Friday, November 17, 2017

Thanksgiving dinner conversation....

As we gear up for Turkey Day next week, I thought I would pop a bit of knowledge into the back of your brain that you can share with dinner companions. 

As you sit at the dinner table with your group, you can casually say "Did you know that there are allowable amounts of insects in our food?"

"No!" your companions will gasp.

"Yes!" you will insist.  "I learned about it on this really great blog I read.  You should subscribe to it!"

So, if you don't believe me about bugs in your food, check out this FDA site that has all the information you need for your conversation (and probably a bit more.....).

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Green lynx spider

Today our Travis County Master Gardener volunteers were working in our demonstration garden to tidy things up.  I always love when they come out as I get to interact with them directly with hands-on teaching moments.  Today, I was not disappointed.  One of them came in to see if I could tell them about a spider she found.  You can look at the title to figure out what it was....

Lynx spider eating a beeGreen lynx spiders are large, bright green spiders with slightly elongated abdomens and spiny legs.  They are usually found on shrubs and low-lying vegetation where they wait for insects to come in so they can ambush them and eat them.  Lynx spiders are generalist predators, which means that they do not specifically eat one type of food item, but a wide variety- generally whatever they can catch.  While they are considered to be beneficial, they will eat pollinators (food is food!).

The spiders that we found were mommas with babies...in this case, spiderlings.  You can see in the photos webbing that encases part of the plant also holds and protects offspring.  The female spider guards her spiderlings until they can fend for themselves. 

Lynx spider with spiderlingsSpiderlings remain near the egg sac for a little over a week and then they disperse to new locations by ballooning.  Ballooning is where spiderlings throw up a strand of silk to catch the wind which carries them to a new location.  I hope that I am here when this happens as I found four lynx mommas with babies (that could be about 800 spiderlings!!).



Friday, October 20, 2017

Asp a.k.a. puss caterpillars

These have been a hot news item lately in Central Texas.  I did a news interview & Facebook Live broadcast yesterday to talk about them.
Asp or puss caterpillar
While these teardrop shaped caterpillars look soft and touchable, they are NOT! Asps have spines attached to venom glands that can lead to a nasty sting, rash, and other issues. Some people may have a more severe reaction than others and where you are stung (thickness of the skin) can effect things. You can read my previous post on asps HERE.

KVUE story here:
http://www.kvue.com/news/fact-vs-fiction-the-asp-caterpillar/484727108

My technical skills are lacking, so I have no idea how to share the Facebook Live video outside of Facebook, but if you want to see it you can go to KVUE's Facebook page to find it.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Glowing Scorpions

Emperor scorpionTuesday evening, I had the opportunity to attend KLRU's Next Nights.  Since it's October, they wanted some "spooky" things, so I headed over with the menagerie of arthropods.  Unknown to me until about half way through the event, the night was to showcase Strange Town, KLRU's show on paranormal adventures.  Apparently, the location of the event is haunted!  To fit in with the paranormal/ haunting theme, the event was
lighted appropriately, but fortunately we had flashlights to highlight things that were a bit difficult to see with the lights dimmed.  The lighting did help to highlight one of the specimens in a most excellent manner- my Emperor scorpion.  I had brought a black light with me to set over the tank and it was glowing beautifully!

Emperor scorpion glowing under UV light.When scorpions have the capability (as not all scorpions will glow) to fluoresce, both live and dead specimens glow under ultraviolet (black) light. The glow comes from chemicals that are found within the cuticle which is part of the exoskeleton. Fluorescence occurs as a result of sclerotization (hardening of the exoskeleton) and becomes more pronounced with each successive molt.  Scientists are unsure why scorpions glow.

Many scorpion collectors take advantage of this fact by utilizing a UV light at night to locate and find scorpions. Are you brave enough to shine a black light in your backyard to see what's lurking there?

Friday, September 22, 2017

FREE Webinar series- All Bugs Good & Bad

Have you been watching the FREE webinar series All Bugs Good & Bad?  It happens the first Friday of each month at 1PM Central time.  If you are just now joining in, don't fret because past webinars are available online.

