A CONSUMER INFORMATION BULLETIN BY DR. BART FOSTER, PHD ENTOMOLOGIST Spring 2009
SEEING WINGED TERMITES MAY BE GOOD NEWS
No one wants termites in their home or business but if they were there, wouldn’t you want to know? The presence of winged insects or piles of shed wings may be the first sign of a termite problem. Each spring and summer winged termites emerge in great numbers to start new termite colonies. After a short flight, these termites shed their wings and begin searching for a suitable site to live. If you suspect termite activity or see what may be termite swarmers or wings, save a sample for our Bugsperts to identify. Finding termites now may stop a big problem in the future.
HOW TO TELL WINGED TERMITES FROM WINGED ANTS
Both termites and ants colonize new areas when winged individuals fly away from the colony. When winged insects are found in a home or business there may be a question if they are ants or termites. Here are a few tips to help tell the difference. If you are unsure, we would be happy to identify the insect you have found.
Winged termites have:
• Wings of equal length
• Body appears to have 2 regions
• Do not have a pinched “waist”
• Straight antenna
GECKOS IN HOMES
Small tan lizards called geckos are a common site around Southeast Texas buildings. Two introduced species of geckos have adapted well to Texas and are growing in numbers. Geckos are nocturnal, being most active during the evening and nighttime hours. They feed on insects and are frequently found near lighted windows and outdoor lights, where small insects are abundant during the warm season. Geckos are not harmful, but their presence in buildings is undesirable. They commonly use poorly sealed gaps around soffits and brick facings as hiding places during the day. Geckos enter buildings through gaps around windows and doorways. No pesticides are registered for gecko control. The best method to limit their abundance and entry into buildings is to eliminate as many entry points and harborages as practical with silicon caulks or expanding foam sealers.
WHY SPIDERS ARE MORE CHALLENGING TO CONTROL
Spiders are not as easily controlled as many other pest. They are easy to kill on contact but do not readily pick up residual pesticides on their bodies when crossing a treated zone. This is why spiders may be one of the first pests to return after pest control treatment. Control is greatly helped by maintaining low vegetation around homes and buildings. Heavy vegetation provides harborage for spiders and the insects they use as food.
NOT ALL “SPIDER BITES” ARE FROM SPIDERS
All spiders have poison glands but few are considered harmful. The most feared are the Black Widow and Brown Recluse. Both of these spiders are found in Southeast Texas, although we seldom see brown recluse spiders in our pest control work. Each of these spiders can cause potential serious medical conditions and do warrant treatment.
Many so called “spider bites” may not be caused by spiders at all. In fact each year brown recluse spider “bites” are diagnosed in areas of the United States where brown recluse spiders are not found. Certain strains of Staphylococcus bacteria are increasingly recognized as a cause for skin lesions that are easily spread between individuals.
Real spider bites are rare and spiders can usually be ruled out as a cause when there are multiple “bites” on one person or multiple people being “bit” at the same location in a short space of time. The bottom line is there are multiple causes for symptoms similar to spider bites and in some cases, spiders may be the easy blame for conditions caused by other factors.
BLACK LEAVES ON BUSHES AND TREES
Have you ever noticed the leaves of ornamental plants around your home turning black? This condition is likely the result of aphids living on the underside of the plant leaves. Aphids consume plant juices and in the process excrete sugary fluid called honeydew. This fluid collects on the tops of the leaves underneath where aphids are feeding and promotes the growth of a sooty mold that gives the plant leaves a black coloration. The solution is to correct the aphid problem which will prevent honeydew and the growth of mold. Systemic pesticides are the best choice because they are taken up in the plant tissue and ingested by feeding aphids. Ask your nursery or feed store for a systemic product labeled for aphids.
Springtails are tiny insects that are extremely common but most often go unnoticed. These tiny insects help break down organic matter in the environment. Occasionally in localized areas their numbers will become so high that they cause annoyance. Most often we see this when there is some type of moisture problem in or around a home since these conditions favor springtail survival. Spring tails have a mechanism that allows them to jump. Occasionally you may see tiny black “bugs” around sinks or showers that jump like fleas when disturbed. Occasional sightings should not be of concern. Large numbers of springtails can be treated and require different products and methods than other common pests.
