Driving Rain Leads to Rodents Under the Hood

July 30th, 2015

Driving Rain Leads to Rodents Under the Hood

It takes unusual weather conditions, but enough rain will motivate some rodents to relocate – to your car.  They probably prefer a nice warm, dry back yard hole but when that’s not available, under the hood of a car is a pretty good option.

Residents in rain-soaked Missouri have recently discovered just how much of a problem a rodent can cause.  They set up house quickly and will chew on wires as food.  As any car owner whose repaired electrical damage knows, fixing such damage is not cheap.

Pest control experts say this is a rare phenomenon, but when it does happen the damage can occur swiftly.

One resident of Springfield was shocked to discover two squirrels nesting comfortably under his hood.

The total cost to repair the wiring, O2 sensor, and ignition packs came to $700.  A comprehensive insurance package usually covers such damage, but not always.

Charlie McDonald, the squirrels’ victim, noted that he does not neglect his vehicle, but works on it regularly.  When squirrels nest, however, they can be very efficient.

Pest control experts note that some wiring bundles use a soy-based coating, which can make chewing on them hard to resist.

Canola Plants Threatened by Beetle

July 29th, 2015

Canola Plants Threatened by Beetle

The flea beetle can be hard to manage, say farm researchers and agricultural scientists.  Though helpful as biological control for spurge weeds, the beetle also likes to dine on an important crop in Montana and North Dakota in high demand for its oil:  canola.

The scourge of flea beetles comes in cycles, and this year most areas haven’t reached the 15-20 percent threshold of infestation when pesticides are recommended.  At this stage, a few fields do have over 15 percent infestation.

The beetles can reduce yields by eating the canola plant leaves, but their greater threat is in chewing on the root and killing the plant.  Because of a cool, wet spring their numbers are well controlled, but on replanting the warmer weather has attracted more of them.

The unusually moist spring also means the plants themselves have fewer defenses, however, because they are growing later after soil and air temperatures rise.  Since canola hybrids are often exposed to a seed treatment, young plants are protected up the four-leaf stage.  But in years where the plant’s growth is slowed due to climate, the insecticide isn’t taken up as quickly.

Seed treatments only project for the first 25 days, at which point the flea beetle is no longer dissuaded.

New York Homeowner Finds Bounty of Bees

July 28th, 2015


New York Homeowner Finds Bounty of Bees

A woman and her husband from Walkill discovered last week that their home improvement project may take a little longer than expected.  Before investing in new siding, about a million bees need to be evicted.

The couple had some idea they were living with a bee colony, because they’d seen evidence while removing trees days earlier.  Yet in their wildest imagination, they could not have expected the extent of bees they later found.

The man, whose wife is allergic to bees, immediately stopped the yardwork and called a local beekeeper.

When professionals with bee removal experience arrived and began pulling off the house’s old siding, they found hundreds of thousands of insects packed together, nesting between the siding and the house’s brick exterior.

The Witschard brothers, whose father owns a few beekeeping farms in the area, came in to help.  They estimated that the removal would take at least two weeks due to the size of the colony.

The brothers explained the process for relocating the bees.

First, they cut out the honeycombs, then place them into stacking boxes with sliding compartments, along with “as many bees as will follow the queen,” said Marcel Witschard, Jr.

There are compartments for the pollen the bees have already gathered, and a sequestered area for the brood plus eggs. The honey is collected separately in pails. To help remove reluctant bees, the brothers use a specially designed, padded vacuum cleaner.

Tree Caterpillars Feed But Rarely Kill

July 27th, 2015

Tree Caterpillars Feed But Rarely Kill

They take over the vertices or “crotches” of trees, nesting and spinning large webs in the summer.  Caterpillars breed by the thousands in their protective spun home, and are spinning temporary homes in trees across the south this summer.

Tent caterpillars, one of the more common species that create a cocoon-like web, are more of a nuisance than a genuine threat to the tree.   They will defoliate by eating the nearby leaves, but their main purpose is to provide a safe home for their young.

The web itself – also spun by the common webworm – is a skillfully crafted structured designed to hold a host of young while keeping temperatures and sunlight just right.  The nearly opaque web is able to regulate sunlight and heat in such a way as to foster molting and metamorphosis.

To minimize infestations of these creatures, a variety of techniques can be used.  Tree branches can be pruned, and the webs removed. Using water to simply expel the web also works. For younger trees, spraying is appropriate if there is an extensive infestation – but remember to keep the amount applied under control and read cautionary directions and following them carefully.

Beetles Chasing Canadian Loggers Down South

July 24th, 2015

Beetles Chasing Canadian Loggers Down South

It’s hard to imagine Canada running out of trees, but conditions in some provinces have gotten so bad that loggers are seeking new territory.  The deforestation of Canada is occurring due to a tiny beetle, black as pitch and the size of a grain of rice.  This demon tree-killer is called the mountain pine beetle.

Climate change has given free rein to the pine beetle, who is responsible for killing more than 700 million cubic meters of pine trees in British Columbia alone.

Put another way, estimates predict that 60 percent of all pine in British Columbia will be killed by the end of the decade.  As a result of this devastation, Canadian companies are scrambling for ways to remain economically viable.

The Southern U.S. is a relative boost for Canadian loggers.  It has advantages the northern territory does not, including end-use buyers who are much closer – geographically and physically – to sawmills.  Southern sawmills also focus on a different pine tree, the southern yellow pine, that grows to maturity in only 25 years.  In Canada, loggers are used to their varieties of pine taking 60 to 80 years to reach maturity.

Indiana Leads Way in Bee Preservation

July 23rd, 2015

Indiana Leads Way in Bee Preservation

The Midwest has always been called the “bread basket” of the United States, and for good reason.  Not only wheat and corn grow here but large quantities of other staples come from this region.  And a big population of farmers means plenty of knowledge of proper land use.

