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Warm weather breeds early bug bonanza

Posted: February 25, 2012 at 12:36 am

(USA TODAY) – One of the USA's warmest winters in years could lead to a bug bonanza over the next few weeks, with insects like beetles, ants, termites and wasps all coming out much earlier than average.

“Even things like mosquitoes might come out earlier,” says entomologist George Hamilton of Rutgers University, who says the pests typically don't come out until late April.

In some places, the onslaught has already begun: “We're seeing insects out there that we don't usually see this time of year,” says Missy Henriksen of the National Pest Management Association, who listed such annoyances as stink bugs and box elder bugs.

“Several states have even reported tick sightings, which is especially worrisome as people head outdoors to enjoy the weather and are unprepared for tick encounters,” she says.

The widespread warmth could have an impact on insects across much of the country, Hamilton says.

Several cities, including New York, Chicago and Washington, are on track to have one of their top 10 warmest winters on record, according to The Weather Channel.

The biggest impact isn't on the number of insects, Hamilton says, but on when we'll see the insects appearing.

“Many insects hibernate during the cold winter months, but as this winter has been anything but typical, they may be emerging from their hiding places much earlier than we expect,” Henriksen says.

Bugs survive the cold with strategies such as slowing down their metabolism and respiration. With the warmer temperatures, many are forced out of their hibernation-like states early in search of food.

One key for the insects is that if they come out early, the flowers and plants they feed on must also bloom equally early. “They have to be synchronized with what they're feeding upon,” reports entomologist David Denlinger of Ohio State University. Insects such as honeybees could die, he says, if the flowers aren't also out.

This isn't a concern for insects like mosquitoes that feed on human or animal blood. Along the Gulf Coast, for instance, the mild winter, combined with tropical storms last year, will likely lead to a banner year for mosquitoes.

A late-winter cold snap after the bugs have emerged could still have an impact: “Any dramatic changes in weather patterns could affect the insects' emergence and/or kill them,” Henriksen says.



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Eco Building Products Announces Additional Applicator in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

Posted: February 23, 2012 at 5:35 am

VISTA, Calif., Feb. 22, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Eco Building Products, Inc. (OTCBB: ECOB.OB – News) announced today the Company has shipped a tote of WoodSurfaceFilm™ Concentrate to the leading wood treatment company of the great lakes states area, Northern Crossarm Company. Formerly a Bluwood producer, Northern Crossarm sort after ECOB's Eco Blue Shield™ as the preferred product to produce and distribute into their long established customer base. Eco Blue Shield™ technology will offer Northern Crossarm customers the wood protection from Mold, Wood-Rot Decay and wood ingesting insects including Formosan Termites with plans to produce Eco Red Shield™ coatings in the future.

ECOB is excited to establish a relationship with a long standing wood treating company in the Midwestern territories.  Northern Crossarm location services the last gap in ECOB's ability to economically service every lumber yard in every state in the USA. Eco Red Shield extensive testing, market acceptance and quality control protocols coupled with Northern Crossarm extensive coating knowledge and machinery made for an easy transition to ECOB's product line.

“My company has been actively developing the topical coated wood market in the Midwest for several years. Currently we see the demand in this market segment gaining momentum towards the paradigm shift of all vertical framing members being protected. I reached out in the market with excellent feedback on ECOB's products coupled with competitive pricing and a real quality control program provides the best possible future for our clients,” said Pat Bischel, President of Northern Crossarm Company, Inc. “We look forward to being partnered with an established and dedicated organization like Eco Building Products,” added Bischel.

“I am very excited to create a partnership with Pat Bischel and his well-established wood treating company Northern Crossarm with another strategic location for Eco's complete supply chain from mill to all the markets. Our Eco product line will fit into Pat's current business model very nicely with great expectations for success of both companies,” stated Steve Conboy, President and CEO of Eco Building Products. “Now ECOB can reach all lumberyards with finished goods across America with competitive pricing as per my plan,” added Conboy.

About Northern Crossarm Company, Inc.
When Joseph Bischel founded Northern Crossarm Co. Inc. in 1922, it is doubtful he ever expected his company to grow from a one man Crossarm manufacturing firm into one of the leading wood treating companies in the Great Lake States area. Today Joe Bischel's company is owned and operated by Don, Pat, and Jim Bischel. With the help of their dedicated employees, the company is noted for its fine quality products like ACQ Preserve® treated lumber, and laminated columns. In addition to being known for its quality products, Northern Crossarm Co. Inc. is recognized as being very innovative. The company was first in the Midwest to introduce products like Ultrawood, ACQ Preserve® and Underdeck, setting the standard for quality and innovation. Being a leader in the industry has meant the company has had to provide services far superior to the competition. On-the-road company representatives, quick deliveries, and customer support have been a vital part of the company's success. Doing business in an eight state region requires close attention to customer needs and concerns. Those needs and concerns are the number one focus of everyone at Northern Crossarm Company.

About Eco Building Products, Inc.
Eco Building Products, Inc. is a manufacturer of proprietary wood products treated with an eco-friendly proprietary chemistry that protects against fire, mold/mycotoxins, fungus, rot-decay, wood ingesting insects and termites with ECOB WoodSurfaceFilm™ and FRC™ technology (Fire Retardant Coating). Eco Building products, “Eco Red Shield”, “Eco Blue Shield” & “Eco Clear Shield” utilizing patent pending technology is the ultimate in wood protection, preservation, and fire safety to building components constructed of wood; from joists, beams and paneling, to floors and ceilings.

Safe Harbor Statement: This press release may contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (the “Act”). In particular, when used in the preceding discussion, the words “believes,” “expects,” “intends,” “plans,” “anticipates,” or “may,” and similar conditional expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Act, and are subject to the safe harbor created by the Act. Any statements made in this news release other than those of historical fact, about an action, event or development, are forward-looking statements. Forward looking statements involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties, which may cause the Company's actual results in future periods to be materially different from any future performance that may be suggested in this release. ECOB takes no obligation to update or correct forward-looking statements, and also takes no obligation to update or correct information prepared by third parties.

