees Are Spreading North

Bad news for apiphobes: “Killer” bees are on the move in the United States.

Scientists from the University of California, San Diego recently collected hundreds of bees around the Golden State to determine how far north hybrid honeybees, or Africanized bees, have spread since they first arrived in the state in 1994.

They found that Africanized bees — which possess genes from both European and African honeybees — now live as far north as California’s delta region (about 25 miles, or 40 kilometers, south of Sacramento). And in the southern part of the state, so-called “killer” bees run the show. About 65 percent of the honeybeesthat buzz around San Diego County have a mix of European and African genes, the researchers found. [No Creepy Crawlies Here: Gallery of the Cutest Bugs]

“The pattern of Africanization we documented in San Diego County and elsewhere in California appears consistent with patterns previously documented in Texas, where Africanized honey bees first appeared in the United States,” Joshua Kohn, a professor of biology at UC San Diego and co-author of the new study, said in a statement.

While Africanized bees have taken up residence throughout the American South, Southwest, Southeast and Western coastal regions, their ability to set up permanent colonies in the northern parts of the country seems to be limited by cold temperatures during the winter months, Kohn said. However, higher temperatures caused by global warming could mean that killer bees may continue to push north in the coming years, he added.

There are a few reasons why the range of Africanized bees in California and other states is important, Kohn told Live Science. For one, these bees are highly aggressive, he said. People in California, Arizona and Texas (as well as several other states) have been seriously injured or killedafter enduring thousands of stings from Africanized bees, which are quick to defend their hives. Knowing where those hives might be is a good starting point for preventing future attacks, Kohn said.

But scientists don’t just want to track the migration of Africanized bees because of their killer instincts. Kohn and Yoshiaki Kono, a graduate student in UC San Diego’s Department of Biological Sciences and lead author of the new bee study, are also curious about the spread of the Africanized bees’ more desirable qualities, such as their resistance to some of the diseases and mites that are killing off honey bees in other parts of the country, Kohn said.

The flight of the honeybee

The story of killer bees started in the 1950s. In an effort to breed honeybees better suited to South America’s tropical climate, a biologist in Brazil imported a subspecies of bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) from southern Africa to interbreed with bees from Europe. But winged insects are hard to contain, and several swarms of African bees escaped into the wild.

The runaway bees bred with local populations of European honeybees, and their hybrid descendants spread, mating with other European bees along the way. This intermingling of the African and European honeybees’ gene pools is known as Africanization because it’s the African genes that generally prevail, according to Kohn. The typical Africanized bee in California has a genome made up of 70 to 80 percent African genes and only 20 to 30 percent European genes, he added. [On the Hunt: Honeybee Scouts Find Food]

African genes, and the qualities they are associated with, are dominant because they are favored by natural selection, Kohn said. An Africanized bee’s slightly larger size and high reproduction rate give it certain advantages over non-Africanized bees, for example.

Africanized bees also appear to be more resistant to certain diseases and parasites compared to European bees, Kohn said. In fact, there are many studies that back up this claim. One study, published in 2010 in the journal Experimental and Applied Acarology, found that Africanized bees may be more resistant to the parasitic mite Varroa destructor (an insidious foe inside bee colonies) because of the bees’ grooming behaviors and the lowered fertility of the mites inside the brood, or honeycomb of the Africanized hive.

Right now, most of California’s Africanized bees are feral — the study found that only 13 percent of managed hives in San Diego County carried the African mitotype (mitochondrial DNA), as opposed to 70 percent of feral hives in the county. Most beekeepers prefer European honeybees because Africanized bees are so much more difficult to manage, Kohn said.

But, there may be a way for beekeepers to get the disease resistance they’re looking for in European bees while minimizing the risk that Africanized bees pose.

“By dissecting the genomes of Africanized honey bees to find regions responsible for advantageous traits, we may be able to combat recent declines in managed honey bee populations that are so critical for food production,” Kohn said.

Disease-resistant bees that aren’t likely to kill anyone could be a win-win for everyone.

Using Animal Control To Get Rid Of Unwanted Critters

Animal Control in Carlsbad, CA is responsible for dealing with most of the animal related disturbances for San Diego County, including all of the incorporated and unincorporated areas within. But you may be at a loss if you should contact the City of Carlsbad, who contracts with the County of San Diego for animal control services, or if you should contact the county itself. Here are a few guidelines you can follow to make sure that you are contacting the right department, as well as ensuring that you are not putting yourself in any unnecessary risk.

