Category Archives: Education

Welcoming native bees

I gave a Zoom lecture last night on why people should care about native bees, and promised the audience (friends of Belmont Hills Library, in Bala Cynwyd, PA) that I’d share some links, photographs, and answers to some of the questions at the end. If you have any lingering questions or thoughts, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Good luck attracting bees, and thanks again for the invitation.

My blog posts I referenced

Links of interest

Articles

Bee books

Answers to questions

  • Good native ground cover to replace English ivy? A: golden groundsel (Packera aurea).
  • Honey from any native bees? A: yes, from stingless bees. I have a few photographs from Costa Rica and Mexico. It’s more liquidy than European honey bee honey.
  • Are yellow jackets wasps or bees? A: wasps
  • How deep do ground-nesting bees dig? A: I looked up the record and in some species the tunnels can extend down 10 feet or more. But 12 to 18″ is more typical.
  • Do figs actually eat wasps? A: Figs in the wild are pollinated by wasps, but as I mentioned, the varieties we grow in the United States don’t require pollination, so the crunch is not due to wasps within. Fig and biology fans should read Gods, Wasps, and Stranglers: the Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees.
  • Is it worth keeping hostas in pots for leafcutter bees A: It is never worth keeping hostas alive for any reason. But leafcutter bees will use them, I’ve read.

Photographs I showed or meant to show

For more photographs of bees (and wasps), my full collection is on SmugMug.

#BeeBest

Bag of water hanging from ceiling

15 mosquito-control strategies and devices that don’t work

Health officials love to remind people to use DEET and other CDC-approved repellents, but they tend to shy away from telling the public what doesn’t work. As a result, millions of people adopt ineffective techniques and gimmicky devices. These people are not only subjecting themselves to annoying mosquito bites, they are increasing the likelihood that family members will contract West Nile virus disease, Zika virus disease, eastern equine encephalitis, and other mosquito-borne diseases. So I thought I’d make a list of the top myths and scams just in case skeptical people are Googling.

1. Mosquito-repelling plants

Despite the claims of thousands of posts on Facebook and Pinterest, there are no plants that, when planted around your yard, repel mosquitoes. And, just to be clear, the plant marketed as “mosquito plant” does not repel mosquitoes. I know this is deeply upsetting news to many plant fans. I’m just the messenger.

2. Ultrasonic devices and apps

None of these have been found to work (details). It’s too bad. It would be really cool if they did. The FTC has taken some companies to court. There is, however, a device called The Mosquito that is effective at repelling teenagers.

3. Bags of water suspended from ceiling

This belief is common in Mexico, Central America, Spain, and certain pockets in the U.S. south. It’s a variation of the equally-ineffective tradition of hanging bags of water to repel house flies. Some people insist that you have to add coins (and just the right number).

4. Listerine

Nope — even when mixed with other ingredients like beer and epsom salts, spraying Listerine around your yard won’t repel mosquitoes. Just another internet rumor started by somebody with too much free time.

5. Citronella candles

Citronella candles only seem to work if you surround yourself with a lot of them, ideally in a protected area so that wind doesn’t dissipate the smoke. Similarly, Tiki torches that burn citronella-laced oil are ineffective. They smell great, though. The pleasant smell most likely contributes to the strong placebo effect. People absolutely believe they work even though they do not.

6. Bounce dryer sheets

Per one study fungus gnats (which don’t bite) were mildly repelled by dryer sheets. I’d wager these sheets might actually be attractive to mosquitoes (some species home in on perfumes).

7. Wrist bands with natural oils

At best, wrist bands will reduce the number of mosquito bites on your wrist. But they will not emit enough volatile compounds to shield the rest of you. NB: currently there are no wristbands that contain DEET or other CDC-approved repellent. Details.

8. Stickers laced with natural oils

Stickers only prevent mosquitoes from biting the flesh directly underneath the sticker. You’d need an awful lot of stickers for full protection. If you can rock that look, I say go for it. Note, same conclusion for the stickers that claim to infuse your bloodstream with B1.

9. Garlic

Eating garlic does not deter mosquitoes. Just other people.

10. Vitamin B1, B6, or B12 pills or patches

Nope, nope, and nope. Details. More details.

11. Mozi-Q pills

Just another scam. Details.

12. Bug Zappers

These devices are adored by people because they make a satisfying crackle when an insect meets its end. Indeed, people who own these seem to delight in the attention these things get when friends come over in the evening. But if you dump all the carcasses on a table and sort them (good family fun), you’ll find that only a small fraction of the victims will be mosquitoes. In one study, 0.22% were mosquitoes. Mostly you’ve just electrocuted thousands of small, defenseless moths and night-active beetles. That’s a lot of bad karma. More details.

13. Dynatraps

These don’t appear to work. If you’re still on the fence read some of the many 1-star reviews on Amazon.

14. Tubes of yeast and sugar

Contraptions filled with yeast and sugar are really good at attracting and killing fruit flies, ants, and wasps. They will not control your mosquitoes.

15. Bats and birds

Sadly, it’s a myth that constructing a bat or bird hotel in your backyard will eliminate your mosquito problem. Bats and birds will certainly eat mosquitoes under some circumstances (e.g., when they are caged with nothing else) but under natural conditions they prefer to eat larger insects. You should still construct bird and bat houses, though. Details.

More information

If you have questions, email me.

Templates for better posters

There’s been a frenzy of discussion on Twitter this summer about conference poster design (see #betterposter, #betterposters, #butterposter) so perhaps it’s a good time to re-share my Powerpoint templates. If you’re new to posters please see my page, “Designing conference posters” for details.

Below is a standard horizontal template. I recommend 500-800 words and 1 or 2 graphics that are understandable without you needing to explain them.

poster-template-horizontal-1-purrington

Note that there is no requirement for the text boxes to have a line around them — it’s easy to set line width to zero. And if you want to delete the background color (gray, here), you can eliminate the “rectangles within rectangles” look. Totally up to you.

If you want to include a QR code, put it at the bottom so that it doesn’t distract from your interesting graphs and illustrations. Like this:

But be cautious about including a QR code. By design it invites a viewer to fire up their camera phone, and I’d wager that most will also take a pic of your entire poster. So skip the QR code if you don’t want people to take pics of your poster. A compromise is to print business cards that have the QR code (as well as poster title, your name, your email address) and then leave them in an envelope pinned next to your poster (“please take one!”).

Here’s a template that moves the Literature cited, Acknowledgements, and Further information to the far right column … which causes the Materials & methods and Results areas to have more room. But the Conclusions box gets squished (such is geometry).

poster-template-horizontal-2-purrington

Here’s a template that might work for a humanities topic. I’ve chosen to have a question/result/conclusion flow (from left to right) inside the main arena, but you can always rearrange. There are also no rules about section names — just redo those, too.

poster-template-horizontal-3-purrington

The final template is a portrait-style one. For this orientation I think it’s critical to put the least important sections on the very bottom (that position is really hard to read without stooping).

poster-template-vertical-purrington

If you’d like to read an article about the better posters frenzy, here’s one from Inside Higher Education in which I’m quoted a few times.