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Life and death in a cone flower: Minute pirate bugs, Orius spp., and their prey, flower thrips, Frankliniella spp.

 

Ahoy matey and thrips beware, minute pirate bugs have landed on the cone flower.

 

Cone flowers provide food not only for iconic pollinators like bumble bees but also for a rich community of tiny unseen predators and their prey.

Cone flowers, Echinacea spp., are super attractors for a diverse cadre of pollinators – bees, wasps, beetles, and many more. But beneath the feet of these relatively large insects, an unseen war rages between tiny plant-feeding thrips and rapacious predators called minute pirate bugs. Thrips are strange little insects with an unusual name that is both singular and plural. One of these rascals is a thrips and so are two or more. They have equally strange and formidable mouthparts. A dagger like jaw punctures the leaf and other mouthparts slurp up nutritious fluids from the plant. Their feeding discolors, flattens, or produces silver streaks on the surface of a leaf or flower petal. Feeding may distort young leaves, causing them to twist and shrivel. When densities are high, thrips may cause economic damage on a wide variety of food crops and ornamental plants. In our case of thrips on cone flowers and on many other blooming plants, pollen is the major source of food. The immature stages of flower thrips, called nymphs, are translucent yellow. They cannot fly and after molting several times, they transform into winged flight-capable adults. Depending on the species, adults can be yellow to dark brown in color. Their tiny wings, lined with featherlike hairs, are the source of their Latin name, Thysanoptera, which means “feather wing”. Female flower thrips lay hundreds of eggs, and as summer temperatures soar into the 90’s they may complete a generation in less than two weeks. It’s easy to see how just a few thrips on a cone flower in early June can generate thousands by the 4th of July.

Cone flowers are super attractors for bees and other macro-bugs. But beneath their feet in the micro-realm, plant eaters like this flower thrips are hunted by maniacal predators like this minute pirate bug. One unlucky little thrips failed at the game of hide and seek. It’s being sucked dry by the pirate bug. Under the piercing eye of the microscope, you get a clearer look of how this fierce predator consumes its prey by inserting its beak into the thrips and sucking out its body fluids.

Ah, but just as the cone flower is food for the thrips, so too are thrips food for their predators. Cone flowers in my flower beds are rife with stealthy and awesome predators known as minute pirate bugs. Minute pirate bugs, Orius spp., are well known predators of thrips and many other insect pests. These little pirates are switch hitters when it comes to food, fierce predators when consuming other insects, and herbivores when feeding on nutritious pollen produced aplenty by cone flowers. Two species of Orius, minute pirate bug (Orius tristicolor) and insidious flower bug (Orius insidiosus) go by the common name of minute pirate bug. They are found in parts of the North, Central, and South America. Minute pirate bugs use needle-like mouthparts to impale their prey and a tiny pump in their head sucks out the liquid contents of their victim through the mouthparts.

Immature minute pirate bugs are also omnivores, consuming both soft bodied prey and pollen from flowers.

Little wonder that you may not have seen minute pirate bugs. These fast-moving, stealthy creatures are only a few millimeters long, oval shaped, and black with white markings at the base and ends of their wings. Minute pirate bugs do not have a pupal stage and their young are called nymphs. Nymphs and adults are similar in shape but nymphs are usually yellowish-orange with red eyes. Female pirate bugs insert eggs into plants and development takes about 3 weeks from egg to adult. They have multiple generations annually and remain active until day length becomes short later in the season. Some Orius species are commercially available and are used successfully in biological control programs against thrips in greenhouses and field grown peppers.

Occasionally, Orius may even take a “taste” of humans, but the bite is only irritating for a few minutes, so please don’t panic. Minute pirate bugs are important members of Mother Nature’s hit squad helping to beat down pests. After they annihilate thrips in my cone flowers, they will seek other pests to attack in my gardens and landscape. Cone flowers and a diversity of other flowering plants provide resources for pollinators and other beneficial insects, valuable guests that provide ecosystem services and enhance sustainability of my gardens. 

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks the crew of the Weather Channel for covering pollinators last week and inspiring this episode. We also thank Dr. Paula Shrewsbury for discovering pirate bugs and thrips in cone flowers and providing text for this episode. The fact-filled bulletin “Western Flower Thrips” by Steve Frank and James Baker was used as a reference for this episode.

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How to Get Rid of Mosquitoes in Your Yard for a Party

Discover How to Achieve a Mosquito-Free Backyard & Eliminate the Worry of Mosquitoes Taking Over

Summertime, and the living is easy — except when mosquitoes are unwanted guests at your backyard parties.

As the weather gets warmer, outdoor entertaining heats up. Backyard parties, barbecues, picnics, and gatherings are an ideal way to enjoy the fresh air and some sunshine or a night under the stars — or both.

Unfortunately, mosquitoes are all too often unwanted party crashers that leave you itching for solutions.

If you’re worried that these pests could create the wrong kind of buzz for your next gathering, it’s time to discover some effective tips on how to get rid of mosquitoes in your yard. Here’s how to prepare for your next party and get ready to have fun all season long in a mosquito-free backyard or other outdoor space.

Get Rid of Mosquito Hangout Spots

One of the best ways to get rid of mosquitoes outside is to take away the types of spaces where they like to live and breed.

How your property is taken care of can make a huge difference in the fight to get rid of mosquitos in an outdoor space. Mosquitoes love to breed and hangout in moist, cool, shady areas.

Start by getting rid of any standing water on the property. Mosquitoes thrive in shallow water — even as little as one ounce of water can serve as a breeding ground. Be sure to clean bird baths the day before or the day of your party.

Drain and clean toys, clogged gutters, garbage can lid, and other sources of standing water. Additionally, keep the grass neatly trimmed to avoid giving these pests a shady place to start a party of their own.

