Friday, December 16, 2016

Invasive ladybugs?!

There has been a rash of calls, emails, texts, and questions regarding lady beetles that have been seen in high numbers lately in Central Texas.  We all know that ladybugs are good bugs, right?  Well, not this time.  That should make you ponder "What makes a good bug or a bad bug?". My answer to that would be it depends not only upon the insect in question, but also where it is found and what it is doing.  If you find an termite in your house, is it a pest?  It depends.  Normally when you find a termite in your house, it is in relation to feeding on cellulose and leading to structural damage.  In that case, then yes, it would be a pest.  If you randomly happen upon a termite that fell on the floor from a piece of firewood you brought in, then it wouldn't be a pest in that case since it is there incidentally. Likewise, if you have a ladybug in your house and it just flew in from outside and just happens to be there, then it's not really a pest.  Flipping that will create the situation that I've been getting questions on recently.

There are some types of ladybird beetles (a.k.a. ladybugs) that will crawl into cracks and crevices around homes when it gets cold outside.  They, like you (or at least me, for sure, since I moved to Texas to get away from snow and long winters), want to seek out a warm spot to hang out on those chilly days.  When they discover a route that leads them all the way inside the structure, they can become active due to the temperatures we maintain inside to make ourselves comfortable.  This allows the ladybugs to remain active and flying around inside.

Unfortunately, these ladybugs can cause staining on fabric, are smelly when they die and sometimes will bite.

If you already have them inside, then I suggest that you get out your vacuum and suck them up.  If you have them congregating outside the structure, then I would refer you to my post on EXCLUSION to prevent them from moving indoors.

Friday, December 9, 2016

2016 Holiday Gift Wish List

It's that time again for finding the perfect gift for the discerning person on your list (or for a good gag gift for the Grinches).  Here are some possible arthropod-themed items you may need to pick up.

First up is a spider infused computer mouse.  I personally think the whole thing is a bit humorous as I used to have a bird eating tarantula that ate mice and this flips that- a "mouse" with a tarantula inside.  ....maybe it's just me that sees that angle?  Anyhoo, the website is in Japanese so good luck if you actually want to order one!

This next one is actually something that I LOVE!  I follow Bloodmilk on Instagram (bloodmilk) and she has some amazing items. As well as various jewelry items, she has an tote that has two awesome (in my opinion) things on it- spiders and books!
The Comfort of Dust

Another item that I adore calls to my affinity for....yes, you guessed it...COCKROACHES!  And sorry folks, but this one is already in (actually on) my greedy little hands, so it's off the market.  I had the ring custom made by Amanda Black of Black Rabbit Studios with a hidden cockroach.  She does amazing work and I can't say enough about how beautiful my ring is.  She has many other items that are inspired by nature, so check her out!

If you're into real insects, then these beetle earrings may be for you.  Made by Insect Art on Etsy, they will certainly grab people's attention and provide an ice breaker at any holiday parties.

I've been following coffeetopia's (Ghidaq al-Nizar) work for awhile.  He creates art from coffee grounds and they are stunning!  My favorite, of course, had cockroaches!

This paper dragonfly chandelier is would be perfect for a child's room or to add some natural theming to a home.  Made by kismetsunday on etsy.  They have dragonflies, butterflies as well as seahorses, leaves, snowflakes, jellyfish, koi and other designs.

Susan Soares is twisting the insect theme with her insects au gratin line.  She 3-D prints (with dried insect powder) items that can be not only used or worn, but eaten! I think this is an interesting concept that creates not only beautiful works of art, but items that make you think about what can be/ is used as food around the world.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Lygus bugs

I've been getting email and calls about small "stink bugs" on cruciferous crops lately.  I went out to our demonstration garden to see if I could rustle some up on what we have planted out there and I hit the jackpot.  I found Lygus bugs on the cabbage and some other plants (that I have no idea what they are...I went back out to look- they're fava beans).

Lygus bugs have a wide host range and have been found on over 350 plants.  These bugs will commonly begin the year in weedy areas and then move into adjacent areas (leading them into gardens and landscapes) when the weeds begin to decline.

