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5 Awesome Facts About the Atlas Moth

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We know what you’re thinking: You’d like to torch every one of those pesky bugs buzzing around your porch light and banging into your windows.

But forget those white-winged summertime pests that come to mind. An Atlas Moth would eat them for breakfast … if it had a mouth. A native of Southeast Asia, the Atlas Moth rivals any butterfly with its beauty and grandeur, and it’s time to show this insect the respect it deserves. Why? Here are five facts about its life that we find impressive.  

1. It’s the largest moth in the world in terms of wing surface area.

Ready for this? The wingspan of a female Atlas Moth can reach up to 12 inches with a surface area of 62 square inches. Go ahead and hold up a ruler … that’s one big bug.

2. The word “Atlas” in its name has many meanings, referring to its “mapped” patterns, “titanic” size, and the snake-tipped edges of its wings.

Many see the word “Atlas” as a reference to the bold and distinct lines that form the map-like pattern found on its wings, the different colors representing different geological formations.

A second theory is based on Greek mythology. The moth is said to be named after “Atlas,” the Titan condemned by Zeus to hold the sky upon his shoulders. The reference is more about the large size of the moth than the idea that they are bearing some sort of burden.

Lastly, in China, the Cantonese name for the moth translates into “snake’s head moth,” referring to the outer tips of the wings that look very similar to the head of a snake. You can see this very clearly in just about every photo of an Atlas Moth.

While all three theories have some ground to stand on, we think the Chinese are most on-point in their observation. Those tips sure do look like snakes!

3. In Taiwan, the cocoons of Atlas Moths are used as purses.

Seriously! The cocoons are very durable and spun from broken strands of brown silk known as fagara, which local communities non-commercially collect and turn into useable products, including purses. Some vacated cocoons don’t need to be deconstructed—they can be used “as found” as small pocket-change purses by simply installing a zipper!

4. They have no mouths.

You don’t have to worry about the Atlas Moth munching on the clothes in your closet. Despite their large size, they have no mouths and don’t eat once emerging from their cocoons, relying on fat storage from their immature stages of life.  

5. Once they emerge from their cocoons, Atlas Moths have a very short lifespan.

After spending about a month in their cocoons, Atlas Moths emerge as the beautiful creatures we’ve been describing above. Unfortunately, this state is short lived as the adult moths typically die within a week or two of spreading their wings.

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Bite Helper
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New Gadget Claims to De-Itch Your Mosquito Bites
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Bite Helper

Summer can be an itchy time for anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors. Mosquitos are everywhere, and some people are particularly susceptible to their bites and the itching that comes with them. A new product aims to stop the suffering. Bite Helper, reviewed by Mashable, is designed to stop your bites from itching.

Place the pen-like device over your swollen bite and it will begin to emit heat and vibrations designed to quell the itch. It’s meant to increase blood flow around the area to alleviate your pain, heating your skin up to 120°F for up to 45 seconds. It’s the size of a thin tube of sunscreen and is battery powered.

Most dermatologists advise applying cold to alleviate itching from insect bites, so the question is: Will heating up your skin really work? Bite Helper hasn’t been clinically tested, so it’s hard to say for certain how effective it would be. There has been some research to suggest that heat can help increase blood flow in general, but decrease histamine-induced blood flow in the skin (part of the body’s normal response to allergens) and reduce itching overall. In a German study of wasp, mosquito, and bee stings, concentrated heat led to a significant improvement in symptoms, though the researchers focused mostly on pain reduction rather than itching.

Bite Helper’s technique "seems like a legitimate claim" when it comes to localized itching, Tasuku Akiyama, who studies the mechanisms of itching at the University of Miami, tells Mental Floss. "The increase in the blood flow may increase the rate of elimination of itch mediator from the area." However, before that happens, the heat might also make the itch a little worse in the short-term, he cautions. This seems to be borne out by user experience: While Mashable's reviewer found that using the device didn’t hurt at all, his daughter found it too hot to bear for more than a few seconds.

If the device does in fact relieve itching, though, a few seconds of pain may be worth it.

Bite Helper is $25 on Amazon.

[h/t Mashable]

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Could Imported Sperm Help Save America’s Bees?
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Oakley Originals, Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

It might be time to call in some sexual backup for male American bees. Scientists have started impregnating domestic honeybees with foreign sperm in the hopes that enlarging the gene pool will give our bees a fighting chance.

These days, the bees need all the help they can get. Colonies across the globe are disappearing and dying off, partly due to the increased use of neonicotinoid pesticides and partly from a parasite called the varroa mite. The invasive mite first landed on American shores in 1987, and it's been spreading and sickening and devouring our bees ever since.

Part of the problem, researchers say, is that the American bee gene pool has gone stagnant. We stopped importing live honeybees in 1922, which means that all the bees we've got are inbred and, therefore, all alike. They lack the genetic diversity that allows species to adapt to changing conditions or new threats. So when the mites come, they all get hit.

Many apiarists now rely on anti-mite pesticides to keep their charges safe. While these treatments may help keep the mites away, they aren't great for the bees, either—and the mites have begun to develop a resistance. But beekeepers feel like their hands are tied.

"I lost 40 percent of my colonies to varroa last fall," Matthew Shakespear of Olson's Honeybees told NPR. "I'm not taking any more chances. We've already done five treatments, compared with the two treatments we applied this time last year."

But there might be another way. Experts at the University of Washington have started to—how can we put this delicately?—manually encourage drones (male bees) in Europe and Asia to give up their sperm. All it takes is a little belly rub, and the drone, er, donates 1 microliter of fluid, or one-tenth of the amount needed to inseminate a queen bee.

"They're really accommodating," bee breeder and researcher Susan Cobey told NPR. 

It's hardly a painless procedure, but researcher Brandon Hopkins told Mental Floss it's no worse than sex in the wild. "In natural mating he uses pressure from muscles and hemolymph to evert [his genitals], (inflating it and forcing it to pop out)," Hopkins wrote in an email. "In the lab we apply pressure to the head and thorax to create similar pressure to cause the eversion. In both cases (naturally and artificially) the male dies from the process of mating."

So far, the scientists' attempts to crossbreed foreign and domestic bees have been successful. Within their test colonies, genetic diversity is up.

"This doesn't mean they are superior in performance to the other bees," Hopkins told NPR. "It means we have a better chance of finding rare and unique traits." Traits, Hopkins says, like genetic resistance to the varroa mites—a quality shared by donor bees in Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Georgia.

Other beekeepers are opting for a more hands-off approach, introducing imported queens to their domestic hives. Shakespear bought his from Cobey, who reared them from bees she collected in Slovenia.

"Maybe these new genetics can deal with the varroa mites naturally," Shakespear said, "rather than having to rely on chemicals. It's time to start widening our gene pool."

[h/t The Salt]

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