Plant Natural Repellents

A surprising number of plants look great, dress up outdoor areas, and can help keep your yard mosquito-free. Plant these natural repellents near doorways, walkways, and seating areas. Ideally, position some potted plants near dining, sitting, and lounging spaces.

A few plants to consider include:

  • Lavender
  • Citronella
  • Marigolds
  • Rosemary
  • Catmint
  • Geraniums
  • Pennyroyal
  • Basil
  • Peppermint
  • Lemon balm
  • Floss flower
  • Bee balm
  • Sage
  • Allium

Light it Up

Great lighting adds ambiance to any party. Even better, it can help keep mosquitoes and other pests from spoiling the fun.

Citronella candles and torches aren’t the only option available. Special bug light bulbs can minimize the risk of attracting mosquitoes to the light, preventing nighttime swarms. Another option is to add bug repellent lanterns to the area to serve as a repellent in key areas near dining tables, side tables, and buffets.

closeup of a lit torch with a small flame and blurred string lights in the background

Install a Bat House

One nearly effortless way to get rid of mosquitoes and other pests in your yard is to introduce natural predators. Bats are a prime example.

Did you know that bats eat mosquitoes and other insects? A small bat can eat up to 1,000 insects in one hour, with mother bats often eating up to 4,000 insects per hour.

Bats are typically harmless to humans, and if given their own home, the critter is likely to stay out of yours. Ideally, try to install bat houses on a pole approximately 15 to 20 feet above ground level. The bat house should also be 20 to 30 feet away from other obstacles — such as trees or structures on the property.

Keep it Moving

Mosquitoes rarely gather on a breezy day — and for good reason. Moving air prevents the carbon dioxide humans expel from pooling in a single spot. Without movement in the air, these annoying and potentially dangerous bugs are compelled to land on you or your guests.

Overhead fans or portable oscillating fans can not only help keep bugs away, but they can also keep everyone cooler and more comfortable.

Arm Your Guests

Make sure everyone knows that the party will be outdoors and encourage guests to skip items that can attract mosquitoes — like perfume or cologne. Likewise, suggest they wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing that is less-attractive to mosquitoes than dark-colored, tight-fitting garments.

Don’t overlook the power of a good insect repellent.

Keeping sprays or creams on hand and easily accessible can help guests better protect themselves. Products that contain 30% DEET provide effective protection. Other options include DEET-free repellents and all-natural alternatives like lemon and eucalyptus oils, which have proven to be highly effective against these blood-thirsty pests.

closeup of a mosquito biting the surface of skin

Get Professional Pest Control Services for Mosquito Control

Take ultimate control of your outdoor space by protecting yourself, family, and friends from the nuisance of dealing with mosquitoes.

At Catseye Pest Control, we take a comprehensive approach to preventing and controlling mosquitoes. Our friendly, knowledgeable experts provide a free inspection to help identify problem areas and treatment options to help get rid of mosquitoes in your yard.

After inspecting the property surrounding the home, our pest and nuisance wildlife technicians create a tailored strategy to help eliminate the issues, since properties and the pest issues each face are unique.

Then, we apply our organic mosquito control solution to rid the property of these pests. Our technicians will visit the property on a monthly basis from May until October to apply the natural solution and continue to defend against mosquitoes.

This preventative service also helps to rid properties of ticks.

After all, the only buzz at your party should be your guests talking.

Contact us today to learn more about how Catseye can help or to schedule your free inspection.

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What are those strange green wrapped leaves in unusual places? Leafcutter bees, Megachilidae

 

Strange tubes of rolled leaves within a vent of a lawn mower are the handiwork of a leafcutter bee. Image credit: Darlene Wells

 

This week we dip into the Bug of the Week mailbag to answer a question regarding strange green bundles found inside a hollow vent of a garden tractor. Each bundle looked like a miniature cigar composed of dozens of small circular leaf sections carefully assembled into a cylinder. Each small wrapper contained tiny balls of pollen. These curious creations were the work of one of our most important and interesting native pollinators, the leafcutter bee. We met other members of the megachilid clan, mason bees and giant resin bees, in previous episodes.

Keep an eye out for circular cuts on leaf margins of trees and shrubs in your garden. These leaf clippings are used by marvelous leafcutter bees to build their nurseries.

Leafcutter bees leave other clues of their presence as they visit our landscapes. While gardening or simply communing with vegetation, you may have seen roses or other trees and shrubs with almost perfectly round circles of tissue removed from their leaves. The artisans behind these creations are leafcutter bees. These small hairy bees are solitary and do not build large colonies nor have queens and workers like honeybees or bumblebees. Each female leafcutter bee builds a nursery for her young. During summer, leafcutters construct nests in voids of trees, hollow branches, pithy stems of plants such as raspberries and, apparently, tractor vents. Once a suitable nest site has been found, the bee clips small circular sections of leaves and transports them back to the nest site where they are used to line a chamber within a void.

In the natural world, tubes constructed by leafcutter bees are often found in voids of trees.

After assembling the leaf disks to form a hollow tube, the leafcutter gathers pollen and nectar from nearby flowers and packs the tube with nutritious floral provisions to form a cake. An egg is then deposited on the pollen cake and the next chamber in the nursery is built with leaf disks and stocked with pollen. This continues until several long tubes line the gallery. Eggs placed within the rolled leaves hatch into small legless larvae that eat the pollen. After the larvae have completed development, they form pupae from which emerge adult leaf cutter bees that spend the winter within the rolled leaves. With the arrival of spring and new supplies of tender leaves, nectar, and pollen, adult bees emerge and begin the work of finding mates and making brood chambers for the next generation of leafcutters.

