Beetles that pose as an ant’s abdomen to hitch a ride!

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How do you hitch a ride on an army ant? Try masquerading as an ant butt. At least, that’s the strategy that seems to work for the newly described beetle species Nymphister kronaueri.

Seen from above, a colony of Eciton mexicanum army ants marching across the forest floor looked perfectly normal to researchers surveying the insects in Costa Rica. But viewed from the side, many of the ants appeared to have a little extra junk in the trunk, sporting what seemed to be two abdomens stacked on top of each other, the scientists reported in a new study.

Closer inspection revealed that the topmost “abdomen” was actually a tiny hitchhiker — a beetle species unknown to science, holding on tight with its mandibles and perfectly camouflaged to resemble the rear end of the ant it clung to. [Cool Close-Up Photos Show Ants of the World]

Unlike most known ant species, army ants don’t build permanent nests. Instead, vast colonies that can number in the tens of thousands travel as a group between temporary nest sites known as “bivouacs,” which are constructed around the queen and larvae from the living bodies of worker ants.

Beetles Pose as an Ant's Butt to Grab a Ride

An ant that appears to have a double abdomen is actually carrying a disguised beetle hitchhiker.

Credit: D. Kronauer

Army ants in the Eciton genus that live in neotropical habitats are typically stationary for three weeks and migratory for two weeks, moving to a new nest site every night during their migratory phase — a process that can take up to 9 hours, the study’s lead author and ecologist Christoph von Beeren, a postdoctoral researcher with the Technical University Darmstadt in Germany, told Live Science in an email.

Army ants hunt insects and other arthropods, such as spiders, mites and millipedes. But many types of arthropod species known as myrmecophiles, or “ant lovers,” have come to depend on ants for survival, living off their garbage scraps or hiding within ant colonies as protection from other predators. To keep up with migrating army ants, some “ant lover” species — including many types of beetles — use the ants themselves as a taxi service, stowing away on workers or larvae, von Beeren said.

Von Beeren and study co-author Daniel Kronauer, who traveled to Costa Rica to investigate army ants and associated species, discovered the beetle as they were puzzling over what appeared to be an army ant with two abdomens that they had captured in a vial. And then suddenly, the hidden rider revealed itself.

“When we shook the vial the beetle detached and expanded its legs and antennae — that is the moment we realized we had discovered something new here,” von Beeren said.

Nymphister kronaueri uses its long mandibles to grip an army ant's "waist."

Nymphister kronaueri uses its long mandibles to grip an army ant’s “waist.”

Credit: von Beeren and Tishechkin DOI 10.1186/s40850-016-0010-x

The stealthy and highly specialized beetle N. kronaueri associates exclusively with one army ant species — E. mexicanum — and attaches only to medium-size worker ants, the researchers discovered. Its long mandibles are used like a pair of pliers, grasping the ant between its petiole — essentially the ant’s “waist” — and a wider knob at the top of the abdomen.

Much like the ants it rides, N. kronaueri is shiny and reddish brown in color, and is about the same size and shape as an ant abdomen, which could explain how it can ride atop them and stay unharmed by the colony. Arthropods that coexist with ants fool their hosts into accepting them with chemical signals or physical mimicry — or both — but not enough is yet known about this new beetle species to tell for sure how it succeeds at tricking ants into accepting it as a passenger, von Beeren told Live Science.

The beetle’s highly effective camouflage could also explain why the species was only recently discovered by scientists. Though army ants have been extensively studied, this conspicuous yet overlooked hitchhiker serves as an important reminder of how much is yet to be learned about ants — and the insects that are along for the ride, the researchers noted.

The findings were published online today (Feb. 9) in the open access journal BMC Zoology.

Original article on Live Science.

Ants Need Work-Life Balance

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Credit: © corlaffra / Fotolia

Credit: © corlaffra / Fotolia

As humans, we constantly strive for a good work-life balance. New findings by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology suggest that ants, long perceived as the workaholics of the insect world, do the same. In fact, according to these researchers, it is imperative that some ants rest while others work to conserve food, energy and resources for the colony. And the larger the colony, the more important this work-rest balance becomes.

