Posted on August 15, 2011 with No Comments
JP McHale Pest Management is hosting another Insect Identification Day!
Sometimes we encounter insects and other pests which we have never seen before in or around our homes. This Saturday, August 20th from 10am-12pm is the perfect opportunity for you to bring in your samples to have our very own entomologist help you decipher which type(s) of pests you have. We are also opening our office to you for any questions you may have about other pest related issues arising in your home.
Stop by on Saturday with any questions, concerns, or bugs! Feel free to bring your children.
We hope to see there!
Posted on July 28, 2011 with 4 Comments
For some reason, the call of a cicada makes a summer day feel even hotter! What call? Well, whether you realize it or not, you know the sound to which I am referring. It starts like a revving engine and continues as a sustained shrill or buzzing noise. Produced by the vibration of membranes in the insect abdomen over a resonance chamber, sound is made by a drum-like structure and is used by males to attract mates. In morning, afternoon or evening, you can’t miss the sound of a drumming cicada!
Cicadas are much more than the soundtrack of a hot summer. They have a unique life history that is obscure and difficult to study, since development of nymphs occurs entirely underground! It all starts when an adult female cicada lays eggs in the twigs of a tree or shrub. This typically kills the growing twig, and provides an ideal incubation site for eggs. After about a month, eggs hatch and newly emerged nymphs drop to the ground where they will feed on the roots of perennial plants.
That is exactly the point when things get interesting biologically. You see, there are two major groups of cicadas differentiated by the time it takes for nymphs to develop. The first group is the dog-day cicada, making references to the time of year when adults emerge in July and August – the “dog days of summer.” These are large, green and black insects that have clear wings and make a rattling sound during flight. Nymphs of dog-day cicadas may take 2-3 years to develop, but because they exhibit overlapping generations with adults emerging every year, they are present each summer to fill their air with the mating songs. On tree trunks and other vertical surfaces, you can find the exoskeleton of the last nymphal instar: a tan shell of an insect with claws and rather large eyes. In the middle of the back is an opening from which the adult cicada crawled out, expanded its wings and flew off.
Whereas the dog-day cicada is present every year, periodical cicadas exhibit mass emergence on a cycle of every 13 or 17 years! That’s right; these black and orange insects with red eyes remain in the soil for over a decade, slowly feeding on plant roots and all emerging in May or early June of the same year. Why such a long development time and mass emergence? This life cycle is thought to provide protection from predators by making periodical cicadas an unpredictable food resource. During a mass emergence predators are overwhelmed by the abundance of cicadas, and are not capable of depleting insect numbers. This guarantees the success of the species by providing ample mating opportunities for the cicadas.
There is a predator out there that gets the phones buzzing at pest management companies around this time: the cicada killer. This insect is a solitary wasp that captures cicadas and uses them to nourish their offspring. Cicada killers are some of the largest wasp species in North America and hunt by sight. Textbook descriptions suggest that these predators capture prey in flight, something I did not believe until I saw it firsthand. As a graduate student I conducted field research on an agricultural farm in Delaware, which exhibited bare, sandy soils common of the coastal plain. Ideal habitat for cicada killers that burrow up to four feet into the ground, my plots were peppered with burrows made by the female wasps. I watched as aggressive, but stingless males flew around female burrows to either guard their mate or to find mating opportunities. It was one sunny afternoon that a cicada carelessly flew from one hedgerow to another across the field, when suddenly a cicada killer swooped in to grab/sting the insect and bring it to the ground. Paralyzed by the venom, the female would then bring the cicada back to its burrow as a feast for her offspring. The insect world is a cruel place!
What can we do to help? Cicada killers prefer open-ground with bare soil to create their burrows. At JP McHale we offer power seeding and lawn fertilization that will keep your yard healthy, yet making it inhospitable for cicada killers. If you currently have cicada killers, our pest management division has products to target these insects and alleviate your problems. Give us a call today for a pest-free lawn, and be sure to keep an ear out for cicadas this summer!
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Posted on July 1, 2011 with 2 Comments
I consider myself a fair and objective person. As a scientist I am trained to present facts devoid of personal prejudices and/or prior experience. Therefore, I cannot be held accountable for the horrible truth about deceptive females and dishonest signals I am about to tell.
