Bad guys beware

10/21/2008

By ERIN MATHEWS

Salina Journal

The patrol dog snarled and snapped, but bad-guy-for-a-day Michael Rivera was not deterred. He made sure the dog's muzzle was secured.

A good thing, too, because seconds later, the dog was racing after Rivera, jumping high up on his back and causing him to fall to the ground and roll while the dog attacked him as viciously as he could -- despite the muzzle.

A K-9 officer called the dog off and commanded him to guard Rivera, a Grand View police officer, while the K-9 officer patted him down.

"That was the fun part," Rivera said. He was in Salina on Monday to assist with Heart of America Police Dog Association certification exercises, which are going on in various locations until Thursday. Rivera's father, Nelson Rivera, trains police dogs and was the source of the Salina Police Department's two dogs, Riddick and Kain, and the Saline County Sheriff's Office's dog, Rony.

The attacks during certification exercises looked pretty grueling for Rivera. Although he wore a heavily padded, full-body bite suit for exercises designed to test the dogs' courage and ability to follow commands, at least one of the bites still penetrated into his upper arm, which was bruised and slightly punctured.

Jim Hughes, Saline County Sheriff's Office K-9 officer, said even with the $1,500 protective suit, the "bad guy" needs some know-how to avoid injury.

"You have to know how to move just right to absorb the shock of the dog hitting you," Hughes said.

Real bad guys, beware.

Second-chance dogs

Twenty K-9 officers and their dogs from surrounding police and sheriff's departments are in Salina for the annual certification exercises.

To be certified, the dogs must perform 25 different disciplines designed to simulate circumstances that might be encountered on a regular patrol.

Patrol dogs are trained in drug sniffing, apprehension, tracking, evidence location, building and area searches and handler protection. They have to demonstrate their abilities to perform tasks that utilize all of these skills. Narcotics dogs are being tested on their more narrowly focused training in sniffing out drugs, tracking and evidence location.

Each animal gets a total of three second chances. Beyond that, they would not be certified and could not work as a law enforcement dog, Hughes said. Hughes said the dogs participate in a minimum of 16 hours of training exercises each month. Any correction an animal needs is done with a leash, Hughes said, adding that the dogs are never struck or kicked.

"We try to train for everything we run into on the street," he said. "You can't expect them to do something if they don't know what they're expected to do."

Several of the dogs -- Rony and Riddick among them -- being tested on running recall Monday afternoon will have to use a second chance.

They really want to bite

During the test, the handlers commanded them to chase down Rivera but then called the dogs off. Rony and Riddick couldn't be deterred.

"It's real hard to call a dog off because they just want to bite so bad," said Herington Police Department K-9 Officer Wade Lentz.

In the evidence location trial, a dog sniffs through a field to locate an object with human scent on it. When it finds the object, it lays down next to it. The idea is to find evidence that a fleeing suspect might leave behind. Hughes said a dog can smell an odor on objects handled by a person up to three days later, depending on the weather and type of material.

European immigrants

Most of the dogs are from Europe, where there are long-standing blood lines and training techniques, Hughes said. Officers yelled commands to the dogs in German and Czechoslovakian.

"It's nice so you don't have a bad guy telling your dog to heal," Hughes said.

A dog costs about $10,000 and requires $3,000 to $4,000 in specialized equipment. Hughes said the dogs are an important asset, and each can do the work of several human officers.

The sheriff's office's first dog had to retire early after it was hurt chasing a suspect about four years ago, Hughes said. A new dog wasn't in the budget. A one-day community fund drive -- including everything from $1,000 checks to piggie banks from kids -- raised $10,000 to purchase Rony, he said.

"Rony is a product of community generosity," he said.

Decomposition evidence in Casey Anthony's trunk, lab says

(CNN) -- Evidence consistent with human decomposition was found in the trunk of a car belonging to a Florida woman charged with killing her 3-year-old daughter, according to a forensic report released Friday.

"Both odor analysis and LIBS results appear to be quite consistent with a decompositional event having occurred in the trunk of the vehicle," said the report from Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, noting that the results were preliminary.

Testing indicates that the decomposition could be human, the report adds.

Casey Anthony, who drove the car, was arrested this month and charged with first-degree murder and other charges in the disappearance of her daughter, Caylee.

