New York State IPM Program

June 29, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Slugs in Your Garden? Here’s What to Do (or Not)

Slugs in Your Garden? Here’s What to Do (or Not)

Now maybe you’re in the 2016 drought zone in upstate New York. If so, slugs aren’t quite the hassle they were just a year ago. But doubtless you’ve been gardening long enough to know what a bad slug year is like. And should the weather turn drenchingly wet way longer than you need it to be, here’s what to know and what to do.

Good news first. Yes, your posies can be slug-free, mostly; you just have to plant things slugs don’t care for. Look online: you’ll find lists aplenty online with plenty of options, along with warnings about what plants to avoid. Hosta-lovers, you can even grow blue hostas — their waxy, puckered leaves are remarkably slug-resistant. Note we said “resistant.” You’ll still want to keep an eye on them.

Which goes for most posies in the plant lists, actually. Of course, there’s no point posting your lists for slugs. They’d just ignore them. If they do a number on your anemones or ignore your zinnias, chalk it up to their obstinate disregard.

Serious about your veggies? You’ve got a harder row to hoe. Onions, leeks, chives and a few herbs generally get by just fine. But from arugula to zucchini, most everything else is prey.

Slugs get out and about on damp days, but the rest of the time they do their dirty work from dusk to dawn. You could wake up to find all your baby lettuce and carrots gone. Even sturdy, well-grown plants — broccoli, say, or beans — could be shot full of holes or stripped to the bone.

Scouting is a key IPM tactic, and here’s how:

  • dig holes about 4 inches across and 6 inches deep
  • cover with asphalt shingles wrapped in aluminum foil. The reflective surface keeps the hole dark, cool, and moist — an ideal slug hidey-hole
  • if you find more than five slugs in a hole, consider your options

Options? Slugs like to hang out with their buddies — it’s called “homing behavior.” Knowing that, one option could be as simple as placing damp boards in the aisles between rows. Tip those boards up, stomp on that little slug community (you’re wearing your gardening boots, right?) … they’re gone.

How else to cope? Acquaint yourself with your support team; that is, the critters who are on your side. (In IPM we call them biocontrols) These include slug predators like rove or ground beetles, centipedes, harvestmen (aka daddy longlegs, though granted some species are rather stout), firefly larvae (aka glow worms), soldier beetle larvae, birds, and frogs.

In fact, there’s even a critter called the “slug eater.” Hey, you can even watch one eating a slug.

(Photo credits left to right: pixabay 54479_640; Phillip-SITNAM7; Seth Ausubel.)

More biocontrols? Ducks (some people recommend Indian Runner ducks) and chickens can help too. A side benefit to chickens — as they scratch around for those tidbits of protein (aka bugs and slugs), their sharp toenails do a lovely job of tilling beds and exposing seedling weeds. But save poultry for before planting or after harvest. Meanwhile, if you’ve got a well-fenced garden and your birds have free range around the perimeter, they could intercept inward-bound pests.

Homegrown remedies are a dime a dozen. Some work, done right. (Skip the salt.) If you found this post, most likely your search also turned up plenty of others. So we’ll stick with baits based on iron phosphate. Sluggo, Slug Magic, Escar-Go!, Worry Free … these and other brands are on your garden-store shelf. They work — if you work at it.

And bear in mind — you must read the label. (The label is the law, as they say in the trade.) Slugs do the most damage when plants are young. In fact, they’re great pre-emergence seedling killers. So start your baiting early — the “early and often” approach. No way can you put bait down once and consider your problem solved. Sure, you might (if you’re lucky) kill the majority of slugs in your garden. But you have to stay on your game. Those populations will recover as time goes by.

Keep temperature and moisture in mind when you bait. Too cold and they stay underground. Ditto with too dry. (Researchers at Oregon State suggest 42 degrees as a minimum nighttime temperature for baiting). And remember this: once your plants are well grown, slugs will happily stay in the canopy — meaning they’re less likely to come down to snack on ground-level bait. Once fall rolls around and harvest is done, bait again when temperatures and mornings are damp — helps cut down on egg-laying slugs; bait again, even later, to get the newly-hatched babes.

