‘Tis the Season for Wasps

With the weather warming and the insects coming out in force, it’s time to start thinking about wasps (and what to do about them)

The time to start trapping wasps is now.

While winter isn’t quite done with us yet, we’ve had a good period of warmth recently. Wasps, as well as bears, are waking from their winter hibernation. I’ve seen a few queen paper wasps scouting for new nesting sites. With this in mind, if you want to control wasps in or around your property, the time to start is now. If you can catch and kill the wasp version of a queen, you’ll stop her whole colony from bothering you the rest of the summer. (A wasp queen is called a “gyne”, which means “woman” in ancient Greek. Gynes are…

Wasp control

I’d wanted to talk about how to read wasp body language this week, but that’ll be postponed. I couldn’t persuade any individuals to do threat displays this week – all live wasps were well-mannered, despite extreme invasion of their personal space. Most of the wasps I’ve seen around Trego are Polistes paper wasps. We have two main species here – the invasive European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula) and the native Golden Paper Wasp (Polistes aurifer). In our area, Golden Paper Wasps peak in July, while the European Paper Wasps peak in August. While both are still around, I’ve been seeing…

Paper Wasp Body Language

If you know what signs to look for when you meet a wasp, it’s easy to avoid being stung. Have you ever been buzzed by a bee or a paper wasp? They dive bomb you, fly close to your face, even collide with you, but without stinging? Those were probably sentries for a nest, trying to keep danger away. Sentry wasps can be stationed 10 to 20 feet away from the nest they’re guarding, and circle back to it from time to time. These wasps are the ones you’re most likely to come into conflict with. Yesterday, I went out…

Wasps… they’re not always out to get us.

What says midsummer better than unexpected wasp nests? Buzzing uncomfortably overhead, nests full to bursting with developing young. Dreadful things, right? What would you say if I told you that aggressive wasps (think of your stereotypical Bald Faced Hornets) aren’t the only kind out there? Even within a single species, there are a wide variety of levels of aggression. If a wasp is going to be aggressive to protect her nest, full of her offspring and her sisters’ offspring, she really has to go all out. If a wasp doesn’t give her all when driving potential threats away, chances are…

Ichneumonid wasps, imposing allies

Last Thursday I saw this lovely Ichneumonid wasp (pronounced ICK-new-mon-id, from Greek “Ιχνευμων” which means “Tracker”). Most of the time I see Ichneumonids, they’re on the sides of trees, ovipositing (laying eggs) in boring insect larvae. This one’s behavior was very odd indeed. As you can see, this particular Ichneumonid wasp was laying her eggs inside a freshly split piece of Douglas Fir … or rather, inside a boring insect inside the Douglas Fir. Curious to see what insect she was laying her eggs inside, I peeled away layer after thin layer of wood … … And after an inch…


Wildfire Smoke- Christopher Migliaccio

How wildfire smoke can harm human health, even when the fire is hundreds of miles away – a toxicologist explains

The sunset in Jersey City, N.J., glows orange through smoke from wildfires in Canada in May 2023. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Christopher T. Migliaccio, University of Montana

Smoke from more than 100 wildfires burning across Canada has been turning skies hazy in North American cities far from the flames. We asked Chris Migliaccio, a toxicologist at the University of Montana who studies the impact of wildfire smoke on human health, about the health risks people can face when smoke blows in from distant wildfires.

What’s in wildfire smoke that’s a problem?

When we talk about air quality, we often talk about PM2.5. That’s particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller – small enough that it can travel deep into the lungs.

Exposure to PM2.5 from smoke or other air pollution, such as vehicle emissions, can exacerbate health conditions like asthma and reduce lung function in ways that can worsen existing respiratory problems and even heart disease.

But the term PM2.5 only tells you about size, not composition – what is burning can make a significant difference in the chemistry.

