On the prowl to paralyze pests here in the DMV: Four-toothed mason wasps, Monobia quadridens

On the prowl to paralyze pests here in the DMV: Four-toothed mason wasps, Monobia quadridens

 

Mountain mint, Pycnanthemum, is a delightful native plant and super attractor for many pollinators, including caterpillar-hunting, four-toothed mason wasps.

 

Last week we met a handsome wasp inspecting galleries in wooden posts at the visitor center in Volcano National Park on the big island of Hawai’i. The keyhole wasp, Pachodynerus nasidens, belongs to a subfamily of cosmopolitan vespid wasps called the Eumeninae, commonly called potter and mason wasps. As we learned last week, keyhole wasps use galleries abandoned by other insects or human-made tubes and hollows as nurseries to raise their brood. Now let’s travel a few thousand miles east back to the DMV to visit another member of the Eumeninae.

Several years ago, an eagle-eyed Master Gardener made an inquiry regarding black and white wasps poking around her mason bee colony. My gardener friend wondered about the identity and intent of these winged wonders. Were these wasps nefarious ruffians out to eat mason bee babies and pillage their pollen cakes? You may recall meeting hard working mason bees in a previous episode of Bug of the Week and seeing photographs of hollow cardboard tubes and holes drilled in wood used to accommodate these industrious early season pollinators. Mason bees are not the only members of the bee and wasp clan that have evolved to take advantage of vacant galleries in wood. These hollow chambers excavated by wood-boring bees like carpenter bees and round-headed beetle borers are used by several species of mason wasps as nurseries to raise their brood.

Nestled in tiny chambers made of mud, wasp larvae complete their development within a channel in my vinyl window frame.

As adults, mason wasps provide two important ecosystem services, one of pollination as they seek nectar and pollen as sources of food, and another as biological control of plant-eating caterpillars. Unlike the larvae of mason bees that consume pollen cakes supplied by their mothers, mason wasps consume living but paralyzed caterpillars. Prior to the hunt for caterpillar prey, the female mason wasp deposits her egg in the chamber where caterpillars will be stored. She then hunts for prey on flowers, foliage, vegetables, and fruit. Like potter wasps we met in a previous episode of Bug of the Week, female mason wasps use a potent venom to paralyze their pray. Sometimes as many as 19 caterpillars are captured, paralyzed, and used to provision the cell where an egg awaits. Once a sufficient number of prey has been captured, the chamber is sealed with a plug of mud or sand particles. In a remarkable display of gender control, the female wasp is able to lay either a male or a female egg. Due to the shorter developmental time of the male offspring, male eggs are usually placed near the opening of the gallery. Female eggs are placed deeper within the gallery. In this way faster developing males avoid trying to climb over, around, or bore through their sisters on the way out of the nursery.

Mountain mint looks like a super food for mason wasps as they carbo-load in preparation to search for caterpillars. Watch as this female sips nectar from several blossoms before the hunt. Natural holes made in wood by other insects and human-made holes drilled in logs for mason bees make great nurseries for mason wasps. A little tickle with a wisp of wood brings a female out of her nursery. A quick look around reveals nothing amiss and back she goes into the gallery to resume her work. To my surprise, a weep-hole made in the vinyl frame of my living room window makes a great nursery for a mason wasp. After provisioning galleries with paralyzed caterpillars to feed their young, mothers gather balls of mud which will be used to seal the nursery chambers. Using jaws and patience, a female makes a beautiful mudball. With the mudball complete and cradled beneath her legs, she flies back to her nursery. It takes several loads of mud to seal the gallery completely. Here a mother puts the final touches on her handiwork. A solid coat of mud plaster helps prevent enemies from attacking and killing her developing brood. 

Spotted horsemint, Monarda, is another gorgeous native perennial highly attractive to many beneficial wasps, including four-toothed mason wasps.

So, when you see these magnificent black and white wasps hovering around mason bee colonies, fear not, these are highly beneficial mason wasps looking for an empty apartment as a nursery to raise their brood. They are part of Mother Nature’s hit squad helping to reduce damage caused by caterpillars in our gardens and landscapes. You can make them part of your pest management team by providing them with critical nectar and pollen sources such as gorgeous native mountain mint and spotted horse mint.

Acknowledgements

The wonderful references “Trap nesting wasps and bees: Life histories, nests, and associates” by Karl Krombein and “The Cocooning Habit of the Wasp Monobia quadridens” by Phil Rau were consulted to prepare this episode.  

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Paralyzing prey in Paradise: Keyhole wasp, Pachodynerus nasidens

 

Pretty keyhole wasps remove debris from holes in wood that are potential nurseries for their young.

 

Over the past several weeks we meet gorgeous peripatetic butterflies, monarchs and Gulf fritillaries, that somehow found their way to the Hawaiian Islands. Last week fierce western yellowjackets of the vespid clan took center stage as they murdered invasive cockroaches at Volcano National Park. This week we return to the site of erupting Kilauea for a quick stop at the visitor center to meet another member of the vespid clan, keyhole wasps that arrived in the islands by ship in the early 1900’s. Exterior wooden posts at the visitor center bear many holes made by humans and unidentified wood-boring insect. These abandoned galleries now provide a wonderful set of condominiums in paradise for fetching keyhole wasps.

Abandoned galleries in wooden posts made by wood-boring insects are ideal nest sites for keyhole wasps.

Keyhole wasps are so named for their habit of using empty galleries in wood made by other insects and human-made voids such as keyholes or electrical sockets as nesting sites. They sometimes also nest in abandoned nests of other wasps like mud daubers, or empty silken cases of caterpillars. After thoroughly inspecting, cleaning, and accepting a nest site, the female wasp captures and paralyzes several caterpillars. These living dead are stuffed into the gallery. Mother wasp lays eggs within the gallery and seals the chamber with mud. The fresh meat of paralyzed caterpillars serves as larder for her young as they hatch from eggs and develop. For the hapless caterpillars, what a way to go!

