Friday, May 30, 2014

Giant Ants ... or are they?

I hear this comment A LOT: "I've lived here (insert any number of years) and I've NEVER seen this bug before!"  I'm hearing it again lately and the culprit is an insect that isn't uncommon, but this form isn't regularly seen.
Photo by Bryan Davis

Leaf cutter ant alates, AKA reproductives, AKA winged forms, AKA queens.  Most ants will swarm (or emerge from their nests to mate, usually in the air) right before or after a rain storm at 100% humidity.  Termites do the same thing, but they are usually seasonal, whereas ants can swarm at any time of year.

Over Memorial Day weekend, leaf cutter ants swarmed.  Leaf cutter ant alates are giganitc compared to other ant alates and compared to the workers.  If you didn't know better, you would never guess that's what they are.

When you find leaf cutter ant alates, you probably have leaf cutter ants somewhere near. It doesn't necessarily mean they are on your property, in your yard, or even in the immediate proximity.  They can travel by wind and be displaced a distance from their nest.

Leaf cutter ant colonies can be pretty irritating.  They strip leaves on trees and tend to favor citrus, other fruits, roses, and crepe myrtles.  Once that is gone, they will go after about anything else.  While they don't eat the leaves (instead they grow fungus on the leaves for their food source), they can strip a plant clean overnight.  You can spend quite a bit replacing the plants or treating for the ants.
Leaf cutter ant workers foraging

Amdro Ant Block bait has been shown to work sometimes.  Barrier sprays around the plants you want to save will also help temporarily.  Pest control companies can use products they inject into the ants nests that will spread throughout.  However, nothing eliminates leaf cutter ants, you only suppress the populations.  They usually return.  Sometimes you get lucky and they return in a neighbors yard and not yours, but they rarely are completed eliminated.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When Seeds Look Like Bugs...

Insects are often blamed for many things and more often that you can imagine, strange shaped objects are identified as some "weird bug".  I could write a book on the strange things that come across my desk that a homeowner is convinced is an insect (I once had a sweet lady send me dried up spagetti, certain her kitchen was infested with worms).  But not every small object is is an insect.

Lately, I have had several individuals send me small, oval shaped objects that have been found anywhere from the bed to up the side of the house.  While they are too small to see any clear features with the naked eye, they do resemble the shape and color of an immature bed bug.  Thankfully, they are not!  These are actually seeds from an Oxalis plant.

The seeds can be found fairly high up on the side of the house, making one thing they crawled up there.  But, if you look closely, they don't move - they are stationary.  If you have a magnifier, you can see little striations or stripes along its exterior and little spikes along its edges (not to be mistaken for legs).
Oxalis seeds.  Photo by Dr. Mike Merchant.

The Oxalis plant holds its seeds in a pod and it will spit the seeds out when it is disturbed or touched.  The plant can throw that little seed feet!  It has a rough texture that allows it to stick to surfaces.  We have had some very rough, windy days in San Antonio lately, so I imagine that was enough of a disturbance to throw those little seeds against the side of the house. 

Now don't ask me what an Oxalis plant looks like in the landscape - I am an entomologist, not a horticulturist - I'll leave you to google that for yourself!

So, moral of the story - not everything that is immediately unidentifiable is an insect. And if you happen to find some tiny brown, roundish objects around the house (inside or out), the mystery may be as simple as seeds!