Month: May 2022

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

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A surprisingly early visit by a royal: Monarch butterflies and their caterpillars, Danaus plexippus

 

This pretty monarch arrived early to the milkweed patch this year.

 

Zinnias are dynamite attractors for many butterflies, including male monarchs.

In a previous episode of Bug of the Week back way back in 2011, we visited monarch butterflies that debuted in my flower garden in mid-June.  Fast forward to 2022 when a Bug of the Week enthusiast announced the arrival of a monarch in her yard the second week of April. Thinking this early appearance was somewhat anomalous, I congratulated her on her good fortune and wondered what meteorological mystery might have promoted such early arrival of this voyager from down south. Problem was milkweeds here in the DMV were not even close to providing food for monarch caterpillars in early April. No telling what happened to that premature wanderer. 

Well, almost two weeks ago in early May, a beautiful female monarch discovered my small patch of butterfly weed and bestowed more than a dozen eggs to several sprouts over a few days. At last count, fourteen small caterpillars were enjoying milkweed leaves to get nutrients and hopefully a sufficient dose of cardiac glycosides to thwart predators. In previous episodes we delved into clever defenses of monarch caterpillars and butterflies acquired from noxious chemicals found in leaves of milkweeds on which they dine. My observation of a female monarch and her caterpillars is not the first report of this iconic butterfly moving up the East Coast this spring. Journey North, a really cool migrant-tracking website, recently reported monarch adults in New Jersey and caterpillars in other locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania. What surprises me is how early monarch caterpillars arrived in my garden. Historically, eggs and larvae don’t usually appear at my home until June or July. Perhaps this is just another indication of how our ever-warming world affects the plants and animals. 

Friday May 13th was a lucky day when this pretty monarch female stopped by my small patch of butterfly weed. Watch as she curls her abdomen and deposits an egg. Within days the egg hatched and a very tiny caterpillar just a few millimeters long began to dine on milkweed leaves. As the caterpillar grows, it eats more each day. One week after hatching the half-grown caterpillars make leaves disappear very fast. At last count, more than a dozen caterpillars of various sizes are dining on milkweeds in the milkweed patch.

While western populations of migratory monarchs enjoyed an unexpected, remarkable rebound last winter, in January Monarch Watch provided a rather gloomy projection of the population size of eastern migratory monarchs overwintering in Mexico. Continued exceptional drought west of the Mississippi and extreme heat in other parts of our land could spell trouble for milkweeds that monarchs depend on for food. Trouble, too, for adult butterflies and their young, which are imperiled by high temperatures. In the short run, we can do our part for monarchs by providing appropriate food for adults and their young by planting regionally native milkweeds for caterpillars and nutritious nectar sources for adults. Studies by Adam Baker and Daniel Potter discovered that garden design can play an important role in monarch conservation. Milkweeds with adult nectar sources nearby, planted along perimeters of gardens or relatively isolated from other non-host plants, were those most likely to have monarch eggs and caterpillars compared to milkweeds mixed with or hidden by other vegetation. In the long run, not only for monarchs but for all living things, we better find ways to cool this planet down.

Will exceptional drought and extreme heat imperil milkweeds and monarchs as they continue their annual migrations? Graph credit: Richard Heim, NCEI/NOAA

Acknowledgements 

Bug of the Week thanks Aimee for sharing her monarch sighting that served as the inspiration for this episode. Paula Shrewsbury provided video content. The fascinating article “Configuration and Location of Small Urban Gardens Affect Colonization by Monarch Butterflies” by Adam Baker and Daniel Potter provided several cool insights into monarch behavior. The following article from the University of Maryland IPM newsletter provides more detail on monarch conservation methods in the “Beneficial of the Week” article on page 8: https://extension.umd.edu/sites/extension.umd.edu/files/2021-09/21Sep03L.pdf

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Is That a Rat Burrow in My Yard?

Get Familiar with the Signs of Rats in the Yard & What to Do About the Pesky Critter

Rats! Although some may find the fur-covered critter to be cute, they can actually cause a substantial amount of damage to our landscape, homes, businesses, and other structures found on the property.

The invading nuisance wildlife critter will burrow into any earthen area that is close to food, but rats prefer fertile soil, which is why gardens and yards are attractive. After all, these areas often feature water, access to food, and safe areas to create nests.