 

Keyhole wasps use holes in wood made by humans and wood-boring insects as nurseries for their young. One little lady inspects a potential nest site and decides it isn’t quite right. An industrious female nearby prepares the nursery by removing trash left behind by former occupants. Once the perfect gallery is cleaned and ready for occupation, it’s off to find and paralyze delectable caterpillars to feed her youngsters. Caterpillars returned to the nursery provide fresh nutritious food for developing wasp larvae that hatch from eggs deposited in the gallery by their fierce mother.

But you don’t have to travel to the Hawaiian Islands to observe these splendid hunters. Keyhole wasps are indigenous to Central and South America and have been found in Mexico, Texas, Virginia, and Florida. They have also made their way to several Islands in the Atlantic and Pacific as well as the continent of Australia. Their arrival in Australia caused a bit of a stir at the Brisbane airport, where keyhole wasps decided that pitots on airplanes created excellent galleries in which to build nests for raising their young. Know what a pitot is? Me neither, but I have learned that these are small hollow tubes on the nose cone of an aircraft used to measure the airspeed of the plane. Keyhole wasps nesting in these tubes plugged them with mud which resulted in “serious safety incidents” as information on airspeeds “critical for landings, takeoffs, and flight became unreliable.” Yikes! By modifying habitats near the airport to disfavor nest-building by wasps, providing alternate nest sites, covering pitots between flights, and inspecting pitots regularly, problems created by these opportunistic invaders have been quelled Down Under. Although keyhole wasps are not yet common in the DMV, a close relative called the four-toothed mason wasp makes its home in the DMV. We will learn a bit more about this interesting caterpillar hunter in next week’s episode.  

Acknowledgements

Fascinating references used to create this episode include “Inventive nesting behaviour in the keyhole wasp Pachodynerus nasidens Latreille (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) in Australia, and the risk to aviation safety” by Alan P. N. House, Jackson G. Ring, and Phillip P. Shaw, and “The Genus Pachodynerus in North America (Hymenoptera: Vespidae: Eumeninae)” by James M. Carpenter.  We thank Drs. Nancy Breisch and Al Greene for assistance in identifying the keyhole wasp, Dr. Paula Shrewsbury for discovering and photographing wasps, and Dr. Dan Gruner for interesting discussions of invasive species in the Hawaiian Islands.

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7 Household Pests to Watch for in the Winter

Discover Which Pests Want to Move in During the Winter and How to Protect Your Home from Infestations

Spring and summer may be buggy with mosquitoes and stinging insects, but once the temperature drops, other household pests begin infesting homes throughout the region.

Weather throughout the year also has an impact on pest pressures for the following seasons. Significant periods of rainfall during the summer allowed for pests to survive during colder weather. This news comes as a warning of ticks during the early part of the season and rodents that start moving indoors to escape frigid conditions.

As a result, many homeowners in the Northeast opt for year-round pest control services to avoid issues in the cold months. Catseye Pest Control’s Platinum Home Protection includes pest removal as well as sealing and treating gaps and cracks. It also covers perimeter treatments and bi-monthly visits for ultimate peace of mind.

Although it may be tempting to loosen pest control protocols during cool weather months, these seven winter pests are waiting to prove the need for year-round vigilance.

Mice

Mice spend their winters actively searching for warmth, food, and shelter. These tiny household pests can squeeze through a gap or crack as tiny as one-quarter-inch wide, which is why it’s essential to seal gaps and cracks.

It’s also why exclusion systems, which create a permanent barrier to keep mice and other pests out, can be so effective for prevention and ongoing control.

gray and white mouse with pink feet and ears eating a piece of food on a white surface with a gray background

Once inside, these critters are attracted to food and may chew up items in the pantry or on counters. One of the most common species found in the Northeast and New England is the common house mouse.

These critters are also known to damage insulation when nesting, chew wood and drywall, and even gnaw on wires. Make your home less inviting by regularly cleaning floors and counters and keeping food stored in plastic containers.

It’s also helpful to minimize clutter in spaces where mice can hide and monitor the home for signs of mice (like droppings and gnaw marks).

Rats

Like mice, rats leave messy droppings, food messes, gnaw marks, and damage in their wake. These rodents can squeeze through openings as small as a quarter. Common rats in the region include Norway rats, which typically nest in debris piles, crawlspaces, and basements. They may gnaw through pipes, and like other rodents, they can carry multiple diseases, including rat-bite fever and cowpox.

Signs of rats in the house include greasy track marks left by their oily fur, droppings, and disturbed food packaging. Cleaning and sanitation, along with securing food in airtight containers, can help minimize rat infestations. Dehumidifying basements and crawlspaces can also help, as can sealing any gaps, cracks, and other openings.

Stink Bugs

What is thought of as a warm-weather pest, it actually takes numerous consecutive days of extreme, negative temperatures to eliminate stink bugs. This means the pest could be looking for a way inside homes throughout the Northeast year-round.

Looking for a warm place to spend their winter days, stink bugs see man-made structures as the ideal place to be during the colder months.

Making their way into structures through siding, soffits, window and door frames, chimneys, or any variety of opening they can find, homeowners can find hundreds or thousands of stink bugs in their homes, garages, or sheds.

Cockroaches

Any season can be cockroach season, so winter is no exception. Common cockroaches in the Northeast include the German cockroach, which is usually around 1/2 inch long and light brown or tan. The American cockroach, which is typically reddish brown, can grow to lengths of up to 2 inches.

Cockroaches crawl inside homes through tiny cracks and openings, often in search of food and water. They may also catch a ride on backpacks, luggage, and grocery bags. Sealing openings is the only way to prevent a winter infestation. Keep floors and counters clean, regularly dispose of garbage, and remain vigilant in kitchens and bathrooms.

Spiders

Spiders, including the brown recluse spider, which has a venomous bite, are also active through winter. They can enter buildings by crawling into small openings or hitching a ride on clothing. Once inside, they like to hang out in quiet spots like crawlspaces, basements, attics, closets, and cardboard boxes.