Megachilids are regular visitors to my butterfly weed in the flower bed, to thistles in the meadow, and to a variety of other flowering trees and shrubs they pollinate. I slowed this female down by 60% so you could glimpse the pollen load from my cone flower carried on hairs called scopa on the underside of her abdomen. Look at that golden pollen, food for her babies.

Coming in for a landing and with its tongue hanging out, this European wool carder bee prepares to sip some nectar.

One interesting member of the leafcutter clan found here in the US is the non-native European wool carder bee. Wool carders build their nursery with fibers collected from plants or animals. Another sneaky part of the clan are parasites that do not build nurseries of their own. Instead, they deposit eggs in nests of other species of bees. After hatching, these intruders eat the young of their unfortunate host and usurp provisions meant for the offspring. These devious rascals are known as kleptoparasites.

Leafcutter bees are extraordinarily docile and unlikely to sting. As important pollinators of several agricultural crops including blueberries and alfalfa, and many native trees and shrubs, they deserve our care and attention to help preserve their vital ecosystem services. Keep an eye open for small hairy bees collecting pollen in your garden and try to observe their precise handiwork on your curiously clipped leaves.

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks Darlene Wells for sharing her images of leafcutter tubes and providing inspiration for this episode. We also thank bee guru Sam Droege for help identifying our leafcutter bees.

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9 Truths About Ticks

Discover the Truth About Ticks, Debunk a Few Myths & Learn How to Protect Yourself Against the Pest

It may not be every bite, but all it takes is the wrong tick bite to make you sick. One important truth about ticks that everyone should be aware of across the country is that these small pests can spread parasites, bacteria, and viruses as they feast on the blood of people and pets.

Tick-borne illnesses include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and plenty of other according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But there’s a lot of misinformation that is easily spread. Many people don’t understand the truth about how ticks find their prey, how dangerous the pest is, and the optimal ways to eliminate the pest.

The more you know, the safer you and your loved ones will be throughout tick season. Start with debunking nine of the most common myths about ticks and uncovering the truth behind each.

In the past decade or so, the tick population in the New England area has increased exponentially. From Providence, Rhode Island, to Boston, Massachusetts; New Haven, Connecticut, to Nashua, New Hampshire — tick season actually starts earlier than many people expect.

You may already know that as the weather warms up, ticks begin to appear, but how many of these nine tick facts and myths can you guess correctly?

Myth: Burning or Swabbing Ticks with Soap Removes Them More Effectively Than Using Tweezers

When it comes to facts and myths about ticks, proper removal is one of the most common areas of confusion. It’s also among the most problematic issues because removing a tick correctly is an essential step in minimizing your risk of getting sick. The safest, most effective way to remove a tick is with fine-tipped tweezers. Use steady, even pressure, and position the tweezers at the head of the —

 right at skin-level before lifting straight up.

Myth: Ticks Jump

Many people mistakenly think that ticks jump from trees onto their victims.

Instead, the pest typically crawls onto people and animals from the edges of grass or brush. The pest can also find their way around the property or into homes by a nuisance wildlife host — like a mouse.

Ticks wait with their front legs sticking out until they can grab onto a host that walks by. The pest will typically crawl up to the necks, heads, or ears of their hosts. The skin in these areas is thinner, making it easier for ticks to feed.

tick crawling on the edge of a leaf with a blurred green background

Myth: Tick Season is Limited to the Warmer Months

This tick myth leads to many people being surprised when they find ticks on themselves, pets, or livestock during cool months like March.

In the Northeastern United States, ticks are typically most active from the middle of March through May and from the middle of August through November.

Certain species, such as brown dog ticks, can move indoors during colder months.

Additionally, even though ticks are less active in winter, they can survive under leaves and thick brush. On those occasional warm winter days, ticks can come out of their shelters and look for hosts.

Myth: You Only Have to Worry About Ticks if You’re in the Woods

Sure, ticks live in wooded areas, but those aren’t the only places these tiny pests like to call home.

Ticks are attracted to shady areas like tall grass, leaf piles, dense brush, trash or compost areas, patio furniture, and even playground equipment. People can be bitten after spending time in the woods, but they can also be exposed in suburban and urban areas.

Myth: People Can Feel a Tick Bite

Most tick bites are surprisingly painless. That’s why ticks often remain undetected if you don’t do a thorough body check after being outdoors. People typically don’t feel itching or irritation, making it essential to perform a visual inspection of yourself and loved ones after spending time outdoors. Running your hands over your skin or through your hair is another way to check for ticks.

Myth: Ticks Sense Blood

The truth about how ticks find potential hosts has little to do with blood. They follow the scent of carbon dioxide, which humans and animals breathe out with every breath. Ticks can also detect body odors, moisture, vibrations, and body heat — all of which alert the pests to the presence of a potential host.

Myth: Ticks Are Only One Size

Different tick species come in different sizes, but each species typically goes through three life stages and is a different size at each stage.

Larvae are typically the size of a grain of sand, while nymphs are usually roughly the size of poppy seeds. Adults tend to be closer to the size of apple seeds. Ticks that are substantially larger may have fed recently. 

The species of tick will also determine if it is smaller or larger than another species. The American dog tick, when fully grown, will be larger than the lone star tick or the deer tick.

Myth: Deer Ticks Are the Only Ticks to Worry About 

Although deer ticks carry and transmit Lyme disease, they aren’t the only ticks that could cause health problems.

For example, the lone star tick, which is moving more pervasively into our region, can cause a dangerous meat allergy called alpha-gal syndrome. Groundhog ticks and blacklegged ticks can carry Powassan disease. The American dog tick and brown dog tick can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Becoming familiar with the ticks that are common in your area and understanding the potential diseases they carry can help you better protect yourself and your loved ones.