“It has been a long-standing question in the field as to why large colonies of ants use less per-capita energy than small colonies,” says Dr. Chen Hou, assistant professor of biological sciences at Missouri S&T and research team lead. “In this work, we found that this is because in large colonies, there are relatively more ‘lazy workers,’ who don’t move around, and therefore don’t consume energy.

“We found that the portion of inactive members of a group increases in a regular pattern with the group size,” Hou says.

The research team consistently observed that 60 percent of workers were not moving around in a 30-ant group, whereas this percentage increased to 80 percent when the group size increased to 300 ants.

“The simultaneous energetic measurements showed that the per capita energy consumption in the 300-ant group is only 50 percent of that in the 30-ant group,” Hou says.

By not consuming energy, these “lazy” ants are actually saving resources for the colony and making the colony more productive.

This realization could provide valuable insight into making our societies more productive and sustainable.

“Humans are like ants in a way that we all live together in groups, collaborating toward our own betterment,” Hou says. “Both humans and ants face similar problems of allocating resources based on tasks and energy. Understanding how ants spend their energy in relation to their group and why they do so will provide insight into conditions for individuals that allow a group to perform collective optimization of behavior, that is, in the context of sustainable use of scarce resources.”

Hou and his team, which includes two undergraduate Missouri S&T students, discuss their findings in a forthcoming issue of the journal Insect Science.

“Maximizing resource acquisition would require most individuals to be highly active, but would also result in high energy expenditure and long average foraging time. In contrast, minimizing time and energy expenditure would require most individuals to be inactive, but would also result in low resource acquisition,” Hou says. “Thus, we postulate that ant colonies balance these two optimization rules by the coordination of the forager’s interaction.”

Hou says his team came to its conclusion using a state-of-the-art computerized vision analysis program to track the motion trajectories of ants. His colleague, Dr. Zhaozheng Yin, assistant professor and Daniel C. St. Clair Fellow of computer science at Missouri S&T, developed the program.

Using Yin’s automatic algorithm, the research team was able to analyze the movements of ants over longer periods of time and higher temporal resolution than had ever previously been conducted. Previous studies had only analyzed the movements of ants in minute-long intervals. The analysis of a two-hour-long video by the research team showed a large variation in the average walking speed of ants in the colony, from .2 centimeters a second to 1.4 centimeters a second.

“This indicates it is likely that the analyses of one-minute observations give only momentary snapshots, and may not well represent the ants’ behaviors over long periods,” says Hou. “These comparisons highlight the advantage of our automatic computerized tracking technique, because it is difficult, if not possible, to manually digitize coordinates of individual ants with high temporal resolution over a long period.”

By tracking ants’ walking behaviors over longer periods of time, the researchers also determined how much energy ants consume while working as opposed to resting.

“We found that walking ants consume five times more energy than resting ants,” says Hou. “This means that energy wise, one walking ant is equivalent to five resting ants. Thus, if a group has 20 percent active members, this group would consume 180 percent more energy than a similar sized group with all inactive members.”

The research team, which also includes sophomore Nolan Ferral and junior Kyara Holloway, both biological sciences majors at Missouri S&T, and Mingzhong Li, a Ph.D. student in computer science, shared its findings in an article titled “Heterogeneous activity causes a nonlinear increase in the group energy use of ant workers isolated from queen and brood.” The article will be published in an upcoming issue of Insect Science.

“It is intuitive that colonies have inactive members, because these members may serve a backup role or buffer, which would be activated when colonies are under stress, such as an urgent need for nest maintenance or defense,” says Hou. “But it is unclear why the proportion of the inactive members is not a constant — why larger colonies have relatively more ‘lazy’ workers. Thus, our study calls for future research on ant interaction networking and behaviors.”

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This summer Dana cruised the inside passage to Alaska. The following are excerpts from his captains log.

Log Entry 6-26-2016

This morning begins day ten of our cruise up the north pacific coast with a destination being SE Alaska. We are currently within the Broughton Archipelago staying at Pierre’s Echo Bay Lodge and Marina. The amazing thing about this place is the effort of one man to construct and maintain such an elaborate facility in the remoteness of these islands. It is a dramatic testament of what a man can create by pursuing a dream with relentless labor.

