Friday, December 18, 2009

Fungus Gnats Hovering Around Plants

Fungus gnats are typically weak fliers, so they usually remain near the potted plant or rest on foliage or growing media. Adult fungus gnats are 1/8 to 1/10 inches in length, grayish black in color, slender bodied with long legs and antennae. They are usually identified by the vein pattern on their wings, with the common species having a Y-shaped wing vein. Female fungus gnats lay tiny, oval eggs in moist, organic debris. The eggs hatch into larvae that are legless, elongate, white to clear in color, with black heads. The larvae eat organic mulch, compost, root hairs, and fungi and can damage roots of plants, causing wilting, poor growth and loss of foliage. Pupation occurs in the soil in silk-like cocoons. The complete lifecycle from egg to adult occurs in about 4 weeks, so continuous reproduction can occur in controlled environments such as homes or greenhouses.

Some Suggestions for Control Measures:

Inspect plants before purchasing and use sterile potting soil.
Allow soil to dry for several days to kill some larvae, since over watering, poor drainage and water leaks can result in a large population of fungus gnats. If the top layer of the soil becomes dry, then the larvae will die and the female fungus gnats will not lay eggs in the soil.

Discard heavily infested plants as to avoid infesting other plants.

Biological Control

Some predators such as Steinernema spp. nematodes and Hypoaspis spp. mites that can be applied to soil to control fungus gnat larvae.

Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) can be applied soil to control fungus gnat larvae.

Chemical Control

Larvae can be controlled by many chemicals, including azadirachtin, fenoxycarb and imidacloprid. Adult fungus gnats can be controlled by foliar treatments, including the chemicals horticulture oil, pyrethrins, and bifenthrin.

Picture of fungus gnat. Photo found at Texas A&M University:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Aggregating Asian Lady Beetles

Eventhough this is a beneficial predator of aphids and scales, the multi-colored Asian ladybeetle tends to congregate in large numbers around buildings as they overwinter. This causes them to sometimes move indoors in the cooler months, where they can crawl on floors, walls and ceilings. They will exude a yellowish liquid when disturbed (reflux bleeding), which can stain fabric and can cause skin irritation. They can also bite since they have chewing mouthparts.
Exclusion practices should be used to prevent these ladybeetles from entering into buildings. All cracks and crevices, such as around windows, doors, air conditioners, and utility pipes should be sealed in late summer and fall. Also if beetles are spotted inside the home, then a vacuum should be used to remove them. Remember to dispose of the vacuum bag outside, so the beetles do not escape and re-invade the building.

Multi-colored Asian Ladybeetle. Photo by Mike Merchant, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Increase of Squash Vine Borers

Squash vine borers are the most common and most damaging pests of squash. The larvae are borers so they will cause damage as they tunnel into the stems. They usually feed on squash and related wild plants but also can feed on melons and cucumbers.
The adult moths resemble a wasp, with a red abdomen surrounded with black bands at each segment; their front wings are covered with metallic brown scales and their back wings are clear with a brown band. Adult females lay eggs on the leaves and stems of primarily squash. The larvae hatch and begin burrowing into host plant stems. The larva is white in color with a brown head and grows to be an inch in length. The larvae will produce sawdust like frass near the base of the plant which may cause the stems to wilt and die. The larvae then climb from the stems to pupate in the soil.

Some Control Suggestions:

Some Non-Chemical Controls:
Keep natural enemies in the garden such as parasitic wasps that will attack squash vine borer eggs and larvae. Also adult ground beetles (Family Carabidae) will attack squash vine borer larvae. Split vines should be covered with soil immediately after the larvae have been removed. Also remove vines soon after harvest to destroy any larvae still inside stems.

Some Chemical Controls:

Some chemical suggestions include such active ingredients as pyrethrins, permethrin, or carbaryl. Apply the chemicals to the base of the plant, underneath the foliage and underneath the stems of the plant.

Southwestern squash vine borer, Melittia calabaza (Lepidoptera: Sessidae), adult. Photo by G. McIlveen, Jr,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Abundance of Hackberry Gall Nipple Makers

Many residents that live in neighborhoods with hackberry trees have been noticing many small cicada looking insects, about 3/16 inches in length with spotted wings on their window screens and doors. These insects are adult hackberry gall psyllids or also called hackberry nipple gall makers. In the fall, these insects invade indoors looking for an overwintering site. Normally, they will overwinter under the bark of trees, but will also come indoors through any cracks and crevices such as around windows and doors usually at night since they are attracted to indoor lights. However, those that come inside are going to die.
In the spring, the adult psyillds will emerge and lay eggs in the leaves of hackberry trees. When the egg hatches, the developing psyilld begins feeding and the leaf begins to form a small pocket around the psyilld as the insect develops, forming a gall. The galls that are produced vary in size from 1/8 to ¼ inch and are found on the leaves and petioles. The adult gall will then emerge in the fall. Even though the galls can be unsightly on the leaves and sometimes cause premature leaf drop, they do not appear to affect tree health. This means no chemical treatments are recommended.
Hackberry psyllids are not harmful to people or pets and will not attack indoor plants or furnishings. Since they are a seasonal annoyance, residents can vacuum them to remove them as needed. As the temperatures fall, so will the hackberry gall psyilld population!

Photo of hackberry gall psyllids, Pachypsylla sp. (Homoptera: Psyllidae), adults. Photo by C.L. Cole, Texas A&M University.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Argentine Ants Not Crazy Rasberry Ants

Argentine ants seem to be causing alarm to some homeowners. Many people are confusing them with the Rasberry crazy ant (recently in the news); since they form dense foraging trails and often invade homes and other structures. Argentine worker ants are all the same size, about 1/8-inches in length and are dull brown in color. These ants have multiple queen colonies allowing workers to move freely between colonies. Populations sometimes appear to be a giant super colony. Even though, argentine ants do not bite or sting, their colony size can be in the hundreds of thousands.
These ants usually nest in cavities in soil, under rocks, in flower beds and in branches or cavities of trees. They eat sweets, fresh fruit, and buds of some plants and tend honeydew-producing insects, such as scales and aphids. These ants travel in distinctive trails along sidewalks, up the sides of buildings, along branches of trees and shrubs, along baseboards, and under edges of carpets.

Some Control Options:
Some Non-Chemical Control Options:

Trim tree branches and other plants so they do not touch structures, since argentine ants can use these branches to get into structures.
Caulk and seal any cracks or little openings around the structure.
Do not stack firewood and building materials next to structures, since these ants can build nests in these materials.
Reduce moisture sources such as leaky plumbing and free-standing water in and around structures.
Clean window sills to remove dead insects, since these ants will feed on dead insects.
Check potted plants for ants before bringing the plants indoors by watering to check for ants moving within the soil.

Some Chemical Control Options:
Spot treatments at points of entry into structures such as around window sills and door thresholds may be effective. Insecticides used for these treatments should be a wettable powder or microencapsulated formulation labeled for this type of application. If colonies cannot be located, bait insecticides can be used. Argentine ants are mostly attracted to sweet baits. Such baits containing boric acid, hydramethylnon and sulfluramid are suggested for control.

Photo of argentine ant worker. Photo by Elizabeth “Wizzie” Brown, Program Specialist-IPM, Texas AgriLife Extension.