Myth: Lyme Disease Always Comes with a Bull’s Eye Rash

Many people with Lyme disease never get the characteristic bull’s eye rash. It’s also possible to get the rash in spots other than where the tick bite occurred.

If someone gets a tick bite but has no sign of a rash after a few days, it could be tempting to think there’s no reason to worry.

However, watching for other early symptoms, including joint pain, fever, facial muscle weakness, and shortness of breath, can paint a more accurate picture. If you think you may have been exposed to Lyme disease, have the tick tested to be sure.

The Truth About Tick Removal & How to Protect Your Property

Ticks are a threat throughout the New England region. The biggest danger is that you or someone you love, including pets or livestock, could end up with a tick-borne illness.

Removing a tick immediately is important, but prevention can minimize the risk of ever getting bitten. Preventing ticks from taking over is equally critical, if not more so for homeowners and business owners.

Your home should be a safe place. That’s why Catseye Pest Control works hard to remove pests and restore peace of mind safely and effectively.

Since ticks are one of the most consistent threats plaguing property owners, Catseye created a tick removal program that is designed to put your mind at ease and allow you to enjoy the property once again.

Our program will eliminate the ticks found on your property while creating a barrier that works to deter ticks from entering the property, therefore helping to prevent future tick-related issues. The process is environmentally friendly and can be administered once a month during tick season.

Contact Catseye today to learn more about our three-step tick removal process and to schedule a free inspection. Taking the first step today means being able to enjoy your outdoor living space sooner this summer!

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Cup plant feeds brown ambrosia aphid, Uroleucon ambrosiae, which in turn provides dinner for lynx spiders, lady beetles, long-legged flies, flower flies, and green lacewings

 

Colonies of brown ambrosia aphids are manufacturing legions of hungry predators ready to sally forth and feast on other pests in my garden. Although an adult flower fly was not sighted, her telltale egg (inside the circle) in the aphid colony confirms her visit and spells trouble for aphids in just a few days when her predatory larva hatches.

 

One of the best performers in my flower bed is a raucous native plant known as cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum, a premier attractor of insects to the garden. Extravagant floral displays provide nectar and pollen to a wide variety of bees, butterflies, and wasps. Nutrients coursing through vascular vessels support several species of sucking insects including leafhoppers, treehoppers, and aphids. And where there are abundant juicy prey items, there are predators, lots of them.

This little Cycloneda lady beetle has her jaws wrapped around a juicy brown ambrosia aphid.

Early one morning this pretty green lacewing adult stopped by an aphid-infested cup plant. How soon will her meat-eating youngsters appear in the aphid colony?

The featured insect this week is the brown ambrosia aphid, whose populations have exploded on my cup plants. As the name implies, this aphid is found on a wide variety of plants in the Asteraceae family including black-eyed Susan, coneflower, and sunflower in addition to cup plant. Like many of their kin, in summertime these gals are parthenogenic, like the Amazons in Greek mythology, an all-female society reproducing without the assistance of males. One of the most fascinating behaviors found in aphids on my cup plant and other Uroleucon aphids is a synchronized twitching response when the colony of aphids is disturbed. On several mornings last week when visiting the cup plant with a cup of coffee in hand, I was greeted by mass displays of dancing aphids as I approached the plant. Clever studies of a related species of Uroleucon revealed a synchronous “collective twitching and kicking response”, a.k.a. “CTKR”, when an object like a pencil or a predator like a lady beetle was in visual range of the colony. Gentle vibrations of the substrate upon which the colony rested also evoked the CTKR. These coordinated defenses reduced successful attacks by tiny parasitic wasps that use aphids as hosts for their young.

Gentle taps on the cup plant leaf sends the colony of brown ambrosia aphids into paroxysms of synchronized twitching. This behavior may ward-off attacks by tiny parasitic wasps or small predators.

While collective twitching proved effective against some enemies of aphids, colonies of aphids on my cup plant are now besieged by legions of hungry lynx spiders, lady beetles, flower flies, long-legged flies, and lacewings. The synchronized defense of hapless aphids can’t stop these fierce tiny predators from taking their toll. While this is bad news for the aphids, this is good news for my garden. The aphids have become a feeding factory for many species of predators that will move on to other plants in my landscape once the brown ambrosia aphids are kaput, all part of Mother Nature’s plan for a more sustainable landscape. 

Lynx spiders like this male Oxyopes find aphids irresistibly tasty any time of day.

Long-legged flies prowl leaves of cup plant in search of prey.

Acknowledgements

We thank Drs. Gary Miller and Jeff Shultz for identifying prolific brown ambrosia aphids and the cool male lynx spider, respectively. Dr. Paula Shrewsbury created this story by planting silphium and identified the pretty polished lady beetle. The fascinating account of defensive behaviors in aphids entitled “Collective Defense of Aphis nerii and Uroleucon hypochoeridis (Homoptera, Aphididae) against Natural Enemies” by Manfred Hartbauer was consulted to prepare this episode.

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Where Do Ticks Live?

Learn More Information About Where Ticks Live & How to Protect Your Property

As the temperature outside warms up, tick season kicks into high gear. These tiny pests often hijack summer fun as more people and pets spend time enjoying the great outdoors. Camping, hiking, gardening, walking, and hanging out in parks are all beloved summer activities that increase the odds of discovering ticks on your skin, clothing, and pets.

More than just a nuisance, ticks can potentially spread at least 20 different types of diseases, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Additionally, the number of ticks carrying dangerous illnesses is growing each year, increasing the threat of Lyme disease, Powassan disease, tick-related meat allergies, and more.

