Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Fluffy Moths Flying

Eastern Buck Moth
You may have noticed a emergence of fluffy black colored moths flying around or flapping around on the ground.

I noticed this emergence this morning and have to believe there was something in the weather that has sparked them all to emerge from their pupal cases as adults.

These moths are none other than the adult form of those (maybe long forgotten) spiny caterpillars that we all dreaded this spring - the Eastern Buck Moth.  

Adults are fluffy and are primarily black in color.  They have a white band across the fore and hind wings and their abdomen is orange.  They are actually really pretty moths when viewed up close.  Adults are known to fly around October to November - so we are right on track - and after mating will lay their eggs in clusters.  Those eggs will make it through the winter until spring, when they will hatch and the larvae will emerge again.  After feeding, the larvae pupate and they remain in the pupal case until about now, when the cycle starts all over again.

Eastern Buck Moth recently
emerged from pupa. Wings yet 
to completely unfold.

Adults do not have functioning mouthparts, so unfortunately they are not pollinating anything.  Just mating, laying eggs, and dying.  In the meantime, they are providing a food source for birds and other predators.  I have been watching the mockingbirds chase them around the sky for a quick snack.

Eastern Buck Moth Caterpillar
The larvae do have spines that are painful when touched.  This is their defense mechanism against predators and unfortunate humans and dogs may be innocent victims.  Their hosts are oaks and they prefer oak forests, so are more likely to be found in more rural areas, established neighborhoods with many oaks, or if you live next to an urban forest or park. 

The pupa are interesting because they have been known to remain for up to two year.  The Spring of 2020 was the first year I can recall seeing large numbers of the caterpillars.  The Spring of 2021 everyone else seemed to notice them too, so we've had two years for the population to build up.  If conditions are right (and who will know!), this large adult emergence may mean an above average population of caterpillars next Spring.  Time will tell!

What should you do?  Nothing right now.  Let the birds and lizards have their Thanksgiving meals and we'll see what happens.  It is difficult to predict.  However, come Spring, if you hear, see, or find them chomping on your trees and have trees you want to save, be sure to use a foliar spray and click here for more information.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Native Bee Program - October 20, 2021 in Boerne

Please note the correct location of this event is the Kendall County Courthouse.

Did you know that honey bees are not native to the Americas?  Before they were introduced, our native plants relied on native bees and other pollinators to help them out!  Learn all about native bees, where they live, what they like to nest in, how to recognize them, and how to encourage them.

If you can't be a beekeeper, you can certainly enlist the help of your native bees and I'll tell you how!

Native Bees
October 20, 2021
Kendall County Courthouse, 3rd Floor
201 E San Antonio Blvd, Boerne, TX

RSVP REQUIRED!!!! to the Kendell County A&M AgriLife Extension Office by October 18th - 830-331-8242

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Green June Bugs On the Horizon

This weekend, I spotted my first mating swarm of Green June Bugs and it is about that time of year when these guys stump outdoor lovers with their loud flying and buzzing close to the ground.

Sometimes people think they are bumblebees or wasps because of the buzzing sound their wings produce.  In flight, they do somewhat appear to be bumblebee like, especially because when the wings are open, their body is black in color and the metallic green of the underside and wings isn't noticeable.  Make no mistake, these are beetles.  They can also be clumsy fliers, knocking against windows or the side of the house, falling down and then picking themselves back up again.

Around this time of year, Green June Bugs tend to have mating swarms.  Some years there are more than others.  Although this is a very common occurrence in September, it isn't unusual for people who have lived in the San Antonio for years and never seen this to see it this year.  Some years you are just lucky!

Green June Bugs can feed on fruit trees and cause damage, but this time of year, they are just concerned with finding a mate and laying eggs.  It's best just to either enjoy or ignore them! 

