Author Archives: mike.merchant

Bed bugs happen: Even in school






A message to all parents with kids in school:  Bed bugs happen. Bed bugs happen even in your children’s school, and like it or not we’re all going to have to deal with it. That will mean fighting the inclination to go into hyper-protective parent mode. Instead we all need to relax.  Deep breaths.  Eyes closed. Find your center.  Breeeathe… it will be all right. It doesn’t matter what kind of school our kids attend, there’s a good chance that sooner or later you’ll hear rumors of bed bugs on campus.  I… Read More →




Boozy beetle: the Camphor Shoot Borer






Every now and then entomologists get calls that border on the bizarre. Last week I received an email from a citizen in far east Texas. He was having problems with what he said were “insects boring into his riding lawn mower gas tank”.  Of course my first reaction was that insects don’t eat plastic, nor do they drink gasoline.  Why should they be boring into a gas tank?  But the caller had photographic proof.  Not only did he have pictures of the holes, he was able to pry about 15 of… Read More →




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 →