Monday, December 14, 2009

Freak Ladybug Emergence this Weekend

You know, being an entomologist, I usually don't notice or maybe pay too much attention to the insects in my own backyard. I feel like the public gets more of the strange insect explosions and incidences than I do. But this weekend - it actually happened to me! We had a huge explosion of ladybugs congregating all over our garage.

There were literally hundreds of ladybugs congregating on the side of our home that faces the morning sun! When I got to work this morning, low and behold, many of you had experienced the same thing.

Here's what probably happened. During winter ladybugs will nest under the eaves of houses, little cracks and crevices, and other nice, tight, hiding places. When we had a day of warm, sunny weather, those ladybugs probably emerged from those hiding places to take advantage of the warm weather. They were congregating in the sunlight because it's warmer. You may have also noticed that they congregated fairly close together - this is because insect communicate by using chemicals called pheromones, which they 'smell'. They attract one another to the same area using an aggregation pheromone (also explains why you may randomly see many, many insects clumped together in one location - someone found a great spot, and they are sharing the news).

The wet and dark weather was back today and we are expected to have another week of cold weather, so don't expect to see those ladybugs come out again until we have another warm and sunny day. Next time we do - check out the sunlit side of your home and see if the ladybugs used your house to hide through the winter!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Snout Nosed Butterflies and Armyworms - are they the same?

(Top left - Snout nosed butterfly; Top right - Noctuid moth (armyworm moth); Bottom - fall armyworm) (All photos by Bart Drees,

Call it coincidence, but the snout nosed butterflies and army worms are not the same animal. Snout nosed butterflies emerged a month or so ago with avengence and have been seen around town since. They seem to prefer native grasses to find pollen, but are considered benign insects. Army worms just so happened to explode around the same time. Many people have confused the two for the same species, but they are very different.

Army worms become a small, brown moth. About the size of a penny. Snout nosed butterflies are butterflies, have more coloration and are not the agricultural pest that army worms are known to be.

You have have noticed army worms stripping down fields, all the way to the soil in some situations. Whether or not to treat is situation depended. How much will it cost you? Will the crop grow back in time for your purposes? How bad was the damage? Etc, etc.

There is no need to worry about snout nosed butterflies. If they emerge again in the spring or next fall, it does not mean that an army worm infestation will happen again.

In addition, army worms are known to be turf pests, but if you haven't seen them on your lawn yet - don't treat. The army worms that the media has been talking about and we have been getting calls on at the Extension office are agricultural pests.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Attack of the Termites!

Yes, those flying insects, dropping wings and landing all over your porch are probably termites. But, don't worry, chances are they are agricultural termites. San Antonio has had this happen before - after a wonderful, long, hard rain, following an extensive drought, agricultural termites take advantage of the humidity and swarm. These swarms are mating flights. They fly up in the air, mate, land back on the ground, and drop their wings. The females go off to find a place to lay their eggs, and the males usually die.

Sometimes the termites are attracted to porch lights left on a night. This is probably where you are finding them congregating.

If you are finding termites swarming right now, 99 times of 100 they are agricultural termites. But, if you are concerned, send them into the Bexar County Extension Office for me to identify them.

If you contact a pest control company and they tell you they are structural damaging termites without ever pulling out a microscope or really good hand lens - send them away! It takes more than just a good eye to know if they are friend or foe. Professionals use a microscope, check out the wing venation and little tiny structures on the top of the termites head. None of which can be seen well with the naked eye - no matter how well those eyes work!

Since these termites do not damage structures, I would not treat for them. You don't know where they are exactly and its a waste of time and money and pesticide to spray the yard haphazardly.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mud Tubes All Over My Lawn

Every summer, and especially in drier years, we start to see little tubes or mud tunnels all over our lawn or pastures. If you break them open you may find small darkish insects, similar to ants or teeny tiny beetles. These are actually termites. Agricultural or Desert Termites. And probably the best termites you could ever want to have! These termites do not feed on wood and are not considered structural pests like what comes to mind when we think of termites.

Agricultural Termites are mainly agricultural pests. They feed on forbes, roots, and other types of grasses. They usually only go after dead grasses, but it may seem like they are killing your lawn. Chances are, they are going after the dead grass blades, but taking out anything they can eat.

In an urban or semi-urban area, there is little you can do to control them. Rake over their tubes daily, spray them with water, basically irritate them until they leave your yard. If you spray them, remember that you are only killing the ones you touch and you'll be wasting a lot of time, money, and pesticide. Not to mention, exposing the environment to unnecessary pesticides.