If you are just looking to adopt a pet, license one you have already, or any other pet matter that is unrelated to a disturbance you should contact the County of San Diego directly. They operate three shelters, including the one in Carlsbad, so you should not have to contact animal control in Carlsbad at all for any peaceful inquiries. Carlsbad animal control is mostly responsible for dealing with animal disturbances that pose an immediate threat to people or animals. So be sure to ask yourself how urgent your inquiry is, and that should help guide you to the correct organization.

A situation requiring animal control assistance would be suspected abuse to an animal in your neighborhood. If you here constant barking, or desperate shrieks from a nearby cat then you may need to call Carlsbad Animal Control. You should not do any private sleuthing to investigate the situation. First of all, an abused animal can typically display violent tendencies, so you may not want to pose yourself as an intruder.

Secondly, you do not want to risk your credibility by having your neighbor call the police on you for trying to “rescue” his pet. Carlsbad Animal Control employs highly trained individuals who have been primed to investigate such occurrences and determine if any abuse has occurred, and take the animal away from its owner if any danger is posed to it. Always trust the professionals to take care of the problems in their field.

If a dead animal is found on the road then you should contact the City of Carlsbad. Dead animals are not just smelly and unsightly, they can also spread disease. Do not attempt to remove the animal yourself, because you probably do not know for sure what killed it and if it poses any danger to you. Once again, just let the professionals who are paid to take care of this problem remove it for you.

Another major problem can be wild dogs roaming the area. A wild dog can be extremely dangerous, so Carlsbad Animal Control should be contacted. Many of these animals have been abused and are very afraid of people, so any attempt to scare the dog into leaving may backfire, prompting the dog to attack you in defense.

In addition, a wild dog has no way of receiving regular vaccinations, so there is a chance that it could be infected with rabies. Animal Control has the necessary training and tools to safely remove the dog, and wild dog removal should never be attempted without their assistance. And, though they may be a terrible nuisanceFree Articles, Animal Control in Carlsbad is not supposed to respond to a skunk in the backyard or an opossum. So make sure you have a genuine emergency before calling.

Say Aaaah Zoo’s Aardvark Gets 2 Teeth Pulled

Getting a tooth pulled is never fun, but it’s especially irksome if you’re an aardvark. Ali, an aardvark at the Cincinnati Zoo, recently learned this lesson firsthand after two infected teeth landed her in the dentist’s chair.

Aardvarks, the only extant species in the order Tubulidentata, are unusual animals — and they have unusual teeth, said Jack Easley, a Kentucky-based veterinarian who specializes in dentistry. Easley was one of several veterinarians who helped extract Ali the aardvark’s two problematic teeth last month at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Unlike most other mammals, aardvarks don’t have enamel in their teeth. (Enamel is the hard, visible part of the tooth that covers up the more sensitive tissues beneath it.) These soft teeth typically serve aardvarks well, because in their native African habitat, the animals only eat easy-to-chew insects like termitesand ants, Easley told Live Science. [Photos: World’s Cutest Baby Wild Animals]But in zoos, aardvarks don’t always eat soft insects, which may not be readily available. Instead, they eat a special, pelleted feed or some other manufactured food, said Easley, who noted that, sometimes, this diet can lead to dental disease. Ali, who is 11 years old, is also middle-age for an aardvark, which may have contributed to the decline in her dental health, he added.

Zoo staff first noticed that there was a problem with the animal’s health back in January, when Ali developed a weird-looking, swollen eye. The problem seemed to be resolved with a dose of antibiotics, but when the medication was finished, the ulcer came back, said Jenny Nollman, an associate veterinarian at the Cincinnati Zoo.

“When it didn’t clear up completely, we investigated it further,” Nollman told Live Science. “That’s when we got into the CT [cat scan] and MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] — the more advanced imaging — to try to really get a better diagnosis.”

In July, zoo staff accompanied Ali to a nearby hospital to try to pinpoint the root of the problem. The CT scan and MRI suggested that what appeared to be an eye problem was actually a tooth problem, Nollman said. That’s when zoo vets reached out to Easley, one of very few veterinarians in the United States who is board-certified in veterinary dentistry.Ali the aardvark’s two infected teeth. Unlike most mammals, aardvarks don’t have a hard layer of enamel covering the crown of their teeth.

