Can Ebola be Vectored by Flies?

This is a collaborative post by myself and my colleague, Dan Peach.

Lately, we’ve been inundated with updates about the Ebola outbreak: news, pictures, videos, facts, symptoms and more. This is no surprise, as there are over 14,000 confirmed cases as of November 12, 2014. We’d like to shed some light on the virus and speculate on the natural transmission cycle and the potential for insects, specifically flies such as filth-breeding flies, to act as vectors of the disease – an area which remains a challenge for scientists.

There are four species of Ebola virus – all of which cause disease in vertebrates. It is a hemorrhagic fever belonging to the family filoviridae that was first recognized in Africa in 1976. It is readily transmitted via contact with infected bodily fluids, and can survive on surfaces contaminated by such fluids for at least several hours in dark conditions (Sagripanti et al. 2010). Usually, outbreaks in human populations follow that of outbreaks in chimp or gorilla populations (Leroy et al. 2004, Lahm et al. 2007). This happens (at least partially) because humans consume bush meat and contract the disease. There are normally a few outbreaks every few years in rural Africa, usually 2-4 months after the end of a wet season (Lahm et al. 2007), but the remote locations and small numbers contain them. This time it was different because it got into some of the larger population centres, such as Monrovia, and overwhelmed the healthcare system. For this reason, the 2014 outbreak has become the largest in history.

One of the areas where the Ebola virus really stands out compared to other pathogenic outbreaks (like measles, whooping cough, smallpox, and the 1918 influenza pandemic) is its reliance on the animal reservoirs. The Ebola virus can be incubated in pigs, primates, antelopes, dogs, and bats. These (or other yet-to-be determined species) can form a reservoir for Ebola to survive if it has been eradicated from the local human population. Viruses like smallpox and measles have no animal reservoirs that we know of. So despite being highly contagious, they’ve been relatively easy to eradicate from human populations because humans are the only organisms one needs to worry about in breaking the chain of transmission.

For a long time fruit bats have been implicated in the transmission of the disease because unlike pigs, primates, antelopes, or dogs, they can be infected with the virus and survive without symptoms (also known as asymptomatic). However, their role in maintaining the virus in nature is under debate.

We would like to bring forth the hypothesis that filth-breeding flies may be responsible for transmitting the disease. There are many kinds of biting and filth-breeding flies, which are quite common around farms, residences, and food establishments (like restaurants or meat-packaging plants). Many of these flies have lapping sucking mouthparts, so they only consume liquids (like bodily fluids resulting from Ebola) and, as they move from food source to food source, they sample and eat food by regurgitating liquid and dropping it on the food to liquefy it. More importantly, because filth-breeding flies are scavengers (on carrion, feces, bodily fluids, and/or decomposing organic material) they could be capable of transmitting diseases to animals, as well as humans.

Another reason we believe filth flies may be responsible for transmitting the disease is because outbreaks in animals (such as gorillas or pigs) usually precede human outbreaks (Leroy et al. 2004, Lahm et al. 2007). While consumption of infected animals has been implicated in many human outbreaks, infected animals or animal carcasses could provide easy, undefended food resources for flies. If these flies then land on human food or on or around an orifice of a human, and deposit infected fluids from a previous meal, the potential may exist for infection. Mosquitoes that feed on an infected animal or human could also potentially transmit the virus.

Ebola is an RNA virus, so the best evidence for insect vectored Ebola would be if insects were found to vector RNA viruses. One study found that house flies could successfully transmit a pathogenic RNA virus from infected pigs to uninfected pigs (Otake et al. 2003). The virus was detected in the house flies up to 6 hours after exposure, plenty of time for a pathogen-carrying fly to expose multiple unexposed hosts.

Finally, many filth flies are exceptional travelers, and individuals have been reported to fly distances of up to 65 km. Therefore having the potential to distribute the Ebola virus both long distances as well as within the immediate vicinity of their feeding and/ breeding site.

There are many many many many flies out there, orders of magnitudes more than any vertebrate deemed responsible for Ebola. Even if a small fraction of the fly populations would be carriers of Ebola, they probably would still be the dominant vector of spreading the disease.

Currently sanitation is the only way to control these flies; there are no effective traps or baits, and pesticides may not be available in developing countries in rural Africa. However there may be hope in monitoring these flies for Ebola by extracting DNA samples. When a fly feeds on tissue or bodily fluids from an animal carcass, it may pick up genetic material from that animal. If the tissue or fluid in that meal is infected with large enough amounts of Ebola, then DNA from Ebola may be present along with animal DNA. This genetic material would likely only be present for a short time before it is degraded by the fly’s digestive system, however, the potential exists to capture flies and survey for the presence of Ebola as well as what they have been feeding on. This would of course also depend on the level of Ebola infection in the tissue consumed. A team of researchers are currently sampling DNA from blow fly meals in southern Guinea to determine whether large mortality events of certain species have occurred in the area (Vogel, G. 2014).

Only after this most recent outbreak have scientists really started to ask the question “what is the role of insects in vectoring the Ebola virus”. In fact, some the most brilliant minds in Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology (MUVE) will be gathering to brainstorm the possibilities this week at the Entomological Society of America. So, it won’t be too long until we have an answer. In the meantime, we’re willing to bet on flies playing an important role.

