Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cicada Killer antics

        Have you ever been sitting in your back yard, around your pool, or in a park and all of a sudden you notice a B2 Stealth Bomber headed straight for your head!  Wait a minute that can’t be right, it is just a “humongous” wasp. You move, duck, just knowing at any minute it is going to pick you up and transport you back to its nest just like in some science fiction movie about giant flying insects.
        What you have just experienced is probably one of the “digger wasp” species, probably the Cicada Killer.  Males are very territorial and it is just letting you know you are in it's territory.  What is funny though is that it's bark is worse than it's bite.  Male wasps do not have stingers, so he is just putting on a good show.

Cicada Killer, alias B2 Stealth Bomber!

Male Cicada Killers do not have a stinger

Male and Female Cicada Killers
        Recently Dr. Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, was in Kingwood, TX visiting a residence with a very high number of Cicada Killers.  He videotaped what he witnessed and collected several Cicada Killer specimens (see images above).  Dr. Drees has a Landscape IPM web page with great information on integrated pest management for today's landscapes.  I urge you to bookmark this page, it is loaded with good "stuff."  
        Dr. Drees has a great write-up on “Ground-Nesting Wasps and Bees” on his site (and also information about his proposed new Olympic Sport, Cicada Killer badminton).   To read about digger wasps, control strategy, and Dr. Drees' recent Kingwood, TX visit and view his videos click on this Cicada Killer link.
        You might want to buy a badminton racket for your next "Cicada Killer" encounter, though sometimes it seems like a howitzer would be more appropriate!!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mosquito Aerial Spraying in Harris County Scheduled for August 22, 2012

        For those in Harris County that read the information on mosquito control around the home in my previous post I wanted to report that the Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services (HCPHES) Mosquito Control announced today that an aerial spray operation has been scheduled for portions of west and northwest Harris County to combat mosquito-borne disease. The aerial application will occur Wednesday evening, August 22. The plan is to spray approximately 63,000 acres by air, weather permitting.
         Please read the HCPHES press release.  They also include the map depicting the area of the county to be sprayed

Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services August 21, 2012 press release

        The release mentions that the aerial spray operation is being conducted in response to recent surveillance findings indicating that West Nile Virus (WNV) activity has increased in Harris County. To date it mentions that WNV has been confirmed in more than 300 mosquito samples and nearly 100 dead birds in Harris County.  HCPHES says that the insecticide, Dibrom (EPA-approved), that is routinely used for aerial spray operations to combat mosquito-borne disease will be used during the spray operation in Harris County. Dibrom is considered to be safe for the environment and is applied according to the label instructions.

        For additional information and/or maps of West Nile Virus activity in Harris County, visit the HCPHES web site at

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mosquitoes Around the Home

        I have a love/hate relationship with the red imported fire ant.  I am mesmerized at their aggressiveness when their mounds are disturbed.  I am amazed about how quickly they can build a mound and move the mound when aggravated, but, I am profoundly annoyed when stung.

Red Imported Fire Ant.  Image by M. Yoder

        When I think about the mosquito, only hate is there.  I hate the mosquito.  Here is a good reason to keep on hating this insect.  Over the past few weeks West Nile Virus (WNV) activity has increased throughout the State of Texas.  The mayor of Dallas has declared a state of emergency for the city to combat the spread of West Nile virus infections.  The emergency declaration by Mayor Mike Rawlings and other actions by Dallas County officials paved the way for aerial spraying to begin this week in Dallas.
        Dr. Mike Merchant, Professor and Extension Urban Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service wrote on this WNV event in the Dallas area  on his citybugs blog posted last week.  I suggest you visit his blog for his “several relatively inexpensive steps anyone can take to reduce mosquito risks around the home.”
        We in the Houston Metro area area are not immune from an outbreak such as this and should take steps to reduce mosquito populations around our homes.  Here is a map showing the WNV cases in the state as of 8/13/12.  This map was located by Dr. Sonja Swiger, Assist. Prof. & Ext. Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Stephenville, TX.   As  can be seen, most are occurring in the Dallas metroplex, but these numbers could shift so we need to be vigilent.  Thanks to Dr. Swinger for sending this map. 