How did this come to pass? Well, just the other night I was taking out the garbage when I saw a flickering across the yard. I knew it right away: fireflies! Yes, this brief account is about deceptive, exploitative female fireflies.
A little known fact is that many firefly species have their own unique pattern of flashing along with their own flight behavior. These set paths and lighting sequences are shared amongst individuals within the species, and are used as an important cue in mate finding. Starting at dusk, male fireflies soar through the air on warm summer evenings and announce their presence with a patterned flash. From a resting site on vegetation, females of the same species are genetically programmed to respond after a certain time interval with their own signal, which tells the male that she is an available match and ready to mate. Without shame, females in another genus can respond to males at the correct interval and with the right signal. If she successfully lures in a male, she will grab him, kill him and proceed to eat him! This is the story of two particular genera of fireflies called Photinus and Photuris.
You might ask yourself, how does a dishonest signal that kills an unsuspecting receiver perpetuate in the natural world? That’s a great question! A current hypothesis to explain the maintenance of this behavior is called Exploitation Theory. It goes like this: in order for males to reproduce and pass on their genes, they must respond to female signals. Males that avoid responding to female signals for “fear” of exploitative females might live longer, but would probably also ignore females of their own species and leave few or no descendants to carry on this cautious behavior. Therefore, males that respond to female signals are, on average, more successful and leave behind more offspring. As with most behaviors in the ecological world, the benefits of a behavior must outweigh the costs.
So – next time you’re out at dusk and see fireflies lighting up your yard, count the patterns you see and whether males get a date, or go out as dinner!
Fun Fact: Light production in fireflies is the result of an enzymatic reaction, and is between 92 and 100% efficient. This means that light is generated with little or no heat as a by-product. Aptly named, this “cold light” is compared to incandescent lamps, which are only about 10 % efficient due to excessive amounts of heat.
Keep any eye out for fireflies as you celebrate Independence Day this weekend!
Posted on June 30, 2011 with 2 Comments
For better or worse, as an entomologist I have a pretty high tolerance of insects in my life.
I tend to patiently watch when they land on me – unless of course they bite. I do not necessarily throw away fruits or vegetables if there is evidence of, or minor damage by insects, and I don’t kill every insect I see in my living space (within reason). During summer evenings, if a few insects slip through the screen and fly around my desk lamp, I’m okay about it. Heck, if they don’t make it out I easily add a few more specimens to my collection!
In my professional work, I am responsible for the identification of insects that are not commonly known. Unusual-looking beetles, rodent poop or tiny springtails that are difficult to see without proper magnification come my way. Occasionally I’ll receive a sample that sets off the internal voice “what the heck is this doing in a home?” or on a grouchy day, “it’s just a fly!” A few weeks ago I received a rather unique looking moth specimen. Overall somewhat pale in color, but the leading/front margins of the wings had a nice green tinge to them, and were adorned with black spots. I did not recognize this as a pest, and wondered “what the heck is this doing in a home?,” and why are they concerned, “it’s just a moth!” When I read the identification request form filled out by our technician, I started to understand the concern: the homeowner had found more than a dozen of the exact same moth species flying around one area of the house. Perhaps it is a pest? This required some digging.
Knowing the family to which this insect belongs narrowed my search to only a few hundred North American species (much preferred to the 11,500 plus known to occur in North America in the same order: Lepidoptera). I dug into the literature and several of the more useful resources to find that this insect is none other than Aphomia sociella, the bumble bee wax moth or simply the wax moth. Originally from Europe, adults of this insect fly from June through August and deposit eggs in the hives of nest-making social insects (bees and wasps). They feed as larvae on nest materials, stored food, bee/wasp waste products, and if nothing else is available they resort to feeding on the immature stages of the host insect. According to one beekeeper, the bumble bee wax moth will attack honey bee hives if the colony is stressed by varroa mites or hive beetles.
Proper pest identification goes a long way to accurately and efficiently address pest problems.
Knowing the biology and host range of this particular insect, our target changed from the moth itself to its food source. With emergence being confined to one room in the house, we search the walls for wasp or bee nests, remove these and seal access from the outside and to the inside. In addition, we may use a product with long-lasting residual activity to treat inside the wall void. Why? If a moth was able to enter the void to access a nest created by wasps that had previously entered the void… well, you see where I’m going here. There is a good chance that inside that wall void are other organisms feasting on dead wasps, trapped moths, pupal cases, etc. It is well known that carpet beetles, spider beetles and other stored product pests will find and feed upon dead insects. By treating, then sealing the area, the goal is to reduce the problems created by secondary pests.
