Fascinating facts about wasps, hornets: How to get along with these beneficial bugs

paper wasp nest
paper wasp nest

Paper wasps tending to their nest inside a barn. Note the abandoned paper nest and remnant outline of a mud dauber structure nearby. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Adam Russell)

Murder hornets may make the headlines because of their frightening name, but they are not in Texas. So, let’s talk about wasps and hornets and precautions you can take to avoid stings.

All wasps and hornets are beneficial, said Wizzie Brown, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist, Austin. Homeowners can appreciate that they protect gardens and landscapes from pests like caterpillars, spiders and aphids and pollinate blooming plants, but a sudden sting can erase that goodwill quickly.

Brown said wasps and hornets are focused on building nests and rearing young in any naturally occurring location or man-made structure that provides protection from the elements like eaves of buildings, bushes and trees.

Wasps and hornets are typically not aggressive when they are out foraging around flowers or a trash can, Brown said, so it is best to remain calm and avoid making aggressive movements toward them. However, certain species are very protective of their nests.

“If nests are in an area that won’t be disturbed, they typically are not going to be an issue,” she said. “They become a problem when they are protecting their nests and babies, so a nest by the front door or on your kids’ playset would be a concern.”

Brown said other locations like doghouses and mailboxes are a few locations homeowners should monitor for nests. If hornets or wasps are flying around a specific spot regularly, there is a possibility a nest could be present or in the making.

All sorts of shapes, sizes, nests and aggression levels

Yellow jackets are small with black and yellow banded markings. They are often misidentified because other species, like certain paper wasps, have similar reddish-brown bodies with yellow stripes. A large ground-dwelling species known as cicada killer wasps also have yellow and black banded markings but can reach up to 2 inches in length.

paper wasp on screen

Paper wasps are common during summer as they seek pollen.

The cicada killer wasps’ size has caused it to be misidentified as the murder hornet, or giant Asian hornet, which has not been officially sighted outside of Washington state so far.

Wasp and hornet species display a range of aggression when it comes to encroachment, Brown said. Yellow jackets are very protective of their colony and may attack when their nest is threatened, including vibrations from mowing. Mud daubers, on the other hand, are very docile and typically only sting when handled roughly.

Only female wasps and hornets sting, Brown said. The stinger is a modified egg-laying structure called the ovipositor. But males of some species like the cicada killer wasp will display more territorial aggression to an intruder than females, despite its inability to sting.

Brown said paper wasps are probably the most common wasps people encounter across Texas. They build open-faced paper nests typically in aerial locations and can be aggressive when their home is disturbed. Nests are a single layer and hang from a single stalk.

“If you see an open-faced nest made out of papery material on the eave of your home or along the ceiling of your porch, there’s a good chance they are paper wasps,” she said.

The type of nest structure and its location can be helpful hints as to what species is present.

Yellow jackets, for instance, build paper nests made of chewed wood fiber like paper wasps but build single-entry colonies and are most commonly found in cavities or underground spaces like abandoned rodent burrows.

cicada killer wasp on ground

The cicada killer wasp, Sphecius speciosus, is another large wasp approaching the length of the Asian giant wasp.

Mud daubers, on the other hand, collect moist soil and build a structure that they provision with food and lay their eggs. They can build these nests relatively anywhere protected from the rain. Once they’ve filled the structure with eggs and food like spiders, they seal the nest and leave.

Cicada killer wasps burrow into the ground to nest. They are typically solitary nesters but will share a single entry in the ground that leads to several egg-laying nurseries.

“Wasps and hornets are fascinating animals,” Brown said. “It’s easy to take the good they do around our homes for granted because we are afraid of being stung. But by learning what they do and how the different species act, it removes a lot of the fear and helps you appreciate seeing them around.”

Wasps and hornets come in a variety of shapes and sizes. AgriLife Extension and the Texas Apiary Inspection Service have great resources to help identify specific species by sight and behavior. Also, a recent Bugs by the Yard podcast featuring Brown and fellow AgriLife Extension entomologists covers wasps you might encounter around the state.

Controlling wasps around the house

Controlling where wasps and hornets locate around your home is relatively straightforward – kill the wasps and remove the nest. But the species and nest size present will dictate whether you can do it yourself or should call professionals.

“A mud dauber nest that is an eyesore on your home could be scraped off and washed,” she said. “The same goes for paper wasp nests, but you will need to spray the wasps from a safe distance beforehand. Spray them early in the morning or just before dark so you catch most of the wasps. Clean the space thoroughly after removing the nest to remove any pheromones that might attract other wasps to that location.”

