Friday, December 21, 2012

Carpet beetles...not bed bugs

I've had numerous people in the past month calling with "bed bug" problems.   After encouraging samples to be submitted for identification,  I discovered that while some people had problems with bed bugs, others had carpet beetles.  I want to point out that just because a "bug" is found on a bed does not necessarily mean that it is a bed bug.

Carpet beetles and bed bugs are quite different.  First of all, they are in different orders.  Carpet beetles are in Coleoptera while bed bugs are in the order Heteroptera.  Carpet beetles have chewing mouthparts while bed bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts.  Carpet beetles have complete metamorphosis- egg, larva, pupa, adult.  Bed bugs have incomplete metamorphosis- egg, several nymphal stages, adult.

Carpet beetle adult.
Carpet beetles can be solid black or mottled browns, greens and white.  Carpet beetle adults are oval in shape and relatively small in size (smaller than 1/4 an inch).  Adults have fully developed wings, with the front wing hardened (called an elytra).  The larvae are also fairly small, elongated and often have long tufts of hair coming off the body.  Larvae are usually considered the pest stage.  Larvae feed on and cause damage to high protein items such as pet hair, wool, silk, fur, feathers and some stored pantry items.  Hairs from larval stages can cause a biting sensation or irritation for some people.

Bed bug. Photo by Alan Brown.

Bed bugs are brown to reddish-brown, small insects without wings.  The body is oval and color varies depending upon whether the insect is engorged with blood.  The nymphs look very similar to the adults, but are smaller in size and lighter in color.  Both nymphs and adults feed on blood and can be found around sleeping areas of their host.

Here comes the tricky part- both carpet beetles and bed bugs can be found on a bed.  If you know their biology (see above) then it makes sense.  Bed bugs can be on the bed to be near their host that provides a blood meal.  Carpet beetles can be found on a bed because of food, but they are not feeding on blood.  Food for carpet beetles on a bed can range from feathers inside blankets and pillows to pet hair (if you're like me and you have a menagerie sleeping with you).
So now that I've made everything as clear as mud, let me remind you that if you need help identifying insects- whether you find them in bed with you, in the kitchen or in the garden- I can help with identification.  You can either take a photo and email it to me or collect a sample and bring it by the office.  If you go the photo route, put something in the picture for size reference....and be aware that I have no idea how large your hand is, I only know mine.  When collecting samples, try to get more than one specimen and try to keep them intact.  They can be placed in a ziptop baggie and placed in the freezer to kill (and preserve) them.  Please do NOT collect samples on tape; if you have an unknown biting you, then put out glueboards to capture the critters.  To transport glueboards, cover the sticky surface with plastic film.  Do NOT stack glueboards as they will stick together and I won't be able to look at anything.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs

Brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) were confirmed in Corpus Christi, TX in late 2011.  These insects are a new pest to Texas and a relatively new pest to the United States.  They are a true bug with piercing-sucking mouthparts and they have a large list of plants that they may feed upon including numerous ornamentals, vegetables and fruits.  These stink bugs are shield-shaped, about 5/8 inch and mottled brown in color.  The last two antennal segments have alternating light and dark bands.  The edges of the abdomen, which are exposed from above, also have alternating light and dark bands.

BMSB usually cause small necrotic areas by feeding on plant tissue, but they may also cause stippling, seed loss or transmit diseases.  Damage to fruit can be scarring, pitting, catfacing and sometimes changing the texture to be more mealy or grainy.  Not only do these bugs attack many high value crops, but they can also be a nuisance pest and move into homes when temperatures drop.

We have been doing work with the media lately to encourage people across Texas to report suspected infestation of BMSB.  If you suspect that you have seen brown marmorated stink bugs in the Austin area, please collect a sample and send it to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension for confirmation.  Recent media includes a story on AgriLife Today and a spot on KXAN.  For images of the stink bug, see this publication.

As for management strategies for BMSB, many pesticides that we currently have available don't work very well for managing populations of this particular insect.  In backyard situations, stink bugs can be hand-picked from plants (wear leather gloves) and dunked into a bucket of hot, soapy water.  It may also be possible to vacuum stink bug populations from plants or other surfaces. 

