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Saving Hercules and a moon moth: Hercules beetle, Dynastes tityus, and Luna moth, Actias luna

 

Attracted by a parking lot light at night, this handsome Hercules beetle deposited on the asphalt below stood little chance of surviving long enough to find a mate.

 

Beneath a security light at a day care center, a beautiful male luna moth is imperiled by small feet as children arrive early in the morning.

Early one morning last week on a visit to a supermarket in rural Maryland, I was chagrined to see a gorgeous male Hercules beetle spinning helplessly on its back beneath a tall lamp post in a parking lot. We met Hercules beetles in a previous episode and learned of their sylvan life cycles recycling organic plant matter and wooing mates. With not a tree to be found in the vast parking lot desert, the presence of a break dancing, belly-up beetle was perplexing. Skip back three years to an early morning discovery of a Luna moth on a sidewalk outside a day-care center which raised a similarly puzzling question. Luna moths, aptly named in honor of the moon, are denizens of forests where males fly by the light of the moon and stars to find mates and females navigate the darkness to deposit eggs on the leaves of trees. The common feature of both of these unnatural appearances is, of course, the presence of powerful overhead light sources, one illuminating a parking lot and another guarding the entryway to a day care center at a church. These beautiful but hapless insects should have followed the sage advice given to Heather O’Rourke in Poltergeist “do not go into the light”, but unfortunately most insects have not seen the movie.

Just after dawn, I found this Hercules beetle break dancing beneath a lamppost in a parking lot. This handsome night-flier likely was attracted to the light during the night and crashed to the asphalt below. Getting off his back looked challenging. After a rescue and release in a nearby forest, he quickly disappeared inside a rotting stump.

Why are beetles, moths, and other insects attracted to lights? Scientists believe that night flying insects use light sources from distant stars and the moon to orient their flight. When light from these sources arrives at earth their light beams are largely parallel. By flying at a fixed angle to these beams, nocturnal insects maintain a straight course. However, beams of light from a nearby security light, parking lot light, or flashlight are still diverging from their source. When insects encounter these light beams, they constantly correct their angle of flight which causes them to spiral ever-inward to the source. Several other theories have been advanced to help explain the not yet fully understood reason why insects are attracted to light. In addition to attracting insects that will perish in a parking lot or on a sidewalk, light pollutions can disrupt normal behaviors such as the wondrous mating rituals of bioluminescent insects like the iconic fireflies we met in a previous episode. 

Uh oh, Luna moth down! Attracted by security lights at night, this handsome moth wound up on the sidewalk by morning. Will careless feet be its demise or hordes of hungry ants dismember it? Nah, giant fingers first rescue the moth, and then it’s off to a photoshoot before being released in the forest far away from bright lights.

High intensity lights in parking lots attract many insects that may not survive a day in this unnatural and hostile location.

So, what can we do to reduce insect carnage related to light pollution?  The trick seems to be balancing illumination for human safety with the needs of animals and plants for natural patterns of light evolved over eons. Scientists suggest that every parking lot or sport stadium does not need to be illuminated all night every night. Shielding light sources from above to prevent light escaping upward and interfering with night flying insects might also help. Low-lying lights along trails can be shielded both above and below to avoid disturbing nocturnal ground-dwelling insects. Dimming lights whenever possible may help reduce general light scatter to the sky above. Also, turning lights off when they are not needed and installing motion detectors to activate lights only when needed will reduce unnecessary illumination. For insects with well defined emergence patterns like mayflies and fireflies, reducing lights during periods of flight associated with mating activity could help preserve species whose behaviors are hard-wired to natural light patterns. And when you find one of these creatures stranded in a dangerous place beneath a light, give them a break and transport them back to more natural surroundings nearby. With a little thought and care we can all help the natural world become a little darker and more animal and plant friendly. With all of this in mind, as I put this episode of Bug of the Week to bed, I will be sure to turn off the lights both outside and inside.

Acknowledgements

The great read “Light pollution is a driver for insect declines” by C.S. Owens, P. Cochard, J.D. Durrant, B. Farnworth, E. K. Perkin, and B. Seymour was consulted for this episode.

