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/

Asian Lady Beetle Invasions

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seven spotted lady beetle on milkweed

Seven spotted lady beetle on milkweed

It is that time of year when Asian Lady Beetles make an appearance indoors, and usually in large numbers. While they can be a major nuisance, they shouldn’t cause panic and some simple exclusion practices can help prevent this issue in the future.

Asian Lady Beetles are not native to Texas – they were introduced from Asia to the United States in 1960s and 1990s as a UDSA project to help reduce agricultural pests in several Southern and Eastern States from Louisiana to Connecticut.  They are now found throughout the United States either from natural spread or from further introductions into the United States from Japan on freighters.

Asian Lady Beetles are a true lady beetle, better known as a ladybug.  They are wonderful biological control agents of pests such as aphids in nature and during warmer months, help control those pests in our landscape.  During colder, winter months, they have a trait that makes them different from other ladybugs – their propensity to find harborage in protected spaces, which often is our warm home.  One way to tell the difference between Asian Lady Beetles and other species is that these guys have a marking behind their head that looks like an M.

Asian Lady Beetle in window Mohammed El Damir

Asian Lady Beetles found in the window of a home

Asian Lady Beetles tend to be attracted to light or lit surfaces and will congregate in mass numbers on sunny, Southwest sides of buildings.  Especially those structure that are lighter in coloration, but really any surface will do as long as it is warmed by the afternoon sun.  They will soon find cracks and crevices to squeeze through and often times get into eaves of homes, attics, or directly indoors.

When we have these up and down temperatures in winter, typical of Texas, they will become active on the warmer days and are noticeable inside the home, clustering and flying around windows, door frames or lights.

The good news is that Asian Lady Beetles are not harmful to humans or pets.  Even when consumed, they are not known to be toxic, although I imagine if a dog ate too many, it would get an upset stomach.  But what they will do is leave a yellow stain on walls and surfaces, emit an musty odor, and just be a plain nuisance.  You may love ladybugs outside in your garden, but who wants them indoors?

How do you get rid of them?  Prevention is key, but it’s often times thought of too late.  Seal up around cracks and crevices along windows and eaves, use screens on vents and large holes, replace weather stripping that is worn around door frames.  For those already inside, vacuum them up!  Throw them back outside and let them do their thing in nature.

Pesticide treatments are not always effective.  It’s best not to focus on the indoors, but outside where they are entering.  Where they are applied is key – put the pesticide where the ladybugs are entering…. but if you know where that is, seal it up!  The entry points are usually vents, eaves, soffits, windows and doors.  Apply synthetic pyrethroids, such as bifenthrin, lamda cyhalothrin, delatmethrin, or cyfluthrin.  But if the ladybugs are already indoors, it’s too late to spray.  In that case, pull out the vacuum.

OR – consider your house lucky!  Ladybugs are considered a sign of luck after all!

Want to learn more check out our Unwanted Guests Podcast 

Written by Molly Keck, Senior Extension Program Specialist

Are ladybugs harmful? Annual swarms, home invasion raise questions about native, Asian beetles

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seven spotted lady beetle on milkweed

Seven spotted lady beetle on milkweed

The annual ladybug invasion appears to be in motion.

Reports of ladybird beetles, commonly known as ladybugs, invading homes and structures across the southern U.S. have raised questions and concerns.

According to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert, ladybugs are definitely a friend, but sometimes even friends can wear out their welcome.

Wizzie Brown, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist, Austin, said the increased sightings of ladybugs inside homes and structures are related to colder temperatures. They are crawling through cracks and crevices around the home to find warm, dry spots as temperatures outside drop.

Brown said ladybugs are a beneficial insect to gardeners. They are an effective predator against soft-bodied insect pests like aphids that can affect ornamental plants and devastate fruit and vegetable production.

“If they’re outside and not bothering you, it’s best to just leave them alone,” she said. “Having them overwinter around your home means it’s likely you will have good populations present when garden pests start emerging in the spring.”

Native ladybugs versus the Asian lady beetle

Despite their benefits outside, ladybugs can be a nuisance when they invade homes, she said. They can stain fabrics and are smelly when they die or when they release a fluid used as a defense mechanism. Sometimes, when they feel threatened, ladybugs can bite.

Native ladybugs prefer to hibernate outside, but their counterparts, the Asian lady beetle, prefer indoors, so it is likely that invading beetles are the invasive species, Brown said. Native ladybugs and Asian lady beetles are different species. Aside from their overwintering preferences, provide the same benefits around vegetable gardens and landscapes.

Both native and Asian ladybugs can share similar colors and spots, Brown said. Asian ladybugs can be identified by a small M or W, depending on how you look at them, on the shield-like section behind their head.

“They are both ladybird beetle species, and while the Asian species tends to be a brownish-red or orange with spots, they can also be red with spots,” she said. “So, the best way to differentiate them is the M or W.”

