This Self-Cloning Tick is Terrorizing More States

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iStock

Few arachnids are as demonized in the summer months as ticks, the parasitic little nuisances that can spread disease in humans and pets. That's not likely to change now that there's a exotic new species that can not only self-replicate, but is also poised to attack animals like a colony of swarming fire ants.

This super-tick is Haemaphysalis longicornis, or the longhorned tick, native to East Asia and imported to the U.S. by unknown means. The first North American sighting took place in August 2017 in New Jersey when a farmer walked into a county health office covered in nearly 1000 ticks after shearing a pet sheep that had been infested. The insect was then spotted in Virginia, West Virginia, and Arkansas, with caution advised in Maryland. As of this week, it’s now a confirmed resident of North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer reports.

H. longicornis invites more dread than a conventional tick for several reasons. It can “clone” itself, with females laying up to 2000 genetically identical eggs without any assistance from a male, a process called parthenogenesis. Reproduction is faster, with offspring appearing in just six months compared to two years for common deer ticks. It’s also an aggressive biter, nibbling on any animal flesh it can latch on to, and is able to transfer a host of diseases in the process—some of them fatal. In addition to Lyme, longhorned ticks can transmit the flu-like ehrlichiosis bacteria and the rare Powassan virus, which can cause brain inflammation.

The news isn’t much better for livestock. Given enough opportunity, the ticks can siphon enough blood from an animal to kill it, a process known as exsanguination. The attack can become so concentrated that pets have been spotted with ticks hanging from them like bunches of grapes.

New Jersey officials have confirmed the tick has survived the winter by burrowing underground, a somewhat ominous sign that the invasive species might be durable enough to become a widespread problem. Experts recommend taking all the regular precautions, including wearing long pants when outdoors, using repellent, and examining yourself and your pets for ticks. While the longhorned tick hadn’t yet displayed a taste for human flesh, it’s better to be safe than sorry. As for the sheep: following a chemical treatment, she made a full recovery.

[h/t Charlotte Observer]

How Waffle House Helps Measure the Severity of a Natural Disaster

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iStock

There are a lot of ways the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assesses and addresses the severity of a natural disaster. Meteorology can predict movement patterns, wind gusts, and precipitation. Resources are dispatched to areas hit hardest by torrential weather.

But when the agency needs an accurate, ground-level gauge for how a community is coping during a crisis, they turn to Waffle House.

Since 2004, FEMA has utilized what former administrator Craig Fugate called the “Waffle House Index.” Because the casual dining chain is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, tracking to see if a location is closed or working with limited supplies can help inform the agency as to whether affected areas are ailing or taking steps toward normalcy.

“If a Waffle House is closed because there's a disaster, it's bad,” Fugate told NPR in 2011. “We call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow ... If they're green, we're good, keep going. You haven't found the bad stuff yet.”

For FEMA, the ability to order a plate of smothered and covered hash browns is an important analytic. If a Waffle House is having trouble getting stock, then transportation has been interrupted. If the menu is limited, then it’s possible they have some utilities but not others. If its locations have locked their doors, inclement weather has taken over. The chain’s locations would normally stay open even in severe conditions to help first responders.

The company has opened a Waffle House Storm Center to gather data in anticipation of Hurricane Florence, a Category 2 storm expected to touch down in the Carolinas this week. But not all locations are taking a wait-and-see approach. One Waffle House in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has already closed due to the looming threat, making it the first red dot on the Index.

[h/t CNN]

Cigarette Butts Are the Number One Source of Ocean Trash

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iStock

The health consequences of smoking have been well-documented, but cigarettes can continue to do harm long after they've been stubbed out. As Business Insider reports, cigarette butts account for the largest source of trash in the world's oceans, outnumbering plastic items like straws and water bottles.

Even with cigarette sales sharply declining in recent years, the amount of litter they produce remains significant. It's difficult to recycle filters and often dangerous to throw them in the trash with flammable materials. With public ashtrays scarcer than they once were, many smokers opt to leave the remains on the ground.

Most filters contain cellulose acetate, a non-biodegradable type of plastic. So instead of breaking down over time, the waste washes into streams, rivers, and, when they're disposed of on beaches, directly into the sea.

The Ocean Conservancy estimates that roughly 60 million cigarette butts have been collected from the ocean since the 1980s. Unlike other waste items that pollute the ocean but often get more attention, including plastic bags and six-pack rings, cigarette filters can inflict serious damage on marine life. They contain many of the same chemicals as full cigarettes, including nicotine, lead, and arsenic.

Some unusual initiatives to clean up cigarette butts have been proposed over the years, including training crows to collect them and using them to pave roads, but real change needs to start with cigarette smokers. Instead of leaving them on the sidewalk, filters should be extinguished and safely stored until there are enough of them to send to a special recycling center that handles difficult-to-recycle materials. TerraCycle will even send you a special recycling receptacle designed for collecting cigarette ashes and filters.

[h/t Business Insider]

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