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Scorched locust, courtesy of the Locust leafminer, Odontota dorsalis

 

After laying a batch of eggs, this leafminer mama will cover them with excrement. Yikes!

 

Black locust is commonly seen in the eastern half of the United States and planted throughout the world for its ornamental value. Honey bees transform its nectar into delicious black locust honey. Its durable wood is super resistant to rot and Abraham Lincoln is said to have spent significant amounts of time pondering liberty and equality while splitting black locust for fence posts and rails. As a member of the bean family, black locust has the ability to improve the quality of soil by fixing atmospheric nitrogen in its roots. You may recognize this tree by its fragrant white blossoms which arrive each year in the first week or two in May along major thoroughfares in the DMV, such as interstate 70, and along forest edges in our parks and farmlands. 

Feeding by larval and adult locust leafminers scorch foliage of black locusts.

On a recent trip across South Mountain the black trees looked like they had been assaulted with a blow torch. What manner of devilment is this? Well, the culprit behind this beating is a small beetle called the locust leafminer. The locust leafminer belongs to a clan of beetles known as leaf beetles. Well-known leaf beetles include garden pests such as cucumber beetles and Colorado potato beetles.  Ravages caused by locust leafminer began back in spring when adult beetles emerged from their overwintering sites on the ground beneath the locust trees. During May and June beetles fly to the treetops to eat the fresh young leaves. Their feeding produces small holes in tender leaves or rough scrapes on the surface of mature leaves called skeletonization. After dining for many days, females convert the nutritious leaves into small batches of eggs laid on the lower surface of the leaves of locust. After the female deposits her brood on the leaf she defecates on them. Now what would Sigmund Freud have to say about that? No matter, this is probably a way to protect the eggs and larvae developing within from becoming a tasty meal for some roving predator.  

Feeding injury by adult and larval beetles known as the locust leafminer are scorching black locust trees along our roadways and landscapes. Feeding by adult beetles externally and as larvae within leaves causes leaves to turn white and then a crispy brown. Watch as an adult beetle grooms its legs before moving off to find the next meal.

Larvae mine the soft tissue between the upper and lower leaf surfaces, creating a white blotch that later turns brown.

The eggs hatch into tiny larvae that tunnel into the leaf and consume the nutritious tissue between the upper and lower surfaces. In general, insects that feed between the surface layers in this fashion are known as leafminers. Leafminers are found in many groups of insects including caterpillars, primitive wasps called sawflies, true flies, and beetles. The leafmining way of life is a clever way to avoid the dangers of occupying the leaf surface where fearsome predators such as lacewing larvae roam. When larval growth is complete, a pupa forms and within a week or so a new locust leafminer adult emerges and the life story repeats. Two generations of the locust leafminer punish locusts in our region each year. Mining produces large whitish blotches on the leaf that later turn brown as the leaf tissue dies. Leaves skeletonized by adults also turn brown. Feeding by larvae and adults in concert give the black locust its scorched appearance. Fortunately, black locust is a very hardy tree and appears able to withstand the beetle’s periodic onslaughts. 

Ready to continue the feast on locust this adult leafminer emerges from its pupal case.

A second generation of locust leafminers begins to eat leaves already attacked by larvae.

Acknowledgements

 “Managing insects and mites on woody plants” by J. A. Davidson and M. J. Raupp was consulted for this episode. 

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My, what big jaws you have my dear: Reddish-brown Stag Beetle, Lucanus capreolus

 

Do the impressive jaws of a male reddish-brown stage beetle strike fear in your heart?

 

Is the pretty female stag beetle a little less scary than its mate?

Well, we all know what happened to Little Red Riding Hood when she uttered similar words to a big, bad wolf posing as grandma. But fear not, the extremely large jaws of the male reddish-brown stag beetle are used to impress a potential mate, or to battle other males for mating rights to a comely and much smaller-jawed female stag beetle. Stag beetles are relatives of rhinoceros beetles we met in a previous episode. Male rhinoceros beetles, like our indigenous Hercules beetle, use prodigious horns on their head to battle competitors for access to females. Stag beetles dwell in damp forest woodlands (and apparently sometimes in my back yard), where females seek soggy tree holes like the one in my ancient maple or moist rotting stumps on the forest floor. Wet decaying wood serves as the favored location for female beetles to deposit eggs.

