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!