Adults are about 1/4 of an inch long and come in a variety of colors (the ones I've been seeing are brownish-black with red dots on the tip of the hemelytra).  They have whitish markings behind the head and on the wings.  The back half of the front wing is held downward at an angle (so it appears that the bug backed into a wall).  Nymphs look similar to the adults, but are usually a yellow-green in color and lack fully developed wings.

Weed management is very important to help keep populations of tarnished plant bug in check.  Manage weeds to keep the bugs from colonizing areas adjacent to gardens and landscape areas. You can try vacuuming them up with a hand-held vacuum. Pesticides can be used to knock down heavy populations.  Look for active ingredients such as insecticidal soap, azadirachtin, pyrethrins, or pyrethroids.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Survey needs participants!

The Southern Regional Extension Forestry program is conducting a survey about people’s awareness of forest and tree health issues. By answering a few questions about these issues, your firewood use habits, and where you’ve recently learned about the issues, program staff hopes to gain insight as to how to effectively engage with the public and how to improve in the future.

This survey should only take 10 minutes. The first page asks about your firewood purchasing practices. The second page asks about your knowledge of invasive forest insects. All answers will be kept completely confidential. Your participation is greatly appreciated.

Link to survey.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Widow spiders

Information just in time for Halloween where spider webs and spooky spiders are a common sight.

There are four species of widow spiders found in Texas, with the best known being the black widow.  Coloration can vary, but they are typically jet black with two reddish-orange triangles on the underside of the abdomen, forming an hourglass shape.  The triangles sometimes do not touch each other creating a broken hourglass shape.  Males and juveniles are smaller and often are more colorful, with bright markings on their sides or back.

Females lay eggs in an oval sac which can hold from 25 to over 900 eggs.  Depending on temperature and time of year, eggs usually hatch after about 20 days.  Spiderlings stay near the egg sac for several days where they can be seen consuming their brothers and sisters.  The survivors throw a thread of silk to the wind and are carried off in a process called “ballooning”.  They eventually locate a sheltered spot where they build a loosely woven web and remain for the rest of their lives.  As time progresses, the spiders build larger webs to capture larger prey.  Males eventually leave their webs to find females for mating.  In natural settings, most females do not eat males after mating.

Widow spiders do not like being in the open.  They can often be found outside in protected areas such as rainspouts, shrubbery, firewood piles or unused BBQ pits.  It is also possible to find them in garages, cellars, attics, furniture or electric or water meter boxes.  Widows are shy creatures and often people are bitten when a web is accidentally disturbed.

The bite of a black widow sometimes is not noticed, but when it is, it often feels like a pin prick.  The bite location will have two red marks surrounded by redness and swelling.  The bite reaction is systemic and intense pain usually occurs within 1-3 hours and continues for up to 48 hours.  Other symptoms include tremors, nausea, vomiting, leg cramps, abdominal pain, profuse perspiration and rise in blood pressure.  It is also possible for breathing difficulties and unconsciousness to occur.  If bitten by a black widow, immediately seek medical attention.

When working around the house or in the yard, it is best to wear leather gloves to avoid being bitten by venomous arthropods.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fun facts about bugs

I'm feeling a bit blue today, so I thought I would do something a bit lighter.  Here are 10 fun facts about insects!

  • Insects are on every continent except Antarctica.
  • The fear of cockroaches is called Katsaridaphobia.
  • Mexican jumping beans are seed pods that have been inhabited by the larva of a small moth and are native to Mexico.
  • Adult ladybugs will eat more than 50 aphids per day.
  • Throughout history, species of biting ants have been used as sutures to close wounds.
  • Blow flies find dead bodies using body fluids and gases; they lay their eggs within 2 days after death.
  • Silk comes from the cocoon of a silkworm (a type of caterpillar).  Each cocoon is made up of a filament around 2000- 3000 feet (600-900 meters) in length.  They use 5-8 of the filaments twisted together to make one thread.
  • Peanut butter can have an average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 g in it  (see website here).
  • A group of fruit flies were the first animals launched into space.
  • Bed bugs have also been known as Cimex, red coates, mahogany flats and wall-lice.