Watch as this pretty reddish-brown female stag beetle inspects the soggy interior of a large tree hole in my ancient red maple tree. She was rather nonplused about the camera and stopped a few times to glam for the cam. With some luck, perhaps she will find a mate and grace my rotting tree with a fine batch of lucanid grubs.

Larvae of stag beetles are quite similar in appearance to this rather large scarab grub.

Larvae, aka grubs, that hatch from these eggs take two years to develop as they feed on lignified tissues of their woody hosts. Stag beetle larvae house a rich microbial community in their gut. These symbionts release nutrients locked in tough woody tissues, making these goodies available to support the growth and development of stag beetle grubs. Along with several other species of wood digesting insects, lucanid larvae play a critical role in recycling organic matter in forests around the world. Adult lucanid beetles are reported to dine on fermenting exudates of plants. The important role of these forest recyclers is imperiled as forested lands disappear. A close relative of our reddish-brown stag beetle, the charismatic Lucanus cervus, has declined dramatically in some parts of Europe.

Stag beetles are noisy, somewhat clumsy fliers and create quite a buzz as they zoom though the forest or zero in on your porch light at nighttime. If you are a bug geek like me, you might just want to hold one of these reddish-brown stag beetles. Worried about those jaws? Don’t be. I have never had any issues holding males or females other than trying to release them when I was finished examining one. They have very sticky claws at the tips of their feet which enable them to climb trees and grip tightly to nosy humans. According to the Maryland Biodiversity Project, July is an excellent month to spot these fascinating creatures here in the DMV. Head for the forest to catch a glimpse of these giants of the beetle world.

Watch this amazing National Geographic video to see how stag beetles use their supersized jaws to defeat competitors and gain access to mates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VWFreC4onI

Acknowledgements

Bug of the week consulted these references for this episode: “Stag beetles” by Eric P. Benson,“Divergence in Gut Bacterial Community Structure between Male and Female Stag Beetles Odontolabis fallaciosa (Coleoptera, Lucanidae)” by  Xia Wan, Yu Jiang, Yuyan Cao, Binghua Sun and Xingjia Xiang, and “Insights into the ecology, genetics and distribution of Lucanus elaphus Fabricius (Coleoptera: Lucanidae), North America’s giant stag beetle” by Michael Ulyshen, Louis  Zachos, John Stireman, Thomas Sheehan, and Ryan Garrick.

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Waxy wanderers flocking flowers: Planthoppers – Flatidae and Acanaloniidae

 

See how many flatid nymphs you can find hiding amongst their white wax on this branch.

 

Strange looking acanaloniid nymphs remind me of the fierce Blurrg of Mandalorian lore.

Last week we visited dastardly Japanese beetles shredding leaves of zinnias. On a follow-up visit to the flowers, I was surprised to see several stems festooned with fluffy white wax reminiscent of the mysterious substance from an aerosol can used to flock Christmas trees. Beneath the white flocking were nymphs of small sucking insects known as flatid planthoppers. Nearby a bizarre acanaloniid nymph baring a strange resemblance to a miniature Blurrg wandered about a flower stem trailing an array of waxy filaments from its rear end. These sucking insects are close relatives of other well-known wax producing sap-suckers such as boogie-woogie aphids and woolly alder aphids we met in previous episodes.  

Two kinds of sap-sucking planthoppers are flocking my plants with white wax. The strange brown planthopper on top is an acanaloniid and the greenish one hiding below in white wax is a flatid nymph. When the lens gets too close the flatid hops to a leaf below and takes a stroll. The acanaloniid nymph meanders up the stem to escape a nosy bug geek.

It’s not unusual to find ranks of waxy adult citrus flatids lining stems and branches of many kinds of plants in the summertime.