Unfortunately, these unwelcome visitors don’t just wreak havoc on grass and landscaping. They can also cause severe structural damage by burrowing beneath structures, chew through pipes and electrical wires, contaminate food, and spread diseases like leptospirosis.

The Norway rat is among the most common species found throughout the New England area, but most rats share similar characteristics, including strong teeth and surprisingly dexterous paws.

Rats are nocturnal, so you may not see them, but it’s possible to see signs of rats in your yard. If you suspect you have found a rat burrow in your yard, it helps to understand what you’re looking at, how to approach eliminating rat burrows, and getting rid of the rodents permanently.

Why Rats Burrow in Yards

These pests can create burrows anywhere from one-foot to six-feet deep. The nests often have one main entrance and a couple of other entrances that are more concealed and harder to spot.

In most cases, there are three burrows per rat family. In most rat families, there are six to eight members. These facts help professionals give reasonably accurate estimations of rat populations based on the number of rat burrows found.

So, this means for every three burrows, there is likely to be eight rats who call it their home.

What tempts rats to burrow in yards and gardens? Rats require easy access to water and a steady supply of food. The nuisance wildlife critter can eat as much as two ounces of food per day. Their diet consists of carbohydrates, animal-based protein, and fat.

So, if you only have fruits and vegetables in your garden, rats will likely move on to another spot where fats and proteins are found.

A compost pile that only has garden scraps won’t sustain them long-term, but a compost pile with fats, meats, grains, and oils, is likely to attract these vermin.

Monitoring compost piles and keeping compost contained in a metal or durable plastic containers can help. Being careful with trash storage and securing it in durable cans with tightly fitting lids is essential.

Additionally, any food that you put out to feed birds, chickens, rabbits, or other animals can nourish rats and encourage them to set up their new homes close by.

black and gray rat with a pink nose poking its head out from a burrow

Signs of Rats in Yards

Rat nests and burrows are frequently located in dense vegetation or under bushes and shrubbery. The animals may also nest beneath a porch, under a deck, inside a shed or barn, or even near the foundation of the home.

The size of the opening can help differentiate rat burrows from other animal nests. Most rat burrows have openings with a diameter between two and four inches with smooth walls and fresh dirt around the outside of the opening.

If you’re checking for signs of rats in your yard, start by inspecting areas where rodents would be undisturbed by humans. Visible rat burrows in yards are only one potential sign of a rat infestation. Others include:

  • Greasy tracks: Rats tend to create paths in the grass by running in the same areas repeatedly. They also leave rub marks or smudges that appear greasy along the foundation of the structure.
  • Strong smells: Rats leave pheromones behind on their tracks. Additionally, they often urinate on the paths created and drag themselves through that urine. If you notice a musky, strong odor, it could be a sign of rats.
  • Hair: Bits of tan, black, or gray hair might be left behind by shedding rats as they squeeze through tight spots or run against walls and hard surfaces.
  • Droppings: Rat droppings look like seeds. The color can vary, depending on the rats’ diet.

Eliminating Rat Burrows

Properties with active rat nests and burrows nearby, may also have to deal with rats trying to access the home. Rats are excellent climbers and can enter through wiring and HVAC systems, among other entry points.

And if rat burrows are found on the property next to your own, or one structure on the property — such a shed, it is likely that other structures or yards will have rats. This is a common issue as rats are known as a region or neighborhood problem, as opposed to a single-structure problem.

Nearby nests may also expose the plumbing and wiring to rats’ relentless gnawing.

Homeowners might choose to trap or bait rats on their own to eliminate the rodent before destroying the rat burrows. But it’s important to know to truly eliminate the issue, a trained professional is needed.

To help rid the property of this rodent, start by removing access to food and water. Make sure trash and compost receptacles are sealed and trim all vegetation as low as possible.

Once the burrows are free of any rats and animals, fill it with sand or dirt and seal the entryways using materials that rats can’t chew through. Make sure all the rats are out of the hole first, or you will end up with a strong, off-putting odor as their bodies decompose.

The best time to start watching for signs of rats in the yard is in early spring. Continue monitoring throughout the spring, summer, and fall — particularly if you have a garden or compost pile that provides a readily available food source.

But without expert help, homeowners or property owners are likely to make the issue worse or encounter a rodent infestation in the future. An infestation that isn’t taken care of properly could lead to an infestation of the home, business, or other structure on the property.

