Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pests for the Holidays?

Brrr.....I'm a tad bit chilly while writing this. I'm certainly not acclimated to the cold temperatures that appeared last night. All my plants are safely stowed away either in the house, the shed or my makeshift greenhouse that my hubby constructs for me in the winter. Hopefully, you had the opportunity to move your plants to somewhere that they won't be damaged by freezing temperatures.

With moving of plants indoors during the winter as well as the holidays being upon us, many people see small gnats flying in the house. This can be a common affliction with indoor plants whether they're houseplants, poinsettias for the holidays or for those outdoors plants being temporarily stored indoors until temperatures warm back up outside. Fungus gnats are small flies that are blackish with long legs. Since they're flies, they only have two wings. Fungus gnats may be seen indoors flying around potted plants. Larvae are maggot-like and live in the soil of potted plants.

Fungus gnats are usually a problem when plant soil stays moist from overwatering. A simple way to get rid of the gnats is to reduce the water supplied to the plant by only watering the plant when the soil is dry. Reducing the water supply will get rid of the larvae so will eventually reduce the adult gnats seen flying around. There is no good way to get rid of the adults that are already present- maybe try flypaper near the plants or physically smashing the gnats.

The boy's update....
The boy is doing great (and is why I haven't been posting here like I normally do). He's a little over a month old now and up to about 11 pounds already.
He's such a good baby; we really couldn't ask for more! He's becoming more aware of everything- smiling, cooing and looking around. We are really enjoying spending time with him and have gotten our schedule pretty much adjusted. I'm sure we'll go through another schedule adjustment when I return to work later this month.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Buggy Recipes

Since it's Halloween, I figured that I would give you some creepy-crawlie ideas in case you plan on throwing a Halloween party.

Many cultures throughout history as well as today consume insects as a part of their diet (this is called active entomophagy). Yes, this grosses many people out, but insects can actually be a good source of protein. So what do people eat in the insect world? Common things include larvae and pupae of various insects, waterbugs (actual waterbugs- Belostomatids- not cockroaches....although some people eat those too!), ants, grasshoppers, termites, scorpions and tarantulas (yes, I know, those last two aren't insects, but I'll include them anyway).

In the U.S., people get grossed out by thought of adding insects to their diet. Unknown to many, they get extra protein from insects from their normal, everyday diet. Many food items have insects or insect pieces in them since it would be near impossible to keep insects out of food during harvesting and processing. The FDA regulates how much "stuff" can be in various foods and you can actually look this up on their website.

So now that everyone is grossed out, here some of my favorite things to do with bugs and food.

A good quick party mix is to make Chex mix and add roasted mealworms. They actually blend in very well- people mistake them for pretzel sticks. Roast the mealworms at 250 degrees for about 15 minutes. You can also coat the mealworms with olive oil and season with your favorite spice rub.

Chocolate covered crickets are another good party treat. Put the crickets in the freezer for 30-45 minutes to firm up and make them easier to handle. I prefer to pull off the hind legs so the legs don't get caught in your throat when you're munching them. Melt chocolate either in a double boiler or in the microwave. Dip the crickets in chocolate and place on wax paper to harden. If you want to get really fancy, you can substitute the chocolate-covered crickets for chocolate chips in cookies.

I buy my crickets and mealworms at the pet store. When I bring them home, I put them in oatmeal or cornmeal for a few days to clean out their digestive tract. You can either cook them directly or put them in the freezer for 7-10 minutes to stop the wiggling and then cook them.

Happy Halloween!

BB's update...still no baby. For those of you keeping track, BB was due to arrive last Wednesday. Currently, I'm attempting to be patient, but I'm not doing a very good job. BB is still doing fine according to the doctor, so hopefully, he/ she will arrive soon!

Excluding Pests from Your Home

With cooler temperatures, you may often find your home invaded by unwelcome visitors. No, I'm not talking about all the relatives that come to visit for the holidays. Many insects and other arthropods will move indoors to find a more suitable habitat to spend the winter. With a few preventative techniques, you can exclude many of these critters from coming inside.

Exclusion ideas to help keep pests out of your house:

  • Prune trees and shrubs so they do not touch or over hang the house or roofline.

  • Do not stack firewood or other items against the house.

  • Install weather stripping around loose fitting doors and windows (if you can see daylight around a door during the day then the weather stripping should be replaced).

  • Block weep holes in homes with a brick or stone facade with steel wool or copper mesh (use copper on light colors since steel wool will rust if it gets wet).

  • Use caulk or expanding foam to fill in cracks and crevices on the outside of the home and around pipe and wire penetrations.

  • Keep window screens in good repair.

  • Use stainless steel mesh wire to block access points in the attic (vents, etc.).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Where have all the garden spiders gone?

I don't know about you, but I'm wondering where all the garden spiders are this year....I miss them! I'm sure that the weather and other environmental factors (that we're in a severe drought leading to less food availability) play into the fact that they seem to be non-existent in my yard this year. Usually, I have tons of these girls around the yard, one of which inevitability builds her web across my back gate so I walk through it when I go into the backyard.

The female garden spiders are easy to recognize with distinct webs. Garden spiders make the large webs with the "zipper" in the center. The spiders are fairly large (other than the males which are much smaller and often not seen) with yellow, black and white coloration.