How to remove ladybugs from my home

If ladybugs are moving indoors in very large numbers, Brown said, homeowners can easily remove them and practice exclusion methods around the home to prevent future entry.

Brown suggests sucking them up with a vacuum cleaner and either bagging them for the trash or releasing them outside.

To prevent ladybugs from entering a building, Brown suggests exclusion methods, including:

  • Pruning trees and shrubs back away from the house or roof.
  • Moving firewood or other items that might harbor insects away from the house.
  • Installing weather stripping around loose-fitting doors and windows.
  • Blocking weep holes in brick or stone facades.
  • Using caulk or expanding foam to fill cracks and crevices on the outside of the house and around pipe and wire penetrations.
  • Keeping window screens in good repair.
  • Using stainless steel mesh wire to block potential access points in the attic, including vents.

“Ladybird beetle invasions are very sporadic,” she said. “If you’ve had an issue before, it is likely to happen again, but environmental conditions and what is going on around the house play a big role in their activity from year to year. The good thing is, if you practice the exclusion methods, you’re going to prevent other insect pests that might be looking for shelter this time of year from entering your home.”

Are ladybugs harmful to pets?

Brown said pet owners should not worry about ladybugs poisoning their animals. A story and photo that continues to circulate on the internet about a dog with the ladybugs in its mouth is about one instance.

“Apparently the dog was one that eats anything and everything, and it got into a large number of ladybird beetles,” she said. “Some ladybugs were clamping down in its mouth and releasing their defensive fluid trying to avoid being eaten, so you get the viral photo and subsequent panic among pet owners. But veterinarians have tried to dispel any hysteria and agree there is really very little concern about their toxicity beyond some possible stomach irritation.”

Written By Adam Russell, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Communication Specialist

Fluffy Moths Flying

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Eastern Buck moth

Eastern Buck Moth

You may have noticed a emergence of fluffy black colored moths flying around or flapping around on the ground.

I noticed this emergence this morning and have to believe there was something in the weather that has sparked them all to emerge from their pupal cases as adults.

These moths are none other than the adult form of those (maybe long forgotten) spiny caterpillars that we all dreaded this spring – the Eastern Buck Moth.

Adults are fluffy and are primarily black in color. They have a white band across the fore and hind wings and their abdomen is orange. They are actually really pretty moths when viewed up close. Adults are known to fly around October to November – so we are right on track – and after mating will lay their eggs in clusters. Those eggs will make it through the winter until spring, when they will hatch and the larvae will emerge again. After feeding, the larvae pupate and they remain in the pupal case until about now, when the cycle starts all over again.

buckmoth pupa

Eastern Buck Moth recently emerged from pupa. Wings yet to completely unfold.

Adults do not have functioning mouthparts, so unfortunately they are not pollinating anything.  Just mating, laying eggs, and dying.  In the meantime, they are providing a food source for birds and other predators.  I have been watching the mockingbirds chase them around the sky for a quick snack.

The larvae do have spines that are painful when touched.  This is their defense mechanism against predators and unfortunate humans and dogs may be innocent victims.  Their hosts are oaks and they prefer oak forests, so are more likely to be found in more rural areas, established neighborhoods with many oaks, or if you live next to an urban forest or park. 

The pupa are interesting because they have been known to remain for up to two year.  The Spring of 2020 was the first year I can recall seeing large numbers of the caterpillars.  The Spring of 2021 everyone else seemed to notice them too, so we’ve had two years for the population to build up.  If conditions are right (and who will know!), this large adult emergence may mean an above average population of caterpillars next Spring.  Time will tell!

Eastern Buck Moth caterpillar

Eastern Buck Moth caterpillar

What should you do?  Nothing right now.  Let the birds and lizards have their Thanksgiving meals and we’ll see what happens.  It is difficult to predict.  However, come Spring, if you hear, see, or find them chomping on your trees and have trees you want to save, be sure to use a foliar spray and click here for more information on treatments.

Written by: Molly Keck, BCE, Senior Extension Program Specialist – Integrated Pest Management 

Be on the lookout for armyworms

fall armyworm
True armyworm

A true armyworm adult hiding in thatch layer of lawn

Be on the alert for fall armyworms this fall. Higher-than-normal populations of this lawn-eating insect have been reported from many areas in Texas this past summer and we have started to see them in San Antonio and Austin areas.

While fall armyworms are nothing new, according to Wizzie Brown, Extension Program Specialist for IPM in Austin, these worms started appearing in home lawns in late July to early August. Usually, infestations take place in late summer or early fall, but the weather can play a big part. The amount of rain we have had this year helped with egg survival and it can also delay predators from feeding on the eggs.

Fall armyworm (FAW) is the caterpillar stage of a drab gray moth, known scientifically as Spodoptera frugiperda. It feeds primarily on grasses, though it has been reported feeding on dozens of non-grass plants and weeds. It earns the name “armyworm” from its habit, during times of major outbreaks, of marching, army-like, across fields, roads, and yards, consuming everything in its path.