A true nightmare, especially when we consider each burrow could be a home to approximately eight rats. So, a property with multiple burrows will have a significant issue on their hands.

When to Call a Professional

If you have tried eliminating rat burrows on your own without success or you simply don’t want to use DIY tactics, the experts at Catseye Pest Control can help.

Our nuisance wildlife and pest control technicians have the skills needed to remove existing rats, eliminate rat burrows, and prevent future infestations.

Our Rat Control and Exclusion program tackles the issue in three phases: removal, clean up, and exclusion.

First, we find the source of the infestation and repair any damage the rats have caused. We then clean up droppings and messes before installing a permanent exclusion feature to protect your home or business from future rat infestations.

Don’t let signs of rats in your yard become an out-of-control rat infestation.

Catseye has provided the Northeastern United States with the industry’s only premium pest control, wildlife control and removal for nearly three decades. Contact us today to speak with one of our knowledgeable professionals and schedule a free inspection.

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Boisterous bee-havior of ground nesting bees, Colletes thoracicus

 

Splendor in the grass as one lucky suitor finds his mate (male on left, female on right). Photo credit: Paula Shrewsbury

 

Mother plasterer bees gather pollen from trees like our majestic native tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, and store it in subterranean brood chambers for their young.

With the return of warm weather this week, a golden opportunity arose to get up close and personal with one of my favorite spring insects, plasterer bees. We met plasterer bees in a previous episode at the onset of our seemingly-unending COVID adventure. Those very cute ground nesting bees were Colletes inequalis, a sister species of this week’s star, Colletes thoracicus. Along with beetles, flies, and butterflies, bees are among the premier pollinators on the planet. Plasterer bees are some of the very first native pollinators to appear each spring. The moniker “plasterer bee” stems from the intriguing behavior of building brood galleries in the ground and then coating the interior surface of their burrow with a thin, glossy, translucent material produced by a gland in their abdomen. Plasterer bees use their tiny mouthparts to remove the soil while constructing their galleries. The excavation is accompanied by a buzzing sound that may help loosen particles of soil and aid in the digging process. The bee’s mouthparts also act like a mason’s trowel to spread the glandular secretion on the inside of the burrow. When it dries into a cellophane-like coating, interior chambers are cleverly waterproofed.  

Plasterer bees are relatives of honey bees and bumble bees but, unlike their cousins, these bees are solitary. Rather than living in a communal nest, each female plasterer bee constructs a subterranean gallery of her own to serve as a nursery for her brood. Burrows are provisioned with a semi-liquid concoction of nectar and pollen from flowering plants that bloom early in the spring. This yummy delight is food for bee larvae that develop during the summer and fall within the galleries. Plasterer bees emit a delightful citrus-like odor when handled. This odor is a pheromone produced by a gland in the head of the bee. The pheromone contains linalool and other aromatic compounds that may help plasterer bees find nesting sites, food sources, or potential mates.

What’s better than the arrival of plasterer bees? When else do you have a chance to lay down in the grass surrounded by hundreds of docile, swarming, solitary bees? Stingless males emerge first from their subterranean nurseries and cruise just above the grass hunting for a mate. They search on the ground among plants and enter burrows to find that special someone. When a female emerges from her gallery, males tussle with one another, vying to be the father of her young.  After making her choice and growing tired of the mob, the female flies off with her suitor. Lucky bee. Video credit: Paula Shrewsbury and Michael Raupp

Part of my lawn is now thin enough to support a very favorable nesting site for hundreds of entertaining plasterer bees.

Although they are not considered social insects, large numbers of plasterer bee galleries are often abundant in close proximity. Plasterer bees prefer to nest in sunny locations with sandy soils and thin vegetation. The removal of several large Leyland cypress trees from my yard a few years ago created a sufficiently thin patch of yard where hundreds of plasterer bees have set up shop. On sunny afternoons in early May, protandrous (meaning males appear first) bees burst from subterranean nurseries and cruise the landscape awaiting the arrival of potential mates. As you will see in the video, hundreds of these hopeful suitors zoom inches above the lawn searching for nubile females. Swarming bees over grassy areas can dismay golfers, homeowners, and lawn care companies, however fear and worry over painful encounters are unwarranted. While filming this episode in a prone position on my belly, hundreds of male bees buzzed around. Unlike yellowjackets, baldfaced hornets, and other stinging terrors, plasterer bees are docile and extremely reluctant to sting. Remember, each female bee is a mother and to risk her life by stinging a human could mean instant curtailment of her reproductive potential should she die in the encounter. Over large areas of a balding zone in my yard, several burrows now occur in each square meter of ground. The plasterer bees were not responsible for the thin turf, they simply colonized areas where the turf was naturally thin. If you don’t enjoy a yard full of ground nesting bees, experts suggest that increasing the density of grass by over-seeding and judicious irrigation will help reduce the abundance of bees.

