Friday, November 12, 2010

Fruit Flies

You would think that since hubby and I are both entomologists that we would have a bug-free home, right? Wrong! We currently have fruit flies flying around in the kitchen. I know what they are and where they're coming from which are the biggest mysteries to solve when you have problems with small flies, so I'm well on my way to getting rid of them. We compost our kitchen scraps and the bin has gotten a bit ripe (and full), so I need to dump it into the compost pile outside and wash out the container.

Fruit flies can become a problem at any time of year because they are attracted to ripe or fermenting fruit. You can also be lucky and bring fruit flies home with you from the store sometimes. I'm sure that you've been grocery shopping and see tiny flies fluttering near the bananas or tomatoes.

So how do you tell fruit flies from other small flies you may find in your house? Adults are small (about 1/8 of an inch) and usually have red eyes. The front portion of the body is tan while the back portion is dark brown or black. If given the opportunity, females can lay up to 500 eggs. Larvae feed near the surface of fermenting foods or other organic matter.

Prevention is the best way to deal with fruit flies. Do not purchase over ripened fruit or vegetables. Fruit and vegetables should be eaten in a timely manner or stored in the refrigerator. If storage in the refrigerator is not an option because you are ripening the item, place it in a paper bag and use a clothespin or chip clip to close the bag. All recyclables should be rinsed thoroughly before placing them into the recycling bin. The recycling bin and garbage can (and compost bin!) should be cleaned out on a regular basis to eliminate any material that would attract the flies.

To eliminate a fruit fly infestation, all sources must be located and eliminated. Insecticides will not help if you do not get rid of where the flies are breeding. While searching and eliminating the source (breeding area), a trap can be constructed to capture adult flies. Create a paper funnel by rolling a piece of paper and securing it with a piece of tape. Place the funnel into a jar that contains a small amount of apple cider vinegar in the bottom. Instructables has a how-to on this process (but skip the hot glue gun & go for tape instead).

Photo of trap from

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pecan Weevils (Central Texas)

Pecan harvest is under way and I was recently contacted by a colleague who handles all things pecan. Pecan weevil has not been recorded before from Travis County (and several other counties...see map below), so we're asking you to be our eyes in the field. If you suspect pecan weevil, please contact me.
Look for BB size exit holes in pecans.

Pecan weevil adults are brownish beetles about 3/8 of an inch long with long snouts. Larvae (grubs) are creamy-white with a brownish head capsule.

Adult weevils become active in late August- early September. Both adult male and female weevils can damage nuts by feeding on or laying eggs (females) on pecans.

After mating, females chew a hole in a pecan shell and deposit their eggs inside. Larvae feed and develop inside the pecan shell. Full grown larvae then chew out of the shell and drop to the ground to create a cell in the soil. Full grown larvae and adults spend the winter in the soil about 4-12 inches deep.

For more information on pecan weevil biology, please see the Texas AgriLife Extension Service publication.

Again, if you live in a county on the map above that is not red (without pecan weevils being confirmed) and you suspect that you may have them, please contact me. I would need to come out and collect suspected damaged pecans and record the GPS coordinates. Images are from Bill Ree- thanks Bill!

Friday, October 8, 2010

My future: Head Lice

So what's with the title? Well, I'm just going to make the assumption that once the boy enters school, at some point, he will bring home lice. Just think, I'll have some great samples for my collection, right?

I was prompted to write this because I recently received an email asking about managing head lice. There, of course, are a lot of home remedies out there swirling around via word of mouth and now, the internet. I'm not going to mention specific home remedies here because I really don't want to perpetuate things that have not been scientifically proven to work.

First of all, do not panic. Lice are not know to transmit any diseases. You can contact your physician, school nurse or the Texas Department of Health for instructions on how to treat lice. The major items that you will most likely do are:
1. use an effective head louse treatment
2. remove nits (eggs) from the head (via combing hair- there is a special comb for this task)
3. remove lice & nits from the household (vacuuming, laundering and/ or freezing/ heating of objects)
4. daily head checks & nit removal until infestation is gone; then weekly checks to avoid reinfestation
5. contact those who have been in close contact with the infested person (school, friends, etc.)

If you find out about a lice infestation at your child's school, inspect the child's hair daily and then treat if necessary. If a member of your family is discovered with lice, then all family members must be inspected and treated if necessary.