Flatid and acanaloniid planthoppers feed by inserting a small beak into the vascular system of a plant and withdrawing the nutrient-laden sap into their bodies using a small hydraulic pump located in their head. As a byproduct of this feeding, they excrete a sticky substance called honeydew that attracts other insects such as wasps and ants and serves as a substrate for the growth of a fungus called sooty mold. They also secrete a pure white wax from glands lining their abdomen. The function of this wax may be to protect them from tiny parasitic wasps determined to deliver a sting and deposit eggs into their bodies. Or the wax may confuse hungry predators such as lacewing larvae and ladybugs intent on a feast, that are bamboozled when they get a mouthful of white wax instead of planthopper flesh. Whatever the purpose of the wax, it is produced in prodigious amounts by flatids and acanaloniids.  

Leaf-mimicking cone-headed planthoppers are masters of disguise.

Planthopper nymphs hatched this spring from eggs inserted in the stem of a plant last year by the adult planthopper. Now the nymphs are beginning to molt and will soon become adult hoppers that will remain on our plants for the duration of summer and into autumn. Adult flatid planthoppers do not produce vast amounts of wax as they did in their youth, but their bodies are coated with a lovely bloom of grey, green, or bluish wax. Acanaloniid adults are tiny leaf mimics with myriad wing veins resembling the veins of leaves. They blend in remarkably well with the plants on which they feed. Flatids and acanaloniids are common on roses, dogwoods, locusts, privets, hollies, maples, and many herbaceous perennials and annuals. Flatid planthoppers have been reported to cause the terminals of small plants to droop due to their feeding. Females inserting large numbers of eggs into the stems of plants may also cause small branches or seedlings to wither. However, in general, flatid planthoppers cause very little injury to plants in our gardens and the use of insecticides to eliminate them is unwarranted. With the arrival of hot, humid, dog-days of summer, their holiday flocking seems to be a welcome reminder of cooler times to come.  

Acknowledgements       

The fact-filled articles “Histories of Anormenis septentrionalis, Metcalfa pruinosa, and Ormenoides venusta with Descriptions of Immature Stages” by S. W. Wilson and J. E. McPherson, and “Planthoppers” by Steven Frank, James Baker, and Stephen Bambara were used to prepare this episode.

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Feasting and frolicking spell trouble when Japanese beetles, Popillia japonica, arrive

 

Volatile chemicals released by damaged leaves and sex pheromones released by female Japanese beetles result in a rambunctious feeding frenzy and love fest on infested plants.

 

Lindens, a favorite host for Japanese beetles, can be severely damaged when beetles are numerous.

While enjoying the flower garden last week, my reverie was disturbed by the appearance of some very raggedy leaves on the zinnias. A closer inspection quickly revealed the culprit behind this assault, dastardly Japanese beetles. Historically, late June and early July are the months of misery when Japanese beetles abound, and these mischief makers have arrived right on schedule. The first detection of Japanese beetle in the United States occurred in 1916 in a plant nursery in New Jersey. They likely arrived with plant material imported from Asia, as grubs in the soil or as adult stowaways in the foliage of plants. Japanese beetles are extreme foodies with more than 400 kinds of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants on the menu. Among their favorites are sassafras, lindens, maples, apples, cherries, grapes, roses, and apparently, my zinnias. In a series of studies, entomologist Dan Potter and his colleagues in Kentucky found that roses with large, light colored blossoms, particularly yellow or white, were more attractive to Japanese beetles than varieties with smaller, darker blossoms of red or orange. In the tree realm, researchers noted that lindens with densely hairy leaves were less preferred than scantily haired varieties. Maples with purple or deep red leaves were preferred over those with green leaves.

Traps collect large numbers of Japanese beetle but plants near traps may be damaged when beetles assemble nearby. Place traps away from plants you want to protect.

You may have noticed that Japanese beetles often attack one plant severely, leaving a lucky neighbor relatively unscathed. When these invaders initiate an attack, specific odors are released by the damaged plant. These send a signal to other beetles, something like “good food, eat here.” This foliar attractant is compounded when female beetles release a chemical message called a sex pheromone. The sex pheromone says to the guy beetles, “how’d you like to spend a little time with me?” Not surprisingly, a rambunctious love fest and feeding frenzy erupt, and in the process, your plant takes a beating. Clever chemists have been able to synthesize both a floral attractant released by plants and the Japanese beetle sex pheromone and place them in a lure. Attach the lure to a few plastic fins for beetles to bump into, and a funnel to direct them into a plastic bag and, voilà, you have a Japanese beetle trap.