If you see swarms of small hairy or metallic bees constructing burrows or emerging from galleries in your garden or lawn, please resist the urge to treat them with insecticides. Several species of native pollinators including anthophorid bees, yellow-faced bees, andrenid bees, and halictid bees, as well as plasterer bees, nest in the ground. Enjoy these beauties and give them a break. They pollinate plants and keep our planet humming.

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks native bee guru Sam Droege for helping to identify bees seen in this episode. The wonderful article “Ecology, Behavior, Pheromones, Parasites and Management of the Sympatric Vernal Bees Colletes inaequalis, C. thoracicus and C. validus by S. W. T. Batra was used as a reference.

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A warming world: range expansions of lone star ticks, Amblyomma americanum, and the alpha-gal they carry

 

Female lone star ticks are easily identified by the white or off-white spot on the center of their back.

 

A trio of trouble (clockwise from top): Blacklegged Tick (vector of Lyme and other diseases), Lone Star Tick (vector of alpha-gal and other diseases), American Dog Tick (vector of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and others).

After clearing some land last week in tick territory, I returned home to find two ticks embedded in my left shoulder. Fortunately, they were easily removed with forceps and having fed for only a few hours, my risk of being infected with a tick-borne illness was exceedingly small. So, with the return of temperatures in the 70s and 80s over the past couple of weeks here in the DMV, reports of ticks attached to humans and pets is on the rise and will continue to increase over the next several months. Let’s dive into the business of climate change and range expansions first. Ticks and insects are cold-blooded, ruthless maybe, but in the biological sense they are largely dependent on ambient temperatures found in their environment to support physiological processes like growth, development, and movement. During winter’s chill in the Washington DC – metropolitan region, with temperatures in the 30-degree Fahrenheit range, it is simply too cold for ticks to move about seeking blood meals from warm-blooded hosts. As temperatures rise in late winter and spring, ticks awakened from their chilly torpor to quest for the blood of animals. Blood provides the protein and other nutrients necessary for ticks to grow, develop, and reproduce. As our world warms, spring’s warmth arrives earlier and autumn’s glow often lasts past Thanksgiving here in the DMV. The lengthening of the warm season provides ticks with more days to be active and to acquire these vital blood meals. 

In addition to limiting mobility, cold temperatures can be lethal to ticks just as they are to other forms of life. A very cool laboratory study by Dr. C. S. Burks and colleagues found that 2 hours of direct exposure to temperatures below 7° Fahrenheit proved lethal to lone star tick immatures (nymphs) and adults. Part of this study, conducted in the winter of 1993-1994, also found that these low temperatures did not occur on the forest floors in Ohio, lucky for those ticks back in the day. Leaf litter on the forest floor and snow cover provide insulation for overwintering ticks, enhancing their survival even on very cold nights. The large mass of the earth itself provides a thermal refuge for creatures on the ground and just inches below the soil surface. Nonetheless, lone star ticks have expanded their range further northward over the last seven decades from their historical northern limit of Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey to historically cooler northern realms including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. This pattern is predicted to continue, or perhaps accelerate as greenhouse gas emissions continue to trap solar energy and warm our planet. A recent study by Dr. R. K. Raghavan and colleagues suggests that future conditions associated with climate change may make maritime regions of Canada climatically suitable for survival of lone star ticks. 

 

The current range of the lone star tick in the United States has expanded northward in the past century.

 

Fully engorged ticks are enormous. After feeding for many days, an engorged tick may have increased its body weight 200 times.