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Eco Building Products, Inc.
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Economic use of termites, anyone?

Posted: at 5:35 am

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

THERE’S a group in Tabuk City, Kalinga who looks for termite mounds to demolish. They are not pest exterminators. On the contrary, instead of looking for the queen and king of the termites to kill them and in effect, put an end to the colony, these men are careful not to harm the royalty of the mound. They dig carefully and upon finding the queen and king, they hide them in the diswemboweled mound so that they could pick up the pieces of the life of the colony again.

Johnny Langnga, the leader of the diggers, along with his wife Anastacia, are listed in the patent issued by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for a one-burner and a two-burner stoves molded from termite mound clay mixed with rice hulls. Also included in the patent are couple Alexander and Raquel Dulliyao, Edna Yumol, Norfredo Dulay and Rumualdo Wacas. Raquel, Yumol, Dulay and Wacas are all academic personnel of the Kalinga-Apayao State College in the city while Alexander is in charge of the livelihood section of the office of Congressman Manuel Agyao.

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Racquel Dulliyao said that the patent are for the utility models and industrial designs of both the stoves . She explained that while the certificate has not yet been issued pending the six-months publication of the patent application and a grace period of two months more, the stoves have already been given registry numbers which means that there were no products with the same specifications based on records of the IPO and that the office will no longer accept products with the same specifications.

Racquel claimed that among other advantages, the stoves are environmentally-friendly due to their marked efficiency in the use of wooden fuel and their minimal smoke emission. They claim that two 3-inch diameter and 18 inches long firewood could cook rice and viand which they say can be done because almost all the energy contained in the wood is converted to heat through the stove’s perfect combustion capability. She said that this is a score for the environment because it slows down the cutting down of trees for fuel.

“Compared to other kinds of stoves which makes use of wood, the ashes left from the burning is very minimal. The efficient use of the fuel through the principle of aerodynamics is also the reason why the stove has minimal smoke and is virtually soot-free. There is no need to clean the outside of cooking pots and you can cook inside the house without fear of the walls and ceiling being blackened with soot,” Racquel said.

This writer found that these claims of the originators of the stoves approximate reality when he witnessed Carlito Laurean, director of the Highland Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Consortium, heat some water in his single-burner termite clay stove installed in his garage. Except for the minimal soot on the inside surface of the hat of the chimney, there was no evidence of soot on the wall a foot away from the stove. There is a little soot on one side of the stainless vessel he uses to heat the water but, according to Laurean, that is only because the pothole of the stove does not exactly fit the bottom of the vessel allowing some fire to come through. He claimed he has not washed the vessel since he started using the stove in September of last year.

“I grew up with the conventional wood stove and the termine stove is great advancement. Cooking is convenient as there is no need to blow into the coals to get the fire going again. The moment the wood burns, it keeps burning until the fuel burns out. You cannot feel the heat as it contained inside the stove. There is no soot. The little smoke it emits all pass through the chimney so that surfaces near the cooking area are not blackened. It is more economic in fuel compared the conventional stove,” Laurean, who was instrumental in the sale of three units to his relatives in Pangasinan, and several more to other acquaintences, said.

Rosely Garin, an officemate of Laurean who bought a single burner after she heard of the good performance of the stove of Laurean, said that during weekends when the family has time to spare, they no longer use their LPG stove.

The Dulliyaos believe that just like Laurean and Garin, all their customers numbering more than a 100 since the group started producing in February 2011 are content with the performance of the product since they have not yet receive any complaints. They claim that what is coming in are orders from in and outside the province particularly Baguio City and that their production cannot cope with the demand.

At the moment, Langnga and his three sons and two nephews, are producing at the rate of six double-burners a day. However, work at the 600 square meters-space production area which is a part of an old idle building inside the National Irrigation Administration compound in barangay Bulanao here has stopped because the floor space can no longer accommodate more stoves for curing. Presently, 60 two-burner stoves in different stages of curing lie on the floor and while waiting for them to be shipped to the waiting buyers, the Langngas spend their time experimenting with new designs one of which they claim could cook faster than an LPG stove and of course, raiding termite mound for their special molding material.

The Langngas say that termite mounds are vastly superior to other clay because they are pure and contain no pebbles and sand and is also more malleable. The Dulliyaos fully agree with the conclusion that termite mound is just right for stove purposes and could explain why. After months of research in government and private institutions early last year, Raquel and her fellow academicians in the group found the scientific explanation to the idealness of termite mounds for stove construction. Subjecting the soil to the processo of X-ray diffraction, they discovered that the material contains the minerals plagioclase, quartz, mica and amphibole which properties account for the strength, special hardness, durability, elasticity and heat-holding and withstanding capacity of the stoves.

Raquel also told this writer that when scientifically analyzed with clay soil from Iguig town in Cagayan, which is famous for its thriving pottery industry, it was established that the termite mound could still be malleable at 16 percent moisture content while the latter material has an elastic limit at 21.6 percent moisture content which means beyond that point, it already crumbles.

The patentees admit that making use of termite mound which by the way is not only associated with the insidious destruction of wooden structures but likewise with some native superstitions is not their discovery.

Neither is the design of the stove. According to Langnga, he was introduced to the particular stove technology during a serminar sponsored by the Mandiga Ob-obbo, a local non-government organization, sometime in the late 90s. Their teacher who was from Pangasinan had told them that the idea of using termite mound as a construction material was discovered in India where they made bricks out of it. Langnga though could not remember the teacher mentioning the source of the design.

With the intention of mass producing the stoves, the Langngas, together with some fellow residents of Magaogao, Pinukpuk, Kalinga, formed the Kalinga Clay Molders Association. However, the other members were soon discouraged and stopped production because it was hard to sell the stoves due to so many defects foremost of which is the erosion of the rims of the potholes and the wrong trajectory of the heat.