Tick Habitats & Facts

For much of the country, including the Northeast, tick season kicks off in March and runs through the fall until temperatures drop below freezing. Learning where ticks live is a good first step toward protecting yourself and the people you care about from these unwelcome parasites.

Hundreds of different species of ticks live around the globe, with approximately 90 of those species located in the United States.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) point out that only a few species bite people and pose a risk of transmitting diseases. The CDC created a map to illustrate where some of these problematic ticks live, although it’s important to note that some species can be found outside the areas where they normally live as the pest spreads to new areas.

The Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases (NEVBD) indicates that some of the common ticks found in the Northeast include:

  • American dog tick: These ticks live throughout most of the S. east of the Rocky Mountains. Sometimes called wood ticks, these ticks typically bite more during spring and summer.
  • Black-legged tick: Commonly referred to as the deer tick, it can be found on the East Coast. These ticks typically bite in spring, summer, and fall, although they have also been known to search for hosts during warm winter weather.
  • Brown dog tick: These ticks can be found throughout the entire country. They commonly bite dogs but have been known to bite humans too.
  • Lone star tick: This aggressive tick was once found primarily in the south but is now spreading throughout the East and Northeast.
  • Asian longhorned tick: This invasive tick species has been found in 14 states, most commonly along the eastern Atlantic coast.

closeup of a tick crawling on a long, green leaf against a blue background

Do Ticks Live in Trees or Grass?

Ticks don’t live in trees. There’s a common misconception that people can unwittingly be exposed to ticks that fall from trees.

However, ticks don’t jump, fly, or drop from above. If you find a tick on your arm, neck, or head, it’s far more likely the tick climbed up your body.

These pests are ground-dwellers who like warmth and humidity.

Some ticks, including the American dog tick, prefer living in tall grassy areas. Others, such as the lone star tick, live in wooded areas with underbrush. Deer ticks thrive in grass and leaf debris. A select few tick species, such as the brown dog tick, prefer indoor environments like dog kennels, furniture, and the spaces between walls.

A tick will wait for a host by perching on the tips of grass blades, shrubbery, or other low-lying surfaces. Factors like body heat and breath alerts ticks to the presence of animals and people. Once a potential host brushes up against the area where the tick waits, it climbs on and makes itself at home.

It’s important to note that some critters, like the white-footed field mouse, are known to carry ticks. This mouse species are terrific climbers and swimmers, which can be quite problematic for property owners.

White-footed mice, like many other mice species, play a key role in the transmission of Lyme disease. Once a tick becomes infected with the virus, it can become passed to people and animals through a tick bite.

And thanks to nuisance wildlife, ticks are able to travel much faster than on their own and can reach their new host with ease.

Tick Life Cycle

The tick life cycle can last two to three years, depending on the species. Most tick species have four stages of life: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, adult.

For the tick to progress from stage to stage, it must feed on a host, which can include mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Some species, including the brown dog tick, prefer feeding on the same type of host at each stage of the life cycle. Others, including deer ticks, choose different types of hosts at different life cycle stages.

Eggs are laid by the thousands in sheltered areas with leaves and brush on the ground. Once the eggs hatch, the six-legged larvae feed on small hosts like birds and mice. Larvae tend to stay low to the ground where there’s plenty of shade and moisture to provide shelter and hydration.

As the ticks grow into nymphs and eventually adults, they begin to look for larger hosts to feed upon. After the ticks have their fill of their hosts’ blood, they will detach from the hosts and return to their habitats until they need another feeding.

This cycle continues for the rest of the tick’s life cycle.

How to Keep Ticks Away from Your Home

Ticks are more than just a nuisance — they are a menace and pose a real threat to humans. The CDC estimates that more than 475,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, and tick-borne diseases are continuing to spread.

Ticks can carry parasites, bacteria, and viruses that are passed on to those who are bit, like humans, animals, even livestock.

Protect Yourself from Carrying Ticks Home

While you are outdoors, there’s a chance that you could end up with a tick bite. The rising number of tick-borne diseases emphasizes the need for prevention and protection. While enjoying the outdoors, protect people and pets with these tips:

  • Cover up with clothing that covers the arms and legs. Tuck pants into socks, then minimize openings and gaps between clothing and skin.
  • Wear light-colored clothing that helps make ticks more visible.
  • Use insect repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, or a repellent containing a minimum of 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Walk in the center of paths and trails, keeping away from underbrush, shrubs, and tall grasses where ticks may wait for their next victims.
  • Check clothing, skin, and hair on humans and pets to spot ticks before they have a chance to bite and transmit diseases.

Protect Your Outdoor Space

Having a deeper understanding of where ticks live can help you better manage a property. Make outdoor spaces less hospitable for ticks with these tips:

  • Clear dead leaves and debris.
  • Mow the lawn regularly and clear brush from around the edges of buildings and the lawn.
  • Stack wood in a dry area to discourage tick-carrying rodents from moving in.
  • Install fencing to keep wildlife, like deer, out of the yard.
  • Keep all outdoor living equipment, playground equipment, patios, and decks clear of the edges of the yard and tree cover.

Even after taking precautions, you will still need professional help to deal with a tick infestation.

Catseye Pest Control has a one-of-kind Organic Tick & Mosquito Control program designed to inspect, treat, and revisit properties monthly during tick season. Our priority for customers is to get rid of ticks and keep them away from homes, businesses, people, and pets.

This helps to create a relaxing atmosphere so that outdoor living spaces can be enjoyed.

Contact us today to learn more about tick control or to schedule a free inspection.

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Nectar rewards for peony protecting body guards: Carpenter ants, Camponotus spp.

 

Are ants really necessary for peonies to bloom?

 

Given a choice between tending a herd of sap-sucking aphids for their honeydew reward or protecting the peony bud from aphids, the ants are going with the aphids.