Friday, October 23, 2009

March of the Armyworms

The fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, eats foliage of many different kinds of plants, such as turfgrass, shrubs, and agricultural crops. Several reports of these armyworms have been seen in large populations as they march in and feed both day and night, causing circular or irregular deadened patches of turfgrass. Armyworms do not usually kill lawns, especially bermudagrass lawns, but will scalp them; however, St. Augustine lawns are more susceptible, and can be completely lost after armyworms feed.
Armyworms have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The eggs are very small, and are laid on leaves at night. The larvae hatch from the eggs and feed mostly at night. They tend to hide in thatch and debris in the daytime. The young larvae are white with black heads but develop a prominent white line forming an inverted “Y,” with stripes along the body as it matures. The larvae will become 2 inches in length before entering the soil to pupate. Then the adult moths emerge, mate and lay eggs. The adult moth has a wingspan of 1 ½ inches, with silver-white hindwings and dark grey front wings with light and dark splotches.
The locations of large populations of armyworms vary each year throughout the state. However warm, humid climates, along with large amounts of thatch are favorable conditions for fall armyworms to multiply. Armyworms should be controlled when they occur in large numbers or plant damage becomes excessive.

Some Control Options:

Some Non-Chemical Control Options:
Eliminate thatch to reduce develop sites of the armyworms. Also monitor for sites of infestation in the turfgrass by flushing the area with soapy water if damage is seen but the armyworms are not seen. This will cause caterpillars to move around within minutes so they can be spotted.

Some Chemical Control Options: Armyworms can be controlled using such insecticides containing the active ingredients permethrin, cyfluthrin, bifenthrin or esfenvalerate. Spot treatments or whole lawn treatments can be effective, depending on the size of the population.

Photo of fall armyworm. Photo by Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Are Leafcutter Bees Making Holes in Your Leaves?

Most common leafcutter bees, Megachile sp., are the same size as honey bees. However, leafcutter bees are mostly black in color with light colored bands across their abdomens. Also, female leafcutter bees carry pollen on stiff hairs on the underside of the abdomens rather than on the sides of the hind legs like honey bees. Leafcutter bees tend to be non-aggressive and usually only sting when handled.
Leafcutter bees are solitary bees, so individual female bees dig out nesting areas, create nest cells and provide young with food. Adult females cut circular or elongate pieces of leaves from such plants as roses, azaleas, bougainvilleas, redbuds, and other cultivated and wild plants. They use the leaves to construct walls and partitions for nesting cells. These nests can be found in such places as hollow twigs, holes in buildings, and in the ground. The nesting cells are provided with nectar and pollen collected from flowers. One egg is laid in each nesting cell. When the egg hatches, a white, legless, grub-like larva emerges and develops within the cell. The larva then pupates before emerging as an adult out of the cell the next season.
Leafcutter bees are important pollinators of plants. However, they can cause damage to plants when large populations exist on smaller, developing plants.

Control Options:
There are many natural enemies of leafcutter bees such as parasitic bees and wasps, velvet ants and some blister beetles. The use of insecticides is usually ineffective for the prevention of leaf cutting. One control option is to cover susceptible plants with cheesecloth or other loose netting during periods when leafcutter bees are most active. Also, leafcutter bee populations can be reduced if breeding sites are eliminated so such items as rotting boards or thick stemmed plants with hollowed openings should be removed from the landscape.

A leafcutting bee, Megachile sp. (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae), adult. Photo by Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fall Webworms Are Likely to be Found Soon

The fall webworm, Hyphantria cunea (Drury), is usually noticed when the light gray silk webs are discovered on trees in late summer and early fall. They are considered pests of shade and ornamental trees in urban areas, by attacking more than 88 plants as they enclose leaves and small branches with their webs. Four generations occur in the south Texas, with 2 to 3 generations occurring in northern Texas. The last generation in the fall is usually the most damaging.
The caterpillars build webs soon after hatching and they will remain inside the web consuming the tender parts of the leaves. If the caterpillars eat all of the leaves within the web, then new foliage will be enclosed within the webbing. These caterpillars are 1 inch in length, pale yellow or green in color, and covered with white and black tufts of long hair. The caterpillars will molt 6 or 7 times before dropping to the ground to pupate. The pupae overwinter and the adult moths emerge the following spring.

Some Control Options:
Some Non-Chemical Control Options:
1)Small webs can be removed by pruning and destroying the infested portions of branches.
2) A stick or pole can be used to snag individual webs to allow natural enemies such as yellow jackets, paper wasps and birds to eat the webworms.
3)Bacillus thuringiensis, B.t,. is effective against fall webworms if it is applied when the caterpillars are small. It is better to apply after the eggs hatch and the web is not so dense.

Some Chemical Control Options:
Chemicals should be applied after eggs hatch, since they are most effective on young caterpillars. Insecticides such as those containing spinosad and tebufenozide as active ingredients can be used. Multiple applications may be needed as generations continue.

Fall webworm, Hyphantria cunea (Drury) (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae), web on pecan. Photo by Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Larger Populations of Dragonflies in 2009?

Have you been noticing more dragonflies in your landscape lately? According to Dr. Forrest Mitchell, Professor and Entomologist with Texas AgriLife Research in Stephenville, “of the 231 species of dragonflies and damselflies in Texas, 26 species may be migratory, including the brown-and-yellow wandering glider (Pantala flavescens) and the spot-winged glider (Pantala hymenaea). Both are known as rainpool gliders since they are adapted to breeding in temporary water. Rainpool gliders will lay eggs in nearly anything that can hold water including buckets, flower pots, water troughs, puddles, ditches and swimming pools. They will even attempt to lay eggs on shiny car hoods, wet asphalt and wet concrete.
We have had several cool fronts along with heavy localized rain to make rainpools and either or both may be what accounts for the presence of so many dragonflies in our region. I am noticing them mostly over stretches of roads and parking lots or wide open fields where the hunting is good. They may be in other places as well, but harder to see.
However, just as fronts can bring dragonflies, fronts can also take them away. Work in the last decade on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. shows that moving dragonflies are swept together and collected by weather fronts. These concentrations may then be deposited elsewhere and a long way off, so enjoy watching them while you have a chance.”
For more information regarding dragonflies, please visit Dr. Mitchell’s Digital Dragonflies website: or check out A Dazzle of Dragonflies by Forest Mitchell and James L. Lasswell (Texas A&M University Press, 2005). Also Odonata Central posts a checklist of species for Texas:

Photo of female wandering glider, Pantala flavescens. Photo by Dr. Forrest Mitchell, Professor and Entomologist with Texas AgriLife Research (

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fire Ant Awareness Week

More than 10 years ago, the second week of September was declared statewide as Fire Ant Awareness Week. This week was established to help Texas residents realize the importance of a fall treatment for fire ants, since it is also important to treat in the fall to keep the fire ants from returning the following spring!
Before treating for fire ants, one must first survey the area to determine the number of mounds. If less than 5 mounds are present in a quarter acre plot, then it is advised to treat the individual mounds with a bait, drench or dust.
If more than 5 mounds are present, then a fire ant bait or contact insecticide can be broadcasted over the entire area. Fire ant baits are comprised of defatted corn grit covered with an insecticide and soybean oil. Before broadcasting the fire ant bait, foraging activity should be evaluated by placing a potato chip or hot dog next to a mound. If fire ants find the chip or hot dog within fifteen minutes, then it is an appropriate time to broadcast the fire ant bait. Fire ants will typically forage when the soil surface temperature is between 65 and 95° F. The delivery process of fire ant baits into the colony is so effective, that the amount of insecticide applied in an area is significantly reduced. Fire ant baits should never be watered into the soil and they should not be used if they smell rancid. Contact insecticides can also be broadcasted over the entire area and these need to be watered into the soil. One contact insecticide, containing the active ingredient fipronil, can be used for fire ant control and will usually provide 9 to 12 months control.
Both fire ant baits and contact insecticides can be broadcast using a hand-held spreader for small areas or a Herd Seeder can be mounted onto a truck or ATV for larger areas.
For more information, please visit the fire ant webpage at

Fire ant mound in lawn. Photo by Dr. Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fireflies or Lightening Bugs?

