Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Best Gift Ideas for the Entomologist in Your Life

Are you wondering what to buy the entomologist on your list ....  here are a few ideas that are sure to make your little (or big) entomologist a happy one this holiday season!

1 - Insect Collecting Kit.  Bioquip (bioquip.com) sells a couple of these, ranging from around $42 to $120.  These collection kits have everything you need to collect and mount insects for amateurs to professionals.  Both basically contain the same materials, one is just a better quality and "really fancy".  They have the basics you need: pins, insect net, forceps, a spreading board, and a collection box.

2 -Display Case for Collections.  Every entomologist loves to show off their collections and there are a number of options out there, in various sizes.  Glass covered display cases can be mounted to the wall or placed on tables as art work - everyone loves to look at an insect collection!  Craft stores sell shadow boxes with a fabric backing that insect pins fit into.  You can find these are Hobby Lobby or Michaels.  While these are great to hang on walls because they already have the hardware and are an inexpensive option, they are not air tight, so you'll need to remember to use moth balls or ??? to prevent dermestid beetles from ruining your collection.  Bioquip, hobby stores and scientific stores may carry more airtight boxes.

Shadow box with burlap backing.

3 - A Professional Insect Net.  Dinky nets can be found at the dollar store, but a real entomologist needs a good net!  Hobby and science shops and Bioquip sell a range of nets.  You can find various diameters for the nets and various lengths of the stick.My personal favorite is the dual net - they are strong enough to take a beating in some brush, but light enough to catch butterflies out of the air.

Bioquip.com. Heavy Duty Aerial Net.

4 - A Good Identification Field Guide.  There are soooo many out there!  My suggestion is to try to find one that is local to your region or state.  At the very least, chose a field guide for insects found in North America.

A Field Guide to Texas Insects by Drees an d Jackman

5 - A LIVE TARANTULA!  Every entomologist has some live arthropod they keep as a pet.  You can find suppliers everywhere, even pet stores.  I enjoy shopping from breeders.  They generally know more about the specimen they are selling you and can help you choose the right species for you tastes: something you can handle easily versus something flashy and pretty.  You can find breeders at reptile and exotic shows or online.  My suggestion is to ask to hold the tarantula first - that way you know if you are comfortable with it before you take it home.  You'll also know if its too fast or skitzy for you.
If you are local to San Antonio a good breeder with various sized tarantulas is Nature's Exquisite Creatures.  Look them up on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NaturesExquisiteCreatures/

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Little Beetles in New Homes

In the past year, I have had several calls on a little beetle that before now, I wasn't all that familiar with.  A foreign grain beetle.  They are occasional storage pests, but puzzle homeowners and pest management professionals alike when the pop up in brand new construction.  I have learned, however, that this actually isn't uncommon of them.
Foreign grain beetle, ventral view.
Photo: S. Ciano

Foreign grain beetles are small beetles, only about 1/12 of an inch in length and brown in color.  They live in damp areas where fungus grows and get the "grain" in their name when found in moldy, wet grain.

While they may be alarming to find in large numbers, they aren't damaging to the structure of the house.  Foreign grain beetles are just a nuisance.  They will not infest other items of the house, but if moisture continues to persist due to leaky pipes, leaks in the roof, etc., they have no reason to leave.

Foreign grain beetles are common in new construction and remodels, when drywall doesn't dry properly or wood gets moist either due to excess rain (what we've experienced this spring and early summer!) or extreme humidity (something we often see in the South Central Texas area).

They can be found in older homes if moisture, mold or fungal growth are issues.

To manage them, you must dry things up!  Improve ventilation, use dehumidifiers, check for leaks in plumbing and excess moisture build up around foundations.  Once the moisture source is reduced, the beetles will clear up on their own.  Since they can be living inside walls, it is difficult for a pest management profession or you to manage them with residual pesticides alone.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Watch Out for Puss Caterpillars!