Just another day playing entomology detective.
Posted on June 21, 2011 with No Comments
We often post articles from our entomology desk here at JP McHale Pest Management, but do you know the extent of entomology in addition to pest management? We’ve gathered an extensive list of uses, products and facts from the entomological world to demonstrate how entomology affects each of our lives.
Entomology is the study of insects, from which we benefit each and every day. Insects provide ecosystem services as they carry out their normal lives. They pollinate our crops, serve as food for ourselves and our domesticated animals, and recycle nutrients back into the earth from dead plants and animals. By feeding upon each other and on plant species, insects keep the world in balance by preventing one species from becoming too numerous.
Related to ecosystem services is the role of insects as biological control agents. Biological control is defined as the use of insects or other natural enemies to reduce problems associated with invasive species. In the pest management industry, biological control is used to target mosquitoes, Japanese beetles, and harborage areas for many fly species. Any advances made in the area of biological control can help to decrease the volumes of pesky organisms that infest our homes and office buildings.
The study of insects has led to advancements in the fields of genetic, evolutionary, molecular and developmental biology as well as embryology. Because it reproduces fast and is easy to rear in a laboratory, the fruit fly is used as a model study organism in science classes across the country to demonstrate the genetics of inheritance. In fact, it was one of the first animals to have its genome sequenced. Insects have also been studied extensively for their social behaviors, especially such insects as honey bees and ants. Understanding of these groups helps not only to understand human behavior, but also aids in the control of insects when they become pests.
Forensic entomology is an extremely useful field of study. Combining entomology with the forensic field often leads to greater clues and understanding when deaths are part of a crime. Take the Casey Anthony trial for example. A woman is being charged for 1st degree murder of her 2 year old daughter, a gruesome trial that began in 2008. Forensic entomology has been utilized throughout the trial to gain further leads in convicting 25 year old Casey Anthony for the murder of her 2 year old daughter. Clues such as time of death may be determined with the help of forensic entomology because insect succession studies are used to determine how long a body has been in the area based on the number and types of insects found around it. Terrific advances have been made in the field of science with the help of entomology studies such as this one.
Facts and Products:
If you still consider yourself to be separate from the role that insects play in our world, guess again!!
Did you know that the cocoons produced by silkworm caterpillars are used to make silk? What about the fact that honey bees contribute several billion US dollars as number one agricultural pollinators? You may have read about that in our latest honey bee blog!
Insects are also used as art and entertainment…have you ever thought about that!?
Museums often have exhibits strictly designated for insects, and butterfly houses provide entertainment for adults and children of all ages.
Entomology is the study of insects, but that definition only brushes the surface. The possibilities are endless. Whether you are interested in the science, art, or forensic background of insects, entomology covers it all and continues to broaden its uses all the time.
Posted on June 10, 2011 with 1 Comment
It seems that the hustle and bustle of our fast-paced lives often limits our perception of the natural world. Authors past and present have contemplated the observed disconnect between products we use or eat on a daily basis and their source. I was struck by this not too long ago when I was still in graduate school. On my daily walk from research plots to the office were three apple trees, the old kind that you actually had to climb to obtain that delicious mid-day snack. One afternoon I turned the corner and met a group of three boys, two on bikes and one on a skateboard. I greeted the three youths, then proceeded to climb the tree and get my apple. I didn’t see it coming, but those boys were awestruck when they saw what I had in my hands! They had so many questions, the least of which were “is that an apple?” and “can we eat one too?” For them, living in an apartment complex with their parents and little exposure to the outdoors, apples magically came from the grocery store, not from trees.
What does that have to do with urban entomology and pest management? Well, this past week we have received specimens and several calls regarding carpet beetle infestations. In homes, these insidious little critters cause considerable damage and actually affect human health. The larvae are scavengers, and feed on a variety of plant and animal products such as woolens, carpets, furs, silk, dead insects, corn, cacao, cereals and red pepper to name a few. Larvae feeding on fabrics will typically surface graze, later producing large, irregular holes that destroy valued possessions. Carpet beetles represent a health risk when the spear-headed hairs used as a physical defense by larvae irritate human skin. These hairs produce an itching sensation when contacted, and in large, untreated populations can produce irritation in the lungs when hairs are inhaled. Larvae can also burrow through packing materials when seeking stored food products, and spoil food with cast skins and hairs.