Argentine antsThe next webinar is all about invasive ants.  I know here in Texas we have a fair amount of invasive ants, so this one would be a good one to watch.  Here
's the skinny:

WHEN: Friday, October 6, 2017
WHERE: online click here

New invasive ant species?  Yes, when we think we know about all the ant species, along comes new invasive ants capable of invading our space.  Dr. Timothy Davis, University of Georgia Agriculture and Natural Resources, Chatham County Extension Coordinator will introduce to these new invasive ant species that we should know about, assisted by Vicky Bertagnolli-Heller, Clemson University Extension. 


Moderated by Tim Crow and Eric Schavey, Regional Extension Agents, Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Note: on October 6, the link to the live webinar opens about 15 minutes before the webinar. If you try to log in earlier, you will get an error message.
For more webinars in this series, see 2017 All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar Series. The webinars are brought to you by the following eXtension Communities of Practice: Ant Pests, and Urban IPM; and by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Clemson Cooperative Extension and University of Georgia Extension.

You can find information about past and future presentations in this webinar series online HERE.  If you want to watch one of the past presentations, click on the one you are interested in, look in the right top corner of the page, and click "watch recording".

Friday, September 8, 2017

September 9, 2017- What I'm seeing

Insects that I've been getting the most questions on lately are:


1. MOSQUITOES- why are they so HUGE?!
These are floodwater mosquitoes and I'm going to direct you to some great articles that were recently released to provide with all the details.  Click HERE and HERE

2. Hackberry psyllids are back!
Have you been seeing tiny fly-like insects piling up on your windowsill?  If so, you may have hackberry psyllids.  These are pretty common around here in the late summer into fall.  You can see my previous post on them HERE.

3. Floating masses of fire ants- EEK!
If you are in an area that was affected by recent flooding events or you are going to volunteer/ clean up in an area, then please be aware that fire ants can float on flood waters and have possibly moved into new locations.  Take precaution when moving debris!  You can read more on this HERE

Friday, August 25, 2017

Heartworms

I know that heartworms are not an insect (they are a parasitic roundworm), but they are transmitted by mosquitoes so I feel I am within my bailiwick.  So why write about heartworms now?  Today, on my google calendar I have scheduled that my dogs are to get their heartworm preventative.  This task was added to my calendar way back in 2015 and was set to repeat monthly without end.  I also set up my calendar to send me an email reminder on the day, so I don't forget to give my dogs heartworm preventative. I would encourage you to set a reminder for your pets to get their heartworm preventative each month.

large and small dogHeartworms, Dirofilaria immitis, live in the lungs, hearts, and associated blood vessels of various pets (dogs, cats*, and ferrets).  Other animals, such as coyotes, wolves, and foxes, can also get heartworm disease. D. immitis are spread through the bite of a mosquito (Aedes, Culex, Anopholes, Mansonia).

Adult female heartworms living within a dog release offspring, called microfilariae, into the animal's bloodstream.  When a hungry female mosquito comes along and gets blood meal, she ingests the microfilariae and becomes infected.  Under the right environmental conditions, the next 10-14 days can cause the microfilariae to become infective larvae.  At this point, when the infected female mosquito bites another dog (or cat, ferret, etc.) the larvae are transferred to the animal through the bite wound.  When a dog is newly infected, it takes 6-7 months for the infective larvae to mature to adulthood.  Once the adult heartworms mate, the cycle can begin anew.

Heartworms can live within a dog for 5-7 years.  Males reach 4-6 inches long while females can be 10-12 inches long.  The average number of worms in dogs is 15, but can number from 1- 250.  Symptoms depends upon worm burden (how many worms are within the dog).  Dogs with low worm burdens can be asymptomatic, while those with heavy burdens can have exercise intolerance, hypertension, and possible failure of the right side of the heart.

*Both indoor and outdoor cats can get heartworm disease.  Cats are not as susceptible as dogs and heartworms do not thrive within cats.

