Friday, September 10, 2021

30 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know


30 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know

Join me at the San Antonio Botanical Garden for a program hosted by SAWS!  I'll be covering the top 30 insects and relatives I think you'll be encountering this late summer/early fall.  The good, the bad, and the ones that are "just there".  We look at some preserved specimens (so much better than just looking at pictures), learn about their biology, where they hide, and what they like to eat.  Of course, we'll also talk about how to manage the bad ones, encourage the good ones, and tolerate the ones somewhere in between.

BONUS - The Garden is in full bloom right now and you won't want to miss this opportunity to learn about insects and take a stroll through the garden.  I was there earlier this week, and the butterflies are amazing!  If you want to get some ideas for some good butterfly plants, this IS THE TIME OF YEAR!

Fee: $20 ($18 member)
REGISTRATION REQUIRED  Click here to register!

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Become a Beekeeper! Beekeeping 101


This is an online, live four part course.  All sessions will be recorded!  An in person field day, inside the hives will also be offered for those local or willing to travel to San Antonio.

Monday, August 30, 2021

White Fluff Floating in the Air

In the past several weeks, you may have been noticing white fluff floating in the air.  Maybe you are finding it on your plants.   But most certainly, you are wondering what it is.  These are wooly aphids - a species of aphid that grows a white waxy coating on their body.  Like all aphids, there are forms that can fly and you are likely seeing them flying around as they are dislodged from the leaves they are feeding.

Aphids have piercing and sucking mouthparts and feed mainly on the phloem of leaves.  This sticky food produces sticky excrement called honeydew.  Park or walk on a deck under a well infested tree and you'll feel and see that honeydew... tiny dots of sticky mess that you have to clean off your windshields each morning.

If you are lucky enough to have a good rain storm, this will help with that woolly aphid population by knocking them off the plants, breaking their delicate bodies and reducing their numbers.  

No need to panic about them.  I think the species we are seeing in South Central Texas are hackberry woolly aphids and the hackberries will survive.  They may also be found on other plants and trees (I have them all over my cedar elms), but they are not harming those well established, healthy plants.  A bit of cooler weather, a few more showers, and we'll start to see them decrease until they are a memory.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Hairy Caterpillars Make an Appearance Again

 Last year around this time, the Eastern Buck Caterpillar made an appearance in numbers I had never seen (or noticed) in South Central Texas before.  In fact, I'll admit, I'm not sure I had ever noticed those guys before!  Well, they are back again this year and more people are noticing them.

With the rain we've been having, knocking them out of trees, we're seeing them crawling on our lawns, up our houses, across the sidewalk and all over the place!  They are a stinging caterpillar and best to be avoided.  Unfortunately, you just don't know when or where you might encounter them, so be careful where you step or sit or place your hands.

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

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 (or get knocked from a plant when it rains), which is currently happening.  They aren't aggressive and won't come after you, but they can drop from trees.

Why are there more this year?  Probably because something happened last year to allow their population to grow (more food?  good weather? who knows!).  And when you have more babies turning into adults, there are more adults to lay more eggs and more babies coming out this year.  It isn't because of the snow storm, and the freeze certainly didn't kill them off!

Like all populations of animals, they are in a bit in flux, and we may see more next year or just a natural decline.  Time will tell, unfortunately, it's impossible to really predict what will happen until it does happen.

Should you feel the need to kill them, try a cyfluthrin product on the foliage you see them feeding.  If they are just crawling on your house or on the ground, I'm not sure there is anything that will be effective and environmentally friendly, so just be patient and wait them out.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Worms in Trees this Spring

Every so often, we see larger population outbreaks of certain insects, for seemingly no real explainable reason.  This year is one of those years with either cankerworms or oak leaf rollers.  I'm seeing both species around the San Antonio area, but there's really not need to panic!

Spring Cankerworm in dark color form
Photo Credit - Mike Merchant,
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Cankerworms, also called inchworms, can be bright green in color or greyish brown.  They inch up when they walk and when disturbed will drop from the trees on a silk strand.  They can be seen on the trunks of trees, dropping from limbs, on the roof, car, anywhere else the wind may have blown them.  

Oak leaf rollers also drop from silk strands and are green in color, but have a dark blackish head capsule.  

Oak leaf roller on leaf.
Photo Credit - Bart Drees,
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Neither caterpillars are harmful to humans and often are not harmful to the tree.  In high population outbreaks they can cause some defoliation, but often the tree will leaf back out again.

Should you feel your trees are in danger, there are some options to decrease the population.  Bt foliar sprays early in the infestation or Spinosad foliar applications are organic options.  Bt is specific for caterpillars and will not harm other animals or insects, but be careful around your milkweed and other butterfly garden plants!  Permethrin is another option that is not organic.  Ready to use formulations make application easy - just plug into the hose and spray up into the trees.  Trees that are incredible tall may need the help from a pest management professional or arborist.

Often times, the best course of action is just to wait them out!  We may find that in two weeks, the caterpillars just disappear.  

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Wondering What Happened to all the Insects During the Freeze?

Weekly Webinar - What Happens to Insects When it Freezes?  CLICK HERE TO JOIN  

Meeting ID: 990 2593 9574 / Passcode: Garden2020

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Join the Bug Club!

No matter where you are in the state (or world), you can join the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Bug Club!  We are meeting virtually, once a week, March through May.

Fall was our first Bug Club series, and back by popular demand, we have developed a Spring series! 

Bug Club is an opportunity for youth interested in entomology and insects to learn more about them through interactive, live, virtual lessons with Entomologist, Molly Keck.  For those who cannot make live lessons, Monday’s @ 4pm, you can watch the recorded versions! 

Bug Club runs March 1st – May 10th (9 total lessons).  Clubbers receive a kit containing materials for activities and experiments, mailed to their home.  Cost for registration is $50.

This Spring we’ll cover Honey Bees and their importance, learn about their lifecycle and how the caste system and bee dances work, and wrap it up with a virtual visit into a real bee hive!  We’ll also study mosquitoes and understand where they like to breed, why they are so bad, and how they have shaped our national history with a lesson on Yellow Fever.  As it warms up in May, we’ll talk insect collections, ant species, how to use dichotomous keys, and more!


Space is limited and we did fill up in the fall, so don’t wait too late to register!