 

There are many filth-breeding flies, but here are 5 culprits for potential vectors of Ebola virus:

House Fly (Family Muscidae):

House Fly, Unknown sp. (Photo: Sean McCann) House flies are one of the most common fly species around peoples homes and they are distributed all over the world.  They will feed on almost anything from food lying around your home to (especially in warm climates) an open wound or sore.  House flies will lay up to 500 eggs in any decomposing organic material (feces, carrion, garbage).   In warm climates they can complete their life cycle in 7-10 days.  House flies are known vectors of more than 100 pathogens that may cause disease in humans and animals, including typhoid, cholera, bacillary dysentery, tuberculosis, anthrax ophthalmia and infantile diarrhea, as well as parasitic worms
House Fly, Unknown sp. (Photo: Sean McCann) House flies are one of the most common fly species around peoples homes and they are distributed all over the world. They will feed on almost anything from food lying around your home to (especially in warm climates) an open wound or sore. House flies will lay up to 500 eggs in any decomposing organic material (feces, carrion, garbage). In warm climates they can complete their life cycle in 7-10 days. House flies are known vectors of more than 100 pathogens that may cause disease in humans and animals, including typhoid, cholera, bacillary dysentery, tuberculosis, anthrax ophthalmia and infantile diarrhea, as well as parasitic worms

Blow Fly (Family Calliphoridae):

Blow Fly, Lucilia sericata (Photo: Sean McCann) Blow flies are well-known metallic green and blue flies associated with feces and dead animal carcasses.  They are quite common and well distributed all over the world.  Like the house flies, they will feed on a variety of foods but are especially keen on feces and carrion.  Female blow flies will lay 200 eggs that will quickly hatch and complete their life cycle (egg to adult) in approximately 20 days in warm climates.  Blow flies may be vectors of pathogens, but because of the anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties found in their gut they are rarely proven as vectors and are most often causal agents of bacterial infections.  Still, because of their less than socially approved eating habits, I’m keeping them on the list.
Blow Fly, Lucilia sericata (Photo: Sean McCann) Blow flies are well-known metallic green and blue flies associated with feces and dead animal carcasses. They are quite common and well distributed all over the world. Like the house flies, they will feed on a variety of foods but are especially keen on feces and carrion. Female blow flies will lay 200 eggs that will quickly hatch and complete their life cycle (egg to adult) in approximately 20 days in warm climates. Blow flies may be vectors of pathogens, but because of the anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties found in their gut they are rarely proven as vectors and are most often causal agents of bacterial infections. Still, because of their less than socially approved eating habits, I’m keeping them on the list.

Flesh fly (Family Sarcophagidae):

Flesh Fly, Unknown sp. (Photo: Sean McCann) Similar to both House flies and Blow Flies, Flesh flies are quite common and also scavengers of feces, carrion and garbage.  Flesh flies are small to medium sized flies with a grey and black striped “back” or thorax, often with a red tipped “butt” or abdomen.  Their entire lefe cycle can be completed quite quickly (as few as 8 days) due to the fact that they live maggots and not eggs. Flesh flies are suspect to transmit pathogens.
Flesh Fly, Unknown sp. (Photo: Sean McCann) Similar to both House flies and Blow Flies, Flesh flies are quite common and also scavengers of feces, carrion and garbage. Flesh flies are small to medium sized flies with a grey and black striped “back” or thorax, often with a red tipped “butt” or abdomen. Their entire lefe cycle can be completed quite quickly (as few as 8 days) due to the fact that they live maggots and not eggs. Flesh flies are suspect to transmit pathogens.

Mosquito (Family (Culicidae):

Mosquito, unknown sp. (Photo: Sean McCann) Mosquitoes take blood meals from a variety of hosts, including humans (depending on the mosquito species). Most diseases they transmit are due to parasites that infect their salivary glands, however, they may transmit Ebola due to a behavior called pre-diuresis in which they excrete excess fluids from their abdomen while taking a blood meal. If they have previously fed on infected blood with high enough concentrations of Ebola in it and then before they have digested their meal excrete this fluid near the orifice of a person there may be a potential for Ebola transmission.
Mosquito, unknown sp. (Photo: Sean McCann) Mosquitoes take blood meals from a variety of hosts, including humans (depending on the mosquito species). Most diseases they transmit are due to parasites that infect their salivary glands, however, they may transmit Ebola due to a behavior called pre-diuresis in which they excrete excess fluids from their abdomen while taking a blood meal. If they have previously fed on infected blood with high enough concentrations of Ebola in it and then before they have digested their meal excrete this fluid near the orifice of a person there may be a potential for Ebola transmission.

Eye Gnat (Family Chloropidae):

Eye Gnat, Liohippelates sp. (Photo: Lyle J. Buss) Eye Gnats are small black flies and are quite common in warmer climates.  Eye Gnats do not bite but are a great nuisance around humans and animals because they feed on fluid from wounds, eyes, nose and sometimes feces.  Gnat flies, like the other flies on our list, will complete their life cycle quickly in warm climates, as few as 7 days.  Eye Gnats in the genus Hippelates can carry the spirochaete pathogen that cases yaws, and may also spread conjunctivitis but, due to their habits, have to potential to spread more.
Eye Gnat, Liohippelates sp. (Photo: Lyle J. Buss) Eye Gnats are small black flies and are quite common in warmer climates. Eye Gnats do not bite but are a great nuisance around humans and animals because they feed on fluid from wounds, eyes, nose and sometimes feces. Gnat flies, like the other flies on our list, will complete their life cycle quickly in warm climates, as few as 7 days. Eye Gnats in the genus Hippelates can carry the spirochaete pathogen that cases yaws, and may also spread conjunctivitis but, due to their habits, have to potential to spread more.

