Monday, January 4, 2021

Online Beekeeping 101 Course

If 2021 has you thinking about keeping bees, but don't know where to start, Texas A&M AgriLife has developed an online series of Beekeeping 101 Classes to get you started!

This series covers the basics of beekeeping, starting with understanding the honey bee biology, what to purchase for tools and equipment, where to purchase those items, and how and where to purchase bees. 

Interested?  Click here to learn more.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Free Webinar THIS Wednesday - December 9th

How Can Insects Solve Our Food Waste Crisis?

You really won't want to miss this opportunity to hear from COO of EVO Conversion Systems.  He is an entomologist from Texas A&M University and his company has been turning food waste into high protein and sustainable food in the form of insects.

We can all agree that we waste A LOT of food!  EVO Conversion Systems has come up with a way to reduce that waste, feed a certain species of fly, that can then be raised on that recycled food to feed livestock!

If you want to be wowed and get excited about bugs, this webinar will do it for you! 

JOIN US BY CLICKING HERE!  And use password - Garden2020

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Swarms of Green Bugs!

Have you noticed some large insect swarming around your trees and around the yard?  They may resemble black bumble bees, but they are actually Green June Bugs.

Around this time of year, Green June Bugs tend to have mating swarms.  Some years there are more than others.  Although this is a very common occurrence in September, it isn't unusual for people who have lived in the San Antonio for years and never seen this to see it this year.  Some years you are just lucky!

When flying, they can be pretty loud buzzers and may even knock their bodies against the windows.  Usually you find them at the base of trees or flying around trees to mate in the shade.  During flight, they appear to be black, but the fore wings are green and underside of the body is a pretty iridescent green.  The hind wings are black in color and the exposed body under the wings can also appear black.  In the shade, the matte color of the topside of the beetle makes it appear black.

Green June Bugs can feed on fruit trees and cause damage, but this time of year, they are just concerned with finding a mate and laying eggs.  It's best just to either enjoy or ignore them! 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Beetles Dying?

Rhino Beetle Adult
Rhino Beetle Adult

If you are wondering why you are finding so many Rhino Beetles dead or dying around your house, you aren't alone.  And it isn't unusual!

Rhino Beetle Grub
Rhino Beeltes or Ox Beetles, spend the majority of their life in the larval form, under the soil or in your compost, eating decaying organic matter and turning trash into healthy soil.  They emerge in the summer months, looking for a mate.  Once they've mated and laid eggs, both males and females will die - their purpose as adults fulfilled.

If you are finding them dead or dying in your lawn or on your porch, it isn't that they got into anything bad, necessarily.  It is just the natural process of their life.

Suspected Rhino Beetle Exit Hole

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Entomology Camp Going Virtual

I'm trying something new this summer!  Given our current times, we are taking our Entomology Summer Camp Virtual!

With the exception of experimenting with real insects, camp will still be interactive, hands on, and engaging.  A mix of lessons, videos, activities to illustrate and reiterate lessons, outside collecting and trapping, and putting together an insect collection.

Campers will get a camp kit (think a camp in a box!) filled with all the materials needed for our activities and crafts.  They will also receive a collection box with a net, collecting book, vials, killing jars, killing solution, insect pins, spreading board, forceps, collection box and more!  Returning campers who already have all those materials can opt out of the collection box for a reduced price.  You will pick up camp materials on a designated day OR have them shipped to you for an additional $10 - so anyone from any county can attend.

This camp is geared for ages 7-11, but older youth are welcome to join if they are interested.  I believe younger campers may not be quite ready for the activities. 

This camp gives us the opportunity to try more trapping techniques for collecting and experiment a little more overnight and share our findings.

Camp size is limited so we aren't all talking over one another, and Camp 1 is almost full.   Click here to register and for more information.

When:  June 29-July 1 & July 8-10, 2020        10 a.m.-12 p.m. (CST)
Craving some science?  Want your kids to get outside and enjoy nature?  Join us for a virtual entomology camp!
Campers will collect insects, assemble collection, perform entomology activities, and learn all about insects in this three day virtual camp, led by Texas A&M AgriLife Entomologist, Molly Keck. They will interact with instructors and each other, get virtual help with their collections and be able to share their love of insects with their fellow campers.
Campers receive an insect collection kit (net, forceps, killing jar, killing solution, pins, spreading boards, magnifier, booklet, pens, collection box, & vials) as well as all the materials needed for their guided activities and lessons.   Camp kits are available:
  • Curbside pickup from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service-Bexar County office (3355 Cherry Ridge, Ste. 212, San Antonio 78230) 
  • Shipped to camper for additional $10
Upon completion of camp registration, you will be emailed instructions with the Zoom information.  This ensures the privacy of the campers during camp.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"Murder" Hornets? Not in Texas!