To keep stink bugs out of the home follow these ideas:

  • 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.). 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pantry pests

Infested chocolate.
Last week in a pre-Thanksgiving crazy air of frustration of not being able to locate anything, I decided to clean out and organize our pantry.  I'm a "put things back where they belong so I can find them later" kind of girl while hubby is a "cram things wherever" kind of guy.  A smooth marriage this does not make.  While he is getting better after 12 years of my explaining (and crowing that I'm right as he grumps around looking for things that "get lost") it's easier to find things later on if he takes the 30 seconds to put it where it belongs in the first place, he still fails miserably when it comes to keeping the pantry in order.  (Baby steps....)

Rice weevil.
While cleaning and organizing, I decided to throw out items that were really old.  Why, you ask, would I throw out perfectly good food?  I did it so I can avoid pantry pests.  Pantry pests can become a problem in food that hasn't been used in a proper amount of time.  Often people will leave the home for a period of time- i.e. on vacation- and when they return they discover bugs in the pantry.

While there are a variety of pantry pests that can occur, they best way to get rid of them is to go through the items in the pantry and throw away what is infested.  Often people stop looking for insects when they find the first thing infested.  That can be a mistake since multiple items can be infested.  Continue to inspect everything in the pantry and even check items that haven't been opened.

If you want to learn more about pantry pests, come to my free seminar in December (information below).

What: Seminar on pantry pests
When: Wednesday, December 12, 2012; 9-10AM
Where: 1600 Smith Road Austin, TX 78721
Cost: FREE

Friday, October 19, 2012

Inside Austin Gardens- Demonstration Garden

Remember how I told you about the upcoming garden tour?  Well, it happens this Saturday.  I wanted to give you a peek of a garden on the tour that I get to see each time I go to work.  It's the demonstration garden at 1600-B Smith Road Austin, TX. 

This garden is planned and created by our Master Gardener volunteers and they have been working really hard to get it ready for the tour.  I think their hard work has paid off because it looks fantastic!  Not only is it wonderful to wander through to look at the plants, but you also get the wonderful smells from blooming roses and, when I'm lucky, someone brings in some goodies for me to take home.  They are growing a bunch of produce out there as well.  I've been eyeballing the cantaloupes for awhile since I can never seem to get them to grow.  I found out recently that they were volunteers!  Wish my garden would magically grow cantaloupes.

They have a really cool wicking bed that they installed a little over a month ago.  It was really neat to see how they set it up.  If you don't know what a wicking bed is, stop by and you can learn all about how to create your own.  I also really like how many of the food-producing plants are intermixed within the landscape.  It's almost like you can forage as you stroll leisurely through the area.

The other feature I love about the demo garden is the insects that can be found.  It is a certified Wildlife Habitat, so it allows me to wander through with my camera to get shots of various insects- beneficials and pests.  They have milkweed and passion vine, so I can find monarchs, queens and gulf fritillaries each year.  I usually can track down swallowtails, skippers, blues and sulphurs at certain times as well. 

Please consider adding the demo garden to your schedule.  Daphne Richards, horticulturalist extraordinaire, will be here all day to answer any questions on plants.  This location will also be KID-FRIENDLY with activities for kids with our Junior Master Gardener group.  Patty Leander will be presenting on Vegetable Gardens and Roz Garrett will be doing two presentations on Eating Like a Rainbow.

Saturday, October 20, 2012
9AM- 4PM
Tickets are $15 in advance (purchased at the website above); $20 the day of the tour or $5 per individual garden (purchase at the individual gardens)

Friday, October 12, 2012

2012 Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012
9AM- 4PM
Tickets are $15 in advance (purchased at the website above); $20 the day of the tour or $5 per individual garden (purchase at the individual gardens)

I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peek at a few of the gardens on the tour.  I am even more fortunate to have one of them located right outside my office each day.  Each garden incorporates not only native and adapted plants that you see here in Central Texas, but also edible items- fruits, veggies and herbs.

Since I'm not the average garden blogger, I think I was drawn to things "not the norm", but I also used the opportunity to steal ideas to incorporate at home.  And this is where I need to apologize.  Yes, I had my camera with me and yes, I took photos.  Here comes the but- BUT the laptop where I moved the pictures died this morning and I can't get to the photos. ARGH!  There is consolation, though.  You can either go to the above website to get some sneak peeks or you can go to some of the other bloggers write ups about the gardens to see their photos.  Best of all, you can attend the tour and see the gardens IN PERSON!