A map of North America shows where wildfire smoke from fires in Alberta, Canada, was detected across the U.S. and eastern Canada. Light smoke reached as far south as Texas and Georgia  but can be high in the air.
Smoke from wildfires in Canada was detected across a large part of the U.S. on May 22, 2023, in some areas high in the air.

In the northern Rockies, where I live, most fires are fueled by vegetation, but not all vegetation is the same. If the fire is in the wildland urban interface, manufactured fuels from homes and vehicles may also be burning, and that’s going to create its own toxic chemistry, as well. Chemists often talk about volatile organic compounds, (VOCs), carbon monoxide and PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons produced when biomass and other matter burns having the potential to harm human health.

How does inhaling wildfire smoke harm human health?

If you have ever been around a campfire and got a blast of smoke in your face, you probably had some irritation. With exposure to wildfire smoke, you might get some irritation in the nose and throat and maybe some inflammation. If you’re healthy, your body for the most part will be able to handle it.

As with a lot of things, the dose makes the poison – almost anything can be harmful at a certain dose.

Generally, cells in the lungs called alveolar macrophages will pick up the particulates and clear them out – at reasonable doses. It’s when the system gets overwhelmed that you can have a problem.

Illustration of a small section of lungs showing the alveoli and, within the alveoli, a close up of a microphage
Where macrophages are found in alveoli, the tiny air sacs in the lungs.

One concern is that smoke can suppress macrophage function, altering it enough that you become more susceptible to respiratory infection. A colleague who looked at lag time in the effect of wildfire smoke exposure found an increase in influenza cases after a bad fire season. Studies in developing countries have also found increases in respiratory infections with people who are cooking on open fires in homes.

The stress of an inflammatory response can also exacerbate existing health problems. Being exposed to wood smoke won’t independently cause someone to have a heart attack, but if they have underlying risk factors, such as significant plaque buildup, the added stress can increase the risk.

Researchers are also studying potential effects on the brain and nervous system from inhaled particulate matter.

When smoke blows over long distances, does its toxicity change?

We know that the chemistry of wildfire smoke changes. The longer it’s in the atmosphere, the more the chemistry will be altered by ultraviolet light, but we still have a lot to learn.

Researchers have found that there seems to be a higher level of oxidation, so oxidants and free radicals are being generated the longer smoke is in the air. The specific health effects aren’t yet clear, but there’s some indication that more exposure leads to greater health effects.

The supposition is that more free radicals are generated the longer smoke is exposed to UV light, so there’s a greater potential for health harm. A lot of that, again, comes down to dose.

A photo looking out at the Denver skyline shows a very hazy cities.
Denver was listed among the world’s worst cities for air pollution on May 19, 2023, largely because of the wildfire smoke from Canada. Colorado Air Pollution Control Division

Chances are, if you’re a healthy individual, going for a bike ride or a hike in light haze won’t be a big deal, and your body will be able to recover.

If you’re doing that every day for a month in wildfire smoke, however, that raises more concerns. I’ve worked on studies with residents at Seeley Lake in Montana who were exposed to hazardous levels of PM2.5 from wildfire smoke for 49 days in 2017. We found a decrease in lung function a year later. No one was on oxygen, but there was a significant drop.

This is a relatively new area of research, and there’s still a lot we’re learning, especially with the increase in wildfire activity as the planet warms.

What precautions can people take to reduce their risk from wildfire smoke?

If there is smoke in the air, you want to decrease your exposure.

Can you completely avoid the smoke? Not unless you’re in a hermetically sealed home. The PM levels aren’t much different indoors and out unless you have a really good HVAC system, such as those with MERV 15 or better filters. But going inside decreases your activity, so your breathing rate is slower and the amount of smoke you’re inhaling is likely lower.

A satellite animation shows smoke moving from fires in Alberta across Canada and into New England.
A satellite captures wildfire smoke on May 16, 2023. NASA EarthData

We also tend to advise people that if you’re in a susceptible group, such as those with asthma, create a safe space at home and in the office with a high-level stand-alone air filtration system to create a space with cleaner air.

