June 19, 2014
Fulfilling Will’s Stipulations Is
Bugging The Smithsonian
By JESSICA GRESKO
Washington (AP) Carl J. Drake spent his life studying bugs, everything from aphids to water striders. When he died in 1965, the entomologist left his life savings and his vast insect collection to the Smithsonian. But now Drake’s will has become something of a pest.
The Smithsonian Institution says that after nearly half a century, it’s having a hard time carrying out Drake’s wishes, including fulfilling the mission he gave the institution for his money: buy more bugs. So, the Smithsonian is asking a federal judge in Washington for permission to modify Drake’s will.
The Smithsonian says it’s only had to ask to modify a will once or twice in the last half century. But carrying out certain elements of Drake’s will has ``become impossible, impracticable, and wasteful,’’ Department of Justice lawyers wrote on the Smithsonian’s behalf in asking a judge in late April to approve the modifications it wants.
Lawyers wrote that over the years the Smithsonian has used Drake’s dollars to purchase about a dozen insect collections, but now buying new bugs is tough. Lawyers wrote that’s because of changes to an environmental law made in the 1980s. Those changes increased the red tape surrounding insect collecting, such as documents needed to prove the collections were made legally.
Photo: a (live) lace bug
The Smithsonian wants to use the income from Drake’s investment, which has grown from around $250,000 to about $4 million, not only to purchase insects but also to buy supplies and to support scientific research on Drake’s collection and other ``True Bugs’’ it owns. That’s the type of insects Drake collected, a group that includes bed bugs and other bugs with mouths like hypodermic needles.
The Smithsonian also wants to be able to loan items from Drake’s collection, a no-no according to Drake’s will because in his day, insects often broke during shipping.
And the institution wants to integrate Drake’s collection into its collection as a whole. Right now, Drake’s approximately 250,000 carefully preserved specimens—that’s dead bugs to the uninitiated—are kept in separate cabinets at the National Museum of Natural History, as he asked. But the Smithsonian says that taxes ``increasingly scarce collection space’’ and is inconvenient for researchers who use the collection on the fifth floor of the natural history museum’s east wing, a space not generally accessible to the some 8 million people who visit the museum every year.
There, rows of white metal cabinets hold wood boxes that pull out like dresser drawers, revealing glass-topped cases of insects. Some specimens are so small that several would fit on a pencil eraser. Others are closer to fist-sized. The space smells like the chemical in moth balls, which is used to keep living pests away.
Drake spent the last eight years of his life working at the Smithsonian as an honorary research associate. While he was born in Ohio in 1883 and spent many years teaching at Iowa State University, he came to the Smithsonian in 1957 and worked six and a half days a week into his 80s.
Over the years, he identified nearly 1,500 new insect species and he studied a wide range of bugs, from grasshoppers to lace bugs, a particular favorite of his. He wrote hundreds of papers, including ones on a green stink bug that attacked crops in Florida and the influence of insects on alfalfa seed production in Iowa.
When he died at the age of 82, he left a three-page will. Drake, who never married, left his nephew and nephew’s wife $15,000. His nephew’s daughter, Kay Ann, got $5,000. The rest of his money went to the Smithsonian. Lawyers for the Smithsonian wrote that ``out of an abundance of caution’’ they tried to contact Kay Ann to tell her about the changes they’re requesting, but they haven’t heard from her and don’t think she’d be able to intervene legally anyway.
For now, the petition is in a federal judge’s hands. It’s unknown when she will rule
In The Rat Race In NYC, The Rats Appear To Be Winning
By VERENA DOBNIK
New York (AP) Ines Moore stirs awake nearly every night to an unmistakable, skin-crawling sound: rats skittering around her apartment in the dark.
Sticky traps scattered around the tidy, fifth-floor walkup yield as many as three rats a night, what she believes is just a fraction of the invading army that makes her feel under siege.
``I feel good in the United States—except for this. Here, in my home,’’ said Moore, a Dominican immigrant who can’t afford to leave her rent-controlled apartment in northern Manhattan’s Washington Heights.
Her neighborhood is among the most rat-infested in New York City, along with West Harlem, Chinatown, the Lower East Side and the South Bronx. They are the focus of the city’s latest effort to attack a rat population that some experts estimate could be double that of the Big Apple’s 8.4 million people.
Starting next month, the city’s 45 inspectors will be bolstered by nine new employees of a pilot program to tackle the vermin in chronically infested neighborhoods where rats have resisted repeated efforts to eradicate them.
Specific targets are rat reservoirs such as parks, sewers, dumping areas and subways where they congregate and breed.
Rattus Norvegicus (brown rat)
The idea is to tamp down the population where it is strongest and keep it from spreading.
``Rats burrow and live in colonies,’’ Health Commissioner Mary Bassett told the City Council at a hearing last month.
``I’ll sometimes imagine when I walk through a park, if I could have sort of a `rat vision,’ there are all these tunnels under there that are occupied by rats. And from there the rats fan out.’’
Financed with $611,000 in the current city budget, inspectors will work with neighborhood associations, community boards, elected officials and building owners to plug up holes and put poison in rodent tunnels.
For years, inspectors responding to complaints on the city’s 311 hotline have already been searching for rats and their telltale signs: burrows, droppings, claw marks and gnawed holes. Besides traps and poison, the city also has used contraceptives to curb the rats.