Keeping shrubs and trees trimmed away from houses helps minimize the risk of spiders coming indoors. If you suspect you have a spider bite, seek medical attention promptly.

Bed Bugs

Winter’s frigid temperatures can be a benefit for bed bugs, which crave warm humans to feed upon, because humans stay inside more frequently during winter. Also, thicker, warmer bedding provides these household pests with more spots to nestle in and hide.

Bed bugs typically catch a ride into homes on clothing, luggage, backpacks, and soft, upholstered items that come in contact with infested areas. Signs of an infestation include tiny spots of blood on bedding or pajamas, itchy bites, and live bugs near mattress tags and crevices. Professional bed bug control is essential for eliminating these pests.

Ladybugs

North America is home to approximately 475 species of ladybugs, also known as ladybird beetles or lady beetles. Although the pest holds many benefits, including consuming aphids and other crop-damaging insects, they look to man-made structures for warmth.

The red and black pest often enters buildings through eaves and other small openings, then spend their time hiding in the walls, only to crawl onto windows during the day to soak up the sun.

Ladybugs are unlikely to reproduce inside homes, sheds, garages, and other man-made structures, but can attract other pests as the population begins to die if the situation isn’t handled properly.

Call Catseye for Winter Pest Control

House bugs and other pests are still active, even when there is snow on the ground and temperatures plummet. Professional pest control can quickly and effectively eliminate the problem, locate how winter pests are getting in, and prevent them from returning.

Contact Catseye today to schedule a free inspection. From there, we can create a custom plan to efficiently address your unique property and pest control needs.

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Unwelcome guests in Hawai’i: American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, German cockroach, Blattella germanica, and Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica

 

Doing what comes naturally, an invasive yellowjacket is a diner while an invasive cockroach becomes dinner.

 

In previous episodes we met strange plant-sucking psyllids and opportunistic ants colonizing plants growing on some of the newest real estate on earth. We also met monarch butterflies and Gulf fritillaries, gorgeous aerial voyagers that traveled thousands of miles across the ocean to reach the isolated Hawaiian archipelago. We met some beauties, but this week we meet some of the beasts. Creatures indigenous to the Hawaiian island have been slammed by the accidental or deliberate introduction of animals like rats, mongooses, fire ants, and frogs. While visiting Volcano National Park in autumn of 2022, we bumped into two clans of unwelcome colonists, cockroaches and yellowjackets that made their ways to the Hawaiian Islands in addition to other lands around the globe.

German cockroaches like this female carrying her egg case have colonized the Hawaiian Islands and countries around the world.

German cockroaches and American cockroaches share much in common beyond being something you don’t want to find in your kitchen. First, their distribution is cosmopolitan, meaning that they are found around the world having traveled with humans since antiquity. Second, their common names are misnomers as scholars believe that German roaches likely originated in Asia and American roaches likely spread from their aboriginal home in Africa. Another unwelcome immigrant to the islands is the western yellowjacket from North America. This rascal creates havoc on several islands in the archipelago where it feeds on more than 40 families of arthropods, including many native and introduced insects and spiders, but it also has been documented to dine on vertebrates such as birds. In addition to disrupting ecological communities, western wasps have become an important and dangerous nuisance to residents and visitors to the islands. In 2022 in what has been called one of the worst seasons for yellowjackets, signs posted near observation points overlooking the Kilauea volcano warned visitors to beware of stinging wasps.

Why the concern? Invasive western yellowjackets behave quite differently in Hawai’i compared to their relatives back on the mainland. In their native range in the Pacific North West, yellowjackets form annual colonies, ones that last only one year. Queens spend the winter in protected locations outdoors and initiate new colonies in spring. Their colonies are usually ruled by a single queen and her daughters, the worker wasps that gather food and tend brood in the subterranean nest. The colony grows over the course of the summer but with the approach of winter, and the impending decline of prey to feed developing wasp larvae, brood production switches from producing workers to producing drones (male wasps) and new queens. By the end of the growing season the colony has grown to its final size of a few thousand wasps. With the production of new queens, colony growth ends, and new queens find overwintering sites and await spring, when new colonies are founded. But on the tropical islands of Hawai’i, harsh winters do not punctuate the warm climate of the islands. Bountiful sources of protein and carbohydrates from animals and plants are available all months of the years. Many colonies of western yellowjackets are no longer annual but continue to grow and expand year-round, becoming perennial colonies with not one, but multiple queens. These power houses grow to enormous size. One colony on Maui was estimated to house 600,000 individuals. And with this many hungry mouths to feed, it is not surprising that native and non-native prey items are consumed in huge numbers, upsetting the balance of ecosystems on several islands and forcing tourists to duck and run when workers are on the hunt.

Small German cockroaches like this one are unwelcome visitors in any home, including ones in Hawai’i. Another invasive cockroach, the American cockroach, gets a come-uppance from an invasive yellowjacket. This voracious female predator stung and paralyzed the cockroach. She will dismember it and return with meaty morsels to the nest to feed developing larvae. Yellowjacket colonies can be populated by hundreds of thousands of workers, disrupting local ecosystems and posing health hazards to humans and pets.

But is there any bright side in these otherwise grim and scary invasions? I found some small solace as I watched a ferocious yellowjacket attack, sting, paralyze, and then begin to devour a large American cockroach on a path near a visitor center. Like a scene from Jurassic World Dominion, these travelers -not in time but in space to a land where they don’t belong – do just what Mother Nature intended: eat and be eaten.