These are great beneficials to conserve in the backyard habitat and help to cut down on garden pests. Of course, they are generalist predators and will pretty much eat whatever they capture; they don't have our knack for separating "good" bugs from "bad" bugs.

BB's update:

It's been awhile since an update on BB. BB is now 36 weeks along and should be arriving in about 3-4 weeks. Length is now around 20 inches and weight around 5.5-6 pounds. I, personally, am feeling huge and rather cumbersome. Getting up from a chair is becoming difficult and I have to take a break when walking up the stairs at home (ridiculous, I know). There's too much baby and not enough room at the moment, so I'm sort-of looking forward to when BB drops into my pelvis (other than the havoc he/ she will wreak on my poor bladder and the thought of waddling everywhere I go).

Something else I want to share is a picture of my hubby, Alan. He was working in Uvalde this week doing environmental assessments and found a tarantula. Of course, he couldn't leave it alone.....and yes, we're both a bit odd....

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fire Ant Awareness Week

While Fire Ant Awareness Week comes to a close for another year, this year it didn't get much media, being overshadowed- as it should- by Hurricane Ike. The hurricane with the storm surge and flooding that came along with it makes one wonder where fire ants will be popping up after the water dissipates. In flooding conditions, fire ants join together in a large mass and float along the top of the water until they hit something dry. Once that occurs, the ants crawl onto the dry area and look for a new place to start a mound.

That being said, fall is a great time to broadcast baits to manage fire ants. By baiting in the fall, you can help reduce the number of mounds that pop up in the spring. Most baits are broadcast at a very small rate and are best put out with a hand-held spreader set on the lowest setting. With all pesticides, including baits, read the product label and follow all instructions.

For more information on fire ants, go to:

Friday, September 5, 2008

Holy crap! Is that centipede taking human growth hormone?

I got an email last week about the large centipedes that we have around here- Scolopendra heros. They were wondering if the centipede was a normal size or not. Yes, it's nromal; these particular centipedes can get quite large compared to those people are normally used to seeing. Unfortunately, it can be quite startling when you're in your house and one goes scuttling across the floor or even better...when one greets you in the shower in the morning.

Scolopendra heros centipedes can be over 9 inches long when fully grown. They are beautiful arthropods with reddish-orange heads, dark bluish-black bodies and yellow legs. All centipedes have a head and a long body region that is flattened. They have one pair of legs per body segment and have modified the front legs to use as fangs to inject venom (pretty cool, huh!?). While I, personally, have never experienced the bite of Scolopendra, I've heard that it is excruciatingly painful.

Centipedes are predaceous and feed on other arthropods such as insects. They typically live in moist or humid environments- under rocks, logs, in leaf litter, etc. Often centipedes move indoors when it become dry or temperatures begin to drop (will that ever happen this year- it's blazin' outside!).

Centipedes are more a nuisance problem than an actual pest. Of course, in the landscape, they can help reduce numbers of pest insects, but they may also take out some beneficials since they are a generalist predator. Most people don't mind if they see them wandering around outside, but are not too keen on having them inside the house. To keep centipedes out, you should work on excluding them so they can't get in. Check thresh holds and weather stripping around doors and windows to make sure there is a good seal- if you can see daylight around your door when it's closed, it is not sealed properly. Block weepholes with copper mesh or steel wool (remember, steel wool rusts when it gets wet so don't use it on light colored facades). Keep trees and shrubs pruned so they do not touch the house. Do not pile firewood or other objects against the house, especially by doors...this can give a good place to hide and make getting into the house easier.
For more information on centipedes and a close relative of theirs, millipedes see the following publication:

By the way, if you want to see what Scolopendra heros looks like, you can stop by my office sometime and check out Skippy. I also have some preserved specimens if you don't want to see the live version.

BB's update:

Things are progressing along as they should. Everyone is telling me that I'm getting big, but fortunately, it's all baby. I look like I have a basketball stuffed in my shirt. BB is now around 18 inches long and about 4.5 pounds. I've got a little under 2 months to go, but lots of things to get accomplished before I stop working. Hopefully, BB will cooperate and not come to greet us too early!

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Monarchs have returned!

Have you seen them? They're baaa-aack! It always warms my heart a bit when I go outside to look at my milkweed and find monarch caterpillars or their chrysalis dangling on the branches.

Monarch caterpillars are pretty distinct. Obviously, they are a caterpillar, so they have a worm-like body that is yellow, white and black striped. The caterpillars have two long, black projections that look similar to antennae towards the head region and then two black shorter projections near the end of the abdomen.
The pupa, or chrysalis, is usually formed on the milkweed plant and starts off bright green with metallic gold at the top. The chrysalis will change colors as time goes on and the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. It eventually becomes transparent and you can kind-of see the butterfly inside.

