Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Monarchs on the Decline

I was recently interviewed by a journalist with PBS who wanted to do a story on the decline of Monarchs.  Now, as an entomologist, I will be the first to admit, that while I enjoy collecting and looking at butterflies, they really aren't my favorite insect.  And I will certainly admit that I don't know as much about them as I should.  So, knowing that I would be questioned on one of my entomological weaknesses, I started doing some research and found Monarchs are really very interesting insects! (That's one thing I love about entomology - just when I think I know it all, I come to realize there is still so much more to learn!)

Nearly all Texans know Monarchs as our state insect and for their beautiful orange and black coloration.  However, Monarchs are not found in just Texas.  They can be found nearly all over the United States.  Monarchs are a migratory butterfly and we tend to find them travelling down from the NE United States into Texas toward their winter hideout in Mexico around September through November.  Monarchs cannot make the cold winters up in the northeast, so they make their down to Mexico to spend the winter in warmer temperatures.

When spring comes, they pick up and leave, heading back to the northeast.  They arrive, tired, hungry and beat up.  Its a long hard trip and they've now done it twice!  Amazing!  They will lay their eggs on milkweed plants, where their larvae will feed and the life cycle starts again.

Now, not every single Monarch will make this trek.  Certainly, there are many who stay in one spot and complete their lifecycle there, but their story isn't as interesting as the migrating Monarchs.

In recent years, it has been well documented that the Monarch populations have been declining.  We can see this in Mexico, where they overwinter.  I have been told the millions of Monarchs on a single tree in Mexico, fluttering their wings, is a breathtaking thing to see, but I have never seen it in person.  It is one of the many things on my bucket list!

In 1997, Monarch populations were at their peak - they occupied 50 acres in Mexico while overwintering.  In 2012, they only occupied less than 3 acres.  That's a huge decrease!

There are many reasons that have been listed for the decline of Monarchs.  Likely all have some impact, but each one combined is causing big problems.  I don't think one reason is the main reason.  As with all things, there are many variables.  Monarch decline has been contributed to anything from increased traffic on highways to deforestation in Mexico to a decrease in milkweed.

What can you do if you love Monarchs?  Plant some milkweed!  Give them what they want.  But also remember that this is only the food source for the larvae.  Adults need nectar producing plants, so be sure to plant those in the landscape as well.  Those migrating butterflies will need some energy and those that stay in Texas will need a reason to stay!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

30 Bugs Every Fall Gardener Should Know!

Fall gardening means fall bugs!  If you are interested to know which insects and related animals you may come across this fall in your landscape, veggies, or ornamentals - this is the program for you!

I will be covering the 30 bugs I predict or know will be abundant in the landscape!  Good, bad, or otherwise.  Get to see actual specimens as well as pictures of specimens and how to either encourage them or management.  Bring any insects or damage you have questions about or would like identified!


30 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know

September 24th, 2013


Cost - $10 (payable at the door)


Please RSVP to Molly at 210-467-6575 or

Friday, August 30, 2013

Become a Beekeeper!

Its all over the news - bees are dying, disappearing and in general stress.  If you have ever thought of keeping bees, I will be hosting a Beekeeping Basics Program, Oct 11 & 12th.  This is a unique program in which you will learn the basics and get into an actual hive, put on a suit and see what its like to deal with bees.  If anything, its an excellent experience!

We are filling up quickly - if you are interested contact me at to see if we still have room or for a registration form.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Don't Bug Me Webinar: Fall is a Great Time to Treat for Fire Ants.

Be sure to check out my webinar on treating for fire ants in the fall!  I will cover the basics of baiting, why  baits work best, why baits are environmentally friendly, and how to properly bait for fire ants in your yard:

