Monday, October 8, 2012

Join the 4-H Entomology Team!

If you have or know of a child ages 8-18 who is interested in entomology and learning a little more about insects, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has an opportunity they may be interested in.  I am trying to get an Entomology Team started for Bexar County (and any other surrounding county that might be interested).

If you are not familiar with 4-H, it is the youth development program of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.  Kids can join a traditional club in which they meet regularly, do community service, projects, etc, OR they can join and be a part of a team or participate in a contest.  This gives those that have a specific interest the opportunity to compete and local, regional, and state levels.  Some examples of projects and teams include: livestock showing, horticulture shows, nutrition, debate, rifle shooting, and entomology.  Of course, there are much, much more!

This year, I would like to see an Entomology Team get started, and as the entomologist in Bexar County, I feel I should help get this underway!  I am hosting an informational meeting about Entomology Teams, October 25th at 7pm.  I will go over what is expected of an entomology team, how the contest works, and what all the kids need to know to compete.  We'll see if we have enough interest to get some teams started.

There are three levels: junior (ages 8-10; intermediate (ages 11-13) and senior (ages 14-18).  You will need to join 4-H to be a part of the team, so come to the meeting to see if this is for you.

I plan to set up trainings once a month so we can practice for the contest, which will be held April 13th.  If you aren't from Bexar County, you are still welcome to attend.  We can try to get a team started in your county!

For more information, or to RSVP to the meeting, please email me (Molly) at mekeck@ag.tamu.edu.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite!

If you haven't already experienced bed bugs, the chances are very good that you will.  Experts are predicting that bed bugs will continue to be an issue for us and that the worst is yet to come.  They are saying its not a matter of "if" you get bed bugs, but a matter of "when".

Unfortunately, the unknown can be pretty scarey, but there are ways to learn more about prevention and early detection.



Just in time for the holiday travels, I will be hosting a Bed Bugs 101 Seminar.  It is free and open to the public and we will cover the basics of bed bug biology, how to identify them, where they like to hide, prevention tips, detection tips, and management options.


Bed Bugs 101
October 30, 2012
2-3:30pm
Bexar County A&M AgriLife Extension Office
3355 Cherry Ridge, Suite 208

Please RSVP to Molly at mekeck@ag.tamu.edu, so we can keep a head count.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Educational Programs for West Nile and Mosquitoes

Want to know more about West Nile and the mosquitoes that carry it?  Texas AgriLife Extension in Bexar County, the San Antonio Central Library and San Antonio Garden Center are hosting educational seminars on West Nile and Mosquitoes.

This program will cover the basics of mosquito biology, where they breed, how to prevent and manage them, the species that carry West Nile, general information about West Nile and how to protect yourself against it.

West Nile is expected to continue to be a problem throughout the remainder of the summer and into early fall. Learn what you can about the disease and how to protect yourself and your family.

September 6th
12-1:30pm
September 13th
10-11:30am
San Antonio Central Library 
600 Soledad
Space is limited, please RSVP the Central Library at www.mysapl.org / 210-207-2500

September 6th
7-8:30pm
San Antonio Garden Center
3310 N. New Braunfels Ave, San Antonio, TX 78209 

Space is limited, please RSVP to Molly at mekeck@ag.tamu.edu or 210-216-5566

Thursday, August 16, 2012

West Nile is Real - Protect Yourselves

While you are much more likely to die from a car accident or the flu, West Nile Virus is very real and a threat in Texas.  This year, for some reason, it is much more of a threat.  More people have contracted the disease from mosquitoes than in previous years, and unfortunately more people have died.

The simple fact of the matter is that West Nile is out there and mosquitoes carry it and can transmit it to human populations.  I taut using insect repellent and reducing mosquito breeding sites every year, all year.  But the unfortunate events have turned peoples' ears and made mosquito prevention a higher priority.

West Nile Virus has no cure - you can only treat the symptoms and hope it goes away in due time.  Therefore, prevention is the key.  Prevention involves avoiding mosquito bites.

