Kudzu bugs, drug- resistant bacteria and defective sperm


Kudzu bugs are increasing in abundance in Lee County and elsewhere in the southeast. The bugs first appeared on kudzu near Atlanta in 2009 and rapidly spread across Georgia and into South Carolina, causing extensive damage to soybeans. They first appeared in Alabama in 2011. They feed and lay eggs through summer and fall and then seek sheltered places where they overwinter. In spring, the bugs become active and begin moving onto kudzu and other host plants, particularly wisteria. On one internet site, someone commented, “They’re all over the walls of my house and have killed my wisteria and chrysanthemums.” Reportedly, kudzu bugs can reduce kudzu patches by 50 percent within two years.

In addition to feeding on kudzu, the bugs might have at least one other beneficial effect. If the little buggers can kill Chinese wisteria, they are about the only things that will feed on this harmful intrusive plant and could conceivably halt its spread. Another intrusive exotic plant, mimosa, might be attacked by kudzu bugs. Mimosa is a member of the legume family, as are kudzu and wisteria, and legumes seem to be the bugs’ favorite hosts. Entomologists are attempting to determine effective chemical measures that can be taken to control kudzu bugs on soybeans and other desirable plants. Let’s hope that they find a chemical that won’t kill more of our beneficial insects than some of those now in use.

Fortunately, kudzu bugs, unlike love bugs, do not smash when struck by automobiles. They’re ‘hard-shelled’ and bounce off the hoods and windshields of moving vehicles. It’s possible, however, that, if present in large numbers, they could become lodged in radiators and cause vehicles to overheat.

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“Patients are now dying from infections that have been successfully treated for decades,” the Ontario Medical Association reports. Staph infections have become increasingly difficult to treat with antibiotics and more recently ‘a multitude’ of common infections from strep throat to salmonella are now harder to treat, the report says. All the evidence indicates the reasons why bacteria are becoming harder to kill with antibiotics are twofold. The first is the widespread low-dose prophylactic use of antibiotics being fed to farm animals to make them grow and to keep them healthy. The FDA reports that 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are fed to farm animals. Bacteria that develop resistance in the animals can be transmitted to humans in the meat they eat, in the contaminated water they drink, or from direct contact with the animals, and from other sources.

The other reason is that antibiotics are being overused by physicians to treat viruses like flu or common cold that antibiotics can’t cure but the practice can contribute to antibiotic resistance. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, urges that steps be taken to slow the development of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains, warning that “In the absence of urgent corrective…actions, the world is heading toward a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and will once again, kill unabated.” The old adage reminds that “A word to the wise is sufficient.” In fact the truly wise don’t need reminding; they already know.

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Until recently, it was believed that children born to women 35 years or older were more likely to suffer from Down syndrome than those born to younger women, and that the women were solely to blame for waiting too long to bear children. Research now indicates that mutations in the fathers’ sperm is likely the cause. An article in Time Magazine (Apr. 22) is elucidative. As men grow older, the number of mutations in their sperm increases, whereas the number of mutations in the eggs of females remains the same throughout their reproductive lives.

Studies reported in the August 2012 issue of Nature found that older men face a significant risk of siring a child with autism or schizophrenia because of mutations in their sperm that contribute to these conditions. Such mutations double in number for every 16.5 years a man ages. In an earlier issue of Nature (April 2012), it was reported that fathers are four times more likely than mothers to pass along autism-related mutations, with the risk becoming especially more acute after men turn 35. It stands to reason that since Down syndrome results from a genetic defect, it’s more likely that the father and not the mother is responsible for the offspring’s abnormal condition. It is also reasonable to assume that most children born to women 35 or older had fathers of comparable or greater age. Men and women, especially men, should read the Time Magazine article.


Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.


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