Bumblebees in most cases are not considered pests. These large black and yellow bees construct nest in the ground. They are most often encountered by accident when mowing or when clearing fence lines. Bumblebees can be extremely aggressive when defending their nest and unlike honeybees can sting repeatedly. If you encounter a bumblebee nest, try not to panic. Many of the injuries from bumblebees are due to jumping off tractors while they are still running. Safely and quickly vacate the area. Professional equipment and tools are needed to treat bumblebees nest when treatment is necessary.
Carpenter ants are aptly named because they commonly nest in trees or lumber used to build homes. Unlike termites, these ants do not eat wood but they will remove moisture damaged wood to create galleries to accommodate the colony. These ants can become very frustrating as they show up periodically but usually not in great numbers in and around homes. If the main nest can be found then treatment should quickly eliminate the problem. Finding the nest is not always easy. We have several products and methods to deal with these ants even when the main nest can not be located.
TREE LIMBS AND UTILITY LINES ARE A PEST HIGHWAY INTO YOUR HOME
Tree limbs and utility lines can be a highway for ants and other pest. Tree limbs should be trimmed so they do not touch structures. Insect pests and rodents will also take advantage of gaps around the entrance of utility lines such as air condition lines. The holes where pipes and wires enter the walls should be sealed tightly to prevent pest entry. We offer service to correct these type of conditions to prevent pests from entering your building in the first place.
SWARMING FIRE ANTS IN SWIMMING POOLS
Fire ants swarm repeatedly during the warmer portions of the year. Swarming is the flight of winged ants away from existing mounds to mate and start new colonies. Fire ants thrive around water. This is one reason flying ants often end up near and many times floating in swimming pools. Complete prevention is difficult since flying ants may be coming from adjoining properties. Certainly it would help to take care of the ants in your own yard. There are many good options for fire ant treatment that can make fire ants less of a nuisance this year. Ask our technicians to find out more.
CRAZY RASPBERRY ANTS WILL BE BACK
This new species of crazy ant was first reported in Southeast Texas by our company last year. At this point infestations are known from three counties in our region. We have found them in Chambers, Orange, and Hardin county. Undoubtedly they are also in other areas.
Reports of Crazy Raspberry Ant activity have been low since Hurricane Ike. This is likely a combination of cooler weather and the fact that all of us have had our hands full with other matters the past several months. These ants have not gone away though. We expect to see continued problems this year. This ant is difficult to control and we have very limited treatment options. Repeated and continued treatment may be necessary to minimize the nuisance from these new invaders. Tom Raspberry who first discovered the ants in Houston feels our second year dealing with these ants will be much more challenging than our first year in 2008.
A FUN BUTTERFLY PROJECT FOR THE KIDS
If you have access to citrus trees then you can likely have a fun project for the kids or grandkids this summer. In our area citrus trees are the host plant of the giant swallowtail butterfly. Eggs laid on the leaves hatch into gray colored caterpillars. Look for chewed leaves and follow the branch all the way to the trunk searching for the caterpillar. The caterpillars have an interesting method of camouflage appearing similar to bird droppings in coloration. The caterpillars may be on the leaves or when older they will hide along the base of the limb or on the trunk.
Collect larger caterpillars and place them in a plastic jar with a few citrus leaves and a stick to form a cocoon on. Place a cloth on the top of the jar and secure with a rubber band. Add a few citrus leaves every few days. The larger the caterpillar you catch the better since you will not have to feed them very long in the jar. Eventually the caterpillar will pupate on the stick. Transfer the stick with the cocoon into a mesh bag and hang it in a quiet corner of the house. Make sure the bag has enough room for the new butterfly to stretch its wings. One morning you will wake up to see a beautiful black and yellow butterfly.