"Lightening beetle" is the correct common name since these insects are neither flies, in the Order Diptera or true bugs, in the Order Hemiptera. Adult male lightening beetles are long and narrow and ½- inches in length; they have a black head with a reddish section behind the head and dark brown wing covers edged with yellow. The underside of their last abdominal segments is colored greenish-yellow, since they are capable of producing flashes of light. Few other insects can be confused with lightning beetles, since no other insect possess the light-producing structures on their abdomens. The larvae and wingless adult female lightening beetles are flattened and spindle-shaped. They do have structures that produce light, so they are called "glow worms." The light produced is due to the reaction of two substances, luciferin and the enzyme, luciferase.
Adults produce light to find mates and some species use it to attract other lightning bugs as prey. Immature stages of lightning beetles are predatory on other small insects, earthworms, slugs and snails. Larvae and adults are active at night and inject toxic digestive enzymes into prey before sucking out the liquefied body contents.
Winter is spent in the larval stage in chambers formed in the soil. They pupate in the spring and emerge in early summer. Lightning beetles can be found in early summer beginning at dusk and are mostly found in wooded areas. After mating, females lay eggs in the damp soil. The eggs hatch into larvae in about 4 weeks and the larvae develop through several stages before pupating. The life cycle from egg to adult in most lightening beetle species takes two years.

A lightening beetle, Photinus sp. (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). Photo by Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Field Crickets Abound

As we walk outside in the evening or early morning, the male cricket’s mating song might be heard. This high-pitched sound is produced by the male cricket rubbing his front wings together to attract a female. Crickets are normally an outdoor insect, usually found under rocks, logs or any crack or crevice. However, they can sometimes enter our homes through such areas as doors and windows. In addition, their song can become an irritant, since they live next to structures.
Crickets feed on all organic matter, including decaying plant material and fungi. Since crickets breakdown plant materials, they are considered beneficial by renewing soil minerals. They are also a food source for many animals such as spiders, ground beetles, birds, lizards and small rodents.

Some Control Options:
Non-Chemical Suggestions:
1) Caulk or seal cracks and gaps that are found in the foundation, around doors, windows, and garage doors.

2) Trim weeds and tall grass growing near the foundation.

3) Remove firewood, brush, rotting wood, boxes, bricks, stones and other objects from around the structure, in order to reduce the number of harborage areas.

4) For crickets found inside the home, vacuum or sweep up and then discard them.

Chemical Control Suggestions:

If a severe infestation exists, there are granular products that can be used for control, such as those containing hydramethylnon. There are also chemicals that can be sprayed outdoors to provide a barrier around homes, such as those containing pyrethrins or bifenthrin. There are also products that can be applied in indoor and outdoor cracks and crevices, such as those containing boric acid.

A field cricket, Gryllus sp. (Orthoptera: Gryllidae). Photo by Dr. Bart Drees, Texas A&M University.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Be Aware of Yellowjackets

Yellowjacket workers are ½ inches in length, with black with yellow markings on the head, thorax and abdomen. The yellowjackets use their chewing mouthparts to construct carton nests out of chewed vegetable fiber. Nests are usually underground, but occasionally they can be found in wall voids and indoors. Their nests are usually spherical and consist of a number of round combs that are attached to each other and then surrounded by a layered outer covering.
The colony begins with a single queen that has survived the winter. The queen is very large and more orangish in color. In the spring, the queen's ovaries develop and she finds a nesting site. She constructs a nest of 20 to 45 cells and produces eggs that hatch into larvae. The queen feeds the larvae for about 30 days or until the larvae pupate and develop into adults. Later in the summer, workers construct larger reproductive cells in which male and female wasps are produced.
Yellowjackets are considered beneficial since they feed developing larvae arthropod prey. However when their nests are disturbed, defending worker wasps can sting multiple times. Also, foraging worker wasps may be a nuisance at picnics and other outdoor events.

Some Control Options:
One strategy is to hang traps in sunny locations in areas of nesting sites. Liquid insecticides can also be used to kill yellowjackets. Also insecticidal dusts can be used and are sometimes preferred since the workers attempting to use the nest opening will track dust and contaminate brood and other colony members.
All must be used with extreme caution, since wasps will attack when sensing an insecticide applied to their nests. Wear protective clothing that covers the whole body, including gloves and a veil over the face. Hiring a pest management professional is sometimes needed to reduce risks to you and your family.

Southern yellowjackets, Vespula squamosa (Drury) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae), at nest entrance. Photo by G. McIlveen, Jr.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Destructive Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees are 3/4 to 1 inch in length and resemble bumble bees, except that their abdomen is hairless and shiny black rather than being covered by patches of yellow-orange hair that is found on bumble bees. Adult carpenter bees become active in April or May and the female carpenter bees can sting, but usually only if agitated. Although males are incapable of stinging, they are territorial and will “attack" people passing by their nesting sites.
After mating, the females construct new nesting tunnels or use pre-existing tunnels for their nest site. Carpenter bees can bore holes about ½ inches wide into wood overhangs, decks, fence posts and trees. Unfinished wood or wood that is well weathered, poorly painted or stained is preferred for nest construction. Their nesting tunnels tend to extend straight for an inch or two and then turn 90 degrees as it begins to follow the wood grain. Their tunnels are clean cut and may extend 6 to 8 inches. Carpenter bees do not consume wood, but use wood merely to construct nests. Damage by carpenter bees is largely cosmetic, unless nesting sites are used repeatedly over years.

Some Control Options
Some Non-Chemical Control Options:Carpenter bees prefer to nest in unfinished or weathered wood, so painting or staining all exposed wood surface will deter carpenter bees from tunneling. Another option for preventing carpenter bee tunneling is to use non-wood trim and siding products, such as fiber cement or composite siding.

Some Chemical Control Options:
Observing bee activity will help in identifying nesting entrance holes. Look for perfectly round holes, about the size of a dime. Treating the entrance holes with an insecticidal spray or dust can reduce future nesting activity. Such products that contain carbaryl, cyfluthrin, permethrin, or resmethrin can be used. Leave the treated hole open for 12 to 24 hours before plugging it. The insecticide treatment is important, since it kills both the adult bees and offspring as they attempt to emerge later. Treatment is best performed at night when the bees are less active, or while wearing protective clothing.

A carpenter bee, Xylocopa sp. (Hymenoptera: Xylocopidae), nest opening. Photo by G. McIlveen, Jr.