And now? Out to the garden to scout for slugs.

June 16, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26

Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26

Pollinator week — coming right up on June 20 — celebrates all pollinators. There’s honey bees, of course, but also native bees. In fact, NYS IPM-funded research has counted 104 known species alone in New York’s orchards. Of course, bees pollinate more than just orchards, and 450 species all told call New York home — including two on New York’s endangered species list. Collectively these bees contribute upward of $9 billion in pollination services to New York’s economy — and we’re not even talking the value of honey itself.

Gotta love bats, even if they don't pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.

Gotta love bats, even if they don’t pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.

For sure: we can’t leave out butterflies, moths, flies (think flower flies, hover flies, and more), wasps, beetles, and hummingbirds. If we lived in the Southwest, we’d be thanking bats as well.

Now, though, let’s focus on bees, since  entomologists have discovered so many cool things about how flowers attract bees  — and vice versa. Those scientists have found an array of captivating “who’d a thunk it” ways these symbiotic mutualists have evolved to do each other right.

Yet before we go down that track, a little detour — pointing you to info from NYS IPM’s “Protecting Pollinators” conference. Start with the first two: Emma Mullen’s fascinating talk and superb visuals, and Scott McArt’s tour of Cornell’s research, now in full swing.

OK, back to our symbiotic mutualists — the blossoms and the bees. Examples? Consider color. Bees don’t see red, but they do see ultraviolet. In fact, many flowers equip themselves with “come hither” ultraviolet landing platforms, landing strips, or both.

OK, bees don't see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.

OK, bees don’t see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.

And how about the electric fields wafting up from flower petals? “Everyone knows that bees buzz around flowers in their quest for nectar,” reports Marc Lallanilla at LiveScience. “But scientists have now learned that flowers are buzzing right back — with electricity.”

Gaillardia again ... with UV guidance to the goods.

Gaillardia again … with UV guidance to the goods.

Why? That electric charge advertises — you guessed it — a nectar source. On the other hand, a blossom just depleted of nectar needs to recharge its nectar reserves. So it emits a different signal, one that alerts the bees to just fly on by. After all, bees can learn. And they don’t have time to waste visiting pretty flowers if the nectar is gone. Bees might learn to ignore a flower with a reputation for false advertising (as it were) — even after the flower had topped off its tank.

And then … there’s also “buzz pollination” where flowers wait till a bee buzzes at the right frequency, then reward it with a cache of pollen. True, these flowers don’t offer free drinks (that would be nectar) as a reward. But the pollen they offer is, for some species of bees, reward enough. After all, it’s what they feed their young. Note that we said “for some species.” Bumble bees are great buzz pollinators, as are many native bees. But honey bees never learned that trick. (The science behind it ? Science Direct and Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society.)

Planting potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers (all relatives in the Solanaceae family) or pumpkins, zucchinis, and blueberries? Know that native bees are your go-to experts in buzz pollination. (If you live, say, in a high-rise with a window gardens and no access to rooftop beekeepers, you could buy a VegiBee pollinator and do it yourself.)

Of course, not every flower does any or all of the above. If you want to do right by bees, think before you plant and focus on these four things:

  • Plant for continuous bloom — pollinators don’t get down time; your garden shouldn’t either. Is your yard tiny? Try collaborating with your neighbors and think of it as yet another form of symbiotic mutualism.
  • Is this a bee-friendly flower? Example: if you love roses, plant those old-timey kinds with the simple “single” flowers. Densely clustered petals just get in the way. (While roses provide little in the way of nectar, they’ve got pollen to spare.)
  • Cluster your plants. Groups of long-blooming flowers, rather than single plants scattered here and there, offer bees a better use of their time and energy.
  • Nectar sounds juicy, but pollinators need straight-up water too. Just be sure to empty your bird feeder or plant saucer every few days. Yes, even mosquitoes pollinate flowers. But that’s not reason enough to invite them into your yard. (Float a piece of wood in the water to give bees a safe landing place.)

What to plant? Variety is the spice of life.

