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Volume 19, Issue 1    January 21, 2017

In this Issue:

        Diogenes and the Media - by Larry
        Buds and Thorns - by Valerie
        Larvalbug Lens
        The Terra Tabloid - by Larry
        Backyard Beasts - by Valerie
        Five Fine Motley Fool Filters - by Larry
        Final Thoughts

Diogenes and the Media

by Larry

Diogenes, as you will recall, looked high and low for one totally honest man. Reportedly, he never found one other than himself. (Had he known modern psychology, perhaps he would have excluded all, without exception.)

Diogenes - Peter Paul Rubens (Wikiart)
A conversation over the weekend with one of my brothers got me to thinking along these lines about news channels, stations, papers, and websites. As the recent political campaigns and election-related coverage have shown us, it may also be hard to find completely accurate and unbiased media. Certainly there are news outlets that are better than others, yet probably none free from any distortion. To say there are biases wherever we look is but to accept that we are all human and prone to error. Despite this, some men and women are of better character than others, and so, it seems, may also be the case for news outlets.

Still, though there is bound to be at least some slant in any presentation of the news, certain sources are far worse and others far better in this regard. Are we actually in a post-truth era, so that we might as well get coverage from whichever source conforms most with our preconceived notions? Many settle by default for getting most of their news from social media, where the algorithms often help a viewer get the kind of coverage he or she likes or expects, coverage less bound than usual to a hypothetical truth behind the headlines. So too with certain TV news outlets that deliberately present things how they think people on the right or on the left want to see them broadcast. There can be a place for this, for instance if we want a shortcut to the main points, provided in a manner with which we feel most comfortable, content with a rough approximation of the truth right now, only looking more deeply into things at our leisure later.

On the other hand, in my view we need not accept that we now live in a fact-free zone, in which picking and choosing for greater precision is pointless. To me, we are not well served individually or as an electorate by sticking mostly with coverage offering what we already want to believe.

Just as we can fact check politicians' claims at sites such as FactCheck.Org and PolitiFact.Com, so we can scour the news outlets for those present opposing views and which are recognized as having conscientious staffs who try to cover the news in depth and with reliable, confirmed news stories. None will get it right every time, yet some journalism efforts stand head and shoulders above the pack.

I invite each of us to research the matter and come up with sources with which we feel not simply contented but which have a longstanding, deserved reputation for good news broadcasting. Each person can come up with his or her own list of candidates.

Here is mine:

Buds and Thorns

by Val

It is no secret that insects are on the menu of a large number of other animals. Birds, lizards, frogs, fish, and even some mammals regularly eat bugs of all kinds. The insects, on the other hand, are not just passive protein packages waiting to be gobbled up by hungry vertebrates. A major driving force of evolution is the need for an individual to survive long enough to reproduce. An early demise, such as becoming a nestling's meal, spells a dead end for that critter's genes. Consequently, insects have evolved numerous defenses against the relentless hunting they endure.

One of the most fascinating solutions to evading predation is camouflage, or disappearing into the background. Since true invisibility for any biological being is only possible in fiction, the effect must be produced in more mundane ways. For small herbivorous animals, especially insects with their versatile exoskeletons, it is no stretch to see how they have come to complement their host plants in ways that make them seem to vanish as if by magic. One group of such insects includes planthoppers in the family membracidae.

Membracids, also called treehoppers, are so rarely noticed that most species lack common names. Exceptions are the rather showy Oak Treehoppers (Platycotis vittatus) and the Buffalo Treehoppers (Ceresa spp.). None are very large; they are usually 3 to 7 mm in length. They are also not all that numerous and/or they are just really difficult to find. Some are solitary and those that are gregarious often occur in small groups or in widely scattered places. Membracids are only one family of mostly small insects that feed on plant liquids. Related bugs include leafhoppers, spittlebugs, scale insects, aphids and the not-so-small cicadas. This group used to be classified in its own order: Homoptera. Current taxonomy merges the group with Hemiptera, the true bugs, examples of which are stink bugs, squash bugs, bed bugs, and water striders.

Oak Treehoppers (Platycotis vittatus)

All treehoppers have a tube-shaped proboscis through which they feed on plant liquids. As might be expected from the name, many species are found on the twigs of trees, but some prefer flowers or other herbaceous plants. I frequently find Vanduzea spp. clustered around the bases of flowers, especially sunflowers and daisies. They usually have ants attending to them, attracted to the honeydew, a sugary liquid that the bugs excrete as they feed. Another species, Entylia carinata, seemed to always be feeding at the center of oak leaves. It was several years before I figured out that those insects were females that were guarding eggs that had been deposited into the leaf veins.

