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What’s that on an oak leaf? Animal? Plant? Fungus? Nah, gall insect – Galls wasps, Cynipidae

 

Weird structures on oak leaves, branches, and reproductive structures may be galls, the handiwork of tiny wasps called cynipids. Image credit: Sue Hauser

 

This tiny wasp with a very large abdomen is a cynipid gall wasp.

This week we delve into the Bug of the Week mailbag to help solve a mystery of “fuzzy” somethings, at the base of white oak leaves found on a tree near the gentle Choptank River on Maryland’s eastern shore. These curious fuzzy somethings are the handiwork of gall wasps, one of the most diverse groups of gall-formers found on plants. Galls are abnormal growths on plants created by several species of insects, mites, and some microbes, that secrete potent chemicals into the plant’s undifferentiated tissues. These chemicals derail the normal developmental processes of the plant and create food and refuge for the insect or mite within the gall at the expense of the unwitting plant host. We met other gall-making insects including those distorting leaves of black gum, elms and hickory in previous episodes.

Beautiful wool sower galls frequent branches of oak trees throughout the eastern United States.

The gall wasp family, Cynipidae, is more than 1,300 species strong with most generating unusual growths on woody plants, but some actually parasitizing other species of wasps. Dozens of species of wasps in this family have evolved intimate relationships with different species of oak. The diversity of galls on the leaves, branches, and acorns of oaks is awesome. Each species of gall wasp creates its own distinct and unique gall. Some look like bullets, others appear to be clusters of wool, some look like apples, and still others are the visage of grotesque horned creatures attached to a branch. The video accompanying this episode provides a smidgeon of this diversity of galls discovered on oaks in Maryland.

Let’s visit some gall wasps on oak. Strange horns decorate the outside of the horned oak gall wasp while the pupa develops within. These small round leaf galls are home to developing wasp larvae. When we open these green round galls, we can see the larval cell with an exit hole used by the wasp to escape the gall. Rough bullet galls wear exit holes outside and inside you see where the wasp chewed through the larval chamber and gall to get out. Pretty midrib galls and a couple spangle galls decorate this oak leaf. Potato-like galls and pouch galls adorn small twigs. Green spongy oak galls in summer turn to brown papery balls in autumn beneath oak trees.

Heavy infestations of horned oak galls contributed to the demise of pin oaks at Dulles airport.

Let’s walk through the life cycle of one cool but dastardly trouble maker, the horned oak gall wasp, Callirhytis quercuscornigera, to learn a bit more about these fascinating creatures. The saga begins in spring shortly after bud-burst of oaks when female wasps escape from their nursery inside the gall through one of the strange looking horns. These wasps are all females and are part of generation produced asexually through a remarkable process called pathogenesis. Many species of insects reproduce parthenogenically, such as aphids and scale insects we met in previous episodes. You go girls!  Wasps emerging from leaves are poor flyers and move just a short distance to developing leaf-buds, where they lay eggs. Single eggs hatch and induce the formation of an inconspicuous leaf gall. Later that summer both male and female wasps emerge from the leaf gall, mate, and females deposit girls-only eggs in tender green twigs. These eggs hatch and induce the formation of a small woody gall that enlarges over the course of the summer. Some 30 months later, fully developed female wasps emerge from large galls to complete the life cycle.   

Sweet secretions produced by cynipid galls attract sugar-craving yellow jackets and paper wasps.

Although details of gall inducement are not fully known, the act of egg-laying and the growth-altering chemicals subsequently released by the larva of the wasp cause the multiplication of nutritive plant cells inside the gall and abnormal development of the infested plant tissue. Wasp larvae consume these cells while non-nutritive cells proliferate to form the bizarre and characteristic gall. Inside the relative safety of the gall the larva grows as the gall enlarges. As development nears completion, the plant forms a tissue layer which can be a relatively tough, seed-like cell around the larva. Within this small chamber the larva transforms into a pupa from which the adult wasp emerges. Using powerful jaws, the wasp cuts it way out of the chamber and the surrounding gall and flies off to find food and a mate. Development from egg to adult often takes place in the gall while it is attached to the plant. However, in some species like the jumping oak gall, Neuroterus saltatorius, the gall breaks from the plant and falls to the ground with the larva inside. While completing development in the gall on the ground, the movement of the larva within can make the gall jump in the air. That’s right Little Orphan Annie, not leapin’ lizards, but leaping galls instead!

Acknowledgements

The fascinating article “Biology of Callirhytis cornigera (Hymenoptera: Cynipidae) and the Arthropod Community Inhabiting Its Galls” by Eileen A. Eliason and Daniel A. Potter, and the Maryland Biodiversity Project were used to prepare this article. Special thanks to Sue Hauser for providing the image of fuzzy gall wasps on oak leaves and inspiration for this episode.

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Two tiny vampires leave their itchy calling cards along the Potomac: black flies, Simuliidae and no-see-ums, Ceratopogonidae

 

Whoa! If she drinks any more blood this black fly might explode!

 

Last week while enjoying record breaking warm weather with a hike along the mighty Potomac River in Mercersville, MD, I was assaulted by two tiny terrors that pack a surprisingly large wallop for their size. In previous episodes we met dastardly Aedes, Culex, and Ochlerotatus mosquitoes equipped with hypodermic-like mouthparts perfect for inserting into small capillaries to obtain blood used by females to develop eggs. Although mosquito bites are itchy, to me their bites pale with respect to the aggravation and burning sensation brought on when legions of black flies and no-see-ums visit my skin.

Black flies use jaws with serrated edges to slash flesh and sever tiny blood vessels. As blood pools in the wound, the black fly laps it up. Only the female black fly has the blood lust. She exploits this rich protein source to produce as many as 800 eggs over the course of her lifetime. Males are the gentler gender and consume nectar from flowers, as do females when not taking blood. With her load of fully developed eggs, the female black fly visits running mountain streams or other fresh water sources and deposits her eggs on rocks, logs, emergent vegetation, or directly into the water. Eggs hatch and larvae attach to rocks and other submerged structures and graze on small plants and animals on the surface of their substrate.

