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!