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When it comes to insect repellent, natural isn't always better

To prevent mosquito bites and lessen the risk of catching the Zika virus, more than half of Americans plan to purchase an insect repellent this year. 

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The World Health Organization says the best way to prevent Zika is to not get bitten by mosquitoes infected with the virus, but Consumer Reports said just any insect repellent won't do the trick. 

The most important thing to know from this latest round of testing? Natural isn't always better. 

Consumer Reports looked at six natural repellents -- meaning the active ingredients are derived from plants instead of chemicals -- and found that five of them only protected the wearer against mosquitoes for an hour at the most. 

But one natural repellent, Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, was found to give at least seven hours of protection against Aedes mosquitoes, which are known to carry Zika. 

Out of all 16 repellents Consumer Reports tested -- both chemical- and natural-based -- two synthetic products -- Ben’s Tick and Insect Repellent and Sawyer's Premium Picaridin Insect Repellent -- ward off Aedes mosquitoes the longest with just one application. 

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said active ingredients like DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus "typically provide reasonably long-lasting protection."

Health officials do say that while oil of eucalyptus products shouldn't be used on children younger than age 3, all three of the most effective active ingredients can be used by pregnant women. 

Back in April, the CDC released a map showing that mosquitoes known to carry Zika could soon be found across the lower half of the U.S.

Vanessa Hudgens fined for vandalizing national forest

While on a romantic getaway for Valentine's Day, Vanessa Hudgens and her boyfriend, Austin Butler, carved their names into a red rock wall in Arizona.

The only problem? Defacing the property in the Sedona, Arizona's Coconino National Forest is illegal.

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Hudgens posted a photo on Instagram of the carving, which had her and her boyfriend's names surrounded by a heart. The image has since been removed, but not before authorities saw it.

She received a citation for the misdemeanor count of damaging a natural feature on U.S. Forest Service land and paid a $1,000 fine. The fee will help volunteers restore the rock by scrubbing and sanding it down, according to The Associated Press.

Coconino National Forest Service spokesman Brady Smith said that officials rarely find out who carves their names into the rocks but given that Hudgens is a celebrity and she posted the photo on Instagram

"She was caught in the act because she publicized it and she's famous," Smith told Page Six. "I'm sure there are others who are not famous and publicized it and we've never known."

Watch: Crews monitoring growing wildfire in Washington

Officials with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources said crews have been sent to a growing wildfire Thursday night near the Oso-Arlington area.

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The fire is off Highway 530 and it started at about 6 p.m.

According to fire officials, there was a logging operation earlier in the day and something started the fire. They said they were not sure of its cause.

Officials with DNR said the fire is named "Hotshot" and it is burning about 55 acres.

According to officials, they're planning on letting the fire burn for tonight and will keep an eye on it. They plan to put it out Friday.

No injuries have been reported.

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Close to 90,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf Of Mexico

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement says 2,100 barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

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The BSEE says Shell Offshore Inc. reported a sheen near four of its wells, about 100 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

An underwater pipe system flowing to Shell's Brutus oil platform leaked almost 90,000 gallons of crude oil.

The BSEE is still investigating the spill but says there have been no injuries or evacuations.

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Earthquake swarm detected beneath Mount St. Helens

Magma stores are recharging inside Mount St. Helens, setting off a swarm of small earthquakes since last month, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Since the catastrophic eruption of May 18, 1980, scientists have been conducting research and collecting data on the volcano to learn more about its typical behavior.

Since March 14, a number of small earthquakes have occurred beneath the volcano at a depth between 1.2 to 4 miles. The earthquakes have low magnitudes of 0.5 or less, with the largest a 1.3.

Over the last eight weeks, there have been more than 130 earthquakes located by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and many more that are too small to be detected.

The USGS says the earthquake rates have been steadily increasing since March, reaching nearly 40 located earthquakes per week, but there are no signs of an imminent eruption.

The quakes are too small to be felt, even if you were standing on the surface directly above.

"The earthquakes are volcano-tectonic in nature, indicative of a slip on a small fault," according to the USGS. "Such events are commonly seen in active hydrothermal and magmatic systems. The magma chamber is likely imparting its own stresses on the crust around and above it, as the system slowly recharges. The stress drives fluids through cracks, producing the small quakes. The current pattern of seismicity is similar to swarms seen at Mount St. Helens in 2013 and 2014; recharge swarms in the 1990s had much higher earthquake rates and energy release."

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No anomalous gases, increases in ground inflation or shallow seismicity have been detected with the swarm, and there are no signs of an imminent eruption.

As was seen at Mount St. Helens between 1987 and 2004, recharge can continue for many years beneath a volcano without an eruption.

What to do if you're bitten by a snake

Many states are  full of great trails and paths to hike and run. But those same trails and paths are homes to critters, both docile and dangerous. And that includes snakes.

With so many places for them to hide, it is unlikely you will be bitten by one, but every runner and hiker should be aware of the dangers and know what to do in the event being on the wrong end of a bite. 

Think you've been bitten by a snake?

Don't worry about catching it, applying a tourniquet or heroically cutting the wound to extract the venom, says Dr. Gaylord Lopez, director of the Georgia Poison Center based in Atlanta.

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Instead, reach for the most important first-line antidote to snake bites: your car keys.