Some masks can help. It doesn’t hurt to have a high-quality N95 mask. Just wearing a cloth mask won’t do much, though.

Most states have air quality monitors that can give you a sense of how bad the air quality is, so check those sites and act accordingly.

This article was updated May 26, 2023, with over 100 fires now burning.

Christopher T. Migliaccio, Research Associate Professor in Toxicology, University of Montana

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


TikTok Ban- Milovan Savic

A TikTok ban isn’t a data security solution. It will be difficult to enforce – and could end up hurting users


Milovan Savic, Swinburne University of Technology

Montana has made an unprecedented move to become the first US state to ban TikTok.

However, doubts have been raised over the decision’s legal foundation, enforcement mechanisms and underlying motives. While the move draws attention to data security on social media, banning TikTok alone may not provide a comprehensive solution to this problem.

For one, the move risks alienating the many young people who have come to rely on the app for meaningful connection, and in some cases their income. It also does little in the way of ensuring better future data privacy and protection for users.

Caught in political crossfire

Since its meteoric rise in 2020, TikTok has been caught in geopolitical tensions between the US and China. These tensions peaked in late 2020 when then-president Donald Trump signed an executive order directing ByteDance – the Chinese media giant and parent company of TikTok – to divest from its US operations, or face being banned. In response, TikTok partnered with Oracle on Project Texas: a US$1.5 billion initiative to relocate all US user data to servers outside China.

Allegations that China-based employees at ByteDance had accessed the TikTok user data led to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appearing before Congress in March amid yet more calls for it to be banned, and reports of the Biden administration pushing for its sale.

Throughout these controversies, TikTok has denied sharing user data with the Chinese government, and said it wouldn’t do so even if asked. Nonetheless, governments worldwide – including in Australia – have banned TikTok on government devices, citing concerns over data protection.

Enforcing a ban is a daunting task

Montana’s new law will make downloading TikTok within state lines illegal from January 1 2024. The law imposes fines of up to US$10,000 per day for entities offering access to or downloads of the app within the state. Users themselves will not incur penalties.

The current legislation places responsibility for blocking access on Apple and Google – the operators of app stores on iOS and Android devices. These companies would be held liable for any violations. However, they lack the capacity to enforce geofencing at the state level, making it difficult for them to prevent Montana residents from downloading TikTok.

As a result, it may ultimately fall on TikTok itself to block usage by Montana residents by collecting geolocation data. But this raises privacy concerns – the very concerns driving the ban in the first place.

For now, the ban’s enforceability remains to be seen. How will the government of Montana prevent users from using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access TikTok? VPNs encrypt data traffic and allow users to present themselves as being in another location, making it possible for tech-savvy users to bypass bans. Residents could also cross state lines to download the app.

Montana may become a testing ground for the “TikTok-free America” that some national lawmakers envision. Apart from TikTok, the ban also targets messaging apps including Chinese-owned WeChat and Russian-founded Telegram – highlighting growing apprehensions over data security and privacy.

But it’s unclear if such a ban is an effective solution for lawmakers’ concerns about American users’ privacy and data security.

Even if the ban in Montana is successful, its national impact will be limited. The state has a population of just over one million, whereas the US as a whole has more than 100 million monthly TikTok users. As such, the ban in Montana will likely affect only a few hundred thousand prospective users, at best.

TikTok’s importance for Gen Z

While TikTok’s popularity in the US continues to soar, nearly half of all US-based users are the digital-native teens and 20-somethings of Generation Z. TikTok is Gen Z’s playground.

Young people have protested potential bans by flooding the app with videos mocking lawmakers they see as out of touch with modern technology, further magnifying their disdain for such regulation.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supported young protesters, highlighting the unprecedented nature of banning an app that would stifle free speech while raising questions regarding digital rights in the US.