Friday, September 30, 2016

FREE Webinar: calibrating sprayers & spreaders

The October 2016 All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar Series topic will be: Don’t use too much pesticide or fertilizer – learn how to calibrate your home grounds and garden sprayers and spreaders, presented by Ples Spradley from the University of Arkansas. The webinar is on Oct. 7 beginning at 1 pm Central time (2 pm EDT)

WHEN: Friday, October 7th 1:00 PM (central)

Concerns for the preservation of our environment and conservation of resources, as well as the costs associated with pesticides and fertilizers, make it imperative that pesticides and fertilizers be applied correctly. Learn practical tips for calibrating home garden sprayers and spreaders by Dr. Ples Spradley, Associate Professor – Pesticide Safety Education, University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture Little Rock, Arkansas.  Moderated by Ellen Huckabay and Taylor Vandiver, Regional Extension Agents, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Click here to login as a guest and participate in the live event. 
Note: on October 7, 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.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Have you seen me? Snout butterflies

If you have driven, biked or walked anywhere in Central Texas recently, you most likely have noticed butterflies fluttering about.  These are not monarchs or swallowtails that we are used to seeing, but snout butterflies.  Unlike the Monarch butterflies that fly through Texas on the way to overwintering locations, these butterflies are moving to new areas in search of new food sources after depleting the food in the area they emerged.  The butterflies are also in search of mates. Snout butterfly caterpillars feed on hackberry trees, while adults seek out nectar from a variety of sources.

The rainfall we received in August helped the snout butterfly population by providing another flush of vegetation on hackberries for the caterpillars.

The butterflies are brown and orange with white spots (on the tops of the wings).  The underside of the wings is brown to grey and mottled.  The two tusk-like projections from the head are where they get their name. Th adults will mimic leaves when they perch on plants, by folding up the wings and holding their snouts and antennae facing downward.

These butterflies are not anything to worry about and will only be around for a few more weeks.  Get outside and enjoy their beauty while you can!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Backyard Basics Fall Expo in San Antonio

Come one, come all!  Bexar County AgriLife Extension is hosting their annual Backyard Basics program, September 17th and would love to see you there!  This gives you the opportunity to hear from a great variety of presenters on topics we’ve heard you want to hear about.  Great door prizes and give always in addition to fantastic speakers.  Please pre-register at

Friday, August 19, 2016

Free Seminar on Zika virus & Mosquito Management

Information provided on Zika virus, mosquitoes and their management.

1600 Smith Road
Austin, TX 78721

Thursday, September 22nd
10AM– 12PM

Space is limited so reserve your spot soon!

Friday, August 5, 2016


Fleas are ectoparasites and females require a blood meal to produce eggs.  After feeding on a host, females can produce about 30-50 eggs per day that fall off the animal and into carpeting or other areas of the home or outside in areas where the animal frequents.  Larvae feed on organic matter as well as partially digested blood excreted by the adult fleas (yes, I mean poop).  After fleas pupate, they usually hatch out of the cocoon in about 2 weeks, but they can remain dormant for up to 5 months waiting for a host.

Flea breeding habitat...debris in a windowsill.
A proper flea management program has two parts- managing fleas on any pets and managing fleas in the environment.  A veterinarian may be consulted about flea control for pets; there are numerous products on the market that work well.  Grooming the animal with a flea comb or bathing the pet can help reduce flea numbers.  When you find fleas on a pet, you most likely will need to treat the pet, inside the home and the yard.  Treatment should be targeted to areas where the pet likes to hang out.

Fleas in and around homes that do not have pets may be coming from wildlife.  The attic and crawl spaces should be inspected to see if wildlife has moved into the area, bringing fleas with them.  Wildlife should be removed with traps and the area treated with an insecticide labeled for fleas.  After wildlife is removed, the area should be sealed so that wildlife cannot move in again.

