Newsletter – AgriLife Today | Texas tarantula tango: Understanding their annual hunt for food, love

If you see tarantulas moving in greater numbers around Texas, don’t fear … they’re just looking for love.

Tarantula spider on rocks with leaves and grass.
There are 15 tarantula species that can be found around Texas like this one at Big Bend National Park. (Sam Craft/Texas A&M AgriLife)

Some folks equate this annual movement of these large, fuzzy arthropods to seasonal migration. But Wizzie Brown, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomology specialist in the Texas A&M Department of Entomology, Travis County, said the mass movement of tarantulas between May and August is not a true migratory event.

The uptick in tarantula activity and movement can be attributed to males searching for females to mate, Brown said, adding that the timing of their emergence and subsequent mating season is triggered by warmer spring temperatures and moisture. This means their location across the state can be a determining factor for emergence and activity.

“This spring has been warmer, so it may begin a little earlier than normal,” Brown said. “Usually once it warms up and we get some decent rain you will begin to see them. If you think about it, those same conditions mean more insects are emerging, which means more food for tarantulas’ offspring at that point.”

Tarantulas are not a danger to us

Despite their size, tarantulas shouldn’t be feared by humans, Brown said. If encountered, she recommends just admiring them and leaving them be.

Tarantulas are not venomous to humans, but they can bite. They will typically give warnings by rearing up on their hind legs to look bigger or showing their fangs before they bite. Brown equates the bite to a bee sting.

They will also kick hairs off their abdomen as a defensive mechanism, she said. The hairs are prickly like a cactus with fine spines. Some people develop rashes from their hairs.

“They can be scary when judged by their size and looks,” she said. “They’re large, but they’re no danger to us. They can be grumpy when handled roughly, but if they bite, it’s typically from being provoked. So, look at them and appreciate them because they are beneficial. But people shouldn’t handle tarantulas in the wild.”

Texas tarantulas on the move

Tarantulas are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. They are the largest spiders on Earth, and Brown said species native to Texas can reach up to 6 inches from the tip of their front legs to the tip of their back legs.

Tarantulas are arthropods, which means they have an exoskeleton they molt numerous times throughout their lives. They have eyes, two distinct body regions, and eight legs and are covered in hair. Texas tarantulas are typically blackish-to-brownish in color, and darker after they molt.

There are 15 tarantula species across Texas, so they are not an uncommon sight during the annual mating season, Brown said. But they are more common and noticeable in certain areas and terrain.

“The likelihood of an encounter is higher in some parts of the state like rockier areas of Central and Southwest Texas, but you can find them east of Interstate 35,” Brown said. “Some of that is simply related to populations, but it can also be how they stand out in some habitats compared to others.”

Texas tarantulas prefer to burrow in the soil. They do not use webs to capture prey, but rather to line their burrows to prevent collapse, and as a mat for the molting process, Brown said. Females lay 100 to 1,000 eggs in a web constructed like a hammock.

Female tarantulas have lived up to 25 years in captivity, while males live around two to three years in the wild or five to 10 years in captivity once they mature.

Tarantula spider crawling along rocks..
Tarantulas may be big and look scary, but they are not aggressive or venomous. But handling wild tarantulas can lead to a bite akin to a bee sting. (Michael Miller/Texas A&M AgriLife)

Tarantulas on the hunt

Tarantulas are nocturnal predators. Rather than using webs to capture prey, Brown said they rely on ambush to hunt and feed on insects, other spiders, and small lizards, frogs, and snakes.

They remain in or around their burrow where they have webbed trip lines that help them “feel” the vibration of approaching prey, she said.

When prey is captured, it is then bitten with the spider’s fangs and injected with venom that has digestive enzymes that kills and liquefies it. Once the prey is soupy, the tarantula sucks up juices through its fangs. While tarantulas are capable of biting humans, their venom does not react with our body chemistry like black widow or recluse spiders.

Brown said door seals are typically enough to exclude tarantulas from homes because of their size. But in the case of an in-home encounter, she suggests covering it with a glass and sliding paper underneath the spider to move it.

“Tarantulas aren’t aggressive, and they’re not jumpers, so people shouldn’t worry about them,” she said. “But I can also understand people viewing them as a pest if they are finding them in the house.