Another tick-related story which surfaced last week dealt with folks who had developed an allergy to eating red meat after being bitten by a lone star tick. A friend and colleague developed the red meat allergy known as alpha-gal syndrome after a close encounter with this tick. Let’s dive in and see what this strange sounding syndrome is all about. Alpha-gal syndrome is a human’s immune response to galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). Alpha-gal is a carbohydrate molecule found on the surface of muscle cells of many types of wild mammals including mice and rabbits, but also on mammals whose flesh we regularly eat like cattle and pigs. When a lone star tick dines on blood of one of these feral or domesticated animals, it ingests the alpha-gal molecule. When the tick feeds again, maybe on you, it injects saliva laced with alpha-gal. Your body’s powerful immune system recognizes this foreign compound and mounts a potent immune response to it. The immune system produces a library of cells ready to produce antibodies to attack alpha-gal the next time it enters your body. Unfortunately, this may happen when you bite into a juicy burger or pulled-pork sandwich. This second exposure can trigger an allergic reaction that can cause hives, itching, swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, wheezing, shortness of breath, runny nose, sneezing, headache, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. In severe cases, a person may suffer anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction. Often the reaction does not occur until several hours after the meal. Alpha-gal syndrome is found in many parts of the world including Europe, Asia, and Australia, but it is particularly common in the southeastern United States and now is spreading to other parts of the country. Contracting alpha-gal does not relegate one to a meatless existence. Fish, shellfish, poultry, and other non-mammalian meat sources lack the alpha-gal molecule and may be consumed without fear. A recent study revealed one more piece of disturbing news regarding ticks and alpha-gal. The alpha-gal antigen has also been discovered in the saliva of notorious black-legged ticks implicating them not only as vectors of Lyme disease, but also as potential culprits in the red-meat allergy. Yikes! 

Content to chill out on my arm, a female lone star tick makes a mad dash under the probing lens of the camera. Unfed ticks are wafer thin, but after feeding for several days their body weight may increase 200 times. Female ticks convert protein from the blood meal into thousands of eggs.

Reports indicate that the red-meat allergy may decline in time in some individuals. Does the bite of lone star tick mean you are doomed to this allergy? Absolutely not. I have been bitten by lone stars on several occasions and still enjoy a burger now and again with no problem. As with other allergies, individual reactions are complex and may differ from one individual to another. In addition to alpha-gal, lone star ticks transmit several illnesses including Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI), which has been associated with the bacterium Borrelia lonestari. Symptoms of STARI include a rash, fever, fatigue, and pain in muscles and joints. A second disease spread by the lone star tick is ehrlichiosis. Ehrlichia bacteria produces nasty flu-like symptoms including headache, joint ache, fever, fatigue, muscle ache, confusion, and several other disheartening symptoms. 

To reduce the risks of becoming a meal for a tick and the unfortunate recipient of alpha-gal, STARI, ehrlichiosis, or other tick-borne illnesses including Lyme disease, remember the word “AIR”. This stands for avoid, inspect, and remove

“A” – Avoid ticks and their bites in the following ways. When taking Fido for a walk, stick to the path, trail, or pavement. You are unlikely to encounter ticks on non-grassy surfaces. If you enter habitats where wildlife and ticks are likely to be present, such as grassy meadows, boarders of fields and woodlands, and vegetation along the banks of streams, wear long pants and light-colored clothing. This will help you spot ticks on your clothes as they move up your body. Be a geek – tuck your pant legs into your socks. This forces ticks to move up and over your cloths rather than under them where tasty skin awaits. Apply repellents labeled for use in repelling ticks. Some are applied directly to skin, but others can be applied only to clothing. Don’t forget to treat your footwear, socks, and pant legs. Immature ticks called nymphs are a key vector of diseases and these precautions will help prevent nymphs and adults from attaching to your skin. If repellents are used, be sure to read the label, follow directions carefully, and heed precautions particularly those related to children. If your adventures take you into tick territory, consider placing your cloths directly into a clothes dryer rather than a hamper upon returning home. The heat of the dryer will kill hitchhiking ticks that might otherwise escape clothes in the hamper and cause trouble after your return home. 

“I” – Inspect yourself, your family, and your pets thoroughly if you have been in tick habitats. Remember to do this when you return from the outdoors and when taking a shower. A thorough inspection may involve enlisting a helper to view those “hard to see” areas around back. 