WNV cases in the state of Texas as of 8/13/12

        Remember it is just not one action that will reduce mosquito levels around the house but the accumulation of many actions.  The more actions we can take to disrupt the life cycle of the mosquito, the less chance we will be bitten by one, which reduces the chance of us being exposed to one of the mosquito borne diseases.
        To benefit the readers of this posting I am reprinting from a March 2003 publication "Mosquito Control Aoround the Home" by J. A. Jackman (deceased), Professor and Extension Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and  J. K. Olson Professor of Entomology, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Department of Entomology, their suggestions for “how to reduce mosquito problems” around the home.  I added a few comments in parenthesis.  These actions are extremely effective and should be implemented to successfully combat mosquitoes throughout the year.

 Eliminate breeding sites for larvae
  • Reduce standing water that provides breeding sites. Eliminate containers such as old tires, buckets, cans and bottles that collect and hold rainwater and become good breeding sites for mosquitoes. (Turn them over if possible when not in use.) Drain water from flower pots, bird baths, rain gutters, rain barrels, pet dishes, livestock watering troughs, etc. at least once a week.
  • Empty your plastic wading pool weekly and store it indoors when not in use.
  • Fill holes or depressions in trees with sand or mortar, or drain them after each rain by drilling holes into the tree. (With the drought in our area last year many branches/limbs broke leaving gaps in tree trunks and many trees have been cut down leaving stumps that may have holes that can collect water and be a breeding habitat for the mosquito.  Also fill up depressions in your lawn with sand.)
  • Repair leaky pipes and outside faucets.
.Reduce adult mosquito populations
  • Mow tall grass or reduce the amount of brush and other foliage in your area to reduce the resting sites for adult mosquitoes.
  • For temporary relief in yards or high traffic areas, use fog treatments or surface treatments of insecticides that are labeled for that use and apply them following directions on the product label. (Adult mosquitoes like to hide in cool places during the day and the lawn and landscape areas are an ideal place for this.)
Avoid contact with mosquitoes
  • Use screening in your homes and pet kennels. Keep the screens in good repair and be sure that they seal around the frames of the door or window.
  • Schedule outdoor activities during times when mosquitoes are not active. Mosquito species that are active at dusk and dawn can often be avoided. Species that bite throughout the day are more difficult to avoid
  • Wear long, loose-fitting clothing to avoid mosquito bites. Use head nets when mosquitoes are very abundant.
  • Use repellents whenever in a mosquito infested location. Products that contain DEET have been shown to be the most reliable repellents.
  • For short-term relief in outdoor areas such as patios and picnic areas, use citronella candles or punks as a deterrent.  (Place the candles or punks in a circle around the area to be protected)
  • Protect your pets with drugs that eliminate heartworm..
 Treat larval breeding sites
  • Use Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (also known as "Bt") products such as Mosquito Dunks® to treat permanent water bodies to eliminate larvae.
  • You can use oil treatments on the surface of standing water to kill larvae. Use commercial products according to the instructions on the product label. Be aware that other organisms in the water body may be affected by the treatment.
         If you are interested in thoughts on many of the “mosquito control gimmicks” here is a good article that gives insight into many of them: Many Mosquito Controls Only Hammer Buyer's Pocketbook
        Another great joint publication on "Integrated Mosquito Management" authored by several agencies in the states of Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas can be found here: The Best Way to Control Mosquitoes.
        One last publication you may want to review can be found here:
        For a more on the mosquito life cycle here are a couple of interesting videos for your viewing pleasure:

   Mosquito laying eggs, eggs hatching

and here:

The Mosquito Life Cycle