The first garden- Carolyn & Michael Williams- had an idea for keyhole gardening that I am stealing for myself and the boy.  She had taken a wheelbarrow, drilled holes in the bottom and filled it with soil to plant veggies in.  The center had a wire ring for a mini-compost pile.  She waters from the compost area & it send out compost tea into the barrow.  The best of all, it can be moved anywhere in the garden!  I also fell in love with the super-friendly cat I found while looking for insects in the shrubbery....if you see Callie, give her a hug for me.

The next garden- David & Jennifer Phillips- had another idea that I'm stealing.  Since moving last year, I've been missing my veggie garden from the old house, but I couldn't figure out how I want to grow veggies in the new place.  I now have my solution after viewing this garden- galvanized stock tanks.  Jennifer said they cut out the majority of the bottom of the tank,  filled with soil, rigged up drip irrigation and got to planting.  The thing that blew me away at this garden was the rainwater collection system.  They casually said, "the rainwater collection is around the back."  I went back to check it out and it was MASSIVE.  It was not what I was expecting at all.

The Doyle/ Matthews gardens were so bright and colorful.  I fell in love with the washer pit at the Matthews house and am adding another item to my "honey do" list (I'm sure hubby will be thrilled).  The other thing that fascinated me at these homes was the Rover ants tending aphids on some of the plants.  I know...weird; it's the bug nerd in me.

Renee Studebaker's garden was mind boggling to me.  She has one of those "found item" type gardens set up into various "rooms" that all seems to work together somehow.  I cannot fathom how people pull that type of thing together and I'm always in awe of them.  It's like those girls in high school who always looked so great when I was lucky to get on a pair of clean jeans and a t-shirt because fashion was SO not my thing (it still isn't if you haven't noticed...).  Anyway, I digress.  This garden had a grape vine growing on this kind-of giant umbrella stand thing that was so cool.  I, of course, found some more bugs here to ogle.  This time it was a hover fly at some flowers.

Here is where I bow to the masters- other blogger's takes on the gardens can be found here:

Garden Ally
Rock Rose
Digging: Donnis & Doyle Garden
Digging: Matthews Garden
Kiss of Sun

Each garden will have not only garden viewing and plants for sale, but also presentations on a variety of topics.  There will be different topics presented at each garden, so check for each schedule (click on each individual garden to see the presentations at that particular location).  Topics include things such as:

  • Firewise
  • planning an edible landscape
  • spice up your food with herbs
  • grow your own garden party appetizers
  • American Indian medicine wheel herbs
  • the vegetable garden: what to grow & why
  • unconventional landscape snacks: collecting and cooking insects
Soooo...guess who is giving that last talk?  That's right!  Yours truly.  I hope that it will be a hit; people are disgusted but fascinated at the same time about eating insects.  I will talk about how to collect insects, rear insects and prepare insects.  We'll also cover the all important question of WHY (because Wizzie is crazy? people should include insects in their diet.  I have some recipes and OF COURSE some goodies to sample!  Join me....chocolate covered crickets- bet you can't eat just one!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Midges- part two

I would like to expand upon my midge post from last week.  I received an email that suggested that I clarify some finer points of the label "midge" and I agree that it is a good idea.  While I tagged the post with Chironomid, I didn't mention it specifically in the blog post itself and I should have.  So come along for a taxonomy tour.

There are biting midges and non-biting midges.  Last week's post was about non-biting midges.  While all midges are in the order Diptera (which includes flies, mosquitoes and midges), the biting midges fall into the Ceratopogonidae family and the non-biting midges fall into the Chironomidae family (click on links to see images).

Ceratopogonids are called biting midges, but more often around here, no-see-ums.  No-see-ums can cause painful bites to people who spend time outdoors.  Bites may cause painful lesions for some.  Adults are gray and tiny (less than 1/8 an inch long) with long antennae and well-developed mouthparts.  Only the females take a blood meal.

It is also possible for Chironmid midges to get confused with the Culicidae family (which are the mosquitoes).  Both groups are delicate looking insects with slender bodies and long legs.  Both Chironomid and mosquito males have feathery antennae, so may look very similiar.  Mosquitoes have an elongated proboscis (mouthpart) and scales on the veins of their wings which helps to differentiate them from other insects in the order Diptera.

Hope that clarifies a bit more of what a midge may and may not be.  As always, if you ever have a question on identification of an insect, collect a sample and either send it to me or take it to your local Extension office.