Japanese beetle traps capture beetles by the thousands, but traps may not be all that effective in protecting your plants. Plants near the traps may actually sustain more damage as beetles lured to the vicinity mill around awaiting their turn to hit the fins and be captured. It is best to place these traps far away from valued plants you want to protect. Japanese beetles lay their eggs in soil, so if adult beetles are a chronic problem in your garden or landscape, the best way to get relief may be to reduce the numbers breeding in your lawn, especially if you have irrigated turf. One promising “organic” approach is to apply insect pathogenic nematodes, tiny roundworms that attack and kill beetle grubs. Nematodes enter the grub and release a lethal bacterium. There are many different species and strains of nematodes. Dave Shetlar of the Ohio State University suggests that products containing strains of Steinernema carpocapsae nematodes are a bit less effective against beetle grubs than species in the clan named Heterorhabditis. If you go the nematode route, you must wait to make an application until late July or August when grubs are in the soil. A second formulated microbial insecticide that shows promise is Bacillus thuringiensis galleriae, which has been demonstrated to reduce feeding by adult beetles when applied to foliage.

Larvae of many species of scarabs, including Japanese beetles, are called white grubs. They damage roots of plants.

There are several potent soil insecticides that can be applied in late July through August that are very effective in killing tiny grubs as they hatch from eggs and feed near the soil surface. If you opt for the synthetic chemical route, choose wisely. We now know that at least one class of insecticides called neonicotinoids applied to turf grass can be taken up by clover growing in turf. Bumble bees foraging in this clover may be harmed. However, a newer class of insecticides called the anthranilic diamides present far fewer risks to our hard-working pollinators. When using any insecticide, always read the label and follow the directions carefully and pay particular attention to warnings pertaining to beneficial insects like bees.

Mammals including skunks and raccoons damage lawns as they hunt for white grubs of Japanese beetles and other scarabs in soil.

Many insecticides are available to control adult Japanese beetles on plants, but multiple applications may be necessary if you cannot tolerate damage by these critters. As with turf applications, be cognizant of beneficial insects foraging on plants. Read and follow label precautions. Another nifty way to help reduce damage is to simply knock the beetles from your plants into a bucket of soapy water. If you do this early in the season of evil when beetles first arrive, you may reduce the chemical cues that incite a feeding frenzy. Beetle removal may be most successful in early morning or late evening when beetles are less active. There is a strange kind of justice in drowning this pest in soapy water or capturing them in traps. Save the bodies of the little rascals captured in your bucket or trap. The earthly remains of so many beetles make a wonderful addition to a compost pile that can later be used to nourish your garden.

The 4th of July heralds the arrival of Japanese beetles and flowering plants are now under attack. Volatiles from leaves shredded by beetles and sex pheromones released by females bring more beetles and damage to infested plants. Knocking beetles into a jar of soapy water when just a few are on a plant may derail the feasting and love fest. Japanese beetles are poor swimmers and after they expire, I add their tiny bodies to my compost. From soil they came, to soil they return.

Acknowledgements

Excellent references including “Assessing Insecticide Hazard to Bumble Bees Foraging on Flowering Weeds in Treated Lawns” by Jonathan L. Larson, Carl T. Redmond, and Daniel A. Potter and “Strengths and limitations of Bacillus thuringiensis galleriae for managing Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) adults and grubs with caveats for cross-order activity to monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) larvae” by Carl T. Redmond, Lindsey Wallis, Matthew Geis, R. Chris Williamson, and Daniel A. Potter were used to prepare this episode. Our thanks to Dr. Shrewsbury for assistance in sending beetles to a better place.

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How to Keep Bats Out of the Attic

Keep Bats Away From Your Home Using These Helpful Tips

Bats can be beneficial and even likable creatures to have around — but not when they make their home in your attic. All too often, people fear and misunderstand these flying mammals, which can improve outdoor spaces by eating large volumes of insects. In fact, some can eat 1,000 or more per hour 

Having the winged critter nearby might be helpful, but bats aren’t creatures you want to invite indoors as waste materials that collect on surfaces can spread diseases and cause damage.  