Last evening we walked up the hill from the landing to discover a fire pit surrounded by swinging benches overlooking the bay with mountains in the distance and sang along with violin and guitar musicians, enjoying the presence of strangers into the waning night. The highlight of this place however was hiking the trail through the woods to visit Billy Proctor, a legendary man who has lived off the forest and sea in these parts for nearly 80 years.

The evening before last we enjoyed a pot luck dinner at Kwatsi Bay, a more rustic dock nestled into a small cove built by Max a former school teacher 20 years prior. One has to wonder if the next generation will possess such spirited entrepreneurs willing to etch out a living and raise families in such minimalist style. Considering the degree of peace and absolute contentment these individuals express I would have to assume other like individuals will follow suit, seeking nirvana in these dark wet forests.

Kwatsi Bay Dock

Kwatsi Bay Dock

Evening cocktails in Kwatsi Bay

Evening cocktails in Kwatsi Bay

Pratt Pest Management raises money for breast cancer research

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Pratt Pest Management raises money for breast cancer research

Dana Pratt of Camano Island, president and founder of Pratt Pest Management Northwest, announced a company-wide effort to raise money to support of Susan G. Komen Puget Sound, which raises money for breast cancer research. Pratt Pest Management has been supporting local community efforts since 1991 and will donate at least $1,000 from new sales generated in October.

Read the rest of the article » Everett Herald

WSDA finds gypsy moths thick in Seattle

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Washington State Department of Agriculture has trapped 10 Asian gypsy months, plus 32 European gypsy moths, including 21 in a Seattle neighborhood.

OLYMPIA — The Washington State Department of Agriculture has trapped 42 gypsy moths this year, including 21 of the European variety on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, a densely populated residential district. The 42 also include 10 Asian gypsy moths, which are considered more threatening to forests and orchards than European moths. WSDA hadn’t snared an Asian gypsy moth since 1999.

The discoveries may present WSDA with challenges. Spraying pesticides over Seattle neighborhoods to eradicate gypsy moths has drawn organized opposition in the past. WSDA did not spray on Capitol Hill after trapping six moths last summer. Meanwhile, Asian gypsy months were found at two ports and several other places this summer. They’re more mobile and eat a wider variety of trees and shrubs than European moths and pose a major threat to urban, suburban and rural landscapes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

WSDA spokesman Mike Louisell said Wednesday that the department has traps to collect in northwest Washington, but the trapping season is nearly over. The agency likely will decide by the end of the year on a spring spraying program, he said. “We’re just looking at the scope at what we have before us, and the challenge to respond,” he said.
The caterpillars emerge in the spring to feast on leaves. European gypsy moths have defoliated hundreds of thousands of acres in the Eastern U.S. and Great Lakes region. Asian gypsy moths aren’t established in the U.S.

WSDA has sprayed 93 times since 1979 to eradicate gypsy moths. Most large applications have been done from the air. The department last spring sprayed 220 acres in rural southwest Washington with Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki, commonly referred to as Btk and sold under the name Foray. WSDA had trapped 16 gypsy moths and found an egg mass in the area the previous summer and fall.

WSDA hunted in Capitol Hill for coin-sized egg masses to confirm a reproducing population, but did not find any. WSDA sprayed 725 acres in the Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard and Magnolia in 2000. A King County judge denied a request by a group of residents to stop the application.

Besides the 21 moths found on Capitol Hill, WSDA has trapped European gypsy moths in Jefferson County, Pierce County, two in Clark County, four in Thurston County and three more in King County. WSDA caught Asian gypsy moths at the Port of Tacoma, Port of Vancouver, Tacoma neighborhood Norpoint, Gig Harbor in Kitsap County, Milton and Fife Heights in Pierce County, Hawks Prairie near Olympia, Nisqually in Thurston County, and two in Kent in King County.

Generally, European gypsy moth eggs are carried into the state overland on outdoor belongings, such as patio furniture. Asian gypsy moth eggs arrive by sea, attached to vessels arriving from ports in Russia, Japan, South Korea and China, where the moths are prevalent. WSDA set out 16,000 traps in Western Washington this summer. The agency concentrated traps near ports and where new residents are likely to move.

