* The Smell of Bed Bug Sex * CSI Pueblo * Caterpillar's Fatal Attraction to Tobacco * Alligators on Ellesmere * The Last Tortoise *

bedbug.jpg
Feeding bedbug, courtesy R. Ignell
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Most people probably find themselves itching and scratching at the mere mention of bed bugs. And people have been mentioning them an awful lot lately. But scientists may have found the solution to these irritating insects. And it all comes down to the smell of sex - bed bug sex, that is.

Also on this week's program: imagine an ancient massacre site with almost 15-thousand human skeletal fragments, from just 35 bodies. We'll meet the Canadian archeologist who uncovered the gruesome murder site. We'll also hear about the extraordinary relationship between the hornworm caterpillar and the tobacco plant. When the insect attacks, the plant calls in an air strike. Finally, we'll talk to the author of a new book, The Last Tortoise, which details how and why the resilient reptile may be losing the race to extinction.

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The Smell of Bed Bug Sex

Cases of bed bugs have been reported in record numbers recently, but help may be on the way.  Dr. Camilla Ryne, a Chemical Ecologist at the University of Lund in Sweden, has recently identified the pheromone given off by nymphs, the young, sexually immature female bed bug.  This is an alarm signal in the form of a smell released by the nymph to warn the sexually aggressive male that it is not an adult female.  The nymph pheromone is a form of mating repellant.  With more research, a laboratory-made version could be used to dissuade bed bugs from mating in the first place, and therefore curb their increasing numbers world-wide.

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CSI Pueblo
SacredRidgePithouse.jpg Anasazi Pithouse at Sacred Ridge, courtesy J. Chuipka

Jason Chuipka, a Canadian archaeologist with Woods Canyon Archaeological Consultants in Colorado, and his colleagues, had been studying a 1200-year-old Anasazi village in southwestern Colorado, when they came accross something strange.  They found a huge bed of human remains.  From the first moments, it was clear this wasn't an ordinary burial site.  It contained the remains of 35 men, women and children, but the remains had been smashed, chopped and burned into tiny pieces - nearly fifteen thousand pieces all together.  These people had been killed and then systematically reduced into the smallest possible fragments.  Mr. Chuipka suspects that this might have been an example of a kind of "ethnic cleansing" - a horrible outburst of violence against a minority group within the larger indigenous community of the time. 

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Caterpillar's Fatal Attraction to Tobacco
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Tobacco Hornworm

Chewing tobacco just became a little more of a health risk than previously thought, especially for the tobacco hornworm.  As it eats away at the tobacco leaf, a chemical in its saliva reacts with a substance given off by the plant, called Green Leaf Volatiles (GLVs).  This is the tobacco plant's mechanism for sending an SOS to the big-eyed bug, a predator of the hornworm.  Dr. Ian Baldwin, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, has found that the big-eyed bug receives the signal and comes to the aid of the tobacco plant by eating the hornworm.  This research could be valuable to the future of environmentally friendly, sustainable pest control.          
 
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Alligators on Ellesmere
ellesmere_island.jpg Ellesmere Island

Ellesmere Island was a much warmer place during the Eocene Period, about 52 million years ago.  In fact, with temperatures between 20C in the warmest month and 8C in the coolest month, it was the warmest period in the Canadian High Arctic in the last 65 million years.  According to Dr. Michael Newbrey, a paleontologist from the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, this helps explain why alligators and giant tortoises could have survived there at that time.  Ellesmere Island has produced fossils of both.  This study allows scientists to hypothesize about the effects of rapid global warming in the Arctic, with respect to the movement of animal populations.   
         
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The Last Tortoise
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In his new book, The Last Tortoise, A Tale of Extinction in Our Lifetime, Dr Craig Stanford, a professor of biology and anthroplogy at the University of Southern California, describes the many reasons why these strange and wonderful creatures are threatened.  Its evolutionary adaptations, such as longevity and slow reproduction rates, which have helped the tortoise survive for millions of years, may now be working against them in the face of human predation.  Their habitat is being destroyed; they are a food delicacy and harvested in many Asian countries; and the trade in tortoises for pets is lucrative and difficult to control.  The outlook may be bleak at present, but with greater awareness, changing government policies and the growth of eco-tourism, Dr. Stanford believes the tortoise's slide to extinction is reversible. 
 
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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0