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!

Monday, April 20, 2020

This Caterpillar Says DON'T TOUCH ME!

It is a good general rule of thumb to avoid caterpillars with hairs or barbs coming from their body.  There is a good chance they are stinging caterpillars.

Eastern Buck Moth Caterpillar
Photo: Molly Keck
This guy, an Eastern Buck Moth Caterpillar (Hemileuca maia)
has been found all over the San Antonio area this spring and it would be wise to avoid it.  They are stinging caterpillars and everyone reacts differently, so don't touch!

I had the misfortune of getting one on my pants the other day and accidentally bringing it inside.  When I rested my hand on my leg, I encountered the hairs/barbs and it didn't feel good!  Itched and left an uncomfortable feeling on my thumb for a couple hours.

These caterpillars will turn into interesting looking moths, called Eastern Buck Moths.  What amazes me, is that the caterpillar (immature form) is so much larger than the moth (adult form)!

There isn't much you can do about managing these caterpillars until they all pupate and go away, so for now, just don't touch!  You are more likely to encounter them as they leave their host plant in search of a spot to pupate, which is currently happening.  They aren't aggressive and won't come after you, but they can drop from trees.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Weekly Gardening Webinar Series

Horticulturist David Rodriguez and Entomologist Molly Keck are joining forces to provide a weekly plants and bugs webinar series.  Join us to learn about your landscape and the insects that could wreak havoc on it!

Every Tuesday and Wednesday in April @ 1-2pm Central Time

To join, CLICK HERE at the time and date of the presentation.

Turfgrass Basics
April 14 – It’s More Than Just Mowing! – David Rodriguez
April 15 – Bugs That Hurt the Lawn – Molly Keck

What’s Happening in Your Veggie Garden
April 21 – The Plants – David Rodriguez
April 22 - The Pests – Molly Keck

Growing Citrus on Your Patio and Landscape
April 28 – An Easy and Fun Way to Grow Vitamin C – David Rodriguez
April 29 – The Pests that Reduce That Vitamin C – Molly Keck

Monday, April 6, 2020

Native Pollinator and Pollinator Planting Webinar Series

Spring is sprung and the bees and butterflies are getting busy! 

If you have an interest in the pollinators in your landscape, we hope you can join us for a Webinar Series on Native Pollinators and Planting for Pollinators!  Hosted by Texas A&M AgriLIfe Extension Entomologist, Molly Keck and Horticulturist, David Rodriguez. 

Learn what pollinators are common in your landscape and how you can encourage them on Wednesday at 1pm.  Then learn what you can plant to produce nectar 12 months out of the year, Thursday at 1pm!

1pm Central Time
Wednesday, April 8 – Native PollinatorsMolly Keck, Entomologist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Bexar County

Thursday, April 9 – 12 Months of Nectar Producing PlantsDavid Rodriguez, Horticulturist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Bexar County

Did you miss the webinar live?  You can watch it on our YouTube Channel HERE!

Friday, March 20, 2020

15 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know Web Series

I think we can all agree we are a little bored with social distancing and craving a change in our routines.  Well, I've got one for you!

I'm a little bored and sad that all my outreach programs have been cancelled, so I'm offering a series of webinars called "15 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know".  I will cover the 15 insects you will be seeing in the landscape, veggie garden, and home this season.  I have a feeling that we will all be doing a little more gardening or spending a little more time bettering our landscape this spring and taking walks outside to enjoy nature.  Let's answer your questions of "what's this?" before you even know you have it!

March 23 - Landscape Insects
March 25 - Veggie Insects
March 27 - Home Pests

Each educational class will be held at 2pm Central. You only need a computer and the internet to join or a smart phone! A microphone is only necessary if you want to ask questions, but you can also type in questions to the chat box.

To join us, click here:
Join Microsoft Teams Meeting

When the browser opens, choose Join on the Web Instead (unless you have the Teams app).  You won't be able to join until I start the meeting, so don't worry if you try now and nothing comes up.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

June Beetles by Numbers this Spring

The weather is starting to remain warm and the insects are responding!  Every spring, when things warm up, insect populations rise.  It is not different this year than in previous years, but when we've gone months in cooler weather and haven't seen much insect activity, the emergence of June Bugs by large numbers can seem worrisome.
June Bug Adult - photo by G. McIlveen Jr.

June Bug adults are emerging now from the soil and mating.  As adults they do feed on foliage, but for the most part, are not considered a pest in this life stage.  They are highly attracted to lights, so you'll find them all over your porches in the evenings. 

I keep hearing concerns about the adults eating up the landscape.  If you are seeing damage to new growth, I would consider other culprits not the June Bugs.  The June Bugs are just prevalent and noticeable, so they are an easy blame, but likely you have beetles or caterpillars or maybe even pill bugs if the plants are seedlings.

After mating, June Bugs will lay their eggs in the soil of turf and those eggs will hatch into C shaped, creamy, larvae.  Those larvae feed on the roots of turf.  They can damage turf, but just because you see the adults doesn't necessarily mean they will be laying all their eggs in your lawn!  In addition, it takes through about end of July in our area of Texas (South Central Texas) for the numbers to be high enough to see damage.

For the San Antonio area, the best time to treat is around mid July, but you can probably give yourself a range of mid June through mid July and still be effective.  There are plenty of granular formulations for grub management on the shelves.  Be sure to water very well before you apply and water in after you apply.  Saturating the soil will push the grubs up higher and allow them to come into contact with the pesticide.
White Grub Larva - Photo by M. Merchant

Now remember, grub is a term we use for any scarab beetle larva and there are hundreds of species!  My rule of thumbs to know if you should be concerned are:

  • Is it late spring or summer months?  Yes - continue down, No - stop!  Not time of year to worry about grubs
  • Are you finding grubs in the turf - Yes - continue, No - stop!  White grubs that damage turf only feed on turf, if you find them elsewhere, they could be predatory or composters.
  • Are they are 1/2 inch or less (curled up)?  Yes - continue, No - stop!  Larger grubs are composters or predatory.
  • Do you see signs of damage or stress to your turf?  Dead patches? Yes - treatment is warranted, No - treatment isn't warranted, there probably aren't enough grubs to be causing damage.