This can be done with the 4 D's:
1 - Drain standing water - water is where mosquitoes lay their eggs and the larvae and pupae live.  If there is not standing water, they cannot lay their eggs and the populations are reduced. Mosquitoes prefer still, dirty, shaded water.  Fast running streams and fountains and properly cared for pools are not going to breed mosquitoes.
2 - Dusk and Dawn - stay indoors when mosquitoes are most active, dusk and dawn.  Now, mosquitoes can be active during the day, but you are much more likely to encounter them during dusk and dawn around areas with dense foliage and shade. AND the mosquito species that transmit West Nile are active mainly at dawn and dusk.
3 - Dress in Long Sleeves and Pants - If your clothes are loose and your skin isn't exposed, the mosquitoes can't get to you!
4 - DEET - please, please, please use insect repellent of some sort.  Now, I say DEET because it goes with my four D's nicely, but there are other options.  Picaridin and DEET are longer lasting and known to be very effective.  There are many other natural or botanical options, and some are effective, but because they are natural you do need to reapply regularly as they dissipate quickly being natural ingredients.

Take care of yourself the remainder of this summer and stay away from mosquitoes.  Lets all hope the West Nile issue goes away quickly and the worst is behind us!

For more information on West Nile, visit the CDC website.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bees, Bugs, and Gardening - Come Learn!

August and September mark the months for a few very interesting programs offered by Texas AgriLife Extension.  I hope to see some of you there!

August 21 - 30 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know - 2-4pm.  Cost is $10, payable by check at the door.  Insects are all around us and you don't have to be a gardener to realize that!  If you are interested in what insects are anticipated to be busy during the fall and who could potentially cause some damage, this is the program for you.  Real specimens will be utilized and we'll cover who's beneficial and how to prevent and manage those that aren't. Location: 3355 Cherry Ridge, Ste 208.  Space is limited, please RSVP to Molly at mekeck@ag.tamu.edu.

August 24 - Grounds Maintenance Workshop - A turf management program geared for grounds maintenance professionals, but homeowners also welcome.  For more information click here.


August 28 - Back Yard Gardening Series - Bexar County Texas AgriLife Horticulturalist, David "the gardener" Rodriguez will take you through the gardening alphabet, A-Z, and teach you everything you need to know about gardening.  August's series will cover the "C" & "D" plants.  Cost is $10, payable at the door.  For more information, click here.

September 28 & 29 - Beekeeping Basics - If you are interested in getting started with beekeeping or just want to see if its something you can do, come on down!  We will cover bee biology and the basics of beekeeping.  Learn all you need to get started, including a field day in which you will get to wear a bee suit and open up and get into an active hive.  This is the best, hands-on beekeeping program you can attend and THE BEST way to learn beekeeping for a newbie. Space is limited and we fill up fast.  Please email Molly to see if there is still room - mekeck@ag.tamu.edu.  For registration form, click here.

Applications now being accepted for the Fall 2012 Master Gardener Program.

Children's Vegetable Garden now accepting applications for fall season.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What is Flying in the Rain - Termites!

If its raining in your area, you've probably noticed small, very delicate little insects flying around.  These are desert termites, also called agriculture or agricultural termites.  And this is a very normal occurrence and nothing to stress over.

Some people are seeing hundreds, if not thousands of desert termites outside.  Me? I only saw a couple in my yard.  Desert termite swarmers (also called alates) are what we are seeing.  They are winged with brown bodies and brown/tan wings.  Different species may be different sizes, but their wings are nearly twice the length of their body.  The photo shown is only one species of desert termite, others can be smaller.

Desert termites will swarm or fly up in the air to mate during hot, humid times like this.  This is especially common after we've had a long period without rain and seems more common when its been exceptionally hot and the rain lasts a while, leaving the air extremely humid for the majority of the day.

