Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Chikungunya Virus Now in Texas

You may have heard of a new viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes called Chikungunya (pronounced like chicken - goon - ya).  Chikungunya has been found in countries like Africa, Asia, and Europe but recently in the Americas and Caribbean.

We had our first confirmed case of the disease in Texas in Williamson County.  The individual had traveled to the Caribbean where they picked up the disease.

The bad news is that the species that common transmit Chikungunya are found here (in the US and Texas), which means it can become endemic to this area and spread within the state could occur.  These are the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes - usually day time feeders and container water breeders.

Chikungunya is thankfully rarely fatal, but extremely painful.  The common symptoms are extreme joint pain, headache, muscle pain, and joint swelling.  There is no cure or treatment for the virus, other than pain relievers for the symptoms.

If you are travelling to the Caribbean this summer or in the future, be sure to pack some insect repellent to reduce your risk of contracting the disease.  Now that we know we have a confirmed case just down the road, it would also be a wise decision to avoid mosquitoes at home and apply insect repellent when you step outdoors.

For more information about Chikungunya, visit the Center for Disease Control's website at

Monday, July 7, 2014

First Case of West Nile in Texas Confirmed, 2014

The Texas Department of Health State Services has confirmed the first case of West Nile in Texas this 2014 summer, and its not too far down the road - Travis County (Austin area).

For the complete media release see:

Here's a quick recap of the article and some precautions you should take:

West Nile "Season" runs from June through October, so we are only in the beginning.  We had a large outbreak a couple of summers ago, so hopefully its fresh on your mind.  West Nile Virus is a virus transmitted by the bite of a mosquito.  I don't know about you, but I have had a heck of a summer dealing with mosquitoes.  I have multiple bites all over my arms and legs at all times, it seems!  So, I'm going to be more careful about being outdoors when mosquitoes are active, and wearing insect repellent when I am outdoors.

Tom Sidwa, State Public Health Veterinarian and manager of Zoonosis Control Branch says it best when he warns us that "The best way to protect yourself is by using insect repellent every time you go outside."

I know many people do not like using insect repellent for various reasons, but the three best options recommended by the EPA and CDC are DEET, Picaradin and Lemon of Oil Eucalyptus.  This is based on extensive research to supports its safety for use on human skin and length of time for repellency.  Remember that all repellents will wear off after a period of time and each individual is different.  Some formulations may need to be reapplied more often than others.

While we can't easily control adult mosquitoes, we can reduce breeding sites by dumping standing water often or using Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis.  We can also do what we can to prevent the bite, by wearing repellent!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Something for everyone... even the youngest of entomologists

If you have a young one who is facinated with nature, insects, and/or gardening, we have a camp for you!  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension hosts a Tots Science Camp for ages 2-5.  We have two topics: Bugs and Plants.

For those interested in Bugs, our camp dates are July 25th and August 8th.  Each camp is the same, so you only need to choose one.  Camp runs 10am-12pm.  We will learn about insects, get to play with insects, learn about bees and tarantulas, do some artwork with maggots (sounds gross, but I promise, its actually pretty amazing), and other insect-related crafts, experiments and activities.

If you like getting your hands dirty in the soil, our Plants Tots Camp is a great opportunity to learn about some very weird plants, take some plants home to grow, taste different herbs, learn how insects find plants, and get to dig in the dirt and get your hands dirty.

Parents are welcome to drop off or stay for the camp.

Cost for each camp is $20.  Registration is open and available at:  If you are registering close to the camp date, be sure to call ahead to make sure there are still spots.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bug Camp - still openings!

Need some summer plans for your little one?  We still have a handful of openings in our Bug Summer Camps!

Bug Camp is an exciting, educational, fun half day camp for ages 7-11.  Campers receive an insect collection kit with everything they need to be an entomologist: professional net, collection box, collecting jars, killing solution, insect pins, spreading board, pinning block, labels, vials, aspirator, collection bag, magnifier, forceps and probably more that I can't remember!

We will collect insect each day, perform experiments with insects, make insect jewlery, art with insects, and so much more.  You'll be surprised how much your children will learn in one short week.  This week our theme is bees - so we'll see some observation frames (behind glass), get to put on a bee suit, and learn about beekeeping.  We also have a special guest coming to speak about tarantulas, with some actual tarantulas for us to hold, touch, or just watch behind glass!