Friday, July 31, 2009

August is the Time for Cicada Killers

Cicada killers are most active during late July and August, which coincides with the appearance of cicadas. Cicadas are large insects that “sing” in the trees during late summer. The female cicada killer will search tree trunks and lower limbs for cicadas, which she will sting and drag back into her burrow.
The female cicada killers usually dig burrows in areas that are sandy, bare, and exposed to full sunlight. They prefer to nest in areas of little vegetation, compared to thick areas of turf grass. Each female captures at least one cicada (some collect two or three) and a single egg is laid in the cicada before being sealed off. Even though an area may contain many burrows, female cicada killers are solitary wasps. This means that each female constructs a burrow and captures her own cicadas to serve as food for her developing young. The cicada killer develop through complete metamorphosis, with four life stages: egg, larva, pupae and adult. However, there is only one generation a year.
Adult cicada killers feed on flower nectar and sap. The female wasps are non-aggressive and rarely sting unless disturbed. Male cicada killers are usually aggressive and tend to defend nesting sites. However males lack a stinger, so they are harmless.

Some Control Options:
Non-Chemical Control Options:
1) Apply fertilizers and water turf grass to promote growth.
2) Also place mulch in flowerbeds and around shrubs to cover sandy soil to help reduce cicada populations.

Chemical Control Options:
Control is usually not recommended, since this is considered a beneficial insect. However these wasps can become a problem in high traffic areas around homes and in commercial areas such as around swimming pools, flower beds, and golf course greens.
If control is necessary, first the nesting sites should be located. One treatment option is to sprinkle 1 tablespoon of carbaryl dust into the burrow and then close the entrance of the burrow. Other suggestions for spray treatments that are labeled for wasp control include acephate, allethrin, cyfluthrin, cypermethrin, permethrin, and resmethrin. Treatments may be needed for two to three weeks as new wasps move into the area.

Cicada killer, Sphecius speciosus (Hymenoptera: Sphecidae). Photo by Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Warm, Dry Weather Means Chinch Bugs

The southern chinch bug, Blissus insularis, can be one of the most damaging insects to St. Augustine grass in Texas. Even though St. Augustine grass is the primary host of the southern chinch bug, they can also attack bermudagrass, bahiagrass and zoysiagrass. Both nymphs and adults remove sap from the base of plants and inject a toxic substance that prevents transportation of water within the plant. Damage appears as irregular patches of dead or stunted grass surrounded by a halo of yellowing, dying grass. Damage increases during hot, dry weather.
Chinch bugs develop through incomplete metamorphosis with an egg, nymph and adult stage. The nymphal stage appears orange-red in color with a pale white band across the third part of their bodies, the abdomen. As they molt, the nymphs will change in color from orange-red to black and develop wings. The adult chinch bugs have black bodies with fully developed white wings that contain black triangular markings on the outer margins. The entire life cycle from egg to adult can occur in about 7 to 8 weeks, so more than one generation can occur in a year.
One way to detect chinch bug infestations is to use an open-ended can immersed in the soil filled with water. The water causes the chinch bugs to float to the top of the can. The can should be placed in different locations within the damaged grass, totaling a square foot sample area. If 20 to 25 chinch bugs are found within a square foot of sampling, then control is needed.

Some Control Suggestions:
Non-Chemical Control Options:

1) Keeping thatch to a minimum, by aerating the lawn or top-dressing, will reduce chinch bug populations.
2) Too little or too much water also can cause chinch bug problems. Over-watering results in saturated, oxygen-deprived soils which contain few microbes needed to decompose thatch. Dry lawns should be watered immediately when edges of grass blades begin to curl or if the grass does not spring back quickly when stepped on.
3) Keep beneficial insects in the lawn such as big-eyed bugs (Geocoris spp.) and minute pirate bugs (Xylocoris spp.), since these are predators of chinch bugs.

Chemical Control Options:
A variety of liquid and granular insecticides are available to control chinch bugs. Granular insecticides can be applied with a standard fertilizer spreader and should be watered in with 1/4 inch of water to activate the insecticide. Liquid insecticides are usually applied using a hose-end sprayer.
If chinch bugs are in an isolated area of the lawn, spot treatments can be used. The off-colored turf and all surrounding infested areas should be treated. Spot treatments can minimize the impact of insecticides on beneficials and help avoid environmental contamination.
Products containing such chemicals as acephate, imidacloprid, lambda-cyhalothrin, bifenthrin and permethrin can be used to control chinch bugs.

Photo: Chinch bugs, Blissus spp. (Hemiptera: Lygaeidae), nymphs and adults. Photo by Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Abundance of House Flies

As we venture in and out of buildings be might have a piggy-backer, the house fly (Musca domestica) joining us indoors. This fly is not only a big nuisance insect, but it can sometimes carry other organisms that can cause diseases in humans and domestic animals. This makes suppressing house fly populations very important.
House flies are ¼-inches in length, light grey in color and have four longitudinal black stripes on their thorax. They also have a pair of large, red-brown compound eyes and sponging mouthparts, so they are non-biting flies.
Adult house flies live up to three weeks and are active during warmer weather. The adult female flies deposit eggs in clusters of 50 to 100 within a variety of moist, decomposing organic substrates including animal manure, accumulated grass clippings, garbage, spilled food and animal feed. The eggs usually hatch into larvae within 12 hours. The larvae then feed on the decomposing organic material as they continue to grow in size. Then the larvae will stop feeding and migrate to drier substrates to pupate. Adult flies will emerge within three days to four weeks, depending on the temperature.

Some Suggestions for Control:

Non-Chemical Control Options:

Frequently clean surfaces and properly dispose of food and other organic materials within a sealed garbage bag. Garbage containers should be closed and placed away from doors to prevent fly breeding and entering buildings. The garbage container should be cleaned a couple of times a month with soap and water to decrease amount of accumulated organic matter. Make sure that windows screens and screen doors do not have holes in order to minimize house fly access. Retail buildings can install air curtains above exterior doors to make it harder for flies to enter. Several types of traps are available that do not contain toxic chemicals, such as sticky traps and ultra-violet light traps. All traps need to be placed at least 5 feet away from food processing areas to avoid contamination. Sticky traps need to be replaced frequently as they loose their effectiveness with time. In addition, a fly swatter can be used to kill the occasional invader!

Some Chemical Control Options:

Chemical control should not be the only control option used, since the overuse of insecticides may lead to secondary problems such as insecticide resistance and increased allergies and other health problems. Some house fly insecticides are sold as aerosol sprays or bait formulations and can be applied to such areas as dumpsters. Several insecticidal sprays labeled for house fly control in and around buildings contain permethrin, tetramethrin or resmethrin. Fly baits are usually sugar-based and contain a compound that attracts the adult flies. The flies that feed on these baits are then killed after injesting the insecticide.