Citations:

Buss, L. Adult Liohippelates Sp [Photo] 2011. University of Florida. Web. 13 November 2014. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/livestock/flies/liohippelates.htm

Getty Images. Digital Image of Ebola Virus [Cover Photo] 2014. New York Post. Web. 16 November 2014. http://nypost.com/2014/09/30/ebola-in-the-usa-texas-patient-has-deadly-disease/ 

Lahm, S., Kombila, M., Swanepoel, R., and Barnes, R. 2007. Morbidity and mortality of wild animals in relation to outbreaks of Ebola haemorrhagic fever in Gabon, 1994-2003. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 101: 64-78

Leroy, E., Rouquet, P., Formenty, P., Souquière, S., Kilbourne, A., Froment, J-M., Barmejo, M., Smit, S., Karesh, W., Swanepoel, R., Zaki, S., and Rollin, E. 2004. Multiple Ebola transmission events and decline of central African wildlife. Science 303: 387-390

Sagripanti, J-L., Rom, A., and Holland, L. 2010. Persistence in darkness of various alphaviruses, Ebola virus, and Lassa virus deposited on solid surfaces. Archives of Virology 155(12): 2035-2039

Vogel, G. 2014. Are bats spreading Ebola across sub-saharan Africa? Science 344: 140

Acknowledgements:

This post was inspired by my friend Dr. Monica Hughes.  We would like to thank Dr. Carl Lowenberger and Matt Holl for constructive comments.

The Beginning of the End: How Blow Flies find Corpses

In the spirit of Halloween…

“I see dead people”, whispers  Haley Joel Osment in M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Sixth Sense”… and he is very convincing. That’s just a movie, but for blow flies, seeing and smelling dead people, or any decomposing corpse for that matter, is what adult life is all about. Unlike Osment, blow flies want and need to see and smell dead things! They have to be able to find decomposing corpses quickly in order to lay their eggs and propagate their kind. In fact, they are so good at finding dead things that we use their progeny (read maggots and pupae) in forensic sciences for determining time of death (TOD), and ultimately putting criminals behind bars.

Haley Joel Osment in M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Sixth Sense” (Photo: Huffington Post) and blow fly (Photo: Mike Hrabar)

In a recent article published in Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, my collegues and I explain how fertile blow flies rapidly locate a recently deceased corpse.  Reproductively mature female blow flies use very low concentrations of dimethyl trisulfide (DMTS) in combination with dark animal pelt mimicking colours (black and reddish brown) to rapidly locate the corpse.

Blow flies lay their eggs on recently deceased animal corpses.  The eggs quickly hatch into maggots which consume and break down the corpse. After approximately 1 week of consuming the rotting flesh, they will leave the corpse and pupate in the soil nearby.  But blow flies aren’t the only organism scavenging the corpse; they face a lot of competition with other insects, bacteria, fungi, and vertebrates.  In order to reduce competition with these organisms, blow flies need to get there first, and they do!  Often, they get there within the first few hours after death!  This means that they can smell a corpse long before our noses can; very intriguing!

Working with one of the first species of blow fly to arrive on the scene, Lucilia sericata, we show that blow flies can detect ‘death’ volatiles, and respond faster to a recently dead and wounded rat carcass than they do to an intact rat carcass.    Our next step was to identify the odour using a variety of lab equipment including a gas chromatograph electro-antennal detector (GC-EAD) which is a fancy name for a process with a easy explanation… the antenna acts as a filter for all the smells and we only identify the odours that excite the antenna.  Using this process we identified 9 compounds that excited the antenna.

Using a series of laboratory and field experiments, we concluded that DMTS was the key compound that attracted flies, but not just any flies… female flies laden with eggs!

Like most insects blow flies use antenna to smell odours and locate resources, like the corpse, but unlike many insects blow flies have huge eyes that take up 70% of their head.  So we paired visual cues with DMTS and found that dark animal pelt mimicking colours accentuate the response of blow flies.

Ultimately these findings will be developed into a lure for trapping blow flies, both industrially and residentially.  But more importantly, the lure can be used to monitor blow flies for the impending Zombie Apocalypse.  Due to the fact that the rotting flesh of zombies is likely similar to the rotting flesh of a recently deceased corpse (although, arguably, my dead experimental rats were far from being undead), Metro Vancouver (one of the safest Canadian cities in case zombies decide to finally take down us humans) will be able to use our lure in a trapping and monitoring system, part of their “Zombie Preparedness Campaign“.

…No, but really, BC really does have an emergency zombie preparedness Campaign!  Deal is: If you are ready for zombies, you are ready for the inevitable Megathrust Earthquake, which is due every 70 years or so in the Pacific Rim. Anyway, zombie preparedness is probably one of the things that makes Vancouver one of the best places to live in the Solar System.  I swear I didn’t make any of this stuff up!

Read the full article:

Brodie, B.S., R. Gries, A. Martins, S. Vanlaerhoven, and G. Gries. 2014. Bimodal cue complex signifies suitable oviposition sites to gravid females of the common green bottle fly. Entomologia Experimentalis et applicata. 153(2) 114-127

Citations:

McCann, S. feeding and ovipositing blow flies. [Cover Photo] 2012. Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Blow Flies Spit to Attract Homies

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 10.20.46 PM

In hip hop culture, rapping is all in how rhymes are spit to attract a crowd. In blow fly culture, flies also spit to attract crowds. Generally, we wouldn’t think of spitting as attractive but, in a recent article published in Insect Science, my collegues and I explain how blow flies co-opt semiochemicals associated with feeding or “spit” as a resource indicator.  The spit is an “international fly language” attracting flies of the same species and closely related species to lay eggs together.

Blow flies lay eggs together in groups called aggregations on a dead animal carcass (see photo below). In order to find each other, like most insects, they have been thought to rely on pheromones. However, repeated attempts to extract a pheromone failed, invoking doubt whether a pheromone really exists.  Conceivably, the reproductive biology of blow flies may be linked to carrion resources. Simply by regurgitating and feeding on carrion, flies may enhance its attractiveness. These feeding flies may inadvertently attract gravid (flies with eggs) and non-gravid females and even males. Based on their sex, age and reproductive status, flies attracted to a resource may then obtain meal, find a mate, or lay eggs.