“R” – Remove ticks promptly if you find them. Removal within the first 24 hours can greatly decrease your risk of contracting a disease. If you find a tick attached, firmly grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible using a pair of fine forceps and slowly, steadily pull the tick out. Cleanse the area with antiseptic. The CDC and the Bug-Guy do not recommend methods of tick removal such as smearing the tick with petroleum jelly or scorching its rear end with a match. Cases of some tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease are the most common in children and seniors, so take special care to keep kids of all ages safe when they play outdoors. 

If you discover a tick that has imbedded in your skin and you wish to determine its identity and discover what disease organisms it might harbor, there are several tick testing services that will identify the tick and perform molecular analysis to determine several important disease agents it may be carrying. On a recent encounter with a tick, after removing a lone star from my waist, I sent it off to a tick-testing laboratory. Within a week, I had results and this little rascal tested negative for the causal agents of Lyme disease, relapsing fever, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Pacific Coast tick fever, tularemia, and ehrlichiosis. Lucky me. If you find an embedded and engorged tick, consider sending it to a tick-testing lab. If it tests positive for one or more tick borne diseases, consult your physician and develop an action plan. Several tick testing services can be found on the internet by simply googling “Tick Testing Services”. They provide step by step directions to prepare your sample for analysis and where to send it. Tick identification is available through the University of Maryland, but this service does not test for disease agents.

Ticks will climb up vegetation and reach out with forelegs to encounter a host. This behavior is called questing.

Around the home, reduce habitat for small mammals that serve as the blood meal for ticks and the source of disease-causing bacteria. Remove piles of brush, unstacked wood, and rubbish that serve as a refuge for rodents and other small mammals. Mow and remove unkempt grasses, weeds, and other vegetation at the edge of the lawn. Mulch beds that border the transition zone between lawn and forest edge. By opening up these areas, raptors and other predators may more easily spot and remove small mammals. Design patios and play areas for children away from forest edges where ticks are more likely to be found. If you follow these precautions, you can greatly reduce the risk of encountering ticks and associated illnesses, while still enjoying the great outdoors. 

Acknowledgements 

Bug of the Week thanks Bill Gimpel, Kevin Ambrose, and Livia Albeck-Ripka for providing inspiration for this episode. The fascinating articles “Current and Future Distribution of the Lone Star Tick, Amblyomma americanum (L.) (Acari: Ixodidae) in North America” by Ram K. Raghavan,A. Townsend Peterson, Marlon E. Cobos, Roman Ganta, and Des Foley, “ Range Expansion of Tick Disease Vectors in North America: Implications for Spread of Tick-Borne Disease” by Daniel E. Sonenshine, “Population and Evolutionary Genomics of Amblyomma americanum, an Expanding Arthropod Disease Vector” by Javier D. Monzo´n,Elizabeth G. Atkinson, Brenna M. Henn, and Jorge L. Benach, and “The role of direct chilling injury and inoculative freezing in cold tolerance of Amblyomma americanum, Dermacentor variabilis and lxodes scapularis” by C. S. Burks, R. L. Stewart, G. N. Needham, and R. E. Lee, and “Discovery of Alpha-Gal-Containing Antigens in North American Tick Species Believed to Induce Red Meat Allergy” by Gary Crispell, Scott P. Commins, Stephanie A. Archer-Hartman, Shailesh Choudhary, Guha Dharmarajan, Parastoo Azadi and Shahid Karim were used to prepare this episode.

To read more on the Alpha-gal allergy, check out this recent Washington Post article: https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/tick-makes-people-allergic-red-171750634.html

For information on Tick Identification in Maryland, click on: https://health.maryland.gov/phpa/OIDEOR/CZVBD/Pages/Tick-Identification.aspx

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Mole vs. Vole Damage in Gardens & Lawns

Learn More Information About How to Get Rid of Moles & Voles in Your Yard

Homeowners and business owners take pride in their gardens, landscaping, and lawn, but all it takes is a burrowing pest or two to ruin all your hard work.

Moles and voles may look cute, but there’s nothing cute about the damage the rodents can cause. Both these pests wreak havoc on lawns, gardens, and outdoor spaces.

However, mole versus vole damage is a bit different. Moles create more dynamic tunnels, but they do eat damaging insects like grubs. Voles tend to use mole tunnels for cover or to create their own runways and only deeply tunnel occasionally. However, voles eat plants, roots, and vegetation, making them quite destructive.