Mud tubes formed by Desert Termites above ground.
Desert termites are not termites to be concerned about.  They do not feed on wood, so they are not a structural pest.  I always say, if you have to have termites, you want these guys!  Desert termites do feed on forbes, native grasses, turf and mainly the roots of those plants.  When its dry, the roots get shorter, the termites follow and they sometimes end up above ground. When more plants are dying in the drought, they're food sources are everywhere, which is why we seem to see more of them.





Monday, July 2, 2012

Ticks? We Have an App for That!

Yes, you can get phone applications for just about everything these days. Including an app all about ticks.

The summer heat seems to have brought the ticks out in droves. People who had never had a tick problem before are overrun by them, those have usually have ticks are finding the infestations to be unbearable. And ticks aren't just gross, they can carry diseases and they can be extremely difficult the manage.

Texas A&M's tick expert, Dr. Pete Teel, developed a Tick Application for your phone (also viewable online), with information about tick biology, identification, management, and removal. What's nice about this app, is that you can choose the specific location you need ticks controlled - on dogs, on livestock, urban landscape, etc.  This is an EXCELLENT tool for tick management.  Check it out for active ingredients of pesticides if you are having a hard time.

Check out the tick app at: http://tickapp.tamu.edu/identification.php

Another couple of tick management tips: (1)don't over-apply pesticides or apply more often than the label recommends or every 2 weeks (whichever is longer).  This will only result in resistance and you'll have a much harder time controlling ticks.  Fight the urge to use more pesticide that you need - give it some time to actually do its job. (2) After you treat the yard, do a second application about 2 weeks after the first.  This will help get that second generation that hatched from the eggs that you didn't get with your first application of pesticides.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chagas Disease and Kissing Bugs

Chagas Disease has made the new lately due to two confirmed cases in San Antonio, and it has some people on edge.  The good thing about the news story is that it has made many people aware of the Kissing Bug (AKA: Conenose Bug, Reduvid Bug, Triatoma).

Kissing bugs are vectors for the disease, Chagas.  This is most common in Latin America, but cases are popping up Texas.  Kissing bugs are pear shaped bugs, with a long (cone shaped) nose or head.  A key characteristic of them is an orange checkered pattern along the edge of their abdomen.  The overall color is brownish grey.  They can commonly be mistaken for squash bugs or leaf footed bugs, but those insects lack the checkered pattern and are mainly found in the garden or on plants.

Kissing bugs feed on vertebrates and prefer rodents.  However, they common feed on dogs and Chagas is known to occur fairly regularly in dog populations throughout Texas.  My personal opinion is that places with many dogs living outdoors have dog food, which attracts rodents, which start to nest near the dogs and the Kissing Bugs follow.

Chagas disease is caused by protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, which is introduced into the host by the bite of a Kissing Bug.  Kissing bugs feed at night, and people may not notice the bite except for an itchy or sore red mark.  Chagas disease has two phases: an acute and a chronic.  The acute phase symptoms can go undetected as Chagas as the symptoms are fever and feeling generally unwell.  It can also include swelling of one eye (where the Kissing Bug fed near) or a swollen area the bite location.  The chronic phase may not appear for a long period of time and includes enlarged heart, irregular and/or rapid heartbeat, enlarged lymp nodes, liver and spleen.  There are blood tests to test for the presence of the protozoan in the blood.

If you notice Kissing Bugs outdoors, in your pool filter, or even indoors, there are ways to prevent their entrance indoors, where they can bite during the night.  Seal up all cracks, crevices and entry points.  Make sure doors close properly and weather stripping seals tight.  Repair window screens. Use a general insecticide (one that is labeled for cockroaches is good) along window sills, doors, and other suspected entry points.  If you suspect the infestation is pretty severe, contact a licensed pest management professional.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Trees are Alive .... With Walkingsticks!