Fall armyworm on bermudagrass, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension photo

Fall armyworm on bermudagrass

The armyworm caterpillar is identified by three thin white or yellow stripes on the shield behind the head (pronotum), an inverted white Y on the face between the eyes, and by four dark hair-bearing bumps (tubercles) on the top of the 8th abdominal segment. It takes three to four weeks of feeding to reach its full length of about 1.25 inches (34 mm). For a video that will help you recognize this worm check out this episode of Backyard Bug Hunt.

The adult FAW moth has a wingspan of about 1.5 in. The hind wings are white; the front wings are dark gray, mottled with lighter and darker splotches. On male moths each forewing has a noticeable whitish spot near the extreme tip.

 Damage and Control

fall armyworm damage on sports field

Fall armyworm damage on sports field

Damage often appears to occur overnight, though armyworms need at least three to four weeks to complete their six larval stages (instars). The last week or two of the larval stage is when most of the feeding, and damage, occurs.

Fall armyworms feed on most common lawn grasses like bermudagrass and St. Augustinegrass. But because armyworms feed on the leaves, and not on the critical roots and stolons, a little irrigation or a rain should restore lawns to their original condition within a week or two.

If this is unacceptable to your customer or school district, FAW is relatively easy to control with any pyrethroid insecticide. Organic customer lawns can be treated with products containing spinosad, a naturally occurring microbial toxin. Be sure to avoid treating areas with flowering weeds or clovers that might attract bees, or else mow the lawn (and flowerheads) prior to treating. This will help protect pollinators that might otherwise be attracted to freshly sprayed lawns.

Fall armyworm adult are strong fliers, travelling hundreds of miles from overwintering sites in south Florida, south Texas, and Mexico each spring. In a strange, apparent case of migration suicide, offspring of these northern migrants cannot survive freezing winter weather. And unlike monarch butterflies which return to Mexico each winter, FAWs never return south. Therefore, they and all their offspring perish in the cold weather. The evolutionary advantage of this unusual behavior, if any, is not well understood.

For more information on our Aggie Turf website, click here.

Not sure what you have when it comes to odd looking “worms” in your yard, check out this post on the School IPM website “What worm are you?” 

Bugged by Bugs we want to hear from you.

Dr. Merchant in video clip

Has this year had you bugged by bugs?

Like many of you even those of us who work in entomology, pest control, school maintenance, or live somewhere in Texas you have seen your fair share of insect pests this year. If you have seen more pests around your home and you have treated for those pesky pests, we would love to hear from you. This short survey we created with funding from USDA NIFA wants to know what you have seen, and if you treated for the pest what did you use.  We have a few more questions about pest control options and where you live so that we can understand what is going on in regions of the country.

These days we understand there is so much information out there, but where do you go for trusted information. This survey will help researchers and specialists to develop better tools that can be used by you when you are struggling to find pest answers. For now, we do encourage you to visit our website Pests in the Homes for information regarding some of your more common pests. Or visit the National Pesticide Information Centers (NPIC) website to find your local county extension office in any state.

 

‘Bugs by the Yard’ and ‘Unwanted Guests’ cover Texas insects and pests

monarch adult on lantana

Check out the pollinator gardening Bugs by the Year podcast

These two bug-based podcasts launched by Texas A&M AgriLife experts allows you to learn on the “fly” by enjoying a podcast on your time schedule. 

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts have launched two new podcast series: “Bugs by the Yard,” which covers insects found in Texas yards and gardens, and “Unwanted Guests,” which covers insects and other pests in homes and buildings.

“It started with a podcast where Dr. Erfan Vafaie, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist in Overton, was interviewing other entomologists,” said Wizzie Brown, AgriLife Extension entomologist for Travis County. “Erfan has a voice for radio and also has done stand-up comedy. From there it evolved to a group of us working together to launch two unique podcasts centered around insects and pests.”

Brown said the podcasts are for anyone with an interest in insects or a pest problem.

Bugs by the yard

The landscape podcast “Bugs by the Yard” is hosted by Vafaie; Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension entomologist for Bexar County; and Brown.

It can be found at https://bugs-by-the-yard.captivate.fm/ or by searching your preferred podcast provider.

There are four podcasts currently available, with the team creating a new one every several weeks. Topics covered so far include an introduction to the entomologists, insects and winter survival, pollinator gardening and insects in vegetable gardens.

Termite workers (left) and a termite swarmer (right) are covered in the Unwanted Guests podcast

Unwanted guests

The structural podcast “Unwanted Guests” is hosted by Robert Puckett, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension entomologist, Bryan-College Station; Janet Hurley, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist, Dallas; Keck and Brown.

“This podcast covers those unwanted guests in your home or building,” said Hurley. “We’ll be focusing on the insects and pests you’d prefer not to find in or around your structures.”

You can find these podcasts at https://unwanted-guests.captivate.fm/ where we have discussed fire ants, mosquitoes, termites and carpet beetles.  

Written by: Susan Himes, Communication Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife 

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”.