After the adult (the butterfly) emerges from the chrysalis, it spreads it's wings and stays in place for several hours to allow it's exoskeleton to dry and harden before it can fly away.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Adventures of Rosie the Tarantula

I came back to the office last week with goodies for my wee-beasties. It was feeding time which usually happens every couple of weeks. I dumped a few crickets in with Debbie, my Goliath Bird-eating tarantula. She usually gets live mice about once a month, but she's been acting a bit odd lately and didn't eat her last mouse, so I think she's getting ready to molt. At this point I'm just waiting for her to get on with it. Next came Tiny, my Texas brown tarantula and the Scolopendra centipede. The centipede, as always, jumped on the crickets immediately. I came to Rosie's tank and imagine my horror and surprise when I noticed the lid was askew. For some reason, I still felt the need to search the tank for her, hoping that she might be in there somehow. To understand how ridiculous it was for me to do this, you need to know that the tank has substrate on the bottom and a water dish with gravel in it. I took all the plant material for hiding out last time I cleaned the tank because it was growing something. Even in my panic, I had to least it wasn't Debbie. People in the office would freak out if she got out since she's so huge!

So, what do I do now? Do I let someone know just in case Rosie wanders off? There's a pretty good space under my door that it would be no problem for her to get out of my office. Parts of the office are being renovated at the moment, so there is furniture, boxes, books, etc. piled everywhere in offices and hallways. My office has a pathway that allows me to get to my desk. There was no way I could go search for Rosie; there was too much stuff in the way. I decided that I was going to keep the matter of Rosie's escape to myself. Hopefully if someone found her they would come a get me instead of squishing her or maybe she'll show up crawling across the floor or up the wall one day.

Tuesday, I turned around in my chair to take one of my all too frequent trips to the restroom (BB likes squishing Mommy's bladder) and guess who was waltzing out from behind my mini fridge- Rosie! I quickly picked her up and put her back into her tank. This time I secured the lid with a large rock on one side and a marble award thing I had on my bookshelf. She's now happily chilling in her tank, resting up from her big adventure in the open.

Friday, August 8, 2008

It's not fall yet, so why do I have fall webworms?

While I haven't been getting many questions on them, I thought I would address fall webworms since I've been seen tons of webbing in trees all over town. Webworms can attack over 88 species of plants, but are often seen on pecan trees in Texas. We have 2-4 generations each year that start in the spring and continue into the fall. Fall populations are often the most damaging, giving the name fall webworms.

Caterpillars, the immature state, are very pretty in my opinion. They are about an inch long when fully mature and are pale greenish-yellow with long tufts of hair projecting from their body. Adult moths are somewhat drab with whitish coloring and small, dark spots on the front wings.

When caterpillars emerge from the egg, they immediately begin to spin the webbing that is expanded to cover the tree's foliage. The caterpillars use the webbing to protect them from predators. They enclose the foliage that they feed on and will expand the web size when they run out of foliage to eat.

So, options for managing webworms really depends on how annoyed you may be with the webbing, how large the tree is and what kind of effort you want to give to manage the caterpillars. Egg masses can be pruned or picked off the tree (egg masses are on the underside of leaves and typically covered with hairs). Pruning webs out of the tree or opening the webbing with a stick or stream of water can also help to manage populations. Pruned webbing should be disposed of in a sealed, plastic bag or dunked in a bucket of soapy water to kill the insects. Opening the webbing can allow predators to enter the web and help manage the pests. You do not want to burn the webbing out of the tree as this can often cause damage to the tree as well as being dangerous.

Of course, there are also chemical options. Less-toxic options include using active ingredients such as Bacillus thuringiensis variety kurstaki, also known as Bt. This variety of Bt specifically targets caterpillars, but will not differentiate between "good" and "bad" caterpillars, so avoid drift. Spinosad which comes from a soil microorganism is another option. Both of these chemicals must be consumed for them to work properly, so good coverage of the foliage is key (hence, you must open the webbing to get the chemical to where the caterpillars are feeding!). These options work best on smaller caterpillars (less than 1/3 inch).

For management of larger caterpillars, contact kill chemicals work best. Some active ingredients to look for include permethrin, cyfluthrin, carbaryl or acephate. Again, the chemicals have to get into the webbing where the caterpillars are located or they will not work very well.
Of course, you can always choose to let the caterpillars do their thing. The trees and caterpillars have been here living together for many, many years and nature always seems to find a balance of things on it's own.
Also, don't expect webbing to disappear from the tree once the caterpillars are gone. You will either have to wait for a heavy rain or use a high pressure water stream to knock the web out.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Grasshopper & Katydid Nymphs

Grasshoppers and katydids can be a common but unwelcome sight in the backyard garden. These insects can be pests in the immature and adults stages, feeding on a variety of plants causing holes in leaves or consuming large parts of the plant foliage. Unfortunately, people often wait until it's late in the season to attempt to manage these pests and end up trying to manage the adults. This doesn't always result in the best management. Adults can not only walk or jump to get away from treated areas, but they have fully developed wings and can FLY. Immatures, or nymphs, do not have fully developed wings and cannot fly, so they are a better stage to target management strategies.
For grasshopper or katydid management, you can try natural products with active ingredients such as spinosad, neem, d-limonene, pyrethrum or rotenone. There are also many synthetic products with active ingredients such as cyfluthrin, permethirn, bifenthrin or carbaryl. Of course there are also non-chemical methods to try such as vacuuming up the critters or using row cover to protect your plants. Remember, manage these pests early when they cannot fly away!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mantids...predators of the garden

Since I covered a "creepy" bug last week, I decided to go with one that everyone generally likes to have around.