The number of gypsy moths trapped in Washington has ranged widely. WSDA trapped a high of 1,315 in 1983 and only one in 2013. The number trapped this summer was the most since 2006.

Article Credit:  Don Jenkins, Capital Press – Oct. 8, 2015

Farewell From Jody

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To The Valued Clients and Friends of Pratt Pest Management NW and NVIRO Services,

After 10 years and 8 months of employment at Pratt Pest Management NW, I will embark on a different journey effective August 16, 2014.  It has been an indescribable honor to work for this company where the management as well as employees exude honor, integrity, moral values and truly care about our clients as well as the communities in which we serve and reside.  The friendships established throughout my employment are cherished and will not be forgotten.  Perhaps our paths will cross again, (we reside on Camano Island) and welcome “drop ins” with a warm greeting and hearty hug!

At this time I bid each of you a fond farewell…it has been nothing short of a wonderful journey.



Jody Broderick,

Office Manager

Pratt Pest Management NW

Dana’s Soap Box

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Cell phones, computers, robots, oh my! Had I been living in 1830, when Peter Cooper introduced the first locomotive, I would have been one of the skeptics who believed that technology would soon destroy civilization.  In 1981, my college roommate was playing with a crude personal computer he built from a kit that used a tape recorder for storing data. I thought it was silly and not worthy of my time.  In 1990, while attending a pest control convention, I chuckled at all my competitors running around with cell phones the size of bricks and I thought to myself, “Seriously?! Do these people really think they are that important?” 

I guess I’m slow to embrace new technology, but I eventually come around. Not necessarily because I want to, it’s more a necessity to stay competitive in the ever changing business climate.  Today, if you gave a twenty year-old new employee a paper form and a pen, they sort of look at you as if they were just time warped into the Middle Ages.   I wonder how long it will be until pest control technicians are all sitting at computers and directing nanorobots into customers’ homes in order to search and destroy carpenter ants and rats. Utilizing robots and drones to control vermin may be a decade or two away, but wireless devices that replace paper and pen is the technology of today and with some trepidation, it’s time for me to embrace it. However, don’t expect me to see me wearing Google goggles anytime soon!


Lawn and Tree Care

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Christies Lawn

Is your lawn full of moss and weeds? Do you wish you didn’t have bugs crawling all over you while you relaxed on the lawn in the summer? Call us today for a free evaluation of your lawn! Our service is all-inclusive features fertilization, insect and disease control, weed control, moss control, and more!

The Truth About Carpenter Ant Swarms

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Reproductive CAThe Pacific Northwest climate is well suited for carpenter ants.  It is not surprising that these wood nesting ants are the number one structural wood destroying insect pest in Washington State. 

So how concerned should home owners be when they see these large winged creatures each spring invading their property?

Mature carpenter ant colonies have a main nest and one or more associated satellite nests. Main nests can be found in living conifer trees, stumps, landscape timbers, firewood, and most any sizable wood debris in contact with the soil. Main nests need wood with a high moisture content to survive.  In contrast, Satellite nests can utilize dry wood such as the timbers of a structure. Most homes damaged by carpenter ants are a result of infestation by satellite nests.

Each spring, mature colonies send out thousands of new queen ants in swarms to establish new main nests.  These black swarming ants, sometimes one inch in length, are called reproductives; they fly short distances before losing their wings and begin wandering for new homes.  Only a small fraction of these winged reproductive ants survive to create new colonies. 

Since these budding queens need wood with high moisture content, most well-maintained homes due not fulfill the moisture needs and are therefore not capable of being a main nesting site.  In April and May, homeowners should not be overly alarmed when observing these large ants crawling in the landscape or occasionally in the house, especially if your home is routinely serviced for pest prevention.


In contrast, if you observe large numbers of winged ants clustering together inside your home or smaller, wingless black ants trailing in regular patterns inside or outside of your home, this may indicate an established carpenter ant satellite nest in the home, requiring an inspection by a qualified licensed pest management professional.

For those without regular pest control service, the month of May is an excellent time for an annual