The Don’t Bug Me webinar series returns this fall.  Dr. Kathy Flanders, an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says fall is an important time of year to deal with fire ants and other insect pests.
“People need to understand that managing insect pests is not a once and done effort,” says Flanders.  “Often, effective management requires regular treatments at specific times of the year.”
The first webinar in the fall series will highlight using baits to control fire ants.  It will be Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. 
Sallie Lee, a regional Extension home grounds agent, says that fall is a good time to control fire ants using baits.
“A bait is an insecticide that insects sense as food,” says Lee.  “In the case of ants, workers find the bait and carry it back to the colony, where it is fed to the larvae, workers and queens.”
Lee says that the webinar’s expert is Molly Keck, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension specialist working in integrated pest management.
Keck says her goal is for webinar viewers to learn how to select and properly use baits.
“Most fire ant baits work well when applied according to the label,” she says.  “The key to using baits is patience.”
She adds that fire ant workers pick up the bait and carry it to their mound.  Because the active ingredient is relatively slow acting, there is ample time for the material to be fed to the queen.
Lee explains that this webinar and all of the Don’t Bug Me Series webinars are specifically for people who need answers they can use.
“This series gives people sound, research-based solutions for pests from experts,” she says.
More information can be found at Fall a Good Time to Control Fire Ants with Bait including how to connect to the webinar.  On Sept.  4, participants can use this link to connect to the webinar.
The Don’t Bug Me Webinar Series, which began earlier this year, included five webinars discussing fire ants, tramp ants and bed bugs.  Links to view these archived webinars can be found here.
The webinars are sponsored by eXtension and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  They are coordinated by the Imported Fire Ant eXtension Community of Practice
As upcoming webinars approach, watch eXtension’s Don’t be Bugged Webinar Series page for more information on that particular webinar.

Upcoming Webinars in the First Wednesday of the Month Fall Series
September 4, 2013
Fall - A Good Time to Control Fire Ants with Bait
Presented by Molly Keck, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Specialist, IPM
Moderated by Sallie Lee, Alabama Cooperative Extension System Urban Regional Extension Agent

Click here for flier information:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Celebrating Volunteers

Last week, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Bexar County celebrated our volunteers through a volunteer recognition BBQ at Eisenhower Park.  I had the fabulous opportunity to recognize and thank a family of fantastic people who have helped me put on our famous Beekeeping Basics Program.

The Cole Family has been involved with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension for many years through 4-H, but in the past year, they have shared their experience as beekeepers, knowledge and advice to individuals hoping to become beekeepers.  We have produced over 100 potential beekeepers through our trainings!

I can't thank the Cole's enough for their help and sharing their expertise and time.  Anyone who has attended our Beekeeping Basics Program knows how valuable they are.  With them we are able to provide a program   unlike any other in Texas.  I'm not sure anyone else would allow total novices to open up their hives, pull out frames, disturb their bees over and over again and do so with patience!  When they teach you how to be a beekeeper, you actually learn how to do it!

Thank you to all the volunteers who help Texas A&M AgriLife Extension do what we do and teach people! And especially, thank you to the Coles; without them, I could never provide what I consider to be the best and most valuable program we have to offer in Bexar County!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Summer Travels Could Mean Bed Bugs ... Yuck!

If you are afraid of getting bed bugs, you should be!  Experts estimate that most people will experience bed bugs in the near future than not.  In the past there seemed to be little we could do to manage bed bugs, but things have changed and there are many options.  Bed bugs are kind of like termites - no one wants them, they scare most of us, they can be controlled but its a big investment.

If you want to learn more about bed bugs - where they hide, how they spread, what they look like, how to detect them, and what management options are out there - I will be hosting an educational seminar, May 30th from 2-4pm at the Bexar County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office (3355 Cherry Ridge, Suite 212).

I have had the great experience of performing a bed bug research study in homeless shelters, so I have some good stories to tell!

Bed Bugs on the back of a bed bug monitoring trap. 
This program is free and open to the public.  However, please RSVP by emailing or call me (Molly) at or 210-467-6575.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

So You Want To Be A Beekeeper

If beekeeping is something that has always intrigued you, boy do I have a program for you!

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Bexar County along with a local Alamo Area Beekeeper have been providing a Beekeeping Basics Program for all you backyard beekeepers.  We provide this program every Spring and Fall.

This spring, our program will be held April 19th and 20th.  Friday, the 19th is our classroom program and the 20th is our field day.  The field day is where you will actually learn how to deal with bees and actually get the most information.  Our field day is what really makes this program unique.  We will put on beesuits, get into the hives, and see what it takes to be a beekeeper.

If you're interested, jump on it!  We are almost full for the class now, and we always fill up.  Send me an email or give me a call to see if there is still room.  If there isn't, I can put you on our waiting list and you'll get first dibs on the Fall program (expected to be held October 11 and 12).

For more information and registration form, click here.  Or see below:


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Great Time to Treat for Fire Ants

You may have noticed that since the rainstorm this weekend, fire ant mounds have popped up.  When it rains, or you water well, the fire ants move their colony to higher ground to keep from drowning, making their mounds very noticeable.

It also makes them easier to step on and sting us.  The weather we are having right now, is the perfect weather to treat for fire ants.  If you treat now, you can give yourself some good control through the summer (unless mounds relocate from your neighbor's into your yard).