Mantids are easily recognized by their elongated thorax and specialized, raptorial front legs that are use to capture prey. They also have large compound eyes and a neck that can swivel 180 degrees. Mantids are generalist predators that will capture and eat a wide variety of small prey. They really don't differentiate between "good" and "bad" bugs, so they are best to conserve when you see them in the garden, but augment the population as they are cannibalistic and will also often bee seen eating honey bees.

After mating, females lay eggs in a frothy egg case on twigs, vines or other locations. The frothy egg case eventually hardens which will help protect the eggs throughout the winter. In the spring, small mantids (nymphs) will emerge from the egg case. It's actually rather interesting to watch as the first mantid out gets a meal delivered to them when the next nymph comes out of the egg case.
If you have kids who like bugs, or are interested yourself, you can either collect an egg case that you find or buy one from the store to watch the little guys and gals come out. If it's warm enough outside, you can release them into the backyard to have a go at it. If it's too cold outside for them to survive, you can keep them in a 10 gallon fish tank and feed them insects (pinhead crickets work great while they're small). Remember, they are cannibalistic, so don't forget to feed them!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Waterbugs....uhhhh, those are cockroaches

I don't know if people call them waterbugs to soften the fact that there are cockroaches in their house or if they just really don't know what a cockroach looks like. But the truth of the matter is waterbug=cockroach; it's the same thing, just a "cuter" name. Actually, now that I sit down and think about it, those little guys need a cuter name given to them. So many people think cockroaches are extremely disgusting, but I personally think they are quite beautiful. Not only the American cockroach (a.k.a. waterbug), but also others that put the American cockroaches to shame- Pale Border Field Roaches and Cuban cockroaches both come to mind. Now please realize that I'm not some demented mind, I worked on cockroaches for many years while going to college, so my fondness for them grew from there.

Many people are now seeing cockroaches venturing into their homes. With the weather we've been having this summer, it's really not a big shock. It's hot and dry outside; the cockroaches often move in during times like we're having in search of water. So, don't panic when you see a cockroach scuttle across your kitchen floor or when it attempts to dive bomb you. You can either squish it with a shoe or, if you're like me, capture and take it back outside.

To reduce the incidence of having these cute little guys and gals coming to visit, inspect the outside perimeter of your home for areas where they might be getting in. Check the weather stripping around your doors and windows and replace any areas that do not have a good seal (if you can see daylight around your door from the inside of your house when the door is closed, bugs can get in). Check the outside perimeter for and cracks & crevices or pipe penetrations that need to be sealed with expanding foam or caulk. Stuff weepholes of homes with brick or stone facades with steel wool or copper mesh (use copper for light colors as steel will rust when it gets wet). All trees and shrubs should be trimmed or pruned so they do not touch or overhang the house as they can be used as a bridge to move into the house. Also, don't pile items up near the house such as firewood, stones, etc.; these can offer good hiding places for cockroaches and provide easier access to the house. You can also apply a perimeter pesticide around the outside of your house if you choose. For more information on cockroach management, see this publication:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Common Wasps

Apparently the wasps have decided to make a grand appearance this week....I been getting lots of calls on them! Of course, callers (and hopefully readers here) want to know what kind of wasp they have and how to get rid of them. We already know from previous posts that bees and wasps can be differentiated by seeing if the body has hairs (remember, bees have hairs; wasps do not). Another reminder I need to mention is that wasps are beneficial insects when they and their nests are located in an area away from people or animals. When they move to areas that are inhabited, there is a chance that someone could get stung, so they might need to be managed at that point. Otherwise, let them help you take care of your garden pests!

The common wasps I get calls on are as follows......

Social Wasps:

Paper Wasps

These are the "red wasps" that everyone sees cruising around their backyard. Other species of paper wasps are reddish with yellow markings on the abdomen. They construct an open faced paper-like nest that is an umbrella shape and hangs from a single stalk. Nests are often constructed under eaves of houses, on fences, etc. For management, spray the nest in the evening (wasps won't be out foraging for food then) with a wasp spray. Once the wasps are dead, knock down the nest and dispose of it.


Yellowjackets are yellow with black markings. They also construct paper-like nest, but the nest can often be found under ground. Sometimes nests can also be seen above ground hanging from trees, eaves of homes or other areas that provide protection from the elements. The pear-shaped nest is enclosed with a single opening at the bottom which can make management difficult. Most nests die off in the winter after the first hard freeze. If you cannot wait for mother nature to take care of the wasps, try contacting a pest control company for control as these wasps can have large numbers in their nests.

Solitary Wasps:

Cicada Killers

These wasps look a bit like they've been on steroids since they are very large compared to most wasps we see in the backyard. It's a large wasp, about 1- 1 1/2", with yellow and black markings. You may see them going in and out of holes in the ground. If you feel control is necessary, sprinkle holes with insecticidal dust and tamp them shut with your foot (make sure to wear shoes!!).

Mud Daubers

Mud daubers are another easily recognized wasp. These wasps come in a variety of colors, but all have a very thin thread-like waist with a bulbous abdomen on the end. The nest is constructed out of mud and can be found in attics, under eaves or on siding. I spent about an hour a few weeks ago watching mud daubers collect mud from and area of my yard that had been recently watered..yes, I'm a nerd! These wasps are pretty tame and you can usually just scrape the nest off with a putty knife if you feel you need to do something. I always like to crack a nest open to see what the wasps have been collecting from the yard. It's amazing how much they can cram in the nest.