Fast moving streams and rivers are prime breeding sites for black flies. A rock plucked from the river harbors a black fly larva hiding in the vegetation. A series of video clips show the expanding abdomen of the black fly as she feeds. When she is done, my flesh continues to ooze blood from severed capillaries. Watch as an even tinier no-see-um tanks up while feeding on my arm.

Some people will have severe reddish welts and swollen legs that persist for days and weeks following black fly bites.

The wound of the black fly is quite something to behold. While the bite itself is cloaked by anesthetics administered in the saliva of the fly, the aftermath can be quite disagreeable. For many victims of their bite, reddish-purple blood spots appear beneath the skin at the site of each bite as the body reacts to anticoagulants and other allergens injected into the site of the wound. These red welts were accompanied by intense itching that can last several days and may be accompanied by fever, swelling, and nausea. There are reports of domestic animals dying when legions of black flies attack. The direct injury caused by black fly bites is the lesser of the evils visited unto humans by these tiny flies. In several countries in Central and South America and Africa, black flies carry nasty filarial worms capable of invading the human body. They occupy small tumors beneath the skin. In some cases, these filarial worms take up residence in the eye and cause permanent sight loss known as river blindness or Robles disease. Yikes! Glad our Maryland black flies do not carry such diseases.

Just downstream from Mercersville, near historic Harper’s Ferry, black fly populations hit intolerable levels on the Potomac. The Maryland Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources treated a section of the Potomac with a biological control agent, Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (BTi), to quell populations of black fly larvae developing in the river.  This bacterial insecticide is derived from a naturally occurring soil microbe and has been used to mitigate several types of aquatic and terrestrial fly larvae. Government agencies reported that “the treatment may cause temporary discoloration of the water, but it is completely nontoxic and is not harmful to humans, fish, crabs or other aquatic invertebrates.”

Female no-see-ums gain several times their body weight at each blood meal.

And just how tiny is tiny? Well, black flies range in size from about 1 to 5 mm and sometimes larger, smaller than the width of a tic tac. Our second tiny terror, no-see-ums, a.k.a. biting midges, can be even tinier than black flies at 1-3 mm. Little wonder they are called no-see-ums. While these minute vampires are hard to see, their bite is easy to remember with a characteristic burning sensation. Itching associated with these bites can last several days. Like black flies, females use cutting mouthparts to sever capillaries and sucking mouthparts to imbibe the blood needed to produce eggs. Also like black flies, male and female no-see-ums obtain carbohydrates from plant nectar. Larval no-see-ums are aquatic or semi-aquatic, found in both water and in moist soils near rivers, marshes, ponds, and lakes; tree holes; and decaying vegetation and fruit. In addition to the nuisance they become when abundant, they carry serious diseases of humans and domestic animals in some parts of the world. In Central and South America, parts of Africa, and some Caribbean islands, no-see-ums carry tiny roundworms that infect humans and cause skin lesions. In parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia, a deadly virus called African horse sickness (AHS) is carried by no-see-ums to horses and their close relatives. Fortunately, at this writing, AHS is not known to occur in Maryland or other parts of the US. Lucky us, that for the most part here in the DMV, these tiny terrors remain mostly annoying and not distributors of disease.

Acknowledgements

Excellent references by J. F. Butler (University of Florida) and J. A. Hogsette (USDA) on black flies, and C. Roxanne Connelly on no-see-ums (University of Florida) as part of the University of Florida’s ‘Featured Creature’ series, and M. T. James and R. F. Harwood’s “Herms’s Medical Entomology” were consulted for this episode. To learn more about “The Black Fly Suppression Pilot Program in Maryland”, please visit the Maryland Department of Agriculture website at this link: https://mda.maryland.gov/plants-pests/Pages/Black-Fly-Program.aspx

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From the Bug of the Week mailbag: Monarchs aren’t the only orange and black migrant here in the DMV – Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia

 

Many flowering plants including butterfly weed are used as nectar sources for variegated fritillaries and many other pollinators.

 

Variegated fritillaries will be seen in gardens even during the month of November here in Maryland. Photo credit: Adreon Hubbard

In previous episodes we explored the travails of iconic monarch butterflies on the eastern and western coasts of North America where these long-distance travelers struggled with habitat destruction, climate change, disease, and pesticides. Unbeknownst to many folks is the fact that monarchs are not the only migratory visitors to the DMV. Several other insects, including another beautiful orange and black butterfly, the variegated fritillary, visit the DMV in the warmth of summer and head south to escape our chilly winters. Recently, an observant naturalist inquired about the migratory behaviors of these lovely peripatetic visitors.

A gorgeous fritillary caterpillar happily munches on violets in my landscape.

Here’s the deal. Several years ago, I willingly surrendered the battle to maintain a lawn as a monoculture of exotic grasses like fescue or zoysia and as a result, floristically speaking, my yard has become quite diverse. Among the winners in the ground cover competition, particularly in shady spots and landscape beds, violets rule. With regularity, I notice significant nibbles and bites at the margins of the omnipresent violets, and upon closer inspection several glorious larvae of the variegated fritillary were found grazing on violet leaves. These tiny caterpillars were the spawn of orange and black variegated fritillaries that appear in my landscape each year, attracted by the bountiful floral resources needed for their sustenance.

In many states the variegated fritillary is a migrant, moving ever northward from its winter redoubts in the south. Much like our friends the monarchs who chase fresh patches of milkweeds as they move northward from overwintering grounds in Mexico, variegated fritillaries expand their range northward and colonize fresh crops of host plants for caterpillars and flower blossoms for adults. One has to wonder if the northern migration also helps them escape from hungry predators or stealthy parasitoids that hunt them in their overwintering grounds. Following their arrival in the DMV and well into autumn, they will be regular visitors to open sunny areas such as fields, pastures, lawns, and along the edges of roads where females consume pollen and nectar from butterfly weed, milkweed, dogbane, zinnias, cone flowers, red clover, and a variety of other plants. When they are ready to lay eggs, females seek nutritious plants such as mayapple, lamb’s ear, purslane, and violets, on which to lay eggs.