One gardening legend has it that peonies don’t flower without the assistance of ants. Well, the editors of the Old Farmer’s Almanac recently busted the myth that ants “tickle the buds” to get peonies to blossom. As they point out, peonies definitely will bloom just fine in the absence of ants. Well, if ants are not helping the buds open, what are they doing? A closer look reveals that plants are clever. They have evolved astounding arsenals of sophisticated defenses to thwart hungry jaws of caterpillars and beetles and the sap-sucking beaks of aphids, scale insects and their kin. Tough leaves, rugged bark, spines, thorns, hooked hairs that snare trespassers, and a veritable warehouse of noxious chemicals designed to poison herbivores protect leaves, stems, and roots of plants. But one of the most elegant defenses in the plant-world involves bodyguards. Yes, plants “hire” insects to protect their tender tissues from ravages of hungry herbivores.

A close look at the peony reveals a drop of nectar secreted by the peony as a reward for guarding the bud.

In previous episodes we met Pseudomyrmex ants, protectors of the bull-horn acacias in which they live. You may recall that at the base of acacia leaves specialized glands called extrafloral nectaries produce sugar-rich nectar, the source of carbohydrates for the ant colony living in the tree. In return for nectar and other nutrients provided by acacia, ants protect their host trees in a deal crafted eons ago by Mother Nature. While fooling around with acacia ants, I learned how potent their defense can be when one delivered a memorable sting. Many trees and shrubs commonly found in our landscapes, including cherry and peach trees, have similar extrafloral nectaries that attract ants and so do the peonies that grow in our gardens. In addition to defense, scientists hypothesize that nectar produced by these glands may simply be a waste product excreted by the plant. Another possibility is that nectar produced by glands on the plant but away from flowers, may lure ants away from blossoms where they might rob floral nectar used to attract pollinators vital for the plant’s reproduction.

To explore the defense hypothesis, I placed a rather large eastern tent caterpillar on a leaf close to several carpenter ants dancing about on a flower bud. As you will see by watching the video, the ants wasted no time attacking the intruder and chasing it from the peony. Just what you would expect any good bodyguard to do. Although ants might not be needed to tickle open the buds of peonies to help them bloom, perhaps by keeping bud and flower-munching insects off the plant, they still play an important role in helping peonies thrive and bring their elegant displays to our gardens.

Do ants really protect peonies from herbivores? Watch as carpenter ants on the flower bud and leaves show an intruding caterpillar the way off the peony plant, taking the valiant defender with it. With the intruder gone, looks like mission accomplished by peony protecting ants.

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks Dr. Shrewsbury and the editors of the Almanac for providing the inspiration for this episode. The encyclopedic “Insect Ecology” by Peter Price, Robert Denno, Micky Eubanks, Debby Finke, and Ian Kaplan and was used as a reference for this episode.

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Lone Star Tick Bites Leading to Meat Allergy

Learn About the Alpha-gal Allergy, how it Relates to the Lone Star Tick & How to Protect Yourself from Tick Bites

Tick-borne diseases are a major health concern, and it’s important to be aware of a relatively new one that is particularly dangerous: lone star tick meat allergy. Imagine developing mysterious allergy symptoms practically overnight, only to learn that there’s a tick that makes you allergic to meat — possibly for years or longer.

This is exactly what can happen after getting a lone star tick bite.

Scientists first noticed the phenomenon back in 2006, but it wasn’t until 2012 that it became clear that this new allergic reaction was caused by the lone star tick and its bite. This tiny pest was once common predominantly in the southern United States, but the species has since spread throughout 39 states, including those in the Northeast like Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.  

Lone star ticks are small, typically measuring one-half inch after feeding. Females have a single, distinctive white spot on their backs, while males may have several spots on top of their bodies. These pests are known to be aggressive when it comes to biting humans, and their bite can lead to what is becoming known as lone star tick meat allergy, or alpha-gal allergy or alpha-gal syndrome.

The Alpha-Gal Allergy

Anyone can get alpha-gal syndrome, which is also commonly referred to as an alpha-gal allergy or a tick bite meat allergy. Experts believe that up to 3% of Americans may have an alpha-gal allergy — a number that could very well grow as the lone star tick continues to spread.

This serious allergic reaction occurs after eating something that contains alpha galactose or “alpha-gal,” which is a sugar molecule found in the cells of many mammals.

Meats like beef and pork contain alpha-gal, and it’s also found in products made from mammals, including milk, gelatin, and possibly some vaccines and medications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Humans, birds, fish, and reptiles don’t contain alpha-gal.

What is an alpha-gal allergy, and how can a lone star tick bite trigger it? The complex process behind the syndrome can be life threatening.

It is believed that the condition begins after a lone star tick bites an animal host. When feeding on the animal, the tick ingests alpha-gal. Then, when the tick bites a person, it transfers alpha-gal into the bloodstream.

If people are sensitive to the substance, they may develop an allergy that causes a reaction when they’re exposed to or ingest products that contain alpha-gal.

medium-rare steak on a bed of vegetables on a white plate with a wood table in background

Symptoms of a Lone Star Tick Meat Allergy

The CDC cautions that symptoms typically occur within two to six hours of being exposed to or eating products that contain alpha-gal, and the reaction can be serious or even life-threatening. According to the Mayo Clinic, some signs and symptoms of alpha-gal syndrome include:

  • Itchy skin, eczema, or hives
  • Sneezing and/or runny nose
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Stomach upset, including pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Swelling in the face, lips, throat, or tongue

People also face the potential risk of a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which is a severe reaction with symptoms like trouble breathing, a weak and/or rapid pulse, dizziness, or fainting. If someone shows signs of anaphylaxis, it’s critical to call 911 and seek help immediately.