“I did not give up because I felt that there is something in the stove. I soon found the solution to the erosion of the rims of the pot and fire holes and was able to sell some of my output. Due to our limited resources, however, my family did not have the capacity to produce commercially. So we decided to ask assistance from Congressman Agyao in 2010,” Langnga said.

Thus entered Alexander into the scene. He related that when he first saw the stoves of the Langngas, he became interested right away because he himself has been experimenting with stoves using concrete materials to answer the complaints of the women of their church assigned to cook during occasions. The initial agreement was for the Langngas to produce some units for display during the Ullalim Festival in February 2011 which they complied with.

“We were astounded because we received 60 orders during the fair. This prompted us (office of Agyao) to assist them by giving them a grinding machine to facilitate the pounding of the termite earth into powder and some small implements. We also arranged for the renting of the NIA building as shop,” Alexander said.

At around this point and through the facilitation of Alexander, the project tapped the services of the KASC Institute of Business Administration and Entrepreneurship research arm headed by Raquel.

The researchers zeroed in on product research, development and commercialization. The collaboration of the Langngas, the office of the Agyao and KASC IBAE research soon led to improvements in the design of the product.

With Alexander’s research on the aerodynamics, the humps of the stoves were reangled maximizing efficiency. The tilted chimney was made vertical for easier positioning of the stove. Consciousness for aesthetics was also introduced into the production process with the usage of rivets to form GI sheets into chimney pipes. Earlier, the pipes were held in place by wire wound around them.

And the KASC personnel in the team also sought scientific explanations as to how come termite earth is perfect for the stove and also how come the stove is more efficient that the convention stove. This paved the way for the patenting of the product and likewise the entry of the stove in the 2011 Invention Contest cum Exhibit staged by the Department of Science and Technology on September 27-29, 2011 at the Benguet State University in La Trinidad, Benguet. They won the contest entitling them to move on to the national level of the search to be held sometime in July.

Their initial success in the market is just the beginning as the team plans to expand their production which then gives rise to the question of availability of material. Alexander estimates that if the rate of production reaches 200 double burners a month, they would need from 150-200 termite mounds a month. He concludes that up to that point, there is still enough material resource in the province. In anticipation of the production outstripping the source of the termite earth, however, the Dulliyaos are now mulling the possible establishment of a termite mound garden somewhere in the city.

The Dulliyaos say there is so much to be done just like experimenting with a model that will use rice hull to take advantage of the abundance of the material in this farming locality. At any rate and even with the contestability still to officially lapse this April at the latest, the patentees glory in the fact that they have raised the industrial applicability of the termite mound stove concept to a level when it is being recognized by concerned government bodies and more importantly, being appreciated by users. They are proud that they can lay claim to producing something useful from the mound which is detested and dreaded the world over for its inhabitants’ unmitigated hostility to wooden human structures.

By the way, the single burner costs P2,000.00 while the two-burner is priced at P2,500.00 both exclusive of freight. The price may look relatively expensive compared to convential stoves but through time, the amount could be offset through savings in fuel. Furthermore, it is hard to place a price tag on the cooking and cleaning convenience. People with termite colonies in their lots could reduce the price by around P300.00 by the selling the mound to Langnga and his boys. According to Langnga, an average mound be made into two two-burner stoves with the raw material per unit costing an average of P150.00.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on February 23, 2012.

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DIY drywood-termite control works with Greenbug

Posted: February 22, 2012 at 10:49 am

Q: Is it possible to treat for drywood termites ourselves without using an exterminator? It is very expensive to fumigate or use orange oil.

G.O., San Diego

A: People frequently ask me if they can do their own drywood termite control. I have always told them no, it would be better to call a professional in. However, I have changed my mind on this. While a professional termite treatment by a reputable company is a good thing, particularly if you are buying or selling a home, it is possible to treat your home yourself without using a pest control company or toxic pesticides.

All you need for drywood termite control is a bottle of Greenbug for Indoors. I have recommended Greenbug for many other pests in the column, and it will work for drywood termites as well. I have successfully used it here in New Mexico for drywood control. It won't work for subterranean termites, as you will never be able to find the main colony deep in the ground. You will have to hire a professional to use Altriset or Termidor for them.

Drywood termites do not need soil contact. They live in dry, sound wood, usually near the surface. They get what moisture they require from the wood they feed on and from the water formed during digestion of that wood. Drywood swarmers generally enter your home at night through unscreened attic or foundation vents or through cracks and crevices between exposed wood. They are most commonly recognized by their distinctive fecal pellets that are often the color of the wood they are feeding upon. The fecal pellets are kicked out of the wood by the nymphs (workers) through “kickout holes” that are visible.

If the termite damage is visible on the wood, soak the area with Greenbug for Indoors and put some paper towels over it and tape them down. In some cases you may have to drill small holes in the wood to inject the Greenbug. Greenbug is just as effective as XT-2000 orange oil and you can do it yourself. It is EPA 25 (b) exempt and approved by the Food and Drug Administration so you don't need an applicator license to use it. Greenbug for Indoors is available at

Q: We seem to have paper wasps living in the walls of our home, because the wasps show up inside our home near two windows. It has been going on for about five years, with more wasps appearing inside each year. They also can be seen outside, flying under our roof shingles. What is the best and safest way to get their nests out of the walls?

R.F., Benicia

A: Paper wasps will frequently enter homes in the fall to overwinter. Most of the wasps will die, but the queen will survive, and she will start a new colony. If they are left alone, the colony may get bigger. If you have to get them out of your house, you should probably call a professional. I always recommend using a professional when potentially dangerous insects are involved. Paper wasps are not at all aggressive, but they will defend themselves, and some people are allergic to the venom in the sting. Call someone who can come out and find the nest and dispose of it for you.

My e-book, “The Bugman's Bug Book,” is now available on my website at It will help you control most household pests without using toxic pesticides.

This article appeared on page E – 6 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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When to Request a Termite Inspection – Orkin Pest Control – Video

Posted: at 2:08 am

01-03-2010 13:12 Termites cost Americans billions of dollars each year. This number can be greatly reduced by requesting regular termite inspections by a trained expert. http Contact your local Orkin Man for a free inspection. – Orkin Pest Control

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Five Kinds of Fungus Discovered to Be Capable of Farming Animals!