When we get a little more rain (over a long period of time), expect to see them disappear. As the roots travel back deeper in the soil, so will the termites.

You notice that only unhealthy lawns seem to have them. This is because that grass has strong, deep roots, and the termites get all they need below ground. As the roots shrink to look for moisture, termites travel up with them - ending up on top of the lawn.

As with all insects, patience is a virtue.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bees vs. Hummingbirds ... Who Will Win?

Every summer, hummingbird lovers call me up asking what they can do to keep bees out of their hummingbird feeders. Truthfully, if you want to keep the feeders up, there very little you can do.

Bees love sweet stuff, so do hummingbirds, so when you feed hummingbirds you also feed bees. But, don't worry, these foraging bees aren't going to attach a hummingbird, and if you watch long enough you will notice that they almost take turns at the feeder during different times of day.

The bees are thirsty and hungry, and with our extended drought, their nectar and water sources are drying up and dying! Consider yourselves good stewards of the environment because you are helping our most important pollinators eat.

If you are concerned, simply remove the hummingbird feeder for a week or so and see if the bees find another spot to feed. I know you won't have hummingbirds for that week, but are you seeing them much when the bees are taking over? Didn't think so.
You can also try diluting the water somewhat. Yes, its not as appetizing to the hummingbirds either, but you don't have many options.

Finally, the best option is just to wait it out. After a couple weeks, those bees will probably move off to another location. A nearby colony has just found a great food source, and they are taking advantage of it.

So, who wins, bees or hummingbirds? Both - the hummingbirds will come back, the bees will not sting them to death, and the bees will eventually find another good spot to eat. Just bear with them for a while. They are suffering in this drought and heat just like everyone else.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What Is That Sound In The Trees?

Wondering what animal is making that loud screeching in the trees day and night? Its the giant cicada (AKA chicharra or locust)... and they are loud. Their sound is made by special vibrating structures in their abdomen.

Why are they so loud this summer? Who knows! I have no good answer for that. Maybe its the hot summer, maybe its something else. But, every summer I get several calls and questions regarding what that strange noise is. Some people are new to the area, some have been here for decades and never heard the cicada before. These cicadas have been around for more than half a century, so it isn't a new species or occurrence.

When many cicadas start 'talking' it can seem ear piercing. They can be heard from far away distances and you may notice that one clump of trees will starting singing, settle down, and another clump of trees will pick up where the last ones left off.

Giant cicadas are large, usually over 2 inches, and greenish brown in color. You can find their shed exoskeleton stuck to porches, walls, houses, trees, etc. This the last shed skin before they become an adult. They live as immatures in the soil and emerge as adults to sing in your trees.

There is no reason to fear them. They are foliage feeders, but rarely do any damage. They do not sting or bite, but their are large and appear scary.

Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be upon us before we know it. so sit back, sip your lemonade and enjoy the sounds of summer while they're here!

To hear the sound these cicadas make, visit the Texas Entomology website at:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sudden Infestation of Little Winged Insects???

If you are like most of San Antonio, you probably enjoyed the little rainstorm we had last week. But, you may have noticed, so did the ants. Many people are calling and bringing by winged ants, wondering what they are and if they are bad. They are most likely not harmful to the home, structure, or your health. But, to be safe, feel free to give me a call or bring some samples by the office for positive identification.

Last week, the hot dry summer, combined with nearly 100% humidity all week and the Thursday rainstorm, made for the perfect formula for ant swarms. All the ants I have recieved have been native ants, harmless and no need to control. Ants usually swarm in 100% humidity or before or after a rain. Swarming ants have wings, and fly up in the air to mate. They drop back down the ground and the females start a new nest.

Many times, those swarmers are attracted to the light in a window, or porch light near a window. They find a little crack and make their way indoors. This is what many people are experiencing right now. You may have woken up to a large amount of little winged insects on a window sill, on a counter, or trapped in a sink or bathtub.

Its probably nothing to worry about. It may happen again if we get another rain in the summer, or next year, but the chances are it won't happen regularly. You may have already noticed you woke up one day and they were there, and it hasn't happened since. If this is the case, that's a good sign. It's just an incidental occurance and the ants are pretty much harmless.

Again, if you are concerned that they may be harmful, please bring them by the Bexar County Extension office to be identified. Always safe than sorry - and it is important to know if they are termites or not.

For more information about ants please visit: or Or read these publications: B-6043 & B-6183 at

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's Flea Time!!!!