The best treatment for heartworms is PREVENTION!  Check with your veterinarian about the best preventative method for your dogs and cats.  Remember, we have mosquitoes year round here in Texas, so your heartworm preventative also needs to be all year.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Ensign wasps...they're the good guys (actually, girls)

Ensign waspHave you seen an insect in your house that kind-of looks like a fly, but not exactly?  It will be black in color, but the stunning and key feature is the abdomen; it comes off the top of the abdomen and looks similar to a triangular flag.

I know of many people who have asked me about this "weird house fly" and when I tell them they shouldn't squish they look at me like I'm crazy.  These "weird house flies" are ensign wasps and they help to manage cockroach populations.

The female ensign wasps seek out cockroach egg cases, known as ootheca, where she will lay an egg in one of the cockroach eggs inside the egg case.  The wasp's egg will hatch and the larva will eat the egg in which is was laid. Successive instars of the larva eat the other eggs within the egg case.  The wasp pupates within the cockroach egg case and the adult emerges out when ready.

These wasps are not known to sting humans.

So what should you do if you find one in your house?  Leave the wasp alone and look for cockroaches!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Did you know?.....the insect version


  • A bed bug can take up to six times it's body weight in blood during a feeding session
  • Monarch butterflies were named after King William, Prince of Orange (see the connection....) who later was named King of England
  • Fleas can jump up to 200 times their body length
  • The heaviest insect is the Giant Weta from New Zealand
  • You can buy art created by a stag beetle on ebay....no joke!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Harvestmen, Daddy-longlegs or that weird, pulsing blob on the front porch

I received a wonderful photo this past week and was thrilled when I was told that I could use it on my blog- thanks Jackie!  The photo is the inspiration of today's post.

clumped harvestmen
Clumped harvestmen.  Photo by Jackie Johnson.
Harvestmen, also sometimes called Daddy-longlegs, are arachnids but are NOT spiders.  Harvestmen are actually in their own order, Opiliones, whereas spiders are in the order Araneae.  Harvestmen have one basic body section, two eyes, and eight legs.  They live in moist habitats and usually are found under rocks or logs.

The two questions I get in regards to harvestmen typically are:
1.  Why do they clump together?
2. Is it really true that they are the most venomous spider, but their fangs cannot penetrate our skin?

Sit down everyone, because your wish is coming true....the TRUTH ABOUT HARVESTMEN.....

harvestmen
Harvestmen on branch.
Let's begin with #1- Harvestmen clump together for multiple reasons.  First off, a clump of harvestmen looks a lot larger and scarier than a single harvestmen, so can help to cause predators to think twice about wanting to have them as a meal.  Secondly, harvestmen release a smell that is somewhat stinky (I was going to say smelly, but aren't all smells smelly?).  Again, with the smell, there is a benefit to larger numbers....the smell is more pronounced to help repel predators.  So, it basically comes down to what we teach our kids....there is safety in numbers.

Moving on to #2- We can begin with the most obvious point that was covered already....harvestmen are NOT spiders.  Next, I need to say that harvestmen do not have venom glands or fangs.  They typically feed on decomposing plant and animal matter.

So, there you have it.  You're burning questions about harvestmen are now answered.  I think this would be a great topic to discuss this weekend around the dinner table.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Summer is here....and so are cicadas!

Cicada adult and exuviaeHave you been hearing loud noises in trees when you go outside lately? Male cicadas are well known for their "song".  They rest on trees and produce a whining sound that is attractive to females (cicada females, that is...). The sound is produced by two vibrating membranes on the side of the cicada abdomen.  Fortunately, for those who do not enjoy the "music", female cicadas do not "sing".

Cicadas are fairly large insects with some growing over 1 1/2 inches. Color can vary depending upon the species, but many are browns and greens.  All cicadas have bulging eyes and, on adults, wings that are held roof-like over the body.  The wings are semi-transparent with thick veins.