Whether munching leaves of hooded violets or petals of a pansy, variegated fritillary caterpillars find these members of the Viola clan delectable. Adults love to nectar on cone flowers in the summer and can be seen in late autumn basking in the sun among fallen leaves before heading south for the winter.

Within a breathtaking chrysalis, the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

The caterpillars are gorgeous, bedecked in bright bands of orange and white. The body is festooned with stout black spines. Unlike some caterpillars we visited in previous episodes, these spines are not reported to deliver a nasty sting. In addition to consuming my volunteer violets, I have discovered several fritillary caterpillars devouring the petals of my pansies, another member of the viola clan. Variegated fritillaries will be resident and complete three generations over the course of the summer here in Maryland. In some states above the Mason-Dixon Line only two generations occur each year, and in colder reaches of the US and southern Canada, but a single annual brood is found. Here in my landscape, they are one of the last butterflies seen well into fall. As the days grow shorter and the night times chillier, the last of the variegated fritillaries will head south for warmer overwintering grounds. Those not heeding Mother Nature’s warnings face a chilly demise if they remain here in the DMV, thereby removing their foolish genes from the population of these fascinating vagabonds.

Acknowledgements

“Caterpillars of North America” by David Wagner, “A Swift Guide to Butterflies of North America” by Jeffrey Glassberg, and the Maryland Biodiversity Project were used as references for this episode. Bug of the Week thanks Adreon Hubbard for providing the nice image of a variegated fritillary and providing inspiration for this story.

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Bugs in orange and black – Three spooky assassins: milkweed assassin bug, Zelus longipes; orange assassin bug, Pselliopus barberi; and wheel bug, Arilus cristatus

 

This orange assassin bug wearing black jailhouse stripes delivered a trick, not a treat to a hapless leafhopper.

 

In keeping with a Bug of the Week tradition of visiting bugs dressed in orange and black to celebrate Halloween, All-Saints Day, and Día de los Muertos, what could be creepier than meeting three terrifying assassins? In the lexicon of entomology, the term ‘true bug’ identifies a large and important order of tens of thousands of insect species known as the Hemiptera. True bugs are characterized by their sucking mouthparts and incomplete metamorphosis consisting of egg, nymph, and adult stages. Many true bugs are plant feeders, including harlequin bugs, squash bugs, stink bugs, and bed bugs we met in previous episodes, but many are fierce predators playing an important role annihilating pests of crops and ornamental plants. This week we visit three murderous members of the true bug clan in the family known as Reduviidae, or assassin bugs, that dress in the colors of the season – orange and black. Orange and black are Mother Nature’s warning colors, usually sending the signal to predators “don’t mess with me”! Like monarch butterflies and milkweed leaf beetles, maybe these assassin bugs have a nasty flavor by virtue of chemical protectants.

Sticky forelegs help the milkweed assassin bug snare its prey.

The first bug I bumped into was the milkweed assassin bug, owner of a diabolically clever strategy for catching its prey. Hiding in foliage with its forelegs outstretched, it awaits the approach of an unsuspecting victim. The front legs of this assassin bug are coated with sticky goo (a technical term) perfect for snaring a victim. Once captured, the prey is impaled with a hungry beak that injects proteolytic enzymes. The predigested and liquefied contents of the prey are then sucked into the digestive tract of the assassin bug with the aid of a tiny muscular pump in the assassin bug’s head. 

Nearby, in a patch of goldenrod, another snatcher of lives, the orange assassin bug, stalked its victims. I watched this stealthy assassin move slowly about a goldenrod blossom. A short while later, I saw this assassin with a small leafhopper skewered on its beak. How it was able to sneak up and stab a highly mobile and wary leafhopper is known to the assassin bug but is a mystery to me.   

Watch as a juvenile milkweed assassin bug takes a wild ride on a hibiscus plant. Note the black wing buds on its back. At the next molt, these will develop into pairs of jet-black wings as seen on this camera-shy adult. Nearby, on a goldenrod flowerhead an orange assassin bugs hunts. Soon, a hapless leafhopper meets its doom at the end of this spooky predator’s beak.

The third amigo in this triad of terror is the large assassin bug known as the wheel bug. We met wheel bugs and learned of their important role as biological control agents of the brown marmorated stink bug in previous episodes of Bug of the Week. In addition to dining on invasive pests including brown marmorated stink bugs, this generalist predator has a taste for native protein sources including several types of caterpillars. To see what I mean, watch the YouTube “Wheel bug stalks caterpillar”, the most watched video in the Bug of the Week ensemble, a short snippet of which is included in this week’s episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bfUpaaEKcQ

What does it mean when wheel bug nymphs give each other a high five?

In autumn the female wheel bug deposits clusters of barrel-shaped wheel bug eggs on the bark of many types of trees. The following spring when prey return to pester plants, the eggs hatch into gorgeous orange nymphs. The thorax of nymphs soon changes from orange to black, but as nymphs grow and molt a reddish-orange color is retained on the abdomen. Like other assassin bugs, the business end of the wheel bug is the powerful beak, or proboscis, stored between the beast’s front legs when it is not in use. Upon spying a tasty morsel, the wheel bug cautiously approaches, embraces the prey with long front legs, and then impales the victim with its powerful beak. The wheel bug pumps strong digestive enzymes through the beak into the prey. These enzymes liquefy the body tissues of the hapless victim. A muscular pump in the head of the bug slurps the liquefied meal up through the beak. If a string of unusually warm autumn weather prevails, dash to the meadows and you may have a chance to observe one of these beautiful and deadly assassins prowling for prey on the Day of the Dead.