A word for the aware that wasps also differ from bees in that they can sting more than once (bees only sting once since they have a barbed stinger that gets stuck in the skin).

For more information on wasps, please see this publication:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Shameless promotion

Since it's a holiday weekend and I'll be laying tile in our kitchen with Alan on Friday and grouting Saturday/ Sunday, I figured that I should get my blog done a wee bit earlier this week. I also made the decision that I'm going to shamelessly promote the taping I did for Central Texas Gardener that will be airing this weekend. So, if you're not off eating hot dogs and hamburgers, swimming, watching fireworks or enjoying some adult beverages, tune in CTG to learn about some new bugs to be on the watch for in your garden! Here's the schedule:

KLRU: Saturday, July 5 (Noon & 4) & Sunday, July 6 (8 a.m.)
KLRU 2: Saturday, July 5 (9 p.m.) & Wednesday, July 9 (10 a.m.)
KLRN (San Antonio): Saturday, July 5 (11 a.m.)
KWBU (Waco): Saturday, July 5 (3:30 p.m.) & Thursday, July 10 (2 p.m.)
KNCT (Killeen): Saturday, July 5 (1:30 p.m.) & Sunday, July 6 (5:30 p.m.)
KAMU (College Station): Saturday, July 5 (3 p.m.) & Thursday, July 10 (10:30 p.m.)
KENW (Portales NM): Saturday, July 5 (10 a.m.)

You can also find out more about the show I taped as well as other shows from Central Texas Gardener by reading Linda Lehmusvirta's blog.

Have a happy 4th of July and be safe!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Water filled bags to scare off house flies?!

So what’s up with the bags of water that people hang up to get rid of flies? I’ve always wondered this myself, so I decided to do some digging. Theories I found include: flies see their reflection and are frightened off, flies don’t like movement so the bag swaying in the breeze bothers them, the bag reflects people or other objects that are in the area and frighten the flies away or that the refraction of light through the bag of water disorients the fly.

I also found an article from an entomologist in North Carolina that actually ran a test on the fly-water-bag-repellent theory and found that areas with water bags hanging up attracted more flies. He counted fecal smears from the flies and everything! Maybe people can poke some small holes in the bags and let the water cool them off since they don’t seem to work on flies.

House flies typically develop on animal feces, garbage or other decaying organic matter. To keep them out of your house, make sure that you have screens covering your windows without holes or gaps in it and that the weather stripping around your doors and windows has a good seal. You should also make sure that your garbage cans are stored away from the house and have tight fitting lids. It's also a good idea to wash your garbage cans out 1-2 times each month with soapy water. If you have pets, picking up their waste 1-2 times a week from the yard can help cut down on fly breeding sites. If you compost, make sure to turn your compost and keep it going so it doesn't begin to get funky. If you do happen to have flies get inside your house, fly swatters are great tools of the trade.
BB's update......
Well, it's been a somewhat busy week this week. BB's doing great and kicking- A LOT! We went to a meet the doctor's night on Tuesday to try to find a pediatrician and I think we succeeded. It's so weird picking a doctor for someone who isn't even here yet. One of the doctors looked at me and asked hesitantly if I was expecting. I was a bit taken aback since I think I look huge, but then again, I know what I looked like before. Also, I found out today (and I'm a bit miffed about it), according to my obstetrician I am a bit far along in my gaining of weight, so I have to cut back on the ice cream I've been eating. It's just so HOT outside and ice cream is just too yummy! I personally don't think I've been that bad in my eating habits, but my weight is telling a different story. Oh well....back to carrots for snacks...eating healthy ALL THE TIME gets old after awhile.....

Friday, June 20, 2008

Leafminers- artists of the natural world

I've been getting several questions about leafminers lately and what can be done about them so I thought I'd post something for those who haven't asked or just want to know.

Leafminers are the larvae of flies, wasps, moths or beetles that feed between the top and bottom leaf layers. The larval feeding creates a pattern in the leaf tissue that can often be used to categorize the leafminers (i.e. serpentine vs. blotch). Some leafminers pupate within the leaf while others emerge from the leaf to pupate in the ground.

Leafminer damage is rarely abundant enough to cause plant damage. Some consider it unsightly while others may step back and admire the art that is being created right before their eyes. Damage may occur on vegetables or various ornamental plants. Often when damage is on ornamental plants and some vegetables, it is considered merely cosmetic, but when damage is on crops such as spinach or swiss chard it is considered crop damage since the edible part is being damaged.

Typically, leafminers do not need to be managed. If you choose to do something about your leafminers, remember you need to either treat the egg stage or use a systemic to get inside the plant tissue. Be careful of applying systemic products to plants that will be consumed- read the label to see if you can treat the plant you want and also check how many days you need to wait before harvesting. If I choose to do something about leafminers on my plants, which isn't very often....I think their patterns are rather pretty, I'll pick off the infested leaves and dispose of them. A rather simple, no chemical approach, but it works.

This week with BB......

BB weighs almost a pound now and has eyebrows- how exciting! One site I was reading said that other people should be able to feel the baby moving around this week- that's been going on for almost a month now. We're starting to see when BB is moving which is a bit creepy to see my tummy boof out suddenly. BB gets especially wiggly when Alan reads to him/ her at night. All in all, things are progressing wonderfully although putting on my socks and shoes in the morning is becoming a real chore. I'm either going to have to recruit Alan for help or switch to flip flops!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Is it a bee? Maybe not.