Trees and shrubs: oak, cherry, willow, basswood, birch, tulip poplar, crabapple, blueberry, red maple, pine, hawthorn, linden, redbud, arrowwood viburnum, chokecherry, Rhododendron canadense, spicebush, gray dogwood, serviceberry, New Jersey tea, buttonbush, summersweet, Virginia sweetspire, American witchhazel.

Perennials for sun: aster, goldenrod, sunflower, Joe Pye weed, violet (also does well in shade), hardy geranium, black-eyed Susan, iris, milkweed, penstemon, phlox, threadleaf coreopsis, bee balm, cardinal flower, mountain mint, purple coneflower, columbine, liatris.

Perennials for shade: woodland phlox, blue lobelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, indian pink, wood aster, Dutchman’s breeches, violets (also does well in sun).

Weeds: OK, so you don’t need to plant dandelions; they plant themselves. They aren’t native and some people can’t stand them. But they’re here and they provide crucial early-season food for bees.

So there you have it. You too can protect pollinators.

June 9, 2016
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on For Wasps, Prevention Is Key — and the Time Is Now

For Wasps, Prevention Is Key — and the Time Is Now

Most of the wasps we’re too familiar with (and afraid of) are sociable with their own kind, building large nests in trees or underground. The problem is when they build nests under your eaves, picnic tables, or even (if you’re a farmer) under the seat of that baler  you’re about to rev up as part of your pre-harvest maintenance check.

At a distance these wasps make great neighbors. As predators of flies, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects, they help keep their numbers in balance. And that balance, that ounce of prevention, is a core tenet of IPM. But wasps are trigger-happy, so to speak — grab that picnic table to move it out of the sun and you’ll wish you looked underneath it first.

We could talk about any wasp you want, but today we’re focusing on bald-faced hornets. Just know that you can also apply IPM’s preventive tactics — we’ll get to that later — to your standard-issue yellow jackets, paper wasps, mud daubers and honey bees.

Big nests for big bruisers: this carton nest is too close to home.

Big nests for big bruisers: this carton nest is too close to home.

Bald-faced hornets house their colonies in large, enclosed carton nests. Like most wasps (and bees) these mostly mild-mannered critters turn nasty when their nest is threatened. They don’t know you had no intention of harm. But when  bald-faced hornets live too close, yes, they represent a public health concern.

Bald-faced hornet, up close and personal. Courtesy Gary Alpert, Harvard U.

Bald-faced hornet, up close and personal. Courtesy Gary Alpert, Harvard U.

Did You Know…?

  • What’s in a name?: White-faced hornets can be easily identified by the large patch of white on their faces.
  • Family relations: This hornet is the largest yellow jacket species in North America.
  • By the numbers: A nest can contain hundreds of hornets, and most will attack to protect their queen.
  • Danger! White-faced hornets have unbarbed stingers, so they sting repeatedly. (Author’s note: Take it from me — disturb a nest and yes, you might get stung way more than you’d like.)
  • Beneficial insect: White-faced hornets are important predators of flies, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects.
Only one way out of a carton home, but space enough for a battalion of angry moths to exit. courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Only one way out of a carton home, but space enough for a battalion of angry moths to exit. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Since technically it’s still spring and a chilly May slowed them down, you still have time. Inspect (in IPM lingo, “scout”) the aforementioned eaves, picnic tables, and outdoor equipment as well as the undersides of the railing on your porch or deck; that sort of thing. You’re looking for small carton nests that look like these, only way smaller. For other stinging wasps, keep and eye out for what looks like clots of mud (nifty inside, should you get a chance to dissect one) and the clusters of open cells, rather like honeycombs, that comprise a paper-wasp nest. Basically, you want to find a nest under construction, as it were — one with just a few workers ferrying back and forth to care for their queen.

Did You Know…?

  • Last year’s empties: See a scary-big nest? Most likely it’s from last year — and wasps don’t reuse them. On the other hand, a subtle scent left behind tells other wasps that this could be a good place to build a nest of their own. So get rid of empties.

Moving quietly on a warm-enough day, stake out a claim nearby and watch the nest for 15 minutes or so. See any wasps? You’ve got an active one. No wasps? Best to scrape the old nest off so they won’t worry you later.