Photo of house flies, Musca domestica Linnaeus (Diptera: Muscidae), mating. Photo by Dr. Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Means a Time for Fleas

The most common type of flea in Texas is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis (Bouché). However, there are other flea species in Texas, including the dog flea, Ctenocephalides canis (Curtis), and the oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis (Rothschild). All of these fleas are around 1/8 inches in length, dark brown in color and have a wingless, flattened body.
Flea eggs are laid on a furred host after consuming the host’s blood. The white round eggs fall off of the host onto the ground in the area where the host spends time and rests. Whitish, legless larvae hatch from eggs in 2 to 3 weeks. The larvae develop in 9 to 15 days under optimum conditions. Fully developed larvae will then pupate by spinning a cocoon of silk that becomes covered with soil particles and debris. This protects the pupa and makes them hard to detect. The pupal stage lasts from 7 days up to a year before the adults emerge. Under optimum temperature and humidity conditions, fleas can complete their lifecycle from egg to adult in 30 to 75 days.
Adult mouthparts are modified for piercing and sucking blood, so they can bite multiple times. Not only are flea bites irritating due to an itchy reaction, but fleas can also transmit diseases such as murine typhus.
Sometimes buildings can become infested with fleas even when there are no pets around. Other animals such as bats, roof rats, squirrels and raccoons commonly have fleas and may bring them into structures. The building should be inspected and all openings should be sealed so wildlife can not enter.

Some Non-Chemical Control Suggestions:
Change pet bedding regularly and vacuum thoroughly. Vacuum under furniture, cushions, chairs, beds, and along walls. Make sure to discard vacuum cleaner bags at least once a week, since fleas can continue to develop inside vacuum cleaner bags.

Some Chemical Control Suggestions:

Treat your pets. Treatments are available as sprays, spot-ons, pills or food additives for pets. With all products, read and follow label directions carefully. Products designed for use on adult dogs should not be used on puppies or cats, unless specified on the label.

Treating homes. The pet’s living area should be treated at the same time that the pet is treated. This will hopefully prevent re-infestation of the pet. Citrus sprays containing d-limonene is one suggestion that can be applied to rugs, carpeting and pet bedding. Also, insect growth regulators such as methoprene and pyriproxyfen can be used indoors. Methoprene is unstable in sunlight so it is an effective indoor treatment. However pyriproxyfen sprays, can be applied both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors, treat areas where pets spend most of their time, such as bedding areas or under shade trees.

****Remember to inspect your pet regularly for fleas and carefully follow the label directions on the insecticide products!

Lifecycle of a Flea. Photo by: Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tarantula Hawks On the Loose!

Tarantula hawks (Pepsis sp.) are most active in the summer, during the day, although they avoid the highest temperatures. They are one of the largest species of wasps in Texas. They are 1 ½ inches in length, metallic blue-black in color with red wings. Tarantula hawks are considered generally harmless to humans, since they seldom sting. However they can be provoked, so they should be left alone; their stings are considered to be the most painful of any North American insect.
Tarantula hawks get their common name since they use tarantulas as food for their immature stages. These wasps are found wherever tarantulas are found since tarantulas are needed for the continuation of the wasp’s lifecycle. The female wasps will either enter a tarantula burrow and push out the spider, or attack a male tarantula while he is searching for a mate. She will grab the spider by a leg, flip it over on its back and sting it, or she may approach it from the side to deliver a sting. Once the tarantula is stung, it becomes paralyzed within seconds.
If the female wasp expelled the tarantula from a burrow, she will drag it back into its own burrow and lay a single egg on the spider’s abdomen. Then the burrow will be sealed. If the female wasp stings a male tarantula in search of a mate, the female wasp will excavate a burrow and drag the paralyzed spider inside. Then she will lay her single egg and seal the chamber. Once the egg hatches, the wasp larvae begins to feed on the tarantula and develops within the burrow.
Male tarantula hawks usually perch on taller vegetation or high points, where they wait for newly emerged females, which may be receptive to mating. Both male and female tarantula hawks feed on nectar.

A tarantula hawk, Pepsis sp. (Hymenoptera: Pompilidae). Photo by Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Reminder for Safe Pesticide Practices

It is always important to remind ourselves of proper safety when mixing and applying pesticides. Always keep in mind that just because a chemical may seem like a safe material, when concentrated it will not necessarily be safe or less toxic to humans or other animals! We must do our part to protect ourselves and our environment by reading and following the pesticide label directions!
Personal protection equipment depends on the job and the pesticide label, but some good suggestions are to wear a long sleeved shirt, long pants, waterproof gloves, a wide brimmed hat, waterproof boots, an approved respirator with the right cartridge when mixing dust or wettable powders and safety goggles when applying pesticides.
When mixing pesticides, weigh the material carefully, fill the tank with water until half full, and then add the concentrate while water is swirling. Remember to stand above the fill hole to prevent splashing onto face or eyes. After application, rinse the container three times and pour rinses into a mixing tank.
For application, wait until the pesticide needs to be applied, then read the entire label, and wear full coverage protection required by the label. DO NOT attempt to spray when there are gusting or heavy winds, if rainfall is imminent within 6 hours of spraying or if you are feeling angry and frustrated. Also do not smoke, eat or drink while applying any pesticides.
For pesticide disposal, buy only the amount of pesticide you need for the season. It is important to try to only mix the amount of material needed for the treatment. If there is too much, then apply excess material to labeled site or border row. The improper disposal of pesticide containers can lead to ground water contamination. To prevent ground water contamination, use returnable containers and take them back to the dealer when empty. If non-returnable containers are used, then triple-rinse the containers immediately after use (residue can be difficult to remove after it dries) and pour it into the spray tank. Puncture non-returnable containers and store them in a covered area until they can be taken to a container recycling program or a permitted landfill. Contact the Ag Container Recycling Council at for more on a recycling program. If bags are used, shake them out, bind or wrap them to minimize dust, and then take them to a permitted landfill.
In case of spill, remove contaminated clothing and wash chemical from skin with soap and water. Launder contaminated clothing separately from other clothing. Follow recommended cleanup and sanitization procedures printed on the pesticide label. Contain spill with containment soil, soda, or absorbent materials. Use cat litter, clay sawdust, soda ash or absorbent cleaning compound to soak up excess pesticide. Always have someone with you as you apply pesticides, in case of an accident. If symptoms of poisoning arise, seek medical help and take the pesticide label or container with you to the hospital.

Photo of proper safety equipment. Photo by: Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Excess Rain Means Pesky Mosquitoes!

Due to the all of the April and May rainfall in Texas, we are now experiencing a higher population of another pest insect, the mosquito. Mosquitoes are a diverse group of flies that are found worldwide, with about 85 species living in Texas.
Mosquitoes develop through complete metamorphosis with an egg, larva, pupa and adult stage. Mosquito eggs may be laid individually or in clusters on the surface of water or in dry locations that will periodically flood. The eggs hatch into larvae that eat bacteria, fungi and other organic debris in the water. The larvae will develop into pupae, which do not feed. The adult stage will emerge from the water to take flight.
Adult male and female mosquitoes feed on nectar, honeydew and fruit juices. The female mosquito will consume blood in order to develop her eggs. This causes the female mosquitoes to be the most DANGEROUS ANIMAL in the world, since they are capable of transmitting such diseases as Malaria, West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Yellow Fever worldwide.
Some Control Options Outdoors:
The number one way to reduce mosquito populations in your yard is source reduction! Mosquitoes need as little as a bottle cap full of water to complete their lifecycle, so all areas where water collects needs to be emptied or changed weekly. If standing water is eliminated in your backyard, then the overall mosquito population in your area will be reduced.
1) Areas containing water should be changed or emptied weekly, such as wading pools, buckets, bird baths, pet dishes, ponds, boat covers, irrigation systems, and French drains.
2) Holes or depressions in trees should be filled with sand or mortar.
3) Leaky pipes and faucets should be repaired.
4) For standing water that can not be drained, one suggestion is to use mosquito dunks containing Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) to kill the mosquito larvae.
Mow tall grasses and reduce the amount of foliage to reduce the resting sites for adult mosquitoes. Insecticides can be applied to trees and shrubs, such as those containing permethrin, in order to kill adult mosquitoes.
Some Options To Prevent Mosquito Bites:
1) Avoid wearing dark colors, since mosquitoes use visual cues to locate hosts.
2) Avoid exercising or yard work in the heat of the day, since mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide and perspiration.
3) Avoid wearing fruity or floral fragrances in perfumes, deodorants, hair products, or sunscreens, since these scents are more attractive to mosquitoes.
4) Wear long, loose-fitting clothing to avoid mosquito bites.
5) Chemicals can be applied to the skin to prevent bites. DEET, has been an effective repellent that can be applied to the skin to repel mosquitoes. There are also other mosquito repellents on the market such as picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, oil of eucalyptus, and soybean oil-based repellents that can be applied to the skin.

Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus (Skuse) (Diptera: Culicidae). Photo by Dr. Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M Univeristy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Swarms of Bees

Swarms of bees occur most commonly during the early spring when new queens decide to form a new nesting site. These bee swarms are less likely to be aggressive so we usually do not have to worry about stinging. However, these swarms tend to cause uproars in urban areas, if the nest settles in a backyard tree or on a porch. Also if the bees find a way to invade structures and take up residence in walls or attics, it could lead to a pretty expensive removal. If nests are not removed, the wax, honey and dead bees may produce odors that can attract other pests such as mice, ants, or cockroaches.
Some people prefer to leave their wild bee swarms alone. However if you wish to take action, the safest course is to hire a beekeeper to remove the swarm or hire a professional to eliminate it before they discover a way into structures. For more information about bees, please visit

Monday, May 4, 2009

An Outbreak of Sawflies!

An outbreak of pine sawflies defoliating pine trees in Lamar, Kaufman and Hunt counties have been reported, mainly on the loblolly pine. Although its identity has not been confirmed, it is likely one of the Neodiprion species of pine sawflies. Different species of sawflies cause periodic, widespread defoliation of pines throughout the southern states. The leaves (needles) of infested pines may be chewed down to the fascicles at the base of the needle bunches.

Sawflies are the only suborder of wasps, in the order Hymenoptera, that are plant feeders. They are greenish in color with dark longitudinal stripes and orange to black heads.

According to the Texas Forest Service entomologists, Joe Pase and Dr. Don Grossman, most affected trees should recover and re-leaf with no treatment. According to Pase, “The larvae feed mostly on 2nd year needles and leave the current year’s growth intact. The result is that few trees die from the defoliation. When tree mortality occurs, it is usually from attacks by pine engraver beetles (pine bark beetles) responding to stressed trees. Even then, few trees are attacked by pine beetles. Because the new growth on the trees this year has not progressed very far, the trees look especially bad, but I think most of them will come through OK – they just need a little time for the new growth to develop.”

If you feel that chemical treatment is needed, then applications of carbaryl or a pyrethroid insecticide such as bifenthrin or permethrin are suggested. Note that B.t. and spinosad are not effective against sawflies, since they are not true caterpillars.

There is usually more than one generation a year, so watch for additional feeding in late May or June. Trees that have been previously attacked may experience re-infestation by the 2nd generation. However, diseases and natural enemies usually keep later sawfly generations under natural control.

Sources: Joe Pase III, Entomologist, Texas Forest Service, and
Mike Merchant, Texas AgriLife Extension Entomologist,

Photo by: Pam Corder, Kaufman County Urban Forester.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The May Beetles Are Here!

As the weather warms, we will begin to see the adult May beetles (Phyllophaga spp.) flying under lights at night. These adults feed on leaves of several trees including oaks and pecans and can cause complete defoliation of the tree if large numbers of adults appear. Most healthy trees recover quickly from complete defoliation, but stressed trees can be damaged by these attacks.
The female May beetle will deposit eggs into the turf and the eggs will hatch into “c-shaped” grub worms that are creamy white in color with brown heads. The grubs feed on dead organic matter and roots of plants. Since the grubs feed on roots, they can injure roots of grasses and other plants. This causes infested turf to brown and it can be easily removed in large clumps.

Some Control Options:

Irrigating the soil with ¼ to ½ inches of water prior to treatment can improve the effectiveness, since the grubs will move closer to the soil surface. Parasitic nematodes in the genera Steinernema and Heterorhabtitis have been shown to be effective. Insecticides containing imidacloprid, halofenozide, and clothianidin are some active ingredients that are effective at killing the smaller stages of grub worms and ideally should be applied 6 weeks after adults emerge. Lambda-cyhalothrin and trichlorfon are some examples of active ingredients more effective at killing the larger grub worm stages.

Picture of grub worms. Photo by Texas A&M University.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Time to treat for fire ants!

Red imported fire ants, Solenopsis invicta Buren, are an invasive species that has infested over 300 million acres in the southern United States. On average, Americans spend over $6 billion a year on medical bills, repairing damage to electrical wiring and purchasing insecticides for treatment of fire ants. For these reasons, the use of chemicals is needed to manage their populations, in order to allow the native ant species back into the landscape.
Fire ant baits, drenches, dusts and contact insecticides may be applied to control fire ants. It is advised to treat the individual fire ant mounds directly if less than 5 mounds are found within a 1/4 acre or less than 20 mounds within 1 acre, since this is not considered an infestation. However, if more than 5 mounds are present within a 1/4 acre or 20 mounds within an acre, then a fire ant bait or contact insecticide should be broadcasted over the entire infested area. Fire ant baits are made up of defatted corn grit covered with insecticide and soybean oil. The delivery process of baits into the colony is so effective, that the amount of insecticide applied within an area is significantly reduced. Before broadcasting the fire ant bait, foraging activity should be assessed, by placing a potato chip or hot dog next to the mound. If fire ants find the chip or hot dog within twenty minutes, then it is a suitable time to broadcast the bait. Fire ants will typically actively forage when the soil surface temperature is between 70 and 90° F, which is between May and September. Fire ant baits should never be watered into the soil and they should not be applied if they smell rancid. On the other hand, contact insecticides can also be broadcasted over the entire infested area and need to be watered into the soil. Control using contact insecticides generally lasts for 6 to 12 months, depending on the active ingredient within the insecticide.
Both fire ant baits and contact insecticides can be broadcasted using a hand-held spreader for small areas or a Herd Seeder can be mounted onto a truck or ATV for larger areas.
For more information, please visit the fire ant webpage at

Photo of fire ant workers. Photo by Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mining the Leaf

Moving plants indoors during the winter allows for excellent breeding conditions for many insects. One of these flying insects a leafminer agromyzid fly in the genus Liriomyza. Liriomyza leafminers can be found on numerous outdoor plants, including chrysanthemums, asters, zinnias, marigolds, daisies, eggplant, carrot, potato, garden peas, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and pepper plants.
Adult leafminers are 1/16 inches in length with grayish-black bodies and yellow markings. The female flies insert their eggs into the leaves. The eggs hatch usually in 2 days into 1/16 inch larvae. These whitish-yellow larvae cause plant damage, by tunneling through the leaf tissue. As the larvae mature, the tunnel or mine gets larger in size. After 7 or 8 days, the last larval stage emerges from the leaf to pupate in the soil. The adult fly will emerge usually in 7 to 11 days. The lifecycle from egg to adult may last all year, if the leafminer is in a controlled environment.
The white tunnel that appears on the leaf is both unappealing to the eye and can cause leaf drop in some instances. Leaf mines reduce the value of the crop and they can reduce the photosynthetic ability of the plant. If large populations exist, they have the potential to retard growth of young plants and lower fruit yield.