Brown recommends using a spray pesticide that can shoot a concentrated stream 8-10 feet when removing stinging species like paper wasps.

Yellow jackets and hornets, especially those in established colonies, should be handled by professionals, Brown said.

“Earlier in the season, when the nests are smaller, removal might be something the DIY person could do, but when they are really active, removal could turn into a dangerous situation without protective clothing and specialized equipment.”

Brown said because yellowjackets and hornets can be very aggressive in protecting their nests and can sting multiple times, seeking shelter in a protected, closed area is the only way to avoid stings. Common swarm scenarios are a homeowner mowing their lawn and unwittingly alarming the colony through vibration or a farmer cutting hay and running over an underground colony.

“I would just recommend anyone who is consistently seeing any type of flying insect in a specific location that might be cause for concern – whether it’s around kids or your pet or a place you might disturb them – it might be worth taking a look to see what you’re dealing with. Be cautious and calm and don’t get too close, but knowing what insect you have could help you determine what the next step should be.”

The Native Mason Bee

This creative bee hotel uses bamboo and holes of the proper sizes drilled in logs

Osmia, a species of mason bee

Osmia, a species of mason bee, is a highly beneficial pollinator.

Want to take steps to support a locally found, native pollinating insect? Consider the Mason bee

With national pollinator week approaching later this month, it is important to recognize the variety of pollinators that exist in addition to Honey bees. For those who want to take steps to support a locally found, native pollinating insect, consider the Mason bee.

Mason bees are major pollinators of orchards and some commercial crops, but you can sometimes find them buzzing around a backyard garden. All told, there are 140 species of Mason bees in North America. They are about a ½ inch in length and can vary in coloration across species. Some Mason bees will be metallic green, while others are dark blue or black. Others resemble a small black fly, but flies only have one pair of wings and bees have two pairs.

Just as a brick mason uses a concrete mortar to set bricks, Mason bees use mud to construct their nests in preexisting cavities. The male Mason bee does not sting. A female is considered non-aggressive, stings only when handled ‘roughly,’ or when trapped under clothing.

These bees tend to favor tube-shaped or asymmetrical flowers such as plants from the mint and legume families. One Mason bee in particular, the Blue Orchard bee, is a popular commercial pollinator. It emerges in the spring, before honeybees. As a pollinator, this early spring work makes this species of bee more efficient than Honey bees when pollinating certain orchard crops. They are able to visit more flowers and can transfer pollen more effectively.

This creative bee hotel uses bamboo and holes of the proper sizes drilled in logs

This creative bee hotel uses bamboo and holes of the proper sizes drilled in logs to attract solitary bees. And it’s kind of fun to look at too.

If we followed one Honey bee and one Mason bee, you would find the Mason bee a harder worker that visits more flowers. But we use Honey bees because we are able to move multiple hives with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Honey bees into a location to pollinate a crop. To the contrary, Mason bees are solitary bees. Though we can move them around, agricultural producers cannot move enough numbers of them around to compare with the more popular Honey bees. Plus we get honey from Honey bees!

The solitary Mason bees chose nest locations in hollow stems, cracks in between stones, and cavities in wood. In the spring when Mason bees emerge from their nest, the females will mate and then will search for a new nesting site soon after. She will collect pollen and nectar to create a mixture that is used as provisions for developing brood.

Increasing the number of Mason bees around your home garden requires much fewer materials than a hive for Honey bees. You can provide a nesting site for Mason bees just outside a window of your home, just like you would hang up a bird house to watch them from the comfort of your chair.

The nesting holes for Mason bees should be ¼ to 3/8 inch in diameter and at least 3 inches, preferably 6 inches, deep. The hole should be open only on the entry end. Mason bees prefer wood (not pressure-treated or cedar) in which to nest but will use other materials.

You can make Mason bee nesting sites by drilling holes into a block of wood. Place the nest in a dry, protected site preferably with east or southeast exposure. You can also take a large soup can or small coffee can and fill it with paper straws or hollow bamboo stalks of the right size. With wire or string, position the nesting can on its side and hang outside, preferably near a window where you can view it.

Several parasites, predators, and pathogens can injure or kill Mason bees. Being an insect, this struggle for survival has gone on for eons, and is a part of nature.