The most interesting anatomical feature of these bugs is their pronotum, which is the section of the body right behind the head. This is the bit that forms the crest along their back, and it comes in a wide variety of shapes, colors and textures. Treehoppers tend to sit in one place most of the time. When they are disturbed, some will simply move a bit into a spot that enhances their similarity to the plant, often into the crook between a leaf petiole and the branch to which it is attached, which allows their coloration and shape to resemble a bud or leaf base. Other species will scoot around to the opposite side of the plant stem or branch, playing a hide-and-seek game that makes photographing them from the side nearly impossible. Still others will leap off their perch and fly off. As ungainly as those decorative body extensions may seem, they don't stop the insects from making a successful getaway.

As is often the case, the tropical fauna of any particular arthropod taxon is more elaborate, more varied and more speciose than their temperate zone counterparts. There are treehoppers found in equatorial areas that have all manner of spikes, horns, and branches sticking out of their bodies. By comparison, our local bugs are definitely less elaborate, but they still present a rather respectable assortment of oddball creatures that have evolved to great lengths to remain unnoticed. While matching the colors of bark, stems or leaves, they also mimic the shapes found around them, such as buds, thorns or leaf bits. Some have stripes that break up their outline, and many are so variable that a foraging warbler would have a hard time recognizing a nearby neighbor of its most recent snack as also being edible.

The first time I can remember learning about treehoppers was while looking through a very old National Geographic magazine. I used to get used copies at garage sales for 5 or 10 cents, and, though the oldest ones had more paintings and drawings than photos, I loved the pictures. There was a full page painting of a number of incredibly ornate treehoppers lined up on a vine tendril with a light blue background. I looked at that image many times because I'd just never seen any bugs that were so fantastic. When I found out that species here in the United States were not nearly so flamboyant, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Even though our fauna is subdued by comparison to that in a rainforest, it is still full of surprising and exquisite forms. Since these tiny insects are so difficult to find but look rather nifty, a small gallery of their portraits is warranted. Enjoy!

Larvalbug Lens

Right after Christmas this past year (2016), Tom, Vicky, Lucas, Isabella and Amie, along with two Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs, took a road trip from their farm in Turtle Lake, WI, to Padre Island in Texas. The weather was warmer than up north (though it was a cool and very windy day when this photo was taken) and they got a chance to romp on the beach instead of shoveling snow. Larry and Val, plus their dog, Peri, joined them for the fun in Corpus Christi. Besides eating seafood, a visit to a local botanical garden, playing in the surf and beachcombing, one of the main highlights of the excursion was going horseback riding along the seashore. While Larry and Val took pictures from the ground, the Wisconsin five took an hour ride on the sand. The company providing the horses, inventively called "Horses on the Beach," took great care in pairing horse personalities with rider experience. Lucas is shown keeping his spirited steed, which constantly wanted to go faster than the other mounts, occupied by riding in large circles. He enjoyed the challenge of controlling the feisty horse, which the owners probably assume will eventually learn to behave through engaging with a succession of capable equestrians.

The Terra Tabloid

(The Terra Tabloid is a venue for the discussion of issues pertaining to the past, present, and future of our planet and human interaction with it.)

Synthetic Spider Silk - Super!

by Larry

A company aptly calling itself Bolt Threads claims to be ready and in contract to make commercially viable artificial spider silk, a material that is reportedly stronger than steel. The enterprise got started awhile ago as a research venture, but since has successfully raised over $50 million to get underway as a profitable business. Nor is this the only company getting into the artificial silk phenomenon.

Researchers have long realized that the properties of spider silk, if somehow the substance could be available in bulk and easily manipulated as thread, looked to be terrific for a variety of functions. Textiles probably had been in their minds first, but it is also being considered or even used for artificial muscles, violin strings, gene therapy, electronics, bullet-proof vests, mending bones, automotive materials, surgery sutures, athletic- and footwear, covering wounds, etc.

Though really soft, "breathable," and light-weight, fabrics or threads made of spider silk can have great strength, insulation attributes, toughness, stretch, beauty, and flexibility. However, harvesting silk from spiders is almost a non-starter, almost because it has, with great labor intensity, actually been done on small scales. The amount of work required to pull it off and make a garment out of it is such that any spider silk clothing made today would probably be worth millions. By comparison, using silk from moth caterpillars is cheap. The latter, though, lack the remarkable advantages of spider silk in other ways.

Now various means have been found of getting artificial silk. These range from changing the DNA of goats (so they produce "spider silk" protein in their milk), to making the silk out of bioengineered yeast, to customized products via molecular manipulation, cultivations of bacteria, etc.

In clothing applications, one day synthetic spider silk products from yeast may replace petroleum-based textiles such as polyester and nylon. Yeast has advantages, after all, over those products: it is highly renewable, less energy demanding, less polluting of the environment, and can be designed to be biodegradable.

Now that bigger amounts of artificial spider silk may soon be available and many medical applications seem in the offing, can it be long before movies based on comic heroes cease to be so sci-fi? In a sense, tomorrow we may in fact be spider-men and spider-women, men, and women too, of synthetic "steel." May it serve us well!