Asp or Puss Caterpillar
Photo: Martha Cray
Puss caterpillars, AKA Asps, are being seen in some pretty significant numbers this fall.  These small, fuzzy, blonde, almost cuddly looking fuzz balls can pack a mean punch.
Embedded within the hairy facade are venomous spines, which can result in a blister or burn reaction on the skin to more severe reactions such as vomiting or worse.  In general, it is believed that the severity of the reaction depends on the age of the larva and thickness of the skin it encountered.

Shrub with several asps.
Photo: Martha Cray
Puss caterpillars can be found on trees and shrubbery.  Usually where one is found, many are close by.  If you encounter one, avoid it - this is not something you want to experience!  If you have an outbreak on a tree or shrub, it would probably be a good idea to treat the foliage to avoid unnecessary stings.  Bt when they are actively feeding on foliage, spinosad or permethrin are recommended products.  Be sure to follow all labels carefully.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Rain Brings Ag Termites

Public Service Announcement!  This wet weather, following months of dry weather provides ideal conditions for Ag or Desert Termites to emerge to mating swarms.

It would not be uncommon to see 1/4 to 1/2 inch flying brown insects accumulated around light colored doors, garage doors, walls, or under porch lights.

Desert Termites should not cause major concern. They are not wood feeders, instead feeding on grasses. They may be an issue in an urban landscape or agricultural hay field, but generally their damage isn't worth the cost to treat them (although there are exceptions).
Desert Termite swarmers (reproductives)
A Desert Termite swarm.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bug Banquet - A Culinary Experience You Don't Want to Miss!

Texas A&M AgriLife in Bexar County is so proud to announce a culinary even you won't want to miss!  Enjoy an evening of entomophagy prepared by expert chef's and Bexar County 4-H Food Challenge Teams. Dine under the stars at Clearwater Ranch and learn how raising insects is a sustainable form of agriculture and a surprisingly enjoyable culinary experience.  Our mission is to introduce you to a new way to thinking of obtaining your protein!  While this may be a novelty and maybe "odd" thing to consume, insects are a staple in the diets of many other cultures.  As our population increases, land and other natural resources decrease, it is imperative that we come up with better ways of feeding ourselves... insects may be the answer!

You will have the opportunity to delight in an expertly prepared four course meal made with delectable insects and paired with an appropriate cocktail, beer or wine.  Food prepared with insects can be pushed to the side for those not so inclined to partake.  Our goal is to introduce the idea and show how you can incorporate insects into the diet without relying solely on them.

November 6, 2015
Clearwater Ranch 
(24510 Clearwater Run, San Antonio, TX 78255)
$35 per individual/ $50 per couple

  • Fire Ant Queso (blanco queso seasoned with local peppers and fire ants); paired with Honey Bee Cocktails from local bees.
  • Candied Pear Salad Greens with Roasted Mealworms (mealworms add a nutty flavor to a sweet salad with local greens); paired with local craft beer, Texican Lauger.
  • Goat Cheese Quesadillas & roasted sweet potatoes and squash from local garden (tortillas made with high protein cricket flour, Texas goat cheese and locally grown sweet potatoes); paired with local craft beer, Texcian Lauger.
  • Chocolate covered strawberries garnished with toasted coconut cricket granola; paired with Cranapple Chardonnay from Helotes winery.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fall Open House!

Insect and Horticulture Event

Join us for our Fall Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Open House - highlighting entomology and horticulture for kids of all ages!  Learn about insects, get your hands dirty digging for worms, millipedes, beetles, and plants.  Play games, do crafts, perform experiments, and have fun!  All while learning about insects and horticulture.

October 3, 2015
3355 Cherry Ridge, Suite 208 (Extension Office)
$2 per child (16 and under)

Cash or check only - we cannot accept credit cards.  Come anytime between 10am and 12pm for some amazing, educational fun and experiences with insects and plants you won't get anywhere else!