Cicadas have a 2-5 year life cycle, the majority of which is spent underground.  After mating, females insert egg clusters into branches of trees using their saw-like ovipositor (egg laying structure).  Eggs hatch after about 6 weeks and small nymphs drop to the ground where they burrow into the soil. Nymphs feed on the sap of tree roots with their piercing-sucking mouthparts.  After nymphs have fully developed, they emerge from the ground at night and climb up nearby objects like tree trunks, plants, fences, etc.  Adult cicadas emerge from the last nymphal stage, leaving behind the exuviae (cast skin/ exoskeleton).  Adults can live 5-6 weeks.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Mid-year check on bug webinar series watching

Have you been tuning in the first Friday of each month to the All Bugs Good and Bad webinar series? If you have no idea what I'm writing about or you possibly missed one or more along the way, FEAR NOT....we've got you covered!

American dog tickEach webinar has been taped for your viewing convenience (yes, you can watch in your PJs at home if you want).  All you have to do is click on the link of the webinar you want to view below and then click the green circle with the white arrow button next to "watch recording" in the upper right corner of the webpage that pulls up.

Webinars that have been completed so far in 2017:

Don't Let Tramp Ants Take Over Your Home

Protect Your Veggie Harvest From Hungry Insects

Mosquitoes and Insect Borne Diseases

Ticks

Aphids, Scales and, Whiteflies

We also have more webinars scheduled for the rest of the year beginning August 4th with me talking about various flies.  Webinars are the first Friday of each month at 2 PM Eastern time (that's 1 PM here in Texas).

The rest of 2017's schedule:

Drain flies, house flies, and fungus gnats- August 4th

Meet our native pollinators- September 1st

New invasive ants to know about- October 6th

Pantry pests, carpet beetles, and clothes moths- November 3rd

Don't let bed bugs hamper your vacation plans- December 1st (this one is my hubby speaking!).

The 2017 Webinars are brought to you by the Ant Pests and Urban IPM eXtension Communities of Practice; and by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the University of Georgia ExtensionTexas A&M AgriLife Extension and Clemson Cooperative Extension.  Series Coordinators: Dani Carroll and Kathy Flanders, Auburn University.  Marketing: Amanda Tedrow, University of Georgia Extension.  Webinar Text Chat Moderators: Tim Davis, University of Georgia Extension, and Vicky Bertagnolli-Heller, Clemson Cooperative Extension.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Austin’s 10th Annual BugFest

Event: Austin’s 10th Annual BugFest
When: Saturday, June 10th at 4-8:00 PM
Where: At in.gredients 2610 Manor Rd, Austin, Texas 78722

Tickets:
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/10th-annual-austin-bug-eating-festival-tickets-34667068134

What: Open to the public and free for kids, BugFest is your chance to learn about insects as food for people, pets and livestock. Taste food made with insects, see Chef Josh Jones, Co-Founder of Salt & Time and Chef PV do bug cooking demonstrations, enjoy SPUN ice cream, kids activity tables hosted by ATX urban farm, Green Gate Farm and GirlsEmpowerment Network. Hear the Austin premier of BugFest theme song by Fragile Rock, an emo puppet band kicking off their NPR, “Tiny Desk Concert Series”

Activities: 4-8pm:
Live Music by puppet emo-rock band Fragile Rock • Bug Cooking Demos by Chef Josh Jones, Co-Founder of Salt & Time and Chef PV of “Buggin’ Out” kids’ video education series • Table-to-Farm demos by GrubTubs • Ento Raffle • Enjoy SPUN cricket crunch ice cream

Booths:
SPUN Ice Cream • Aketta, Austin’s own cricket farm & maker of cricket snacks • Sway Water • Green Gate Farm, ATX urban farm • Girls Empowerment Network • GrubTubs FullFridge, an ATX meal delivery startup • Slow Food AustinDelysia Chocolatier • Kids activities table with Little Herds P.E.A.S., partners for education agriculture and sustainability • Ento Raffle 

Sponsors:
Mercado Mio, gourmet Oaxaca crickets products & imports • Aketta, ATX cricket farm & maker of cricket snacks • Entomo Farms, North America’s largest Edible Insect farm • Delysia Chocolatier • Chirps, cricket chips • Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch, Denver based edible Insects farm • Slow Food • P.E.A.S. • GrubTubs • Lithic Nutrition, cricket protein bars • SeedsOf Action #BugsEndHunger Awareness Campaign • SPUN Ice Cream 