Posted: February 20, 2012 at 7:20 pm

This article is the fifth (see the first, second, third and fourth articles here) in a miniseries of six articles that will be posted over six days about civilization, fungus, and alcohol.

They found themselves, like any first creatures, lost. Without means, they were unable to survive by anything other than what was in the immediate surroundings. They ate what grew. They planted nothing. They never left home. There were many dire moments, until they found the animals. The first time would have been accidental. A young one caught an animal and rode it out somewhere, the way a storybook character might ride a boat down the river and out to sea.

With time though, they learned more tricks. They waited where the animals came to feed. They found them where they slept. Soon they were riding them all the time, clinging to their dark bodies as they darted here and there into the unknown. Good luck took them to more food. Bad luck killed them. Time, birth and death made good luck more common.

Over years, they reined their new beasts in until, as is the case today, the steeds go out and gather food and bring it back. The fungi grow and wait. They have become fat kings whose success can be measured by the number of their beasts. And they are not few. These protagonists, each one a fungal herders, have evolved multiple times. They are exotic, and yet in some contexts, far closer to home than you might believe.

1-The Tree Eaters We can start with the tree eaters. The problem facing tree-eating fungi, like any gatherers, is not the amount of food. The problem is finding the food, being where it is at the right moment. This problem is made worse by the absence of legs. A fungus can grow toward food, of course, or toss its spores up into the wind. But one can grow only so fast and the wind is fickle and mean-spirited. The trick, if you want to know, is to find an animal that will carry you to the next dead thing. It needs to be quick and it is best if it is going where you would like to go. As a fungus, you want to arrive before the godforsaken bacteria can begin to divide. Bacteria can turn a good piece of wood terrible faster than you would imagine, at least from the perspective of fungus.

The ambrosia fungi have evolved the ability to get beetles carry them from one piece of dead wood to another. Many different fungi ride many different beetles. Outside your house there is a veritable mid-air highway of fungal horseman heading out to new lands. But the ambrosia fungi have bent the beetles to their needs more than have other fungi. The beetles, in turn, cautious of their riders demanding riders, have evolved saddle-like pouches in which to carry the fungus and feed them during the ride. And once the beetles have reached their destination, they put the fungus in a safe place (with few other fungi and bacteria to compete with) and get to work reproducing, in order to make more beetles, in order to carry the demanding fungus to even more dead trees. By riding beetles, ambrosia fungi have colonized most of the world, in some cases traveling from one continent by taking advantage of the beetles who, in turn, take advantage of us. We, accidentally, move these beetles around in dead wood and in doing so extend their fungus s domain1.

These fungi, these beetle tamers, make use of no fewer than five different lineages of beetles, each of which has evolved special attributes to assure the fungi s success.

Coptodryas pubifer gallery Borneo

[Image 1. The ambrosia fungus s beetles (Coptodryas pubifer) caring for them in the fungal nest. Photo by Jiri Hulcr.]

2-The Leaf-Eaters Leaf-eating fungi face a problem different from those who eat dead trees. Leaf-feeding fungi have food everywhere, but growing the long distances necessary to colonize it is costly, especially in dry lands. It requires miles of dangerous ground to be crossed. Life would be so much easier, if the leaves were gathered, brought to a single place. Fungi love a leaf pile. In New England, fungi are rewarded each fall by busy parents and children who gather leaves. Elsewhere though, these same clans of fungi have tamed termites.

Ghana termites fungus

[Image 2. The fungi that tamed termites. Photo by Piotr Naskrecki.]

Across Africa, fungi live in giant nests built for them by termites. They have for at least twenty million years. The termites travel hundreds of meters and sometimes kilometers to bring the fungi leaves, which they also bite into small, easy to digest pieces deposited in the form of fecal pellets on the fungus2. If the fungi who tend beetles are like nomads with their goats, the fungi who farm termites are more like Midwestern dairy farmers, who send their cows out to pasture and then milk them at the barn. The termites don t produce milk, but they do produce pre-digested leaves, which to the fungus are, if not visually appealing (the fungi do not have eyes), wonderful. These fungi have become enormously successful and termites build palatial homes for them all over Africa3.


[Image 3: Leaf-eating fungi and the nest termites have built for them, photo from…

3-The Green Eaters More successful even than the beetle riders or the dead leaf eaters are the eaters of living leaves. Instead of farming termites, these fungi farm ants. These fungi began to take advantage of ants more than forty million years ago. Once, these fungi relied on insect parts and other dead animals gathered by their ants. Some still do. But for others, their demands became greater and more elaborate. For these latter fungi, the ants now gather, on their behalf, bits of flowers and leaves. It is a dangerous job, but, to the fungus, the ants are expendable. The leaves are brought back with care and then fed to the fungus. The ants also produce compounds that help to kill other pathogenic fungi around the fungus (and may even farm antibiotic producing bacteria that help in this same job). The fungus, in other words, makes the ants do weeding4. This fungus has spread throughout the Americas. On the backs of ants, it has been very successful. In some cases, the nests of this fungus can include millions of ants, all working on the fungus s behalf. Many different species of ants are now farmed by the descendents of the first fungus to be farmed by ants, each with its own small (or large) farm. The ants like many domesticated beasts, have become totally dependent on their fungi and cannot live without them. In order to colonize new habitats, the fungi rides the ants to new places, in a specialized pocket, in their tiny, mouths.


[Image 4. The nest of the leaf-fungus in which ants (Atta cephalotes) tend to its needs. Photo by Alex Wild.]

4-Egg Fungi In an early piece in this series, I have already described the fungi that mimic termite eggs. These fungi have convinced termites to care for them and bring them to food. These fungi offer little in return, but succeed because their termites seem to have never really figured things out. These fungi have not yet taken over their termites, not totally, and yet they offer a measure of just how simply animals can be tricked. In the end, this is a key piece of the story of fungi and animals. In order to farm animals, fungi must offer them rewards, whether real or perceived (It is better, in the case of the fungi, if they are only perceived.). Rewards keep the animals doing the long hours of work their fungi require.