Friday, September 10, 2021

30 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know


30 Bugs Every Gardener Should Know

Join me at the San Antonio Botanical Garden for a program hosted by SAWS!  I'll be covering the top 30 insects and relatives I think you'll be encountering this late summer/early fall.  The good, the bad, and the ones that are "just there".  We look at some preserved specimens (so much better than just looking at pictures), learn about their biology, where they hide, and what they like to eat.  Of course, we'll also talk about how to manage the bad ones, encourage the good ones, and tolerate the ones somewhere in between.

BONUS - The Garden is in full bloom right now and you won't want to miss this opportunity to learn about insects and take a stroll through the garden.  I was there earlier this week, and the butterflies are amazing!  If you want to get some ideas for some good butterfly plants, this IS THE TIME OF YEAR!

Fee: $20 ($18 member)
REGISTRATION REQUIRED  Click here to register!

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Become a Beekeeper! Beekeeping 101


Interested in beekeeping and need some help?  This course will cover all the basics of beekeeping from what suit options you have, how to put on the gloves, where to purchase the clothing to what tools to use and how, how to set up the apiary to how to manage those hives and how that first year looks.  

In Person - September 30 @ Bexar County AgriLife Classroom, 3355 Cherry Ridge, Suite 208, SATX 78230 9am-4pm | $65
Virtual - October 3, 5, 10, 12 6-8pm | all sessions also recorded | $45

Field Days Included for Both Options!  Weekend and weekday options.

You'll walk away from this class with tons of materials, factsheets, catalogs, and information.  The hands-on opportunities from the field day will help you feel confident that you can be a beekeeper!  Our goal is to give you all the tools from materials, to information, to actual experience so you can be successful.

Monday, August 30, 2021

White Fluff Floating in the Air

In the past several weeks, you may have been noticing white fluff floating in the air.  Maybe you are finding it on your plants.   But most certainly, you are wondering what it is.  These are wooly aphids - a species of aphid that grows a white waxy coating on their body.  Like all aphids, there are forms that can fly and you are likely seeing them flying around as they are dislodged from the leaves they are feeding.

Aphids have piercing and sucking mouthparts and feed mainly on the phloem of leaves.  This sticky food produces sticky excrement called honeydew.  Park or walk on a deck under a well infested tree and you'll feel and see that honeydew... tiny dots of sticky mess that you have to clean off your windshields each morning.

If you are lucky enough to have a good rain storm, this will help with that woolly aphid population by knocking them off the plants, breaking their delicate bodies and reducing their numbers.  

No need to panic about them.  I think the species we are seeing in South Central Texas are hackberry woolly aphids and the hackberries will survive.  They may also be found on other plants and trees (I have them all over my cedar elms), but they are not harming those well established, healthy plants.  A bit of cooler weather, a few more showers, and we'll start to see them decrease until they are a memory.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Hairy Caterpillars Make an Appearance Again

 Last year around this time, the Eastern Buck Caterpillar made an appearance in numbers I had never seen (or noticed) in South Central Texas before.  In fact, I'll admit, I'm not sure I had ever noticed those guys before!  Well, they are back again this year and more people are noticing them.

With the rain we've been having, knocking them out of trees, we're seeing them crawling on our lawns, up our houses, across the sidewalk and all over the place!  They are a stinging caterpillar and best to be avoided.  Unfortunately, you just don't know when or where you might encounter them, so be careful where you step or sit or place your hands.

It is a good general rule of thumb to avoid caterpillars with hairs or barbs coming from their body.  There is a good chance they are stinging caterpillars.

Eastern Buck Moth Caterpillar
Photo: Molly Keck

I had the misfortune of getting one on my pants the other day and accidentally bringing it inside.  When I rested my hand on my leg, I encountered the hairs/barbs and it didn't feel good!  Itched and left an uncomfortable feeling on my thumb for a couple hours.

These caterpillars will turn into interesting looking moths, called Eastern Buck Moths.  What amazes me, is that the caterpillar (immature form) is so much larger than the moth (adult form)!