Egg-laying aggregation of blow flies, Lucilia sericata (Family: Calliphoridae) on rat carrion.  (Photo by Sean McCann)
Egg-laying aggregation of blow flies, Lucilia sericata (Family: Calliphoridae) on rat carrion. (Photo: Sean McCann)

If flies were to aggregate on a carrion resource in response to feeding flies rather than ovipositing flies, then the semiochemical cue(s) may be present in the vomitus or salivary secretions of flies. As early as 1955, Dethier noted that fed-on food was more attractive to blow flies than non-fed on food. Even if the flies do not signal themselves, their salivary secretions may contain enzymes and microorganisms that initiate the breakdown process of the carcass (Dethier, 1955; Telford et al., 2012).

Working with two species of blow fly, Lucilia sericata and Phormia regina, we show that female blow flies of varying reproductive stages present on an oviposition site enhance its attractiveness to fellow female blow flies.  We conclude that their is not an oviposition pheromone, but rather female flies co-opt semiochemicals associated with feeding flies of varying reproductive stages as resource indicators.

The digestive fluid, such as spit, is in addition to other strategies flies use to improve the resource and increase benefits of their offspring. House flies (Diptera: Muscidae), for example, preferentially lay eggs near freshly deposited eggs of their same species. The maggots warm and moisten the resource and prevent fungi from taking over. Similarly, aggregated oviposition by blow flies increases the fitness of their offspring because, with large numbers of maggots, relatively fewer are eaton by predators. Additionally, these maggots develop quickly by sharing digestive fluids and taking advantage of elevated temperatures.

So, it’s beneficial for flies to be “Rollin’ with their Homies”.  I’d spit you a rhyme if I could but, for the flies, it’s just simply all in the spit (not the rhyme)!

Read the full article:

Brodie, B.S., W.H.L. Wong, S. Vanlaerhoven, and G. Gries.  2014. Is aggregated oviposition by the blow flies Lucilia sericata and Phormia regina (Diptera: Calliphoridae) really pheromone-mediated? Insect Science. DOI: 10.1111/1744-7917.12160

Citations:

Dethier V.G. (1955) Mode of action of sugar-baited fly traps. Journal of Economic Entomology, 48, 235–239.

Telford, G., Brown, A.P., Rich, A., English, J.S.C. and Pritchard, D.I. (2012) Wound debridement potential of glycosidases of the wound-healing maggot, Lucilia sericata. Medical and Veterinary Entomology, 26, 291–299.

Blow flies spitting on rat carcass.
Blow flies “spitting” on animal carcass. (Photo: Sean McCann)

Insect Flight

Flight has always intrigued and inspired human beings.  Since antiquity we created stories, myths, and legends about flight, and flying is arguably one of humanity’s greatest achievements…  Since flight became a reality in 1903 with the Kitty Hawk we continue to aspire better, faster and more efficient aviation, to the most recent “Flying car”. (No, not Doc Brown’s time travel car from “Back to the Future” or “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” but a real flying car!  You can reserve one here.)  So it is no wonder that we are enthralled and are continuing to learn about flight from insects and birds.  Insects, my “bread and butter”, were the first to evolve flight and, as such, have long since perfected the ability long before us!  As usual, we may have a lot to learn insects!

An insect, is made up of three segments: head (first and, hopefully, obvious section), thorax (middle section), and abdomen (last section).  Internally, the thorax is chuckfull of muscles, making it is the “engine” responsible for locomotion via legs and wings.  Even though legs are intriguing and have many adaptations as well, this post focuses on insect wings, their evolution and variation.  To be honest, I’ve chosen this topic to show off all the high speed videos my colleagues, Mike Hrabar and Sean McCann, have taken in the Gries lab… they are SO amazing!  You will be mesmerized!  I promise.  (I may show some of my own soon… still holding out for possible publication.)

There are four theories regarding wing evolution, plus my Laymen explanation, (1) Paranotal process, or wings developed from projections (or bumps) on thorax, (2) Epicoxal, or wings developed from abdominal gills (i.e. mayflies and nymphs), (3) Endite-exite, or wings developed from gill branches on the leg, (4) Paranota plus leg gene recruitment, or wings developed from projections on the thorax aided by hereditary genes from legs which were transfered to the projection producing muscles needed for flight.  I’ve been taught that the “paranotal process theory” is the most widely accepted, with matching fossil records from cockroach relatives that indicate the paranotal lobes were originally a mechanism that allowed the insect to glide down from treetops. However, I’m beginning to be convinced of “paranota plus leg gene recruitment theory” because it is in agreement with the fossil records and the most recent genetic studies.

Inspired by X.
Inspired by “The Backyard Arthropod Project“. Figure shows wing evolution theories, (1) Paranotal process, (2) Epicoxal, (3) Endite-exite, and (4) Paranota plus leg gene recruitment.

SO, insects were the first to evolve flight!  Having two pairs of wings, they have faced problems with drag and turbulence when their wings beet together.  We face these same problems when engineering flight devices, but, unlike us, insects have evolved many ways to overcome this issue and stabilize their motion. Consequently, these adaptations are fundamental in identifying and classifying insects into groups.

Dragonflies and Damselflies have two pairs of wings that are approximately the same size and shape with many veins throughout.  This group of insects has developed a reversed (or alternated) wingbeat that can clearly observed in this slow motion video (Valevids, 2010).

Similarly, this alternated wingbeat can be seen in Lacewings (Order Neuroptera).