Tiny wheel bug nymphs enter the world orange and yellow but soon the head and thorax darken to black. An older nymph grabs an ill-fated lightening bug and prepares to drain the beetle’s blood with its impressive beak. Nefarious pests including brown marmorated stink bugs and pesky fall webworm caterpillars fall victim to this assassin and even bristly spines of a smartweed caterpillar can’t save it from this terrifying predator.

Bug of the Week wishes everyone a spooky, fun-filled, and safe Halloween week!

Acknowledgements

The informative publication “Milkweed assassin bug (suggested common name) scientific name: Zelus longipes Linnaeus (Insecta: Hemiptera: Reduviidae)” by Megha Kalsi and Dakshina R. Seal was used to prepare this episode.

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The Best Way to Get Rid of Rats in Your Home

Learn How to Get Rid of Rats, Cleanup After an Infestation and Prevent Future Rat Infestations

If you live in one of the approximately 21 million homes in the United States plagued by rats or other rodents every year, you already know just how destructive these little pests can be. Gnawing wires, getting into food items, and leaving droppings everywhere are just a few of the hazards that rats pose to humans.

In addition to making a mess, rats also carry dozens of diseases that can affect people and pets, these illnesses include hantavirus and leptospirosis.

To add to this nightmare, rats can breed quickly.

A single female can give birth to six litters of five to 12 pups every year. Those pups mature within five weeks, making prompt action essential for preventing a full-blown infestation.

How to Get Rid of Rats in Your House

To get rid of rats in your house, it’s important to act at the first sign of rat activity.

To handle the infestation without professional assistance, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using traditional snap traps to help reduce the number of rats living in the home.

But do-it-yourself efforts sound easier than it truly is. Humans are at risk of catching rodent-borne illnesses, so not only is the infestation a cause for concern but so is the potential of contracting a disease.

Calling for professional help is the most effective way to get rid of rats and keep the rodents out. Catseye Pest Control has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry. We provide a customized approach to quickly get a handle on any infestation and necessary clean up afterward.

Rat Prevention 101

The best way to get rid of rats is to never let them in the house. Although that’s easier said than done — after all, these critters can fit through holes as tiny as 20 millimeters wide — homeowners and renters can take steps to prevent rat infestations.

A few preventive measures to consider include:

  • Seal the home: Installing an exclusion system for a permanent barrier is the ultimate in protection.
  • Tidy the yard: Overgrown vegetation provides shelter to rats outdoors and can help them climb onto homes and buildings. Keep the yard mowed in addition to trimming trees and shrubs to remove any limbs that overhang.
  • Install tight-fitting garbage lids: Rats love garbage. Don’t extend an invitation for them to come find their next meal. Instead, add tight-fitting lids and keep cans out of the sun to reduce smells that might attract rats.
  • Revamp food storage: Human and pet foods attract rats indoors. Eliminate potential food sources by storing everything in thick, air-tight containers and storing items in the refrigerator when possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Scent Will Help Keep Rats Away?

Rats have a strong sense of smell. Using certain scents may help repel them from homes, buildings, and properties. Strong scents, including spicy, astringent, and menthol smells may help keep rats away, although homemade repellents rarely effective. Examples include:

  • Clover
  • Peppermint oil
  • Citronella
  • Eucalyptus
  • Chili powder
  • Mothballs
  • Bleach
  • Ammonia
  • Scents from predators, such as cats, ferrets, or racoons

How Do You Keep Rats Away Permanently?

Permanent control relies on a multi-step approach, starting with removing rats and thoroughly cleaning affected areas. Ongoing monitoring and treatments help to catch new infestations and remedy the situation quickly.

Filling holes and cracks that provide entry points and installing professional exclusion systems from companies like Cat-Guard provides a safe, natural, permanent barrier to keep rats out.

What Will Make Rats Run Away?

You may hear about anecdotal remedies like ultrasonic devices, which use sound waves inaudible to humans and pets to repel mice, as effective methods to keep rats away for good. However, little scientific evidence supports their use. Adopting a predator like a cat, ferret, or snake may help, particularly if the animal leaves a scent to repel rats.

The most reliable way to get rid of rats quickly is to call a professional who has the necessary expertise to remove, treat, and prevent rat infestations.

Professional Rat Control and Exclusion Services

Although these efforts may help to keep rats away, or make the critter think twice before entering the home or other structure, nothing will prevent an infestation quite like professional rat control and exclusion services.

Our top-tier defense, better known as Cat-Guard Exclusion Systems is the best way to keep pests and rodents outside where they belong, permanently. The system is comprised of three levels, each designed to defend specific areas of a structure.

  • Upper Cat-Guard: From the top of the first-floor windows to the peak of the roof, Upper Cat-Guard shields homes from rodents like rats, squirrels, or bats. This service is perfect for homes with chimneys that are more easily infested by wildlife.
  • Lower Cat-Guard: From the first-floor windows down to the ground, Lower Cat-Guard shields homes and structures from critters like chipmunks, snakes, and opossums entering or causing damage.
  • Trench Guard: Trench-Guard ensures low-clearance areas like decks and sheds are protected from skunks, raccoons, rats, and chipmunks. Trench-guard will go below the surface to ensure that borrowing pests are unable to enter a home.

Contact Catseye Pest Control for Professional Rodent Solutions

Rats carry diseases and wreak havoc on homes, businesses, and properties.

If you have tried unsuccessfully to control the situation on your own or you want to get ahead of it from the beginning, contact Catseye online or by calling 888-260-3980.

A highly-trained technician will come to you and provide a thorough inspection of the property before creating a fully customized plan to get rid of rats quickly and effectively.

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What are the Signs of Rat Infestations?

Learn the Signs of a Rat Infestation in a House, How to Eliminate the Infestation, and Prevent Future Infestations

Unfortunately, beautiful Boston, Massachusetts, regularly makes it onto lists of the top rat-infested cities in the United States, but these disease-ridden pests don’t just affect homes in big cities.