The Natural Resources of Indiana is working with farm-conscious residents and  taking the threat to pollinators seriously.  They are set to begin drafting a response to bee die-off globally and locally.

Chief Apiary Inspector for the state’s Department of Natural Resources, Kathleen Prough, is on the front lines of bee conservation.  She was called out recently to literally save a few bees who were shipped to the Indiannapolis post office, but escaped their box.

Prough reminded rattled postal workers that the bees were under more threat from them than the other way around.  She calmed both bees and humans, and delivered the bees safely to their destination.

A calm viewpoint is what’s needed as the state prepares to commission work on a statewide pollinator protection plan.  Estimates of productivity show that about $15 billion in crops are the result of bee pollination efforts.

Bug Pheromones – Alternative to Standard Pest Control for Farmers?

July 22nd, 2015

Bug Pheromones – Alternative to Standard Pest Control for Farmers?

Gardeners and farmers alike are always searching for ways to reduce pesticide use.  It’s expensive, sometimes toxic, and adds time to the planting process.  But what’s a dedicated gardener to do when faced with crop-destroying pests?

It turns out that sometimes you can fight fire with fire, or bugs with bugs in this case.  Insect pheromones – the vital chemical that attracts mates – may be the next big thing in natural insecticide.

A pheromone is actually only scent-like, with a very subtle smell, a communication device used by females to attract males.  Much like a little black dress, the pheromone sends a very specific message.

When farmers spray pheromones up into the air, they create a frenzy of miscommunication – males can’t find their females.  No mating equals no baby bugs to crawl over crops.

Pheromones have some obvious advantages – they are non-toxic and therefore easy to handle.  They are consistently effective at reducing the bug population.  And, they can be specifically targeted to one type of insect.

Best of all, because pheromones are so specific, they will kill unwanted bugs while leaving pollinators unscathed.  Bees and butterflies thrive, while leafhoppers and aphids are reduced to just a few lonely and discouraged stragglers.

Massive Harvesting of Helpful Bug Hurting Indian Farmers

July 21st, 2015

Massive Harvesting of Helpful Bug Hurting Indian Farmers

For hundreds of years Indian farmers have relied on a small red creature known as Arudra Purugulu to help keep soil free of harmful pests.  Arudra is round and bright red, somewhat resembling a tiny raspberry, and now they are being scooped up wherever they are found for shipment to a mysterious market.

The bug is commonly called a red velvet mite, and is also used in traditional (Ayurvedic) medicine to treat paralysis.  They are also considered aphrodisiacs, yet until recently their main purpose was to maintain soil fertility and control pests.

Speculation is that foreign markets may be using them for aphrodisiac qualities, but the high demand is not known.  For laborers who earn so little from crops, it has created an opportunity to instead search the fields for the bugs.

Most farmers are concerned about this trend as they need the bugs to bring healthy crops to market.  Agents of what is called “the mafia” have taken up residence in villages to supervise the operations of collecting the bugs, paying handsomely to laborers who are lining up for the lucrative work.

Farmers have appealed to the government to intervene with the criminal element that is taking over their fields.

California Adds New Species of Firefly

July 20th, 2015

California Adds New Species of Firefly

At University of California Riverside, an undergraduate student stumbled upon a bug he didn’t recognize to add to his end-of-the-semester bug collection.  The little beetle was about a half centimeter long, and a flying type, picked up near Topanga.

The student wasn’t quite sure how to identify it, so he brought it to UCRs museum specialist, Doug Yanega.

“He wasn’t 100 percent certain it was a firefly, and brought it to me for confirmation,” Yanega said. “I know the local fauna well enough that within minutes I was able to tell him he had found something entirely new to science. I don’t think I’ve seen a happier student in my life.”

That joyful undergraduate’s name is Joshua Oliva, and he plans to make a career out of entomology.

Although rare in western states, some fireflies do make California home.  They hide out in limited and isolated patches, usually near springs or creeks.

While discovering a new insect species is always exciting, it is not as uncommon as might be assumed by the general public.  UC Riverside has been collecting insects for the past century, and has amassed a collection of four million bugs.

Yanega pointed out, “While it’s unusual for an undergraduate student to find a new species, this has happened before, and shows nicely how a little careful effort can pay off in a big way.”

The new firefly has not yet gotten a scientific name, and Yanega noted the process of naming could take several years.

Pollinator Week: A How-To Guide

July 17th, 2015

Pollinator Week: A How-To Guide

The plight of bumble bees has brought awareness about all pollinating creatures and led the way to creation of National Pollinator Week (June 15-23rd).  If you want to become part of the solution and support birds, bees, butterflies and bats – here’s how.

Get Educated

Find a resource in your community, such as an outdoor museum or gardening club, and take a tour or join up.  You will be positively stunned at the free opportunities to learn about pollinating beasts.  There is even an app for iPhone or Android to give you the basics in identifying pollinators.


Start Your Own Garden

Even a small garden in rooftop or tiny backyard will help pollinators, who are always seeking new flowers for food.  Container gardening is a good bet, and can  be done almost anywhere you have some outdoor space.  All it takes it soil, seeds, a few tools, and consistent water.

Add to Your Garden


Plant a variety of flowers, and go for the simple kinds.  If the package says “cottage” or “old-fashioned” that is what you want to buy.  Avoid seeds that advertise “new” or “improved” features.  Always make sure there is welcoming water source in your garden (but change frequently to keep mosquitoes at bay).

Join a National Pollinator Event

Become an activist by meeting up with other supporters of this movement.  Visit the National Pollinator Week even page and find a community even near you.