Mole vs. Vole Damage: How Is It Different?

Not sure how to spot the differences in damage caused by moles and voles? You’re not alone. Many residents and business owners are plagued by these critters, but they aren’t sure which one.

Moles and voles have distinct appearances, but they aren’t easy to spot. If you don’t see the rodent, then learning to recognize vole versus mole tunnels and damage can provide clues as to which has taken over your landscape.

Once you know which burrower is the problem, you can create an action plan to address how to get rid of moles and voles. This includes learning about exclusion systems and other strategies to evict them for good.

Moles 101

Moles have a distinctive appearance, with pointy noses and two large, clawed, flipper-like front feet. Their forepaws are tipped with long, sharp claws that are so powerful the critter can dig more than 200 yards in a single day.

A mole can move roughly 540 times its body weight in soil in the same day, giving you a clear picture of just how much destruction these small animals can cause in a short time.

Moles enjoy making a meal out of insects and they consume up to 100% of their body weight daily in grubs, beetle larvae, and earthworms. That’s a lot of insects!

Although they enjoy insects, moles don’t typically make a meal out of plants.

That means if you notice damage to the plants in your outdoor space, you can rule out moles as the culprit.

The diet of moles seems to make them beneficial to the garden, as they consume pests that typically harm seedlings and plants. However, the unsightly hills and tunnels can cause injuries to humans and damage plant life, which outweighs the benefits for most homeowners and businesses.

Voles 101

At a glance, voles look similar to mice, but these nocturnal, timid rodents have a stockier frame with shorter tails and smaller, rounder ears than mice. With their soft, dense fur and black eyes, the tiny rodents look deceptively harmless.

However, voles eat a variety of plant materials, including the bark from mature trees. If you notice that the bases of tree trunks are bare, you could have a vole problem. This practice, which is called girdling, can kill limbs or even entire trees.

Voles also enjoy making a meal from tree roots, flower bulbs, seedlings, plant stems, grass blades, and root vegetables. These rodents are small, but they are significant enemies of many gardeners and landscapers in the Northeast United States.

Vole vs. Mole Tunnels

The different types of damage aren’t the only way you can differentiate between the two critters. Although both wreak havoc with tunnels, their tunneling style is quite different.

Voles only occasionally tunnel underground. When they do, it’s usually part of an effort to access tree roots and other subterranean vegetation. More commonly, voles create shallow runways and unraised tunnels with open entryways.

Moles create extensive tunnel systems and hills of dirt. These rodents live almost exclusively underground in closed tunnel systems that have no visible entryways. In addition to mole hills, raised tunnel ridges may also be visible.

Not only does this destroy a landscape or garden area, but it can also create passive damage to structures and buildings. The underground tunnels create air pockets of dirt, and those pockets can affect the stability of foundations.

Additionally, if the tunnels flood, rainwater can seep into foundations and cause water damage. During cold New England winters, that flooding can freeze, creating a freeze-thaw cycle that causes extensive damage to foundations.

A true nightmare for any homeowner or business owner.

How to Get Rid of Moles & Voles

A variety of home remedies can help with controlling moles and voles, including cayenne pepper, ultrasonic repellents, and traps to catch or kill them. But, unless this process is facilitated by a trained professional, the property will more than likely encounter a similar — or worse, situation in the future.

Ultimately, the most effective and efficient way to get rid of moles and voles is to call a professional. Catseye Pest Control is comprised of expert pest and nuisance wildlife technicians equipped with the experience, knowledge, skills, and equipment to effectively control and remove moles and voles safely and efficiently.

Homes and businesses are unique, as is the pest or rodent infestation it faces. To eliminate the issue and prevent it from reoccurring, a customized plan is created after a thorough inspection is completed.

Removing the nuisance wildlife from the property is only one step in eliminating any infestation. To prevent tunnels from being dug under porches, decks, sheds, and other low-clearance areas, preventative measures must be taken.

Our Platinum Home Protection Plan has been designed to do just that — prevent rodents and nuisance wildlife from accessing or burrowing beneath structures.

The all-in-one preventative and maintenance program is customized to the structure and takes a proactive approach in pest and nuisance wildlife control.