Professionals can help you create a plan to prevent bats from getting into your home. Catseye Pest Control also has a comprehensive solution to remove them in addition to keeping them out of the attic and other interior spaces.

Reasons to Keep Bats Out of the Attic

Bat droppings, commonly referred to as guano, serve as an ideal environment for the growth of the fungus responsible for Histoplasmosis, a respiratory disease spread through airborne spores.  

For some people, breathing in these microscopic spores doesn’t cause any problems. However, others may develop a fever and/or cough. Still others can develop severe infections and compromised immune systems. 

Bats also potentially carry rabies. In fact, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies bats as the number one cause of rabies-related deaths among Americans. 

Aside from the potential illnesses that bats can cause, accumulations of bat guano and urine may cause unpleasant odors. Even worse, those droppings can compromise sheet rock, ceilings, insulation, and building structures.  

Bats also tend to scratch their way into insulation in search of warmth, and they can chew on wires and walls, resulting in cosmetic and structural damage.

Signs Bats May Be in the Attic

Sights, smells, and sounds are likely the biggest signs that warn homeowners or business owners of the presence of bats. For example, piles of droppings found near the entrance of the attic or urine stains on insulation.  

It is also possible to notice strong smells, particularly those caused by the ammonia in bat urine. Noises like squeaking and scratching can also be a telltale sign.  

little brown bat with its mouth open in a blue-gloved hand, blurred dark background

Bat Species that Might Move into Your Attic

Curious about the bat species that live in our region? A variety of bat species live in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Some common species found in the area include the following: 

  • Big brown bats usually live in caves but also enjoy warm, dry areas like attics, crawlspaces, and chimneys. They have fur in varying shades of brown and feature black markings on their faces, wings, and ears. The impressive wingspan averages 13 to 16 inches. 
  • Little brown bats are often found in attics, under floorboards, and in soffits. They are tiny — with bodies roughly the size of an adult’s thumb. Little brown bats typically have brown fur and dark spots on their upper bodies and have a wingspan that stretches approximately 11 inches. 
  • Eastern small-footed bats are an endangered species, which means they must be carefully removed by a reputable pest and nuisance wildlife management company — like Catseye. These bats have tiny back feet that measure seven to eight millimeters in length. They have a characteristic black mask, black ears, and black wings. 
  • Indiana bats are common throughout the East and are known for roosting in colonies. They have dark gray or brown fur that looks similar to brown bats. Their small bodies measure between two and four inches long but the wingspan ranges from nine to 11 inches. 

Tips to Keep Bats Out of Your Attic

One of the best ways to keep bats out of the attic is to identify the areas being used as entrances. Points of entry can include damaged areas of a roofline, gable vents, or gaps in siding. 

Bats like to nest in dark spots that allow them to come and go easily for their nightly feedings. Because the critter is flexible and small, most species can enter homes through openings that are as small as the diameter of a dime. 

Not only can bats fit through open vents, but they can also enter through tiny cracks and crevices to roost inside your home where it’s dry and warm. These tips can provide added peace of mind and help to keep the attic bat-free:  

  • Cover vents: Don’t completely seal vents; instead, use screening to allow proper ventilation while keeping bats and other pests out. 
  • Cap the chimneys: Your chimney provides an easy entry point for bats. Cover it with screening or install stainless steel chimney caps with quarter-inch wire mesh to keep bats out.  
  • Check windows and doors: Ensure that there aren’t any holes, gaps, or improperly fitted screens — all of which can allow bats entry into your home. Although it is rare for a bat to enter a structure through an open window or door. 
  • Seal points of entry: Seal holes around the exterior of the home and around doors and windows with weatherproofing strips, silicone, caulk, or foam insulation to provide a barrier to keep bats out. 
  • Change your outdoor lighting: Switch from incandescent outdoor light bulbs to yellow bulbs or bulbs that repel bugs, which are bats’ primary food source. 