Texas giant walking sticks or are a staple in the Hill Country and areas of San Antonio outside of the north loop of 1604.  We definitely see them in the city, especially if you have large trees, but they grow them big a little farther north!  Walking sticks tend to by cyclical in their outbreaks or population bursts, and this is the year for them!
Photo: Male and femal walking sticks, Megaphasma dentricus (Stål)

There are several species of walking sticks - all can grow various sizes.  The largest species, (Megaphasma dentricus (Stål)), can grow up to 7 inches long (although there are many reports of larger ones) and are the longest insect in the United States!  This species is what many people are finding right now and pictured in this blog.


Walking sticks have a creepy appearance, simply because they are so slow moving.  They are not harmful and at the worst, may stick to your t-shirt, or emit a foul odor as defense.  Walking sticks cannot sting, do not bite, cannot fly, and are not very fast runners - so there is really nothing to fear from them.  They have chewing mouthparts, but even in massive outbreaks, do not defoliate trees.


Watch the oak trees closely and it may not be the wind moving the branches, it may actually be walking sticks rocking back and forth.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Super Duper Spring Plant Sale!


Looking for some color for your garden?  Maybe some veggie or fruit trees?

May 3 (Thurs) 10am to 6pm and May 4 (Fri) 7am to 9pm at the Norris Convention Center, the Bexar County Master Gardeners will be hosting a plant sale.  This will be held during the annual Texas Master Gardener Convention.

Norris Convention Center is located at 4522 Fredericksburg Road, entrance is at Wonderland of Americas (Crossroads Mall).

The plant sale everyone has been waiting for!  The plant sale will be introducing the new Orange Frost citrus plant which is a Changsha and Satsuma cross.  As well as, past and present, Texas Superstar selections for sale and a whole lot more!  Plants are custom grown and selected from Peterson Brothers, Greenleaf, Color Spot and Monrovia nurseries will for this special sale.  Plants have been hand picked by David Rodriguez, our Bexar County Horticulturalist. This sale is not only for attendees of the 2012 State Master Gardener Convention, but also local Master Gardeners and public are invited.  Monies raised from the sale will go towards the local Youth Garden’s Program and the Educational Outreach efforts of the Bexar County Master Gardeners.  See you there!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Upcoming Insect Programs

If you are interested in learning more about bugs, the Bexar County Extension office (and myself) have a few educational programs scheduled for this spring:

May 17 - Understanding Your Wildlife Neighbors, 2-4:30pm. Now, I know this is not an insect program, but Judit Green, Urban Wildlife Biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been gracious enough to agree to give a program on wildlife. She will cover identification, biology, habits, prevention and management of various critters that we commonly come in contact with.

May 18 - Beekeeping Basics - 9am-3pm. If you are interested in beekeeping or want to get started, this will be an excellent program. Hosted by Texas AgriLife Extension, Bexar County Master Gardeners, and Texas Beekeepers. We will cover the basics of bee biology (understanding what happens in the hive) and beekeeping basics to get you started with your first hive. For more information or to register, please email me at mekeck@ag.tamu.edu. We only have a few spaces left. Cost is $50.

May 29 - Bed Bugs 101 - 2-3:30pm - Its only a matter of time before we all encounter bed bugs! Learn bed bug biology, identification and inspection tips, prevention and management options.


** All programs will be held at the Bexar County Extension Office, 3355 Cherry Ridge, Ste 208.
Space is limited, please RSVP to Molly at 210-467-6575 or mekeck@ag.tamu.edu.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

White Hairy Moths Everywhere!!


If your home seems like it is being invaded by white and black, hairy caterpillars, you are not alone. Seems like nearly everyone who has a good amount of trees on their property is experiencing either a little Tussock Moth or Dagger Moth Caterpillar outbreak. The picture to the right is a Dagger Moth, but several calls have come in that may be Tussock Moths. Regardless, they're general characteristics and habits are very similar.

Tussock moths have tufts of white or cream color hairs all over their bodies. Dagger moths are also very hairy, although the hair may not be in tufts (or clumps). While the hairs are not poisonous, some sensitive individuals may be irritated by the hairs. I think it is just a good idea not to touch hairy or very brightly colored caterpillars.