"It's most important to get a snake bite victim to the hospital," said Lopez. Medical professionals will address three areas of potential snake bite harm: local tissue injury and pain, heart issues and bleeding from the wound and bleeding complications.

Another very important tip: call 911 or poison control right away. Keep the national Poison Control Center number (1-800-222-1222) programmed into your phone and written out somewhere you can easily see it at your house or in your car. The people that answer there will have immediate advice and can also steer you to the nearest poison control center in the area if you get bitten.

Other important steps to take if you or your child have been bitten by a snake, according to the Center for Disease Control's national emergency website and the GPCC:

* If you don't have immediate transportation to the hospital, while waiting for 911 response keep the patient calm and immobile, preferably lying down

* Until you reach medical help, keep the affected limb at an even level with the rest of the body.

* Do not give the patient food, drink, or medication -including pain medications, aspirin, alcohol and so forth. Much of the advice for snake bite treatments may go against what you've always heard or assumed, especially if you've watched a lot of Westerns or are thinking of standard treatments for other medical emergencies.

A few surprising snakebite don'ts:

* Do not use a tourniquet.

* Do not cut the wound.

* Do not try to suck out the venom.

* Do not pack the wound in ice.

If you are absolutely certain the bite came from a non-venomous snake, wash it with warm soapy water anyhow and seek immediate medical care. You may need a tetanus shot and you're still very susceptible to infection.

As for identifying the snake that bit you, the recommended strategy there is counter intuitive, too. First and foremost, do not try to catch the snake, said Lopez. "We do not want you to bring it to the poison control center, dead or alive!"

A second interaction with the snake may slow down your ability to get medical attention and it definitely puts you at risk for a second bite. And never make assumptions about which snake bit you if you didn't see it -- or even if you think you had a clear look, said Lopez. "We get people that say, 'Yes, I was bitten, but we only have rat snakes and garters around here. If you make assumptions, you may end up as a statistic."

Billions of cicadas to ascend in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania

Video includes clips from Brandon Baker / CC BY 3.0, The BBC and Rich4098 / CC BY 3.0 and images from Natalia Wilson / CC BY SA 2.0, Nick Harris / CC BY ND 2.0, Gramody / CC BY SA 2.0 and Meredith Harris / CC BY ND 2.0.

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Next month, parts of the U.S. can expect to see and hear lots of 17-year-old cicadas, which will rise from the ground to mate.

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The insects, which have spent the rest of their lives underground, only live above ground for about six weeks. The adults, the ones that make all the noise, only ascend above ground to reproduce.

Males use the harsh sound to look for females so they can mate in that brief time. The sound can reach over 90 decibels in some instances; that's about the same volume as a lawn mower.

The female cicadas will lay eggs in a tree, and after the eggs hatch, the newborn cicadas -- called nymphs -- will bury themselves in the ground, where they'll develop for 17 years. 

According to The Washington Post, female cicadas can lay up to 400 eggs each, across 40 to 50 sites.

During the upcoming mating season, there could be as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre in some places.

The noise, which is mostly a daytime phenomenon, will probably last until mid- to late June, by which time most of the cicadas will probably die, according to Gaye Williams, a Maryland Department of Agriculture entomologist. Williams said predicting exactly when the emergence will end is tough because it depends on many variables, including temperature, moisture and humidity. 

The good news is that cicadas can’t chew, so they don’t devour plants and trees. Plus, they don’t bite or sting.

But if you live in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and other neighboring states, now might be the time to invest in some ear plugs.

Read more here.

Rare 'super bloom' could sprout millions of flowers in Death Valley

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A rare flower bloom could happen in one of the hottest places on Earth, where 2 inches of rain a year is common.

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Temperatures in Death Valley can exceed 120 degrees.

If the valley, which spans across California and Nevada, gets a little more rain, it could create a "super bloom," a phenomenon in which millions of flowers grow in the normally barren area. It happens about once a decade. The last one was in 2005.

It's not uncommon to see some flowers there, but a super bloom is different.

Park ranger Alan Van Valkenburg advises sightseers to visit the area during the super bloom at least once.

"It could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Valkenburn said in a U.S. National Park Service video. "These areas that are normally just rock, just soil, just barren, not even shrubs, they're filled with life. So Death Valley really does go from being a valley of death to being a valley of life."

The National Park Service said in January that it spotted "fields of flowers on the black volcanic rocks."

Currently, there are about 20 wildflower species in bloom, according to park spokeswoman Abby Wines.

The park said above-average autumn rains caused the early bloom. If El Nino rains start falling, it'll be even more spectacular.

Wines recommends interested parkgoers visit Death Valley to witness the super bloom sooner rather than later. She said the flowers will start to wilt in early April, and they'll die when temperatures reach over 100 degrees or when strong winds hit the valley and dry them out. She also suggests visiting the park during the early morning or afternoon, when lighting is brighter and better and the flowers show their most vibrant colors.

Flowers that bloom include the desert gold, a yellow daisy-like flower that has covered large areas of the park, and the desert five-spot, a pink or purple cup flower that can have up to three dozen buds on just one plant.

"One of my favorite flowers is the gravel ghost," Wines said. "It's not a very showy flower. It's just plain white, but what makes it amazing (is) the leaves are flat and blend into the ground and the stalk is very thin so it looks like it's floating 2 feet off the ground."

Read more here.

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