Katrina’s Pestilence Potential

I was visiting the New Jersey Pest Management Association website today (yes, my life is very exciting) and happened to notice this “fun fact about pests”:

In the 1960s, animal behavior researchers studied the effects of various substances on spiders. When spiders were fed flies that had been injected with caffeine, they spun very ‘nervous’ webs. When spiders ate flies injected with LSD, they spun webs with wild, abstract patterns. Spiders that were given sedatives fell asleep before completing their webs.

How much do you want to bet that this study was funded by tax dollars?

I was actually at the website after reading this far more serious piece about the Katrina aftermath:

“There is an aspect to the devastation of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities,” says Leonard Douglen, executive director of the New Jersey Pest Management Association, “that must not be overlooked. It is the need to deal with an insect and rodent pest populations that are going to explode, creating the potential for the spread of disease that rivals the polluted waters.”

Douglen urges the state and federal government authorities in charge of evacuating the human population of New Orleans and tending to the needs of other affected Gulf Coast cities “to undertake a major pesticide spraying program in order to exterminate a massive outbreak of mosquitoes, major vectors for the spread of diseases that include Malaria and West Nile Fever, along with other insect pest populations.”

The conditions for the breeding of billions of mosquitoes are ideal says Douglen. “Unless the troops, police, contractors and others in the affected areas are protected against the mosquitoes, we could see significant outbreaks of disease among them.” Stinging insects such as wasps, Yellow Jackets, and others will return in force as well.

Douglen also warns against a huge population increase among rats. “Not only do they now have access to vast supplies of food and ample harborage among abandoned homes and other structures, but rats under these circumstances will breed rapidly in response to this favorable environment.” Mathematically, a single pair of rats has the potential of producing 359 million descendents in just three year’s time.

“The current population of rats in the affected areas can reproduce at a rate of an entire new generation within three months. The gestation period is a scant twenty-two days and a female rat will give birth to an average litter of eight. In their brief lifespan of nine months, each will produce an average of twenty new rats,” said Douglen.

The Black Plague of the 1400’s, which killed a third of the population of Europe, was spread by the combination of rats and the parasitic fleas that lived off of them, that transmitted the bubonic plague to humans. As recently as 1994, rats and fleas were responsible for an outbreak of the pneumonic plague in India….

Katrina appears to be the disaster that never quits.

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