Acknowledgements

Two very cool references, “Reproductive plasticity of Vespula pensylvanica (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) on Maui and Hawaii Islands, U.S.A.” by Parker Gambino, and “Life history plasticity magnifies the ecological effects of a social wasp invasion” by Erin E. Wilson, Lynne M. Mullen, and David A. Holway, were used to prepare this episode. We thank Dr. Dan Gruner for stimulating discussions about the ecology of Hawaiian flora and fauna and Dr. Paula Shrewsbury for images used in this episode. To learn more about yellowjackets on the Hawaiian Islands, threats they impose, and how they arrived, please click on this link: https://www.usgs.gov/news/volcano-watch-tis-season-say-goodbye-yellowjacket-wasps

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What to Do About Maggots in the Home

Discover How to Handle a Maggot Situation in the Home and How to Prevent It from Happening in the Future

Maggots happen, unfortunately. These pests aren’t the most common invaders in homes and businesses, but they happen more often than you may think. No pest infestation is pleasant, but finding maggots in a house, garden, or workplace can leave you with a serious case of the creepy crawlies. It’s gross — plain and simple.

Learn more about what these pests are, how to identify them, and what causes maggot infestations. Ultimately, controlling flies helps control maggots, and Catseye Pest Control has more than three decades of experience performing fly control services.

What Are Maggots?

Maggots are fly larvae. Although more than 100,000 species of flies live around the world, most maggots found in homes and businesses come from the common house fly or the blowfly.

These pests are usually approximately the size of a thumbnail, with a cream or light brown color. Because they like to burrow into the materials to feed on or live in, their heads are more pointed than their rears. As they eat their way through materials, circular holes are left behind.

Facts About Maggots

  • Flies lay their eggs in warm spots near or on food sources.
  • Female flies can lay as many as 2,400 eggs in their lifetime.
  • After a fly lays eggs, they hatch within seven to 20 hours and emerge as maggots.
  • These critters can be problematic year-round but are more active in spring and summer.
  • Maggots live in their larval state for approximately six days before transitioning into pupae and then adult flies.
  • The number of maggots present on a dead body and the specific species helps determine the time of a person’s death.
  • Maggots have hook-like mouthparts called mandibles that allow them to grab food.
  • Maggots are attracted to rotting, decomposing items, including garbage and flesh.

Where Maggots Live

Maggots are often found outdoors in vegetable gardens, garbage, and the bodies of dead animals. Indoors, you might find them in or near garbage, in pantries and refrigerators on spoiled food, or around other rotting materials.

Kitchens and garbage cans are frequent spots where homeowners and business owners find maggots. In extreme cases, some people may see them crawling on the walls. Maggots in walls typically come from garbage, fecal matter, or decomposing animals or other pests.

Where to Look for Signs of a Maggot Infestation

Any location with flies and a food source can breed maggots. Leftover food and decomposing perishables commonly attract flies. Look in garbage cans and around food sources for signs of infestation. Pets and people may even have maggots in wounds or under their skin.

How to Get Rid of Maggots

The most efficient, lasting way to control maggots in homes, businesses, and other areas is through professional pest control.

Catseye Pest Control can help you remove pesky flies while preserving their ecological role. Our skilled technicians identify breeding sites and eliminate eggs, larvae, and adults. Our fly control program also includes sanitizing breeding sites and removing infestations.

There are also steps you can take on your own to prevent maggots from ever taking up residence. Eliminating food sources can help get rid of these pests and prevent future problems. A few tips to get you started include:

  • Removing rotting plant materials and practicing crop rotation to avoid maggots in the garden.
  • Promptly getting rid of any dead animals from in or around the home or other structures or calling animal control for help.
  • Bagging up pet feces for proper disposal.
  • Cleaning affected areas thoroughly and maintaining a regular sanitation schedule.

It’s essential to break the fly life cycle to prevent problems. Find whatever is attracting flies and eliminate it. Without flies, you won’t have maggots.

Call Catseye for Professional Maggot Control

For thorough, total control of maggots and other pests, learn about our Platinum Home Protection, a service that provides year-round protection and ongoing monitoring. Keep your home, business, and the people you care about healthy and safe with professional fly control and removal from Catseye.

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Gulf fritillaries wish you a Happy New Year from their new home in Hawai’i: Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae

 

The gorgeous Gulf Fritillary butterfly is an exotic visitor welcomed by many on the islands of Hawai’i.

 

This week Bug of the Week returns to some of the newest land on our planet, the Big Island of Hawai’i, to meet another beautiful immigrant to this tropical paradise. Over the holidays we learned that Monarch butterflies arrived on the Hawaiian Islands sometime after the introduction in the 1800’s of milkweeds, the key food source for their young. Like the Monarch, the Gulf Fritillary is also a super specialist that evolved to utilize members of the passion vine clan, Passiflora spp., as food for its young. When the edible passion fruit yellow granadilla, P. laurifolia, arrived in Hawai’i sometime before 1871, a door was opened for Gulf Fritillaries to colonize the big island and call it home. Records of Hawaiian butterflies prior to 1958 don’t list the Gulf Fritillary, but by 2002 these beauties were recorded on six islands of the Hawaiian archipelago. This broad ranging species takes up permanent residence from Argentina to the southern United States. During summer, peregrinations take it as far north as San Francisco on the west coast and New Jersey on the east coast, but in autumn this vagabond travels south to the warm climes of the Floridian peninsula to spend the winter. 

Flowers of the passion vine are among the most magnificent in the plant world but some passion vines are invasive on the Hawaiian Islands.

Like other members of the longwing butterfly clan, larvae of this beauty consume leaves of passion fruit vine. The blossom of the passion fruit vine is one of the most gorgeous in the angiosperm world. Exotic flavors of the passion fruit are used around the world, adding zest to ice cream, cheesecake, and mixed drinks. Passion fruit is rich in vitamin C and lycopene and consuming this delicacy is said to sooth a queasy stomach, according to Andean lore. As a group, passion fruit plants are protected from most leaf-munching caterpillars and other vegan insects by a veritable witch’s brew of highly toxic chemicals including alkaloids, a family of toxins that includes strychnine and nicotine, and cyanogenic glycosides, chemicals that release cyanide upon entering the digestive tract of a caterpillar or human. However, the Gulf Fritillary and other members of its clan, including the zebra longwing we met in a previous episode, turned the tables on passion fruit plants, bypassing the noxious defenses and feasting with impunity on their leaves. Some species of longwings sequester cyanogenic glycosides from their food and others manufacture these compounds on their own, presumably for defense. The striking orange and black coloration of the Gulf fritillary warns vertebrate predators not to mess with this beauty. In addition to any plant derived defenses, the gorgeous Gulf Fritillary has one more bit of chemical trickery to help keep predators at bay. Glands on the abdomen produce and release a concoction of complex esters when the adult butterfly is disturbed. This stinky defensive fluid dissuades predators such as birds from making a meal of these dazzling butterflies. 