Caylee was last seen in mid-June, but Casey Anthony waited about a month before telling her family the child was gone.

LIBS is laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, one of the techniques used in chemical analysis.

Testing was conducted on air and carpet samples from the vehicle. The tests indicated "the presence of the five key major compounds associated with human decomposition," the report said.

The tests also found "an unusually large concentration of chloroform" in the trunk, according to the Oak Ridge report. Chloroform can be used to render someone unconscious. However, trace amounts of chloroform were also found on a control carpet sample, the report said. VideoWatch Nancy Grace report on the chloroform discovery »

The report also says evidence of possible decomposition was found on a hair located among debris in the trunk. The hair is "microscopically similar" to one recovered from Caylee's hair brush, the report said, but "a more meaningful conclusion cannot be reached as this is not a suitable known hair sample."

The report was released by prosecutors as part of the case's public record. Prosecutors said they would not comment further on them.

Todd Black, a spokesman for Casey Anthony's attorney, Jose Baez, said the evidence does not link Casey Anthony to any criminal behavior.

"There's nothing in those reports that links Casey Anthony to any wrongdoing with her daughter, Caylee," he said.

Casey Anthony was arrested October 14 in a traffic stop after a grand jury indicted her on seven counts of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to police.

If convicted of the capital murder charge, she could face the death penalty or a life sentence.

Police and prosecutors have said little about the case, but hundreds of pages of documents and investigative reports have been released.

They indicate that Casey Anthony went to nightclubs, entered "hot body" contests and text-messaged her friends while her daughter was missing. Copies of cell phone and text records released to the public show that she hardly ever mentioned Caylee during the time just before and after the girl was reported missing. And in May, just before Caylee disappeared, her mother referred to the girl as "the little snot head."

Casey's mother, Cindy Anthony, called the sheriff in Orange County, Florida, on July 15, saying her daughter wouldn't tell her where Caylee was.

Casey's brother, Lee Anthony, also pleaded with his sister to tell him where Caylee was, according to police documents. She told him she hadn't seen the child in "31 days."

When questioned, Casey Anthony gave conflicting statements to police, including some that were later disproved, accounting for the charges of providing false information.

She claimed that she dropped Caylee off with a baby-sitter, but when police checked out her story, they learned that the address Casey Anthony supplied belonged to an apartment that had been vacant for weeks. The woman Casey Anthony named as her baby-sitter told police she did not know her.

Investigators have said cadaver dogs picked up the scent of death in Casey Anthony's car and her parents' backyard. A neighbor told police Casey Anthony had asked to borrow a shovel.

Preliminary air quality tests conducted by the FBI found evidence consistent with human decomposition and chloroform in the trunk of Casey Anthony's car, investigators previously said.

Further analysis of Casey Anthony's computer found that she had visited Web sites discussing chloroform, as well as Internet searches of missing children.

Caylee Anthony's mother pleads not guilty

(CNN) -- The mother of missing Florida toddler Caylee Anthony has pleaded not guilty to killing the 3-year-old, who has been missing since June.

Casey Anthony was named in a seven-count indictment on Tuesday. The 22-year-old was arrested later that day.

The arrest was made after officers saw Anthony switch cars on a highway and pulled her over, an Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman said.

Anthony's written plea was entered Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.

The indictment charged Anthony with seven counts, including capital murder, in the toddler's disappearance.

"She's not running from this," attorney Jose Baez said Tuesday as his client wiped tears from her eyes during an impromptu media briefing before the charges against her were announced. "She's doing her best to stand strong, to stand up to the powers that are working against her. And they threw the kitchen sink at her a long time ago."

After the indictment, undercover officers followed Anthony as she traveled in her mother's SUV. The officers saw the SUV stop under a highway overpass, at which point Anthony got into another vehicle and drove off. Officers made the traffic stop after she entered the second vehicle, the spokesman said.

Prosecutors are asking Anthony be held without bond.

Anthony is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to police.

Lawson Lamar, the state attorney for Orange County, Florida, said the first count is a capital charge -- which could carry a penalty of life in prison or death.