Booths and Activities include:
Digging for Life in a Rotting Log
Maggot Art
Build a Terrarium Necklace
Water Games
Pumpkin Crafts
Pot a Plant
Discover Parts of a Plant 

For more information, contact Molly at 210-467-6575 or mekeck@ag.tamu.edu

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Upcoming Beekeeping Course

Fall is the perfect time to get educated about bees!  No only does it give you a few months to prepare, this is also the best time to purchase your bees for the spring.  With a wonderful increased interest in beekeeping, suppliers are selling out before we even reach the first of the year!

We are hosting our semiannual Beekeeping Basics Program.  During this program, beekeeper and entomologists will teach you the basics of keeping bees from what you need to buy for equipment to what resources your land should have to help the bees survive.  Other topics include: where to purchase bees, using bees for your ag tax exemption, and what to plant to provide food.  We cover all you need to know to get started.

The course is October 9th from 9-3pm, with two options for a field day (where you will learn the most!) on Oct 10th in Adkins and Oct 11th in Leon Springs.  You choose which day and location work best for you.

Lunch is included, with special honey tasting treats!

We always fill up, so please register soon!


Thursday, August 6, 2015

When Insects Tell You Something....

Insects are indicators of all sorts of things. Some indicate good or poor water quality. Others are indicators of great soil rich in organic matter. Flies let you know decaying organic matter is close by and there are multiple other examples.

Esnsign wasps are one such example. This summer alone, I’ve had many send me pictures or samples asking what these little wasps are.  I've even noticed a few more of them resting on walls in buisness buildings and the like. Not surprising given that they parasitize American Cockroach egg cases (ootheca) and American Cockroaches love humid,moist environments - which we experienced earlier this summer.

Ensign wasps are blackish blue wasps that almost look like a hybrid between a wasp and a cricket.
They have an extension between the thorax (leg portion of the body) and abdomen.  They also have long hind legs, similar to a cricket.

Ensign wasps tell you that American cockroaches are close by. They parasitize the cockroaches by laying their eggs in the egg cases of American cockroaches, preventing the roaches from hatching.

Ensign wasps are actually good to have around, but usually mean you have another issue going on. If you find these inside the home, you can be pretty sure that you have American Cockroaches. Leave the wasps, they will help reduce the cockroach population!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pollinator Week 2015

Mexican lavender is a favorite
of bees.  I always enjoy watching
them at my local nursery because
I'll spot hundreds of honey bees!
This week (June 15-19) is officially Pollinator Week, so lets take some time to celebrate the little insects that help our landscapes grow!

Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, but the main pollinators for fruiting and flowering plants are insects.  Bats, birds, and small mammals definitely do their part, but nothing compares to an insect.  And no insect can compete with the pollinating power of the almighty honey bee!

Licorice Mint - Anise Hyssop
Known to be a very good flower
for attracting native bees,
honey bees and other
If you want to encourage some pollinators in your garden, here are some tips and plants that I would suggest growing:

  • Let your weeds flower - butteflies, beneficial insects, bees and others 
  • LOVE weeds.  Weeds generally have a lot of nectar and pollen and are attractive to pollinators.  The worst yard for pollinators is a bare turf lawn.  Let something bloom and see the butterflies and bees flood in.
  • Anything with a yellow, white or purple flower.  These are the colors that typically attract insects.  FYI - insects cannot see red, so unless that red flower has another color component or is extremely fragrant (like roses), it probably isn't being pollinated by an insect.  If you think about it, very few native plants have red flowers.  
  • Herbs of any time.  Let those herbs flower! We grow herbs to pinch off and usually discourage them from flowering, but if you let a small bunch go to flower you will be surprised at what insects are drawn to it.  Syrphid flies (a good predatory insect in the garden), pollinating flies and beetles, butterflies and bees.  Try thyme, parsley, dill, and mints... especially those mints!