4:15- 8:00 pm Kids Activity Tables & Bug Tasting table & Ento Raffle
4:55 pm Bug Cooking Demos by Chef Josh Jones, Co-Founder of Salt & Time, SPUN Ice Cream and Chef PV 
of “Buggin’ Out” kids’ video education series
5:00-8:00 pm Live music – Fragile Rock, an emo puppet band

9:00-10:45pm Film Screening - Stick around afterwards, in.gredients will be staying open late to host a screening of the documentary film "Bugs On The Menu." Entry is free for anybody with a BugFest ticket!

Connect With Us on Social
Facebook Event Page https://www.facebook.com/events/291577991255943/
Twitter hashtag: #ATXBugFest, @LittleHerds

About Us

Little Herds educates and empowers local and global communities to use insects for food and feed. Locally, Little Herds has hosted over 100 insect education events, feeding over 10,000 people. Internationally, Little Herds is partnering with Farms for Orphans and Entomo Farms to build cricket farms in orphanages in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the U.S., Little Herds is working on GrubTubs, a Black Soldier Fly Larvae Up-cycling Pilot Project in Austin, Texas. Austin’s BugFest is fundraising for #BugsEndHunger Awareness Campaign –– founded by Little Herds and Seeds Of Action–– to build an “Open Source Farming Insects Guide”, an education tool for small and family insect farms. • http://www.littleherds.org 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Walnut caterpillars

An outbreak of walnut caterpillars has recently been reported in Fort Bend county.  These caterpillars can be found on pecan, walnut, and hickory as well as oak, willow and various woody shrubs. Walnut caterpillars have chewing mouthparts and can defoliate trees.


Walnut caterpillars live together in a group after hatching out of the eggs. As they grow, they are reddish-brown and become covered with long, white hairs. Larger larvae are covered in white hair and can grow up to 2 inches long.

Walnut caterpillar first instar larvae and egg mass
Walnut caterpillar larvae first instar and egg mass. Photo by Bill Ree.
The way damage appears depends upon the stage of caterpillar you have.  Young caterpillars only feed on soft tissue of foliage, so you get skeletonized leaves.  Older larvae eat all parts of the leaf.  The majority of damage is caused by the last few instars of the caterpillar.  This leads to the conclusion that scouting for these insects early and often can help you control walnut caterpillars before too much damage occurs.

If you discover egg masses or newly hatched larvae in a cluster, you can remove the infested leaves by hand and dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag.  Groups of caterpillars found on the tree trunk or branches while they are molting can be squished or treated with insecticide.
Walnut caterpillars third instar. Photo by Bill Ree.
Walnut caterpillar larvae third instar. Photo by Bill Ree.

If walnut caterpillars are found on your trees, then you can treat them with Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki which is a product that targets caterpillars.  Other possible active ingredients that can be used include: spinosad, azadirachtin (neem), pyrethrins, or a pyrethroid product.

If you have an outbreak of walnut caterpillars, please contact Bill Ree as he is tracking this information.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Stink bugs- have you seen me?

immature stink bug genus ChlorochroaYesterday as I was perusing the demo garden outside the office for insects (it's how I take a break...) when I came across a plethora of stink bugs.  There were adults. There were nymphs. There were even eggs!  I took photos and planned on using them for some future endeavor at the time unknown me to when.....


stink bug genus Chlorochroa
.....today seems to be the time for the photos.  I received an email this morning asking what the bug was that I had discovered in such high numbers yesterday.  I am assuming that since I'm now getting emails, it means that they are not only in East Austin, but in many other places as well.  Head out to your gardens and take a look to see if you can find stink bugs!

The stink bugs I found are in the genus Chlorochroa.  They can be from 8-19 mm (1/4-3/4") and can range in color from green to brown to black.  Around the edge of the body there is a white to yellow to reddish-orange stripe.  Nymphs and adults feed on plants.

stink bug eggs genus ChlorochroaIf you have these critters, you can try one of my favorite ways to manage stink bugs....the vacuum. You don't want to use your regular, household vacuum, but have one specifically for the garden.  I find that cordless, hand-held models are quick to grab and easy to use in the garden.  Don't buy a top of the line model with a lot of suction as they will also suck up a good bit of your plants.  Another option is to hand pick and dump the bugs into a bucket of soapy water.  If you find eggs, then either pluck off the leaf and throw it away or squish the eggs.