“The thing to remember is they’re shy and docile unless provoked, and a benefit because they eat pest insects. And this time of year, tarantulas are just hunting for food and a mate.”

Newsletter – Pesticide Labels (Cary Sims, CEA, ANR – Angelina Co.)

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Contact: Cary Sims: 936.634.6414 | cw-sims@tamu.edu

Always Read the Label

As spring is in full force and we spend more time outside in pastures, gardens, or other green spaces, an observant eye will notice unwanted pests. As is common, our office gets a number of calls and walk-ins about pest problems in the yard, garden, pasture, and other sites. The question is two-fold: what is it and what can I do about it?

Once identified there are (typically) a few options on how to control the pest, whether the pest is a weed, insect, disease, or something else. But with the control options and great products at our disposal, they won’t do what they are meant to if we don’t read and follow the label.

True, labels are great for putting one to sleep. Also true, I’m the guy who wants to skip the instructions when assembling furniture.

Nonetheless, if you have armyworms in your hay meadow, fleas in the yard, duckweed in the pond, downy mildew on your Crepe Myrtles, gummy stem blight on your tomatoes, or smartweed in the pasture, the recommended “solution” won’t do you much good if you don’t follow the label.

The pesticide product label gives you important information about how to use the pesticide effectively and safely. Read the label before you buy the product and each time before you use the product.

You may only use the pesticide on sites or crops listed on the label. For instance, the pesticide label will tell you whether or not you may use the pesticide inside your home. If you are treating a vegetable garden, be sure the label says you can use the pesticide on your garden crop.

In the home landscape, there are turf and ornamental pesticides may not be used in food-producing vegetable gardens. The label may tell you what plants should not be treated because of the chance of injuring the plant, or under what conditions you may, or may not, apply the pesticide.

The pesticide label also tells you about special precautions you must take when you use the pesticide. These include keeping people, and especially kids, safe. It will also include statements warning about not contaminating foods, feeds, and water; not applying pesticides when it is windy; or not allowing the pesticide to drift or runoff.

The pesticide label will contain a signal word that will generally indicate how toxic the product is to humans. There are three signal words: CAUTION, WARNING, or DANGER. Signal words will usually be in capital letters. The least toxic products carry the signal word CAUTION. Products with

the signal word WARNING on the label are more toxic. The most toxic pesticides have the signal word DANGER on their labels.

The pesticide label lists personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing that you must wear when mixing and applying pesticides. The label will also tell you how long you must wait until you can reenter a treated area, or how long you must wait to harvest food plants after an application. It provides first aid information under a section called “Statement of Practical Treatment” or “First Aid.”

The pesticide label will also tell you how to store the product safely, and how to dispose of the empty container or unused pesticide properly.

Always remember to read and heed the six most important words on the label: “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.”

Please, always READ and follow the label directions exactly.

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Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu.

Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, national origin, genetic information, or veteran status. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.

Pest Alert! White-margined burrower bug

Photo credit: Dr. Mike Merchant

Pest Alert! White-margined burrower bug

Within one week, Extension Entomology has received insect identification requests from Districts 8 and 11 for a small, dark insect appearing by the thousands and covering structures and plants. The insect can be present in high numbers in fields, woodlands, lawns, and gardens. This is Sehirus cinctus, the white-margined burrower bug, a true bug that occasionally has outbreak years in parts of Texas. The nymphs (immature stages) have a red and black coloration, and the adults are black with a lighter tint along the outside of the body. Here is an article from a past outbreak: https://citybugs.tamu.edu/2011/05/04/the-mother-bug/ . The article is correct that the problem will go away in time and not recur for many years. However, if clients must spray something, then a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide would be a good choice (but don’t expose pets or people): https://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/ipm/ent-6003/. Pyrethroids are readily available at home and garden stores and are labeled for use on lawns and landscapes. A pyrethroid insecticide will kill the insects over the course of a few hours of exposure, but it won’t really make a dent in future generations. 

Many photos of the white-margined burrower bug can be seen here: https://bugguide.net/node/view/6982/bgimage . According to BugGuide, adults are common on lawn weeds such as Henbit and Purple Dead-nettle, as well as on leaves and flowers of many species of herbaceous plants.