I once heard an old rancher say "It ain't summer if you ain't got no fleas." Aside from the bad grammar, he was exactly right. At least for South, Central Texas. Every single year, no matter if its rainy or dry, fleas are always an itchy bump on our legs. This summer is no exception. In fact, in the last hour, I have answered 5 phone calls about fleas!

Here's the low down - there are many treatment options, most work, but that's only half the battle. How you apply is just as important, if not more so. You want to treat now, and then 10-14 days later. That way you kill the eggs and pupae that you didn't kill the first time around.

If your fleas are coming from neighbor's dogs, strays, or wildlife OR your fleas seem to resistant to any contact pesticide you use, include an Insect Growth Regulator in your pesticide regime. This will prevent the females from laying eggs, and will eventually lower the population. Look for the active ingredients methoprene or pyriproxyfen, for example.

It is also important to treat your pets at the same time. There's no use spraying the yard, if the pets are harboring fleas.

For indoor flea problems: vacuum, vacuum, vacuum! Then remove the bag and throw it outside in the trash can. You will suck up more fleas with the vacuum than most pesticides can kill. Vacuum twice a day if you can. If that isn't working, treat the yard, pets, and indoors with a product labeled for indoor use all on the same day.

In the meantime, remember what you do this year that seemed to work, because chances are, they'll be back next year too!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pest Alert: Asian Cycad Scale

Well, its been a while since I've had a chance to blog about insects, but I've finally found some time to sit down!

Photos: B. Castro, Texas AgriLife Extension

This month (April), it seems as if all my calls and emails are related to Asian Cycad Scales. These are nasty little scales that infest cycad plants (sago palms, king sago, queen sago, etc). Asian Cycad Scale is a relatively new pest, only identified in Bexar County a couple years ago. Scales are small insects that suck sap and exude a wazy covering for protection. Asian Cycad Scale populations can become so numerous, so quickly, that they can overcome a huge sago palm in no time.

If you have the scale, you know, you will see white stuff all over the fronds. Early treatment is best. The good news is that any product labeled for scales should work: organic or traditional pesticides. If you like organic products, use insecticidal soaps and oils. You can also use sharp blasts of water to dislodge the scale.

One treatment is never enough, you will always need to treat multiple times. I suggest cleaning the plant with sharp blasts of water about 4 days after treatments. Sometimes its hard to see if the pesticide is working because the scales make such a mess of plant with their wax. Treat every 10 days until you see that the plant is totally clean. If you decide to remove infested branches, make sure you destroy the clippings and clean the pruners!
For more information see: EEE-00038; The Cycad Aulacaspis Scale, a Pest of Sago Palms in Texas;

Monday, March 2, 2009

Got Mites???

If you are experiencing some mystery bites, you are not alone. Right now it seems that more and more people than usual are calling the Extension office wondering what could be biting them in their home. There are several types of insects that may bites humans: mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, lice and some types of mites. None of them, however, will live inside or under your skin or in the body.

I have had several positive identifications for mites now that the weather has started to warm up. After some sleuth work, I have deduced that these mites are probably the Tropical Rat Mite. The tropical rat mite is the most common indoor infesting mite, and are found where rodents infest indoors. If you have a rodent infestation, and are experiences small welts or bites on the body, you probably have tropical rat mites.

Another type of mite that will bite humans are fowl mites, which live where birds are found and prefer to feed on birds.

It is very likely that the reason for this sudden increase in tropical rat mites biting humans is because of the weather change. Many rodents move indoors during the colder months to nest. Now that it is getting warmer and the rodents are moving back outdoors to burrow. When they leave their nest, the mites no longer have their host, and bite the next best thing - YOU!

If you can remove rodent or bird nests inside or very near the structure, the problem should go away on its own. If you never get rid of the rodents or birds, the problem will remain. Look around the attic and outdoors for signs of rodent infestations. Make sure you remove all nesting materials and/or treat the nest area. Products that contain the active ingredient, bifenthrin, are helpful against mites. Be sure to only treat the areas where mites are found. Read the directions and do not apply to beds, couches, or food handeling areas unless stated on thh label.

It is easy to get carried away once you have identified the problem as mite. Many people will let their imagination get the best of them and even after the mites are gone, still continue to experience bites. Do not overuse pesticides, which can lead to sensitivity of the skin and will make you think you are being bitten when you are not. These mites DO NOT complete their lifecycle on humans. You may find them on your skin, but they DO NOT live on you. Get rid of the source (birds or rodents) to get rid of the mites.