Flies (Order Diptera) have 1 pair of large functional wings and a pair of reduced hind wings called a halteres.  Although small, they have a important role in flight, and are used for orientation and balance.  Look closely for the halteres in the below video of a hoverfly (Family Syrphidae), they look like tiny little drumsticks behind the first pair of wings.  You can see them beet in an alternate pattern with the first and large wings.

Most beetles (Order Coleoptera) have a hardend first pair of wings, called elytra.  Making only the second pair of wings functional for flight.  These second pair of wings are folded longitudinally (lengthwise) and transversely (across) under the elytra.  There is a spring mechanism, in addition to abdominal movements, that keep the wings folded and in place.

Butterflies and moths have two functional pairs of wings that are covered in scales, arranged like shingles giving them their beautiful appearance.  This group has a very unique way of dealing with drag, called wing coupling.  In the video below,the cabbage looper (Family Noctuidae) is shows frenate coupling, where a well-developed hair (called a frenulum) on the hind wing catches with the forewing (called retinaculum). During flight, you will notice both pairs of wing appear “together”.

Another great example of wing coupling is in bees and wasps (Order Hymenoptera).  They have hooks (called hamuli) along the top margin of the hind wing that catchinto the fold of the front wing.  The number of hamuli are quite variable among this order, some only have a few and the larges wasps have many.  You can see both pairs of wings work together in the below slow motion video of a Polistes (Family Vespidae) take off.  One unique adaptation in this family of wasp is that the hind wing is longitudinally (lengthwise) folded under the forewing at rest.  In this video you can see the hindwing unfold from the forewing and spread open for flight.

Scientists study insect (and, more recently, hummingbird) flight for their potential application in advanced engineering, robotics, and aviation.  The problems that insects have had to overcome, such as turbulence, stabilization, and maneuverability, are the same we continue to face as we endeavour faster and more efficient crafts.  We still have a lot to learn from insects!!

Citations:

McCann, S. Dragonfly in Flight. [Cover Photo] 2012. Flickr, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Web. 08 Aug. 2014. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/deadmike/7604870044/in/photolist-fctMDR-fctMJP-cA1WV3-fctMXP-8Ya1k-aeu2QA-arHaS/&gt;.

ValeVids. “Dragonfly action in slow motion.” YouTube. YouTube, May 31, 2010. Web. August 3, 2014.

McCricket Sandwich with a Side of Grubs

“Tastes like chicken!”  You might think it’s funny or have a gag reflex but, in all actuality, insects on the menu may be closer to reality than you may think. Entomophagy, or human consumption of insects for food is widespread.  People all over the world have been eating insects (eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults) since prehistoric times and, in many places, continue to eat them to this day.

This post is about insects as food, about their environmentally friendly and sustainable production, and the potential uses of insects for feeding the masses and even sustaining our first Mars colony!  Insects are fascinating and we can eat them too!

The majority of the world, about 80% (approximately 113 countries), practice entomophagy (MacEvilly, 2000) including, but not limited to Central and South America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Papua New Guinea (Rumpold & Schlüter, 2013).  Throughout these countries, more than 2,000 different insect species are consumed (Jongema, 2012), the most popular being beetles, crickets, cicadas, grasshoppers, and beetle grubs.  Personally, I’ve tried grasshoppers (sautéed with herbs and spices) and mealworms… both were delicious!  In rural China families eat insects as a regular staple, but there are also restaurants that serve up insects as pricey delicacies for you to “bug out” on.

Mmmm, (my lunch) sauted crickets on tossed salad!
Mmmm, (my lunch) sautéed grasshoppers on tossed salad!

It’s only in the western world that we turn our noses up to an insect menu.  However, this affliction may be morphing into the newest food fad! Could insects be the new Sushi!? In the 1980’s nobody was eating raw fish, but now just about everyone does.  Similarly, pretty soon, everyone could be eating insects with the introduction of insect flour.  Insect flour is made from ground up insects (mainly crickets) and used as ingredient in, for example, protein bars and baked goods.  Interested in buying some?  All Things Bugs is a US company that manufactures and sells whole cricket powder.  Insects are the new food trend and they appear to be making good progress because of the many restaurants popping up in the US (48), Canada (3) and Europe (8) that serve up a smorgasbord of insects. To keep up with the demand, the US recently opened it’s first insect farm!

Insects are highly nutritious (full of vitamins and minerals), low in fat and high in protein (Holland 2013).  The protein content of some insects is on par with beef, chicken, and pork but are jam packed with more essential vitamins and minerals.  You can see the nutritional value of a variety insects compared to beef and fish at Girl Meets Bug.  Of the insects, beetles are the most protein rich (Predacious diving, Long-horned, June, and Dung).  Butterfly and moth pupa are also high in protein but have high concentrations iron; great for children and pregnant women!  Red Ants have more protein than an egg and provide large amounts of both calcium and iron.  I don’t know how most of these insects taste but one of my Chinese exchange students described cicadas as crunchy on the outside and creamy in the middle!

The nutritional value of mealworms are on equal to that of fish and other meats!
My mom sent these to me just in time for this post!  A healthy, high fibre, BBQ flavoured snack!  Many of the children in my neighbourhood were willing to give them a try,  (see the appendix for details).

In addition to being highly nutritions, insects are also an environmentally sustainable food and have the potential to reduce global warming (Premalatha et al., 2011).  Insects require a lot less energy and water to convert food into protein than animal livestock, thereby emitting a great deal less greenhouse gas.  To put this in perspective, a UN report warns that worlds livestock as a whole is responsible for more greenhouse gas than all automobiles and transportation combined!  Once we break the stigma associated with eating insects we could eliminate world hunger AND reduce pollution caused from meat production.