Have you seen tiny bees frequenting the flowers in your yard? Look closely; those may not be bees. Syrphid flies, also called flower flies or hover flies, can trick the innocent onlooker into thinking that they are bees or wasps. So how can you tell what you really have? Bees and wasps will have two pair of wings while flies have only one pair of wings.

Adult syrphid flies feed on nectar and pollen while the larvae (or immatures) can feed on a wide variety of items depending on species. Some larvae eat decaying plant and animal matter while others feed on insects such as aphids, thrips or mealybugs.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What to do when you're chased by bees

I've been doing a bit of research on writing good headlines, so hopefully I'll start improving.... what do you think of this one? Catchy?

This week I spoke with CBS42 (KEYE) about bees after a man was attacked by a swarm of bees while mowing his lawn. To see the story you can try this link:

So what can you do to reduce your chance of being stung?

- avoid areas that have lots of bees or a colony
- look around your yard and get rid of any bee colonies you may find before using lawn equipment; the vibrations produced by lawn mowers, etc. tend to upset bees
- wear light colored clothing
- avoid using/wearing flowery or citrusy shampoo, lotion, perfume, aftershave, etc.
- if bees come after you, RUN! as fast as possible away from the bees
- try to cover your face as you run away since bees often try to attack that area
- find a sheltered spot as quickly as possible (inside a building, vehicle, etc.)
- do not try to hide under water or in shrubs

If you are stung what should you do? Remove the stinger as soon as possible. Bee stingers are barbed, like the end of a fish hook, so bees can only sting you once. As the bee flies away, it leaves the stinger stuck into your skin. The stinger should be scraped off, not plucked out with tweezers or your fingers (plucking will push in more venom). Try using a fingernail, credit card, knife edge, etc. to scrape the stinger off. If you are stung numerous times or begin to have any problems other than local pain and swelling, contact a physician immediately.

Another bee story this week is in the form of a "bee rescue" service- Central Texas Bee Rescue & Preserve. They will come out and for a fee, remove bees from the area. The bees will then be placed into hives instead of being exterminated. You can read more about this story here:

On a lighter note....BB's update:

Well, of course after posting that we hadn't felt any movement, BB decided to make his/her presence known. I'm now regularly enjoying pokes, prods, kicks, etc. It's a bit weird since it's a new sensation, but it's also really cool and reassures me that BB's in there swimming around doing his/her thing. So this week BB is about 5 1/2-6 inches long and developing fat layers on the body as well as myelin over the nerve cells. At this point, BB has active & rest periods. It seems one of the favorite times to be active is between 3-5 a.m. which is becoming interesting. If I look tired, you'll now know why. As for me, the belly is still growing and things that used to be simple are becoming increasingly difficult such as getting up off the floor or putting on my shoes and socks. I just can't quite bend like I used to.....

Have a great holiday weekend and be safe!

Friday, May 9, 2008


Ahhh...the conundrum that is thrips. Is a lone thrips still a thrips or is it a thrip? It's kind of like that whole fish/ fishes thing...thrips are always thrips.

Anyway, I digress....I got a call a couple of days ago about thrips. No, the call wasn't about someone's roses, which thrips love, it was about someone being bitten by thrips. Bitten? You thought thrips feed on plant tissue? You're right! BUT....sometimes when thrips are wandering around looking for a mate or a plant to feed on, they occassionally land on people. When this happens, they often rasp the skin with their mouthparts to see if they're on a plant. This "bite" can cause a sudden burning sensation and may, on some people, leave a red welt. Once the little bugger figures out that it's not on a plant, it usually flies away. Sometimes though, they move to another area of the skin and "bite" again- maybe they're just double checking the plant thing.

So if this is happening to you, what can you do about it? Avoiding the area would be a good idea or you could try wearing long sleeves and long pants. With the weather we've been having lately, that might be a bit hot, but it should save your skin from being bitten. You can try repellents, but they may not work all that well.

BB's update

This week BB is about 4 1/2 inches long, still tiny, but preparing to go through a growth spurt in the next few weeks, so if you see my middle expanding, you'll know why. The big thing this week is that BB can hear what we say now, so we've started reading every night. Currently we're reading Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia).

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there (including moms of the four-footed variety of children)!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Leaf-footed bugs

I thought that I'd try to head this one off at the pass. I know everyone has their tomatoes planted and I'll probably by getting calls on these guys pretty soon.

Leaf-footed bugs are brownish-grey and often have expanded regions on the hind leg that look similiar to leaves (hence the name). Some have a whitish stripe running across the back of the body. Nymphs look similar to adults, but are smaller and wingless. Sometimes nymph color can be a reddish-orange causing them to be mistaken with assassin bugs. If you want to be nerdy, like me, and happen to have a microscope or good handlens nearby, assassin bugs have a 3 segmented beak while leaf-footed bugs have a four segmented beak ("beak" refers to the mouthparts). Leaf-footed bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts that they insert into plants and suck the juices out. They often will feed on tomatoes (usually what I get the most calls about- people are very attached to their tomatoes!), eggplant, beans, peaches, strawberies, watermelon plus others. Damage on will vary depending on the part of the plant that has been fed upon, but feeding can cause yellowing or deformity of the plant.