I suspect with the warmer weather they may be a couple weeks ahead of their normal life cycle, which is to hatch from eggs April through June. They seem to be large enough that they are getting dislodged from trees and crawling up the sides of houses. Either this is the case, or they are moving away from their host plant, getting ready to pupate.

In Tussock moths, there are three generations per year, so you may expect another outbreak or two in the coming months.

If the caterpillars are a nuisance, use some soapy water to spray on the side of the house where they are crawling. Mix about 2 tbsp of soap with water. Be careful not to spray plants as some soaps will have herbicidal properties. Soapy water may not knock them down dead immediately, but they will crawl off and die. If you need the "thrill of the kill", use another insecticide labeled for caterpillars containing malathion, permethrin, or carbaryl.

Tussock moths and Dagger moths have a very broad host range of trees. Currently, we are not seeing damage to any trees (defoliation, stripped or sekeltonized leaves). If you are seeing damage and feel the need to treat, be sure the product you purchased is labeled for trees and/or shrubs.

For more information on Tussock moths see: http://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide/cimg313.html

Friday, March 30, 2012

Green Bugs and Oak Pollen - Coincidence?


By now, you must have noticed little tiny, green, almost speckled bugs flying around where ever there are oak trees. If you haven't, you must not have been outside in the past week!

These tiny bugs are true bugs, and part of a very large family of plant bugs, Miridae. These bugs are likely feeding on the pollen from the oak trees. They have piercing, sucking mouthparts, but even in large amounts will cause very little to no damage to your oaks.

At this point, they are just a nuisance and we have to wait them out. When the oak trees stop pollinating, the bugs will go away, and (hopefully) so will our allergies!

*photo courtesy of Duane Westerlund

Monday, March 19, 2012

Humongous Grubs in my Soil - Good or Bad?




If you are digging around in your yard, getting your beds ready for your spring gardens, you may have stumbled across some very scarey, very large grubs. These are Rhino Beetle Grubs and for the most part, completely harmless.

In fact, we often consider them to be beneficial because they are composters in the soil - breaking down dead roots and other materials into good organic matter. If they are found in the soil, I consider them to be indicators of good soil quality.

I would leave them alone, let them live and continue to turn your ordinary soil into soil full of good organic matter. Rhino Beetles Grubs will not eat the roots of your plants (unless the roots are dead), and if you find them in tree roots its because the roots are rotten and they are breaking them down.

The only time I would consider Rhino Beetle Grubs to be harmful is around palms, and this is usually because you have too much mulch and are over-watering the plants.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Insectmania at the Insectarium


This week, I had the pleasure of taking a little vacation to New Orleans. I love New Orleans like some people just love to visit New York, and once I heard they had opened a one-of-a-kind Insectarium, I knew I had to return. So I did, and I dragged my little family along. For anyone that is a lover of insects and enjoys educational museums, this really is a gem. There was so much information, interactive displays, beautiful collections, and living specimens packed into this relatively small museum. I had so much fun, I was actually able to ignore the screaming baby, eye rolling husband, and bratty four year old I was towing along!


The first stop on my big adventure was an exhibit they called Bug Camp (or something similar). It was a display of various ways to collect insects. I actually learned of a new collection tool for butterfly baiting, that I'm pretty sure I will use during my summer camps this year.



The artistic displays of preserved specimens was amazing! This display is made up of beetles arranged to make a beetle. Putting a collection together like this is my new goal.


This amazing display showed a pantry infested with cockroaches. It was amazing to see the damage the cockroaches can do to our food products. This is something I really wish I could replicate to show during trainings.





No insect experience is complete without a nice bug snack. The Insectarium was complete with insect cooking demonstrations and all! My 23 month old popped the cookie like it was nothing - the four year on the other hand, was NOT into it.
Wow! What a great time!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Crane Flies Among Us



I'm sure you have noticed by now (they have certainly been a nuisance around my house for the past few weeks), but crane flies are back with abundance! These delicate, long legged insects are a staple of spring. They are sometimes called mosquito hawks, however they don't eat mosquitoes, and mayflies, although they are not at all closely related to mayflies.