Homeowners and renters throughout the entire New England area also grapple with rat infestations, specifically the Norway rat.

Rats may live in a home without ever making an appearance. In fact, it’s not uncommon to remain clueless about their presence until there’s a severe rat infestation in the house or yard. Knowing the signs to watch for and steps to take to get rid of rats and prevent future infestations is essential to reclaiming a home.

Signs of Rats in Houses

The sooner a person realizes rats are moving in, the better.

Rats reproduce quickly, with gestation periods of only 21 to 23 days. Females go back into heat a mere 48 hours after having their litters. Each female can have an average of more than 80 pups every year.

That’s a large rat family that can spiral out of control quickly.

Knowing the signs to watch for can help homeowners spot rat infestations faster. That means they can call for professional rodent control faster to reclaim the house and keep rats out for good.

Rat Odors

Rats leave behind a strong, foul stink with a musty quality. The odor is made worse by the large volume of urine and droppings they tend to drag their bodies through as they move around the house. 

Droppings

Anyone who has ever experienced a rodent infestation can attest to the mess these critters leave behind. Piles of shiny, black droppings ranging from a half-inch to three-quarters-of-an-inch wide are a sure sign that rats have moved in.

Chewed Food Packaging

One of the primary reasons rats enter homes is to find food, particularly during New England’s cold winter months. Rats are naturally drawn to food items and aren’t shy about ripping open packaging to get what they want.

Gnawed Objects

Rats have strong teeth that continually grow. That means they need to gnaw on objects to keep the length of their teeth in check. They will gnaw on anything from wood to furniture to insulation to wires.

Dark, Greasy Tracks

Rats have oily fur that leaves a residue behind. Additionally, they tend to use the same path to get in and out of their nests, leaving a telltale accumulation on walls, siding, baseboards, and flooring.

A Rat Sighting

Spotting a rat inside a home means the odds are high that there is an infestation in the house. Rats tend to be more active at night, when many people report hearing scurrying and scratching in the ceilings and walls.

Signs of Rats in Yards

Outdoors, rats look for sheltered areas to build their nests. Common areas include spots near bushes, gardens, planters, tree beds, buildings, sheds, and greenways. Rat burrows consist of intricate underground tunnels. Additionally, owners should watch for the following clues:

  • Fresh droppings
  • Gnaw marks
  • Worn paths in grass and vegetation
  • Excessive garbage and clutter
  • Live rats

Eliminating Rat Infestations

Locating rats and ensuring they are thoroughly removed from the house can be a significant challenge.

Rats tend to nest in basements, crawlspaces, walls, attics, and other hard-to-reach areas. The most effective way to eliminate rat infestations relies on using a multi-step approach, starting with removing rats from the property. It’s equally essential to clean, disinfect, and sanitize the affected areas.

But that’s still only part of the solution. To ensure these critters — and many others, can’t find their way inside the home in the future is vital.

Points of entry will need to be sealed — like gaps, cracks, and other small openings. Although do-it-yourself efforts can work as a temporary solution, installing our Cat-Guard Exclusion System, is the only permanent solution to keep rats out.

Comprised of three levels, Upper Cat-Guard, Lower Cat-Guard, and Trench Guard, each system is designed to protect the home from nuisance wildlife critters like rats, squirrels, mice, bats, birds, and so much more.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Know If You Have a Rat Infestation?

Seeing a rat inside the house isn’t the only way to know that a rat infestation exists. Droppings and gnaw marks are other warning signs. Finding food items, debris, and packaging that’s been inexplicably tampered with may also serve as clues.

What are the Six Signs of Rat Infestations?

In general, six key signs of rat infestations in houses include:

  1. Odors
  2. Droppings
  3. Tracks or greasy smears
  4. Gnaw marks
  5. Food and packaging messes
  6. Rat sightings

What Does a Rat Infestation Smell Like?

Rats leave a strong, musky odor in their wake. Droppings and urine accumulate wherever rats go, adding a sewer-like stench along the way.

How Many Rats do I Have?

As a general rule, there are approximately eight rats for every three burrows. This can add up to a significant number of rats rather quickly.

Eliminate Rat Infestations with Catseye Pest Control

Rat infestations aren’t a problem that can be taken lightly. Rats breed quickly, which means homeowners need to act fast. The most effective and reliable solution is professional pest control by a trusted, experienced company.

Catseye has more than 30 years of experience. Skilled technicians take an integrated pest management approach to pest control. They have expertise in wildlife removal and exclusion, disinfection, and minor repairs of the damage pests leave behind.

With Catseye, you get a free in-depth inspection and a customized treatment plan. Professionals will recommend preventive measures indoors and outside to help keep your home rat-free.

Are you ready to kick rats out of your house for good? Contact Catseye today to schedule a free inspection.

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How to Get Rid of Moles

Discover Ways to Keep Moles Outside and How to Protect Your Property

Did you know that moles look like cute rodents but are burrowing mammals? That’s an important distinction, particularly when it’s time to get rid of moles in yards and other areas on a property. Many states, including Massachusetts, limit how homeowners can trap or kill wildlife.

For anyone with moles in their yard, mole removal is a top priority. These relatively small creatures can wreak havoc on properties. Mole hills and tunnels quickly destroy all the hard work put into creating lush lawns, gorgeous gardens, and lovely landscaping.

Calling a licensed specialist is the most effective way to get rid of moles in the yard. Experienced professionals can remove these critters safely and humanely. In the meantime, several strategies can help keep moles out of the house and reduce the amount of damage they create.

Identification: The First Step of Yard Mole Removal

Before it’s possible to eliminate the problem, it’s necessary to know exactly what type of mole is causing problems. Many people confuse moles and voles, which are rodents that eat vegetation and create shallow runways and tunnels.

New Englanders may spot one of three common moles that live throughout the Northeast: the hairy-tailed mole, the star-nosed mole, and the eastern mole. Each has webbed feet with shovel-like forepaws that help them dig and a hairless, pointy snout. Most moles have scales on their hairless tails, along with small eyes and no visible ears.