The introduction of passion vines to Hawaii in the 1800’s opened the door for pretty Gulf Fritillaries to colonize. In their new home butterflies sip nectar from a wide variety of flowering plants. Females deposit eggs on leaves of passion vines and caterpillars consume leaves to obtain nutrients for growth and defensive compounds for protection from predators. Caterpillars often move from vines to pupate and their chrysalises can be found on human-made objects. While some species of passion vines are considered invasive on the Hawaiian Islands, Gulf Fritillaries are gorgeous colonists enjoyed by islanders. 

But the beautiful Gulf Fritillary is not all about noxious chemicals and defense. Oh no, observations of mating rituals of these beauties in the Norfolk Botanical Garden some years ago revealed romance afoot where a mating pair of butterflies engaged in a quixotic duet along a footpath. Many male butterflies, including Gulf Fritillaries, have a clever trick for winning the affections of would be mates. At the tip of his abdomen, the Gulf Fritillary has small bristles called hair pencils. The male uses his hair pencils to distribute aphrodisiac pheromones on the antennae of a potential mate. Courtship pheromones are released by the male over the female while both are in flight. These pheromones calm the female’s innate escape response and upon landing the male may hover over the female dusting her with more pheromones. The resulting romantic swoon induced by the pheromone allows the male to approach his mate and, well, shall we say, fulfill the biological imperative of procreation. Beauty, danger, and romance brought to a tropical paradise by airborne voyagers, who could ask for anything more of a butterfly? 

Bug of the Week wishes you a joyous New Year! 

Acknowledgements 

References used in the preparation of this Bug of the Week include ‘Caterpillars of Eastern North America” by David L. Wagner; “Coevolution of Animals and Plants” by Lawrence Gilbert and Peter Raven; “Gulf Fritillary Butterfly, Agraulis vanillae (Linnaeus) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)” by Jaret C. Daniels; “Novel chemistry of abdominal defensive glands of nymphalid butterfly Agraulis vanilla” by Gary N. Ross,  Henry M. Fales, Helen A. Lloyd, Tappey Jones, Edward A. Sokoloski, Kimberly Marshall-Batty, and Murray S. Blum; “Insects of Hawaii: A Manual of the Insects of the Hawaiian Islands, including an Enumeration of the Species and Notes on their Origin” by Elwood Zimmerman; and “Hawaiian Terrestrial Arthropod Checklist, Fourth Edition” by Gordon M. Nishida. We thank Dr. Dan Gruner for stimulating discussions about the ecology of Hawaiian flora and fauna and Dr. Paula Shrewsbury for images used in this episode.

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Royal wanderers settle into a far-away home: Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus

 

On behalf of Bug of the Week, monarch butterflies wish you a Happy Holiday Season and Joyous New Year.

 

Last week we met two visitors to the Hawaiian Islands who put down roots and stayed, the pretty but sometimes invasive bamboo orchid and an unidentified orchid-attending ant. This week we return to Hawai’i to meet a long-distance wanderer that recently made these islands their home, the beautiful monarch butterfly. In previous episodes we learned of the struggles of eastern and western populations of our migratory North American monarchs imperiled by habitat loss, climate change, disease, and pesticides. Ah, but on several of the Hawaiian Islands these regal travelers appear to be doing just fine. With the introduction and establishment of tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, to the islands sometime in the mid-1800’s, it was not long before monarchs arrived on Hawai’i. Scientists pinpoint the arrival sometime between 1841 and 1852. By the 1960’s, monarchs had successfully colonized Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, Lanai, and Hawaii.

Beautiful milkweeds provide nutritious sources of food for caterpillars and monarch butterflies.

How did these remarkable voyagers arrive on the most isolated of all land masses on Earth? Most of us are familiar with the annual long-distance migrations of eastern monarchs from their summer breeding grounds in Canada to their over-wintering refuges in the Oyamel fir forests of Mexico, a trip spanning some 2,500 miles. Less well known is the fact that monarch butterflies have colonized several oceanic islands and with some regularity have been seen as far away as England, having crossed the Atlantic Ocean from North America. Owing to their ancient wanderer-gene and abetted by some good fortune, monarchs colonized distant parts of our planet, including the islands of Hawaii. On trips to Oahu and Hawai’i I was amazed to see legions of monarchs on milkweeds in parking lots and landscape plantings as they fluttered about tropical milkweed and another introduced member of the milkweed clan, crown flower, Calotropis gigantea. Hawai’i’s monarchs are no longer migratory and with a benign climate with ample milkweed hosts for caterpillars, they appear to be thriving for the most part.

In the Hawai’i Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, eggs laid on milkweeds by female monarchs hatch and young, pooping caterpillars become leaf-eating machines before forming a gorgeous chrysalis. From the surrounding landscape, males arrive in the milkweed garden to sip nectar and find mates. Called by some “the wanderer”, marvelous monarch butterflies and their milkweed hosts reached the Hawaiian Islands more than 150 years ago.