It is also possible for new homeowners with no pets to have fleas.  This usually results from previous owners having pets.  Fleas can remain dormant for several months, but become active again when they sense vibrations of new hosts.

Inside, vacuum regularly, getting under furniture and along baseboards to reduce flea eggs, larvae and pupae.  Make sure to dispose of the vacuum bag in sealed bag in an outdoor garbage can at least once a week so the fleas do not hatch out and reinfest the home.  Wash pet bedding in hot water.  Bathe pets regularly and use a flea comb to remove fleas.  Avoid walking pets in known flea infested areas.

Outside, target pesticide treatments to areas where pets frequent.  Full sun areas do not need to be treated as fleas will not remain in those areas.

When treating for fleas, you  need to treat at least two times.  The second treatment should occur 10-14 days after the initial treatment.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Mosquito and mosquito disease information

I know there has been a LOT of talk and information about mosquitoes and diseases they transmit, but I want to gather a bunch of information (from reputable sources) for you to use in case you need it.  So instead of remaking the wheel here, I will be linking to other good sources of information for you to check out.

Mike Merchant's post on Zika virus & NEW PUBLICATIONS FOR TEXANS!

Mike Merchant's post on do-it-yourself thermal fogging for mosquitoes

AgriLife's Mosquitoes of Texas page

City of Austin Vector Control- "The Rodent and Vector Control program assists individual property owners with eradicating mosquitoes and rodents on their property."

Williamson County Mosquito Control District

Hays County Mosquito Surveillance

Texas Mosquito Control Association

TMCA's list of organized mosquito control districts in Texas

CDC information

Zika virus



West Nile Virus

Texas Department of State Health Services information

Zika virus



West Nile Virus

Friday, July 8, 2016

Hi! Remember me? West Nile Virus

With all the media attention on Zika lately, not many people are discussing (or are concerned with) West Nile Virus.  This disease is still around and may become a concern later this summer due to the hot, dry conditions we are currently experiencing in Central Texas.

Cases of West Nile Virus (WNV) are generally seen in summer and increase throughout summer and into fall.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, most people (70-80%) that become infected with WNV show no symptoms.  About 1 in 5 people develop a fever or other symptoms such as headache, body aches, vomiting or diarrhea; this is called West Nile fever.  Less than 1% of the people infected develop serious neurological illness such as encephalitis (inflammation/ swelling of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation/ swelling of the tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord); this is called West Nile neuroinvasive disease.

West Nile is generally transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito.  Mosquitoes become carriers by feeding on infected birds and can then transmit the virus to other animals, including humans.  Multiple species of mosquitoes have been found carrying West Nile Virus, but it is predominately transmitted by Culex mosquitoes.  Unfortunately the Southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, is fairly common here and is many times found coming into homes (hence it's common name).

WNV can also be transmitted through blood transfusions, transplants and mother to child via pregnancy or breastfeeding.  It is NOT spread through touching or kissing.
This unused and uncovered hot tub is a perfect mosquito habitat.
People over 50 are at a higher risk to get severe illness, so they should take care to avoid mosquito bites.  If someone spends a lot of time outdoors, they are more likely to be bitten and should pay attention while outside and try to avoid mosquito bites.
Tips for avoiding mosquito bites:

  1. Stay indoors during peak mosquito hours*- dawn & dusk
    1. *please note that some Aedes mosquitoes are day time feeders while some Culex are night time feeders in addition to being active at dusk and dawn, so precaution should be taken whenever outside
  2. Eliminate standing water
    1. Dispose of old tires or cover them with a tarp to keep off rain
    2. Clean out gutters and downspouts
    3. Bird baths, pet water dishes, etc. should be emptied and refilled twice a week
    4. Store containers so they do not hold water
  3. Keep grass mowed to a proper length & vegetation trimmed (mosquitoes like to rest in thick vegetation)
  4. Repair leaky faucets or A/C lines that produce condensate
  5. In permanent standing water areas, use things like mosquito fish or Bt israelensis (dunks)
  6. Keep window screens in good repair
  7. Use repellents when going outside (follow label instructions).
 For a map of West Nile cases in Texas click here. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

House flies

Instead of complaining about all the rain we're getting, should we all switch to complaining about how HOT it is?