Primary sources:
-Big Science Behind This Modern Fabric House.
Jason Daley in; October 21, 2016;
-Large Quantities of Synthetic Spider Silk Spun On Demand. Colin Jeffrey in; January 10, 2017.

Backyard Beasts

by Valerie

Many people ask how to tell a dragonfly from a damselfly. One standard reply is that damselflies hold their wings vertically and together over their backs while dragonflies position theirs horizontally to the sides. This is one of those characteristics that works most of the time, but definitely has its exceptions. The southern spreadwing (Lestes australis) is a member of a whole family of damselflies that is an exception. Lestidae is commonly called the "spreadwing damsels," and the reason is obvious. They typically prefer to perch with their wings open, dragonfly style. There are various morphological clues that aid in identification, but they are subtle and difficult for non-experts to distinguish. In fact, all the various species of Lestes are separated by only tiny differences, making them a challenge to correctly identify. One way they definitely differ from dragonflies is in the very slender build of their bodies.

All damselflies are predators, and they tend to hunt low to the ground, which makes them excellent at controlling mosquitoes that often reside in shady areas. Spreadwings are on the large side for damselflies, often reaching almost 2" in length. They are never very numerous and sometimes hang out a fair distance from water. I usually find only a few every year.

Five Fine Motley Fool Filters

by Larry

The investment related website, Motley Fool (, offers a wide variety of tools and supports for the individual investor, such as a stock screener, educational offerings, a set of fruitful discussion boards (for instance "Mechanical Investing," and "Saul's Investing Discussions"), fee-based investment services, recommended stocks, and a rating system determined by member assessments, the most successful of whom are included in the site's "all stars" category, their suggestions then having more weight because following their recommendations has a greater likelihood of panning out well.

I have been following Motley Fool for close to two decades now and find that using their screener to winnow the field of possible stock purchases using five criteria is more useful than many other methods. These five are:

  1. 25 or more All-Star outperform recommendations;

  2. 4-5 CAPS stars;

  3. 26-week price change of +10% or better;

  4. Price to book value and price to sales both in the range 0.1-3.0;

  5. Market capitalization $25 billion or below.

If the screen results are too numerous, the stocks that remain after these above filters may be further reduced by limiting the candidates to those with 5 CAPS stars, positive return on equity, debt to equity 0.99 or below, cash per share of $1 or more, and some dividend.

At the table are a few stocks that recently met all 10 criteria and were easily found via the Motley Fool screener.

These are in general smaller-capitalization stocks with good potential and value that have upward price movement in their favor. Such securities typically perform better than the market averages. Once one has gradually acquired a portfolio of, say, 25 such assets, maybe buying one a week or one per month, he or she can simply replace the weakest one then held with the best available new candidate that meets above requirements.

Best of good fortune with your own investing researches, strategies, and success.

Price Chg.
26 Wks.
FutureFuelFF$13.36+16.68%1.79%$586 million1.362.68
The Gorman-Rupp Co.GRC$31.09+11.00%1.48%$811 million2.742.10
Inter Parfums, Inc.IPAR$31.65+15.90%2.07%$984 million2.531.95
Resources Connection, Inc.RECN$17.10+15.00%2.55%$507 million1.800.86
Steelcase, Inc.SCS$16.33+12.80%2.95%$1.92 billion2.650.64


Larry is not a professional. Don't take him seriously!

Actually, the investment article provided here is for general information only and should not be considered as professional advice, a solicitation to buy or sell any security, or the Word of God. Investors are encouraged to do their own research while considering their personal goals and circumstances, or consult their own professional financial advisors, before making investment decisions. Neither Larry nor LARVALBUG will be liable for any losses sustained by any visitor to this site.

(Disclosure statement: Larry and Val have holdings in some of the suggested assets but do not "make a market" in any of them and do not derive any direct benefit from recommending them, except perhaps for a bit of smug self-satisfaction.)

Final Thoughts

On 2/3, Julia, Larry's mom, will doubtless think of her marriage to Leon on that date, 75 years before. John and Evelyn, Valerie's folks, were married on June 19, 63 years ago. From these early beginnings, so much life and joyful experience have occurred! As a new Valentine's Day nears, we celebrate romance and all the richness it brings in so many ways.

Larry, Val, and Peri

For others who may have chanced upon this site, larvalbug bytes is a monthly family-and-investment newsletter, put out by an old codger and sweet thing, with sometimes a little help as well from our engaging pooch, Peri. We invite readers' comments by and would also be happy to readers when new issues are published. Articles and stories from back issues are available in our archives.

Copyright © 2017 by LARVALBUG

"ValANTine" and larvalbug web design by Valerie.

larvalbug bytes, January, 2017 / Home / Archives / Investing / Frisky / Peri / Bugs / Garden / Val's Art / Photos / Zoo / Clip Art