Don’t wait until moles or voles have destroyed the landscape surrounding the structures on your property — or compromised the foundation of the structures. Contact us today to reclaim your outdoor space.

The post Mole vs. Vole Damage in Gardens & Lawns appeared first on Catseye Pest Control.

This article appeared first on Catseye Pest

Time for tigers in the DMV: Six-spotted green tiger beetle, Cicindela sexguttata

Poised to pounce on its next meal, the beautiful six-spotted green tiger beetle is a fierce predator in eastern forests.

Last week, I received two strangely linked inquiries, one from a concerned citizen and another from a friend. Both had stunning emerald green creatures that crossed their paths. The concerned citizen discovered a beautiful green beetle in a bowl of fruit being served at an outdoor gathering. Fruit in the bowl included grapes from Chile. Concern hinged on the possibility that this remarkable insect was the vanguard of some new and, perhaps, hostile horde of invaders ready to deliver more six-legged misery to our already beleaguered ecosystems. A few days later a friend asked about gorgeous emerald green insects she encountered “all over the place” on bike trails and hiking paths in the DMV. Well, after examining an image of the beetle in the fruit bowl and taking a stroll on the lovely Northeast Branch Trail, my conclusion was that the beetle in the fruit bowl and the trail-traveling green ghost were one and the same, six-spotted green tiger beetles. 

Lawns, gardens, sunny bike trails, and paths through the forest are great places to watch six-spotted tiger beetles. Unfortunately, fast wheels and speedy feet may spell danger for inattentive tiger beetles.

Six-spotted green tiger beetles range from southern Canada to Texas and are most commonly observed in the eastern half of the US. I saw my first one in early April on a paved trail meandering along the Little Patuxent River in Columbia, MD. Predators as both larvae and adults, the name “tiger” suits them well. They are awesome hunters. The exceptionally long legs of adults provide lots of ground clearance and enable bursts of speed as they dash across trails and forest floors. Large eyes enable them to peruse their surroundings for signs of movement and potential meals. Unlike praying mantids that are “sit and wait” predators, tiger beetles actively stalk, pursue, and capture their victims. One amusing trick to play with these hunters is to spot one at a distance and toss a pebble or a small twig near the beetle. This often triggers an inquisitive charge as the beetle scrambles to see if a potential meal has entered its ambit. 

Tommy, my resident tiger beetle, seems startled by a tent caterpillar when it ventures just a little too near. A few moments later, I discovered Tommy behaving more like his “tiger” namesake as he snacked on the rear-end of the caterpillar. Watch as sharp paired mandibles (jaws) and the second pair of mouthparts called maxillae move back and forth to ingest this tasty treat.

The strange tiger beetle larva lives in an underground lair and captures unsuspecting prey that stray too near.

Like their feline namesake, the tiger beetle has powerful jaws used to capture, subdue, and consume its victim. Each jaw is armed with several stout teeth. The jaws grasp, pierce, slice, and crush. Just behind the jaws, a second pair of mouthparts called maxillae help shove pieces of flesh into the maw of the beetle’s digestive tract. Tiger beetles are carnivores as both adults and juveniles. The female tiger beetle lays eggs singly on the ground. Upon hatching, the immature stage, the larva, constructs an underground burrow. From this lair, the larva stealthily awaits dinner. As a hapless insect or spider strolls by, the larva springs from the hole like a jack-in-the-box and impales its victim with stiletto-like jaws. The prey is drawn into the burrow and eaten. Strange hook-like structures found on its abdomen help anchor the beetle larva in its burrow. 

As generalist predators and members of Mother Nature’s hit squad, tiger beetles consume pests in our gardens and landscapes and provide the important ecological service of biological control. Tiger beetles are tough to capture without a net, but if you catch one, be careful; they have powerful jaws and can give you a little nip. These diminutive tigers will be common along sunny bike trails and paths over the next month or so. If you have some free time, take a walk in the forest or ride along one of our many beautiful bike paths to catch a glimpse of these tiny awesome predators. 

Acknowledgements 

“An Introduction to the Study of Insects” by Borrer, De Long, and Tripplehorn, and iNaturalist were used as resources for this episode. Thanks to Amy, Bruce, and Laura for inquiring about tiger beetles and inspiring this episode. Gaye Williams provided great insights on the identity of the tiger beetle found in the fruit bowl.

This post appeared first on Bug of the Week

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