If you're not into vacuuming or hand picking, then you can try pesticides with active ingredients such as azadirachtin (neem), pyrethrins, lambda-cyhalothrin, beta-cyfluthrin, or imidacloprid.  If you have nymphs, you can try using an insecticidal soap.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Spittlebugs

spittlebug spittleI'm sure that you've seen spittlebugs somewhere recently.  They seem to be everywhere this spring.  When I was little, I remember walking through the fields by our house and the plants would be covered with spittlebugs.  My mom would tell me that it was frog spit and if I touched it I would get warts.  So how do you test a hypothesis?  You experiment. This led me to the aforementioned fields covered with "spit".  Imagine my delight and surprise when I discovered an insect buried in the middle of all that "spit".  ....I did wonder for quite some time about the wart thing.....I ended up getting a wart on my finger......

Spittlebug immatures are the ones that create spittle.  They are a small, yellowish-green, wingless insects that resemble a leafhopper.  Spittle is created as protection from predators and adverse environmental conditions; its a mixture of air and an excretion from their alimentary canal.

spittlebugSpittlebugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts that are used to puncture plants and feed on juices.  While heavy feeding can lead to distortion of the plant, typically damage is negligible and control is not needed.

If you feel the need to manage spittlebugs, or you are just grossed out by the spittle, you can remove it and the insects using a jet of water.

Friday, April 21, 2017

2017 All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar Series: Ticks

When: Friday, May 5th, 1:00PM CDT
Where: online
https://extension.zoom.us/j/332261879

tickIn this webinar, Dr. Thomas Mather, Professor, University of Rhode Island,  (aka "the tick guy") will talk about an important arachnid, ticks.  Ticks that you do and don't see as well as how to protect yourself, your family, and your pets will be discussed.  Moderated by Ellen Huckabay and Bethany O'Rear, Regional Extension Agents, Alabama Extension. Click here to login as a guest and participate in the live event.   Note: on May 5th, the link to the live webinar opens about 15 minutes before the webinar. If you try to log in earlier, you will get an error message.

For more webinars in this series, see 2017 All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar Series. The webinars are brought to you by the following eXtension Communities of Practice: Ant Pests, and Urban IPM; and by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Clemson Cooperative Extension and University of Georgia Extension.

Friday, March 17, 2017

2017 East Austin Garden Fair

It's that time of year for everyone's favorite garden fair!  Come join us for the fun!

When: Saturday, April 8, 2017 from 9AM- 2PM

Where: Parque Zaragosa Recreation Center- 2608 Gonzales Street Austin, TX

Cost: FREE!!

Free and open to the public, this fun, hands-on fair involves community members in creative, low-cost ways to grow vegetables, herbs and fruit to improve the family diet as well as information about Earth-Kind landscaping. Travis County Master Gardeners offer University-based information to fairgoers on a diverse variety of horticulture topics, while Community Partner Organizations provide information on closely-related services, programs and projects.

The fair features an assortment of DIY and demonstration activities, including building a rain barrel, raised bed or compost bin, and information about waterwise irrigation methods and gardening in containers and straw bales.  Learn how to care for house plants as well as your garden tools!  Booths on backyard chickens and beekeeping are a big hit with all ages and there will be plenty of activities for kids.

Free soil screening for gardeners will be offered through Austin Resource Recovery. To have soil tested for metals, pH and nutrients, attendees need to bring a 2-cup soil sample in a quart-size zip-lock bag. Instructions for soil sampling can be found at http://austintexas.gov/soilkitchen.

Free vegetable, herb and ornamental plants will be given to attendees while supplies last.