Article by: Dr. Pat Porter

Clover Mites: Tiny Creatures, Big Impact

Photo by Bryant McDowell

Photo by Bryant McDowell

I have had a few individuals (homeowners and pest management professionals) reach out to me about infestations of tiny mites that are aggregating on their structures, windowsills, and even seeing them invade indoors! For most of us in Texas, we won’t ever have to battle the army of microscopic mites – known as clover mites, or brown mites. In north Texas, however, this may be a sight we are all too familiar with as the end of winter approaches and temperatures rise. The clover mite, scientifically known as Bryobia praetiosa Koch (Acari: Tetranychidae), is a common pest found all over the world. In North America, they are distributed throughout the United States and southern Canada.

Biology:

Clover mites prefer cooler weather, around 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit, according to most sources I have come across. Therefore, they are most active in the spring and fall seasons. Clover mites are parthenogenetic, meaning they develop from unfertilized eggs, and their population is composed entirely of females. They undergo five developmental life stages: egg, larva, protonymph, deutonymph, and adult. Eggs are bright red in color and laid in various protected areas in the environment. Six-legged larvae hatch from these eggs and are also a bright red color. the next two nymphal stages (protonymph and deutonymph) are eight -legged, like the adults but the legs appear more or less equal in size. By the time the adult emerges, they are a light to dark reddish or greenish brown color, and easily identifiable by their first pair of legs being nearly twice the length of the rest and extending forward past the head. A generation lasts approximately one month, and adult clover mites live for about two weeks outdoors, as long as weather conditions are suitable for their development. Females can lay up to 70 eggs during their lifespan.

Habitat and Plant Preference:

Clover mites primarily live in lawns and feed on grasses and herbaceous plants. They seem to be a fairly generalist feeder, being found on over 200 different plant species, but have a preference for clovers and grasses. They can also feed on certain ornamental shrubs and trees. They are more likely to be found on heavily fertilized lawns and prefer plants in nutrient-rich soil. They overwinter in any dry – protected location, mostly in the egg stage. The overwintering eggs appear in the cracks and crevices of concrete sidewalks, under the bark of trees, and between the walls of buildings. When these eggs hatch in the spring, there are multiple generations during the period of favorable weather. However, as the temperature increases beyond ~85 degrees Fahrenheit, the clover mite will enter a dormancy period of inactivity and will continue reproduction and development in the fall when temperatures cool down again.

Pest Status:

Clover mites are considered nuisance pests. They do not cause damage to food or structures and do not carry diseases that can harm people or plants. However, they can become a problem when they invade homes in large numbers. Because these mites are parthenogenetic, they do not need to mate for reproduction to occur. Once the female mite matures, she can begin laying eggs. They do not reproduce under indoor conditions and will perish shortly after coming inside. Some homeowners attempt to wipe these mites up as a means to remove them. This will result in a smear or stain (see photo below) that will make a mess of fabrics and walls. You should, instead, use a handheld vacuum to remove mites indoors and dispose of the contents immediately.

IPM Control Tactics:

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health, and environmental risks. Here are some IPM recommendations for clover mites:

  • Create a turf- and weed-free boundary around buildings: A 3-5 feet wide minimum boundary can help deter mites.
  • Use pea-gravel or mulch within the boundary.
  • Plant unattractive plants within the boundary: Plants such as geranium, chrysanthemum, zinnia, marigold, salvia, rose, petunia, or shrubs such as barberry, juniper, and yew are unattractive to clover mites.
  • Ensure that seals around windows are in good repair: This can prevent mites from entering the home.
  • Use plant protection products: These can help protect plants from mite infestation.
  • Mite numbers can be reduced using high pressure water spray from a hose or through use of pesticides. Use only insecticides and/or miticides with label directions for controlling mites.
  • For host plants around the structure, insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, or products containing other ingredients including pyrethroid insecticides (e.g., bifenthrin) may be suitable. Spot treatments of contact insecticides can be applied to foundation walls and other areas where mites are aggregating. Particular attention should be paid to the junction between the building foundation and landscape soil.
  • However, use of insecticide may be unnecessary by addressing the source of the mites in the landscape by mowing, weeding or use of high-pressure water sprays.