After the dew has dried, broadcast spread a fire ant bait of your choice around the yard.  Be sure to follow the recommended label rate - more bait does not mean better control.  In fact, it only takes one little granule of bait to be brought into the colony to eliminate the colony.  The workers feed the bait to the larvae, who then regurgitate the partially digested food and it is fed to the queen.  When the queen dies, the colony dies.

If applied correctly, baits can be an environmentally friendly option, saving other ant species and not harming wildlife, other insect, pets, or us.

Be sure to find a bait that is labeled for fire ants.  Other ant baits aren't as attractive to fire ants.  I find that application is almost more important than what bait you choose.  Apply fresh bait, not old bait, apply to dry grass, and apply when rain is not in the forecast for at least 24 hours (do not water the lawn either).  When fire ants are actively foraging for food is the best time to apply.  This is generally when its over 65 degrees.  You can test this by placing a piece of hot dog or a potato chip outdoors for about 45-60 minutes.  Fire ants love hot dogs and potato chips and if they are looking for food, they'll come to it.  Then you know if its a good time to spread your bait.

For more information on fire ants, visit these websites:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Is it Bees in My Tree?

Chances are, if you've seen a big ball that looks like a huge hive up in your tree, you do not have bees.  You actually have Mexican Honey Wasps!

The news has been abuzz lately about homeowners scared to fits of bees nesting in their trees.  Well, these are not bees, these are very small (5-7mm) wasps, more the size of a house fly than a bee and non-aggressive.  If you see the actual wasps, they cannot be mistaken for bees.  They are not hairy, much smaller, nearly all black, and have non of the markings of a bee.

Mexican honey wasps, Brachygastra mellifica, are a social wasp that builds paper nests in the canopy of trees and shrubs.  They are native to Texas and range from Texas to Nicaragua.  There are 16 different species of Mexican honey wasps, however only one has been reported in Texas.

Colonies can become quite large, containing up to 18,000 wasps, and can cause concern when homeowners spot the large basketball or football shaped nest attached to the branches, however they are non-aggressive wasps and often live peacefully with their human neighbors.  If you climb up into the tree, throw rocks at it, squirt it with the water hose or something else disruptive, of course they are going to get irritated and your chances of being stung will increase.  But mowing, closing the car door or other regular activities largely go unnoticed by the wasps.

Mexican honey wasps are considered beneficial insects, much like honey bees.  They are nectar gatherers, pollinators, and have been known to predate upon harmful insects such as the Asian citrus psyllid that causes citrus greening in citrus.  

These are very interesting wasps and one of those insects that I tend to suggest: "live and let live." Also, contrary to the news reports, the nests are extremely well built and it would take a near tornado force wind to knock it out of the tree along with the branches it has been built around.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Trapdoor Spiders Make an Appearance

This New Year's Eve (or more correctly, very early New Year's Day), I came home from my festivities to find FOUR trapdoor spiders crawling along my garage door and up the side of my house.  I wonder if one of the first things I see in 2013 happens to be an emergence of cool spiders means it will be a great entomological year?

Trapdoor spiders are large spiders, that closely resemble tarantulas, but are not as hairy and not quite as large.  They are dark brown to black, and have a hairy cephalothorax and legs, but a fairly smooth abdomen.  Trapdoor spiders are native to Texas, and have a fairly far range across the US.  They are a common spider, however we don't often see them.

Trapdoor spiders build tube-like tunnels in the ground, and cap it off with door.  They feed on other insects, and pop out of their home to grab their food.  New Year's Eve Day was a relatively wet day, drizzly and pretty miserable.  During these constant wet days, we tend to see trapdoor spiders emerging - and it always seems to be males.  Males have large pedipalps that remind me to boxing gloves.

I have always assumed the weather sparks an interest in migrating to find mates OR they didn't build their trapdoor nests well enough and the rain forces them to leave their homes.  Regardless of the fact, they emerge and start wandering around, usually making their way to the house and crawling along the side of it, looking for a way in or around it.

In the San Antonio area we usually see them around mid November, but this year, they've been more active later into the year.  We can probably blame lack of wet days and warmer weather from keeping them from hunkering down.

Trapdoor spiders are not harmful - I doubt in their stressful state, they would even attempt to bite you if you picked it up.  They are not invading the house, and likely when the weather clears up they will go away.  If they bother you, sweep them away from the house.  There is no need to apply pesticides because you can never predict when they'll emerge.

On New Year's Day, when I ventured outdoors, they were completely gone.  They will eventually die, get picked off by lizards or birds, or find their way off your patio and to a new home.