What to Do if You Think You Have an Alpha-Gal Allergy

If you have symptoms of a food allergy after eating — even if it’s up to six hours after eating, it’s important to see a doctor.

Doctors can help treat and manage alpha-gal syndrome. Some people may have to avoid eating the meat of most mammals, including beef, venison, pork, and lamb.

A medical professional may also recommend avoiding other foods that contain alpha-gal, such as gelatin and dairy products. Additionally, it will be important to try to avoid future tick bites, which could reactivate an alpha-gal allergy.

How to Protect Yourself from Lone Star Tick Bites

The tick/alpha-gal syndrome connection isn’t the only reason to actively protect yourself from tick bites. These pests can also transmit other diseases, including ehrlichiosis and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), both of which have symptoms that include muscle pain and fever.

Like the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s especially true when it comes to preventing lone star tick bites.

Avoiding wooded areas with brush, tall grass, and using insect repellents with at least 20% DEET concentration can help to prevent tick bites. Additional tips to protect yourself and your family include:

  • Treat clothing with 0.5% permethrin or buy gear that is pre-treated.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks when exploring any grassy or wooded areas.
  • After being outside, make sure to thoroughly check clothing and your skin for ticks.
  • Shower as soon as possible when moving indoors to help get rid of ticks that aren’t attached yet.
  • Remove any ticks that are attached, ideally using fine-tipped tweezers and a smooth motion to pluck the tick away from the skin.

Tick seasons seem to get worse every year. Tick-proofing your home turf can provide extra peace of mind and help protect everyone not only from lone star tick bites, but also from the bites of other ticks that can also transmit diseases. 

Preventing tick infestations starts with working with a trusted pest control specialist. At Catseye Pest Control, we offer a safe, effective treatment process to kill existing ticks and prevent them from entering your property in the future.

Our one-of-a-kind organic program is safe for those on the property of your home or business — including people and animals while eliminating the threat of ticks.

To learn more about our three-step tick control process, contact us today to speak with an expert who can help you take critical steps to protect your family from tick-related illnesses. 

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What Attracts Mosquitoes?

Learn What Attracts Mosquitoes & How to Prevent the Pest from Taking Over Your Property

Mosquitoes are more than just a nuisance — they are actually among the deadliest animals on earth, causing anywhere from 700,000 to one million human deaths every year. Around the world, 3,000 different species of mosquitoes serve as a nuisance and spread more diseases than any other creature on the planet!

These tiny killers carry and spread dangerous diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus, and yellow fever, among others. Even when they don’t make people sick, one bite can cause itching and discomfort that lasts for days.

With hot, humid summers and ample bodies of water, the Northeastern United States is one of the worst regions for breeding swarms of these pests.

In the New England area, at least four species — Eastern tree hole, Northern house, Asian tiger, and Yellow Fever mosquitoes, annoy and bite residents. One of the most effective ways to control them is to understand what attracts mosquitoes to people, homes, and other spaces.

That knowledge is the first step in keeping these potentially dangerous pests away from homes and businesses.

What Attracts Mosquitoes to People?

Although male mosquitoes only feed on nectar, females feed on blood from people and animals. Some people may think they are a magnet for mosquitoes — and they may be right, but what attracts mosquitoes to people and surrounding properties is a combination of complex factors.

Mosquitoes locate their victims in a few ways, including by following the carbon dioxide trails produced by animals and people. The pest also uses receptors to seek out hosts using factors like smell, heat, and perspiration.

Genetics can play a huge role in making certain people more susceptible to mosquito bites than others. People with high levels of cholesterol, steroids, and certain acids — including uric acid, tend to attract more mosquitoes.

Likewise, our bodies produce certain chemicals in some conditions. For example, high metabolisms, of you are pregnant, have a warmer than normal body temperature, or are exercising, the body will produce certain chemicals that mosquitoes find attractive.

Smells are a major factor in what attracts mosquitoes to people. These tiny pests are drawn to sweat and the smell of human skin, although they also love perfumes, floral-scented body products, and deodorants. In terms of diet factors, they are more likely to be attracted to people who eat and drink certain foods, including bananas, avocados, beer, salty foods, and sugary treats.

closeup of a brown mosquito with white stripes biting a person’s skin

What Colors Attract Mosquitoes?

Did you ever wonder what colors attract mosquitoes? The color of food resources provides mosquitoes with localization and recognition capabilities. Some insects first look for carbon dioxide in the air and then move toward specific colors.

The colors that attract the pets are long wavelength colors, including orange, red, black, cyan, and some floral patterns that include these colors.

Low wavelength colors such as purple, green, and white tend to be less attractive to the pest.

To avoid attracting mosquitoes, stick with wearing light and/or neutral colors. Keep in mind that mosquitoes can bite right through tight clothing. To avoid attracting them, experts always recommend wearing light, loose-fitting clothing when spending time in mosquito-prone areas.

What Attracts Mosquitoes to Homes?

Mosquitoes are attracted to more than just people.

Nectar and water are two major attractions that could be driving mosquitoes directly to your doorstep. Standing water is one of the biggest potential offenders. Did you know that mosquitoes spend about three-quarters of their lives in water? And they don’t need much water to breed and lay their eggs. In fact, they can do so in water as shallow as the film in the bottom of a cup.

Potential sources of standing water include birdbaths, buckets, flowerpots, a garbage can lid, and wheelbarrows. Clogged drains and gutters can also trap water and provide pests with a combination of water and an ideal shelter from the wind.

Yard debris is another attraction. Because mosquitoes prefer shielded, cool shelters that provide them protection from the sunlight, debris piles, overgrown weeds and grass, shrubbery, and compost piles all serve as invitations to mosquitoes to take up residence.