Pollinator week is June 21-27 this year. Lets do our part to support agriculture and care for the environment by helping our pollinators.

Written By: Cary Simms, Ag and Natural Resources County Agent, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Angelina County

Mosquito populations booming after rains: Three varieties to worry about, control and repel

Aedes albopictus, Asian tiger mosquito

Biting mosquitoes like this Aedes variety prefer different breeding sites and are active at different times throughout a day.

That familiar buzz and bite are signs that mosquito season in Texas is here, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife entomologist.

Sonja Swiger, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist and associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Entomology, Stephenville, said biting mosquitoes are a seasons-long problem that often changes based on the environment.

Which species are present and whether mosquitoes are an annoyance or vectors for diseases likely depends on those conditions, she said. Similarly, the temperature, availability of water and type of water available, such as clear floodwater in ditches, a wheelbarrow that has collected water or stagnant puddles in hot, dry weather are all contributing factors to what type of mosquito is visiting you and your family.

The annual mosquito bloom

Rainfall, especially with multiple storm systems that have saturated and flooded areas around the state, can significantly contribute to a boom in mosquito populations, Swiger said. 

“People are seeing, and should expect to see, quite a bit more mosquito activity in the next days and weeks”, she said. “Our focus is going to be disease carriers that typically become a problem in late summer and early fall. However, all this rain has created plenty of habitat for floodwater and container species”.

Swiger divides mosquitoes into those three categories – floodwater, container and stagnant – and they typically emerge in the order related to the breeding environment they prefer.

“Mosquitoes come in waves and can overlap as the season progresses,” she said. “It can help to understand what type you are dealing with, how to do your part to control them around your home and how to protect yourself and your family because we are in mosquito season.”

First wave: floodwater mosquitoes

The floodwater mosquito is a common pest species following spring rains.

Floodwater mosquitoes are the first to emerge after rain events, Swiger said.

Heavy rains leave the ground saturated and create standing puddles in ditches and low spots in fields and lawns. Floodwater mosquito larvae emerge quickly after water becomes available. Eggs are placed there by females and wait for water, sometimes two to five years before rainfall reaches them depending on the species, Swiger said.

Floodwater mosquitoes are typically larger and are aggressive. These types of mosquitos are often the persistent biters from dawn to dusk, Swiger said.

“The potential for standing water could make their habitat more widespread, which will make them a greater issue for more people than normal”, she said. “Any location that is holding water, even in grassy areas, could be a breeding ground”.

Swiger said females lay more eggs in the moist soil around puddles, and either more larvae emerge, or they will go dormant and wait for water to return. Subsequent rains can wash larvae downstream but can also trigger dormant mosquito eggs.

Second wave: container mosquitoes

Container mosquitoes, which include the Aedes species identified by its black and white body and white striped legs, typically emerge next. Female mosquitoes lay eggs in anything holding water – from tires, buckets, and wheelbarrows to gutters, unkept pools and trash cans. They prefer clearer, fresher water, and females are constantly looking for good breeding sites.

Container mosquitoes like Aedes are daytime feeders but can be opportunistic at nighttime when large groups of people gather, Swiger said.

“Any time after a rain, it is good to make a round on the property to look for anything that might be holding water”, she said. “It just takes a matter of days for these mosquitoes to go from egg to biter, so they can become a problem pretty quickly”.

Third wave: Culex mosquitoes

Culex, a mosquito species that prefers stagnant pools of water with high bacteria content, typically emerge as waters recede and dry summer conditions set in and create breeding sites in low-lying areas. They are the disease carriers that concern the public and health officials, Swiger said.

It is not easy to forecast their emergence because their ideal environment can be washed away by additional rains or dried up by extreme heat and drought, Swiger said. In rural areas, bogs, pooled creek beds or standing water in large containers such as barrels, trash cans or wheelbarrows can make a good habitat for Culex. In the city, similar pools in dried up creeks or other low spots can create breeding sites, but most urban issues occur underground in storm drains where water can sit and stagnate.

“It’s difficult to predict when or where these mosquitoes might become a problem”, she said. “Widespread heavy rain makes it even more difficult to predict”.

How to repel mosquitoes from yourself, children and pets

bottle of Repel spray with lemon eucalyptus

The natural repellent, lemon oil of Eucalyptus, is a good alternative to DEET for those who prefer organic. The important thing is to find a repellent you will use, and use it.