5-The Fungi that Tamed Humans One clan of fungi has evolved the ability to control humans. Once these fungi were relatively uncommon. They floated in the air and landed where they could, to eat what they might. But then at least some of them figured out the weakness of humans, alcohol. Humans would work in order to get alcohol. In this way, the humans were better for the fungus than were the beetles, termites or ants. The humans carried fungus from place to place. They had ceremonies in which they celebrated their fungus. They poured libation to the fungus. They also fed them, endlessly, no matter the cost. The termites gathered dead leaves. The ants gathered live leaves. But it was only the humans who went out and planted fields just to make food to feed their fungus (While many animals farm, we appear to be the only species to farm plants) whereas the fungi rewarded beetles, termites and ants with valuable food (essentially, part of their body) the humans asked for nothing. All they claimed was waste, an alcohol. The humans asked for even less than the termites tricked by the pretend termite eggs. All the humans ever wanted was what the fungus would never ever need. These humans are, of course, you and me and this fungus is our yeast6.


We tend to view the evolutionary stories of animals and fungi from the perspective of the animals. We are animals. We relate to the animals. But the animals have been the ones more constrained by the origins of agriculture than have been the fungi. As Uhlrich Mueller and colleagues put it in a recent review of agriculture in insects,

Interestingly, there are no known cases of reversal from agricultural to nonagricultural life in any of the nine agricultural insect lineages , suggesting that the transition to [farming fungus] is a drastic and possibly irreversible change that greatly constrains subsequent evolution.

One might extend this statement to humans. No major societies seem to have abandoned the farming of yeast. But the fungi have, in many cases, abandoned their animals. They use, but do not always require the species of animals they interact with. Does this suggest the animals have been farmed to a greater extent than the fungi? Maybe. Maybe not. In the stories of animals and fungi, it is never very clear who is winning or who is farming who. This is the nature of evolutionary partnerships between species. With very few exceptions, there are no true partnerships, there are just relationships in which the best interests of species coincide more or coincide less. When both species benefit, it is a mutualism. When one benefits but the other bears no cost, it is a commensalism. When one benefits and the other loses, it is parasitism. If humans and yeast both benefit from the production of beer, wine, and the like, they will both go on, the yeast farming the humans and, from the human perspective, the humans farming the yeast. But it is in the best interest of the humans to cheat the yeast, just as it has long been in the best interest of the fungi to cheat the humans.

In the first article in this series, I considered the possibility that human agriculture began because we needed crops in order to brew beer, which is to say, in order to feed our yeast. Maybe it was reasonable to begin farming in order to feed our yeast, because making beer helped us to survive. But don t think for a second that the yeast wasn t trying to cheat us the whole time. It didn t do it consciously of course. Yeast have no brain, but yeast evolve quickly, perhaps as quickly as human culture can change and so the non-exclusive possibility is that, if we did begin to farm in the first place, in part to make beer, that we did it because the yeast tricked us into doing so, taking advantage of our the weakness of our minds to alcohol. Termites are unable to tell a ball of fungus from their own children. We are unable to tell what is good for us apart from what feels good to us. Drinking beer, for example, is good for the fungus, yeast, many beers after the societal good is gone. For now, the yeast seems to have gotten more out of society than we have gathered from it and so in the final chapter of this series, I will consider the story of humanity from the perspective of the more successful species, the yeast.

Continue reading (tomorrow)

Table of evolutionary contents: Here you can skip ahead or backward to the other chapters in the story of the other species in our daily lives, whether they bethe cow, the chicken, the hamster, bacteria (on Lady Gaga, on feet, in bathrooms,as influenced by antimicrobial wipes, as probiotics, in the appendix), pigeons and urban gardens, house sparrows (to be published next week, stay tuned), predators,diseases, dust mites, basement dwellers, lice, field mice, viruses, yeast, the fungus that produces penicillin, bedbugs, houseflies, or something more.

Or for the big picture of how Rob thinks these stories come together to make us who and who we are, check out The Wild Life of Our Bodies. Rob Dunn is a writer and evolutionary biologist in the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University. Find him on twitter at robrdunn. Find him in person somewhere in Europe with his family while they are all on sabbatical.

Scientific Endnotes

1-Check out a great story and slideshow of/about these beetles with more photos by Jiri Hulcr.

2-One is tempted to see this as a sort of protest against the fungus, but it is not. The feces is rich in the nutrients the fungus needs.

3 More than three hundred species of termites of the Macrotermitinae are farmed by fungi of the genus Termitomyces. Also, here I want to take a moment to apologize. In contrast to what I have said elsewhere, termite biologists are likeable, interesting people. I swear. I really mean it. I do. I hope I m not protesting too much.

4-Which is incomplete. The ants weed pathogens of the fungi, but do not tend to weed out different cultivars of fungi, such that in a given nest two or more fungal species (or at least cultivars ) might be fighting for the rights to the ants.

5-Yeasts, although we don t tend to think of them as such, are single-celled fungi. They are the rot in your beer and wine, but also in your bread and many other foods.

6-Interestingly, one of the differences between agriculture between fungi and insects and that between our crops and us is that we do not tend to sequester our crops in our cities away from their competition. This is true for our crops like wheat, but, interesting, it is not true of our fungus. We do sequester yeast. With the exception of minor uses, like some homemade breads, yeast is nearly always kept in doors and attempts are made, even within that environment, to exclude other species. We are even more like the ants, beetles and termites than we sometimes seem.


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By looking carefully, Japanese scientist discovers the secrets of termite balls

Posted: February 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm

This article is the fourth (see the first, second and third articles here) in a miniseries of six articles (yes, I added one) that will be posted over six days about civilization, fungus, and alcohol. The first four articles are already determined, but just how this series finishes up will be chosen by the comments and ideas of readers.