Friday, September 14, 2012


I've been getting reports of the mass emergence of midges from various lakes this week.  Midges are non-biting insects that are related to flies.  The species that I have seen look similar to mosquitoes, but they do not have elongated biting mouthparts.  They have slender bodies, long legs and males have feathery antennae.

The larvae of midges develop in water.  They can be found in ditches, ponds and lakes rich in organic matter, streams or rivers.  The presence or absence of certain midge species can sometimes be used as indicators for water quality.

Midges can emerge in very large numbers.  The adults are weak fliers but are attracted to lights.  Lights often attract them to inhabited areas where they become a nuisance to homeowners or businesses.  Swarms can become very dense and make outdoor activities difficult to enjoy.

Tips for avoiding midges:

  1. Turn off outdoor lights or switch to bulbs that are less attractive to insects.
  2. Drain or reduce water in lakes where midges emerge to kill off overwintering populations of larvae.
  3. Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki works on midge and mosquito larvae (read product label for application rates).
If you're dealing with a mass emergence of midges, take heart....emergence only last a couple of weeks!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Honeydew! (not the melon...)

Have you stood under a tree recently and felt "raindrops" falling onto you?  Or maybe you've discovered your car or patio furniture covered in a sticky mess?  Or, maybe similar to my're walking the dog and walk across a part of the sidewalk that causes your shoes to stick?  This is all from honeydew and it seems to be covering Central Texas at the moment.

Aphids being tended by acrobat ants.
Honeydew is the plant sugars that pass through the digestive track of aphids, so to put it bluntly- aphid poop.  Honeydew is sticky and can look like shiny droplets covering surface.  When you have a large population of aphids, then more honeydew is produced and that's when things get messy.  To make things even messier, honeydew can attract a fungus called sooty mold.  Sooty mold is black and grows on the honeydew covered areas.

So why all the honeydew now?  Just think of it as the perfect storm for aphids.  Remember back in July when we had all the rain and it was pouring every day for almost a week?  Wouldn't that be nice right about now?  I it's possible that the weather knocked down populations of natural enemies of aphids.  Yes, it would have knocked down the populations of aphids too, but aphids have the capability of reproducing rapidly and they do a much better job and increasing their population than their natural enemies.  When the natural enemies aren't available to keep the population down to a suitable level, the aphid population explodes and goes to town feeding on trees (and other plants) and creating honeydew and causing a huge mess.

If you are dealing with aphids and/ or honeydew right now, I would suggest blasting them with a high pressure water spray.  That suggestion may or may not be feasible for you depending on how tall the tree is that you are dealing with.  Treating the tree with an insecticide to reduce the aphid population is really not recommended, but if you feel that you MUST treat with an insecticide, then please hire a professional that has proper application equipment and BE AWARE OF DRIFT!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Beekeeping basics class in Bexar County

If you are interested in beekeeping or want to know what it entails to be a beekeeper, Texas AgriLife Extension in Bexar County will be hosting a Beekeeping Basics program, September 28- 29 2012.  The course is meant for those with very little to absolutely no experience with beekeeping.  The idea is to help those who have thought about starting a hive for honey production, hobby, environmental stewardship, etc.

This is a great program; you will learn a lot about beekeeping and bee biology.  This in Bexar County's second program, and it is highly recommended that you attend the field day on the 29th, as that is where you will learn the most about the everyday beekeeping world.  You will get to touch a beehive, wear a beesuit, manipulate the hive, do an inspection and really learn what a typical beekeepers day is all about.

September 28th is a classroom day, starting at 9AM and ending at 3PM.  Lunch and snacks will be provided.  Cost is $50, made out to the Bexar County Master Gardeners.  The class tends to fill up very fast so sign up early if you are interested.  Please see the following link for more information:

What: Beekeeping basics class
When: September 28-29, 2012
Where: Bexar County Extension Office 3355 Cherry Ridge, Suite 212 San Antonio, TX 78230
Cost: $50 (made out to Bexar County Master Gardeners)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Overrun with flies? Me too!

My family has a new pastime when we sit down to eat dinner.  Besides sharing our activities and things we learned and telling the boy (yet again) the story about the mean dragon, we stalk flies.  Have you been having a problem with flies?  They are driving me crazy...I think they're following me.  Hubby has compared them to Sammael from Hellboy, where you kill one and it multiplies.  The boy screeches "Mommy, get the fly smacker!" anytime he sees one fly past.  I am getting better at whacking them and even killed one when it flew past me in the air.