There isn't much you can do about managing these caterpillars until they all pupate and go away, so for now, just don't touch!  You are more likely to encounter them as they leave their host plant in search of a spot to pupate (or get knocked from a plant when it rains), which is currently happening.  They aren't aggressive and won't come after you, but they can drop from trees.

Why are there more this year?  Probably because something happened last year to allow their population to grow (more food?  good weather? who knows!).  And when you have more babies turning into adults, there are more adults to lay more eggs and more babies coming out this year.  It isn't because of the snow storm, and the freeze certainly didn't kill them off!

Like all populations of animals, they are in a bit in flux, and we may see more next year or just a natural decline.  Time will tell, unfortunately, it's impossible to really predict what will happen until it does happen.

Should you feel the need to kill them, try a cyfluthrin product on the foliage you see them feeding.  If they are just crawling on your house or on the ground, I'm not sure there is anything that will be effective and environmentally friendly, so just be patient and wait them out.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Worms in Trees this Spring

Every so often, we see larger population outbreaks of certain insects, for seemingly no real explainable reason.  This year is one of those years with either cankerworms or oak leaf rollers.  I'm seeing both species around the San Antonio area, but there's really not need to panic!

Spring Cankerworm in dark color form
Photo Credit - Mike Merchant,
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Cankerworms, also called inchworms, can be bright green in color or greyish brown.  They inch up when they walk and when disturbed will drop from the trees on a silk strand.  They can be seen on the trunks of trees, dropping from limbs, on the roof, car, anywhere else the wind may have blown them.  

Oak leaf rollers also drop from silk strands and are green in color, but have a dark blackish head capsule.  

Oak leaf roller on leaf.
Photo Credit - Bart Drees,
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Neither caterpillars are harmful to humans and often are not harmful to the tree.  In high population outbreaks they can cause some defoliation, but often the tree will leaf back out again.

Should you feel your trees are in danger, there are some options to decrease the population.  Bt foliar sprays early in the infestation or Spinosad foliar applications are organic options.  Bt is specific for caterpillars and will not harm other animals or insects, but be careful around your milkweed and other butterfly garden plants!  Permethrin is another option that is not organic.  Ready to use formulations make application easy - just plug into the hose and spray up into the trees.  Trees that are incredible tall may need the help from a pest management professional or arborist.

Often times, the best course of action is just to wait them out!  We may find that in two weeks, the caterpillars just disappear.  

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Wondering What Happened to all the Insects During the Freeze?

Weekly Webinar - What Happens to Insects When it Freezes?  CLICK HERE TO JOIN  

Meeting ID: 990 2593 9574 / Passcode: Garden2020

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Join the Bug Club!

No matter where you are in the state (or world), you can join the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Bug Club!  We are meeting virtually, once a week, March through May.

Fall was our first Bug Club series, and back by popular demand, we have developed a Spring series! 

Bug Club is an opportunity for youth interested in entomology and insects to learn more about them through interactive, live, virtual lessons with Entomologist, Molly Keck.  For those who cannot make live lessons, Monday’s @ 4pm, you can watch the recorded versions! 

Bug Club runs March 1st – May 10th (9 total lessons).  Clubbers receive a kit containing materials for activities and experiments, mailed to their home.  Cost for registration is $50.

This Spring we’ll cover Honey Bees and their importance, learn about their lifecycle and how the caste system and bee dances work, and wrap it up with a virtual visit into a real bee hive!  We’ll also study mosquitoes and understand where they like to breed, why they are so bad, and how they have shaped our national history with a lesson on Yellow Fever.  As it warms up in May, we’ll talk insect collections, ant species, how to use dichotomous keys, and more!


Space is limited and we did fill up in the fall, so don’t wait too late to register! 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Online Beekeeping 101 Course

If 2021 has you thinking about keeping bees, but don't know where to start, Texas A&M AgriLife has developed an online series of Beekeeping 101 Classes to get you started!

This series covers the basics of beekeeping, starting with understanding the honey bee biology, what to purchase for tools and equipment, where to purchase those items, and how and where to purchase bees. 

Interested?  Click here to learn more.