There are head louse shampoos that should be used with care. It is very important to read and follow all label instructions. You will need to do two shampoo treatments, spaced 7-10 days apart. Remember, you are applying an insecticide, so use gloves when shampooing and keep the shampoo in the head hair region only. You may want to wash the person's hair in a sink to make sure the product gets rinsed out without being in bath water or rising over the body during a shower. You may want to consult you or your child's physician to get product recommendations.

Combing the hair to remove nits is a crucial part of a lice management program. There are special lice combs that are specific to this purpose. Have the person comb/ brush their hair to remove any tangles (this comb/ brush will need to be either bagged and stuck in the freezer or washed well in hot, soapy water). Then they should sit under a bright light so you can divide their hair into sections. Examine the sections for nits and lice and work the comb through the hair. You can clean the comb by dipping it into hot, soapy water. If you are treating a child, even maybe some adults, you may want to pop in their favorite DVD before starting. It may take a bit of time to thoroughly inspect their hair.

Clothing and bedding should be laundered. If items cannot be laundered, dry cleaning is another option. Stuffed animals can be placed (non-washed) into the dryer on high to heat for around an hour. Items that cannot be washed or put into the dryer- headphones, bike helmets, etc.- can be placed into a sealed plastic bag and stuck in the freezer for a couple of days. Vacuum the home well, making sure to get under couch cushions, along edges, under furniture, etc.

For more information on lice and images, read Human Lice. It's a pdf file, so it might take awhile to download.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown

Apparently the local fire ants have decided to celebrate fire ant awareness week by attacking my child. He got stung on Monday twice by the little boogers. As soon as this rain is gone, it's on! Those fire ants will be going down when I bait my yard.

The boy of course was too busy transferring toys from the sandbox to his kiddie pool to really notice that he even got stung. Still, I know what those ants did. The gauntlet has been thrown. Fire ants- 1, Wizzie- 0 (for now....).

Friday, August 6, 2010

Fire Ants...Disappeared with the heat?

With the summer heat, fire ant mounds seem to disappear. Unfortunately, this really is not the case and when you add a little water (via irrigation or rainfall) mounds pop right back up. With heat and lack of water, the fire ants go hide out underground and try to get closer to the water table.

Some people may still be seeing signs of fire ants even though they are not seeing mounds. This is the case at my house. I have fire ants that are hanging out near my driveway, but I'm not seeing any mounds. So what can one do to combat fire ants when temperatures are soaring?

If you go with a bait, then you want to treat in the evening when the dew has burned off the grass and it's cooler so the fire ants should be out foraging. Remember to use fresh bait and to always read and follow label instructions. You can use the bait as a broadcast over the whole yard or you can treat individual mounds (if you're seeing fire ants but no mounds like I am, then treat the whole yard). Most baits are broadcast with a hand held spreader, but some use a drop spreader; check the label for proper application equipment.

If you are seeing mounds, then you can choose to go with an individual mound treatment. If you want to use bait, sprinkle the bait around the outside of the mound, not on top of it. Fire ants do not forage for food on top of the mound, so if you apply the bait there, then you probably won't get too much control. There are numerous other products in a variety of formulations for treating individual fire ant mounds. Choose one that you feel comfortable utilizing and follow the label instructions. Make sure that you water in a product if the label instructs you to do so. Many times people do not achieve the control they want because they forgot to water in the product.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Travis County Extension Office Temporarily Closed

On Tuesday of last week- June 29, 2010- the Travis County Extension office was damaged and flooded when a part of the roof collapsed during heavy rains. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, but the office was flooded. Because of the damage, the office is closed until further notice.

People are working to get systems back into place for phone calls, emails and other sources of communication. Until then, please try to be patient. If you have a pressing bug question that needs to be answered you can leave a comment on this blog or you can contact a Texas AgriLife Extension Office in a different county.

If you are a Travis County Master Gardener and need more information on how the office closure affects you or for more information, please check the Central Texas Horticulture blog; Daphne was way better at explaining things more in depth.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Are you seeing holes in your lawn?

I've been getting calls about small holes in people's lawns that are surrounded by the piled up dirt from the hole. These holes are most likely caused by cicada killers, a type of solitary wasp.

Cicada killers are large wasps reaching a length of about 1.5 inches. The wasps have a reddish-brown head and thorax and a black and yellow marked abdomen. The wings are brownish.

Since the wasps are so large, people are often worried about their sting. Females are capable of stinging, males are not. Males are territorial and will often fly near humans walking through an area; this could be to intimidate you and have you get out of their territory or it could be that they need to check if you are a female cicada killer ready to mate. Either way, if you keep to your business they will keep to theirs. Females, while capable of stinging, are not aggressive.