Several years ago my friend Kenji Matsuura discovered termites have balls. It took careful inspection, but they were there. Now, along with his student, he has published a new study revealing more of the story of said balls.

I should explain. What Kenji discovered were tiny, hard, round, egg-shaped fungal structures inside termite nests. The fungi were there, he revealed, to steal rotting food from the termites. They did so by mimicking the eggs of the termites (which involved producing hardened sclerotia composed of fungal hyphae)1. They were the exact width and even firmness of termite eggs, just, in other words, like mother makes. They also produced a chemical the termites use to recognize the eggs, lysozyme. This subterfuge is elegant and, although only recently discovered, it turns out, common. It occurs, for example, in termite species in United States such as Reticulitermes virginicus. Kenji traveled to the U.S. to discover termite balls here, on our behalves, which is to say that we have become a country that cannot find its own, well, I digress

New Discovery–These balls were named by Kenji because of their physical resemblance to, say, soccer balls or basketballs. Kenji has come to see these egg-shaped fungal structures as a great mystery in need of explanation and so has dedicated much of the last ten years to their study. He may well be involved in every study of termite balls ever published. Now, Kenji, in a paper led by his student Toshi Yashiro like Kenji a very clever young scientist (though a terrible driver) reports on new details of the relationship between the termites and these fungal cheats.


[Image 1: Termite eggs (long, translucent shapes) and their mimics, termite balls in a species of Reticulitermes termites. Photo: Current Biology. Volume 19, January 2009, Pages 30-36.]

Yashiro, Matsurra and one of Matsurra s postdocs, Tanaka, studied termite balls all over Japan as well as in the United States. They lifted termites carefully and looked all through their nests. They became, as they searched, experts in this quarry. They then came back to the lab and compared the versions of the genes of the termite balls (all species of the fungus genus Fibularhizoctonia) in different termite nests. What they might have expected to find is different fungus species in each termite species, at least if specific adaptations were required to deal with the unique chemistry of different termites. Instead, what they found, put simply, was different termite species had different termite ball species and individual nests often had more than one species of termite ball dependent upon them.

Termites are Easy–It seems as though many different fungi can trick many different termite species, using lysozyme (Matsuura can paint the lysozyme on glass beads and the termites will care for them too). That, along with a vague resemblance to an egg is enough. The termites are easy. It is a small wonder more species don t trick them. They remind me of humans.

Once in the termite nest, the fungi have it made. The termites take care of them as if they were their own real eggs. They clean them (see movie here). They move them to the best spots. They are other the best hosts in the world or the worst parents. In some nests, more of the eggs being cared for in the nest are termite balls than are actual eggs. Based in part on Yashiro’s new work, these fungi appear to be able to get nest to nest and even reproduce on their own outside nests, but they like the free ride they can get inside a nest. Its cheap and easy living when the world outside is rough.

From a distance, it seems clear, the termites are being had, but measuring who is winning and who is losing is complex. When Matsuura compared the fitness of termite eggs in nests with termite balls to those without, the termite eggs actually do as well when the termite balls are present. But there must be a cost to workers of tending so many extra “eggs.” Maybe there is also a benefit. Maybe this Trojan ball had a silver lining. Perhaps compounds produced by the fungus work as an antibiotic and, in doing so, help the young termites to stay pathogen free. The termites may benefit from being duped, but the benefit seems incidental, not a reason to let the fungus in, but perhaps the reason stronger defenses against the fungus never evolved.

Matsuura has big ideas for what is next. He would like to try to take advantage of the termite s graciousness (or lack of guile) to kill them. As Matsuura put it in a recent paper, “Dummy eggs filled with pesticides could be introduced into the royal centre of a colony, destroying the entire colony with only a small amount of pesticide.” The truth is, Matsuura doesn t really want to kill termites. He really likes them, but other people do and those people like to fund research or build wooden houses.

In and of itself, this story is fascinating, a rich detail of the natural world that would be inconceivable had evolution not already conceived it. But, in the context of the story of humans and alcohol this story seems like something a little more.

If the termites were to tell their own story, much as we tell our own story when we write about alcohol, what would they say? They might describe the day they brought in the termite balls into their nests as a noble and useful one, a day in which they figured out how to harness fungi in order to control pathogens, much in the way in the last article I described the benefits of alcohol. But it seems clear enough the termites are being tricked.

What if yeast, that fungus that makes our beer, wine, bread and more, is tricking us? What if, in looking to the yeast, we are able to convince ourselves of its benefits, but from the yeasts perspective, we are just another dumb termite? After in, don’t we bring it in out the wild, make sure it is safe and fed and help it from one food source to the next, always sure to keep it neither too hot or too cold. What if that is the story of alcohol, fungus and civilization, a story in which we feel good about ourselves but are not really in control?


[Image 2: Drawing of a termite of a species of Nasutitermes. The soldiers of these termites have long “nose-cannons” out of which they expel turpentine-like compounds in defense. They also have the biggest balls.]

The Other Ball Drops–Recently, Matsuura and Yashiro made one more discovery. In studying a tropical termite of the genus Nasutitermes they found giant termite balls. These giant termite balls were totally unrelated to normal termite balls. They had evolved independently to take advantage of the termites predictable weakness.


[Image 3: Nasutitermes, photo by Alex Wild]

The giant termite balls are, as their name suggests, larger than the normal termite balls, probably because the eggs of Nasutitermes species are larger than those of Reticulitermes termites and so the fungus must follow suit. These larger balls beg the question. They beg the question of what our predictable weakness is, if we have one. In the context of the beer, wine and wine made by our yeast, the answer that seems most obvious is that our predictable weakness is we like to drink. Maybe yeast first prospered by sneaking into our societies in the guise of a Trojan beer. That we wanted to get drunk and kill pathogens meant we let down our guard and now, for as long as our weakness remains alcohol, they are in.


[Image 4: Termite balls, photo by Alex Wild]

Tomorrow, I will return to this possibility, in light of the kingdoms of the ants, kingdoms whose relationship with fungi seems even more like ours.