Community partners and new participants in the fair include the Sustainable Food Center, Green Corn Project, Home Depot Kid’s Workshop, Austin Public Library, Austin Resource Recovery, City of Austin-Urban Forestry, 4-H CAPITAL AmeriCorps, Travis County 4-H, Travis County Master Wellness Volunteers, the Travis County Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the Cooperative Extension Program-Prairie View A&M University.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Yucca plant bug

Do you have yucca planted in your landscape?  Have you checked it lately for pest problems?  I know that it seems early to start checking for pests but I walked past the yucca at the office this week and it is covered with yucca plant bugs already.

Yucca plant bugs are in the order Hemiptera and are related to other sucking pests such as stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs, but are much smaller.  Adult yucca plant bugs have a bright reddish-orange head and thorax with dark bluish-black wings.  Immature yucca plant bugs (nymphs) look similar to adults but do not have fully developed wings.  Since immatures do not have their wings fully developed, they're more red than black in color.


Both immatures and adults feed on plants by piercing plant tissue with their mouthparts causing yellowing spots on the foliage.

These little critters can sometimes be a challenge to manage since when you go to treat for them, they all dive into the center of the yucca into the nooks and crannies to hide.  You can try products with active ingredients such as insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, azadirachtin (neem), pyrethrins or bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, or carbaryl.  You will need to get good coverage to make sure that you get the pesticide to where the insects are hiding (and be careful not to get stabbed by the yucca!).

Friday, February 3, 2017

FREE Webinar series- 2017 All Bugs Good & Bad

The 2017 webinar series All Bugs Good and Bad starts today (Friday, February 3, 2017). Please join us for this webinar series for information you can use about good and bad insects.  We used your feedback to bring topics that you suggested for 2017.   We will discuss troublesome insects such as invasive ants, landscape pests, vegetable pests, and house dwellers as well as arachnids too.  Not all insects are bad, though, come and meet some of our native pollinators!  The series kicks off today with “Don’t let tramp ants take over your home”!

Friday, February 3 at 1:00 pm CST

It's frustrating when ants march into our homes, schools, and buildings. Tramp ants such as Argentine ants and odorous house ants can be very frustrating to deal with especially if we are trying to control them the wrong way. Get a plan! Learn practical tips for preventing problems from these pests in this webinar presented by Dr. Karen Vail, Professor, University of Tennessee.  Moderated by Mallory Kelley and David Koon, Regional Extension Agents, Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Click here to login as a guest and participate in the live event.   Note: on February 3, the link to the live webinar opens about 15 minutes before the webinar. If you try to log in earlier, you will get an error message. 

For more webinars in this series, see 
2017 All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar Series. The webinars are brought to you by the following eXtension Communities of Practice: Ant Pests, and Urban IPM; and by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension ServiceClemson Cooperative Extension and University of Georgia Extension.

Please note that the connection room is different (and easier!) this year. 


Schedule for the 2017 series:

February 3: Don’t let tramp ants take over your home; Dr. Karen Vail

March 3: Protect your veggie harvest from hungry insects; Zach Snipes

April 7: Mosquitoes and insect borne diseases; Dr. Derrick Mathias

May 5: Ticks; Dr. Thomas Mather

June 2: Aphids, scales, and whiteflies; Erfan Vafaie

August 4: Drain flies, house flies, and fungus gnats; Wizzie Brown

September 1: Meet our native pollinators; Molly Keck

October 6: New invasive ants to know about; Dr. Timothy Davis

November 3: Pantry pests, carpet beetles, and clothes moths; Dr. Eric Benson

December 1: Don’t let bed bugs hamper your vacation plans; Alan Brown

Friday, January 20, 2017

Why entomology? Why study bugs?

I often get the questions of today's topic posed to me when I meet people.  Why did you go into entomology?  How did you decide to work with bugs?

It all started when I was a kid.  I loved insects.  I have various memories throughout my childhood that pointed to my future career as an entomologist, but I didn't know at the time that I could work with insects and get paid for it.