On a lighter note, food supply is one of the problems that needs to be solved for future space travel, i.e. Mars One (Yokota et al., 2006) and entomophagy is a promising solution.  Research in space based farming focuses on sustainability (generating food, as well as the decomposition and recycling of waste products) as well as high quality food (Alling et al., 2005; Katayama et al., 2008). Insects would compliment plant agriculture by consuming parts of plants that are uneatable for humans, breaking down and recycling the parts of the vegetables humans can’t eat, and later be consumed by humans or feed to animal livestock. Katayama (2008) suggested that a model diet that would meet humans nutritional needs for space exploration should consist of rice, soybean, sweet potato, green–yellow vegetable, silkworm pupa, and loach fish.

I mean, is a McCricket Sandwich made from cricket powder really that far fetched?  Up until 2011 we’ve been eating pink slime (contents of McNuggets), or food additives like L-cysteine (in bread and baked goods to increase shelf life) made from human hair and castoreum (flavouring in ice cream, cookies, and cakes) excreted from a beaver’s butt… just to name a few.  Insect flour doesn’t seem so bad at all in comparison. So, no, I don’t think it’s unrealistic that we could all be incorporating insects into our diet very soon, and saving the world while we’re doing it.

 

Should We All Be Eating Insects?:

 

Citations:

Alling A., Van Thillo, M., Dempster, W., Nelson, M., Silverstone, S., Allen, J. Lessons learned from biosphere 2 and laboratory biosphere closed systems experiments for the Mars On Earth, project. Biol. Sci. Space 19, 250–260, 2005.

Holland, J. 2013. U.N. Urges Eating Insects; 8 Popular Bugs to Try. National Geographic. Retrieved on July 16, 2014.

Jongema, Y. 2012. List of edible insects of the world (April 4, 2012). http://www.ent.wur.nl/UK/Edible+insects/Worldwide+species+list.

Katayama N., Ishikawa Y, Takaoki M, Yamashita M, Nakayama S, Kiguchi K, Kok R, Wada H, Mitsuhashi J. 2008. Entomophagy: A key to space agriculture. Advances in Space Research. 41: 701-705.

MacEvilly, C. 2000. Bugs in the system. Nutrition Bulletin, 25: 267-268.

Premalatha M., Abbasi T., Abbasi T., and Abbasi SA. 2011. Energy-efficient food production to reduce global warming and ecodegradation: The use of edible insects. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 15: 4357–4360

Rumpold, BA and Schlüter, OK. 2013. Potential and challenges of insects as an innovative source for food and feed production. Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies, 17: 1-11.

Yokota H., Ishikawa Y., Yamashita M., and Oshima T. 2006. Space Agriculture Task Force Space agriculture on Mars using hyper-thermophilic aerobic bacteria. Habitation 10: 191.

 

Appendix:

I wrote this post while supervising Tavi and his playmates.  They all (with the exception of a few that ran away at the suggestion) wanted to try the Larvets… including Rex!

Julien was the first to try the Larvet!
Julien was the first to try the Larvet!
Tavi preparing to chomp down on Larvets.
Tavi preparing to chomp down on Larvets.
Alia was shy about trying the BBQ mealworms.
Alia was shy about trying the BBQ mealworms.
Rex couldn't wait to try what the kids were eating... but once offered, turned them down.
Rex couldn’t wait to try what the kids were eating… but once offered, turned them down.

Pre-school Graduation!

This time of year students all across the world are graduating from scholarly institutions, and pre-school is no exception!  Pre-school graduation has become quite popular days (I never had a pre-school graduation… or maybe I did and I don’t remember).  It’s an end of the year song, dance, and celebration with friends before beginning kindergarten.  Parents, classmates, and pre-school alumni are all invited to join in the fun. I can’t think of anything more adorable than twenty 3-5 year olds singing and dancing in not-so-complete unison!

Although my son, Tavi, didn’t graduate this year, he showed off his talents at his pre-school graduation celebration.  My husband and I checked out of the lab/office at 3pm to watch the show.  Once all the parents had arrived, the teachers funnelled the youngsters onto the stage, and using the ring of a bell, called the children’s attention and silence. (I’m still considering this method for my university students…)  With guidance from their teachers, they sang us 5 songs: Sizzle Sizzle Pop, Baby Beluga, Each Of Us Is A Flower, Roar (Katy Perry), and Happy (Pharrell Williams).  The song and dance was followed by PowerPoint slide, which featured photographs of the children playing together and all their activities for the year, field trips, arts and crafts, and outdoor games.  As a parent, it was very fulfilling to see Tavi’s progress, and all that the teachers achieved with him and his classmates this year.

The graduating (and non-graduating class) are all finishing pre-school in a tough job market.  None-the-less, they all seemed to have their priorities in order and knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grow up.  The boys overwhelmingly wanted to be firemen, with the exception of one robot builder, a superhero, and a recycling truck driver (the latter was Tavi).  The girls had more variety and aspired towards slightly higher skill levels, including teachers, princesses (personally, I’m still aspiring to be a princess since my Romanian prince proved to be a total fake), dentist, hair stylist, and a doctor.  These youngsters are all so open-minded and full of hope, we could all stand to learn a thing of two from them all!

Thank you to the teachers and young scholars!  You have all worked so hard this year!!