The 19 grand jurors -- 10 women and nine men -- deliberated for about half an hour after hearing from police, a cadaver dog handler, an FBI agent and the missing child's grandfather.

Authorities were quick to remind the public that, despite the indictment, Caylee's whereabouts remain a mystery.

"Despite the charges against Ms. Anthony we have not achieved our objective," he said. "We have not found little Caylee Anthony."

Before her arrest, Anthony's lawyer continued to maintain her innocence.

"She has been living a nightmare," the attorney added. "She has a missing child. She's also a child." VideoWatch Anthony's lawyer address the media »

Caylee Anthony disappeared in mid-June, but Casey Anthony waited about a month before telling her family the child was gone. Cindy Anthony -- Caylee's grandmother -- called the Orange County sheriff July 15 after her daughter wouldn't tell her where Caylee was.

Casey's brother, Lee Anthony, also pleaded with his sister to tell him where Caylee was. According to police documents, she replied that she hadn't seen Caylee in "31 days."

Investigators say that since that first 911 call, evidence has mounted that leads police to believe that Caylee is dead. They first labeled Casey Anthony a person of interest, and later, a suspect.

The story of Anthony and her missing daughter garnered national headlines, provided nightly fodder for cable TV crime shows and brought a stampede of reporters to stake out the home of Anthony's parents. See a timeline of key events »

Tempers have flared and fists have flown outside the house tucked away in a subdivision in Orlando, Florida. One protester had George Anthony arrested, alleging that he had pushed her.

Police and prosecutors have said little, instead letting hundreds of pages of documents and investigative reports do the talking for them.

Casey Anthony behaved like a carefree party girl, going to nightclubs, entering "hot-body" contests and incessantly sending text messages to her friends while her daughter was missing, according to cell phone and text transcripts and investigative reports released by police.

Copies of her phone and text records obtained by police and released to the public show she hardly ever mentioned her missing daughter during the time just before and after the child was reported missing. The young mother referred to Caylee as "the little snot head" in May, about a month before the child disappeared.

Anthony gave conflicting statements during the investigation and provided police with information that later was disproved. For example, she said she had dropped the child off with a baby sitter. Yet when police checked out her story, they learned that the address that Anthony supplied belonged to an apartment that had been vacant for weeks. The woman Anthony named as the baby sitter said she did not know Anthony.

As Anthony was arrested on child neglect charges, bonded out of jail, was rearrested on bad check and theft charges and bonded out again, investigators disclosed some of the forensic evidence they uncovered.

Cadaver dogs picked up the scent of death in the trunk of a car Anthony drove and in her parents' backyard. A neighbor told police Anthony had asked to borrow a shovel.

Authorities said that in the car Anthony drove, they found traces of chloroform, which can cause loss of consciousness. And they said that on her computer, they found Internet searches of missing children and chloroform Web sites.

Investigators said air quality tests conducted by the FBI found evidence of human decomposition in the trunk of Anthony's car. Law enforcement sources also suggested that a strand of hair found in the trunk of the car was probably Caylee's.

Arson suspect acquitted after two trials sues Riverside Fire Department

The man was jailed for two years as a suspect in 40 arson fires after being linked to them through a controversial device intended to pick up human scent at crime scenes.

By H.G. Reza

October 25, 2008

A Riverside man who was jailed for two years as a suspect in 40 arson fires has sued Riverside Fire Department officials and a dog handler who linked him to the crimes by using a controversial device intended to pick up human scent at crime scenes.

Michael Espalin, who was acquitted after two trials, is asking for unspecified damages in the federal lawsuit filed in Santa Ana. The only evidence against him was a bloodhound named Dakota whose handler said the dog found Espalin's scent at the fires days and weeks after they were set in 2004.

Though arson investigators suspected him of lighting 40 fires, mostly trees and bushes in Riverside, Espalin was tried on only 21 counts at his first trial, which ended with the jury deadlocked 9 to 3 for acquittal. He faced a single count at a second trial and was acquitted last year.

Espalin, 34, is at least the sixth person in Southern California cleared since 1996 after being linked to a crime by the so-called scent transfer unit STU-100, a machine that supposedly transfers human scent from an object at a crime scene to a 5- by 9-inch gauze pad. The pad is put to a bloodhound's nose, and the dog theoretically follows the scent to the suspect.