Swiger said reducing mosquito numbers in your location and the use of spray repellents are a good start when it comes to protecting yourself from bites. Covering exposed skin with long-sleeved shirts and long pants help as well.

Making recommendations for protecting people or locations from mosquitoes can be a tricky proposition, Swiger said. She does not recommend any repellents or mosquito repelling products that are not approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anecdotal evidence exists that alternatives like essential oils repel mosquitoes, Swiger said. Spatial repellent devices like Thermacell are popular, however some people may balk at the chemical particles the units emit to create a barrier around a person or space.

Plants like citronella, geraniums, lemongrass, lavender, lantana, rosemary, and petunias have been shown to repel mosquitoes, but Swiger said the distribution limits effectiveness for protecting a space. The number of plants and the location among other factors would weigh heavily into their effectiveness.

Candles and other smoke-based repellents fall into a similar category as plants, Swiger said.

“Protecting yourself with any spray-on, CDC-approved repellent like DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil is my best recommendation anytime you go outside for an extended period”, she said. “Personal protectants are the only certainty against bites”.

Swiger said pets should be removed from areas with mosquito infestations. Small children should not be taken outdoors for long periods if mosquitoes are an issue because they can have adverse reactions to mosquito bites, and spray products should be used sparingly on them, especially babies. There are age restrictions for most repellents; no repellents on babies less than 2 months old and do not use lemon of eucalyptus oil on children 3 and under.

“This time of year, it’s just best to limit their exposure to mosquitoes”, she said.

How to control, prevent mosquitoes

There are various places in the typical backyard that can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Controlling mosquitos after widespread, heavy rains is difficult because their habitat can be so unpredictable, Swiger said. Container mosquitoes are a bit easier – remove the habitat by dumping the water or treat the water with granular or dunk larvicides.

“Empty containers filled with water as much as possible and look for standing water that can be drained or where dunks larvicides can be effective,” she said. “It’s just a matter of, how far do you take it before other options are necessary?”

Sprays or barrier treatments that kill adult mosquitoes are another option, but effectiveness is limited, Swiger said. Products that homeowners can apply only last 24 hours. Professionals can apply longer-lasting barrier products – typically pyrethroid-based or organic products – but their effectiveness degrades with time.

Some groups and municipalities initiate mosquito abatement programs, especially when major outbreaks occur or mosquitoes become a health risk, but they are temporary as well, Swiger said. They typically spray at night to kill adult mosquitoes, and the residue burns off in the sunlight after dawn.

“Some cities and counties do a pretty good job staying on top of mosquito control, but it can be an overwhelming task, and weather can hinder effectiveness”, she said. “The best thing to remember is to protect yourself when outdoors for extended periods, reduce breeding sites as much as possible in your space and then be mindful of areas nearby that might become problematic”.

 

Getting the Bugs Out: Bed Bug Training 2020

bed bug on mattress ticking
alan brown

Alan Brown instructing how to use steam for bed bug management.

IPM Experience House: Getting the Bugs Out: Bed Bug Training 2020 is here to help you understand this old but new foe the “Bed Bug.” Long-time bed bug specialist for ABC Home and Commercial Services, Alan Brown, Staff Entomologist/ Department Manager will be providing his insights into best practices for bed bug control. In  addition to classroom training on the finer points of the “modern bed bug,” the class will get hands on experience with inspecting, treating using heat and other methods and developing practical and effective follow-up plans for your customers.

Hands-on activities include use of various sprayers and dusters, bag fumigants, solar heat treatments, and situational problem solving. In addition, we will use microscopes to examine different bed bug life stages and species.

Registration is now open for bed bug training academy at IPM Experience House.

What: This class will provide basic and advanced training in bed bug recognition, treatment methods and problem solving. Registration open until October 28th, or until the class is full. Class size limited to 10.  No refunds after October 29.

JJ teaching

JJ teaching the class about solar treatment for some items

Where: Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Water & Land Resources Building along with IPM Experience House .

When: October 29, 2020. 8:15 am to 5 pm.

Instructors: , Janet Hurley, Alan Brown and Jonathan Joubert.  (CEUs: 8 hours verified training in Pest Category, Pending: 2 CEU general, 1 CEU Pest)

How to Register: Click here to register online.

2020 Fall IPM Virtual Conference

AgriLife Logo
Green Aggies - 5 images of people

Erfan Vafaie and Becky Grubbs Bowling make up the AgriLife Team of Green Aggies, they will share their knowledge with you are our Fall IPM seminar

For anyone who needs structural or ag CEU credits in turf and ornamental pest management, 2020 Fall IPM Conference registration is now open, and we are going virtual.