Sizzle Sizzle POP:

Baby Beluga:

Each of us is a Flower:

ROAR- Katy Perry

Happy- Pharrell Williams

Photos:

Tavi's Teachers (left to right) Leslie, Shannon, and Poonam
Tavi’s Teachers (left to right) Leslie, Shannon, and Poonam
Baby Beluga
Singing Baby Beluga
Showing off his moves.
Showing off his moves.
Teachers Poonam (left) and Lesle (right) with pre-school class.
Teachers Poonam (left) and Leslie (right) with pre-school class.
Accepting his "degree" for completing 2 years of pre-school.  (He will graduate next year.)
Accepting his pseudo degree for completing 2 years of pre-school. (He will graduate next year.)
Tavi with graduating friends
Tavi with a handful of graduating friends
Tavi with gradua
Checking out the graduation package
Tavi with graduating friends
Tavi with graduating friends
Tavi and Friends
Tavi and Friends
Tavi and his favourite Teacher, Angela
Tavi and one of his favourite Teachers, Angela
Selfie!
Selfie!

Tavi Quotes from this school year:

“Uranus (the planet)… is a gas giant.”

Specific to Pacific Rim (the movie): “Gipsy Danger!” or “Elbow Rocket!”

To his girl friend Sunday Rose, “Want to smell my B (blankie)?”  …She did not (and even made a face).

To a kindergartner in the hallway at school, “look I don’t have my potty seat anymore!  I use the urinal.”

In response to being asked to pick up his toys and put his clothes in the hamper: “I am so mistreated.”

Tavi talking to his teacher (Poonam) who was wearing stylish jeans with holes: “My jeans have a hole because they are old…  so yours (Poonam’s) must be VERY old.”

Also to his teacher, “Thanks for filling my brain!”

“Mama, Rex (our dog) opened the bottle of bubbles and spilled them on the carpet!”  (…ALL of the bubbles.)

After finding Viorel’s candy wrapper on the couch: “Mama, there’s the evidence!”

A conversation about pets:

Tavi- “Can we get a pet?”

Me- “We have a pet, Rex”

Tavi- “Oh… (Wheels in head turning) Rex is our pet.”

Me- “Well,  what did you think he was your brother?”

Tavi- …(silent contemplation)

 

Regarding the Gries lab: “Antonia studies mice, Catherine studies spiders, and Sean studies birds… (picture the gears turning in his head). So, what does Gerhard (our advisor) study?”

 

Reading the sign outside the Capilano Ecology centre, “Why can’t you have McDonalds in there?”

Last (bottom) image.
Last (bottom) image.
"Why no McDonalds?" -Tavi
No McDonald’s allowed inside the ecology centre.  All other foods “okay”.

 

In Romania:

After inspecting carutza si cai  (a Romanian horse and carriage): “Where’s the exhaust pipe?”

Mercador.ca
Mercador.ro

Look!  A CLASIC Romanian car (below)!

Classic Romanian Car!  (Photo: Tavi Popescu)
Classic Romanian Car! (Photo: Tavi Popescu)

Citations:

Mercador.ro [Photograph] Retrieved June 23, 2014 from http://olx.ro/oferta/vand-pereche-armasari-IDKzTB.html

Poll Results for “What’s in a Name?”

Names are used as identification and often provide the world with information about our identity, marrital status, country of origin, and even cultural and religious information.  Now, using only a name, the internet can provide even more information (both personal and professional) about our identity. So, it’s no surprise that everyone feels strongly when making the decision to keep, ditch, or morph their surnames after marriage.  In my previous post,“What’s in a Name?”, I asked you all to take a survey answering personal questions about what influenced your decision about keeping or changing your surname. This is a follow-up post to report on the results of that survey. There were over 100 visitors to the post, and of those visitors, I received a total of 46 responses to my poll (which is not too shabby!).  The majority of the responses were from Canadian women born between 1980-1989.  The Women that took this survey overwhelmingly chose to keep or morph their names (70%) based primarily on personal and professional reasons.  Overall, participants were just as intrigued about the topic of names, and contributed many eye opening comments that are included in this post.

So why did YOU choose to keep, ditch, or morph your surname?  Here’s the results broken down by question:

1) What is your gender?

Of the 46 responders, 42 were female and 4 were male.  (So if you are just reading this now, and especially if you are male, it not too late to take the survey!)  The 4 men that responded to my survey had very open minded opinions but if your interested in another (larger) survey visit, “How Men REALLY Feel When You keep Your Last Name” published in Women’sHealth (August 2013).

Your comments:

“I’ve considered hyphenating my name, but generally speaking women I have dated would prefer we each keep our own names or that she would change hers.” (Male, USA, born 1987)

“Who knows what will happen if/when I get married! If my partner would have particularly strong feelings about what to do with our names, I would probably default to their position, because I don’t.” (Male, USA, born 1987)

2) What year were you born? The results were skewed towards responders born in the 1980’s.  (This bias is most definitely a result of a large number of my friends/peers reading my blog and taking the poll.)  None-the-less, there was a strong response from women born in the 80’s and 90’s to keep their surname (or hyphenate).  Women born in the 70’s were torn (about 50/50) and majority of all women born before the 1970 changed their name.

Percent (%) of responders born within a certain decade.
Figure 1, Percent (%) of responders born within a certain decade: blue= 1950-1959 (7%), red= 1960-1969 (2%), green= 1970-1979 (20%), purple= 1980-1989 (60%), and teal= 1990-1999 (11%).

Your comments:

“I was married in Germany, before there was a choice to keep your surname (1988). Looking back, if I was given the choice, I would have kept my maiden name.” (Female, Germany)

3) What is your country of origin? Responders to the poll were spread across 9 country’s, including Canada (54%), U.S.A. (32%), United Kingdom (2%), Romania (2%), Republic of Georgia (2%), India (2%), Germany (2%), Australia (2%) and Switzerland (2%).

