Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tiny Tarantulas? Why are these Spiders Showing Up?

(Photo credit: Dane Bauerle)

Chances are you have come across some trapdoor spiders lately. These large, somewhat hairy spiders are very common to find after a good rain. Many emerged the week of Thanksgiving when we have a good soaking, but some are still finding them after this weekend's rain.

Trapdoor spiders make a little burrow in the ground. Most likely, the soil was too hard or didn't have enough moisture from the drought for them to make a strong enough burrow. When it rains, they get flooded out. What are seeing are little male trapdoor spiders. They may also be coming out of their burrow looking for females.

These spiders are not dangerous, but they can be worrisome. Just ignore them, and they'll scurry off somewhere else. Consider them good because they eat other insects in the soil. People with swimming pools may find them in the filter or on the bottom of the pool. Scoop them out and let them sit - they'll probably come back to life and find a new home.

Expect to see more of them if we have more rain, and if you just moved into your home and you are finding them, they will probably be a regular, seasonal occurrence. Lucky you!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sticky Rain? Sap or Insects?

Are you noticing sticky or gummy little drops all over your car when you park under or near a tree? That stuff is honeydew, which is basically aphid pee. Aphids are little sap sucking insects. They're constantly dropping little drops of honeydew (their excretion) as they feed.

Recently, aphids seem to have really exploded, and you can see their drops all over cars around town. At this point in the season, your trees will not be harmed by aphids. They are basically just an annoyance. You have a few options:

1. Ignore them
2. Spray the trees with water from the hose
3. Spray the trees with insecticidal soap

I would not go as far as using other pesticides, because this is only a temporary problem. With the cold snap, they may die off on their own. If not, give it a few weeks or less. They will probably go away.

In the meantime, don't park under trees!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Drought Causing Issues with Rats and Mice

Pest management professionals and homeowners agree, rats and mice seem worse this year than in past years. In fact, some pest management professionals have noticed their calls on rodents are three to four times higher than they have ever been. And, we have the drought to thank for it.

Dry weather makes us water a little more often, and that standing water can be an attractant for rodents. Lack of habitat and shelter, because native grasses and such are dead is another likely reason for the increase. And just like us, rodents are attracted to the cool indoors during the heat.

It is important to remember that exclusion is the KEY to rodent management. If you can squeeze the tip of your pinky finger into a hole, a mouse can also fit its body. An opening 1/4 inch in diameter is enough room for mice, and not much larger than that, for rats.

Steel wool, mesh screens, and caulk are all good tools to use to close up those holes. If you don't think you are catching every opening, contact someone who does this for a living. Trust me, its not as easy as you think.

There are three basic types of rodents who will move indoors: House Mouse, Roof Rat, and Norway Rat.

The house mouse is a small rodent, but they can reproduce very quickly. They can nest in the garage, closets, attic, or any other location that has food, water and shelter. Bird seed and dog and cat food are common food sources indoors. They also don't need much water to survive, they usually get enough moisture from their food.

Roof rats are larger than mice, have pointed noses and tails as long as their body or longer. They can live in trees and jump from trees to your roof and into the attic. If you hear something scurrying above you, they are likely Roof Rats.

Norway Rats are much larger, they have blunt noses and a tail that isn't as long as the body. These guys seem like super-rats because their size is so large. They prefer to nest on the ground, but can climb, and can swim!

The key is to figure out where they seem to be nesting. Look for droppings, use a black light and look for urine stains. They are creatures of habit, they will follow the same path constantly, so look for black smudges where they rub their bodies.

Use sticky or snap traps, so that you can throw them out when they are full. Baits are getting harder to purchase as a homeowner, and you cannot purchase large amounts at one time now. If you have a severe infestation, it is really best to use a pest management professional.

A combination of exclusion practices is extremely important, or you'll never really control the problem.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Learn About Bugs!

Want to learn a little more about the bugs of today? I have two educational programs coming up in August and September (2011) that are open to anyone who is interested!

August 24. 2-3:30pm. Bed Bugs 101 – Bed bugs are all over the media right now and they experts are saying eventually everyone will come in contact with them. Learn how to identify them, their biology, where they hide, how we get them, and how to avoid them. If you have samples, feel free to bring them. Held at the Bexar County Extension Office, 3355 Cherry Suite 208.

September 27 – 2-4pm. 30 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know – Learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly bugs you’ll come in contact with if you spend any time outside. This program will cover how to identify them (pictures and actual specimens will be shown), if they are bad, the damage they do, and how to manage or encourage them. Held at the Bexar County Extension Office, 3355 Cherry Suite 208.

If you are interested in coming, please shoot me an email at mekeck@ag.tamu.edu, so I know how many to expect.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Young Entomologists of the Future

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to hold TWO Entomology Camps for budding entomologists. A total of 48 young people attended my camps ranging in age from 5 years to 14 years!

Every summer I hold an Entomology Camp, and I consider it to be a fun program and way to get to play with insects and get kids pumped up about science. This is the first year I had so much interest that I actually had to plan a second camp.

During camp, every campers receives a collection kit, which the main cost of the camp and the most exciting thing about it to many of the kids. The collection kit has EVERYTHING they need to make a collection. It includes a net, insect pins, killing jars, killing solution, butterfly envelopes, forceps, magnifying glass, non-smearing pen, labels, and a spread board. The box it all comes in turns into the collection box.

During our camp, we collect bugs, learn about entomology, perform experiments, do activities, and just basically learn all you can about insects in four short days. This summer, the kids collected more insects than any other camp I have ever held... and we're in a drought!!!

