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.