Table of evolutionary contents: Here you can skip ahead or backward to the other chapters in the story of the other species in our daily lives, whether they bethe cow, the chicken, the hamster, bacteria (on Lady Gaga, on feet, in bathrooms,as influenced by antimicrobial wipes, as probiotics, in the appendix), pigeons and urban gardens, house sparrows (to be published next week, stay tuned), predators,diseases, dust mites, basement dwellers, lice, field mice, viruses, yeast, the fungus that produces penicillin, bedbugs, houseflies, or something more.

Or for the big picture of how Rob thinks these stories come together to make us who and who we are, check out The Wild Life of Our Bodies. Rob Dunn is a writer and evolutionary biologist in the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University. Find him on twitter at robrdunn. Find him in person somewhere in Europe with his family while they are all on sabbatical.

1-Matsuura K., Tanaka C. and Nishida T. 2000. Symbiosis of a termite and a sclerotium-forming fungus: sclerotia mimic termite eggs. Ecol. Res. 15: 405-414

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Local home and garden news for Feb. 18

Posted: at 3:05 pm

Herb society meeting to feature allspice

The Seaside Herb Society will meet at 9:30 a.m. today at the Riverbridge Meeting House at the west end of the Granada Bridge, Granada Boulevard and North Beach Street, Ormond Beach.

Members and guests will be treated to a cooking demonstration using herbs as the featured ingredient. Allspice will be the “herb of the month.”

The Seaside Herb Society is seeking new members. Cost to join is $25 plus other requirements such as attending monthly meetings and participating in the club's activities.

For information, call Denny Lee Snyder, 443-497-0044.

How to fight termites, landscape problems

David Griffis, director of the University of Florida/Volusia County Extension, will address termites and common landscape problems during free programs Tuesday at the DeLand Regional Library, 130 E. Howry Ave., DeLand.

Sessions include:

– 1-1:45 p.m.: “Why does my landscape look so bad?” Griffis will discuss landscape problems in West Volusia and answer questions.

– 2-2:45 p.m.: “Are termites eating my home?” Termites may be lurking in and around your home. Discover what you can do to reduce your risk of becoming a termite target.

Reservations are not required. For information, call 386-822-5778.


Learn about early Florida explorers

“Early Florida Explorers” will be presented by Paul Rebmann at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Grace Lutheran Church, 338 Ocean Shore Blvd., Ormond Beach.

The Florida Native Plant Society Pawpaw Chapter presentation will be a look at what some early Florida naturalists and botanists found when they explored. Some of these discoveries, especially the plants, are named after these people.

Rebmann is a longtime member and past president of the chapter. A Florida master naturalist, he is an award-winning nature photographer capturing images and scenes throughout Florida.

For information, call Kevin Bagwell, 386-212-9923.

Professional organizer offers free workshops

Do you want to get more organized, but don't know where to start? Professional organizer Ingrid Timbs will lead two free workshops at the DeLand Regional Library to help you take control and cut the clutter.

During “Piles and Files” at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Timbs will focus on organizing paperwork, including mail, magazines, catalogs and personal records.

“Understanding Chronic Disorganization” is at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 29 and will show how being organized helps you direct your day, instead of your day directing you with constant distractions.

The library is at 130 E. Howry Ave., DeLand. Reservations are not required. For information, call Susan Fichter, 386-822-6430, ext. 109, or visit

Discussion will center on bromeliad basics

The Bromeliad Society presents “The ABCs of Bromeliads – an introduction to bromeliads,” from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday at the Port Orange Regional Library, 1005 City Center Circle, Port Orange. Plants representative of the major families of bromeliads will be on display and a description of their distinguishing features as well as tips on successful care and propagation will be discussed. For information, call 386-322-5152.

Send news of home and garden events to Home & Garden Editor, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, P.O. Box 2831, Daytona Beach, FL 32120-2831, or email to

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Mohney: Don't let mental termites attack

Posted: at 3:05 pm

My friend and her family live in an old but large and beautiful home. In the process of having the house painted, they discovered it was being destroyed by termites — small and mostly out-of-sight creatures that worked without ceasing.

In a similar way, people often go through the crises of life with flying colors. They take time to mourn the traumas and tragedies. Yet, those same people are often being destroyed by the mental termites of negativism, fear, worry, anger and resentment. During the next few weeks, we'll look at some of these.

One of the most common is negativism. That isn't hard to understand since we are bombarded with news of violence. If we choose to fill our minds with this, we will be inundated by negativism. We will become pessimistic, unhappy people.

Several years ago, I was speaking to the Junior League of Richmond, Va. The mother of one of the members asked me if I would stay over and speak to senior adults at her church. The following day as I entered the meeting room, I was amazed at the obvious vitality and energy, especially when the hostess told me that the average age of those present was 86.

Seated by a woman in her early 80s, I said, “I like your new church. It's so beautiful.” Without so much as a smile, she replied curtly, “It's too big; it cost too much money; I wasn't in favor of building it.” Realizing I needed a new approach, I thought the weather would be safe, so I said, “Haven't we been having lovely weather this week?” Still without a smile, she said, “Yes, but it snowed six times this year.” Subsequently, every time I said anything, she said, “Yes, but …”

Finally, my hostess rescued me, saying, “I sat you down by Mrs. Jones because she's so negative that I thought you might help her.” Wearily, I replied, “If you'd left me by her five more minutes, I couldn't have spoken.” Negative people infect others with their heavy gloom.

What about you? Is there anyone who hopes they don't see you until after they have had a strong cup of coffee? Negativism is usually a thought pattern that has become habitual. Maybe you were reared in an environment where you were negatively conditioned by authority figures. You can, however, interrupt the pattern. It will take time and effort and prayers. Remember that whatever you are now, you will become more so as you get older unless you change the pattern.