Spotting the Signs of Mole Infestations

Many people see mole holes in their yard before they ever see a mole. These critters can dig through up to 18 feet of soil in a single hour, leaving behind unmistakable signs, such as:

  • Round mole hills that typically measure three to five inches and have raised ridges and small piles of dirt near the exit holes.
  • Patches of dead grass caused by moles disrupting root systems.
  • Areas in the yard with loose soil or squishy-feeling ground caused by tunneling moles.

How to Get Rid of Moles in the Yard: 5 Tips

Moles are difficult to prevent and challenging to eliminate without professional intervention. Calling a Catseye Pest Control should be step one as our technicians are specially trained and have the necessary equipment to handle the situation with care.

Before assistance arrives, you can try a few things on your own. But it’s important to understand that these are typically only temporary solutions at best, nothing can replace a trained professional addressing the situation.

Mole Repellents

Certain smells can drive moles away, providing a potential solution to mole holes in the yard. Castor oil can be an effective and non-lethal deterrent.

Try mixing one part dish soap with three parts castor oil. Mix four tablespoons of the castor oil mixture with a gallon of water and pour it over mole holes in the yard.

Flowers like daffodils and marigolds look great and provide a natural repellent. Plant them near the edges of the yard or near any areas that need protection.

Barriers

Do-it-yourself (DIY) barriers take time but help keep moles out. Examples include in-ground fences combined with hardware cloth, trenches filled with rocks, and ultrasonic spikes.

Although they don’t frequently venture inside, moles can gain entry to homes and buildings through small cracks and gaps in the foundation.

Examine the structure and seal any openings to keep moles and other pests out. It’s also worth considering professional exclusion systems like Cat-Guard, a safe, natural, long-term solution to keep all types of wildlife out of designated areas.

Try DIY Remedies

Certain household items may help ward off moles. Anecdotal evidence suggests sprinkling cat litter, red pepper flakes, or coffee grounds may deter moles.

Create an Outdoor Space That’s Less Inviting

Making the garden or yard less appealing may help ward off all kinds of pests. These small pests like to remain in areas with plenty of cover.

Maintaining a tidy lawn with manicured landscaping beds helps eliminate potential shelter. Remove piles of debris and avoid adding thick mulch layers to landscaping beds.

Trap and Release

For the inexperienced, DIY trapping can be very challenging. Successful trapping depends on several factors, including buying the right humane traps and selecting the right place to place them. Additionally, it’s essential to avoid handling traps with bare hands because human scents will keep moles from approaching them. Finally, it’s critical to release trapped moles far enough away to prevent them from returning.

Contact Catseye for Professional Yard Mole Removal

Catseye has more than 30 years of experience handling moles and various other types of wildlife, rodents, and pests. Skilled, highly trained technicians will provide a free, thorough inspection of the property before creating a customized plan for safe, humane, effective removal.

The best way to get rid of moles in the yard and keep them out is with professional pest control. Contact Catseye online or call 888-260-3980 to schedule a free inspection.

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How to Get Rid of Ladybugs

Discover How to Get Rid of Ladybugs in Your House and How to Prevent the Pest from Getting Inside

Although ladybugs are commonly associated with good luck, finding ladybugs in window frames and infesting other parts of a home is anything but lucky.

It’s rare, but these unwanted houseguests may bite humans, it’s more common for ladybugs to leave a foul-smelling yellow liquid behind during times of stress.

Ladybugs also exude pheromones. After entering a home, it’s like lighting up a welcome sign that beckons other ladybugs to join. If one ladybug is found, many others are probably on their way.

Understanding how to get rid of ladybugs in a house is essential to regaining control. If you find ladybugs indoors, the sooner you get rid of them, the better.

But first things first, is it a ladybug that has entered the home? Or is it an Asian lady beetle?

Ladybug vs. Asian Lady Beetle Identification

Ladybugs and the Asian lady beetle have similar names and share similar characteristics — but are not the same species.

Asian lady beetles will vary in color from red to shades of orange. The pest may also be seen with spots on its wings — known as cerci. But this pest doesn’t always have spots on its wings.

Ladybugs on the other hand tend to be a bright red color and have spots on their wings. So, if the pest in your home is orange and doesn’t have spots, it isn’t a ladybug.

Why Ladybugs Enter Homes

Like other pests, ladybugs are attracted to the warmth that many of our homes provide.

If a ladybug, or cluster of the pest, is found in your home or business, it’s likely because they are searching for a warm, dry place to escape the cold. This can become a living nightmare for any homeowner or property owner.

We work hard to make our homes warm and welcoming for family members and guests, but that doesn’t mean ladybugs — or other pests, should be able to take advantage of the hospitality.

orange and red ladybug with black spots on a piece of wood under a green leaf

How Ladybugs Get Inside Homes and Buildings

Ladybugs make their way indoors through tiny cracks and crevices in walls, foundations, and around doors and windows.

After entering, some ladybugs like to hang out in window frames or near doors. Many seek out warm, out-of-the-way corners in basements, crawl spaces, and attics.

Are Ladybugs Dangerous?

Luckily, these unwanted roommates don’t typically cause extensive structural damage. Although ladybugs aren’t poisonous, a bite may trigger an allergic reaction, which is characterized by symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, and welts.

Female ladybugs look for warm, sheltered, dark areas to lay their eggs in the fall. They lay as many as 1,000 eggs during their lifespans, which is approximately one year. Because they are so prolific, even small infestations can quickly get out of hand.

How to Get Rid of Ladybugs

Even though they don’t pose a serious health hazard, turning a blind eye to ladybug infestations isn’t advisable. Between their ability to lay many eggs every season and the pheromones used to attract more ladybugs to the area, a small colony could experience a rapid population explosion.

Professional pest control is the best way to get rid of ladybugs in the house. Knowledgeable technicians can treat affected areas, remove pests, seal entryways, in addition to helping keep ladybugs and other pests from returning.

