Friday, September 11, 2020

Entomology Advanced Training for Master Gardeners & Master Naturalists


The regular, week long training has been cancelled for 2020 due to COVID, but we are hosting a four part online Zoom training for you to get your entomology fix!

Time for each meeting: 6-7:30pm

October 6 - Entomology 101 & How to ID Common Insect Orders
October 7 - Native Pollinators & Pollinator Gardening
October 13 - Veggie Pest Management
October 14 - Landscape and Ornamental Pest Management

Presenters include: Molly Keck, Erfan Vafaie, Wizzie Brown

Register here:

Cost is $25 for all four sessions.  Presentations will be live and interactive with the presenters, as well as recorded for later viewing.  Registrants will receive a book and materials relating to sessions.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Cicada killer wasps emerging in Central Texas

Over the past week I've been getting questions on large wasps that people are seeing emerging from the ground.  They want to know what they are and be reassured that they are not the Asian giant hornet.  These wasps are known as cicada killers and are aptly named.  Cicada killers are large wasps, reaching around 1.5 inches.  They have a rusty colored head and thorax with a black and yellow patterned abdomen.  The wings are also rusty in color, but transparent.

Cicada killer wasp
Cicada killer wasps are solitary, but multiple wasps may be seen in the same area at times.  Males are known for aggressively defending their territory and patrolling burrows created underground. While males dive bomb someone who walks into their territory, they are incapable of stinging.  Female cicada killers are capable of stinging, but generally reserve their stinger for paralyzing prey and tend to only sting in defense.

Adult wasps feed on nectar and tree sap while immatures feed on cicadas.  Adult female wasps locate a cicada, sting it causing the cicada to become paralyzed and then carry it back to the tunnel created in the ground.  She drags the cicada into the tunnel and to a nesting chamber.  Each chamber is provisioned with 1-2 cicadas before the female lays an egg on the leg of the cicada and seals up the chamber.  Once the egg hatches, the wasp larva eats the provided cicadas, overwintering in the ground as a mature larva, and pupating the following year to emerge again when cicadas are available.

Tunnels are about a foot deep and about 2 feet long with 3-4 chambers off to the sides for provision cicadas for larvae.

These wasps are considered to be beneficial, so no control is recommended.  If you feel that you need to manage them, you can:
1. Use clear plastic tarp over the tunnel area to solarize
2. Sprinkle and insecticidal dust around the tunnel opening and tamp it down with your foot

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

"Murder" ?! Hornet Sensationalism

What headline can draw people away from their thoughts dwelling on the current state of the world and Coronavirus?  That would be MURDER HORNETS!  I cannot think of a more sensationalized headline, so kudos to whomever came up with that attention grabber.  This headline is popping up everywhere from social media outlets, television, newspapers, and others. Quite frankly, it makes me cringe each time I see it.

Let's begin with the terminology "murder" hornet.  The definition of murder is "the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another".  If we take the human part out of the definition, since I think we all can agree that while hornets are animals, they are NOT human, we still need to deal with the premeditated part. Are the hornets plotting the death of others; nefariously sitting in their lairs thinking about how to best take out a population of insects?  Ummmm...most likely not. Yes, the hornets are capable of killing other insects, including pollinators, but they are not doing this to be vicious or killing for sport. The hornets use insects they kill as food for their larvae....just like other wasps that we have here in Texas. Moving on to the next thing......

We do not have Asian giant hornets in Texas!  Let me repeat that.  WE DO NOT HAVE ASIAN GIANT HORNETS IN TEXAS!  Since this article was released, I have been contacted numerous times with people who think that they have seen or have the wasps living in their backyard.  No.  Please, by all means, if you think that you have these wasps, then take photos, collect samples and get in touch with me as I am happy to identify the samples for you, but as of right now, no one has sent me anything that actually is an Asian giant hornet.  I've been getting paper wasps, mud daubers, and cicada killers.  Cicada killers are the most likely wasps we have in Texas that could (in my opinion) be confused with the Asian hornet because cicada killers are very large...about 1.5 inches.  Cicada killer wasps are not new to Texas and are pretty common.  You can find more information on them in this previous blog post:

Here is a link to a pest tracker site from Purdue University that confirms these are NOT established in the US.

FACTS about Asian giant hornets
1. Asian giant hornets are Vespa mandarinia NOT "murder" hornets.  "Murder" hornets is not even an accepted common name for this species but something that someone made up as a catchy headline....and it apparently worked really well.
2. These wasps are around 2 inches in length and are capable of stinging which can inflict a painful sting.  Please note that while the sting can lead to death in some cases, this is not what typically happens. I want to remind everyone that people can also die from being stung by honey bees, paper wasps, yellowjackets, or even fire just depends on the number of stings and how your body chemistry reacts.
3. Asian giant hornets have an orangish head, brown antennae with a the base of the antennae being yellow-orange, brown to black eyes and ocelli (simple eyes). The thorax is dark brown with greyish wings and the abdomen has alternating bands of brownish-black and yellow-orange.

FACTS about Asian giant hornets in North America
1.  A colony was found late last year (September 2019) in Nanaimo, British Columbia on Vancouver Island.  The colony was located and destroyed.
2.  A sighting and dead specimen was found in Washington state in December 2019 in Blaine, WA.  This was the first reported sighting of the Asian giant hornet in the U.S.
3. It is currently unknown how the hornets entered the U.S. and genetic testing leads to the conclusion that the hornets found in BC & WA are two separate introductions.
4. Agencies are currently monitoring & trapping with lures to discover any queens or workers. They are talking about attaching radio tracking collars to captured wasps to track them back to the nest.