House fly.
People may be seeing house flies or, as in our case, blow flies.  These flies become more prevalent in the summer months due to an increase in population and a quick life cycle.  Under optimal conditions (such as now) they can go from egg to adult in 7 days!

House flies are about 3/8 of an inch with 4 dark stripes on the thorax.  The old "kid-thriller" of a fly spitting on your food when it lands is true; house flies have sponging mouthparts and need to dissolve solid food with saliva before slurping it up.  Adult females can lay hundreds of eggs.  Eggs are laid in warm, moist organic material in what I call "funky" areas- garbage, fecal material, decaying fruits and vegetables, lawn clippings or unmanaged compost piles. 

Blow flies resemble house flies, but are prettier (if possible with a fly).  They come in metallic colors of blue, bronze, green or black.  They lay their eggs in the same types of areas as house flies, but also are important a decomposers with animal carcasses.

Blow fly.
If you have a huge amount of flies emerge at once in your house, look for a broken sewer pipe or dead animal.  Also make sure that the garbage is being taken out often enough.  Since I don't have large numbers of flies at one time in my house paired with watching flies come in as the boy stands in the doorway arguing with me about some random item (like possibly closing the door so as to not let flies in....), my flies are coming in from outside.  I also know why I have them in the backyard- animal feces and the garbage area.  I pick up the dog poop at least once a week during the summer, but I think I need to bump that up to twice.  My garbage and recycling cans are already well away from any doorways to reduce flies from having easy access.  I also plan on cleaning my garbage and recycling cans out with soapy water and finishing it off with a 10% bleach solution rinse.

Other items to consider would be excluding the home to keep flies and other wee-beasties out.  There are also fly traps that contain a lure, but that's a little more effort than I want to expend.  I guess I'll stick to keeping my fly smacker (as the boy calls it) handy since I refuse to hang up random bags of water to "scare" off the flies.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Continuing Education Courses for Private & Structural License Holders

I’m offering a course in July for CEU credit for licensing by TDA (both private applicator & structural). 

Date: July 26, 2012
Time: 9AM- 12PM
Location: 1600-B Smith Road, Austin, TX 78721
Cost: $35.00

Texas AgriLife Extension will be providing continuing education credits for maintaining licensing with TDA (Texas Department of Agriculture). The credits are available for those holding private applicator licenses or structural pest control service licenses.

Presentations will be on the following topics:
  • Fire Ant Management
  • Landscape Pests
  • Basics of IPM (integrated pest management)
Private applicator credits: 2 general, 1 IPM
Structural applicator credits: 1 general IPM, 1 pest, 1 L&O
Space is limited to the first 30, paid registrants. Please register by July 13, 2012.

You can find the registration form here:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lacewing larvae

Lacewings are beneficial insects, right?  Well...that depends on the circumstance in my opinion.  I was definitely thinking that they were NOT beneficial when one of the little boogers BIT me!

Lacewing larvae.  Photo by Bart Drees.
It happened a few weeks ago when hubby, the boy and I were playing outside on the swingset.  The boy discovered the lacewing and asked what it was.  I plucked it off the playset and was holding it to show him, while explaining that they were so good because they helped to eat insects that feed on our plants.  It began to crawl up my arm as I explained (maybe that's the problem....explaining too much to a 3 year old) and that's when it happened.  I felt a sharp prick and in my surprise the larvae fell into the grass.  My arm turned instantly pink in the area.  While it didn't feel the best, it wasn't excruciating pain, it didn't last long and my pink mark lasted maybe an hour or so before fading.  I would guess that most people, if bitten, wouldn't even get the pink mark, but I have really sensitive skin and even something that is simple for most, like mosquito bites, turn into huge pinkish welts that last for a long time.

So, the moral of the story is....lacewing larvae are beneficial when they are eating unwanted insects such as aphids, not when they bite you!

If you are interested in learning more about beneficial insects, please attend my seminar next Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 9AM.  It will be held at the Travis County Extension Office at 1600-B Smith Road Austin, TX 78721.

I'll also be speaking the next day (June 14, 2012) from 10AM-12PM on Insect Pest Suppression Methods for Vegetables and Ornamentals.  That presentation will also be at the Extension office.