Photo by Bart Drees

Photo by M. J. Raupp

Photo by Scot Justis

Photo by Pia Scanton DAFWA Entomology

 

In conclusion, while clover mites can be a nuisance, they can be effectively managed using a combination of the above strategies. Homeowners should consider these tactics when treating their property for clover mites.

 

Spring Pests: What to Expect as Temperatures Rise

As the chill of winter fades and temperatures begin to rise, a variety of insect pests start to make their presence known. Environmental factors such as an increase in temperature and the moisture we often see during the spring season will signal over-wintering arthropods to emerge during these favorable times. Here’s a look at some of the common pests you might encounter in and around your home during spring.

Ants:

Arguably the most notable ant pest in the Texas landscape is the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA). The Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) is native to tropical and subtropical South America and has become an invasive species in many parts of the world, including the southern United States. These ants are known for their aggressive foraging behavior, high reproductive capability, and lack of natural predators in their invaded regions. As temperatures increase in the spring, homeowners can expect to see a rise in the activity of these ants. Studies have shown that the foraging activity of the Red Imported Fire Ant is driven primarily by soil temperature (Vogt et al. 2003). As the soil warms up, these ants become more active, potentially leading to more frequent encounters with humans and pets. They can form large mounds constructed from soil with no visible entrances because foraging tunnels are built and workers emerge far away from the nest. Mound density will usually increase after heavy rain in an area. Homeowners should be aware that these ants can deliver painful stings and take appropriate precautions to manage and prevent infestations. For more information on RIFA and its control, visit: https://fireant.tamu.edu/manage/site/

Mosquitoes:

As temperatures increase in the spring, homeowners can expect to see a rise in mosquito activity. The type of mosquito present and whether it represents just an annoyance or a possible disease vector – likely depends on environmental conditions. For example, water availability and type (fresh, clear floodwater in ditches, a container collecting water, or stagnant puddles left behind from previous weather events), are critical factors that will affect the type of mosquito and the population density in your area. Recent hot and drier conditions are raising concerns among health officials about the potential for rising populations of vector mosquitoes. Rainfall can significantly contribute to a rapid increase in mosquito populations. Homeowners should be vigilant about preventing mosquito bites to reduce the risk of contracting diseases. Check out our free PDF on Do-It-Yourself Backyard Mosquito Control for tips on managing these nuisance pests.

Spiders:

Most spiders found in and around the home in Texas are harmless. There are some groups that homeowners may want to be aware of, however.

  • The brown recluse spider, for instance, is most frequently seen during the spring months. They are active from spring through the fall outdoors – but can be active year-round in climate-controlled spaces such as our homes, attic/storage areas, and garages. These spiders are nocturnal hunters and prefer hidden areas that are rarely disturbed. Homeowners should be aware that some spiders, like the brown recluse, can deliver venomous bites. Therefore, it’s important to take precautions when dealing with stored items or working in areas where these spiders might hide. See our publication on the brown recluse spider for more information. 
  • The black widow spider is most commonly found in undisturbed sites such as basements and storage areas, and they prefer cluttered areas. I have personally come across black widow spiders hanging out in outdoor trashcans, BBQ/smoke pits that have been untouched for some time, and underneath patio furniture. They primarily prefer protected areas near the ground, such as under stones, pieces of wood, or brick piles, or in rodent burrows and hollow tree stumps. Their webs are usually built in a dark spot sheltered from the weather and they tend to be rather “messy” in appearance. Again, homeowners should be aware that black widow spiders can deliver venomous bites, and take precautions when dealing with stored items or working in areas where these spiders might hide. See our publication on the black widow spider for more information.