Year-round protection comes from professional pest control programs, such as the Platinum Home Protection from Catseye Pest Control.

The program begins with an extensive initial pest control service and a follow-up appointment 10 days later. A Catseye pest management professionals will then visit bi-monthly to ensure your home remains pest-free. If you see pests between visits, our team can be there within 24 hours.

This all-in-one pest prevention and maintenance program is customized to fit the unique needs of your home and comes with a 100% service guarantee and takes a proactive approach to pest control.

Preventing Ladybug Infestations

The best way to prevent ladybugs from getting into houses is to seal any cracks, gaps, and crevices that could be used as a point of entry.

Some homeowners plant cloves and bay leaves, which have scents that repel ladybugs, near their homes. Other effective measures include:

  • Using caulk or weatherstripping to close gaps around doors and windows.
  • Inspecting window screens for damage and repairing or replacing them as needed.
  • Installing screening over roof vents.

But even the best do-it-yourself method will prove to be a temporary solution.

Preventing future infestations can be challenging with pests like ladybugs because of the scent trail they leave to attract others. A thorough cleaning can help remove these trails and eliminate the chemicals they leave behind that attract more ladybugs.

Another effective preventive tool is a professional exclusion system, which provides an all-natural, safe, permanent barrier. Not only will it prevent ladybugs from getting inside, but the right system can also keep homes and other buildings free of other common pests.

Contact Catseye to Get Rid of Ladybugs for Good

Ladybugs aren’t the kind of houseguests that anyone wants to keep around. Professional pest control from Catseye, a company with decades of experience and expertise, can help homeowners manage infestations, remove pests, and prevent future problems. Contact us to learn more or to schedule a free inspection.

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How to Keep Stink Bugs and Boxelders Out of Your House

Discover How to Keep Stink Bugs and Boxelders Outside — Where the Pests Belong

Fall and winter are prime pest seasons as many critters and creepy, crawling things start looking for warm, cozy spots to nest for the winter. Two common offenders include boxelder and stink bugs.

Thankfully, these pests are relatively harmless — but annoying.

Although many people get confused about the two insects, the two different species have unique characteristics.

How can you tell the difference between the two pests? Check out a few tips and suggestions for how to keep stink bugs and boxelders out of homes and other buildings.

Stink Bugs vs. Boxelder Bugs: What’s the Difference?

Before it’s possible to figure out how to keep boxelder and stink bugs out of a house, it’s necessary to know which type of bug has invaded the space.

Length and coloring are two easy ways to spot the differences between these two pests. Boxelders are slightly shorter with red and brown torsos with off-white, bronze, black, or blue-hued markings on their backs.

What Do Boxelder Bugs Look Like?

Boxelder bugs are approximately 1/2-inch long with six legs and two antennae.

These pesky bugs have black, oval-shaped backs with three reddish stripes behind their heads and two more red stripes on each wing. Boxelder bugs drink sap from boxelder trees’ leaves, seeds, and twigs.

cluster of black boxelder bugs with red stripes on concrete

Boxelders tend to be problematic during the fall and spring. In the fall months, they start moving indoors to escape the cold. When spring arrives, the pest will return to the outdoors. Many homeowners and renters also find boxelder bugs indoors in late winter.

What Do Stink Bugs Look Like?

Stink bugs are invasive insects native to parts of Asia. These bugs average 1/2-inch long with oval, shield-shaped, mottled gray-brown or sometimes greenish backs. They have antennae and six legs that extend from the sides.

Aptly named, the term “stink bug” comes from the chemical released in their abdomen, causing a smelly or stinky odor.

This odor is also released when the bugs are crushed. Stink bugs tend to make a big stink — literally, in the fall, but they can also be active in late summer.

Are Stink Bugs and Boxelders Dangerous?

Neither boxelders nor stink bugs harm people, pets, or homes. Boxelders don’t bite, but they do have mouth parts that can puncture skin and create irritation similar to an insect bite. Additionally, boxelders’ fecal matter has a red hue that can stain clothing, drapes, and other materials.

As an agricultural pest, the brown marmorated stink bug can cause serious damage to fruit and vegetable crops. Feeding throughout the summer, stink bugs puncture holes into the fruit in order to feed. Leaving blemishes and dimples, the stink bugs’ feeding habits cause seed loss, as well as possible transmission of plant pathogens.

Why Get Rid of Boxelder Bugs and Stink Bugs

Neither bug is harmful, but they can quickly become a terrible nuisance.

Over the years, the stink bug population has increased due to the ideal climate for reproduction. In optimal conditions a stink bug can reach the adult stage in as little as 35 to 45 days. Female stink bugs can lay several hundred eggs in their lifetime. This pest population is expected to continue growing, as there seem to be no environmental factors slowing their distribution.

These statistics alone can cause nightmares.

The dead bodies of boxelder bugs attract insects like carpet beetles. That’s why it’s essential to use a professional pest control company to ensure thorough cleaning after removal.

How to Keep Stink Bugs and Boxelders Out of Your House

Prevention is essential for getting rid of boxelder bugs and stink bugs permanently. Preventive measures include:

  • Sealing cracks around pipes, windows, doors, siding, chimneys, foundations, under wood fascia, etc.
  • Applying silicone or silicone-latex caulk around skylights, electrical outlets, light switches, and door and window frames.
  • Replacing damaged window and door screens.
  • Trimming overgrown trees and removing branches that hang over the house.
  • Installing yellow bulbs or low-pressure sodium exterior lighting instead of incandescent lights.
  • Removing boxelder trees from the property.

Professional Pest Control

Although some do-it-yourself attempts can be helpful, it doesn’t replace professional pest control efforts.

Pest infestations should be handled by licensed pest control professionals. Skilled technicians can assess the situation, remove bugs, and ensure no traces are left behind to attract other insects to the home.

Catseye Pest Control uses advanced pest control techniques and customized solutions to help protect homes and businesses from the brown marmorated stink bug.