TikTok has emerged as a vital platform for Gen Z users to express their political views, entertain themselves and interact with their peers. Where other platforms might feel saturated with older generations, TikTok provides an environment where young people can safely lower the barriers to meaningful online participation.

And despite what some may think, it’s not just a quirky app for dance videos. TikTok has become a golden goose for millions of content creators who rely on the app as their stage to showcase their talents, build their brands and connect with fans and customers. Many local small businesses also rely on TikTok to reach potential customers.

With the app now under threat, the future livelihoods of these creators and small businesses are in jeopardy too.

A ban won’t fix privacy and data security issues

A successfully implemented TikTok ban may drive users to Silicon Valley’s big tech platforms. But the security of user data with these companies, including Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram) and Google, can’t be assumed to be more secure than TikTok. They also collect significant amounts of user data that can be shared or sold to third-party entities, including those with connections to China or countries with similar data laws.

The underlying issues of data security will persist beyond a TikTok ban. If data security really is the main concern, policymakers should address the problem comprehensively and systematically across social media platforms.

Tackling the root cause is essential. Until that’s done, snapping off the branches – TikTok or otherwise – will do little to keep users’ data safe.

Milovan Savic, Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Marijuana Induced Psychosis

If the past is a foreign country, it’s one where the weed is a lot less potent. This may be part of the reason that psychosis as a result of marijuana intake is becoming more of a concern.

Legal, certainly in some places. But safe? One of the principles of toxicology (the study of poisons) is that “the dose makes the poison”. Most medicines (indeed, most substances) are toxic in sufficient quantity though they may be safe in smaller doses.

One of the risks of marijuana use that’s becoming more apparent is psychosis. Psychosis is essentially a break from reality and can include various forms of hallucinations.

What do we know?

  • “15% of new cases of psychosis are assosiated with cannabis”
  • Exposure during adolescense multiplies the risk of developing schizophrenia
  • There appears to be a correlation between an increase in marijuana strength and an increase in schizophrenia diagnosis
  • In Ontario, Cannabis-related ER visits in the 10-24 year olds increased almost 5x between 2003 and 2017
  • Almost half the people diagnosed with cannabis-induced psychosis go on to be diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder

Is any of this conclusive? No. And there seem to be a lot of factors determining likelihood of psychosis: age, frequency of use, concentration, etc.

On the other hand, we can’t technically prove that cigarettes cause cancer either. Correlation might not be causation, but sometimes it’s pretty suggestive of it.



Why are some mushrooms poisonous?- Karen Hughes

Why are some mushrooms poisonous?

Poisonous or edible? Ekaterina Morozova/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Karen Hughes, University of Tennessee

Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to

Why are some mushrooms poisonous and some are not? – Alice T., age 11

You may have noticed that mushrooms pop up in your yard or in parks right after a rain but don’t last for long.

A mushroom is the above-ground part of a fungus. Most of the time, fungi live as threadlike structures called hyphae underground or in materials like wood. For fungi to reproduce, a mushroom must form above ground.

Some mushrooms are poisonous for the same reason some plants are poisonous – to protect themselves from being eaten so they can reproduce. Other mushrooms use the opposite strategy. They need animals to eat them in order to spread spores through poop. Still other mushrooms have completely different game plans.

Finger shaped fungi release spores that look like smoke.
The candlestick fungus, Xylaria hypoxylon, releases its spores. Jasius/Moment via Getty Images

Spreading spores

Mushrooms develop when the temperature is right and there is enough water. They usually consist of a cap and a stalk. On the underside of the cap, mushrooms produce spores that, like the seeds of plants, produce new fungi.

If you peek under a variety of mushroom caps, you will notice they are not all the same.

Some mushrooms have gills that look like a pleated sheet of paper. Some have pores that look like sponges. And some have toothlike structures. All of these surfaces produce spores. To create a new generation of fungi, spores need to get to new areas – and there are many fascinating ways mushrooms accomplish this.