Boxelder bugs:

Boxelder bugs (Boisea trivittatus) are found throughout most of Texas and feed on several species of trees. As temperatures increase in the spring, adult bugs emerge from overwintering and begin mating soon after. The females deposit eggs in the cracks and crevices of tree bark, and after about two weeks, the eggs hatch, and the nymphs develop into adults throughout the summer. There may be two or more generations per year in Texas. Homeowners may encounter dense aggregations of these bugs, where several stages of nymphs and adults can be seen at the same time. In the fall, the adults and nymphs leave the trees they feed on and look for sheltered areas in which to spend the winter. Unsurprisingly, as temperatures rise in the spring, homeowners can expect to see an increase in the activity of these bugs. They may become a nuisance either when they enter homes or other structures seeking shelter in the fall, or as they begin to emerge from those structures in high densities in the spring. Homeowners should take preventive actions such as sealing cracks and crevices and inspecting the outside of the structure for areas that boxelder bugs may find as suitable overwintering locations. Click here for more information. 

Pill/ Sow bugs (aka roly-polies), Millipedes and Centipedes:

I had to be sure to include a section dedicated to a few of those arthropod groups we often come across with more than 8 legs!

  • Pillbugs, also known as roly-polies, are common arthropods in most Texas landscapes and in general, are harmless. As temperatures increase in the spring, pillbugs may become more active and can occasionally become pests around the home. They are prolific breeders, giving birth to 30-80 young per brood, and may produce two to three generations per year in Texas. Check out our previous post about these arthropods here for more information.
  • Millipedes, which have two pairs of legs per body segment, are also found throughout Texas. They prefer moist environments and can commonly be found in soil, leaf litter, or under rocks or wood. In the spring, as temperatures rise, millipedes may become more active. They occasionally damage plants by feeding on stems and leaves, though this usually only occurs on delicate seedlings. Centipedes, which have one pair of legs per body segment, are another common sight in Texas. They also prefer moist, protected habitats such as under stones, rotted logs (be cautious of those firewood piles!), leaves, or bark. As temperatures increase in the spring, centipedes may become more active. They are predaceous, feeding on other arthropods, such as insects. The bite of larger species of centipedes may cause pain, swelling, and discomfort. For more information on millipedes and centipedes in Texas, check out this factsheet here.

Crane flies:

Crane flies, often referred to as “mosquito hawks” or “skeeter eaters” are a common sight in Texas, typically seen in mass during early spring and fall. As temperatures increase in the spring, homeowners can expect to see a rise in crane fly activity. When the environmental conditions are right, such as the rising temperatures we have been having recently, crane flies begin emerging as adults. As larvae, they live in moist soils for the majority of their lives. We only notice their presence during the adult emergence times, which are rather short-lived. They do not possess a stinger, and most of them do not even have mouthparts as adults. Crane flies are a great food source for all sorts of insectivores, like frogs, swallows, and armadillos, and play an important role in a healthy ecosystem. Homeowners should be aware that while these flies are harmless, they can become a nuisance when they enter homes. Check out our previous post on crane flies for more information.


By being aware of these common spring pests and taking preventative measures, you can help keep your home pest-free. Remember these 3 key factors: Food, water, and shelter. These are the foundations of every pest problem.

Here are some preventative measures you can take to pest-proof your property.

Proper identification: Proper pest identification is the first and most critical step in effective pest control and can help in understanding the pest’s life cycle, habits, and habitats, which can aid in devising strategies to prevent future infestations. It allows for targeted, efficient, safe, and ethical pest management strategies. Different pests require different control methods. Some treatments that are effective for one type of pest may not work for another. By correctly identifying the pest, homeowners or pest control professionals can avoid using unnecessary or inappropriate treatments, which can save time, and money, and prevent unnecessary exposure to pesticides.

Routine inspections: Routine inspections can help in detecting pest infestations at an early stage, which can prevent extensive damage to the structure and keep nuisance pests at bay. The sooner a pest problem is identified, the easier and less costly it is to manage. Regular inspections allow homeowners and pest control professionals to identify potential risk factors for pest infestations, such as cracks, crevices, or moisture problems, and take preventive measures. By regularly monitoring pest activity, homeowners can devise and adjust treatment plans based on the current situation, making pest control efforts more effective. In summary, routine inspections help in early detection, prevention, effective treatment planning, minimizing health risks, and maintaining property value.