Two of Ali’s molar teeth were so infected that the bone and tissue supporting her teeth had formed what’s known as a periodontal pocket, Easley said. This led to the formation of a fistula, or an abnormal passageway between two body parts that are not usually connected. In Ali’s case, the fistula formed between her sinus and the periorbital sac (the tissue surrounding the eyeball), causing her eyeball to look inflamed and leak out pus.

To fix this problem, Easley and another certified veterinary dentist traveled to Cincinnati to pull out Ali’s infected teeth. But there was one small problem: Unlike humans, aardvarks can’t say “ah.”

In addition to having weird teeth, aardvarks have strange mouths. The animals have long tongues and deep oral cavities, with the teeth located all the way in the back (about 12 inches, or 30 centimeters, inside their mouths). These oral openings are very small, measuring only 1.5 inches (4 cm) across, according to Easley.

To reach inside Ali’s mouth, Easley had to make a small incision in the animal’s cheek. After removing the two infected molars, the veterinarians packed the hole left by the extracted teeth with an antibiotic-coated gauze material and left Ali to heal over the next three to six weeks.

Yesterday (Sept. 1), Nollman performed a checkup, and the resilient little aardvark seemed to be doing quite well, she said, though it will take Ali a few more weeks to fully heal.

“[Ali] has not missed a beat through this whole thing,” Nollman said. “Her appetite has never decreased, and she has been very active.”

290 Million Year Old Creature Could Sprout New Limbs

If an ancient amphibian lost a limb or a tail, it could simply sprout a new one, according to researchers who found fossil evidence of limb regeneration dating back 290 million years.

The finding shows that some Carboniferous and Permian period animals had regenerative abilities a full 80 million years before salamanders, one of the few modern-day animal groups that can fully regenerate their limbs and tail, existed in the fossil record.

The fact that other tetrapods — a group comprised of four-legged vertebrates, including amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds — had regenerative abilities suggests there are multiple ways to regrow limbs, said study lead researcher Nadia Fröbisch, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in Berlin. [Slithery, Slimy: Images of Legless Amphibians]

“Regenerative medicine is an active and very large research field,” Fröbisch told Live Science. Most regenerative medicine is focused on the molecular mechanisms used by modern salamanders, but “we don’t only have to look for things specific to salamanders, but also mechanisms present in all tetrapods,” she said.

Fröbisch has studied limb regeneration in salamanders for years. She’s not alone — at least 100 years ago, researchers noted that salamander limbs develop differently than those of all other tetrapods, and wondered if this helped explain their regenerative abilities.
Sclerocephalus fossil
[Pin It] The fossilized body of the Lower Permian amphibian Sclerocephalus discovered in southwestern Germany. Like today’s salamanders, the ancient Sclerocephalus could also regenerate its limbs, evidence suggests.
Credit: Hwa Ja Goetz, MfN
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When a typical tetrapod limb develops in an embryo, it grows its outer digit (the pinkie) first and inner digits in successive order. But salamanders do the opposite: They grow their inner digit (the thumb side) first and their pinkie last.

For decades, researchers thought that this odd developmental quirk evolved late in evolutionary history, Fröbisch said. However, recent examinations of fossils show that this pattern is older than previously thought, and existed before dinosaurs walked the Earth.

Fossil evidence shows that the salamander’s “backward” digit development is found in various amphibians of the Carboniferous period (359 million to 299 million years ago), and the Permian (299 million to 251 million years ago), including the Apateon, Micromelerpeton and Sclerocephalus, Fröbisch said.

In addition to the backward digit development, a 290-million-year-old Micromelerpeton from a fossil lakebed in southwestern Germany shows evidence of limb regeneration. (Limb regeneration is possible to spot with a trained eye: Sometimes when a limb regrows, it’s slightly deformed — containing fused fingers, for instance — indicating that it’s not an original limb, Fröbisch said.)

But backward formation of the digits isn’t necessary for limb regeneration, the researchers found. Microsaurs — amphibians that looked like lizards and lived about 300 million years ago — could regrow their tails, according to fossil evidence from the Czech Republic. But microsaurs developed digits the typical way — pinkie first.