We understand this year has been a challenge and getting your CEU credits is still required, so like everything else there is a Zoom meeting for that.

Never Fear AgriLife Extension is Here. You can trust us to have speakers that will help keep you engaged and teach you a thing or two.

When: Wednesday, November 18, 2020 – Zoom conference room will open at 7:45 AM. We will break for lunch (on your own) and begin right at 1:00 PM with Dr. Renchie and will be done by 3:30 PM.

Our speaker lineup includes Dr. Becky Bowling talking about water and how that impacts pests – too much or not enough is that is needed to stress an area out. Dr. Eric Reasor will discuss herbicide resistance, this applies to all of us as we watch products drop off the market. Dr. Sonja Swiger will be discussing a topic we haven’t heard from in a while – flies and that’s not just mosquitoes, but flies are always problematic in certain areas. To ensure you are awake after the lunch break, we have Dr. Don Renchie scheduled to cover laws and rules, yes, he will still get you to say an Amen or Hum at least once during his session. Our final speaker of the day will be Erfan Vafaie, discussing some of the smaller insect pests that occur outside on vegetables and ornamentals.  Check out the 2020 fall ipm brochure for all the details. 

Did you realize a couple of names were not listed as speakers? No, we didn’t all retire, only Dr. Mike Merchant retired in August, Dr. Chrissie Segars and Janet Hurley will be part of the program only we will be monitoring the chat box and you the participants to make sure you are there. online! 

How to Register

This virtual conference brings some changes to our normal registration process. All payment and registration will be done through our registration link only. You MUST register here  and have your payment to College Station by November 16th. This is a hard deadline and no exceptions will be made. We are unable to take registrations on the day of the conference due to the nature of the virtual format. We appreciate your patience with this process. All necessary information will be sent to your email once registration is complete. You must have an email to access the zoom webinar information.

To qualify for CEU’s, you must enter your correct license number and be present for the entirety of the virtual conference. The online platform will monitor your presence at the conference and CEU’s will be awarded accordingly. More explanation will be given the day of the conference.

Wednesday, November 18

Webinar Register online! http://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/IPM  scroll down to the webinar section

Registration/Payment Questions: agriliferegister@tamu.edu  979-845-2604

Cost $50 through November 16 Please enter your current pesticide license at registration!

Cancellations received no later than Nov. 16 will receive a refund minus a $10 administrative fee

Seminar questions: Sharon Harris 972-952-9201 SRHarris@ag.tamu.edu

 

Dr. Mike Merchant Retires After 30+ Years with Extension

Dr. Merchant discussing caterpillar control during an IPM class

The Department of Entomology and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service celebrated the retirement of a longtime professor and Extension Entomologist during a virtual celebration held on August 7.

Merchant, a Professor and Extension Entomologist in Dallas, will be retiring on August 31. He has been with Extension for more than 30 years when he joined as an Urban Entomologist in the District 4 offices located in the Dallas area.

His career highlights started in 1993 when Merchant was named Chair of the statewide School IPM Advisory Committee. As chair, Merchant served as principal drafter of the original regulations establishing the Texas School IPM program. Since then, he has created video training tapes and wrote a handbook for school IPM coordinators, and a training conference.

In 2001, Merchant and Program Leader and Extension Specialist Dr. Don Renchie were awarded a multi-state grant in to develop the Southwestern Technical Resource Center for IPM in Schools and Daycare Facilities. The grant also allowed Merchant to hire Extension Program Specialist Janet Hurley to help create the Texas School IPM Team, which gained national recognition for their outstanding work developing training materials and courses in integrated pest management for schools.

In the early 1990’s Merchant was the author of the original fact sheet for the “Texas Two-Step” method of controlling fire ants that was developed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The sheet was the most frequently requested publication from 1995-1997 and is now being used by commercial fire ant bait manufacturers and is recognized as the most effective control program available in the nation.

Crepe myrtle bark scale

Over the past decade, Merchant led a team of entomologists to identify a new insect pest of crape myrtle, officially named the crape myrtle bark scale or Eriococcus lagerstroemiae. The scale has now spread throughout the southern U.S. Merchant demonstrate that neonicotinoid soil drenches controlled the scale, and his research has focused on safe and effective methods of control that are also safe, economically feasible, and do not adversely impact pollinators who use crape myrtle as a source of pollen in the late summer.

