Tuesday, December 18, 2018

An Entomologist's Perspective on Lice

We've all probably dealt with it at least one time or another.  I certainly have with my children.  Yes, it's a little bit of nightmare, but no, it isn't the end of the world.  The dreaded letter comes home from school or a the gossipy mother shares the news... there's lice in the classroom!!!!

I hear all sorts of remedies and false information being spread around about lice.  What amazes me, is that rarely does anyone imagine an entomologist might have some perspective on how to get rid of them.  The internet and mom blogs are always the go-to for most parents dealing with lice on their children.  But I have news!  They aren't always (and are usually rarely) right.

Here are some tips from me to you on how to handle a lice situation....

Looking for Lice:
Photo by B. Brewer
Lice are insects, they have a lifecycle, they lay eggs and they use human hair as their host.  They are spread by close head to head contact, sharing brushes or other hair accessories, or sleeping together on the same pillows.  Children often get lice more than adults because they touch each other more often, have sleepovers, and generally share more items than adults do.  Girls often get lice more than boys - they have longer hair, hug each other, play with each other's hair etc.

When a louse is transferred from one person to another, it takes about 21 days for that one "mother louse" to lay eggs and those eggs to hatch and grow and get to a point where the lice are noticeable.  Really vigilant lice pickers, may catch it sooner, but in general, 21 days after you get that letter from the school, you should really start to look closely.  At that time you should see adult lice and eggs (nits) on the hair.  Don't look for a few days, see nothing, and assume you are safe.  That's when you have a really bad infestation on your hands about a month later.

Photo by Bart Drees
Nits will appear different from dry flakes and sand in the hair because, if a louse is inside, they are darker when pulled off the hair, not totally white.  You can see an unhatched and hatched nits in the picture above. 

Lice combs are a great way to look for lice and nits.  The nits are glued to the hair and no amount of shampooing or brushing will remove them.  There is also not scientific research that says lice prefer clean hair over dirty hair.  I think this was an urban legend started by parents and teachers to make kids who get lice feel better.  Lice could care less how much product you use or how many times you shampoo your hair.

I like to have a cup of alcohol next to me when I'm using a nit comb, so I can clean the brush off and the nits will dry out and die in the alcohol.  It will also kill the adults and nymphs that you get from the comb.

Treating for Lice:

When you detect lice, call your pediatrician or primary doctor.  Don't go to the store and buy products over the counter.  Lice are now known to be resistant to permethrin, which is what most over the counter products are.  You are wasting your time and money and exposing your family to pesticides unnecessarily.  Call and get a prescription instead.  It is more expensive, but at least you get results and I'd rather spend money on something that works than throw money away.

Be sure you ask a doctor, like a pediatrician, who sees this regularly.  They are more likely to be up to date on what products work best.  Don't call you neighbor anesthesiologist, friend cardiologist, cousin urologist and ask them what to do.  That isn't their specialty!

What to do about the house:
I've heard of people spending a lot of money to call a company to come out and do a major cleaning to kill all the lice in the house. If you don't mind spending money, do it.  If you don't want to spend that kind of money, there is absolutely no reason you need to.  Just take the sheets, bed spreads, pillows and stuffed animals you sleep with and put it in the dryer on high heat for at least 30 minutes.  Heat treatment will kill the eggs, nymphs and adults.  Do the same with hoodies, jackets, or other clothes that have been previously worn.  Washing is fine as well, but if you don't want to wash everything, just stick it in the dryer.

Do NOT use a fogger.  Lice aren't in the air, they are on the human.  Foggers are a waste of time, money, and unnecessary exposure to pesticides.

Preventing Lice:
The only real way to prevent lice is avoid people with lice.  Easier said that done!  Tea tree oil doesn't repel lice or make it so they don't want to be on your hair.  It may be great for the health of your hair, but don't fool yourself that it will keep lice away.  So far, no studies have shown it to be very effective.