Sanitation and regular maintenance:

  • Eliminate Food Sources: Proper sanitation can help eliminate potential food sources that attract pests. Many pests are attracted to areas where food and water are readily available.
  • Reduce Breeding Sites: Regular landscape maintenance can help reduce potential breeding sites for pests. For example, standing water can serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and overgrown vegetation can provide shelter for rodents and insects.
  • Early Detection: Regular maintenance and sanitation checks can lead to early detection of pest problems, allowing for quicker and more effective treatment.
  • Preserve Property Value: Maintaining a clean and well-kept landscape can help preserve the property’s value by preventing pest infestations that can cause structural damage.

Exclusion: Exclusion involves making modifications to buildings or landscapes to prevent pests from gaining access. This can include sealing cracks and crevices, installing door sweeps, or screening vents to name a few.

  • Prevent Entry: Maintaining the landscape can help prevent pests from entering the structure. For instance, trimming trees and shrubs that touch the building can prevent pests from using them as bridges to enter the structure.
  • Long-term Solution: While other pest control methods such as the use of pesticides can provide immediate relief, exclusion provides a long-term solution by addressing the root cause of the problem.
  • Non-Chemical Approach: Exclusion is a non-chemical approach to pest control. It is an essential part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which emphasizes the use of non-chemical control methods whenever possible.
  • Cost-Effective: Although the initial cost of implementing exclusion methods can be high, the long-term benefits such as reduced reliance on pesticides and less frequent pest problems can make it a cost-effective solution.
  • Health and Safety: By preventing pests from entering structures, exclusion helps reduce the risk of diseases that pests can carry. It also reduces the need for pesticides, which can have health risks if not used properly.

March 2023 – Quick updates!

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Howdy to our followers!

My name is Bryant McDowell. I am the new Extension Program Specialist in Urban Integrated Pest Management located at the Dallas Research and Extension Center. I started my position with AgriLife in September 2022 and spent most of the Fall in new hire training and getting a feel for my new responsibilities. In addition to maintaining this webpage, I will be managing the IPM Experience House located here at the Dallas Center. This training facility is utilized to provide in-depth, hands-on learning opportunities to pest management professionals. I am currently developing this year’s curriculum, and I will be posting our course offerings/schedules on this site, as well as the IPM house webpage. https://www.ipmhouse.tamu.edu

 

Aside from the courses we are developing for the IPM Experience House, I’ll be traveling throughout the state to give presentations to pest management professionals and Texas master volunteers. Additionally, I will be happy to assist both commercial and residential clients with insect identifications. Each submission will require a form to be filled out and attached to the package. This can either be printed off and filled (I will post the PDF to this webpage as soon as I have a final version), or I will have them available at the front office of our facilities if you choose to drop-off in person. NOTE* Please read our insect ID disclosure document before submitting specimens.

 

I’ll be posting regular updates throughout the year to this site – stay posted for the most updated information on insects in the Dallas area! In the meantime, be sure to follow our teams podcasts!

 

“Bugs by the Yard”, hosted by Molly Keck, Wizzie Brown, and yours truly – is for listeners who want to know more about Texas insects, whether you live in an urban environment, or a rural area, there is something here for everyone!

 

 

 

“Unwanted Guests”, hosted by those mentioned previously, as well as Janet Hurley and Dr. Robert Puckett – is for the average homeowner or even pest management professionals who want to learn more about insects and related arthropods that invade our structures.

 

 

You can find our episodes on the Apple Podcast App, Spotify, or listen online here:

 

 

 

Open House November 4, 2022 to Welcome our new Entomologist

Bryant McDowell and Janet Hurley

Bryant McDowell and Janet Hurley

It is with much please to announce that we have hired a new entomologist for the Dallas Center.  Mr. Bryant McDowell graduated with his Master of Science in Entomology in 2019 from Texas A&M University.  His thesis: Population genetics and the colony breeding structure of the invasive tawny crazy ant, Nylanderia fulva, in Texas will allow him to help Texans with identifying ants.

McDowell’s role as the Extension Program Specialist for Urban IPM will be to support the IPM Experience House by providing training classes for pest management professionals.  In addition to the IPM House, Bryant will also be supporting Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s County Agents with insect identification, master volunteer training and supporting county programs.

McDowell will also support the school IPM program by helping with the educational events that are conducted with Dr. Don Renchie at the four regional events.