In 2003, Merchant along with colleagues Drs. John Jackman and Carlos Bogran developed the Master Volunteer Specialist in Entomology program. This training consists of a course which offers in-depth training in entomology to Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists and created an online outreach tool for professionals and general public called Insects in the City. He also oversaw the renovation project in 2016 that eventually became the Texas IPM House, which is a hands-on training facility for pest management professionals to learn about IPM and pests that invade homes or used structures as a source of food and shelter.

Merchant also created an interactive website called “Mosquito Safari” to help teach homeowners and businesses about proper mosquito control. During the emergence of the Zika virus, Merchant worked with Dr. Sonja Swiger to develop a statewide outreach program to educate about controlling mosquitoes and prevention of Zika in Texas. In 2016, they enlisted the help of several Extension agents, specialists, and program specialists to create and distribute materials.

Their efforts in mosquito control educational programming resulted in 339 education events, directly training nearly 140,000 people plus over 2 million media contacts engaged with the programs. In addition, 76,400 people received newsletters with Zika information and more than 11,000 printed copies were distributed throughout the state.

Since 1995, Merchant has also maintained another highly popular website called Insects In The City, or citybugs.tamu.edu, that allows visitors to sign up for insect updates, post questions, and view fact sheets. The site receives at least 1.2 to 1.5 million visitors and an average of 3.2 million views per year.

In addition to Extension, Merchant was very active in the Entomological Society of America where he made significant contributions through his service, including co-authoring a 208-page study guide Associate Certified Entomologist program titled IPM for the Urban Professional: A Study Guide for the Associate Certified Entomologist.

Merchant also served on the Entomological Society of America’s Certification Board, a board that is responsible for the Society’s certification programs, and the Director of the BCE program in 2001-2002. Since he was director of the BCE, he led the reorganization of the program committee and established the Associate Certified Entomologist program.

Extension Program Specialist Wizzie Brown said that Merchant will definitely be missed by everyone.

“Mike has been an excellent mentor over the years and will be sorely missed by myself, other entomologists, and people within the pest control industry,” Brown said.

“Dr. Merchant has always been some whom I could depend on whenever I had a question or an issue,” Associate Professor and Extension Specialist Dr. Sonja Swiger said. “He has provided guidance, wisdom, compassion and steadfast for all of us in the Extension Entomology group. While his retirement is well deserved, he will be deeply missed by all.”

Jumping champs

leafhopper adult

In the Master volunteer classes I teach every year on entomology, I race through so many different kinds of insects that I fear I do all a disservice.  One group I always mention in passing are the different kinds of homopterous insects.  This group includes the “hopper” families: treehoppers, leafhoppers, planthoppers and froghoppers.

These are all plant-sap feeding insects that produce honeydew.  One of the things I mention in class about some of these is that their droppings (excrement) are often so abundant that you can feel them dropping on you like “rain” while standing under an infested tree. Think about that on your next picnic.

But surely the coolest thing about these insects is their ability to jump. The hopper families include some of the most powerful jumpers in the insect world, reaching acceleration forces of 50-Gs and more during take-off.  A fantastic new video this month from North Carolina State entomologist, Dr. Adrian Smith, shows off the jumping prowess of these four families.

In terms of the ability of a medium to engender wonder, high speed videography is the most incredible medium.  I hope you’ll take a few minutes out of your day today to watch and enjoy some of the greatest gymnasts around.

And, Simone Biles, eat your heart out!

 

It’s a “murder hornet”! Or is it?

Don’t reach for the shotgun yet.  There are many wasps that look similar to the Asian giant hornets you’ve seen on TV. Images courtesy Hanna Royals (USDA APHIS PPQ ITP), specimens provided by Colorado State University’s C.P. Gillette Museum.

If you’ve never heard of “murder hornets,” more accurately called Asian giant hornets, Vespa mandarinia, you’ve probably been living on the space station for the past month.  And at the risk of stirring up a hornet’s nest, I thought it worthwhile to remind us all June is the month of the cicada killer wasp.  This is another common large wasp likely to be mistaken for the Asian giant hornet haunting news feeds this spring.

Actually, both Asian giant hornet workers and cicada killer wasps vary in size based on their diets and environmental factors; so some cicada killer individuals may equal or exceed the AGH in length.