Bottom line - don't use over the counter products, really check the child 21 days after the first notice of lice gets to you, stick bedding in the dryer, and call your pediatrician for a prescription if you spot lice or nits (you can't have nits without a momma louse!).

All this should really only take a day to complete.  No need to sell the house and kids!  Lice are manageable and actually pretty easy to manage.  They just invoke panic in a normally calm person for some reason.

Monday, December 3, 2018

5 Gifts for the Entomologist in Your Life

Sharing again this Christmas Season...

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 a variety of tarantula species is Nature's Exquisite Creatures.  Look them up on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NaturesExquisiteCreatures/

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Incredible Edible Insect Event!

We hope you will join us for our fourth annual Entomophagy event!  This year we are partnering with the San Antonio Botanical Gardens and the Monarch Festival to celebrate eating insects as sustainable source of food!

Bring the entire family!  This will be a family fun, event, with plenty of activities for the kiddos.  We will have face painting, painting with cochineal, cricket race cars, honey tasting and beekeeping and much more!

Admission grants you entrance into the park and all the family friendly activities, as well as a presentation on pollinator gardening by San Antonio horticulturist, David Rodriguez.

For those who want to partake in the 4 course tasting, designed specificially for our event by renounced chefs, the cost is $25 per adult and $10 per child.

Don't worry if you are a little squeamish about eating insects... these are farm raised, specifically for human consumption.  And most recipes incorporate insects into the food... they aren't necessarily the main highlight of the food.  For example, cricket flour (flour with cricket powder for added protein) will be utilized.  Come and join us and add yourself to a short list of individuals who have dined on the delicacy of drone brood and much more!

Hope to see you there!  You can purchase tickets in advance or purchase at the door.  Tickets are limited, however, so we do recommend pre-purchasing. sabot.org

Menu includes:
  • Chef Stephen Poprocki: Coffee blackened chapulines street taco, black garlic pico, crema, corn tortilla
  • Chef Dave Terrazas: Seafood Étouffée with cricket flour roux, garni of scallions, toasted Parmesan crips and cricket
  • Chef Joshua Schwenke: Thai Sai Oua (Northern style pork sausage) with bee larva, on bed of wok fried chickpeas; bee larva and herbs in “tiger cry” sauce
  • Chef Michael Grimes: Roasted apples with pumpkin streusel, silk worm cotton candyChef Stephen Poprocki: Coffee blackened chapulines street taco, black garlic pico, crema, corn tortilla


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Snout Nose Butterflies Out Again

Snout butterflies are on the loose again in Texas!  If you've been out driving, you have certainly killed one or one hundred, unfortunately. 

American Snout Butterflies get their name from elongated mouthparts called palps that extend from the head.  They are small to medium sized butterflies (about the size of a painted lady) and have orange and brown markings.  They blend in perfectly on bark and even flying can appear to be a leaf fluttering in the wind.

Each year, these guys have several generations and population peaks, but their numbers are directly correlated with rainfall and moisture.  This year we had rain at the right times to help their population.  What the rain does is increase the leaves their host plant makes - the spiny hackberry.  With more food, the females lay more eggs in the summer and those eggs hatch and the caterpillars eat the new growth.  The caterpillars can really only eat new growth from the spiny hackberry because its tender enough for them to chew on.

This population explosion we are seeing is a result of those babies (caterpillars) that fed on the tender hackberry leaves that our rains produced.  The caterpillars become pupa and emerging..

I suspect that the small cool snap we had this past weekend also triggered the adults to emerge from the pupa case.... changes in temperature like that often encourages pupa to emerge (a cool trick if you are raising butterflies from pupa and don't have much patience).

How long will it last?  Only nature knows!  But I predict we'll see fewer next week and even fewer the week after that.


 Also keep an eye out for Monarchs as they make their way through Texas to Mexico for their annual migration.  We're seeing a few here and there, but right now the Snouts are taking all our attention.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Rain Bad for the Lawn??? Fungal Issues a Major Concern Right Now

Who would have every guessed that rain could be bad for your lawn?  Well, too much rain in combination with other factors can actually cause issues in the turf and we are starting to see this all over the San Antonio area.

