Author Archives: mike.merchant

New Zika publications






I was asked a few weeks ago if the collective “we” (meaning the whole state of Texas) were going to be ready for Zika.  My answer was a cautious, “I think so”.  If we’re not, it at least it won’t be for lack of trying. Zika is a much different disease than West Nile virus. It has different vectors, mosquitoes that prefer to feed on humans over any other animal (unlike WNV mosquitoes, which mostly feed on birds).  It is also very difficult to detect in wild mosquito populations.  The… Read More →




Quick fix for mosquitoes






This year my wife and I worked all spring to turn our backyard into a flowery paradise.  We installed drip irrigation, planted new plants (including a bunch of perennials for attracting bees and butterflies) and mulched everything against the coming drought of summer. Now that summer’s here, however, the mosquitoes have decided that since everything’s so nice, they want to be in charge.  In fact I believe every mosquito on the block knows about our backyard, making it difficult to go outside for even a few minutes without repellent. You… Read More →




Turning the tide against ash borer?






On one hand, we’ve learned a lot about how to fight emerald ash borer with pesticides in the past 14 years since it was first discovered devouring ash forests in Michigan.  But we’re still learning how nature keeps EAB in its place in its native Asian home.  Insect parasites and predators are almost certainly the reason EAB is not a major pest on the other side of the globe. If only we could put some of those same beneficial insects to work for us!  Then maybe we could… Read More →




Closer than you’ve ever been






Photographer Levon Biss started out with portrait and sports photography, but got hooked on insects.  Now his extreme photographic skills have landed him a gig at the Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History. Biss shoots his images through a microscope to create scenes that no human eye has seen before. That’s because, even for an entomologist with a very good microscope, it’s impossible to see a full insect, like the mantis fly image shown here, in complete focus all at once. Biss achieves this by piecing together around 30… Read More →




Emerald ash borer enters Texas






If you’re a Texan and haven’t heard about an insect called the emerald ash borer, that’s about to change.  The emerald ash borer (EAB) is an invasive beetle that feeds almost exclusively on ash (Fraxinus spp.) and has been slowly spreading through the eastern and midwest states from Michigan where it was first discovered in 2002. On May 23 the Texas Forest Service, along with the U.S. Forest Service, announced that four EAB beetles had been discovered on a trap in Harrison County, TX along the Louisiana border.  Although… Read More →




2016 Entomology Specialist Training Announced






One of the great opportunities offered to Master Naturalists and Master Gardener volunteers in Texas is a wide array of specialized training opportunities.  Entomology has its own version of this with Master Volunteer Entomology Specialist training. Offered every year, MVES training is a multiday event designed to expand on normal entomology training every Master Volunteer receives during the internship program.  The curriculum is designed to appeal to both Master Gardener and Master Naturalist volunteers with an interest in insects.  Everyone who completes the course and volunteer hours on… Read More →




New fact sheet on indoor flies






Got flies? A new House and Landscape Series fact sheet will help you figure out what you have, and how to search out the source of the problem. Indoor flies are opportunists.  Give them a place to breed, and they’ll be all over the place just like, well, flies.  Knowing where these breeding sites are is much easier when you know what kind of fly is driving you crazy.  Indoor Flies and Their Control (ENTO-050) reviews and provides pictures and descriptions of the most common small and larger indoor… Read More →




First mosquito of the season






Before it’s old news, I wanted to make it official.  It’s Aedes (AID ees) season again in north Texas.  Last weekend I spotted my first Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquitoes) of the season.  So from now until November, get used to having these pesky mosquitoes around. Alex Wild, curator of the insect museum at the University of Texas in Austin (the OTHER Texas University) tweeted his first Aedes aegypti (yellow fever mosquito) of the season a month ago.  Since then I’ve been tempting my local backyard mosquito population with my succulent, winter-white legs… Read More →




Zika Virus: What you need to know






Last December I wrote about bracing for a new mosquito-borne disease called Zika.  Since then, evidence of a connection between Zika virus and two scary health conditions called Guillian-Barré syndrome and microcephaly has grown. Although there are still no known cases of Zika being acquired from mosquitoes locally, from within the U.S., there is a real possibility that Zika virus could reach Texas this summer.  If so, these issues will become as important to the average stay-at-home Texan, as it is to those folks who are willing to… Read More →




Controlling fire ants in sensitive areas






Among the common questions I receive about fire ants include questions on how to control them within vegetable gardens, compost bins and (increasingly) chicken coops. My favorite tool for fire ant control is use of fire ant bait broadcast over the entire home lawn and landscape.  This is an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way to keep fire ants away.  To learn more about this, check out the Texas Two-Step Method factsheet.  However, the most commonly available baits do not allow direct use in vegetable gardens or many areas with livestock…. Read More →