Join us on Friday, November 4th from 3:00 – 6:00 PM at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center Water and Land Resources Building for light refreshments and a chance to talk to the entomologist.  Tours of the IPM Experience House will also be available. Follow this link to register.

There is no charge to attend; however, we are asking that everyone register so that we can have an accurate head count for the food and beverages.  Even this planner knows it’s a Friday afternoon during football season, so we do suggest wearing your favorite sports team gear as well.

To our past and present donors, our registration website has a place for you to sign up to donate to the IPM Experience House.  Bryant and I are hoping to use this event, our fall IPM seminar Nov. 15th and rodent academy to ‘pick’ your brains on what classes you would like to see us hold in 2023.

Native bees need love too!

Bees are more attracted to flowers of certain colors. Shades in the blue and purple family can be especially successful in attracting pollinators to your garden. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Susan Himes)

A Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert wants people to better understand and appreciate our native bee pollinators.

When people see a bee in their garden, many assume it is a honeybee when, odds are, it is actually a native bee,” said Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist and entomologist, San Antonio.

She said, in the simplest of terms, a native bee is usually any bee except a honeybee since honeybees are not native to the Americas.

And while bees can look very similar or very different from each other, most bees have a “fuzzy” looking body, unlike wasps who are shiny and “smoother” looking.

Giving credit where credit is due

There are over 200,000 species of pollinators, and about 199,000 of them are insects.

There are over 4,000 species of bees in the U.S., making them the MVP of pollinators. And a bee’s work is never done, considering that 90% of flowering plants require a pollinator.

Honeybees play a key role in agriculture, but native bees are just as important, Keck said.

“There are native bee species that are 17 times more efficient as pollinators than honeybees,” she said.

Native bees are also better at pollinating some of the most beloved backyard crops — including tomatoes, blueberries and pumpkins — making them the heroes of home gardeners everywhere.

Natives thrive on variety

Bumble bee Bombini spp

Whereas honeybees prefer blanketed areas of the same food source, such as a field of a single crop, native bees are all about variety.

The more types of flowers, fruits and vegetables that grow in a garden, the more native bees you can expect to see.

“Essentially, to attract native bees, you want to have many different mini-landscapes inside your yard,” Keck said.

She said to get an example of a native bee’s ideal habitat, picture an English garden with hedgerows, pasture, plants and flowers.

Bees are drawn to flowers because of their scent as well as the shape of their flower. They also are attracted to bright colors, especially blues and violets. Red they see as dark, like brown and black, and isn’t as appealing.

“Native bees feed in ‘pockets,’ so you don’t need as much space to attract them as honeybees,” Keck said. “You’ll just need a variety of food sources for them.”

Although bees may have a harder time finding their way to a garden balcony in a large city, a pollinator garden can be a success anywhere. Having gardens in cities also provides a key nutritional resource in what could be a food desert for native bees.

Texans with yards may consider not having turf everywhere, leaving some land uncultivated and allowing some ground to stay bare. Some native bees, like the mason bee, use mud as mortar to build their homes and having mud on the ground when the weather allows is also attractive.

Around 70% of bees nest underground rather than the traditional hives many people envision and that honeybees call home.

That might (not) sting

bee hotel

A bee hotel is a focal point of your garden, and can succeed in attracting native bees. (Image Mike Merchant)

Although all female bees can sting, most native females won’t sting unless trapped, hurt or directly threatened.

“Native bees are unlikely to sting you,” Keck said. “Honeybees are more territorial and likely to defend with a sting.”

In other words, don’t try to catch a native bee and you won’t have too much to worry about. However, if you are allergic to bees, it is smart to avoid all types, as well as wasps and other flying-insect venoms, Keck warned.

A native bee retains its stinger after a strike, whereas a honeybee sting is fatal for the bee. And male bees? Neither honey nor native has any sting at all. However, there are far more female than male bees, so it is safe to assume a bee you see does have a stinger.

Extinction concern?

Keck said it’s important for every Texan to be aware of the need to protect bee habitats, although there is no threat of extinction in our state quite yet.

“I think the amount of undeveloped land we have in Texas is part of the reason our numbers are still good,” she said. “But as urban areas expand and the sprawl increases, we could start to see the same bee population problems some other areas face.”