Being blessed with rain and a very mild (if not warm) winter has allowed them to prosper. When crane flies emerge, it always seems to indicate warmer weather and spring around the corner. This year they are out a little early, but that's to be expected with our weather.






Although I can't seem to convice my 4 year old and her very impressionable little sister, crane flies are completely harmless. In fact, they likely don't even have functioning mouthparts. They are attracted to lights, which is why we see them more often during evening hours, and they will fly indoors when windows or doors are opened. They are extremely seasonal, and this little balloon in their population will die down soon.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Termite Swarm Season

February is the time of year when subterranean termites swarm (winged forms leave the nest to mate and form new colonies). Last year, there was not much of a swarming season - probably due to the very cold winter and dry weather. Because of that, this year may have a pretty heavy swarming season - time will tell.

Swarmers are in indication of a colony nearby. Swarmers are not great fliers like dragonflies or butterflies, so where you find them is usually very close to where they emerged. If you find swarmers indoors, this is an indication that you have an established colony in the building. If you find termite swarmers indoors, contact a pest management company that has experience with termites to come do an inspection.

Every yard has termites if you dig in enough places. They are very common in the landscape. When they get too close to the structure or enter the structure to feed on the cellulose in your house, they become a structural pest.

It is also important to remember that both termites and ants have swarmers, and they are very easy to confuse. Termites have four wings of equal size, antennae that are bead-like, and a broad waist. Ants have hind wings shorter than the forewings, elbowed or kinked antennae, and a pinched waist. Ants also usually bend at the waist when they die, whereas termites remain straight bodied.

Subterranean termites swarm in February, but will swarm in later months if weather conditions are right. They also swarm in high humidity, before or after a good rain storm. If we continue to have rain like we have, expect to find termites swarming somewhere.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What Bug is This?


This time of year and into the Spring, these little Largus bugs show up all over the landscape. I usually find them when I'm digging in the ground, getting my garden ready for some new plants. Some people find them clustered on the side of their house, others on plants, and some in the house.

Largus bugs are fairly common bugs, closely related to boxelder bugs and (not as closely) related to stink bugs. Largus bugs are about 1/2 inch long, oval shaped, and greyish black in color, with a red outline around the abdomen as adults. As immatures, they have much more red to their bodies, and black legs.

Largus bugs have piercing and sucking mouthparts, but are generalist feeders. They can be found on oak, wax myrtle, weeds and other woodland foliage. So, very common in our landscapes in South Texas. They rarely cause any damage, so I don't recommend treating for them. If they make their way indoors, just scoot them out - they aren't infesting your home.
If you find them on a sunny day clustered on your house outside, this is pretty common. They are sunning themselves and/or emitting a feel good type pheromone (chemical), that encourages them to cluster or aggregate.

For more information about Largus bugs, visit: http://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide. Search under Hemipterans to find Largus bugs.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Phorid Flies and Honey Bees

The poor honey bee just can't seem to catch a break. This extremely important insect has a new enemy that appears to be damaging colonies in California and South Dakota ONLY. Our Texas bees are fine for now.

This new bee parasite is a phorid fly. The species is NOT the same one that attacks fire ants. You may be familiar with stories of phorid fly releases in Texas for fire ant management. These are completely different species than the phorid flies that use bees as a host.

Parasitoids, like phorid flies, are extremely host specific. They cannot parasitize anything other than their host - they simply will not survive. In many times they can't even lay their eggs in other insects or animals.

The phorid fly, Apocephalus borealis, lays is egg in a bees abdomen. A week later the bee dies, but not before abandoning their hive. The fly will emerge from the bees head or thorax. Remember, this is not a Texas problem and NOT the same phorid fly that attack fire ants. But still, an interesting insect story to start out our new year!

For more information on this new bug story, visit http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-01-deadly-parasite-honey-bees.html.