Your comments:

“In India..an individual’s surname usually indicates his/her caste (example: Raja Patel – Patel denotes a caste). This allows people to identify people’s caste, which at times lead to discrimination.  My current surname has NO connotations to caste. It is my father’s first name. By keeping my current surname I hope to carry my fathers name around rather than a caste name!” (Female, India, 1988)

“Other reason- husband previously married, did not want to be second Mrs. x (even though 1st partner changed name back after divorce). Long standing tradition in Scotland to have mothers maiden name as middle name, we did this so my son has both names but it’s not too long (my last name is 7 letters, makes for a long hyphenated name).” (Female, Canada, 1983)

4) What is your sexual orientation?

Unfortunately, there were very few responses from the gay community (but again, it’s not too late, and if you are reading this… go take the survey!).  Majority of the responses were from heterosexual (84%) readers but a few from bisexual (11%) and homosexual (5%) as well.  ALL homosexual responders kept (or would keep) their name.  The majority of bisexual responders replied that they would keep or hyphenate their name (one mention that it depends on the aesthetics of her partners name).

Your comments:

“As a lesbian, I think it is interesting to see how the gay population is dealing with the last name thing now that marriage is legal in so many places. I have married gay friends who have hyphenated, who have kept their own names, and one couple who is considering coming up with a new last name altogether that they would both take. It’s interesting to see how the gay community deals with the last name issue, and if we consider the same things as does the straight community when deciding what to do. I think we have less pressure to take someone else’s name, but perhaps the same desire to be seen as a ‘team’.”  (Female, USA, 1973)

“Before we were married, we briefly, and half-jokingly considered changing our surnames to something non-familial–it would have been Sanchez!– but that conversation didn’t go very far, and my Mom was a bit against the idea. So six years on we have kept the names we were born with, doesn’t seem much point to change now.” (Male, Canada, 1970)

5) What is your highest level of education?

This poll was strongly biased by highly educated people, Figure 2 (good for you!).     This not not a typical result… therefore, I’m not going to make any inferences here.

Percent (%) of responders  for three groups of education: 1) blue= graduate school, 2) red= post secondary school, and 3) green= secondary school.
Figure 2, Percent (%) of responders for three groups of education: 1) blue= graduate school [61%], 2) red= post secondary school [37%], and 3) green= secondary school [2%].
6) How many times have you been married?

Majority skipped this question… fair enough!  So, I looked up some stats on marriage and divorce in the US. In 2009, 58% of women & 54 % of men (age 15+ married once), 12 % of men & 13 % of women had married twice, 3 % each had married three or more times (Kreider & Ellis 2011).  Again, no data here, so I can’t speculate on any correlations on the number of marriages and names.

7) After marriage, did you (or plan to) KEEP your surname?

The majority of responders said that they kept or morphed their name (70%) as opposed to those that changed (30%).

Percent (%) of responders for 5 answers: 1) blue= Yes,  "keep my name" [57%], 2) red= No, "change it" [30%], 3) green= Hyphenate [9%], 4) Other [4%], and 5) Fuse [0%].
Figure 3, Percent (%) of responders for 5 answers: 1) blue= Yes, “keep my name” [57%], 2) red= No, “change it” [30%], 3) green= Hyphenate [9%], 4) Other [4%], and 5) Fuse [0%].
Your comments:

“I absolutely loath fused names. just a point i felt i needed to make.”  (Female, Canada, 1986)

8) Rank the reasons for keeping/changing your surname.

The all together top 5 (weighted) reasons that you kept/ changed your surname were 1) personal identity, 2) professional identity, 3) Family Identity, 4) Hassle and 5) Aesthetics.

Your comments:

“I am not the property of my father, and i do not become the property of my husband upon marriage. my name is mine and i’ll keep it.” (Female, United Kingdom, 1987)

“I’ve always loved my last name. I think when/if I ever get married my decision to either keep or change my last name, or make up an entirely new one will depend in part on the last name of my partner. I really like the idea of making up a new last name, but I I think family identity is too important to me for me to be able to do that.” (Female, Canada, 1988)

“In my case, Reason # 1 was it would create too many confusions professionally with publications and taxonomy in terms of naming new species. I was already published and had named new species under my maiden name. Reason #2 is that most people find my husband’s name unpronounceable. I did not want to have to become “Dr. LeChe…. Dr. LeCheva…. Dr. LeChevali…. etc.” to students. Or worse, “Dr. L.” because people are completely incompetent at both reading and French.” (Female, USA, 1975)

“None of the reasons listed are particularly important to me – I don’t plan to get married or have married or have children and thus have no reason to change me name.” (Female, Canada, 1986)

“I changed mine for [children, religion, cultural reasons, and family identity] but also because I got married RIGHT before my first pub came out, so having it change would not show up on my CV. If I was already published, I’m not sure I would have changed it.”  (Female, USA, 1990)

“I like how his surname sounds with my first name. I want people to know I’m his wife. I feel that I have changed as a person since I’ve lived with my parents and consider my new name my adult name. I want to have the same name as our kids.” (Female, USA, 1984)

“I also get “Oh you’re one of those people” with the stigma that I must be a weak minded, living in the past woman who doesn’t know better. I took my husbands name simply because I wanted to. I always find it curious that people have an opinion of what others choose. Good for you for choosing what fit you. If “being one of those” means we are among strong happy women who know what suits them, then I am indeed on of those!” (Female, Canada)

Citation:

Kreider  RM & Ellis R (2011) Number, Timing, and Duration ofMarriages and Divorces: 2009. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C. 10 pages.

Appendix:

I know statisticians hate pie charts.  (Viorel just made a point to tell me.)  So, to all you statisticians (or non-statisticians) that hate pie charts, I apologize but I just think they’re pretty and I never get to make them.  …Making up for lost pie chart time here.

Tavi and the Rex-a-roo wanted to have their pictures taken too (for the featured image in “What’s in a Name?”)… Viorel declined to participate.

IMG_4575 IMG_4577