Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Grey Blister Beetles Everywhere!

Blister Beetle - Christy Burkhard
Blister beetles sound like an ominous type of insect, but I think you would be surprised to know you've likely encountered them quite often.  There are many species and they can take on various color patterns, but all have the same body shape.

Blister beetles are especially concerning when they are consumed by horses after being baled in alfalfa or hay.  Due to the cantharidin in their bodies, they can kill a horse if enough are consumed.  In humans, the cantharidin - or blistering chemical - can take on a variety of reactions.  Some people do not react, others may experience a painless fluid filled blister and other can have very severe reactions: painful blistering, immediate pain, long lasting pain. 

Blister beetles are usually not a landscape pest, but in some years they will have large populations that can be found feeding on ornamentals, trees, or vegetables.  This year seems to be one of those years!  Across Texas (or at least Central to South), I'm receiving images of blister beetles in huge numbers on plants.  In some cases, these plants are large and well established, and damage is minimal.  In others, they are consuming whole tomato plants.

Blister Beetles on Tomato Plant - Christy Burkhard

If you suspect you have blister beetles, avoid them.  You never know how you might react.  If they are defoliating a plant you want to save, try using a synthetic pyrethroid in either a liquid foliar spray or dust formulation.  If the plant is still blooming, know that your pollinators WILL be affected, so it might be better to "wait and see".  If the plant is so defoliated there are no blooms, the pollinators will not be attracted to the plant anyway and likely not encounter the pesticide... this is always a risk if blooms come out soon, but a personal decision to make - who or what is more necessary to save in your situation.

Blister Beetles feeding on tomato plant - Christy Burkhard

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Spring Beekeeping 101 Classes

If you have bees coming this Spring, or you are curious to learn what it takes to keep bees - I have the class for you!

Geared for those with little to no experience in beekeeping, we will cover all the basics.  From what to buy and where to purchase it to how to use the equipment and what to do with the bees.

Also included is an option (but HIGHLY recommended) field day!  Suits and gloves provided, so you can get into a hive, do some bee work, and get a hands on experience with beekeeping.


Wednesday, January 25, 2023

2023 Insect Predictions

I start this blog with a fair warning that is incredibly hard to predict which insects will emerge or be an issue from season to season.  But I'm pretty confident, based on the weather last year, I can make a fair  prediction.... borers in trees will be seen in 2023!

It may be hard right now to remember the intense heat we experienced for months this summer, but we are all well aware of the continued lack of rain.  Heat and drought are stresses on trees that we often overlook. We tend to baby our smaller plants, but ignore our larger ones.  I often assume mine get what they need - they've been there forever, after all!

Trees DO need water.  Tree ARE damaged by heat.  The damage and stress these trees experienced, likely caused them to be attractive to boring insects.  Boring insects are OPPORTUNISTIC.  I say that because we always love to blame insects for the reason a plant, tree, etc. is failing.  Boring insects take advantage of a good situation, detecting a wound or that the tree cannot fight them off naturally.  They lay their eggs in a crevice or on the bark of the tree and that baby beetle (grub) starts to burrow through the tree.  When they've fed enough, they pupate.  This egg to pupa stage can last up to a year or more!  The resulting adult that emerges, leaves holes it's chewed to get out of the wood.  These holes are noticed by tree owners and we assume the poor tree is weak due to the borers.

Exit holes from Roundheaded Borer in tree.

Remember!  When you see the boring beetles exiting, they've already done the damage!  They were attracted to a tree a year prior, when it exhibited signs of stress.  You can't do anything now... this is unfortunately a sign of what you didn't do.

Red Oak Borers - Round headed Borers

Metallic Wood Boring Beetle - Flatheaded Borer
Hanna Royals, Museum Collections, USDA APHIS PPQ bugwood.org

The best course of action is to care for those trees.  Water them, fertilize them when you should, don't hit them with the mower or weed wacker.  Prune them properly, don't choke them with soil or mulch, don't compact the soil.  Overall, just treat them like you do your flowering plants... they need your attention too! 

The other thing to consider is the age of the tree.  Is is at the end of it's life anyway?  Trees don't live forever and boring beetles detect this and are attracted to them.  They aren't killing the tree, they are putting it out of it's misery.

Moral of the story- if you start to see boring damage this spring and summer (holes from emergence), don't panic!  There's no need to treat - the beetles are leaving!  If your other trees are healthy, you don't need to worry!

There are some exceptions to the rule that boring beetles are secondary and opportunistic.  Learn more about the invasive and highly destructive Emerald Ash Borer.

Click here for more information on wood boring beetles.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Butterflies of San Antonio & Butterfly Gardening 101

Fall is here, but in typical Texas fashion we are still warm and sunny!  Which makes PERFECT weather for our butterflies to get that last bit of nectar before they hunker down for winter months.

If you are into butterfly watching, I've always said October is the best month to do that.  And if you have ever wondered how many species of butterflies we have in Texas or San Antonio and what they look like, I am offering a Butterflies of San Antonio & Butterfly Gardening 101 class at the San Antonio Botanical Garden on October 15th from 10-12pm.  

We'll discover the common families of butterflies and common species within those families.  With actual specimens to view by eye and under the microscope, you can get an up close look at these creatures that you usually don't catch while they are "on the fly".