One curious twist on the evolutionary journey of monarchs on these islands involves a relatively rare mutant monarch that retains the standard black coloration along wing veins but the brilliant orange coloration of wing scales is replaced by white. These mutants, a.k.a. white morphs, are found only on Oahu and none of the other islands. However, with the introduction and escape of two species of insect-eating bulbul songbirds, Pycnonotus jacosus and Pycnonotus cafer, in the 1960s, frequencies of the white morphs increased from historical levels as white butterflies seemingly escaped some bird predation. As monarchs thrive on Oahu and their young become more abundant, the frequency of white morphs has recently declined as bulbuls switched from selectively eating mostly orange adult butterflies to indiscriminately eating caterpillars, whose orange or white adult identity is not apparent in the larval stage, a fascinating story of behavior and evolution at work. If by some stroke of good fortune, you find yourself on the Big Island and want to visit monarchs, stop by the Hawai’i Tropical Bioreserve and Garden just north of Hilo in Papaikou. This nonprofit garden paradise highlights the rich floral biodiversity of the islands. Recent plantings of milkweeds are designed to provide opportunities for visitors to observe magnificent monarchs on their tropical island home.

Acknowledgements

We thank Dr. Dan Gruner for stimulating discussions about the ecology of Hawaiian flora and fauna and Dr. Paula Shrewsbury for images used in this episode. Several fascinating studies and publications including “Insects of Hawaii” by Elwood E. Zimmerman, “Predator induced colour polymorphism in Danaus plexippus L. (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) in Hawaii” by John Stimson and Mark Berman, “Decline in the frequency of the white morph of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus L., Nymphalidae) on Oahu, Hawaii” by John Stimson and Maiko Kasuya, and “The genetics of monarch butterfly migration and warning colouration” by Shuai Zhan, Wei Zhang, Kristjan Niitepõld, Jeremy Hsu, Juan Fernández Haeger, Myron P. Zalucki, Sonia Altizer, Jacobus C. de Roode, Steven M. Reppert, and Marcus R. Kronforst were used in preparation of this episode. We also thank the wonderful staff of the Hawai’i Tropical Bioreserve and Garden for allowing us to record their burgeoning monarch population.

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Signs of Roof Rats

Discover the Signs of Roof Rats and How to Prevent the Rodent from Taking Over Your House or Business

Roof rats carry dozens of potential diseases ranging from the bubonic plague and typhus to salmonellosis and rat-bite fever. These rodents are excellent climbers that prefer nesting in the upper areas of buildings and structures. When threatened, they can also be aggressive.

Rats can squeeze through tiny openings to gain entry to buildings after climbing rough surfaces, vines, trees, and power lines. The ability to act quickly is essential for preventing roof rats from taking over because they can reproduce quite quickly.

Once mature, roof rats can produce two to six litters per year. Each litter can have upwards of eight young.

How Do You Know if You Have Roof Rats?

One surefire sign of roof rats is seeing one, either dead or alive. However, these animals are nocturnal like most other rodents, so you might not see them at all. Instead, it’s possible to notice other common signs of roof rats, such as:

  • Droppings: Roof rat droppings are approximately 1/2 inch long with pointed ends.
  • Gnaw marks: Roof rats often chew on household goods, packages of food, and wooden structures.
  • Sounds: Rats often make clawing or screeching sounds at night, particularly in the attic or walls.
  • Rub marks: Tracks of dark, greasy marks from the rats moving along walls, rafters, and fixtures become noticeable.

Roof Rats vs. Norway Rats: What’s the Difference?

The most common rats found throughout New England are Norway rats, while roof rats are not as common in the area. So, it’s more likely that the rodent creating a headache for you to be the Norway rat.  

The approach to eliminate them using effective rodent control measures is similar. However, these two rats have some significant differences that help with identification. Size, appearance, and behavior are three ways to identify the type of rat causing the problem.

Although rare for the area, homeowners and business owners should still have an understanding of what to look for in terms of roof rats and the importance of a professional handling the situation.

Roof Rats’ Size and Appearance

Roof rats are the smaller of the two rats. These critters usually measure between three and eight inches in length, with a long tail and brown/black fur with white or gray undersides. Norway rats grow anywhere from 10 to 18 inches long, with brownish-gray fur and hairless ears and tails. 

Roof Rat Behavior

Roof rats love finding their shelter and food above ground. These rodents aren’t afraid to climb branches and scamper across utility lines to access roofs of businesses and homes in search of food and shelter. Norway rats prefer to stay at ground level, often burrowing into the ground or trash piles. These rats also use drainpipes, vents, and gaps to move around or gain entry into buildings.

How to Eliminate a Rat Infestation

At Catseye Pest Control, we take a three-step approach: removal, cleanup, and exclusion. Trapping rats without professional help or using poisons to kill them can lead to additional problems, particularly because handling rodents poses a significant health risk.

Professional rodent control is always a go-to for effective, lasting results. Additional measures to take include eliminating rats’ food sources by storing food items in sealed containers and cleaning up any fruit or debris outside. Sound and visual deterrents can provide short-term relief, although roof rats are very adaptable and will eventually return.

Sealing off potential entry points to prevent these rodents from getting in or returning is one of the most effective ways to get rid of them for good. Pay close attention to the roof area and seal gaps and cracks with metal, steel wool, or concrete. Wildlife exclusion systems are available for residential and commercial use. These permanent barriers protect vulnerable areas, providing safe, natural, lasting results.

Frequently Asked Questions About Roof Rats

What Sound Does a Rat Make in the Roof?

Roof rats make all kinds of noises when they’re active, usually at night. You might hear gnawing, scampering, scratching, chirping, and screeching. These sounds may be noticeable in the roof area, attic, or walls.

Where do Roof Rats Live During the Day?

Roof rats are active at night and spend most of the day in their nests. Common areas for roof rats to nest include the space above drop ceilings and inside attics.

What is the Fastest Way to Get Rid of Roof Rats?

The fastest way to get control of a roof rat infestation is with professional pest control. Companies like Catseye use integrated pest management methods (IPM) to quickly and safely get rid of roof rats and other pests.

What Attracts Roof Rats to Your House?