Typical Brown Patch Damage.  Photo by Matthew Rogers 

Brown Patch is a fungus typically seen in the fall in warm season grasses such as St. Augustine, Bermuda and Zoysia.  St. Augustine, Raleigh variety is extremely susceptible to Brown Patch, well above and beyond any other type of turf.

Brown Patch arises in susceptible varieties when we have intense rains, high humidity cloudy days, poor soil drainage, compacted soils and over watering.  You've seen it all over town... it just rained for days and sprinklers are still on!  We have extremely saturated soils, so drainage is near impossible, and days and days without sun leads to a perfect storm for Brown Patch to thrive!

What Brown Patch is NOT:
Grubs - its too late in the year for grubs to be actively feeding.  They are fat and happy and full and either already pupa (which do not eat) or getting ready to become pupa.
Chinch Bugs - its far too wet and cool for chinch bugs to have any sort of population that would lead to insect issues.

Here's what you can do as a homeowner when you see Brown Patch:

  1. Get it diagnosed by a certified nursery professional or turf specialist
  2. F-Stop Granules by Fertilome.  Found at any nursery or feed store.  There are two application rates on the label.  Use the higher application rate on the bad areas of the grass and lower rate on the rest of the lawn to prevent spread.
  3. Two weeks after you treat with the fungicide, core aerate the lawn.  This will allow for better air circulation, reduce soil compaction, and assist with better drainage.  Be careful with in ground sprinkler systems.
  4. At the end of October, winterize your lawn with an 18:6:12 fertilizer formulation.

Don't forget!  TURN OFF ALL SPRINKERS!!!  We have enough deep moisture to established plants through to March.  Unless we have a a super dry winter, no need to water anymore!  If we do have a super dry winter (no moisture at all, warmer than normal, etc.) water once a month. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Rain = Fire Ants!

In Texas, after a good, soaking rain, we can always expect to see fire ant mounds popping up all over our lawns.  Where were those mounds before?  They were there, just underground and inconspicuous.

Rain is good for many reasons, but one you may not realize is that it helps us see fire ants, gets them active above the soil, and makes them more likely to pick up fire ant baits!

I love using baits to manage fire ants.  They are more host specific, attracting fire ants better than other insects.  Baits (when applied according to the label) usually mean less pesticide out in our environment... and the fire ants like it, so they pick it, gobble it down, and close their eyes forever.

Here are some tips to remember when you are applying the baits:

  1. Make sure the ground is dry and rain is not in the forecast within a 48 hour window.  Just like you don't like to eat wet bread, fire ants don't want to pick up wet bait.  NEVER WATER BAIT IN.
  2. Apply according to the label.  Figure your square footage and apply the proper amount, especially if broadcasting the bait over the yard.  Don't over apply, that can actually make the fire ants avoid the bait.  If in doubt, apply less.
  3. If treating individual mounds (and this is easy when they are visible),  sprinkle the bait around the mound, not on top.  On the mound is not where the foragers are looking for food.  Instead, the bait may be treated as an intruder or trash.
  4. BE PATIENT!  Baits can take up to two weeks to work.  There is a method to this madness... baits aren't eaten by the adult ants (workers and queens).  Larvae eat the bait, partially digest it, regurgitate it, and that it fed to the workers and queens.  And the queens feeding is most important.  Otherwise, you just kill some workers, but she's laying up to 2,000 eggs a day to replace them!
Fall is the fantastic time to do the Texas Two Step Method of Fire Ant Management.  Start with a broadcast bait and then come back for those stubborn mounds with an individual mound treatment.  This is an integrated pest management tactic, decades of proven results in the field and research trials, and uses less pesticide that treating each mound you see with liquid pesticides. 

For more information on the Texas Two Step, visit: 


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Tree Management Workshop

We still have room in our Tree Management Workshop!  If you are interested in learning how to properly care for the largest and most valued part of your landscape, please join us!  We will cover proper pruning, common insects and their management, general management of trees and latest updates on oak wilt and the emerald ash borer.