“All together, the fossil data shows that [developing the thumb side first] in limb development and regeneration don’t always occur together,” Fröbisch said. “It’s not salamander-specific at all. It’s something very ancient.” [Album: Bizarre Frogs, Lizards and Salamanders]

However, the salamander is the only surviving tetrapod that has kept its regenerative abilities. (Lungfish also have these abilities, but they’re poorly studied and aren’t tetrapods, Fröbisch said). Over time, the lineage leading to amniotes (reptiles, birds and mammals, including humans) lost the ability to regrow limbs, she said.

Genetic discovery

In a separate but related new study, researchers examined salamander genetics and found two genes necessary for its formation of backward digits.

“Some time ago, we found a gene called Prod1 that is specific to salamanders and is involved in limb regeneration,” said study author Jeremy Brockes, a research professor of structural and molecular biology at University College London.

So, they knocked out Prod 1 in fertilized newt eggs with a gene-editing tool. As they observed the newts develop, they found that the protein Bmp2, critical for digit formation, was absent in these newts.

Without Prod 1 and Bmp2, the newt couldn’t form its digits on the thumb side first. This indicates that both the gene and protein are necessary for the salamander’s unique digit growth, Brockes told Live Science.

It’s interesting that the other study finds that thumb-side first-limb growth is found in some, but not all, early tetrapod fossils from the Permian era about 290 million years ago, Brockes said.

“This is before the appearance of the salamanders,” he said. “Our results suggest that these attributes, which are found together in present-day salamanders, may be linked by the involvement of common genes such as Prod 1.”

The fossil analyses and genetic findings were published online yesterday (Oct. 26) in the journals Nature and Nature Communications, respectively.

Leaf Eating Caterpillars Use Their Poop to Trick Plants

Caterpillars that munch on corn leaves have developed a clever way to get the most nutrients from their meals: They use their poop to trick the plants into lowering their defenses.

Scientists at Pennsylvania State University recently discovered that fall armyworm caterpillars (Spodoptera frugiperda) can send chemical signals to plants through their poop, or frass.

“It turns out that the caterpillar frass tricks the plant into sensing that it is being attacked by fungal pathogens,” study co-author Dawn Luthe, a professor of plant stress biology at Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement. [In Photos: Animals That Mimic Plants]

Corn plants can deal with only one kind of attack at a time, so while a corn plant is dealing with the perceived “fungal infection,” the caterpillar is left to feast on the plant’s leaves. Normally, a plant will recognize chemical signatures from insect secretions, which helps the plant know when to raise its defenses. In many cases, this includes producing a biochemical that repels herbivores, such as insects.

But chemical signals from the caterpillar’s poop act as crafty diversions, the researchers said.

“The plant perceives that it is being attacked by a pathogen and not an insect, so it turns on its defenses against pathogens, leaving the caterpillar free to continue feeding on the plant,” Swayamjit Ray, a doctoral student in plant biology at Penn State and co-author of the paper, said in a statement. “It is an ecological strategy that has been perfected over thousands of years of evolution.”Fall armyworm caterpillars (Spodoptera frugiperda) feed on corn leaves and crevasses where the leaves meet the stalks.

Caterpillars usually feed on the leaves in the confined whorls of corn plants. The critters typically defecate in the crevasses where the leaves meet the stalk, the researchers said.

Scientists studied the biochemical relationship between fall armyworm caterpillar frass and a plant’s defensive mechanisms by performing two tests. In the first test, the scientists applied frass extract to the leaves of some corn plants and compared caterpillar growth of those that fed on treated leaves with those that munched on untreated leaves.

The second test involved measuring how frass-treated corn leaves affected defensive performance on plants exposed to a fungal pathogen — in this case, spores of a fungus that causes blight in corn (Cochliobolus heterostrophus). The scientists observed that, initially, proteins in the frass activated an insect defense in the plant, but over time, as the corn plants were exposed to more of the protein, the plants’ defenses became altered and instead began to recognize the frass protein as a fungal pathogen instead of an insect waste product. This caused the plant to defend itself against what it saw as a fungal threat instead of an insect threat.

While this may not be good news for plants suffering from a caterpillar infestation, the researchers think it may be possible to isolate the specific components in caterpillar poop that heighten a plant’s defenses against pathogens. If this is the case, the scientists said, farmers could one day develop an organic and sustainable pesticide to prevent infection and disease in crops.