I do want to point out some other posts that you may find interesting.  Mike Merchant wrote an interesting post on tarantulas and their courtship.  Since I know many of you love it when you see tarantulas, you should check it out.  I've also been getting some calls recently about areas with high numbers of walkingsticks.  Molly Keck wrote a great post about walkingsticks that you can check out if you've been finding them lately.  And lastly, I would like to welcome my colleague Paul Nester to the world of blogging.  He recently started a blog about fire ants that you can check out for more information.

Friday, May 25, 2012


I'm not sure how many of you read the Austin American Statesman, but typhus made the news yesterday.

Typhus is a bacterial disease that can be spread by lice or fleas; fleas (rat fleas & cat fleas) are often the common vector.  Typhus is caused by one of two types of bacteria- Rickettsia typhi or Rickettsia prowazekii.  The type of typhus contracted depends upon the type of bacteria. 

R. typhi causes murine (also known as endemic) typhus.  It often occurs in the summer through fall and is rarely deadly.  Risk factors include exposure to rat fleas, rat feces or exposure to various animals such as cats, rats, skunks, raccoons or opossums.  Symptoms of murine typhus include abdominal pain, backache, diarrhea, headache, joint and muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, a high fever (105-106 F) and a dull red rash that begins on the torso and spreads.

R. prowazekii causes epidemic typhus.  Lice and fleas of flying squirrels spread this bacteria.  Symptoms of epidemic typhus include chills, cough, delirium, high fever (104 F), joint pain, light sensitivity, severe headache, severe muscle pain and a rash that starts on the torso and spreads out.

People get murine typhus from of an infected flea. Most fleas defecate while feeding, so the bacteria can enter the body through the bite wound or by the area being scratched. You may also get murine typhus by inhaling fecal material infected with the bacteria.

Treatment of typhus generally involves antibiotics.  Epidemic typhus may need intravenous fluids and oxygen as well.  If you suspect that you may have typhus, see a physician as soon as possible.

Of course, to reduce the chance of having flea-carrying organisms around, you can try the following:

  1. Do not leave pet food out over night.
  2. Make sure all garbage cans have tight fitting lids.
  3. Keep fire wood and other items off the ground.
  4. Keep yard maintained.
  5. Inspect the outside of the home and seal any areas where rodents may enter (use stainless steel mesh screening or flashing).
  6. If you have pets, use a monthly flea treatment (see your veterinarian for recommendations).
  7. If you have a flea infestation, treat it promptly.

Friday, April 13, 2012

East Austin Garden Fair: A Passion for Plants

There's a lot going on this weekend, but I would like to invite you (if you're in the Central Texas area) to some buggy things I have going on.

First, there's the 6th Annual East Austin Garden Fair.  I'll have a booth to discuss "good" bugs and "bad" bugs, so bring samples and/ or your questions.  Here's the skinny on the details:

Saturday, April 14, 2012
10AM- 2PM
Zaragoza Recreation Center- 2608 E. Gonzales Street, Austin, TX

Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the City of Austin are partnering to present the East Austin Garden Fair.  This year's theme is "Grow Well- Grow Your Own", offering lots of information on creating your own garden space.  Informational and activity booths will be offered for adults and children on various topics such as composting, rainwater harvesting, school gardens, insects (including pests), nutrition and exercise to name a few.  Information will be available in both English & Spanish.  Attendees will be eligible for a free plant.

The event is open to the public and parking & admission are free.

Another place you can catch me is at the Austin Tenant's Council Housing Fair.  I will be talking about bed bugs.  This one you need to go online and register for the talk.  Here are the details for the housing fair:

Saturday, April 14, 2012
10AM- 2PM (I speak at 12:15 & 12:55)
1640B E. 2nd Street, Austin, TX

Update on the boy:

I hope that everyone had  a great Easter.  We took it easy at our house, but the boy had a great time!  Please notice that the all important cars were in the basket and eggs hidden in the car wash....

Friday, March 16, 2012

Treating fire ants in certain backyard situations

With the combination of rainfall and warm temperatures, fire ants are already taking a very active role this spring.  We have numerous mounds in the demonstration garden in front of our office- I was out there Monday treating- and I'm sorry to say that I have several in my yard as well.  I plan to treat them this weekend as I explained to the boy last night. 

While I was fixing dinner, the boy went into the backyard to look for "roly-polies".  After he harassed the cat, he called into me to come outside.  I went to see what was up and he pointed to the fire ant mound right next to the patio and said "Mommy, you need to get rid of those fire ants!"  I explained that I would treat them this weekend.  "But mommy, you need to treat them now!"  I reiterated that they would be treated this weekend and suggested that he should go play out in the yard where there aren't any fire ants. "Okay, I'll go play on my pirate ship!"  Problem solved and I got to continue with dinner.