In 5th grade, we were assigned to research and write a report on the animal of our choice.  My friends picked normal things like dogs or giraffes or penguins.  What did I choose to do my report on?  Ticks.  Yes, you read it correctly.  The animal I wrote about was a blood-sucking ectoparasite known to transmit various diseases to mammals.  Why did I forego learning and writing about something cute and cuddly?  I could be glib and just say that I'm weird, which is true but doesn't quite give a complete answer.  We had three large dogs when I was a kid and lived in the middle of nothing.  Ticks- picking them off the dogs, checking yourself for them when you came in from playing outside, smashing the engorged ones with a hammer (not the best idea, I know now....)- were a way of life.  I wanted to know more about them and the report was the perfect way to accomplish my goal.

In 6th grade we were introduced to science fair.  We had to come up with a hypothesis, test it, draw conclusions and report on it.  What did I choose for this project?  I decided to buy an ant farm and build an ant farm to test which one would make the ants happier (i.e. tunnel further through the substrate).  This little project was inspired by one of my very favorite books to read as a small child- Ants are Fun by Mildred Myrick.  Yes, I was weird even as a small child.  I can admit it now.  The book was about a kid that just moved into a new house and his curious neighbor wondering what the new kid was doing digging around in the yard.  The new kid loved ants and had made an ant farm, so inspiration! I thought it would be a great idea to make my own ant farm.

Let's jump to high school where I got to go to Ohio State (it was called that back then, as opposed to THE Ohio State University) to tour the biological sciences department and learn about the different programs they had.  Entomology was one of those programs.  I was enchanted and giddy at the thought of learning more about insects.  For some reason, when I finally got around to going to Ohio State after graduating from high school, I decided I wanted to be a geneticist.  I began that course of study, changed to biology and then finally got around to taking an entomology class after I got all of my science prerequisites completed.  I changed my major to entomology about two weeks into the entomology course.  I remember calling my mom to tell her about changing my major and she said "What are you going to do with that?!"

Fortunately, things have worked out well for me.  I have two degrees in entomology, married an entomologist (who doesn't mind bugs in the freezer....the engineer I dated during undergrad was not fond of looking for food and finding bugs), and now my mom has someone to call whenever she has a bug that she needs to have identified.

Friday, January 6, 2017

It's freezing outside. Why are all the insects not dead?

So as I sit in my cozy office (with my sweater, scarf, fingerless gloves, and heater) I consider the poor insects that are having to deal with the drastic flip-flopping of the weather the past few weeks.  We've seen temperatures in the 20's and temperatures in the 80's, so I'm sure that they are a bit confused.  I was asked last week when it was warm how the mosquitoes came back so quickly if they died when it was freezing.  Well.......

Insects have certain adaptations that allow them to survive when temperatures get cold.  If you really think about it, they still have bugs in Minnesota when it warms up and they have to deal with much colder and longer winters than we do here in Texas (just ask my neighbors who are transplants from Minnesota).

Just like the snowbirds that drive their RVs to Texas or Florida to spend the winter, there are certain groups of insects that migrate to new areas to spend the winter where temperatures are not as cold.  A great example of this is the Monarch butterfly.

Another example that can be put into "human relation" terms would be insects that use cryoprotectants (anti-freeze compounds).  The most commonly used compound that insects use for this purpose is ethylene glycol, which is the same compound that is in antifreeze that humans put into our vehicles.  Ethylene glycol allows the insect's body tissues to supercool and remain above their freezing point.

Freeze tolerance is another modification that some insects use to survive freezing. With this method, freezing causes water to be forced out of living cells and causes the fluid around them to freeze.  These insects also need to empty their digestive tract as food can hold water which could freeze and cause problems.  Freeze tolerance is easier for smaller insects due to the fact that they have less fluid in their body because of their small size.

Some insects may gather together to create collective heat.  Honey bees do this inside the hive during the winter to keep warm.

Other insects seek areas of shelter in the immediate area where it is not so cold.  A good example of this is the ladybugs from my previous blog post.   These insects move into homes through cracks and crevices or other areas that are not well sealed when it gets cold.  This can lead them indoors to become nuisance pests.

I haven't covered all the methods that are used, so don't expect all the bugs to die just because it's freezing outside.  Like the Terminator...."they'll be back!".