For some mushrooms, spores simply fall from their caps and are carried to new homes by air currents.

A cluster of mushrooms glow in the dark.
The ghost fungus, Omphalotus nidiformis, at night in an Australian driveway. Louise Docker Sydney Australia/Moment via Getty Images

Other mushrooms attract insects by glowing at night. The glow from fungi in the woods at night can be very strong and is sometimes called foxfire. Insects, which are attracted to the light, inadvertently pick up spores as they investigate the glow and carry them elsewhere when they move on.

Some mushrooms never form an above-ground structure. Instead the mushroom stays underground and is eaten by squirrels and mice, which spread the spores by taking pieces back to their nests and by pooping. Such mushrooms are called truffles, and sometimes people will pay a lot of money for them.

A window of opportunity

Since mushrooms don’t last long, it’s important they spread their spores quickly. This is where poisons and toxins can come in.

Mushrooms are pretty tasty to snails, some insects, beetles, chipmunks, squirrels, deer and people. If an animal eats a mushroom, usually its spores are lost – unless they’re the type encased in a protective covering meant to be carried to a new neighborhood in poop.

Scientists have figured out that insects and snails avoid eating mushrooms that contain poison. Some mushroom poisons may make the eater only sick enough to avoid that species in the future, but some can be fatal.

A white gilled mushroom lies on its side in the grass.
A deadly poisonous mushroom, Amanita virosa. gailhampshire/Flickr, CC BY

There are many different mushroom poisons. One kind belongs to a group of very beautiful mushrooms, the amanitas, also called “destroying angels” because they are both pretty and deadly. Amanitas are often mistaken for mushrooms that can be eaten, and they cause several deaths worldwide each year.

People use some mushroom poisons in medicine. The poison of the ergot fungus, for example, was developed into a drug used to prevent migraine headaches.

Approximately 1%-2% of mushrooms are poisonous to humans. The common term for such a mushroom is a “toadstool,” but there is no easy way to distinguish a poisonous mushroom from one that is edible. So it’s not a good idea to eat mushrooms you find, because it’s hard to be sure whether they’re poisonous or not.

Many mushrooms are healthy and delicious. Just make sure you get them from a store or from someone who is a mushroom expert.

Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to Please tell us your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age limit – adults, let us know what you’re wondering, too. We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.

Karen Hughes, Professor of Mycology, University of Tennessee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


This Time of the Year- May

This day in 1987

Anyone remember $55/cord firewood? Or the Montana Cultural Exchange? As it turns out, there are still programs of that sort out there. The easiest to find was a wrestling exchange with Germany. Bomb threats in the Yaak? If our 1987 coverage is anything to go by, things were pretty conflict heavy in the school district that year. Also- fireman’s ball? It’s certainly been a while since we’ve had one, though there was some discussion of reviving the practice at annual meetings for both the hall and the fire department.

Lilacs Blooming? Time to plant Beans (among other things)

I’ve noticed the lilacs beginning to bloom in Eureka, and remembered that the blooming time of lilacs corresponds to the planting time for some crops. They are an “indicator” species, as it were. The study of when plants bloom and other seasonal events (such as migration) is phenology. It can be used by observant gardeners to determine when to plant, even across different regions. Lilacs bloom at the same number of growing days, even when they do so at different dates. Beans, cucumbers, and squash should be safe to plant when the lilacs are in full bloom. The timing…

Around the Pond

New on the game cam this week is a badger.  The badger tends to be transitory with few Columbia grounds squirrels residing in the field to become dinner. The geese are being geese. The goslings are growing and hiking along the pond’s edge.  The turkeys are being camera shy.  The deer look like they need a good combing.-Patches


True to schedule, the mayflies have returned. Of course, the mayflies didn’t wait for May proper… they’ve been with us for the past month at least. Here’s the shed skin of one I watched emerging this past week. Note the three tail filaments – this is how you can tell it is a mayfly skin. Our pond tends to have the smaller species of mayflies in good abundance – primarily genus Callibaetis. Here are some higher-quality photographs of other mayfly nymphs, so you can get a sense of the variety. All mayflies belong to Order “Ephemeroptera”, which is Greek…


Cabbage Rolls

These days, most of my meal planning comes under the heading of “What do I do with…?” In the case of “too many onions” the answer is “onion soup”. In the case of cabbage, I’ve had a bit more difficulty.

Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, which just means that it’s in the same group of plants as broccoli, and Brussels sprouts among others. The name has something to do with the flowers looking vaguely cross-shaped, but can be translated into everyday terms as “may cause gas”.

So, what do you do with a whole cabbage? If you’re unaccustomed to having it as a regular part of your diet- medicate accordingly. Otherwise: Fried cabbage (breaded, or otherwise), spring rolls, soup, and cabbage rolls.

What’s a cabbage roll? Leftovers wrapped in a boiled cabbage leaf and baked, after the leaf is covered in a tomato sauce (a premade sauce, or canned tomatoes and tomato paste, or even tomato soup in a pinch).

Basic filling ingredients: hamburger (not necessarily cooked- it can be cooked when the rolls are baked), rice (cooked), onion, garlic

Additional ingredients? Anything else that might be handy. (More) cabbage, corn, beans, carrot, potato, pepper, etc.

Directions: Mix filling. Boil cabbage just enough to get the leaves flexible (a few minutes. Probably no more than 5). Remove leaf. Add filling. Wrap. Add to baking dish. Repeat. Once the dish is full, add a tomato sauce over everything. Bake covered at 350 degrees for an hour or more, until everything is done.


2023 Rendezvous: view from the village

This year, my view of Rendezvous was from the historical village. It was a much warmer day, and very busy as time for the parade approached.

Things were crowded, and much to my surprise we rarely heard the music from across the street at Riverside park over the hum of conversations.

While the crowd seemed busy to me, and there seemed to be plenty of vendors (stretching up to folks with tables set up along the street), the recurrent conversation I kept hearing was about how much smaller things were. It was typically a nostalgic conversation, with a wistful question at it’s heart: how long will this continue?

Rendezvous was a lot of fun and I hope it continues for many years to come. It seemed like a good turn out from where I was sitting.


A “virus” that isn’t a virus

Suddenly, you have pop-ups in the corner. The sort of spam advertisements that you know never to click on, interspersed with suggestions that your anti-virus is out of date.

And you didn’t download anything. What happened?

One possibility is that among those many “allow notification” requests that you turned down, something malicious got through.

Strictly speaking, there is no reason that request had to include the “no” option, or that the “no” button you clicked was actually that.

If it’s in the notifications, go through the settings on your internet browser and see which websites are allowed to send you notifications. Remove permissions for anything you don’t recognize.

Community, Weird Words

Rendezvous Again

Since it’s that time of the year again- it also seems time to revisit what we’ve said about the origins of the word.

Origins of the Word Rendezvous

One of the reasons that English is described as difficult to learn is the number of words- over 170,000! Of those, the majority are loan-words, words taken from other languages.

The word Rendezvous is one such word. It was appropriated from the French, around 1600 (during a brief period in which Britain and France were not at war- as a result of competition with Spain). The original usage appears to be a verb: rendez vous meaning present yourselves. This then becomes the noun describing the place of meeting we are accustomed to.

English has borrowed from different languages at different times. At the time Rendezvous joined the English vocabulary, a significant number of the new words were coming from French.

About two centuries after Rendezvous was appropriated from the French, William Ashley held the first trappers’ Rendezvous. These lasted for only fifteen years. Some of them were so large as to create temporary towns. Other gatherings in the same time period are occasionally given the same name. Our local Rendezvous has outlasted the original.