How to get rid of them? At dusk or dawn (dawn is better — it’s usually cooler) get out there with a tall pole, a SuperSoaker, or a hose with a good nozzle on it (you want a focused, powerful stream of water) and knock them down one at a time. Then stomp on them. Need a light? Don’t shine it right on the nest; better yet, cover your light with red cellophane. (Wasps don’t register red.)

Looking ahead — for larger nests later in summer, ask yourself if the nest is close enough to where you live, work or play to pose a significant threat. If it’s at a distance, best to leave it be.

More prevention (core IPM!): cover outdoor garbage receptacles and pick up dropped fruit under fruit-bearing trees. Integrated pest management can help to determine if a bald-face hornet nest is a danger and what to do if it should be removed.

For more information visit:

For more information from the New York State IPM Program on other stinging insects, click here.

June 2, 2016
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Pavement Ants – A Groovy Pest

Pavement Ants – A Groovy Pest

Pavement ants are one of the most common indoor ant pests in the northeastern United States. These small brown or brownish-black ants make their nests under building foundations, sidewalks, patios or rocks — leaving characteristic mounds of soil nearby. Do they come inside? Oh, yes. You’ll find them indoors when they forage for sweets and high-protein foods — mostly at night.

Pavement ants are very common and usually noticed around sidewalks and stone work. They can become indoor pests.

Pavement ants are common indoor pests. They are usually noticed around sidewalks and stone work.

Did you know …?

  • Ant Fight: In the spring, neighboring pavement ant colonies sometimes duke it out on the sidewalk, killing hundreds of their neighbors.
  • Full House: Pavement ant colonies can have as many as 10,000 workers in a single nest.
  • Follow Me! Pavement ants use a chemical or pheromone trail to recruit nest mates to a food source.

    Many ant species create nests in the ground, excavating soil in the process. Ant nests are often under or on the side of a rock, sidewalk, or cement slab, which buffer the insects against temperature extremes.

    Many ant species create nests in the ground, excavating soil in the process. Nests are often under or on sides of rocks, sidewalks, or cement slabs — which buffer them against temperature extremes.

Integrated pest management (IPM) helps prevent structural damage and home invasion. IPM steps includes ID’ing the nest, sanitation, and exclusion.

For instance, when you see tiny ants going back and forth to the same crumbs or splashed grease, clean the counter. Not only are you depriving them of food, you’re also wiping away that invisible pheromone trail.

If you put bait out, be sure you get the right one. A bait formulated for carpenter ants, for instance, won’t help you much.

Lots more helpful IPM hints here:

Oh … so what makes them groovy? A groove down the middle of their head and thorax, is all. But you’ll need a good magnifier or microscope to see it.

Got other indoor pests? Seek no further.

May 27, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on All Buzz. No Sting. Carpenter Bees Do Just What Their Name Suggests

All Buzz. No Sting. Carpenter Bees Do Just What Their Name Suggests

When winged assailants — bees, wasps, biting flies — come after us, well, we evolved to run or swat. Now, running makes sense. But swatting?

Sometimes that swatting thing can be an evolutionary dead end. Swat the wrong wasp and next thing you know the entire nest is on your case. An injured (or annoyed) wasp releases “attack pheromones” that tell its kith and kin there’s danger afoot and they’d best do

A gentle observer can get up close and personal with a male carpenter bee.

A gentle observer can get up close and personal with a male carpenter bee.

something about it, fast. If we get in the door quickly enough, too often we run for the wasp spray — not, by the way, a recommended IPM practice except in the most desperate cases. There’s simpler, more timely tricks of the trade. We suggested a couple  in our May 18 post.

Besides, not all creatures that buzz can harm us. That big bumble bee dive-bombing you — well, first off, it’s unlikely it’s a bumble bee. Bumble bees are remarkably gentle. But then, carpenter bees — bumble-bee lookalikes, only lots less furry — usually are too. (And remember: correct identification is key to good IPM.)

Females are busy making nests, but they'll rest on a gently outstretched hand.