Lush landscaping and dense vegetation outdoors attract roof rats in search of shelter and cover, making them more likely to infest nearby homes and buildings. Easy access to food sources like fruit trees and garbage also attracts roof rats.

Get Help with Rat Control from Catseye Pest Control

If you suspect a rat infestation, don’t try to handle the situation on your own.

These rodents quickly reproduce, and the population can quickly explode, creating more damage and chances of possible health issues. At the first signs of roof rats, contact Catseye for efficient, effective removal and control, starting with a free, detailed inspection.

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How to Keep Rats Out of Your Crawl Space

Discover the Best Ways to Keep Rats Out of Crawl Spaces and What Attracts the Rodent to That Area of the House

Crawl spaces offer the perfect combination of humidity, darkness, and stable temperatures, making them attractive spots for rats and other pests to nest and seek shelter. These narrow spots between a home’s first floor and the ground offer additional support for living areas above them. They also serve as a buffer between the house and the ground.

However, they are also usually unfinished and cramped, making them out-of-the-way spaces that many homeowners never visit. Pipes and vents typically run through these areas, and rats can exploit various entry points. Gaps and cracks in the foundation, openings around pipes and wires, and spaces under doors can all serve as a beacon to these scurrying critters.

Signs of Rats in Crawl Spaces

Finding rats in a crawl space is no easy feat. Residents must be willing to crawl into the darkest corners of a house to look for signs these pests have invaded. Signs of a rat infestation in a crawl space area commonly include:

  • Burrows: If the crawl space has a soil floor, rats will likely burrow inside.
  • Droppings: Each rat can produce up to 50 pellets of fecal matter every day, making it a telltale sign of their presence. But these droppings can be difficult to locate sometimes. Rats prefer to pick a specific area as their bathroom, a behavior known as “latrining.”
  • Insulation Damage: Rats love nesting behind insulation and often disturb materials as they move around.
  • Rat Tracks: Dark, greasy-looking rub marks are like runways where rats enter, exit, and travel along floors, beams, and other areas
  • Odor: Experienced professionals can spot a rat infestation by the strong smell, which is a combination of droppings, urine, and possibly dead rats.

H2: How to Get Rid of Rats in Crawl Spaces

Effective rat control no longer relies on dangerous poisons to eliminate the problem. Although these chemicals were once the go-to solution, today’s pest control industry relies on an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach for efficacy, safety, and less harm to the ecosystem.

Poisons can harm people, pets, and other wildlife, but IPM methods identify the infestation as well as how and why the pests are getting inside. Additional steps include:

  • Removing rats from the premises
  • Repairing damaged areas of the structure, replacing insulation, and sealing entry points
  • Cleaning and disinfecting the area to avoid health risks and minimize the chances of attracting future infestations
  • Taking ongoing steps like monitoring, routine maintenance pest control, and exclusion to keep crawl spaces and the property rat-free and pest-free
grayish-brown rat with beady eyes and pink feet peeking out from under a door on a wood floor with seeds and debris

Rat-Proofing Your Crawl Space 

Homeowners, renters, and businesses can take preventive steps to rat-proof their crawl spaces. Keeping food away from the crawl space and eliminating moisture and humidity are two practical steps in making the crawl space less inviting for rats and other pests that thrive in humid conditions.

Crawl space vapor barriers and a dehumidifier can help. Ensuring landscaping is graded to divert moisture from the foundation and installing gutters to keep rainwater away from the property can also help remedy moisture problems in the crawl space.

Are Rat Slabs in Crawl Spaces Enough to Prevent Infestations?

Rat slabs are thin layers of concrete poured over the dirt floor of a crawl space. It forms an impermeable layer that rats and other pests can’t burrow through. On its own, this method is effective, but it doesn’t address every way that rats can enter the space.

Wildlife exclusion systems like Cat-Guard’s Trench Guard provide a rigid, chemical-free barrier. It gets installed using underground trenching to prevent rats and other pets from burrowing into crawl spaces and other subterranean areas while also sealing off cracks, gaps, and other openings.

Frequently Asked Questions

With more than 30 years in the pest control business, Catseye Pest Control has treated rat infestations of all types. Some of the questions we commonly get about dealing with rats in crawl spaces include the following:

Is it Common to Have Rats in a Crawl Space?

More than 14 million homes across the United States deal with rodents every year. Given the warm, damp condition in many crawl spaces and the easy access and shelter they offer, these spaces are relatively common spots for rats to create nests.

How Do I Keep Rats Out of My Crawl Space?

The most effective way to keep rats out permanently is by eliminating any moisture and food sources and sealing off entry points. Even small gaps, cracks, and openings can act like an open door to these pests. Wildlife exclusion systems that prevent rats from burrowing under the foundation offer a permanent, chemical-free, long-term solution.

How Do I Get Rid of Rats Under My House?

Rats can be incredibly destructive. They also carry more than 35 diseases and can be aggressive when threatened. Professional pest control is the best way to get rid of rats in crawl spaces and underground areas. Experienced pros can safely handle removal and elimination to restore peace of mind while keeping homes and loved ones safe.

Should I Put Rat Poison in My Crawl Space?

No. Rodenticides are a tool that can be an effective component of a greater rodent control plan.

However, rodenticides should only be utilized by a licensed and trained professional in conjunction with other approaches such as exclusion, environmental modification, sanitation improvements, and other methods.

Schedule a Free Inspection to Identify and Eliminate Rats in Your Crawl Space

Catseye Pest Control has more than three decades of experience and expertise in managing pests, rodents, and wildlife for homeowners, renters, and commercial clients. From removal to monitoring and disinfection to exclusion — we do it all.

Our multi-step process starts with a free, detailed inspection that allows us to assess the situation, search for entry points, and develop a plan tailored to each client’s unique property. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule a free inspection.

