Monday, June 23, 2008

Double dipping on BBBB quotes

Google Alerts tipped me off to a mention of SABO in a post over at Checking it out, I discovered that contributor Justin Van Kleeck repeated my quote from Mike Klesius's January 2007 National Geographic article on hummingbirds. Scrolling down, I was even more delighted to see that the first comment paraphrased one of Tom's favorite observations about hummingbirds as quoted by Richard Conniff in "So tiny, so sweet--so mean," an article originally published in Smithsonian Magazine (September 2000) and condensed and reprinted by Reader's Digest (May 2001).

You can read the Nat Geo article here, but I couldn't find the full Smithsonian article on line. Too bad, since it earned author Richard Conniff the John Burroughs Association essay award for 2000. You can read part of it here. (This should come as no surprise, but I was the other guide Conniff quoted in his opening paragraphs.) --SW

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kiss kiss, bang bang

Mid-June is a perfect time for this Zooillogix post on kissing bugs. These stealthy stowaways emerge each summer from our local White-throated Woodrat (pack rat) nests (of which there's one under our bathroom floor) to invade southern Arizona homes in search of fresh blood.

Kissing bugs (genus Triatoma) are on a very short list of invertebrates that we terminate with extreme prejudice whenever and wherever they're encountered. Even bark scorpions get a pass if we find them in remote parts of the yard, but kissing bugs always get swatted, stomped, or crushed in a handy paper towel. And we do keep those paper towels handy, because offing them can be a thoroughly disgusting experience. Even if they're not bloated from a recent blood meal, they produce a powerful defensive stink like other members of their suborder, Heteroptera. You do NOT want to get that nauseating reek on your skin or clothes. There are three species in southern Arizona, but I never pause long enough to key them out before sending them to that Great Pack Rat Midden in the Sky.

They're active mainly at night and often bite sleeping humans on or near the mouth (hence the name). The bite is virtually painless but can cause severe allergic reactions, and droppings shed at the scene of the crime can contaminate the wound with the trypanosomes that cause Chagas disease, a mainly tropical infection that kills thousands of people in Latin America every year. Though the most effective vectors for the disease seem to be South America species of Triatoma, there have been a handful of recent cases in the southern U.S. The organism gets concentrated in the bugs' feces; in fact, the traditional method to test for Chagas is to let fresh, uninfected kissing bugs bite the patient, then check the bugs' droppings for the trypanosome. Chagas has even been suggested as a contributor to Charles Darwin's chronic health problems.

These nasty bloodsuckers are macabre harbingers of our late summer "monsoon." The increase in heat and humidity really seems to bring them out, so it's no surprise that in the last 36 hours we encountered the first two kissing bugs of the season inside the house. The first landed right in front of me on my drawing board at about midnight; the second casually waddled out from under our claw-foot bathtub this morning. Only the second had dined recently, though three or four itchy, swollen spots on my feet suggest that the first had already partaken of my juiciness and was looking for a refill.

CRAP! Make that three--one just came buzzing in to land on the computer hutch while I was typing. Thank goodness they're such clumsy fliers, but now I'm paranoid about how many might be sneaking around under the desk, waiting for me to put my juicy toes back on the floor. *shudder*

Because I refuse to let one live long enough to photograph it intact, here are a bunch of pix from Bug Guide: Genus Triatoma

And here's a whole bunch of skin-crawlingly fascinating information from the University of Arizona: The Kissing Bug Project


Update: By 11:30 p.m. the body count for the season was up to four--not a good sign, since we rarely find more than a dozen in the house per summer. It wasn't easy getting to sleep, listening for the dry buzz of wings and hard little thop of another six-legged vampire homing in on its prey.