Warmer temperatures speed up development time of insects.  This means that they can reproduce and offspring reach adulthood faster allowing them to produce their offspring  which will reach adulthood rapidly and so on.  Do you see how this can cause pest problems?

The insect I'm focusing on today is the house fly. Why this particular insect?  Well, they are the ones that currently drive me crazy when I'm making dinner.  Having them buzzing around while I'm prepping food isn't ideal.  And please don't tell me about hanging bags of doesn't work.  My fly problems are further compounded because my lab chases them around the house without regard to where she is going, so she is jumping around, banging into everything, snapping at them with her jaws.  It's amusing until she plows into you.

So since we all pretty much know what a housefly looks like, I'll skip to the nitty-gritty....what to do about them in your house.  For the adults, it's really best to get a fly swatter or something similar to smack them with (good old fashioned mechanical control!).  I get rather obsessive about stalking flies around my house which is now much more difficult since the dog is trying to "help".  There are also things such as fly strips which can physically trap the adults, but be aware that you will have a strip of dead or struggling flies dangling in your house.

The best way to deal with house flies is to locate possible sources where the maggots (baby flies or larvae) are developing.  This is going to most likely be associated with some sort of organic matter.  I, personally, am going to clean out my garbage and recycling cans of all the funk that has accumulated (not the actual garbage or recyclables, but the stuff that leaks out into the bottom). The other thing that I need to do is get on a more regular schedule of picking up the dog waste in the backyard and throwing it away.  I usually do that once per week, but I need to double up now that it's warmer.  Of course, I'm not going to be able to get rid of ALL the house flies, so I will keep my fly swatter (and dog) nearby.

Friday, June 10, 2016


It seems that the cooler weather and moisture have disappeared and we've moved into sweltering temperatures.  While it will be nice to dry out a bit, expect pest populations to be on the rise.  One to watch for is aphids as their populations can increase rapidly.

Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects with "tailpipes" (better known as cornicles) coming off the tip of the abdomen.  Aphids come in a variety of colors and may or may not have wings.  They have an incomplete life cycle (egg- nymph- adult) with the nymphs looking similar to the adults but smaller.

These insects have piercing-sucking mouthparts and will insert them into the plant to suck up plant juices.  Aphid damage can lead to yellowing, curling and/ or stunting of the plant.  Aphids are often found on the underside of leaves or along the stem of the plant.  Sometimes they can be found on the plant roots.

Aphids are also honeydew producers.  Honeydew is a sticky, sweet substance that may look shiny on the foliage of the plant.  Honeydew can also lead to a secondary plant problem called sooty mold.  Sooty mold is a fungus that grows on honeydew areas and if you see it on your plants, then you need to look for and manage the honeydew producing insect.

If you discover aphids, you can try a jet of high pressure water to dislodge them from the plant.  If that doesn't help, then you can try less toxic pesticides such as insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, pyrethrins or azadirachtin.  They can also be killed with synthetic formulations.  Please be sure to read the label of the product you choose to apply properly.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Emerald Ash Borer has been found in Texas

In late April 2016, four emerald ash beetle adults were located in a trap by the Texas A&M Forest Service in Harrison County (near the Louisiana & Arkansas borders).  Currently, there are no confirmed trees infested with emerald ask borer.

Emerald ash borer, often shortened to EAB, are invasive beetles that attack stressed and healthy ash trees.  These beetles are native to Asia and were discovered for the first time in the U.S. in Michigan back in 2002.  The beetle has now spread to 26 states and killed millions of ash trees.  The beetles are aggressive and can kill an infested ash tree within 2-3 years.

According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, there are 16 species of ash in the U.S. and 7 of those can be found in Texas.  