Dill flowering
Parsley flowering
  • Veggie Garden!  Veggies and fruits usually fruit in yellow and white and with good reason.  Many of them require an insect to pollinate them or they will not produce fruit. If you plant a good garden you will not only get food, but pollinators.  The more flowers in your landscape, the more pollinators will visit.
  • Butterfly attracting plants - Salvia and lantana have long been planted in lanscapes for both their tolerance to heat and drought, but also because they are excellent at attracting butterflies!
  • Host plants - if you want butterflies to be around, you should consider planting both the plants the butterflies lay their eggs on and adult food (salvia and lantana)
    • Swallowtails - dill, parsley, fennel, citrus, pipevine
    • Monarchs - milkweed
    • Zebra and Fritillaries - passion flowers

My new favorite plant is a yellow variety of the torch lily.  They are a hummingbird plant and attract a good number of pollinators.  Within seconds of planting these in my garden, I had three butterflies fly over to investigate!

Bottom line, just let things flower and the pollinators will come. If you don't have their food, don't expect them to enter your yard!  Enjoy your pollinators this Pollinator Week!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fire Ant Management

Rain brings fire ants... at least that's what people say.  Rain doesn't necessarily make fire ants more abundant - they were always there, they just weren't as noticeable.  When it rains, the ground becomes saturated and the fire ants move their colonies higher.  When they pop above the ground, you come across them more readily and its gives the impression that there are more and they are worse than during dry months.

Unless you have been treating regularly, I think its a pretty safe assumption that at least one mound in their yard.  I have many (way too many) mounds.  I find them when I'm weeding my garden, in my veggie beds, along the sidewalk, next to my newly planted fig tree, and in the smack middle of the yard.  They are huge, ugly, and ominous.  Not since my graduate days studying and digging up fire ant mounds have I had as many stings on my hands and feet!

So... what to do about them?  There are many options for fire ant control, so I'm going to give you the most common situation and my suggestions for control:

Fire Ants in Veggie Gardens.  You have limited options here and must be careful to read labels to make sure they are labeled for use around vegetables.  Boiling water and oils will work, but depending on how close that mound is to the plants, you may kill the roots.  I suggest Spinosad as either a drench or bait.  Both are labeled for use in vegetable gardens.

Fire Ants without Visible Mounds.  Baits are definitely the way to go here.  If you can't see the mound, you can't drench it properly.  Baits are taken back into the nest and fed to everyone, including the queen.  Baits may take up to 2 weeks to work, so be patient.

Fire Ants in Yards.  My suggestion for this is to treat individual mounds and follow up a couple of days later with a broadcast bait.  You will eliminate or at least reduce the size of the mounds you treat individually and the bait will help keep the populations down and knock out the mounds that you didn't see.

I'm Having a Party.... Tomorrow!  In this case, you want to use either a broadcast granule or individual mound treatments.... or both.  If the populations are super dense (like we are seeing right now), treat the individual mounds with a liquid drench or dust labeled for fire ants.  Then do a broadcast granule to provide a barrier to prevent new mounds from popping up and treat the unseen mounds you missed.

Long Term Fire Ant Management.  If you can't stand the emergency treatments and want to get on a regimen, baits are again the way to go.  If the populations are fairly low to begin with, you can treat every 6 months.  Treatments in the fall may result in no ants in the spring, in which case you can eventually drop back to once every 12 months.  If the mounds are pretty dense, you may need to treat once and then again in 6-8 weeks.  Then get back on the every 6 month routine.

As with all pesticide use - read the label first, apply only what is recommended, wear protective clothing, and don't overuse.  One reason I like baits is that food for the fire ants and they are attracted to it.  You end up applying less pesticide into the environment and usually get better and more long term results.  If in doubt of what to use, see if an bait is available

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Spring of Caterpillars

Forest Tent Caterpillar
Photo by: G. McIlveen Jr.
This spring, it sure seems like we're experiencing more caterpillars than we have in the past.  There are two types of caterpillars on trees (seems more of the sightings are on oaks) you may encounter and what to do about them:

Forest Tent Caterpillars.  These guys do not actually make a tent, but they may appear to "wrap" your tree trunks with silk, while they hang out on the inside.  During spring, new growth means tender, juicy food for caterpillars.  While these guys will not damage the overall health of the trees, they may be a nuisance, unsightly, and may congregate in massive amounts on lawn furniture, fences, or other objects.