Whereas honeybees have been domesticated or managed for thousands of years, native bees are still independent contractors.

“Native bees do an equally important job as honeybees and for some crops like fruit, native bees are even better pollinators,” Keck said. “To create an environment for them to thrive is something every Texan can support.”

Written by Susan Himes

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Prevent the spread of oak wilt in Texas this spring

All oak trees are susceptible to oak wilt.

Texans can do their part to protect oak trees from oak wilt this spring.

Oak wilt is one of the deadliest tree diseases in the U.S., killing millions of oaks in 76 counties of Central, North and West Texas, but its impact can be mitigated.

Prevention is key to stopping the spread of oak wilt, said Demian Gomez, Texas A&M Forest Service regional forest health coordinator. Any new wound, including from pruning, construction activities, livestock, land or cedar clearing, lawnmowers, string trimmers and storms, can be an entry point for the pathogen that infects trees.

“With wounds being the best entry point for the disease, landowners should avoid pruning or wounding trees from February through June,” Gomez said. “And no matter the time of year, to decrease the attractiveness of fresh wounds to insects, always paint oak tree wounds.”

How it spreads

Oak wilt can spread two ways – above ground or underground. (Texas A&M Forest Service photo)

Oak wilt is caused by the fungus Bretziella fagacearum. The fungus invades the xylem – the water-conducting vessels of the trees – and the tree responds by plugging the tissues, resulting in a lack of water to the leaves, slowly killing the infected tree.

Oak wilt can spread two ways – above ground or underground. The disease is spread above ground more rapidly this time of year, in late winter and spring, because of high fungal mat production and high insect populations.

During this time, oak trees that died may produce spore mats under the bark. The fruity smell from these mats attract small, sap-feeding beetles that can later fly to a fresh wound of another oak tree and infect it, starting a new oak wilt center. 

The second way oak wilt can spread is underground by traveling through interconnected root systems from tree to tree. Oak wilt spreads an average of 75 feet per year by the root system.

All oaks are susceptible to oak wilt. Red oaks are the most susceptible and can die in as little as one month after being infected.

Live oaks show intermediate susceptibility but can spread the disease easily due to their interconnected root systems. The interconnected root systems in live oaks are responsible for most tree deaths and spread of oak wilt in Central Texas. White oaks are the least susceptible, but they are not immune to infection.

Oak wilt is often recognized in live oaks by yellow and brown veins showing in leaves of infected trees, known as venial necrosis. Currently, it may be difficult to diagnose due to seasonal transitioning of oak leaves in the spring – when evergreen oak trees shed their old leaves while simultaneously growing new leaves.

The signs can be seen on a majority of leaves when a tree is fully infected. Landowners should contact a certified arborist if they are unsure if their tree is infected.

“For red oaks particularly, one of the first symptoms of oak wilt is leaves turning red or brown during the summer,” said Gomez. “While red oaks play a key role in the establishment of new disease centers, live oaks and white oaks move oak wilt through root grafts.”

How to fight

To stop the spread of oak wilt through the root system, trenches can be placed around a group of trees, at least 100 feet away from the dripline of infected trees and at least 4 feet deep, or deeper, to sever all root connections. 

Another common management method is fungicide injection. The injections are only a preventative measure to protect individual trees. The best candidates for this treatment are healthy, non-symptomatic oaks up to 100 feet away from symptomatic trees. 

Other ways to help prevent oak wilt are to plant other tree species to create tree diversity in the area; avoid moving oak firewood before it is seasoned; and talk with your neighbors about creating a community prevention plan. Infected red oaks that died should be cut down and burned, buried or chipped soon after discovery to prevent fungal mats that may form the following spring.

Not only is saving oak trees important for our ecosystem and health, but oak wilt can also reduce property values by 15-20%. 

Some cities and municipalities, including Austin, Lakeway, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Round Rock, have programs in place with municipal foresters dedicated to managing the disease. Texans can also contact their local Texas A&M Forest Service representative with any questions about this devastating disease.

For more information on oak wilt identification and management, visit https://texasoakwilt.org/ or Texas A&M Forest Service’s website at https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/