A statewide plan involves monitoring of beetle movement; educational programming; providing technical assistance in prevention, preparation and recovery; and working with regulatory agencies in regards to quarantines.  The Texas A&M Forest Service is also working to slow the movement of the beetle.

“Proper planning can reduce the impact of EAB in our communities,” said Texas A&M Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program Coordinator Paul Johnson. “Removal of poor quality ash, planting trees that aren’t susceptible to EAB, and protecting high value ash by treating them will help us weather this attack. Work with a forester or an ISA-certified arborist to help you assess your EAB risk and care for your trees.”

For everything you needed to know about emerald ash borers in Texas, see the Texas A&M Forest Service's site here (really, you should read this!!):

For general emerald ash borer information see this site:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Fire Ants are Swarming! Treatment options

There are numerous ways to manage fire ants, but they are often broken into two categories- broadcast treatments and individual mound treatments.  Individual mound treatments are used to treat one mound at a time and can be labor intensive and may result in more pesticide being spread into the environment.  Broadcast treatments spread product (granular or bait) over a large area.

Individual mound treatments include pouring boiling water onto the mound, using insecticide mound drenches, spreading insecticide granules onto the mound and watering them in, sprinkling insecticidal dusts on top of the mound or using bait-formulated insecticides around the perimeter of the mound.  There are also many “home remedies”, but be advised that many of these do not kill fire ants.  Many home remedies make the fire ants move to a new location (often 1-2 feet away), but do not kill the ants.

Bait-formulated insecticides most often consist of a de-fatted corn cob grit coated with soybean oil; the soybean oil is where the active ingredient (what kills the pest) is dissolved. Worker ants collect bait as a food source and take it back to the colony to share with other ants, including the queen.  Depending on the active ingredient, the bait may cause the queen to die or be unable to produce viable eggs, which gradually kills off the colony.  When using baits, results are often slower to observe when compared to individual mound treatments, but can provide 80-90% suppression for 12-18 months.  A bonus to broadcasting baits is that the amount of active ingredient is generally very small, which places less chemical into the environment.

With any pesticide treatment, read and follow all label instructions.  Make sure to water in the pesticide if the label instructs to do so.  Failure to water in chemicals when recommended by the label does an inadequate job of killing the ants.  Baits should not be watered in or used before a rainfall event; baits will not be picked up by ants if they get wet.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Beetle or true bug?

Several people have been asking me about "beetle" problems they are having on their plants.  When I finally see the insect it's not a beetle, but a true bug. So, how do you tell the difference between the two groups?

Beetles: Beetles have hardened forewings (the front wings), so they may look as if they have a straight line down their back. Beetles also have chewing mouthparts with mandibles.

True bugs: True bugs have their forewings hardened at the base and membranous at the end. This creates a triangular shape on their back. True bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts (sort of an elongated beak) that fit on the underside of the body between the legs.

Friday, April 15, 2016

East Austin Garden Fair- tomorrow, Saturday, April 16th

Come to a great garden fair - Rain or Shine!
Saturday - April 16, 9:00 am – 2:00 pm 

Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center - Gymnasium 

2608 Gonzales Street, Austin, TX 78702
Free: Admission, Plants (vegetables & herbs), Garden buckets, Garden books/magazines and soil screening for food gardeners. Easy instructions for soil sampling at
Visit with friendly gardeners regarding:
  • Bee Keeping, Backyard Chickens, Bugs & Butterfly Gardening
  • Growing Fruit, Citrus, Vegetables & Herbs
  • Preserving Your Harvest & Food Safety
  • Lawns, Turfgrass & Tree Care
  • Drip Irrigation Methods & Rainwater Harvesting
  • Straw-bale Gardening, Grow Boxes & Keyhole Gardens
  • Firewise Landscaping & Native and Adapted Plants
  • Composting Basics & Worm Composting
  • Houseplants, Terrariums, Greenhouses & Hoophouses
  • Aquaponics, Community Gardens & Bio-intensive Methods
  • Caring for Garden Tools & much more!
Kids will have a great time with 20 activities on bugs, birds, bees, butterflies, seeds, herbs, leaves, soils and seeing nature up close. Get an apron and build a tool box at the Home Depot Kid's workshop.
For more information, please call 512-854-9600 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Webinar on pollinators