Some Control Options

Some Cultural Control Options:

1) Prune off and dispose of infested leaves and branches.
2) Properly irrigate and fertilize plants to ensure healthy plants.
3) Plant cultivars that are more tolerant to leafminer attack.
4) Cover the soil with plastic to prevent larvae from pupating.

Some Chemical Control Options:

Organics sprays such as horticultural oil, neem and spinosad can be used to control leafminers. Also systemic insecticides such as acephate and imidacloprid can be used to control leafminers.

Photo of leafminer adult, Liriomyza sp. Photo by: Texas AgriLife Extension, Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Attack of the Aphids

Aphids are small, soft-bodied winged or wingless insects about 1/25 to 1/8 inches in length, with relatively long legs and antennae. Aphids can vary in color from black, green, yellow to even pink. Some aphids lay eggs, while others give birth to live young that can mature in as little as 7 to 8 days. Aphids have piercing-sucking mouthparts that remove phloem from the plant, causing distortions in young leaves and stunting new growth. They can also feed on flower buds, which cause deformities.
Since aphids feed on phloem they excrete honeydew, which is a shiny, sticky waste product that collects onto lower lying leaves. Once deposited, the honeydew is a nice food source for sooty mold which will begin to grow on the underlying foliage. Sooty mold will inhibit photosynthesis, so its growth can potentially cause severe harm to the plants.

Some Control Options

Some Non-Chemical Control Options: Conserve beneficial insects, such as spiders, praying mantids, assassin bugs, lacewings, ladybird beetle larvae and adults and parasitic wasps in outdoor landscapes. Also spraying water streams is effective to dislodge aphids from plants.
Some Chemical Control Options: Insecticidal soaps and oils can be used to control aphids and are considered low impact insecticides. Other foliar insecticides containing such active ingredients as permethrin, cyfluthrin, carbaryl, deltamethrin, pyrethrins and tebufenozide or systemic insecticides such as those containing imidacloprid or acephate can also be used.

Photo of crape myrtle aphids, Tinocallis kahawaluokalani (Kirkaldy) (Homoptera: Aphididae. Photo by Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Be On The Lookout For Crane Flies

Now is the time when we begin to see nuisance crane flies enter into buildings. Sometimes these flies are called “mosquito hawks” but unlike mosquitoes, these adult flies do not feed. These flies are large in size with long legs and they are only alive long enough to mate and lay more eggs for the next generation. Even though crane flies are not medically important, they are a nuisance when they enter homes and other buildings in large numbers.
The larvae of crane flies are gray in color and cylindrical in shape. These larvae are usually found in layers of decomposing leaves or in compost piles from December to January. The larvae of the crane fly have chewing mouthparts and feed on organic matter. They are beneficial, since they are decomposers.
Usually no control is needed since the adults are only here for a couple of weeks out of the year. Just remember to keep doors and windows closed as much as possible to prevent them from entering buildings!

Photo of a crane fly (Diptera: Tipulidae). Photo by Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M University.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Subterranean Termite Swarming Season Begins

There are two subterranean termite genera that cause most of the structural damage in Texas. One genus, Reticulitermes, may become more noticeable as the reproductives begin swarming during the day in the months of February through May. Subterranean termites live in colonies underground, in order to avoid sunshine and outside air. They are social insects and have a caste system consisting of workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Each caste member within a termite colony has distinct physical and behavioral characteristics. The workers build shelter tubes or mud tubes from tiny pieces of soil, wood, and debris that are glued together using secretions and fecal material. Termites tend to have an extensive tunneling systems underground that allows them to carry food resources back into the colony.
Termites feed on any cellulose material, such as roots, paper, and cardboard. They are important to our ecosystem, since they decompose cellulose. However, subterranean termites become economic pests when they invade human dwellings and structures. Termite damage may be detected by the presence of mud tubes, damaged wood, and the swarming of winged reproductive termites. Termite damage may also be apparent on door frames or window sills or dead termites might be visible along window sills or baseboards.

Some Preventative Practices:
1) Stumps, scrap wood, grade stakes, foam boards, cardboard boxes, and newspapers found around structures should be removed.
2) Firewood, landscape timbers, and compost piles should not be stored around foundations of structures.
3) Minimize moist areas by grading the soil and installing gutters to allow water to drain away from the building.
4) Do not allow shrubs, vines, tall grasses and other dense vegetation to grow against structures. Thick vegetation makes it hard to inspect for termite activity and these plants tend to trap moisture.
5) Use mulch sparingly and do not allow the mulch to contact wood siding or framing of the doors and windows around structures.

Some Chemical Approaches to Termite Control:
If termites are found around structures some measures can be taken, such as applying liquid termiticides and/or installing baiting systems. When soil termiticides are applied, they provide a continuous chemical barrier around the structure. Termiticides should be applied in such areas as under slabs, by drilling and injecting vertically through the slab, or treating horizontally through the foundation from the exterior. There are both repellent and non-repellant liquid termiticides that can be applied around structures. The termites attempting to tunnel into the chemically treated area will either be killed or repelled, which will prevent them from entering the structure. Termite baiting systems can also be installed around structures and in conducive conditions within the area. The stations will initially contain a piece of untreated wood until termite activity is detected. Once termite activity is observed, then the untreated wood is replaced with a plastic tube containing a termiticide within a cellulose matrix. The worker termites feed on the cellulose matrix and then exchange this material with other members of the colony. This results in death of the colony members.

A winged reproductive termite, Reticulitermes spp. (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Photo by J. Hamer, Texas A&M University.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bed Bug Registry

Bed bugs are increasingly becoming a problem within homes, apartments, hotels, motel, dormitories and shelters. The common adult bed bugs, Cimex lectularius, are about 3/16 inches in length, reddish-brown in color, wingless and flattened. Female bed bugs lay their eggs in secluded areas and can deposit 1 or more eggs per day (hundreds during a lifetime). The eggs are tiny and are usually hard to see without magnification. Bed bugs usually complete their lifecycle from egg to adult in a month.
Bed bugs prefer feeding on humans, but they will also bite other warm-blooded animals, such as dogs, cats, birds and rodents. Bed bugs are active mainly at night so they feed at night. Bed bugs tend to feed on any skin exposed while sleeping, such as the face, neck, shoulders, arms and legs. Engorgement takes about three to 10minutes. Symptoms after being bitten vary. Many people develop an itchy red welt or localized swelling within a day after the bite, while other people have little or no reaction.
The welts and itching are often attributed to fleas or mosquitoes, so infestations may go a long time unnoticed. However, the likelihood of bed bug infestations increases if the affected individual has been traveling or has acquired used beds or furnishings before symptoms started to appear. Confirmation requires finding and identifying the bugs themselves, which often requires the help of a professional.
A common concern with bed bugs is whether they transmit diseases. Although bed bugs can harbor pathogens in and on their bodies, transmission to humans is considered unlikely. Even though they are not known to carry diseases, bed bugs can severely reduce quality of life by causing discomfort, sleeplessness and embarrassment.
Bed bugs are challenging insect pests to control, since they hide in small spaces. However, experienced companies know where to look for bed bugs. Assistance is required for treatment, so excess clutter should be removed. In some cases, infested mattresses and box springs will also need to be discarded. Since bed bugs can disperse throughout a building, it also may be necessary to inspect adjoining rooms and apartments.
There is now a Bedbug Registry ( give travelers and renters a way to post bed bug sightings and find out information about encounters from past guests at apartments, hotels and motels. No one is confirming these sightings so just beware.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Prevention of Larger Animals Entering Homes This Season

