Author Archives: Bowen Zhao

Terminating Species for the Greater Good

Have you ever wished for an annoying species to disappear off the face of the Earth? Do some species seem to exist just to cause misery for the rest of the animals on this planet?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above then you are in luck! Humans have invented a clever way to get rid of pest populations. It is called the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). This technique has existed since the 1950s and was pioneered by Dr. R.C. Bushland and Dr. E.F. Knipling. As you can tell from the diagram below, the concept of this technique is very simple. Basically, nuclear radiation is used to make the male species of the pest you are targeting infertile. Then these males are released into the wild. The wild females cannot detect that the males are infertile so they will still mate with each other. After mating, the females will lay their eggs but the eggs will never hatch because of the mutations the radiation causes.


The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) involves releasing sterile males into the wild. The sterile males can still mate but no eggs will be fertilized. Credit:

Here is a video that does an amazing job of introducing SIT.

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Credit: FAOVideo

You may be wondering if humans should be playing God but SIT is currently safer than using conventional means such as pesticides. With pesticides, it is not just the pests that suffer but everyone else. Helpful bugs such as butterflies and ladybugs can be harmed. Pesticides also ruin the environment by contaminating soil, water, air, and non-target plants. Even you can be harmed since pesticides easily stick to food products and are hard to get rid of. It is estimated that one million people worldwide per year die from pesticide-related causes.


SIT is safer compared to pesticide use. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Another reason the Sterile Insect Technique is beneficial is that it can exterminate pests that can’t be targeted by pesticides. These pests torment livestock and humans. The first species that was experimented on using SIT was Cochliomyia hominivorax, a parasitic fly known as the screwworm fly. Unlike normal parasitic maggots which eat dead flesh, screwworm maggots only eat the living flesh of warm-blooded animals. If you’re wondering why the flies are called screwworms, that’s because if the maggots are disturbed, they will “screw” themselves deeper into the flesh. This causes severe injuries and death in livestock. Thankfully, the U.S. has managed to officially eradicate this nightmare in 1982 using SIT.


The adult form of the screwworm fly. Credit: Wikimedia Commons


The larva form of the screwworm fly. A wound can contain hundreds of larvae. Credit: USDA

Although this technique is very effective and safe, there are still limitations such as being expensive and requiring high levels of training and security. In the future, as technology improves, Sterile Insect Technique may become reliable enough to replace pesticides.

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A modern-day example of STI being used to eradicate mosquitoes. Credit: TheLipTV2


-Bowen Zhao

Benefits of Eating Insects

Have you ever been disgusted by a cockroach or a spider? Of course you have! You may find the sight of a bug disgusting but for many cultures eating bugs is considered normal. In fact, there are 2 billion people worldwide who regularly eat bugs as part of their diet. Below is a video of some of the delicious dishes you can create with bugs.

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Credit: darrenb3

There are many benefits to eating bugs. They are a cheap food source, they provide important nutrients, and eating them is environmentally friendly.

Bugs are everywhere. They can be found in your own backyard. However, bugs in urban areas are not safe to eat due to the possible contamination from pesticides. Still, many bugs in the wild are edible and pose no risk. There are also farms which specialize in raising bugs for consumption. Since bugs can be found everywhere and are abundant, they are a cheap source of food. Insects make up most of the biomass of terrestrial animals and represent 80 percent of the world’s species. What makes them even cheaper is the low cost of raising them. They do not require the specialized care of normal livestock. Of course not all types of bugs are edible but there is still a huge variety to choose from.

Even though bugs are small, they can be very nutritious. Bugs contain almost no cholesterol and are chockfull of protein. Bugs also contain fat but that fat is mostly the unsaturated kind which is healthier. Another added bonus is the absence of pesticides and growth hormones commonly used in raising livestock.


This chemical is Roxarsone which is used in chicken feed to increase growth. Credit: wikipedia

Eating bugs is also beneficial for the environment. Since bugs are so abundant, eating them is unlikely to pose a threat to their survival as a species. The following chart shows the percentage of species in each animal group and how endangered they are. From the chart, we can conclude that insects suffer the least from being endangered.


A huge amount of other animal groups are endangered compared to the insect group. Credit: eoearth

These three benefits may not be enough reason to convince people to try eating bugs. This is understandable so in order to convince you here is a video that gives more reasons to switch to a diet of bugs.

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Credit: AsapSCIENCE



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The Sixth Extinction Will Be Caused by Humans

In the past, there have been five mass extinctions which were due to various reasons. None of those reasons were due to the effects from any one species. However, there is no doubt that humans will have a role in the sixth extinction. In fact, it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that the sixth extinction is already in progress and humans are the ones to blame. Many scientists agree that a biodiversity crisis is already underway.

The video below gives a nice summary of the past mass extinctions and what the sixth extinction will be like.

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Credit: It’s Okay To Be Smart

Humans over-consume, pollute the environment, and destroy habitats. The list of human activities which negatively affect other species seems endless. What evidence is there that these human activities are to blame for the current crisis? Well, there is a lot of evidence.

Millions of years ago, before humans existed, there was about 0.1 extinctions per million species per year. Compare that with the current rate of extinction which is about 1000 times higher at 100 to 1,000 species lost per million per year. Since there are 8.7 million known species, about 870 to 8,700 species are lost worldwide per year at the current extinction rate. Unfortunately, there are still many species not recognized so those numbers should be higher.

The habitat destruction caused by humans is a major contributor to species extinction. For example, oil spills are relatively common and can have devastating effects. The year 2015 hasn’t even ended and there have already been four oil spills this year. In the year 2014, there were six oil spills contributing a total of about 5000 tonnes of oil. If you think that number is big, you won’t believe the amount of oil spilled from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010. An estimated 205.8 million gallons of oil was spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. Among the thousands of animals killed, endangered species such as bluefin tuna were also affected by the oil spill. From this single disaster, the population of species indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico plummeted enough that it would take generations for them to recover.

Even from space, you can clearly see the oil as white and gray streaks.

Even from space, you can clearly see the oil as white and gray streaks. Credit: NASA

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Credit: MSNBC

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Credit: William R. Parrott

So the situation of other species seems pretty dire but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for people to try preventing the sixth mass extinction from occurring. If humans can cause extinctions then why not also stop extinctions? Nonetheless, you might still want to plan a trip to the zoo. Who knows which animal will disappear next?

Don't deny it!

Don’t deny it! Credit: Mimi and Eunice

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Credit: SourceFed


-Bowen Zhao