Oak Leaf Rollers.  It has been several years since these guys have exploded in massive populations, and while this year it isn't a huge explosion, I am getting some calls on them and seeing them drop from trees.  Oak leaf rollers rarely defoliate or even cause any noticeable defoliation of trees, but they are annoying.

Oak Leaf Rollers in oak trees
Photo by: Bart Drees
Oak leaf rollers are usually green in color with a black head. They drop from a single silk strand from trees when they are dislodged.  The silk can cover windows and cars, and when the populations are huge, it can make spending time outdoors unpleasant.

Should you feel the need to manage these caterpillars, they can be treated as any other caterpillar.  Bt and Spinosad are my two favorites.  Bt  is organic and specific to only caterpillars, you will not kill anything else but caterpillars, so be careful around your butterfly host plants.  Spinosad is also organic and may give you a faster knockdown.

I suspect these caterpillars will be around for another week or two, but they will soon die off on their own and treatment really isn't necessary.  Think of them as bluebonnets.  While there are a lot when there are a lot, they won't last long.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Termite Season

Termites are probably the most feared insect to humans ... especially homeowners.  They portray a vision of a house falling down, circus tent fumigations, a torn up yard, and major expense.  Your home is usually your greatest investment, so naturally, an teeny insect that hides underground and eats wood inside you home is a scary thing!
Subterranean termite mud tube and activity.

February and March are considered termite swarming season in Texas.  Although the weather has been up and down and its hard to predict when they may actually swarm, we have gone a few years without a good swarming season, and I imagine if not this year, at least next, will have some good swarms.

A termite swarm is when there is usually extreme humidity (often associated with rain) and the winged termites emerge from the nest to mate and start a new nest.  The females will become queens and start a new colony.

Termites are still active at all times of the year, not just during swarming season.  In fact, with the extra moisture and warmer weather, they are probably doing just great.  Cellulose material from stumps, buried logs, lumber, landscaping timber and firewood are all examples of food sources for termites that most of us have somewhere in the landscape.  The closer that is to your house, the more likely they are to start feeding on cellulose in the house.

The good news is that finding termites or termite damage should be mean that you need to take immediate action.  Take some time to get some BIDs and figure out the best management options for your situation.  You will know if the house is in danger of collapse!

For much more information about termites and management options, a fantastic webinar is being provided by Dr. Robert Puckett, an urban entomologist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension on April 3rd at 1pm Central.  He has extensive experience in termite field and lab research.  Be sure to tune in for a rare opportunity to learn more about termites that you probably ever thought you would learn!

The link to the webinar is:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Backyard Basics EXPO

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension is hosting an AMAZING program, Saturday March 28th at Madison High School.  This EXPO happens only once a year, and we pack the place to the gills!  We bring in specialists of all sorts of expertise to speak about various agricultural programs you can do in your own backyard: beekeeping, gardening, canning, aquaponics, rainwater harvesting, chickens and poultry and so much more.  There is something for everyone.  The presentations will go on throughout the day in concurrent sessions and vendors will be present to answer questions and/or sell goods (Alamo Area Beekeepers Association, Bexar County Master Gardeners, etc).  This EXPO is geared for those who garden, enjoy agriculture as hobby, and those who want some self-sustaining projects in their backyard.

If you are interested, we still have some spots.  Be sure to register at http://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/BackyardBasics before the date of the event.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

30 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know

As I do every Spring and Fall, I will be hosting an educational program all about the "bugs" you can expect to encounter this spring in the garden and landscape.  See actual specimens along with pictures and be sure to bring any damage, pictures, or insects you need identified!

When - Tuesday, March 24th from 10am-12pm

Location - Bexar County Extension Office, 3355 Cherry Ridge, Suite 208, SATX 78230

Cost - $10, payable at the door (credit cards not accepted)

Space is limited, please RSVP to Molly at mekeck@ag.tamu.edu or 210-467-6575