2016 All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar Series: Help pollinators cope with pesticides

Webinar TODAY! Friday, April 1, 2016 for the All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar Series: Help pollinators cope with pesticides

Friday, April 1 at 1:00 pm Central

Pollinating insects are at risk when pesticides are used carelessly. Learn practical tips for preventing pollinator deaths from pesticides by Jack Rowe, Dr. James Tew, Sallie Lee, and Dani Carroll from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Moderated by Mallory Kelley, Denise Heubach, and Ellen Huckabay, Regional Extension Agents, Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Click here to login as a guest and participate in the live event.   Note: on April 1, 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.

Don't panic if you cannot login today at 1PM. The webinar will be recorded so you can watch it later.

Friday, March 18, 2016


I remember walking into my great-grandmother's house when I was a little girl and there was...well....there was a smell. Unfortunately for me, it wasn't homemade cookies baking in the oven. I never knew exactly what it was at the time, but years later I discovered that the smell was mothballs. Since the smell of mothballs permeated throughout my great-grandmother's house, she was not using them in a proper manner. I think many people may not know exactly how to use mothballs properly, hence my writing this particular blog post.

First off, please understand that mothballs are a PESTICIDE and can be harmful if not used according to label instructions. Mothballs contain napthalene (I made napthalene in a college chemistry class as one of our laboratory experiments) or paradichlorobenzene as the active ingredient. Both products are fumigants, or volatile chemicals that vaporize at lower temperatures (i.e. room temperature). While "mothballs" is a common term that most are familiar with, these fumigants may also come in the form of cakes, crystals, tablets, bars, among others.

To use the products properly, they should be used in an AIRTIGHT space, such as a well-sealed container, garment bag, etc. They should not be placed in an open container, in a closet or attic, or sprinkled willy-nilly throughout the home (hello great-grandma!). As with all pesticides, you should read and follow all label instructions.  All pesticides, including mothballs, should be kept out of reach of children and pets (mothballs can be mistaken for candy, so this is really important).

Friday, March 4, 2016

Insects on Mountain Laurel

The mountain laurels are in bloom in Central Texas.  This is the time of year I walk around and any time I see a mountain laurel I take in a long, deep breath.  I LOVE the smell when mountain laurels are blooming.  It puts me in mind of grape bubble gum.

So while I enjoy the scent and beauty of the mountain laurel flowers, some people may be more concerned with insects they are finding on their mountain laurels.  The two common insects that I get questions about are the Red Mountain Laurel Mirid (mirids are plant bugs) and the Genista caterpillar.

Red mountain laurel mirids, Lopidea major, are quite stunning.  They are smallish, flattened, oval-shaped bugs that are a striking red and black.   These insects have piercing-sucking mouthparts that they use to feed on plant juices.  While the feeding can cause damage to the leaves- often disfiguring new growth- they do not seem to harm the tree overall.

Genista caterpillars are yellow-green with black and white spots.  They can grow to about 1 inch in length and will spin webbing on the mountain laurel.  The larval (caterpillar) stage has chewing mouthparts and is damaging by feeding on foliage.

For management, treat as needed.  You can try a contact insecticide on the mirids while a Bt kurstaki or spinosad product should work for the caterpillars.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Ox beetles

Have you found ginormous grubs in your compost pile?  If so, don’t panic!

Grubs are a common name for beetle larvae and these particular rubs become Ox beetles.  The larvae look like a typical white grub and have a creamy C-shaped body, reddish head capsule and six legs.  The difference is that these grubs look like they've been taking steroids and can fill the palm of your hand.

Adult beetles are shiny brown and about 2 inches long. Males have horns while females do not.  It takes 1-2 years for a generation to mature. So, if you find these guys (and girls) in your compost pile, leave them in peace...they're helping you compost!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Zika virus

I thought I would jump on the band wagon and get some information out about Zika virus.  This seems to be the latest and (not the) greatest in the news as of late.  Considering that the first case of local transmission was detected within Texas in the past week, everyone needs to know about this so they can take proper precautions.