Summer at the Heights - Alamo Heights ISD - June 16-20, 9-11:30am.  Register at  The course number is 213. 
***This camp has low enrollment right now, so register soon if you are interested.  If we don't have enough kids, we will cancel on Wednesday, June 4th.***

NISD Community Educaiton - Bug Camp! June 23-26, 9am-12:30pm @ the NISD Community Ed Building at Grissom & Bandera.  Register at  Limited spaces, register soon!

All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar

Don't miss this fantastic opportunity hear from an excellent entomologist, Wizzie Brown out of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Travis County.  

She will be presenting on "All Bugs Good and Bad", June 6th @ 1pm Central Time.

This is a FREE webinar - come in your pajamas and no one will know!

Go to  Just log in as a guest and enter your name and you are in!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Giant Ants ... or are they?

I hear this comment A LOT: "I've lived here (insert any number of years) and I've NEVER seen this bug before!"  I'm hearing it again lately and the culprit is an insect that isn't uncommon, but this form isn't regularly seen.
Photo by Bryan Davis

Leaf cutter ant alates, AKA reproductives, AKA winged forms, AKA queens.  Most ants will swarm (or emerge from their nests to mate, usually in the air) right before or after a rain storm at 100% humidity.  Termites do the same thing, but they are usually seasonal, whereas ants can swarm at any time of year.

Over Memorial Day weekend, leaf cutter ants swarmed.  Leaf cutter ant alates are giganitc compared to other ant alates and compared to the workers.  If you didn't know better, you would never guess that's what they are.

When you find leaf cutter ant alates, you probably have leaf cutter ants somewhere near. It doesn't necessarily mean they are on your property, in your yard, or even in the immediate proximity.  They can travel by wind and be displaced a distance from their nest.

Leaf cutter ant colonies can be pretty irritating.  They strip leaves on trees and tend to favor citrus, other fruits, roses, and crepe myrtles.  Once that is gone, they will go after about anything else.  While they don't eat the leaves (instead they grow fungus on the leaves for their food source), they can strip a plant clean overnight.  You can spend quite a bit replacing the plants or treating for the ants.
Leaf cutter ant workers foraging

Amdro Ant Block bait has been shown to work sometimes.  Barrier sprays around the plants you want to save will also help temporarily.  Pest control companies can use products they inject into the ants nests that will spread throughout.  However, nothing eliminates leaf cutter ants, you only suppress the populations.  They usually return.  Sometimes you get lucky and they return in a neighbors yard and not yours, but they rarely are completed eliminated.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When Seeds Look Like Bugs...

Insects are often blamed for many things and more often that you can imagine, strange shaped objects are identified as some "weird bug".  I could write a book on the strange things that come across my desk that a homeowner is convinced is an insect (I once had a sweet lady send me dried up spagetti, certain her kitchen was infested with worms).  But not every small object is is an insect.

Lately, I have had several individuals send me small, oval shaped objects that have been found anywhere from the bed to up the side of the house.  While they are too small to see any clear features with the naked eye, they do resemble the shape and color of an immature bed bug.  Thankfully, they are not!  These are actually seeds from an Oxalis plant.

The seeds can be found fairly high up on the side of the house, making one thing they crawled up there.  But, if you look closely, they don't move - they are stationary.  If you have a magnifier, you can see little striations or stripes along its exterior and little spikes along its edges (not to be mistaken for legs).
Oxalis seeds.  Photo by Dr. Mike Merchant.

The Oxalis plant holds its seeds in a pod and it will spit the seeds out when it is disturbed or touched.  The plant can throw that little seed feet!  It has a rough texture that allows it to stick to surfaces.  We have had some very rough, windy days in San Antonio lately, so I imagine that was enough of a disturbance to throw those little seeds against the side of the house. 

Now don't ask me what an Oxalis plant looks like in the landscape - I am an entomologist, not a horticulturist - I'll leave you to google that for yourself!

So, moral of the story - not everything that is immediately unidentifiable is an insect. And if you happen to find some tiny brown, roundish objects around the house (inside or out), the mystery may be as simple as seeds!