I've had questions about how to treat fire ants in certain areas.  While broadcasting baits over an area is a great idea to save time and reduce chemical use by not having to locate and treat each individual mound, baits may not be the best choice in certain situations. 

When treating in vegetable gardens or landscapes that have food crops interspersed between other plants, if you want to use a bait, you need to choose wisely.  There is a spinosad bait product that you can use within vegetable gardens and it would also be a good option for landscapes with food crops sprinkled about. Other items that can be used in vegetable gardens would be d-limonene mound drenches or pyrethrin/ DE dust.  Some people choose to drench individual mounds with boiling water, but you must be careful handling the water as well as be aware that boiling water will kill any vegetation it comes into contact with.

Compost piles are another possibly puzzling area for fire ant treatment.  Some choose to leave the fire ants within the compost pile because they can help to aerate the compost by creating tunnels and chambers.  The downfalls of leaving fire ants in place would be that they may feed on other creatures that live within the compost pile and you would need to figure out what to do with the stinging possibility when want to apply the compost.  Another option would be to use boiling water to drench the fire ant area of the compost.  Boiling water may kill off some of the beneficial organisms with in the compost.  It is also possible to bait around the outside of the compost with the product of your choice.

Regardless of your choice, please use caution when managing fire ants.  Not only should you read and follow all product label instructions, but also take care when around these stinging ants.

Friday, March 2, 2012

2012 Educational Programs on Insects

Want more information on insects?  Then join me every three months this year to learn about a variety of insect topics.  Here's what coming in 2012:

March 14, 2012 at 9AM- Bed bugs

June 13, 2012 at 9AM- Beneficials

September 12, 2012 at 9AM- Stinging & biting arthropods

December 12, 2012 at 9AM- Stored product pests

These programs are free of charge and will be held at the Travis County Extension Office at 1600-B Smith Road, Austin, TX 78721.  For additional information, please call me at 512-854-9600.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Science Ink by Carl Zimmer

Tattoos by Pat Beck of Arsenal Tattoo.
Science Ink by Carl Zimmer has been popping up here and there lately for me.  I saw images from the New York Times on my Facebook feed.  A day or so later I saw it pop up again on Science Friday and got to listen to the interview once I had downloaded the podcast.

I have added the book to my wishlist and hopefully hubby will buy it for me for some random holiday.  Just what every girl wants for Valentine's Day, right?  The images shown on the New York Times slide show were phenomenal.  And while there were not any insects in the slide show, I fully expect to see insect tattoos in the book since insects make up 80% of the world's species- it would be a gross misrepresentation to not have an animal that is so prevalent in the world.

During the interview on Science Friday, Zimmer talked about how he was flooded with responses when he put out the call for science related tattoos on his blog.  He also talked about many stories that came along with the tattoos- not the often thought of "I got drunk and got a tattoo", but personal stories where the tattoos were planned to commemorate an event (such as graduation) or a person.  I eagerly await getting the book so I can read about the stories behind the beautiful art of science tattoos.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Honey bee attacked by parasitic fly

First, I'll start by posting a link to the original story.  So in case you don't care to link to the original story and just want the highlights, here it goes.

  • So far this has only been found in California and South Dakota.
  • The fly, Apocephalus borealis, lays it's eggs in the abdomen of the honey bee.  Parasitized bees leave the hive and tend to congregate near lights.  After the parasitized bee dies, the fly emerges from the bee.
  • Genetic analysis has shown that the parasites are the same paraistic flies that attack bumble bees.
I've been getting emails from people who are concerned that this fly is the same parasitic fly that attacks fire ants (Solenopsis) and the answer is NO.  While both are in the family Phoridae, they are different species and even different genera.  The phorid fly that attacks Solenopsis is Pseudacteon spp.

Phorids are small to minute in size and have a humpbacked appearance.  Adults can be common in a variety of habitats.  Larvae can occur in fungi or decaying organic matter (both animal & vegetable), while others are internal parasites (or parasitoids) of other insects and still others may lives as parasites or commensals in the nests of termites or ants.  There are hundreds of genera and thousands of species of phorid flies.

For more information on how this may effect honey bee populations, please see this article.