New York’s Rat Information Portal—or, appropriately, RIP—is an interactive online map that tracks Health Department violations, with searches by borough, address, block number and ZIP code. Spots marked red are deemed to be rat-infested; those in yellow have passed inspection.
The South Bronx around Yankee Stadium has the dubious distinction of being the city’s most rat-infested neighborhood, according to figures from 2012, the most recent available. Inspectors gave a failing grade for infestation to at least 13 percent of more than 3,000 locations inspected in that area.
Washington Heights came in at 12 percent of inspected locations, West Harlem at 10 percent and the Lower East Side and adjacent Chinatown at nearly 9 percent.
Rats can carry and spread diseases, bite and trigger asthma attacks. In May, a 4-year-old boy died after ingesting rat poison in a Bronx homeless shelter.
It’s impossible to tally the exact number of rats in New York, says the Rev. Joel Grassi, a Baptist minister and professional exterminator.
``As long as there are human beings in New York City, there will be rats, because they live off human garbage, that’s their No. 1 thing,’’ says Grassi, adding that the best way to manage the rat population is to eliminate their food supply.
``It’s just part of everyday life,’’ says Jasmine Guzman, a store manager whose two young sons happily run around their Washington Heights apartment across the hall from Moore’s, after the family cleans up rat droppings.
``My 3-year-old son says, `It’s OK, Mommy, they’re just looking for some stinky food,’’’ she says with a laugh.
At night, rats run in droves in front of their building, ``and we run past them to the front door when we get home,’’ says Guzman, adding that a rat ran through her mother’s legs and under her baby’s stroller one day.
The company that manages the property says it will schedule extermination and plans to install metal fencing plus metal seals to close rat holes inside apartments.
For now, the rats’ nightly visits to Moore’s apartment continue.
``I’m angry,’’ Moore says. ``We’re all human beings and we all deserve to live decently.’’
Toad Detour In Philly Helps Thousands Of Toadlets Live
By KATHY MATHESON
Philadelphia (AP) It’s rush hour in Philadelphia for thousands of baby toads as they hop across a busy residential street on a rainy summer night.
Why do toadlets cross the road? To get to the woods on the other side—where they will live, eat mosquitoes and grow up to be full-sized American toads (bufo Americanus). After a couple of years, they’ll make the reverse trek as adults—unless they get squashed by a car.
That’s where the Toad Detour comes in.
The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education sets up a roadblock each year in the Roxborough neighborhood, rerouting cars so the amphibians can cross the two-lane street without fear of, um, croaking.
Volunteers helping toadlets
The cycle starts in early spring when adult toads, which can fit in the palm of your hand, emerge from the woods to breed. They cross Port Royal Avenue, scale a 10-foot-high embankment and then travel down a densely vegetated hill to mate in the abandoned Upper Roxborough Reservoir. Their offspring—each about the size of a raisin—make the journey in reverse about six weeks later.
So many baby toads were on the move Monday evening it looked like the road’s muddy shoulder was alive. Volunteers scooped them up in plastic cups and deposited them on the habitat side of the street.
``I didn’t expect at all that there were going to be so many of them in one area,’’ said 17-year-old Kaitlyn Hunt as she held a cup with more than a dozen toadlets. ``And they’re so tiny. They look like bugs.’’
The detour program began in 2009 when a local resident noticed the toad-filled road. City officials later granted permission to close the street for a couple of hours every evening during both two-week migration periods.
Organizers estimate they helped about 2,400 adult toads cross the road this spring, said volunteer coordinator Claire Morgan. And because female toads can lay thousands of eggs, many more toads are migrating the other way and need protection.
Though some will inevitably be squished when the roadblock is not up, the toad population is not endangered, Morgan said. But protecting wildlife is important, she said, and local residents seem to support the project, especially after they volunteer to help.
``We get some people that question it,’’ said Morgan. ``But after they do it, they’re hooked.’’
Chubby Checker Asks For Hall Of Fame Induction ASAP!
New York (AP) Chubby Checker wants the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to know it’s time to induct him into its exclusive club before it’s too late.
``I don’t want to get in there when I’m 85 years old. I’ll tell them to drop dead, so you better do it quick while I’m still smiling,’’ Checker said Thursday.
Checker’s recording of ``The Twist,’’ and subsequent ``Let’s Twist Again’’ are considered among the most popular songs in the history of rock `n’ roll.
``Let’s Twist Again’ was the first rock `n’ roll song that received a Grammy (in 1962),’’ Checker said.
The 72-year-old recording artist equates a place in the Cleveland-based hall to the ability to sustain his career.
``If you put me in when I’m too old to make a living, then it’s no good for me to be in there.’’
He added: ``The Rolling Stones, they’re in there. The Beastie Boys are in there, they’re young. Hall and Oates were just in there and they’re still making money.’’ He made the comments on the red carpet for the annual Songwriters Hall of Fame gala in New York where Checker performed ``Let’s Twist Again’’ for the ASCAP Centennial celebration. A representative for the Rock Hall didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.
At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in April, Daryl Hall mentioned that Hall and Oates was the first Philadelphia-based band to be inducted. And after mentioning Chubby Checker, he said: ``Why isn’t he in?’’
And he’s not alone. Before going into the ceremony, legendary songwriter Kenny Gamble—of the songwriting team Gamble and Huff—said he feels Checker is long overdue.
``I think Chubby Checker should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s the only person I know to have the same song go to No. 1 twice.’’