Author Archives: mike.merchant

Bug blitz is a blast






Marking perhaps the beginning of insect season, last weekend the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA) held its first ever “bioblitz”. In case you’ve never heard of a bioblitz, it’s a concentrated effort among volunteers, naturalists and professional biologists to go to the field and document as many species as possible over a certain time period (usually a day).  This year’s LLELA bioblitz included trees, reptiles, birds and insects. Our insect group consisted of myself and three other enthusiastic collectors/photographers (actually, mostly photographers–seems like only entomologists want to… Read More →




Planting to nurture nature






We all have more power than we might think.  In a world where so many things seem out of control, anyone with a small plot of land, or even an apartment balcony with room for a few potted plants can make a small but significant difference in our environment. What we plant in our gardens can do more than just look pretty.  By selecting the right plants we can sustain native pollinators and attract butterflies.  We can create habitat for birds and reptiles and other small animals. Imagine a… Read More →




Lady beetle invasion






  This year Extension offices are receiving an unusually high number of calls about lady beetles inside homes.  The culprit is an exotic lady beetle called the multicolored Asian lady beetle (MALB).  While not new, high aphid  populations in some trees last year are thought to have contributed to this year’s higher than normal number of these “naughty lady beetles”. The multicolored Asian lady beetle is normally a helpful insect that eats aphids.  Studies of the beetle in its native Asian habitats showed that it was such an… Read More →




Benefits of cockroach baits






You may not have cockroaches in your home. But cockroaches remain one of the most important indoor pests of homes, especially in multifamily housing.  If you do have occasional problems with the small kitchen cockroaches, known as German cockroaches, there is good news, and it’s as close as the insecticide shelf in your grocery store. A story Before starting graduate school in entomology I worked as a pest control technician out of college. One of my accounts was a sprawling, multi-story public housing complex. These visits were frustrating… Read More →




Revenge of the (cricket) nerds






One of the great mysteries of my career as a Texas urban entomologist has been understanding the clouds of crickets that descend on lights and businesses nearly every year.  So I was intrigued last summer when I got an email from a PhD student at Cornell University interested in coming down to study our swarming crickets. Jay Falk is actually a native Texan, who grew up in the Austin area and got his undergraduate degree at the University of Texas.  That’s where he got his first introduction to… Read More →




My rabies story






[Note: This is not a story about insects, though it does relate to pest control.  As an urban extension entomologist I get to train and work with pest control professionals.  These good folks often find themselves called upon to handle and remove a variety of pests, including bats, raccoons and other urban wildlife that can be carriers of rabies.  So the following post is adapted from one I recently wrote for the pest management industry, with possible relevance to the readers of this blog.] Last August I was out… Read More →




Not all presents under the Christmas tree are welcome






The last week in November and first three weeks in December are Christmas tree season in the U.S.  All over the country, excited families take to the nearest tree lot to pick a recently cut tree for home.  Some of these trees, however, come with more than just needles and flocking. Giant conifer aphids in the genus Cinara, are among the most commonly encountered insects on fresh Christmas trees.  These aphids form colonies on trees outdoors.  Smaller colonies and lighter infestations are often missed by the tree farm,… Read More →




Simple experiments, like art, sometimes the most delightful






Have you ever been to a modern art exhibit and wondered how an artist could become famous for such a simple work as a colorful abstract, or a painting of Campbell Soup cans?  I could have done that, we’re tempted to say.  The point, however, is that we didn’t.  The artist did, however; and now is laughing all his way to the bank. The same could be said about some of the most elegant scientific experiments.  Once you hear of them, you think: “That idea was so simple; I could have… Read More →




Caterpillars in fall not so bad






Finding a caterpillar on a plant or tree in your backyard can be cause for excitement. But they should be little cause for concern, especially during the fall months. To most human eyes caterpillars are alien creatures. With their squishy, worm-like bodies, and accordion gait, they are weirdly unique among other insects. Some are large and fantastically showy.  Others have ominous-looking barbs and hairs. And some are skillfully camouflaged, nearly invisible among the leaves and shadows. When gardeners do encounter a caterpillar, reactions range from “cool!” to “yuck!!!” Caterpillars, of course, are the larval stage of moths and… Read More →




Getting tested for Zika






So you and your significant other are considering whether to get pregnant; but the summer’s headlines about Zika virus and its effect on developing babies has you worried.  Or maybe you’ve just returned from traveling to an area where Zika is active.  You’ve not experienced symptoms of Zika, but you’ve been around others with the disease and you know that 4 out of 5 people who get Zika show no symptoms.  You wonder if you might be infectious to your spouse or partner (Zika can be sexually transmitted). In both cases a test… Read More →