Dog handler Lisa Harvey, also a biology instructor at Victor Valley College in Victorville, claimed that Dakota followed the scent pad made from an incendiary device to Espalin's house.

Riverside Fire Capt. Robert Rappaport testified that he connected Espalin to the fires through human scent trails.

Harvey declined to comment on the suit. Riverside Fire Department officials did not return calls for comment.

According to the lawsuit, there was no physical evidence or eyewitness linking Espalin to any of the fires. Espalin's attorney, Joseph L. DeClue, said investigators had evidence that another man was setting the fires but withheld it from the defense.

Unable to post $500,000 bail, Espalin spent two years in county jail awaiting trial.

Newport Beach engineer Larry Harris is a co-inventor of the scent transfer unit and trained Harvey. The machine and the dogs used with it have led to false arrests in several high-profile cases.

An Irvine man was convicted of murder but the conviction was thrown out by a judge who said the machine was scientifically unreliable. A Long Beach man arrested as a serial rapist was cleared by DNA tests. And a Buena Park man sent to prison for a carjacking was freed when DNA from the crime scene was matched to a man already in custody for another carjacking.

More than $2.3 million has been paid out in lawsuits stemming from some of the cases.

Sting Operation

By Susan Gaidos

Scientists use bees and wasps to sniff out the illicit and the dangerous

It's the ultimate way to pull off a sting: Teach a group of ordinary honeybees to ignore flowers and, instead, focus on vapors from explosives used in bombs. Then send the bees off in teams to sniff out terrorists. Or track the molecular trail of illicit drugs, or even point police to a rotting corpse.

In recent years, researchers have shown that with just a few minutes of training, undercover bees can detect the smell of TNT, methamphetamine or almost any other scent just as the bees would respond to pollen. Wasps’ sniffing abilities may also be put to use finding bodies in search-and-rescue missions or helping farmers track infestations that, unchecked, could lead to crop failure or foodborne illness.

Based on these findings, scientists have begun devising an array of chemical detection devices that exploit the insects’ powerful sense for scents. At Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, researchers are putting bees to work in a portable system that, like a trained police dog, could sniff out drugs and bombs at airports, border crossings, military installations and schools. A similar device, called the Wasp Hound, is under development at the University of Georgia. And a British company is working on insect-based detection systems to find explosives in luggage or minefields.

“The general premise is, if it smells, we believe we can train our bees to detect it,” says chemist Robert Wingo of Los Alamos’ Stealthy Insect Sensor Project.

Wingo says insects are not only cheaper to keep and quicker to train than dogs, but also can pick up scents that canines can’t detect. In some cases, the bees perform better than instruments used in the lab.

While these insect abilities have long attracted interest from military and security personnel on the lookout for highly sensitive and portable devices, the concept has been slow to gain favor in the scientific community. Even though insect-based devices have performed well in laboratory settings and controlled field studies, some scientists question whether these devices can be used as reliably as other sensors.

Glen Rains of the University of Georgia’s Tifton campus, who co-leads the Wasp Hound project, outlined these concerns in the June Trends in Biotechnology. “Not only is there a laugh factor in working with insects, but biological systems are sometimes known to be unreliable,” he says. “Even search dogs—which are considered the gold standard in the industry—can get tired, bored or cold.”

Still, no one denies that insects have a phenomenal sense of smell. Their antennae are covered with thousands of microscopic sensors, allowing them to pick up the faintest odors. Bees, wasps and even moths can learn and remember a wide range of target odors, making them ideal for use in chemical detection systems.

Now several laboratories are stepping up efforts to test insect devices in real-world conditions. Scientists say the studies will provide empirical evidence needed to make the devices more widely accepted as biological sensors. If all goes well, commercial insect sniffing devices may become available within a year.

Buzz bombs and stinger missiles

Military uses for honeybees and other insects date back to ancient times. The Romans used catapults with beehives as projectiles, to unleash the fury of angry bees on the enemy. During World War I, beehives were rigged to topple with trip wires to thwart an approaching enemy.