Keep grass mowed regularly and make sure shrubs and trees are trimmed to minimize the availability of spaces mosquitoes like to make their home. Also, remove yard debris and ensure compost piles are contained in receptacles with tightly fitting lids.

Male mosquitoes feed on nectar, which comes from flowers, so floral scents tend to attract mosquitoes. That means lots of gorgeous flowers around a home or business could be increasing the number of mosquitoes that are attracted to the property.

That doesn’t mean everyone should get rid of all their landscaping, however. Instead, plant shrubs, flowers, and greenery that doesn’t produce heavy, perfumed aromas. Planting flowers with strong scents farther away from living or gathering areas may also help.

How to Prevent Mosquitoes with Catseye Pest Control

Understanding what attracts mosquitos to homes, people, and other living things is only half the battle. If you have tried cleaning gutters, minimizing flowers, getting rid of standing water, and wearing light clothing, but you’re still struggling with mosquitoes, it may be time to call in professional help.

As the area’s go-to pest control service, Catseye Pest Control offers and safe and effective Tick and Mosquito Control Program.

Our pest and nuisance wildlife control will visit your home or business and provide a free inspection that can be used to create a plan that is tailored precisely to the property. Using environmentally friendly, organic products, we can effectively help keep your home, business, family, friends, and pets safe during mosquito season.

Ready to take control? Contact Casteye for a free inspection today to prevent mosquitoes from biting into your outdoor fun.

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Brood X encore, billions of cicadas? Not this time – Straggling cicadas of Brood X, Magicicada spp.

 

Guess who you might see in the next few weeks in your neighborhood, Brood X stragglers!

 

Last May in 2021 cicada lovers exulted in the arrival of billions of periodical cicadas in the eastern United States. By mid-June as the party wound down, they bemoaned the fact that in most of the DMV these strange and magnificent creatures would not return until the spring of 2038. But guess what, last week on an early morning walk on a trail in Columbia, MD, I was surprised and delighted to encounter a freshly molted male pharaoh periodical cicada, Magicicada septendecim, scaling a gnarly ancient red maple tree. Nearby beneath the same tree, a second male dodged running shoes and bicycle tires roaring down the asphalt. My sightings mirrored reports of cicada sightings in more than a dozen states in the eastern half of the US. These off-cycle sightings of a few periodical cicadas are part of the ongoing mystery surrounding one of Nature’s most magical creatures. Before local cicadaphiles get their hopes up too high and cicadaphobes start packing to leave town, please know that this is not the full-blown cicadapalooza of 2021. Brood X cicadas will be seen throughout the land but at densities many orders of magnitude less than those seen last year.

Against the background calls of Canadian geese and mallard ducks, a male Brood X cicada scales an ancient maple tree in the early morning light. Watch as this lonesome bachelor avoids entanglement in a spider’s web. Instinct drives his quest to find a mate. Little does he know that his chances of passing along his genes to the next generation are between slim and none.

In several states in the eastern half of the US, shed skins appearing on plants in your landscape during the next several weeks are likely those of straggling Brood X cicadas.

Cicada experts call sightings of a few cicadas in “off” years, cicada “stragglers.” Stragglers are periodical cicadas that emerge in years prior to or after the year that massive numbers of their broodmates are expected to emerge. Often, 17-year cicada stragglers emerge four years prior to their expected emergence date; however, it is possible for periodical cicadas to emerge between 8 years earlier or 4 years later than expected. Based on historical data, researchers can associate stragglers with their massive parent brood. The map accompanying this episode provides scientifically vetted accounts of actual sightings of periodical cicadas in our region this spring. This wonderful event has entomologists eager to add new information to our knowledge of these inimitable creatures. Experts believe that part of the straggling phenomenon is genetic while environmental factors, such as the quality of the host tree immature cicadas dine on while underground, contribute to the appearance of stragglers. Sadly, densities of stragglers in an area rarely achieve a quorum great enough to overwhelm hungry predators and other foes, and their unfortunate off-cycle appearance leads to oblivion for their progeny.

This recent map compiled from data sent to iNaturalist and Cicada Safari apps shows locations where Brood X cicada stragglers are likely to be seen this spring. Credit: Gene Kritsky, Mount St. Joseph University

Cicadaphiles, don’t despair, as this spring provides one more chance to enjoy cicadas and to help scientists learn more about these creatures. You can participate in the highly successful community science project that resulted in hundreds of thousands of data points last year by joining the Cicada Safari. To be part of the action, go to the app store on your cellular phone and download the Cicada Safari app. It is free and very easy to use. Download, register, and start snapping pictures of cicadas. Easy as pie. Cicada geniuses will vet your images and add them to a growing data base designed to demystify the seasonal phenology and distribution of these charismatic creatures. On this Memorial Day Holiday and over the next several weeks as you enjoy parades, cookouts, and adventures in the great outdoors, keep your cell phones handy, eyes open and ears on the ready, and snap some shots of straggling Brood X cicadas.

Acknowledgements

We thank Dr. Gene Kritsky of Mount St. Joseph University for providing the nice map of recent cicada sightings and for providing inspiration for this episode. To learn more about magical periodical cicadas, please visit the fabulous repository for all things cicada at Cicada Mania and search the archives at Bug of the Week for “cicada.” To read John Kelly’s take on tardy cicadas here in the DMV in the Washington Post, please click on this link:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/05/22/cicadas-emerging-broodx/. The wonderful fact-filled review of cicada biology and ecology, “Advances in the Evolution and Ecology of 13- and 17-Year Periodical Cicadas” by Chris Simon, John R. Cooley, Richard Karban, and Teiji Sota was consulted for this episode.

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