So, what are your options to get rid of these guys? Handpicking works well if you have time and patience. Make sure to wear leather gloves as they can bite and release a smell that can be slightly unpleasant. Vacuuming the bugs off the plants is another option- try a shop vac or smaller handheld unit if your afraid of sucking the whole plant up. You can also try contact kill insecticides such as d-limonene, pyrethrum or pyrethroids. Don't bother with insecticidal soap to kill adults since they'll scoff at you and fly away...these bugs have fairly hard exoskeletons. As with all pesticides, make sure to read the label to ensure you can treat the bug and plants that you want to treat.

On a sidenote....update on BB (Baby Brown)

We had a checkup yesterday and got to hear the heartbeat. It sounded very similiar to panting our lab does after playing outside in the summer. Kind of weird, but reassuring that things are progressing. I'm beginning to show a bit, so if you see me, no, I'm not just getting fat...there's a baby in there! The baby is about 4 inches long this week and is learning to breathe and building bones and muscle. Alan is being somewhat strict making sure I get enough calcium and eating enough fruits & veggies. He's cute, but can be annoying at times! ;)

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, April 25, 2008

What are these holes in my plants?

The majority of questions that I fielded last weekend were regarding what could be chewing holes in the foliage of plants. Caterpillars, grasshoppers and leaf beetles come immediately to mind. Of course, everyone also wanted to know what they could do about the bugs.

First, look at the damage to determine if it's old or new damage. New damage will appear "fresh" and be green around the edge of the wound. Old damage will show browning around the area that has been chewed. If you have old damage, it's most likely too late to provide treatment as the bugs could have moved on to bigger and yummier plants. If it's new damage, first look for the bugs that could be doing the damage. This is where a bit of basic entomology comes in handy so you can properly identify what you're seeing. Try looking images up online (make sure to utilize a reliable resource such as a university or extension service). The TAMU entomology website hosts a variety of resources here:
If you can't find what you've got, you can always contact me for help.

With insect pests, it's usually better to try managing them early when they are still small. Why? Well, for one, they're small which is often easier to kill. Secondly, they are not as mobile as in the adult stage. Remember, adult insects have wings and can fly away, immatures have to hop, walk or crawl.

So for chewing insects, what are your options for control? Cover the plants with row cover to exclude the insects or hand pick the insects (wear leather gloves in case they try to bite you) from the plant and drop them in a bucket of soapy water. If you have a lot of insects or a lot of plants, you can try using a shop vac to suck the insects off the plants. Other options would be using products with active ingredients such as spinosad (get good coverage on foliage since insects have to consume this for it to work!), neem, d-limonene, pyrethroids (cyfluthrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin, etc.) or carbaryl. Remember, when you choose pesticides, find ones that have the location you are treating on the label and follow all label instructions!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Austin Garden Tour

Whew! It's's been a very busy week! I checked my field plots in Georgetown on Monday and I'm doing another check this afternoon; I did a three hour CEU training for city employees; I took a great bead class the past two days with Andrea Guarino-Slemmons and tomorrow is the Master Gardener Home Tour. I get the pleasure of hanging in Patty Leander's yard to talk about bugs (pests, beneficials or whatever problems you're having in your yard). If y'all have the opportunity, attend the Garden Tour and you'll have the opportunity to see a variety of wonderful local gardens! I've been to Patty's before and I can tell you that it's the most amazing vegetable garden I've seen. I can only aspire to someday have a tenth of the vegetable garden she's amazing...they have raised beds, make their own compost, test new varieties of veggies to see how they grow in Travis County.

The Garden Tour has 7 gardens to visit with people at each location to talk about a variety of topics ranging from rainwater collection to bulbs in Central Texas to installing drip irrigation. For more information, go here:

As for me....I'm off to kick some fire ant mounds!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Field trial for fire ants

Well, I'm a bit off my schedule for attempting to post each Friday. I'm not going to beat myself up too much as I was working, but fortunately, it was outside in the wonderful sunshine instead of behind my desk in a drably painted office. Speaking of which...I should paint my office a brighter color...maybe lavender.....wonder if I could get away with it?

Anyway, on Friday I drug my husband with me to set up a field trial outside the Extension office in Georgetown. It's always nice to have help when doing field work and Alan is always a big help. He's especially attentive now, sometimes to the point of being annoying, as I'm pregnant and he doesn't want me lifting heavy objects, being within 5 miles of a pesticide, etc. Not that I had plans of handling pesticide, my doctor would be very upset as I was told this was a big no-no last visit. And yes, you heard correctly, there's going to a little Brown soon to terrorize the planet...prepare yourselves!

Back to the field work....I'm expanding upon a trial that I carried out last fall testing aspartame (the artificial sweetener) for managing individual fire ant mounds. I'm sure some of you have read on the Internet or got an email saying how it was developed as an ant poison. Well, I'm now carrying out field trials to see if it actually will get rid of the little buggers. The trial from last year showed that the aspartame did nothing to kill the ants- the aspartame treated plots showed no significant difference from the control plots where no treatment was done. This year, after treating with aspartame, I watered it into the mound since some organic sites say that this stimulates the product to kill the ants. We'll see what happens.....