If you are a bore at 20, you will be an impossible bore at 50; if you are stingy at 18, you will be a terrible tightwad at 80. When speaking to a mixed audience, I often say, “Women, there is nothing worse than an old woman who is mean, petty, whining and complaining unless it's an old man who is mean, petty, whining and complaining. Both are the crowning work of the devil!” It's time to change the pattern.

Nell Mohney is a Christian author, motivational speaker and seminar leader. She may be reached at

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Slidell-based Epworth Project volunteers still hammering away at devastation in the area

Posted: February 17, 2012 at 7:43 pm

There is no shortage of need for reconstruction assistance six years after Hurricane Katrina, said the leader of the Epworth Project, a nonprofit group working to make a difference in the lives of people affected by natural disasters and personal challenges.

“We are still working on Hurricane Katrina rebuilding projects. We have also recognized the need to help people affected by other natural disasters like tornadoes, fires or because they have health issues that make it difficult to manage the project themselves,” said Executive Director Dale Kimball of Slidell.

The Epworth Project, a self-supporting nonprofit community group, was born last year when the Louisiana Methodist Conference moved its disaster recovery support from the area to address needs in other parts of the country. The Slidell program is the faith-based arm of Northshore Disaster Recovery, Inc.

In 2011, volunteers from the Epworth Project helped in the aftermath of the tornado touchdown in the Bush area, along with hurricane-related rebuilds.

“About 70 percent of our projects last year were still Katrina-related. The other 30 percent involved tornado damage here and in Alabama, as well as social need-based projects,” Kimball said.

The management team at the organization receives daily requests for help. The criteria for the acceptance is broad, with each case reviewed individually.

“We look at the vulnerability of the client, and that is our key guide. Are they elderly or have health issues that make it difficult to understand, afford or manage a reconstruction project? Or maybe there are small children involved, and there is a special need. We consider all these things before accepting a project,” he said.

The center’s team has a good relationship with the Slidell Police Department and fire districts and the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office. They call the Epworth Project’s staff when they see a concern that needs to be address. When a request for help is received, a four-person team is involved in the evaluation of all projects, Kimball said.

“I, or our project manager, Ken Ward, will meet with the homeowner and decide on the feasibility of the request. If we feel we can do the work, then our case manager Susan Arnold meets with the client to get more information on that person’s situation. Then the three of us, along with our financial manager, Cynthia White, and our volunteer coordinator, Danielle Fleming, sit down and see whether we have all the resources, financial and manpower, to get the job done,” said Kimball.

At that table, Kimball said at least one person plays the devil’s advocate to make sure the job fits the scope of the program’s parameters. After they reach this point, he said, approximately 90 percent of requests received are accepted into the program.

“It comes down to the human issue. Is there a genuine need, and if so, can we do the work? If we can, we need to make it happen,” Kimball said.

The Epworth Project has approximately 50 projects in progress and another 75 or so currently on its waiting list. In 2011, volunteers helped reconstruct approximately 90 homes, with about 50 of them in greater New Orleans, and the remaining ones on the north shore and as far away as Alabama. This included work on homes also damaged by fire, tornadoes and termites.

“One duplex in New Orleans involving multiple families turned out to be a total rebuild,” said Kimball. “There wasn’t much left after Katrina and the termites. But it’s done.”

That’s where the more than 1,900 volunteers entered the picture last year. Volunteers paid for the privilege to come and work and sweat, Kimball said. The Epworth Project is a popular place for church groups wanting to do mission work, the executive director said.

“Over the last few years, we have built a one-stop shop for volunteers. They pay $275 per person. That covers their housing, food, building materials for the job sites and tools. All they need to do is get here and we put them to work,” he said.

Already this year, 914 volunteers have reserved their places in the Epworth Project’s bunk house on the Aldersgate United Methodist Church’s campus. Another 451 have expressed an interest, but have not confirmed.

The nonprofit’s next big rush will be in March when the church campus will be inundated with college students during what is now dubbed, “Alternative Spring Break.”

“Instead of heading to the beach and partying, these kids choose to be a part of recovery efforts all over the country. It’s phenomenal the amount of support we get through these groups and the work that they can do on their spring break,” said Kimball. More than 400 students will use the Epworth Project as their home base for volunteer work during that month.

“We are thankful for Aldersgate’s help during these big weeks. Our sleeping quarters hold 56 people. The rest of the students will be spread out all across the church campus for a few weeks,” he said.

Funding for rebuilding projects is always an issue. Donations are always welcome, as well as help with fundraising.

“Our waiting list shows there is a need. But we can’t go forward with a project unless there is the money to do it,” Kimball said. Sometimes even the volunteers that come from out of state help with the financing.

“As often happens, volunteer team members get very close to the homeowners at their job sites. A connection is made that can last for years. It is not unusual that the team will go home and raise funds for a job that needs to be finished back here and then send us the funds,” said Kimball. He also has had volunteers hand him checks as they are leaving to go home, many with the stipulation that the donation remain anonymous, especially to the donor’s volunteer teammates.

“They leave more than their sweat here. One person put a check in my hand as she left. I didn’t look at it until later. It was for several thousand dollars. That’s the kind of thing that finishes houses. Her money helped complete two house projects and build two wheelchair ramps for people who really needed them,” he said.

Kimball also has been on the road, sharing how the Epworth Project works and showing other communities how they can set up a similar program. Some communities have done well following the model, while others have not, Kimball said.

“We have shared the blueprints for our operation, and it can work anywhere with a little alteration for their particular situation. Many people want to reinvent the wheel when it’s not necessary. We learned a lot of things by trial and error. A town in Iowa that was devastated by flooding took our model and is doing great. We’ve met with people in other towns, and they have not shared our success because they have altered the basis of the plan too much. But we know it can work,” he said.

Local volunteer involvement also is extremely important to the center’s continued success.
“Someone doesn’t have to commit to a week’s time to volunteer to make a difference. We want local people to be involved. If they have a day or a half-day or even an hour, we’ll find something to do to match their skills, and they can make a difference in their own community,” he said.

For more information about the Epworth Project or to volunteer, call 985.781.7990.

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