One of my favorite experiments is to lasso a piece of floss to a bess beetle and see how many pennies it can pull. One little beetle pulled 32 pennies!!! Another fan favorite is a termite experiment. Termites communicate with chemicals called pheromones and certain drying agents in certain pens mimic the termite trailing pheromone. The kids experiment with different pens (ballpoint, marker, gel ink, etc) to see which pen the termites trail. They draw a circle on a piece of paper and dump about 10 termites in the middle. If it works, the termites will start running around the circle. Its really an amazing experiment.

Next summer, I am planning to hold two entomology camps again. They will be held July 16-19 AND July 23-26, 2012 from 9am to 12pm. The cost is $100 for new campers (because they get a kit) and $50 for the returners (who do not need a new kit). If you are interested, contact me at mekeck@ag.tamu.edu. Visit this blog often, because I'll be setting up a Bug Camp Website with updates and registration information.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wood Boring Beetles

A common question I get is "what do you foresee being the insect problem this time of year?" Well, if we are in a drought, there is no doubt I will have calls about wood boring beetles. This is simply because our trees and shrubs are stressed from the drought. We have had VERY little rain for a year now, in the south central Texas area. And the one plant we usually forget about are our trees. We think to water our flowers, grass and gardens, but our trees get neglected.

Any tree that is stressed (drought, disease, mechanical damage, etc) will emit pheromones that wood boring beetles can pick up on. They find the source of stress and lay their eggs. The larvae hatches and bores into the plant. They grow and emerge, and you see the hole they leave behind.

If you find boring beetles in your trees, the first thing you need to realize is that your tree is stressed! Try to alleviate the stress, otherwise you will never be able to manage the borers. Often times, the damage you see has already been done and there isn't much you can do at that point. Unless you are a tree grower, I really don't see much need in managing wood boring beetles. Most of the time they are not re-infesting, which means they won't come back. The damage you see, is the damage done. You an't reverse it and it if you get that tree healthy, you probably won't see any further damage.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bees in Unwanted Places

As the weather warms up, you may start to notice bees getting a little more active. In fact, you may start to find bee nests in places you would prefer them not to be (a tree in your backyard, under your deck, eave of your home).

We all know that bees are beneficial, but they become a pest when they take up residence in our own residence. Many of us would prefer to have them removed and relocated than killed. In many cases, however, this isn't always possible.

Call your local beekeepers association or check the phone book for a bee removal service. Explain where you are finding the nest, you may luck out and they'll be able to remove and relocate the nest or suggest someone who can.

In most cases, this isn't possible. Especially if the bees are hidden behind a wall, under the eaves of your home, or inside a tree. If it isn't easy to open up the wall and expose the entire nest, it probably isn't possible to remove the colony. Just plugging up the entrance hole is not the solution either. The bees will find a way to get out, and many times this is by chewing a hole in your sheet rock and entering the home. You won't put bees in the beneficial category very long after that!

There has also been a lot of talk about bees disappearing. While this is a serious issue, it has not become a huge issue in Texas, and is most noticeable with beekeeper's bees ("domesticated" bees, if you will) as opposed to wild bees.

As a side note, the second most common question I get is how to determine if the colony is Africanized. In Texas, we just assume that all wild honey bees have the Africanized gene and can be as aggressive. Be careful around bees, you never know how aggressive they may be or what can irritate them.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What is this Bug?

I get this question a lot. This month, the "bug" in question is this guy:

A leaf beetle. Now there are many types of leaf beetles, but they all have this general look. Many of them are iridescent in color (as you see here) and resemble the body shape of a cucumber beetle or skinny ladybug.

This particular leaf beetle likes to overwinter in grasses where they are protected. Now that its warming up, they are emerging, looking for mates, food, and a good place to lay their eggs. Both larvae and adults like to eat the newer, softer growth on plants. As your plants start to shoot out new growth, watch closely for damage.

Damage should appear to be small holes in the foliage or white slits in the plant as they feed.

Management can be difficult. Look for larvae that may appear to be shiny bird droppings and hand pick them or squash them. Otherwise, to prevent adult damage, cover plants that they prefer with a mesh cloth. Be sure to spray the plant with water or shake it well to scare off any beetles on the plant first. You may notice certain times of day get more damage - that would be an excellent time to cover the plant if you cannot keep it covered all day.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

These Can't be from Texas!!!???

Oh, but yes, they are! Texas Leafcutting Ants, Atta texana, a native ant to Texas. They may also be called leaf cutter ants, cutter ants, or town ants. Not many people know about them, but if you do, you DO NOT like them.

Texas leafcutting ants strip plants, especially citrus, fruit, crepe myrtles, and roses. When they are hungry they will eat anything. They don't actually eat the leaves, they take them into the nest, chew on the edges, and grow fungus. The fungus is their food, so we call them fungus farmers. Not only do they strip plants, but they can cause foundation problems, when their nests make their way under the home.

You can find a lot of information about management of these guys. Use sprays, put something sticky on the base of the plant, poor something down their holes. Basically, none of that will work long term. And, when you have them, you want something that works longer than a day!

These are social insects, living in massive colonies under the ground with multiple queens and workers who all have specific jobs. They are really amazing to watch and study, but very irritating if you are trying to grow a garden.

Using baits is a better option for leafcutting ants. I happen to have some good experience working with them in the field. Currently, there are two baits available for homeowners that are effective against leafcutting ants: Amdro Ant Block & Grants Ants.

The key to treat the area when the ants are actively looking for food. In warmer months, this may be later in the day, nearly at night. During pleasant months, this can be all day. Using the recommended rate, apply bait to foraging trails or their crater-like nests. Do NOT pour it directly into the holes or kick in the nests. This will only irritate them and they will move, not touching your bait.

Give them about two weeks and you should see results. These colonies can be enormous, so multiple treatments may be required. In the field trails I performed, I had 6 months of control. At six months, the ants usually came back and required a second treatment.