Females dig burrows in the ground where they take cicadas that they paralyze with their sting. The cicadas are placed into chambers off of the main burrow and then an egg is laid in the chamber. When the egg hatches, the larvae consumes the cicada(s) provided for them.

Control really isn't necessary for these wasps.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Saturday, May 29th- Become a Garden Detective!

Get out your calendars and save the date!! No, I'm not getting married or anything (my husband might get a bit upset.....). Susan Decker, a Travis County Master Gardener, and I will be teaching anyone who wants to attend how to become a garden detective. Here's the skinny:

When: Saturday, May 29, 2010 10am-Noon

Where: Zilker Botanical Garden
2220 Barton Springs Rd.
Austin TX 78746

What: learn how to diagnose common problems in the garden

Who: Susan will cover plant diseases; Wizzie (that's me!) will cover insect problems

Here's the official blurb (it's much more eloquent than my ramblings):

Just when you think you've done everything right by your plants, one of them starts to go downhill. One of the biggest challenges for gardeners is correctly diagnosing plant problems and finding effective, safe solutions. Is your plant dying because of an insect, environmental or disease problem? Join us to learn the causes of plant problems, the process for diagnosing plant problems, and preventive garden management techniques. This seminar is free and open to the public. It is presented by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association, a volunteer arm of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Travis County. For information, see or call the Travis County Master Gardener's help desk at (512) 854-9600.

Feel free to bring samples of insects/ damage.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Holy snails batman!

After two years of drought, Austin has been receiving much needed rain this spring. While I welcome the rain, maybe even go so far as to say I love the rain, it does have some downsides.

1. Snails.
2. It's difficult to do my fire ant field work when it seems to rain every three days.
3. Even more snails.
4. One of my mountain laurels died and the other one didn't bloom this year due to copious amounts of moisture.
5. Have I mentioned snails?

So I've been overrun with snails in my yard. I'm not talking here or there I find clusters; I'm talking "holy moley there are snails EVERYWHERE"! I'm talking about walking through the backyard and hearing crunching of snail shells under foot. The snail fairy hasn't been visiting anyone but me apparently, so you can leave you thank notes in the comments section below for handling everyone's snail problems. I finally had the opportunity to take my own advice from a previous blog post on snails and did some hand picking this past week. The snails were chucked into a pail of soapy water.

While I felt somewhat bad at first for potentially killing off populations of Gary (Spongebob reference there for all you fans...), it really came down to them or me, well to be more exact, them or my plants and my plants won out. Check out the haul.....536! Yes, I counted. I couldn't get over the pile that I wound up with.

Since it took several mornings of snail picking, the pile was quite gross and smelly by the time I got around to taking photos and counting, but that's okay, I'm a professional, right? I got the added bonus of capturing some photos of blow flies that were taking advantage of the pile of rotting snail corpses.

By the way....when I let the dogs out this morning I saw 3 snails hanging out on the side of the house and one on my agave. ARGH!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Grow Green Landscape Design Templates

The new templates are a guide for Austin area homeowners to help them choose a style and plant palette that requires less water and fewer chemicals. Not only are there scaled drawings of nine plant beds, but seven of the nine have demonstration gardens at popular spots around town including Zilker Botanical Garden, Howson Library, and City Hall. The sites provide Austinites a chance to see which plant combinations and styles best fit their needs and tastes. While some of the designs might look ambitious, it is easy to plant small areas as time and funding allow.

The templates cover a wide variety of styles including a classic, contemporary, or wildlife habitat design. One features deer-resistant plants while another helps solve drainage problems. If you have a sunny location or want a low maintenance shade design, there is a choice for you. Although these have no demonstration garden, one offers pool-friendly plants and another provides a child-friendly sensory garden where children can touch, smell or taste the plants in their garden.

Coupled with a new fact sheet on Irrigation and the existing Landscape Design and Installation fact sheet, Grow Green offers homeowners a do-it-yourself method for beautifying their landscapes. There is also a fact sheet on How to Hire a Professional if they would like an earth-friendly yard, but do not have the time or inclination to do the work themselves.

The templates can be found at along with driving and biking maps to the demonstration gardens. Brochures are also available at each garden location or by calling 974-2550. For general questions about earth-wise gardening, can help.