Call Catseye for Professional Removal & Exclusion Services

Bats are nocturnal and exit their homes just before nightfall to locate insects to feed upon. If you think there are bats in the attic of your home, try walking around the exterior at night to watch for bats to locate exit points.  

These openings will need to be properly sealed to prevent further intrusions — after making sure the bats are safely removed, of course.  

Catseye’s comprehensive bat removal program does more than just evict these creatures. Our expert technicians conduct multiple visits to remove them permanently and humanely. 

Our exclusion team will seal up potential points of entry to the home and install a one-way door. The door is designed to allow bats to leave the home but prevents them from reentering. 

Once the bats are no longer occupying the home, the one-way door is removed, and the hole is sealed. Then we clean up the bat droppings and urine and disinfect the area. 

Contact us today to learn more about our nuisance wildlife removal and pest control services or to schedule a free inspection. 

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Tick-Borne Virus Kills Connecticut Resident

Learn More About the Powassan Tick-Borne Virus, Including Which Tick Can Spread the Disease & How to Protect Yourself 

The Powassan virus is rare, but it can be deadly, and cases seem to be on the rise. From 1958 until 1998, only 27 cases were reported around the world, but in the last two decades, the number of cases increased by more than 600%.  

Recently, there has been an upward trend of tick-borne diseases throughout the Northeast and many other places that are prone to ticks.  

Recent news revealed that the Powassan virus has now claimed its second victim in as many months this year. The first Powassan-related casualty of 2022 occurred during the month of April in Maine. Just one month later, a Connecticut woman in her 90s also died from the Powassan virus. 

In the most recent case, the woman became ill at the beginning of May. When she went to the hospital, she had a fever, chills, chest pain, nausea, and an altered mental status. Two weeks before experiencing symptoms, she was bitten by a tick.   

These occurrences emphasize the importance of tick prevention. But before exploring ways to prevent tick bites, let’s take a closer look at what Powassan is and the steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. 

What is the Powassan Tick Virus?

Until recently, the Powassan virus was among the lesser-known tick-borne viruses. However, the virus is steadily becoming more common in areas like Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. It spreads to humans after they are bitten by infected ticks.  

Ticks contract the virus after feeding on infected rodents, including mice, squirrels, and groundhogs. The most common ticks responsible for transmission of the Powassan virus are the black-legged or deer tick, which are known to feed on deer, white-footed mice, and humans.  

Many people who get infected with the Powassan virus experience no symptoms at all. Others typically feel ill within one to four weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. The virus can cause inflammation in the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of the Powassan virus can include: 

  • Headache 
  • Fever 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Weakness and confusion
  • Trouble moving around; lack of coordination 
  • Difficulty speaking 
  • Seizures 

For those with severe forms of Powassan disease, death can also occur. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one out of every 10 patients with severe Powassan dies.  

How to Protect Yourself 

The best form of protection against tick-borne illnesses is prevention. Tick viruses are always a concern, but especially as the temperatures rise and we spend more time outdoors.  

To prevent tick bites, it helps to be aware of where the pests like to hang out. These tiny bloodsuckers prefer wooded areas, brush, and tall grass. You could be exposed while hiking, walking, gardening — essentially any outdoor activity during the warmer months.  

After spending time outside, do a thorough check to look for ticks before the pest has a chance to settle in and bite.  

To check for ticks, thoroughly examine clothing, shoes, and exposed areas of the body. Ideally, disrobe and use a mirror to check all areas of skin. Ticks can bite anywhere, but be sure to pay special attention to certain areas, including: 

  • Underarms 
  • Behind the knees 
  • In and around the hair 
  • Inside and around the ears 
  • Inside the belly button 
  • Head and neck 
  • Groin  

Unlike Lyme disease, Powassan transmission happens quickly, typically within minutes of getting bitten. That’s why bite prevention is particularly important for Powassan, although it’s always good practice to avoid ticks of all types. 

Keep ticks away by treating gear and clothing with products that contain 0.5% permethrin, which has the protective power that stays strong even through multiple washings. Use insect repellents that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus, DEET, or another option approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  

Lastly, don’t forget that it’s possible to get a tick bite in your own backyard. Keeping grass and shrubs neatly trimmed, cleaning up debris, and getting help from professionals can serve as a shield of protection to restore your peace of mind. 