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Common Rodents in Massachusetts

Learn Some of the Most Common Rodents That Inhabit the State of Massachusetts and How Professional Rodent Control Can Keep Rodents Outside

Massachusetts is home to a diverse population of wildlife, including more than 80 different species of mammals. Of those, 15 species are considered common rodents in Massachusetts, with critters ranging from tiny mice and shrews to subterranean big brown rats and spiky porcupines.

All rodents potentially carry health risks and could damage buildings, structures, and properties. Homeowners and business owners who encounter rodents or an infestation are encouraged to contact the pest and nuisance wildlife technicians at Catseye Pest Control.

Our technicians have the technical know-how and training needed to careful handle rodents found throughout the New England area.

Mice

Mice are among the most common rodents across the country, with more than 70 species frequently invading homes, businesses, and properties.

In Massachusetts, the house mouse, deer mouse, and white-footed mouse are the biggest offenders. In addition to leaving messy droppings and chewing food packaging and structural elements, mice pose a possible health risk, as they could carry dozens of diseases.

Health risks associated with mice includes hantavirus, leptospirosis, and lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV).

Rats

Rats are common New England rodents, especially in MA.

Norway rats, sometimes called big brown rats, are originally from Asia but are typically found wherever people live. These rodents tend to have poor vision and are colorblind, but their other senses, including hearing, smell, touch, and taste are strong.

They frequently burrow in soil near riverbanks, woodpiles, under low-clearance areas like decks or sheds, in addition to other areas.

Like other rodents, Norway rats typically enter homes in the fall when outside food and water sources become scarce. And despite their size, these rodents can fit through a hole the size of a quarter, easily entering homes or businesses to nest.

Squirrels

Squirrels can be incredibly destructive to buildings and properties. These fluffy-tailed rodents often gain entry to homes and other structures by climbing branches or utility lines.

Once inside, they destroy insulation, build nests, gnaw wires, and pose a health hazard. Although there are hundreds of different species of squirrels, the most common types in MA are the eastern gray squirrel and the red squirrel.

Chipmunks

Chipmunks are plentiful across the country, and the eastern chipmunk is one of the most common rodents in MA. Chipmunks thrive in rocky areas and spots with dense brush. Because they tend to burrow into the ground and under structures, these small rodents can do significant damage. They also carry parasites and love to steal birdseed from feeders.

Groundhogs

Groundhogs and woodchucks are often mistakenly thought of as two different rodents, but they are one and the same.

The rodent typically measures anywhere from 16 to 27 inches long as adults. These stocky rodents have bushy tails and coats in varying shades, ranging from deep brown to gray, often with white tips that lend a silver appearance.

Groundhogs often burrow under structures, gnaw on power cables, and eat plants of all sorts from gardens and landscape beds. Their tunneling behavior poses the greatest damage for homeowners and businesses.

American Beavers

The American beaver plays a key role in ecosystems across the United States, including areas of MA, building dams, and creating habitats for various other wildlife.

Beavers are the largest rodents on the continent and one of the most common New England rodents. They weigh up to 71 pounds and measure 35 to 46 inches in length, on average. Because they reroute water, beavers often create flooding problems. They can also clog drainpipes.

brown beaver standing on a log in a body of water in Massachusetts

Moles

Moles can be quite destructive with tunneling habits. These rodents live almost exclusively underground and have a distinctive look with large, shovel-like front paws and webbed feet designed to make digging easier. Moles have hairless, scaled tails, pointed snouts, and fur in shades of brown, silver, or black.

Voles

People often confuse voles with moles, but voles actually look like stocky mice with rounder ears.

Voles eat plant matter, including tree bark, potentially causing limbs or entire trees to die. The rodent also eats roots, seedlings, bulbs, and more. Evidence of voles in outdoor spaces typically consists of shallow runways and damage to vegetation.

Shrews

These small rodents are among the most common rodents found throughout MA. They have some similar characteristics to mice, but instead shrews have long snouts and sharp teeth. Shrews have grayish-brown fur, hairless tails, and they eat vegetation, worms, and insects.

These critters typically cause damage to vegetation and dig tunnels on properties. If shrews venture indoors, they can leave foul odors and potentially spread diseases.

North American Porcupines

The second largest rodent on the continent is the North American porcupine. This spiky critter measures an average of 23 to 36 inches and has black or brownish-yellow coloring.

Porcupines’ quills are part of their defense mechanisms, helping to protect against predators like coyotes and wolverines. In addition to posing a threat to pets and other wildlife, porcupines like to chew and have been known to gnaw on everything from houses and lumber to cars and plants. 

Common Muskrats

Beavers aren’t the only swimmers who build essential ecosystems. Muskrats are semi-aquatic rodents with scaled tails and dark brown fur. They are often mistakenly identified as a big gray rat or a member of one of the large rat breeds, but these rodents spend the bulk of their time in water, helping create habitats for waterfowl. Unfortunately, their burrowing habits can compromise levees and create flooding risks.

Tips to Prevent Rodents from Damaging Your Property

The only sure-fire way to prevent rodents from moving in and setting up shop in and on your property is with professional pest control, including routine monitoring and wildlife exclusion systems. Catseye uses Integrated Pest Management practices to identify the rodents, remove them, and keep them out using environmentally friendly approaches.

That’s the benefit of wildlife exclusion systems, also known as Cat-Guard. These chemical-free, all-natural barriers prevent rodents and other wildlife from entering protected areas for long-term protection. Other ways to prevent New England rodents from damaging homes, structures, and properties include:

  • Cleaning up debris and keeping shrubs and trees trimmed to reduce areas rodents can use as shelter.
  • Eliminating easy food sources by switching to tightly lidded garbage cans and storing all food (including pet food) in airtight containers.
  • Sealing gaps, cracks, and openings around pipes, doors, vents, foundations, and windows.
  • Planting rodent-repelling herbs and flowering plants like mint, lavender, and amaryllis near areas that need protection.

Contact Catseye to Remove and Exclude New England Rodents

Investing in regular pest control and maintenance can restore your peace of mind. Contact us today for a free, detailed inspection to start the process.

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