By the way, if you're a nerd like me or just want some very dry reading material, you can find the aspartame field trial plus all of the field trials carried out by the fire ant group here:

It's the one titled "2007 Urban IPM Handbook". It's a pdf file that's quite large so it may take some time to download.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Twig girdlers- amazing creatures!

When I first started with Extension, someone brought in a bag of twig tips that appeared to have been sawed off, very neatly. This led to my discovery of twig girdlers. I had a few questions this week on twig girdlers, so I thought I'd add information here so more people could learn about these cool beetles. Yes, they can be somewhat of a pest when they are munching on your tree, but you really have to admire their precision.

Twig girdlers are a type of longhorned beetle (they get the longhorn part from their long antennae, not because they are affiliated with UT, or should I say TU for all those good Ags). After mating, the female beetles chew a circular notch around twigs or small branches of the tree. Eggs are laid into notches chewed in the bark above the circular notch. Larvae hatch and tunnel under the bark of the twig.

Since the beetle "girdles" branches, the tips eventually die and fall off the tree. This is usually when I get phone calls since branch tips are "mysteriously" dropping from the tree with no visible insects (hint: the insects are inside the branch tips). Unfortunately, it is very difficult to catch the beetles in the act, so spraying really does not help manage the beetles. Sanitation is your friend- clean up and dispose of the twigs and small branches that have fallen off the tree as they contain larvae.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Honey bee swarms and hives- what's the difference?

When I get bee calls, which usually increase in the spring and fall, people want to know one (or possibly two) of three things.
1. Are the bees "killer" bees?
2. Why is there a big clump of bees on my tree/ shrub/ fence/ insert object here.
3. How do I get rid of bees that are in the wall void of my home?

To answer the first question, I don't know. Not really what most people want to hear from me, but I really don't know EVERYTHING. There's a lot of bugs and stuff to know about them and I still learn new things about them all the time...that's a part of what makes my job so great! But why I can't tell if the bees are "killer", or more appropriately Africanized, is because Africanized bees look pretty much the same as the regular European honey bees that everyone knows and loves. To figure out if bees are Africanized, the bees should be sent to the bee lab in College Station to be tested. You can find proper instructions and forms here:

Onto the second question. Bees swarm. This is when a newly produced queen and about half the workers leave the old hive to embark on a journey to find a new hive location (kind of like kicking your kids out of the house after they graduate from high school). Often the bees will rest in a big clump on various objects while scout bees search the area for a suitable nesting site. Swarming bees should be treated with caution, and left alone if possible. Swarms often move on in a few hours to a few days. If you are really concerned about someone getting stung, you can contact a local beekeeper to see if they collect swarms.

Number three is a relatively simple answer but, again, usually not one that people want to hear- contact a pest control company to exterminate the bees. Yes, I know, bees are beneficial and help pollinate plants and create wonderful products such as wax and honey, but it really comes down to the decision of you living in the house or having the bees live in the house. Since I pay the mortgage for my house, I'll pick me living in my house over bees. Once bees have been exterminated, the wall void should be opened and comb and honey removed. This may be a a DUH-moment, but you should NOT eat the honey since it's been treated with insecticide. If you don't remove the comb and honey you can get secondary pest invaders (cockroaches, rodents, etc.). Once all the honey and comb is removed, seal up the wall inside and out so bees cannot reinfest.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Red Imported Fire Ants...are they active?

I've been receiving numerous calls lately about fire ants. Yes, the mounds have been popping up, especially after the rain we had recently. People have been using fire ant bait, but are frustrated that the fire ants are not dying. So what could be the problem? First of all, check your fire ant bait. Since bait is a food item, albeit for the ants and not us, it can go rancid. Smell the bait to see if it has gone bad. Fresh bait should either have no smell or a light, slightly nutty corn-like smell. If the bait is rancid you will most certainly smells....bad. If the bait is rancid, you should buy new bait and dispose properly of the old, rancid bait. Secondly, before you broadcast bait, you need to make sure that the fire ants are actively foraging for food. Many times, they may be active excavating their mound, but the won't be picking up food. To check if fire ants are foraging, place a small amount of bait, a piece of hotdog (the cheaper the brand, the better) or a potato chip near a mound. Leave the food item for 15-30 minutes, then come back to see if the ants are picking up the food and taking it back to the mound. If they are, you're good to go forward with your baiting. Lastly, be patient when using baits. Depending on which bait you use, it can take several days to several weeks to see results.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Well, this is something new for me. I've been considering starting a blog, but have been a bit wishy-washy about doing so. I finally decided to take the leap and come up to date with what's going on in the world. I guess I didn't understand the purpose of blogging, but considering that I essentially do the same thing using an email list I've been compiling the past several years, I figured this might work out to my (and your) benefit. This way, I don't have to keep track of everyone's email when they change it and you benefit by having the option to unsubscribe whenever you want, or hopefully, tell your friends to subscribe as well.

This blog will enable me to communicate about IPM, mainly structural and landscape, and provide tips on how to best manage pests. Occasionally, I might throw in some odd things or random facts about bugs, just because they are truly amazing creatures. It's so great to have a job that I can mess around with bugs and get paid to do it! And mom, you thought I'd never get a job being an entomologist!

So, I hope that you'll subscribe and join my excitement for the very buggy world around us!