How Professional Tick Control Can Help

Powassan isn’t the only tick virus to consider in 2022. Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis are a few other tick-borne viruses carried by the black-legged tick. Catseye Pest Control offers a comprehensive Tick Control Program that eliminates the threat of ticks and helps to defend the property throughout the warmer months.  

Service begins with a thorough inspection of the property to determine the best course of action. Based on those findings, Catseye creates a customized treatment plan to eliminate the threat of ticks and a strategy to prevent tick infestations in the future. 

Ready to get started? Contact Catseye today to learn more about how professional tick control can help protect your property by starting with a free inspection.  

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Small, strange bugs with very long legs: Stilt bugs, Berytidae

 

A stilt bug ponders its next move at the edge of a zinnia leaf. Credit: Paula Shrewsbury, UMD

 

Amazingly long legs transport the stilt bug across a hairy leaf surface. Note its super long antennae.

Last week we witnessed the life and death struggle of thrips as they dodged fierce minute pirate bugs in cone flowers. Just down the flower bed from the cone flowers, a patch of zinnias sported a wide array of six-legged visitors, Japanese beetles, planthoppers, and a gangly member of the true bug clan, a heteropteran known as a stilt bug. In a previous episode we met fast moving stilt-legged flies snacking on tidbits of cheese and pretending they were ants on leaves in a rainforest. This week’s long-legged wonders seem to be mostly stuck in slow motion as they amble across vegetation in search of a meal or a mate. One common species here in the DMV, Jalysus wickhami, dines on more than four dozen species of plants in some seventeen plant families, most of which have been described as “glandular-hairy.” Due to their behavior of jabbing their pointy beaks into stems, flowers, and fruits to suck out nutritious cell contents, they can be severe pests of tomatoes grown outdoors and in hot-houses. When fed upon by stilt bugs, tomato flowers and stems can turn black and die. Feeding punctures can distort and discolor tomatoes making them unsalable.

This mating pair of stilt bugs certainly is not camera shy. The bug on the right is the female; the male is on the left. Watch as the female multitasks, grooming her legs while engaged with her mate. She collects a drop of fluid from her beak with her middle and hind legs and appears to apply it the surface of her hind leg. How curious is that?

A second species of stilt bug common in our region, Jalysus spinosus, is more of a specialist, feeding and breeding primarily on grasses in the genus Panicum. Ah, but like many of us, while the vegan diet may be a healthy one, every now and then a little meat doesn’t hurt, and stilt bugs can be important predators of insect pests, consuming eggs of hornworms, aphids and other small soft-bodied pests in a variety of crops. Nymphs and adults of J. wickhami have been raised and released in tobacco fields to augment activities of predatory insects already present in the crop. In addition to the two Jalysus species mentioned above, the Maryland Diversity Project lists Berytinus minor and Neoneides muticus as residents of our region. So, next time you visit your gardens and flower beds, keep a sharp eye out for these interesting tiny omnivores with unusually long legs.

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks Dr. Shrewsbury for her image of a stilt bug. Details of the life history and ecology of stilt bugs were extracted from these interesting references: “Jalysus spinosus and J. wickhami: Taxonomic Clarification, Review of Host Plants and Distribution, and Keys to Adults and 5th Instars” by A. G. Wheeler and Thomas Henry, “Spined Stilt Bug” by Michael Skvarla, and “Spined Stilt Bug in Tobacco” by Peter Nelson and Hannah Burrack.

This bevy of stilt bug nymphs are “beaks in” on this tender flower stem.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Rid of Mosquito Hangout Spots

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

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

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

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

Plant Natural Repellents

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

A few plants to consider include:

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

Light it Up

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

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

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

Install a Bat House

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

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

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

Keep it Moving

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

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

Arm Your Guests

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

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

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

closeup of a mosquito biting the surface of skin

Get Professional Pest Control Services for Mosquito Control

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

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

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

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

This preventative service also helps to rid properties of ticks.

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

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

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