Fall Armyworms on the Move...

Dr. Allen Knutson with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service put together a wonderful publication on fall armyworms and management options.  If you are like many of us around Texas, experiencing an outbreak of fall armyworm, this publication will be helpful.

Blame it on the rain, making favorable conditions of their eggs and larvae... and with more rain in the forecast, we may still have some weeks on this outbreak. 

Unfortunately in turf situations, it is often too late to treat once they start to make their move.  While this publication is meant for pasture and hay fields, the active ingredients may be helpful for turf.  These are caterpillars and Bt and Spinosad are two good options.  However, Spinosad is a little more stable and will not break down as quickly, which makes it a better option than Bt.

The Fall Armyworm - A Pest of Pasture and Hay

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Backyard Basics EXPO! August 3rd

Join Texas A&M AgriLife for our Biennial Backyard Basics EXPO extravaganza!  We bring the best of the best presenters to speak about topics that we have heard you want to learn more about.  Throughout the year, we poll the community, ask questions, and gather information about what information you are looking for.

Topics include Pollinator Gardening, Salsa Gardening, Salsa Making, Jerky Making, Buy the Whole Cow, Veggie Gardening and much more!

Preregistration through August 2nd - $20
At the door - $25
Kids 10 and under FREE!

Expect a ton of door prizes, a great raffle, eggs and honey and much more for sale!  Tons of vendors selling and providing great information.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Squash Bugs on the Loose

Squash crops are coming along in backyard gardens this time of year.  Protect your squash from the dreaded squash bug!  Last week, I was out checking on my squash plants, and discovered an adult squash bug, crawling along the leaves.  A quick look under the leaves uncovered a plethora of squash bug eggs.

What did I do?  Squashed the heck out of the squash bug eggs and hoped I killed every last one of them.  Then I took the adult inside and added her to my collection.

Take a good look on the underside of the leaves of your squash plants.  The plants are probably still small enough that this task isn't so daunting.  Even if the plants are large and have a lot of leaves, its well worth the effort to physically smoosh the eggs you find.  Look for brown, egg shaped, eggs in the crotch of veins of the squash leaves.

Squash bugs really like to congregated underneath the leaves and at the base of the plant, where it meets the soil.  Excessive mulch can help increase and aid squash bug populations.  Hand picking works wonders ... if you have the time.  But you can also wrap the base of the plant with foil to irritate the bugs, treat only the base of the plant if you are worried about treating the entire plant, or use a foliar insecticide labeled for veggies, being sure to get underneath the leaves.

Make sure you read that label carefully in case there is a time between treating and harvesting you need to be careful to time

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

San Antonio Chicken Coop Tour!

What better way to kick of Spring than by a chicken coop tour?!  A new city ordinance for the City of San Antonio now allows you to have six chickens AND a rooster.  If you have ever thought about having your own backyard flock, do yourself a favor and just do it!  You'll never regret it.

Join the tour to get ideas for how coops should be built to protect against predators, size requirements for flock sizes, and other details that you only learn through experience.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Entomology Summer Camps - Register Now!

2018 Entomology Summer Camps are now open for registration and filling up fast!  

Three dates and three payment options for returning campers!

New Campers (and returners who need a new kit, net and bag) - $125
Returners who need a new kit, but have the net and bag) - $100
Returners who have everything (I will replace pins and vials and killing solution) - $75

Register at http://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/BexarCounty

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Spring Break Nature Camp - 2018

Our annual Spring Break Nature Camp is open for registration! 


We hope to hatch chicks during camp and learn about the chick lifecycle from a poultry expert, experiment with dissecting owl pellets, giant grasshoppers and crawdads, do a tour of the new expansion of the San Antonio Botanical Gardens for our field trip and have a lesson and plant scavenger hunt from their fantastic youth educator, learn from beekeepers (me! 😊) and see real bees behind glass.  Along with our staples of team building games, playing with tarantulas and bugs, and our grand finale ice cream party.