As we approach into colder weather, wild animals may move closer to or into our homes. They are ultimately in search of warmth and may invade under homes or in attics. It is always easier to prevent invasion than to remove them. This makes EXCLUSION the key to the prevention of wildlife invaders. Exclusion is the best way to prevent entry. Remember that rats and mice can fit through holes as small as ¼ inch in diameter, so be sure to seal all areas where sunlight can be seen. Exclusion can be accomplished by using steel mesh in the attic to close off possible entry points. The steel mesh can be stapled or nailed around whirly birds, vents and other openings in the attic. Weep holes and cracks and crevices can be sealed using steel wool. If the outside brick is light colored, then non-rust copper steel can be used. Both steel wool and steel mesh can be found at hardware stores. Trees should also be trimmed away from structures. When tree limbs are touching houses, it becomes a perfect bridge for the animals to enter homes.
Also proper sanitation is important to prevent animals from approaching homes. All food containers should be cleaned and properly contained in closed bins, in order to avoid animals entering garbage or recycle containers. Bird seed and other food items should be stored in a sealed container. Clothes, blankets and fleece should also be stored in sealed container, in order to avoid rats and other animals nesting in the materials.
If wild animals are living in or near your home, you must first figure out what animal it is before control should be taken. Mice and rats can be trapped using sticky or snap traps. These traps should be placed perpendicular to the wall, in areas where you see droppings, gnawing, urine stains, or scratch marks.
Call the city or wildlife department if larger animals are believed to be living in homes/structures. Most departments will donate a live cage trap for a period of time and most cities will pick up the trapped animals when they are caged.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Using Biological Control to Control Pests

Biological control is an appealing choice to control pests, since there is no persistence of insecticides in the environment or the development of pesticide resistance. The release of natural enemies such as predators, parasites and pathogens to control pests is a type of biological control called augmentation. However, the act of purchasing and releasing natural enemies for the control of insect and mite pests can be disappointing, due to level of the control achieved. Natural enemies are living organisms, so their behavior under different environmental conditions can influence the degree of pest control achieved.
When multiple pests occur within an area, then sometimes natural enemies are needed for each pest. Commercial products available for use to control insects and mites include bacteria, fungi, viruses, nematodes, parasites and predators. Timing of the release of natural enemies is critical, since most require some time to affect the pest populations. Releases of these natural enemies at low pest densities are more effective than releases conducted to reduce high pest densities. Environmental conditions can change dramatically and outdoor releases of natural enemies can be negatively affected by high winds, rain, hot or cold weather and other insects in the ecosystem. In addition, many natural enemies attack only certain life stages, such as egg or larval stage of the pest so multiple releases may be necessary.
Companies selling natural enemies should provide consumers with directions on how to use their products and provide claims of product performance. Also, the purchaser of natural enemies must be aware of legal and biological limitations of augmentive biological control methods.
Sometimes by simply restricting the use of broad-spectrum insecticides will allow naturally occurring beneficial organisms to survive and control the pest. Remember that when insecticides are used, the residues can remain on the crop or site or insecticide drift from adjacent areas can remain toxic to natural enemies long after the insecticide was applied.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Shore Flies Indoors

Picture of adult shore fly. Photo on:

Shore flies are usually found in greenhouses, since they are attracted to algae growing on potting soil and under greenhouse benches. However, they can be found living on many house plants as well. Shore flies are frequently confused with fungus gnats, since they are usually found together. However shore flies have short antennae, a large head with red eyes, and smokey gray wings with 5 white spots on each wing. Also shore flies are stronger fliers than fungus gnats.
Female shore flies will lay eggs singly on the surface of algae. The eggs will hatch in about 2 to 3 days. The larvae will be found on the top layer of potting soil, feeding on the algae. Shore fly larvae are 1/8 inches in length, with a brownish-yellow, legless body. The larvae do not have a distinct head capsule, but their dark mouthparts and internal organs may be visible. The larvae mature in 3 to 6 days and then pupate. The pupae are also found close to the soil surface. The adult fly will emerge 4 to 5 days later and it will feed on the same materials as the larvae. The adult fly usually stays close to the breeding sites.
Eventhough the shore fly adults and larvae do not feed on plants, they still can present problems. Adults can be a problem, since they can transmit plant pathogens, such as Pythium and other root disease organisms. Also the shore flies’ excrement can land on foliage and leave unsightly black specks.

Some Control Options:

Some Non-chemical Control Options:

1) Avoid over watering and limit fertilizer run-off. Allow soil to dry before watering again.
2) Algae should be removed from under and on benches, walls, and floors.
3) Compost should be aerated often and relocated away from doors and windows.
4) Pasteurized container mix should be used or treat potting soil with heat or steam before using it.
5) Remove standing water and eliminate any plumbing or irrigation system leaks.

Some Chemical Control Options:

Some chemical control options include using such active ingredients as bifenthrin, permethrin to control adults and azadirachtin, kinoprene, diflubenuron, or cyromazine to control larvae.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fungus Gnats Fluttering Around

Picture of fungus gnat. Photo found at Texas A&M University:

Bringing plants indoors could result in another flying insect fluttering around inside, since these plants could have become infested with fungus gnats during the warmer weather. Adult fungus gnats are small, 1/8 to 1/10 inches in length, grayish black in color, have a slender body with long legs and antennae. They also are identified by the Y-shaped wing vein. Fungus gnats are usually weak fliers, so they tend to rest on foliage or growing media.
The female fungus gnats will lay tiny, oval semi-transparent eggs in moist organic debris. The fungus gnat eggs hatch into legless larvae that are white to clear in color, with shiny black heads. They eat organic mulch, compost, root hairs, and fungi. The larvae can damage roots of plants, which causes wilting, poor growth and loss of foliage. The flies then pupate in the soil within silk-like cocoons. The complete lifecycle from egg to adult occurs in around 4 weeks.

Some Suggestions for Control Measures:

1) Inspect plants before purchasing and use sterile potting soil.
2) Allow soil to dry for several days to kill some larvae, since over watering, poor drainage and water leaks can result in a large population of fungus gnats. If the top layer of the soil becomes dry, then the larvae will likely die and the females will be less likely to lay eggs in the soil.
3) Discard heavily infested plants to avoid infesting other plants.

Biological Control
1) Some predators of fungus gnat larvae include Steinernema spp. nematodes and Hypoaspis spp. mites that can be applied to the soil.
2) Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) can be applied to the soil to control fungus gnat larvae.

Some Chemical Control Options
Larvae can be controlled by many chemicals, such as those containing azadirachtin and imidacloprid. Adult fungus gnats can be controlled by foliar treatments, such as those containing bifenthrin, permethrin, resmethrin, and neem oils.