Beginning with a free inspection, our pest and nuisance wildlife control technicians investigate the home, business, or other structure to identify the type of pest invading your space. This step is also essential in determining how and why the pest is getting inside.

Then, a customized pest control solution is created that will help rid the space of the pest. This solution from Catseye can include a variety of items, like utilizing our Exclusion Systems, monitoring systems, and pest products.

Our techniques and solutions have been perfected over the course of nearly 30 years so that peace of mind can be restored for homeowners, property owners, and business owners.

Contact Catseye Pest Control

Contact Catseye for a no-cost inspection today. Based on those findings, Catseye technicians will create a customized treatment plan to remove the brown marmorated stink bug, treat the home, and maintain a pest-free environment.

The tailored solution will leave you feeling comforted knowing that these pest — and others cannot find their way inside in the future.

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Bumpy, sticky times for oaks in cities: Oak lecanium scale, Parthenolecanium quercifex

 

Brown bumps lining branches of oak trees are the bloated bodies of scale insects that suck vital sap from trees. They excrete a sticky sugar-rich liquid called honeydew. Honeydew fouls leaves and objects beneath the tree and attracts stinging insects.

 

Due to the abundance of buildings, streets, and other human-made infrastructure, cities usually support a much lower diversity of plants and animals than surrounding natural areas. However, some species have adapted quite well to city life and may actually thrive and become more abundant in cities than in surrounding suburbs or natural areas. In previous episodes we met bloodthirsty Culex mosquitoes that had taken up residence in subterranean pools beneath buildings in the nation’s capital, and red-shouldered bugs living the easy life dining on seeds of golden rain trees in Washington DC. This week we return to the city to discover another urban adapter enjoying life in the realm of concrete.

Oaks provide shade and beauty to city streets but are sometimes plagued by insect pests, diseases, and environmental stress.

Pin oaks, Quercus palustris, and willow oaks, Quercus phellos, are two grand native trees often planted in cities throughout much of the eastern United States. These beauties deliver a bonanza of ecosystem services including sequestering carbon, mitigating pollution, enhancing water infiltration by slowing rainfall, cooling (shading streets, sidewalks, buildings, yards), providing food for wildlife in the form of caterpillars for birds and nuts for squirrels, and just looking marvelous with summer greens and autumn russets.  Ah, but as I roamed the streets of DC, I noticed oaks young and old with withered twigs, misshapen anemic leaves, some with coats of black fungus, and branches festooned with small brown bumps. These symptoms of misery are the handiwork of herbivorous insects known as scale insects.

Scale insects belong to a large group of insects called Hemiptera. They are characterized by having only three life stages – egg, nymph, and adult, in contrast to some of our more familiar insects like butterflies and bees that have four life stages – egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. In addition to this life stage difference, scale insects and other Hemiptera have sucking mouthparts used to sip fluids from plants. By contrast, caterpillars and beetles have jaws to munch leaves. The rascal waging war on the city oaks is a native pest called the oak lecanium scale. Nymphs and adults stick soda-straw-like mouth parts into a vascular tissue in leaves and stems called phloem. A tiny pump in their head allows them to suck nutrient-rich phloem sap into their bodies where it is used for growth and development and, in the case of females, production of eggs. Their feeding robs the oaks of nutrients, thereby reducing growth of branches and normal development and function of leaves.  

Oak trees lining city streets are sometimes plagued by sap-feeding insects called soft scales. Colonies of mature, bump-like female scales line branches, sucking sap and excreting a sticky waste product called honeydew. Females can produce more than 1000 eggs which hatch into offspring called crawlers. Crawlers migrate from branches to leaves in spring, feeding and robbing trees of vital fluids. In autumn before leaf-fall, they move back to branches to pass the winter before maturing into adults next spring.

Immature scale insects suck sap from oak leaves in spring, summer, and autumn. They excrete honeydew, which serves as a substrate for the growth of a dark fungus called sooty mold.

An additional insult comes when excess fluids are discharged from the rear end of the scale insect in the form of a waste product called honeydew. We met another prodigious honeydew producer, spotted lanternfly, in a previous episode. Sugar-rich honeydew provides a substrate for the growth of an ugly black fungus called sooty mold that disfigures leaves, bark, and objects below the scale-infested tree. Unfortunately, honeydew also attracts stinging honeybees, yellow jackets, and paper wasps, creating a nuisance and health risk to people and pets.

Let’s circle back to the question as to why oak lecanium scales are more abundant in cities than in surrounding suburban and rural locations. The keys to these differences are found in a lack of scale-killing predators and parasitoids in cities and the warmer temperatures of cities, the phenomenon known as the urban heat island. Due to the predominance of buildings and hardscape, cities can be anywhere from a few degrees to more than ten degrees warmer than surrounding countryside. In a series of fascinating studies, entomologists at North Carolina State found oak lecanium scales to be 8 – 12 times more abundant on hotter urban trees. The abundance of egg-filled sacs was about five times greater on oak trees in hot spots than on trees in cooler locations. At warmer temperatures, survival of tiny scale nymphs was 20% greater than at cooler temperatures. Warm temperatures in the city may allow rapidly developing female scales to lay eggs before tiny parasitic wasps terminate their reproductive shenanigans. All in all, oaks and many other trees that line our streets and shade our parks have a tough go of it in the thermal refuge of a city. In many ways warmer temperatures of cities mimic larger changes associated with global climate change and a warming world. Scientists warn that if urban heat islands are the bellweather for a warming world, many of our pests may enjoy a heyday, not only in cities but in previously cooler parts of our land.

Acknowledgements

Two fantastic references, “Urban Warming Drives Insect Pest Abundance on Street Trees” by Emily K. Meineke, Robert R. Dunn, Joseph O. Sexton, and Steven D. Frank, and “Can Cities Activate Sleeper Species and Predict Future Forest Pests? A Case Study of Scale Insects” by Steven D. Frank and Michael G. Just were used to prepare this article.

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