We'll also cover my favorites for butterfly plants and tips on how to design your garden to make it more butterfly friendly.  I suspect, if the weather is nice, we'll also be able to tour the garden and view some butterflies active on the flowers.  We'll see what you learned and what you can spot!

Participants will also receive my favorite butterfly field guide.

Join me by registering through the San Antonio Botanical Garden.  Cost is $20 for nonmembers and $18 for members.  You must pre-register to attend!

Friday, August 26, 2022

It Rained... Can We Expect Mosquitoes?

 A large portion of Texas received rain recently.   Rain is great and was much needed, but it also means standing water and mosquito breeding!  Water is a requirement for mosquitoes to complete their lifecycle.  Only the adult (that bites) is found outside the water.  So, the more water we have standing in puddles or filling up containers means more places for mosquitoes to lay eggs and more eggs eventually become adults.

You may not notice much increased mosquito activity right now, but I suspect in the next week, we will be seeing quite a few more mosquitoes as enjoy our walks in the park or spending time outdoors.  Mosquitoes didn't go away during our drought... they were just harder to find.  

Many species of mosquitoes lay their eggs just above the water surface, waiting for the time when it rains and the water rises and saturates those eggs, allowing them to kick start the lifecycle.  Out of eggs hatch larvae, larvae eat organic matter in the water (so dirty water is better for them!) and larvae turn into pupa.  Pupa will emerge as adults.  Females and males take sips of nectar to get some carbs and then females go in search of blood meals.  Blood meals come from anything with blood, including humans.

It can take as little as one week for mosquitoes to go from egg to adult, which is why I anticipate next week mosquito activity will increase.  It may already be increased with more sites for females to lay eggs.

Why do we care about mosquitoes?

Because they transmit diseases.  In many counties, mosquitoes are trapped and tested for diseases.  In Bexar County, one such sample has tested positive for West Nile.  So we know West Nile is around... just one more thing to add to the list to worry about!

What can you do to avoid mosquitoes?

Unfortunately, there is no easy, silver bullet.  But there are tried and true things you can practice to reduce mosquito populations and reduce your risk to being exposed to bites:
  1. Reduce standing water - if they can't make to adulthood, they can't bite!
  2. Avoid mosquitoes.  Stay indoors, wear long sleeves and pants, stay out of areas where mosquitoes are heavy.
  3. Use mosquito repellent.  If you can't avoid them, choose an insect repellent of your liking.  Can't decide what to use?  Check out EPA's search tool.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Become a Beekeeper! Beekeeping 101


Interested in beekeeping and need some help?  This course will cover all the basics of beekeeping from what suit options you have, how to put on the gloves, where to purchase the clothing to what tools to use and how, how to set up the apiary to how to manage those hives and how that first year looks.  

In Person - September 30 @ Bexar County AgriLife Classroom, 3355 Cherry Ridge, Suite 208, SATX 78230 9am-4pm | $65
Virtual - October 3, 5, 10, 12 6-8pm | all sessions also recorded | $45

Field Days Included for Both Options!  Weekend and weekday options.

You'll walk away from this class with tons of materials, factsheets, catalogs, and information.  The hands-on opportunities from the field day will help you feel confident that you can be a beekeeper!  Our goal is to give you all the tools from materials, to information, to actual experience so you can be successful.

Bugs a Swarming!

Did you get some of that great rain yesterday?  I sure hope so.  And if you did, you probably noticed TONS of insects swarming, flying and floating through the air.

Some social insects will initiate nuptial flights when we are in high humidity - generally right before or after a rain.  When we have little rain for months and then a good rain event, these insects have to take advantage of a good situation.  Yesterday was that good situation.

You may be noticing ant alates in your house.  You may also notice fire ant alates crawling around the surface of your pool, the sidewalk, or other surfaces.  Termites were also swarming yesterday.  The main difference between termites and ants are antennae, waist, and wings.  But to keep it simple, look at the waist - it's much easier.  Ants have a pinched waist, whereas termites have a thicker waist.  Ants also tend to fold in half when they die, but termites stay unfolded.

Texas A&M AgriLife

I did notice a lot of termites swarming, but the only species I saw were desert or agricultural termites.  These are super common to swarm in the late summer or fall when we get good rain.  These termites are the ones you want, if you get termites.  They are found in the soil, like others, but feed on grasses and other plant material.  Usually this is below ground, but you might see them above ground in areas that are dry or drought stressed.  They form mud tubes along blades of grass and weeds which are the most conspicuous thing about them.  Desert termites don't feed on wood in homes or other structures.  They look different from other termite alates by their body size and long wings.  Wings so long they tend to curl at the end.  Wings double the length of their bodies.

Another insect I noticed flying around in large numbers were dragonflies!  The Bexar County AgriLife office has a courtyard with a tennis court that has been painted blue.  The water puddles on top of the blue paint tricked the dragonflies to thinking they were seeing a water source (or so I assume).  And we saw dragonflies in astronomical numbers flitting around the tennis court!  You probably saw them where you are, and aren't they an amazing insect to see?

We'll also start seeing mosquitoes soon... but that's for another post - stay tuned!