The disconnect between our lives and the natural world comes next. What were carpet beetles doing before we had carpets in our homes, and do they “occur naturally?” In nature, carpet beetles do much the same as they do in our homes. They feed on dead animals and aid the decomposition process. In fact, larvae of other species in the same insect family (Dermestidae) are used by museums to clean skin and soft tissue from animal bones, and dermestid beetles have been used in criminal cases to estimate time of death. In addition, carpet beetle adults feed on flowers, and might include pollination services on their resume. It was not until recently that I observed varied carpet beetles first hand on flowers. In a dogwood tree on our property at JP McHale Pest Management, each and every flower I investigated had a carpet beetle! After feeding, the adult beetles will be attracted by light or odor to a suitable food source for larval development, lay eggs, and that’s how an outdoor pollinator becomes an indoor pest! Truth is, just about all the organisms we consider to be pests have a place in this world: cockroaches, clothing moths, wasps, moles and spiders.
They existed before humans walked on this earth – and many of them will be here when we’re gone.
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Photo Credit 2
Posted on May 16, 2011 with 1 Comment
Alas, spring is here! After a long, cold winter followed by March and April rains, the world is turning green and flowers are blooming. Birds are singing and, oh yes, the bees (and our phones) are buzzing. For homeowners, spring is an epic battle against invading hoards of insects – armed and ready to take up residence in our homes. Lingering problems with carpet beetles and clothes moths become evident, while termites and ants swarm in huge numbers. Meanwhile, as the weather warms up outside, carpenter bees emerge from their overwintering sites and make ready for a new year.
Male Carpenter Bee; Photo Credit: Marvin Smith
The eastern carpenter bee is a robust insect measuring up to one inch in length. In coloration and size they resemble bumble bees, but have a shiny black abdomen with few yellow hairs. Carpenter bees drink nectar and are considered important pollinators of open-faced flowers. Males are aggressive toward approaching objects – including humans – and are distinguished from females by a yellow patch on their face. Unlike females, the male carpenter bee is incapable of stinging. Therefore, problems with carpenter bees are most often associated with their propensity to form nests in structural or decorative softwood around homes.
Picture Credit: FloridaBugs.cm
Female carpenter bees bore a perfectly round hole into wooden shakes, eves, porch ceilings, window sills, beams, rafters, fences doors, and lawn furniture. After excavating a depth equal to her body length, she will make a 90 degree turn and continue boring with the grain of the wood. The resulting gallery is on average four to six inches in length. Using wood shavings and oral secretions, a mated female will partition individual cells in the gallery and place an egg provisioned with a pollen/nectar pellet inside. In the summer, a new generation of bees will emerge, feed, and then overwinter in their birth nest. At no time do carpenter bees eat wood; they simply excavate tunnels for nest construction.
Because the eastern carpenter bee is faithful to its birth nest, this can result in significant damage when bees return to the same site year after year. Bees will either extend the length of current galleries, or create new ones in the same piece of wood or structure. Complex galleries can extend up to ten feet in length, and reduce the structural integrity of wood. In some cases, woodpeckers will attack infested wood to feed on the larvae. This compounds the damage imposed by bees and often requires replacement of the building material.
What can you do? Exposed bare wood, particularly in sunny areas, is susceptible to carpenter bee attack. Staining and painting will make wood less attractive to carpenter bees. If a piece of wood is continually attacked, consider installing screening or flashing on the wood, and then painting. Homeowners can also place a highly acceptable piece of bare wood somewhere on the property to attract bees and keep them away from more valuable pieces. Ideally, this wood should be placed in a sunny spot with the grain of the wood parallel to the ground.
What can we do? As certified applicators, we use low-risk products with long residual to eliminate existing bees and prevent new adults from emerging. We make recommendations about how and when to plug up holes to prevent future infestations. In collaboration with our EnviroCare division, we can preclude infestations using exclusionary tactics. Our knowledge of bee biology and behavior allows for the strategic placement of flashing to inhibit female nesting. Contact us today if you have or suspect carpenter bees!