I'm very much cringing at the term "Murder Hornet" that has been sensationalized all over the media lately.  It's akin to calling Africanized Bees, Killer Bees and invokes so many misunderstandings and unneeded panic.

First, the Giant Asian Hornet, Vespa mandarinia, is NOT IN TEXAS.  And they are not "invading" the United States.  They were first found in late 2019 on the Canadian border and now in Washington State.  Last time I looked, Texas was a far way away from Canada!

Secondly, the aren't at all interested in murdering humans.  Yes, I'm sure you'll get stung if you mess with one, but that goes for all stinging insects.  These wasps search for other insects to feed their babies and apparently love to feed on honey bees, attacking colonies with the potential to kill them off. 

If you are a beekeeper in north Washington State, I think you have reason to be concerned.  But, here in Texas, lets just wait to panic until we know more about them and how and if they will spread.

These Giant Asian Hornets are very different from the wasps we have in Texas - and we do have several species of large wasps!  The main characteristic is their large, yellow face and huge body.  Here are a few species of wasps you are likely to encounter in our neck of the woods:

Cicada Wasp Killer -
Cicada Killer Wasp
Photo: Bart Drees

As the name indicates, these wasps kill and feed on cicadas.  Cicadas are a summer insect, therefore, these wasps show up around summer time.  The females sting and paralyze a cicada and drag it into a burrow, where it lays and egg and seals up the burrow so the larvae has a food source when it emerges.  They are extremely large wasps, but do not have the yellow face and colored differently.

Tarantula Hawk
Photo: Bart Drees

Tarantula Hawk Wasps -

Similar to Cicada Killers, these guys sting tarantulas and other spiders and bury them in burrows with their eggs, provisioning the burrow for their babies when they hatch.  They are usually metallic in color, some species have orange wings, but are very different in color and shape from the Asian Hornet.

Paper Wasp - Polistes falvus
Photo: Salvador Vitanza - El Paso County AgriLife Extension

Paper Wasps -

There are many species of paper wasps found in Texas.  These are much smaller wasps than the aforementioned above and the Asian Hornet.  But there is a species that I think could be confused for the Asian Hornet - Polistes flavus - which is a yellowish brown colored paper wasp, lighter than the common red wasp (Polistes carolina).  It does also appear to have a yellow face, but this wasp isn't a robust in size and certainly doesn't threaten honey bee colonies!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

I Spy with my Little Eye... Tons of Robber Flies!

Robber Fly
Photo Credit: Bart Drees
I was overwhelmed today as I took a walk in the sun and the number of robber flies buzzing around!  You'll probably notice them too, if you spend a little time outside this spring and through the summer.

I'm seeing a grey colored robber fly at the moment (pictured to the left), but later on, as it gets warmer, I'll start to see the bumble bee mimics.

Robber flies are beneficial insects, acting as predators and eating all sorts of insects out of the sky.  But, they aren't picky about what they eat.  They are known to eat up honey bees and camp outside their hives to catch them as they fly past.  The bumble bee mimics will also eat up bumble bees.

You can tell a robber fly from other insects it resembles by looking at the eyes.  Flies have huge eyes that are almost triangular in shape and can almost touch at the top of the head.  The shape of fly eyes are a giveaway for their identification. Robber flies also look like they have mustaches with fuzzy faces and generally fuzzy bodies as well.

Robber fly
Photo Credit: Bart Drees
Last summer, I had a robber fly that sat on a fig tree, next to a blooming shrub that was always overwhelmed with bumble bees.  Every time I walked past that fig tree, that darn robber fly had a bumble bee in it's grasp.  I let this go on for a week or so before I had to put an end to it and smoosh the robber fly.  I like my predator insects, but I love my pollinators more!

My prediction for why robber flies are so active at the moment is because their food source (other flying insects) are out and about right now and the feeding is good!