More recent studies on honeybees and other foraging insects show these small, winged creatures possess other traits that can sting enemy agents. For example, despite their tiny brains, honeybees are quite intelligent and can be easily trained using classical conditioning techniques. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, which learned to associate a ringing bell with dinner, bees and wasps can be trained to associate a smell—vapors, say, of a liquid explosive or decaying corpse—with a sugary treat.

In the early 1990s, the U.S. military began studying ways to use free-flying bees to help search for hidden explosives. The idea was to train the bees to prefer the scent of a particular explosive, and then set them free in the hope that they would hover over any nearby threats.

“The problem was, it’s hard to track a bee whizzing by at 15 miles per hour,” Wingo says. Never mind tracking a large group. “Technologically, it’s an extraordinary challenge. Number two: How do you prove the associative conditioning?”

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ENLARGE | Through Pavlovian conditioning, wasps can learn to associate odors with food. These wasps display food-searching behavior when presented with the odor alone.Rains et al.

Enter Tim Haarmann, an entomologist working at Los Alamos at the time. With Wingo and microbiologist Kirsten Taylor-McCabe, also of Los Alamos, Haarmann found a more practical way to harness honeybees’ scent-abilities by restraining and individually training bees in a box. The team then combined insect behavior and technology to track the bees’ responses. The result: a portable device with a team of five bees as its sensor.

The bee bomb detector is about half the size of a shoe box and weighs roughly two kilograms (four pounds). From the outside, it looks like a plain box with a few air holes. Inside, lined up in a row and strapped into strawlike tubes, bees are exposed to puffs of air as a video camera monitors their reactions. The camera is tied to pattern-recognition software that signals when a bee responds to a scent.

A, Bee, C’s of detection training

Though bees can’t bark when they encounter a target scent, they do have a way of communicating that the camera can catch. It turns out that a hungry bee will stick out its tongue in anticipation of a meal. Bees will also stick out their tongues when a drop of sugar water is touched to their antennae. Pair the sugar drop with the scent of TNT or C-4 plastic explosives half a dozen times, and the bees will extend their tongues at a whiff of the explosives alone. This response, called the proboscis extension reflex, can assess the bees’ reaction to a particular scent.

“A honeybee will not stick out its tongue for any other reason than to eat. So we can train bees to associate food with a particular scent,” Taylor-McCabe says. “It’s an unambiguous signal that the honeybee gives us to indicate yes or no.”\

Wingo and Taylor-McCabe are using this approach to train forager bees to detect a wide range of compounds, including methamphetamine and cocaine. The honeybees can even detect triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, an explosive that canines often have trouble detecting. TATP was the detonator carried by the “shoe bomber” in his attempt to destroy a commercial aircraft with plastic explosives in his shoe.

Bees can be trained to detect multiple scents and taught to pick up a single scent from a bouquet. The bees can also pick up the scant molecular trail of vapors too faint to be detected by lab instruments. In trials at Los Alamos, the bee detectives performed better at detecting minute traces of explosives than ion mobility spectrometers, which are used to swipe luggage and clothing in airports.

“We haven’t quantified exactly how low their threshold is, but the bees are able to detect the explosives at concentrations below that stated of the detection instruments in our lab, and that’s generally in the low parts per trillion,” Wingo says.

A British firm, Inscentinel Ltd., is developing a bee-based detection device that relies on a team of 36 bees. Mathilde Briens, research and development manager, says the company is investigating ways to pack twice that many bees in a single unit, allowing them to screen up to a dozen chemicals at once.

“It’s mainly an engineering issue,” she says. “We need to make sure all the bees are exposed to the scent and find ways to manage all the bees so we know when they are responding.”

Dances with wasps

While wasps don’t stick out their tongues in response to a scent, they do communicate with each other—through dance. The University of Georgia’s Rains and his collaborators have developed a small, portable odor detector that relies on the body movements of tiny black wasps called Microplitis croceipes to sense odorants. Also known as parasitic wasps, these social bugs use their keen sense of smell to seek out meals and find a host in which to implant their offspring. If their efforts prove successful, they signal the news to peers through a series of carefully choreographed movements—with different dances to signal food versus host.

Rains’ group is exploiting the wide range of such movements to build biological sensors with wasps capable of detecting more than one odor. For example, a wasp trained to associate a specific odor with a food reward will press its antennae down onto the source of an odor. If scientists present a different target odor while the wasp is stinging its host, the wasp will display coiling behavior, rearing up on its hind legs and bending its antennae the next time it encounters that scent.

