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.