So, if you look in your backyard and see the biggest flying monster wasp you’ve ever seen in your life, and if you’re ready to grab your kids and leave town, calm down.  It’s probably the cicada killer wasp or one of the many native wasps that you’ve blissfully ignored in the past. By all accounts the Asian giant hornet will take years, if ever, to reach Texas.  And if it gets here, there’s a good chance it won’t like our treeless plains and hot summer temperatures.

For more information about cicada killer wasps, check out my earlier post.  Also, for a beautiful gallery of royalty free images of the Asian giant hornet and hornet look-alikes, check out the USDA/APHIS image gallery or, the very informative interactive ID guide for AGH put out by North Carolina State.

 

Emerald ash borer in Denton

map of EAB risk areas for the Dallas and Fort Worth area in May 2020

High risk zones for emerald ash borer based on known locations where the borers are established. May 2020.  Circles show the areas within 15 miles of known EAB infestations; any ash trees of value within these circles should be treated this year to ensure protection from attack.

 

When Denton urban forester Haywood Morgan moved to Texas from Milwaukee, Wisconsin six years ago he thought he was leaving the devastating emerald ash borer behind.  Instead the ash borer found him again.

EAB adult captured in Denton, TX. Photo by Haywood Morgan.

Morgan became reacquainted with EAB this month during a trip to look at some sick ash trees along a Denton, Texas street. After inspecting ash borer-like damage on the 11 year old ash, his experienced eye caught a glimpse of shiny green.  A quick grab and he had it–what appears to be the first emerald ash borer to be found in Denton county.

According to Morgan the insects appear to have been in this neighborhood for several years, based on extensive damage seen to a half dozen or so ash trees.

Arborist Scott Geer with Tree Shepherds also visited the site.  In addition to the landscape trees around the house Morgan inspected, Geer reported other neighbors with damage, as well as damaged native green ash in an adjacent forest.

“Ash are not the predominant tree in Denton County,” said Geer.  “Green ash are found in pockets, mostly along the creeks; but Denton county is dominated by post oak, blackjack oak and cedar elm with some ash scattered in pockets.”

The emerald ash borer attacks ash trees almost exclusively*, so non-ash tree species will be safe.

EAB damaged tree in Denton, TX. 2020. Photo by Haywood Morgan.

The insect Morgan collected has been sent to USDA experts for official verification, but everyone who saw the insect was convinced.

This makes the second active EAB site in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, but the first in an urban neighborhood in Texas.

Most tree experts agree that emerald ash borer may be the most important exotic tree pest to enter the country since chestnut blight, which caused the near-extinction of wild chestnut trees in the U.S.  This beetle may be nearly as devastating, with some experts worrying that die-back of natural populations could threaten extinction for the 15-plus species of native ash in the U.S.

Damage to trees is not immediately visible as the beetles typically start their attack at the top of the tree. Symptoms to look for include canopy thinning in the upper tree, bark splitting, and sprouting or vigorous new growth from the ground and lower portions of the tree. Only later will the 1/8 inch, D-shaped emergence holes of the beetle be visible.

If you suspect your ash tree has symptoms of the borer you will need to either treat it, if damage is not severe, or cut it down.  Borer damaged trees quickly dry out and become brittle, making them hazardous to people and property. Local tree care companies have treatments that will provide 2-3 years of protection against the borer.  Do-it-yourself treatments are also available from garden centers.  They involve drenches with insecticides containing imidacloprid, azadirachtin or dinotefuran.  Home treatments must be reapplied annually.

For more information on EAB, it’s ID, biology and control, go to http://www.emeraldashborer.info/ Also, reports of suspected EAB may be submitted through the Sentinel Pest reporting function of the Texas Invasives website. Experts from USDA there are ready to evaluate samples, but keep in mind some simple guidelines for sending in pictures.  For more information about how to recognize EAB damage, check out this guide.

Insect Updates will keep you informed about continued spread of EAB through the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

* Cases of EAB attacking Chionanthus virginicus (white fringetree) have also been documented.

 

Giant hornets genuinely frightening

face of Asian giant hornet

face of Asian giant hornet

The Asian giant hornet has recently been spotted close to the Canadian border in Washington state. Photo courtesy Washington State Department of Agriculture.

 

Last year’s quiet arrival of a foreign wasp known as the Asian giant hornet is no longer a secret outside of Washington state.  Within the past few days, all the major TV networks have broadcast stories of the arrival of the wasp to the Pacific Northwest.  Known to entomologists as Vespa mandarinia, it has been named by the press the ‘murder hornet’.