The Grow Green program is a partnership between the City of Austin and Texas AgriLife Extension Service. All materials are designed by the City using technical expertise of Texas AgriLife Extension Service. The City manages the program within the city limits with Extension handling the rest of Travis County. The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) offers components of the program west of Austin.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2010 East Austin Garden Fair- Saturday March 20th

Are you looking for something to do this weekend? Funds dwindling in your entertainment budget? Come to the 4th Annual Passion for Plants - An East Austin Garden Fair.

When: Saturday, March 20, 2010 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Govalle Park, 5200 Bolm Rd. (just east of Airport Rd.)
Cost: FREE!!

This year's focus will be on Earth-Kind gardening: research-proven techniques to provide maximum garden and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting the environment. The objective of AgriLife Extension's Earth-Kind is to combine the best of organic and traditional gardening and landscaping principles to create a horticultural system based on real world effectiveness and environmental responsibility.

* Landscape Water conservation
* Reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use
* Landscaping for energy conservation
* Reduction of landscape wastes entering landfills

Individuals using Earth-Kind landscaping principles and practices can create beautiful, easy-care landscapes, while conserving and protecting natural resources and the environment.

Here's a video highlighting the 2009 East Austin Garden Fair:

The boy and I will be at the fair for a bit, most likely early before his nap. Pop on by and meet the little monster!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Cockroach Project

A few years back I was approached by Ruth Fertig, a film student at UT. She was doing a documentary on cockroaches and asked if she could speak with me; I jumped at the chance (we all know I'm a bit crazy for cockroaches). Her documentary, The Cockroach Project, was the end result. She sent a copy to me last year and as I was getting together information for my CV, it popped up on the radar. Apparently, it recently showed on the Documentary Channel (Dish Network). Here is a clip of the video:

Ruth has since graduated and moved to New York City where she continues to make documentaries.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Williamson County Master Naturalists- Good Water Chapter

There is a new chapter of Texas Master Naturalists forming in Williamson County called the Good Water Chapter. Several Master Naturalists that live in Williamson County have been meeting together for some time to put together the new chapter and a new training program.

• Do the native plants and animals of this area fascinate you?
• Would you like learn more about the natural world?
• Would you like to meet people with similar interests?
• Are you interested in sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm for nature with others?

Then consider becoming a Texas Master Naturalist. When you have completed the 40 hour
curriculum, you will have a greater appreciation of our natural world, the interaction and identification of plants and animals, and the ecosystem in which we all exist.

Requirements: To become a Texas Master Naturalist you must complete 40 hours of training covering a wide range of topics. Classes for the Good Water Chapter are typically held in the spring. There are eleven (or more) four hour sessions, many of which are held in the field. The 2010 classes will begin in February and are normally from 1 to 5pm. Our instructors are all recognized experts. You will also receive a Texas Master Naturalist Curricula notebook with over 800 pages of material specifically for the Master Naturalist Program.

The class is limited to 30 people. A fee of $150.00/person covers cost of the notebook, reimbursement of instructor's travel costs, admissions to parks or facilities we visit, and refreshments during classes.

Here is what we expect from those who sign up for the class:
1) The intent to become a Certified Texas Master Naturalist: This requires you to do 40 hours of
volunteer work and 8 hours of approved advanced training within a year of completing your training class.
2) 100% attendance at the training classes: This requires a commitment of one day a week for eleven weeks on your part. Each of these classes is unique and requires considerable effort to conduct; in return we expect your full participation.
3) To become an active member of our chapter: We have meetings once a month, normally held at the County Extension Office. We feature nature presentations by outside speakers and we also discuss volunteer and advanced training opportunities. To maintain active membership you are also required to do at least 40 hours volunteer work and 8 hours advanced training annually.

The first training class of the Good Water Chapter starts on February 16 which is a short two weeks away.

For more information or to get an application go to

and click on Master Naturalist Application on the home page.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Great Entomology Resource- with images!

I often get questions on where to go for images of insects to help people with identification. While field guides are a good idea, not everyone wants to have piles of insects books laying around like me.

The 4-H Entomology website is a wonderful resource for not only 4-H participants, but the general public. While the site is targeted for 4-H Entomology students, there is a link to a list of common insects you can find in your own backyard well as while you travel throughout the state.

The guide to insect and non-insect orders is really cool because you can learn how to pronounce all those scientific names (it's an interactive pdf file- waaay cool!) and find out information on biology and characteristics.

Another great feature is a link to insect collecting videos. No, this isn't people collecting insects, but videos that show you how to do things like how to use an aspirator, choosing the correct net, pinning insects, etc. It's a great how-to section for those of you who want to start insect collecting as a hobby or start a reference collection to utilize as a teaching tool.