Zika virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.  Currently, there is no specific treatment for the virus, nor is there a vaccine.  The best way to avoid getting Zika virus is to avoid being bitten by infected mosquitoes.  Zika virus can be contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito, through blood transfusions, through sexual contact, and from mother to child during pregnancy.

While the incubation period of Zika virus is unknown, it is thought to be from a few days to a week long.  Symptoms include fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and headache.  Symptoms tend to be mild and last from 2-7 days. About 20% of people with Zika virus actually get ill from the virus and severe disease that requires hospitalization is uncommon.  Death due to the virus is rare.

The Aedes mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus are also able to transmit dengue and Chikungunya viruses.  These mosquitoes are daytime biters, but can also bite at night.  Aedes mosquitoes tend to lay their eggs near or in standing water, so reducing these sources can be a way to reduce mosquito populations near your home.  More information on reducing sources here.

To protect yourself from mosquito bites, wear light colored clothing that covers as much skin as possible, use insect repellent (read and follow label instructions), use screening on doors and windows, reduce standing water, and if sleeping outside, use mosquito netting.

For more information on Zika virus, please see the CDC website here:

Monday, January 25, 2016

Boxelder bugs

During the winter (if you can call the weather we're having in Texas winter....), people may have the opportunity to see boxelder bugs emerge out of their overwintering sites on warm, sunny days.  As they can show up all of a sudden in somewhat large numbers, it can be startling.

Boxelder bugs are dark brownish-black insects with reddish-orange markings around the edges of the thorax and wings.  The bugs are about 1/2 an inch long as an adult.  Nymphs, or immatures, look similar to adults but are smaller and lack fully developed wings.  Since the wings are not fully developed on immature stages, the red abdomen shows through.

While boxelder bugs typically do not cause damage to the landscape or structure, they may become a nuisance in and around homes from fall until spring.  In the fall, adults and nymphs may gather in large numbers to move to overwintering areas.  Boxelder bugs spend the winter in cracks and crevices in walls, around door and window casings, tree holes and in debris on the ground.  Sometimes they will try to move indoors to overwinter.  On warm days from fall until spring, boxelder bugs emerge from their overwintering location to warm themselves in the sun.

Boxelder bugs feed primarily on the seed pods of female boxelder trees, but occasionally feed on other trees such as plum, cherry, apple, ash and maple.  The insects pierce plant tissue with their mouthparts and suck juice from the plant.  Even though the insects feed on plant juices, they usually do not cause damage to the tree.

Removing female boxelder trees from the area may solve problems with large, repeated infestation of boxelder bugs.  Hiding places can also be reduced or eliminated by removing debris such as boards, leaves and rocks from the area as well as sealing cracks and crevices around the home with sealant.  If chemical treatment is desired, treat overwintering areas with chemicals containing active ingredients such as pyrethrins, cyfluthrin, bifenthrin, carbaryl or acephate.

Friday, January 8, 2016

2016 All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar Series- FREE!

Please join in for the 2016 All Bugs Good and Bad Webinar Series.  This webinar series provides information about good and bad insects.  Webinars are free and open to everyone.   We will discuss how you can help pollinators and other good insects by using pesticides properly.  We will also talk about how to control insects we think of as bad, like fire ants, vegetable bugs, a new invasive fruit fly, and cockroaches. We will even have a webinar about snakes, although they're not really insects but can be a pest or a beneficial, depending on how you look at them.  

Webinars will be on the first Friday of each month at 1 p.m. Central time.  The webinars are brought to you by the following eXtension Communities of Practice: Imported Fire Ants, and Urban IPM; and by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service,  and the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture.

The first webinar of the year will be on February 5, titled "Don't Let the Insects Eat Your Vegetables" and presented by Ayanava Majumdar, Extension Specialist with Alabama Cooperative Extension System.