It’s hard to argue with the name ‘murder hornet’ given that this wasp causes 30-50 human deaths a year in Japan. And the threat is serious enough that the Washington State Department of Agriculture has devoted a website to the pest and assigned public engagement officer, Karla Salp, to handle public concerns.  “Our hope is to eradicate it before it can get established in Washington,” she said. “Barring that, containing it is our second goal.”

Let’s face it, the thought of giant stinging wasps touches our deepest fears. If proof was needed of how scary wasps are to most people, look no further than the Hunger Games and its “tracker jacker” wasps. Even Hollywood knows the idea of being attacked by a swarm of wasps or bees is horrifying in the most primal way (and therefore sells tickets).

How bad?

Given the fact that lots of other stinging wasps and bees are already a part of the landscape in Texas, why the fuss?  After all, it’s just another wasp.  One of the reasons the Asian giant wasp generates so much attention is its size.  At 1 1/2 inches long (queens up to 2 inches) it is reportedly the largest wasp in the world. Its sting is excruciating and, unlike the honey bee, it can sting repeatedly.

dorsal view Asian giant hornet

The Asian giant hornet has a distinctive yellow-orange head and heavier body than those of our largest native wasps. Photo courtesy Washington State Department of Agriculture.

And while we’re talking bees, a gang of 30 Asian giant hornets can take out a hive of 30,000 honey bees in a few hours. The European honey bee–the predominant species used by beekeepers–lacks the behavioral defenses that Japanese honey bees use against this wasp.  With its giant jaws capable of decapitating honey bee defenders, and a exoskeleton impervious to bee stings, the giant hornet makes a formidable foe. To make matters worse, beekeepers who encounter these wasps face 1/4-inch-long stingers that penetrate standard beekeeper garb.

Impact on Texas

The bottom-line is that the chance of Asian giant hornets invading Texas soon is slim, given that at the moment only a few wasps have been found in only one county in the far northwest corner of the U.S.  Also, hornets are less likely to be transported by humans than many other exotic insects, like fire ants or emerald ash borers.

As with any social insect, hornets live and survive in colonies, not as individuals. So an individual worker wasp that accidentally flies into a vehicle, for example, will not be able to survive away from its colony.  The only way to spread the wasp is by transporting an entire subterranean nest (highly unlikely), or to transport a  previously mated queen, capable of starting a new nest on her own. The chance of the latter happening is greatest if a mated queen going to bed for the winter (they like to do this in loose plant debris or soil) happens to bury herself in the loose soil of a potted plant, and the plant shipped elsewhere. This is currently the leading theory for how the hornet got to North America.

Natural spread on the ground could certainly also occur, but it should take much longer.  In China the wasps seem to favor forested areas and avoids high altitudes and open grasslands.  Texas does not seem to be ideal habitat for this wasp. Nevertheless, it’s hard to feel completely safe from an insect that just successfully hopped an ocean.  And according to Salp there is genetic evidence that the Asian giant hornet (against the odds) slipped into British Columbia not once, but twice in the past year.

Look-alikes

cicada killer wasp on ground

The cicada killer wasp, Sphecius speciosus, is another large wasp, approaching the length of the Asian giant wasp, common in Texas.

It’s not unusual when a scary new pest gets reported in the news for everyone to start seeing them in their backyard (it’s a natural human response to believe that if something bad is going to happen, it will happen to us personally first).  But in this case, there are much better explanations for big hornets in your backyard.  In Texas one of our largest stinging insects is the cicada killer wasp.  Cicada killers range in size from 1 to 1 1/2 inches-long, approaching the Asian giant wasp in length.  Although the bodies of cicada killers are more slender, and heads not as distinctively orange, they are still easily mistaken for the more sinister giant hornet.

Washington state officials are also responding to a worried public.  “We have created a chart to show people the size differences in native bees and wasps compared to the Asian giant wasp,” said Salp. “Its common to see other wasps and mistake them for the giant wasp.”

In Texas, it is highly unlikely that the Asian giant hornet will be spotted for many years, if ever. But if you see something unusual, a good picture is usually sufficient to roughly identify a bee or wasp.  Send the image to your county Extension office with a description of the city and county and date where it was taken. Also, as accurately as possible estimate the length of the insect.  The better the picture and description, the more likely you are to get an answer.

And, as for now, don’t watch the Hunger Games if you want to sleep well tonight.