Similar to the bee-based detector, the Wasp Hound houses a team of trained wasps in a handheld, ventilated cartridge. At one end of the cartridge, a small fan draws outside air through a hole. If the wasps don’t recognize an incoming odor, they continue flying about. If they do recognize the scent, they cluster around the opening, where a miniature video camera records their movements and sends images to a laptop for analysis.

In an early field trial designed to compare the detection limits of the Wasp Hound to an “electronic nose,” the insect detector proved to be 74 times more sensitive to fungi than the mechanical device, and 94 times more sensitive to plant odors. That study appeared in Transactions of the ASAE in 2004.

Rains and his collaborators are now working to make the device even more sensitive. Don Kulasiri of Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand, is developing mathematical models that will enable him and his peers to better understand and interpret insect responses.

By analyzing the wasps’ responses to chemical stimuli at different concentrations and tracking any resulting changes in their behavior, the scientists aim to develop a device that not only detects a specified chemical but also can accurately measure its concentration.

“What that holds for us is potentially developing a device that’s not just yes-or-no but is concentration-specific to some level,” says Rains, who along with his colleagues, reviews the efforts in the August Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata.

Ideally, the scientists say, the device could be carried into farm fields and grain stores to check for contaminants and disease. The group is now using a prototype Wasp Hound to detect aflatoxin, a toxin produced by a fungus that grows on peanuts, corn and other plants. Trials suggest the device may provide a better way of detecting the toxin before crops enter the food supply, Rains says.

“Current detection methods rely on just a subsample of a large quantity of material, so there’s a possibility of missing it when it’s there,” he says. The group is also investigating ways to detect infestations of E. coli, salmonella and other food contaminants. The Wasp Hound may also be used for security and forensics, and has the potential to detect volatile compounds in human breath associated with diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis, Rains says.

Giving it the sniff test

Though insect sensing systems have performed well in laboratory settings and controlled field studies, the devices have yet to prove themselves to be reliable in real-world applications.

This summer, scientists began putting the devices to the test. In a field trial in July, the Wasp Hound went nose-to-nose with a team of five nationally certified human rescue dogs to detect soil contaminated with the scent of human remains. The results will be presented in February at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

This fall, the bee bomb-detection device is being used in a blind test by a small-town police force to sniff out explosives during a training exercise, and will be done in concert with a canine team.

Jeffery Tomberlin, an entomologist at Texas A&M University in College Station, is working with Rains to carry out the field trials with rescue dogs. He says using insects as biological detectors offers several advantages over dogs. For example, insects can be used to detect chemicals in situations such as arson, where toxic fumes may pose a danger to the dog or its handler. Living-insect sensors can also be put in the hands of someone who is not trained to work with dogs.

“Another advantage is that you don’t have to worry about the wasp trying to provide a response simply because it wants to please its owner,” he says. Still, not all scientists are convinced that the insect sniffing devices will fly. University of Hawaii biologist M.E. “Jeff” Bitterman, a pioneer in the field of honeybee learning, says insects such as bees are constantly picking up on new chemical cues in the environment. Even when trained to only one scent, the bees will generalize and begin to respond to other similar scents, he says.

“In order to get a bee to respond only to the odor you’re interested in, you have to do what’s called differential reinforcement, which means you present some other odor without sucrose until the animal responds differentially, and that may take several trials,” Bitterman says.

Moving to the real world presents other obstacles, Bitterman notes. “It is one thing to assert that a forager from an established hive can detect explosives in a dish under standard field conditions but quite another to decide how to use that ability in screening the contents of a shipping container at a pier or on a highway.”

Still, scientists working to build the insect devices say these obstacles can be overcome. Wingo and his group reinforce their bees’ learning every day with a “breakfast boost,” providing the scent of interest with the bee’s morning meal.

Despite the repeated training sessions, and the occasional sting, Taylor-McCabe says the effort is worth it.

“Bees are wonderful insects for detection devices,” she says. “They give us an unambiguous answer, and they work until the minute they die.”

Susan Gaidos is a freelance science writer based in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.