Females are busy making nests, but they’ll rest on a gently outstretched hand.

Right now female carpenter bees are (as the saying goes) busy as bees. Whether it’s a horizontal tree branch, a cut log, your porch railing or the eaves of your home, they’re making nests for their young. If you just happen to wander too close, you might end up face to face with a large (and agitated) black and yellow bee — a mate-guarding male.

But in reality there’s nothing to fear.

Why? Because male carpenter bees have no stinger and pose no threat. So why all the fuss? The males are protecting females as they sculpt out nesting sites. If you stand by long enough, you might see several bees buzzing and tumbling with each other. You can identify the males by the pale yellow patch on their face. Two patch-faced tumbling bees — those are males in a tussle. One patch-faced, one without — those bees are mating.

These galleries go with the grain, providing shelter and provisioned with food for larvae en route to becoming adults.

These galleries go with the grain, providing shelter and provisioned with food for larvae en route to becoming adults.

And the females? They have a stinger. But they sting only at need to protect their nest. See some perfectly round holes (about a half-inch across) in your railing? These entryways make a 90-degree bend where females start creating galleries that run with the grain.

What do they eat? Nectar — which makes them useful pollinators. But these bees are smart cookies. When it comes to garden flowers like salvia and penstemon — anything with a slender, tubular flower that these big bees can’t get into — they become nectar robbers. They simply cut a slit at the base of corolla and steal the nectar, presumably leaving the pollination to somebody else.

So next time you’re hazed by a male carpenter bee, just stand quietly by (“quietly” is the operative word) and enjoy the show as they tumble about, mating with flying females or buzzing competing males. Next thing you know, they’re ignoring you entirely.

How to prevent them tunneling into your railings and eaves? After all, left untreated for years, it’s not that good for a home’s structural integrity. Seek no further for IPM’s: Get Rid of Carpenter Bees? Yes Please!

Many thanks to IPMer Matt Frye for providing the original material. Photo credits: male carpenter bee from Female carpenter bee from, Wikimedia Commons. Nesting galleries:

May 18, 2016
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Dandelions? Wasps? Mice? For Every Season There Is a Purpose (But It’s Not Always Obvious)

Dandelions? Wasps? Mice? For Every Season There Is a Purpose (But It’s Not Always Obvious)

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! — Mark Twain

For IPMers who answer homeowner questions, what many people want in spring is an answer to dandelions. These in-your-face, bright bursts of yellow are speckling lawns statewide. Homeowners that aren’t yet convinced how important these early flowers are to pollinators want them gone — now. The bad news (or good, depending on your perspective) is: it’s not the best time to do anything. The best time to control broad-leafed weeds is late summer and fall. (We covered this a couple of years ago: Dandelions – Love Them or Leave Them, but Don’t Spray Them.)

We have exactly the opposite problem with wasps and yellow jackets. Now is the time to prevent later problems because their populations are so low in spring.

Carpenter bee females create galleries or tunnels in dry wood during the spring. Bees bore into the wood, then turn 90 degrees to tunnel along the grain.

Identification is important! Is it a bee? Wasp? Bald-faced hornet? This carpenter bee will be managed much differently than other types of stinging insects.

Last autumn a homeowner had “a swarm of bees” take residence in the attic. A pest management professional removed the nest and sprayed an insecticide. When “the bees” were noted this spring, the homeowner worried that they were back for a repeat performance.

The homeowner admitted that he didn’t know if it was bees, yellow jackets, or paper wasps. Identification matters when deciding how to deal with a large active population (you can find pictures of different types of stinging insects here and a video here). But no matter what type of insect is currently scoping out his house, the IPM solution is the same. Find the opening and seal it properly. (Unless it’s a carpenter bee. For more information on them, check out our Get Rid of Carpenter Bees? Yes, Please! fact sheet.)

This soffet was likely damaged when a ladder slipped during a routine gutter cleaning.

This soffit was likely damaged when a ladder slipped during a routine gutter cleaning.

In the case of our nervous homeowner, a damaged soffit provides access for all sorts of critters. (The soffit connects the outside wall with the overhang on your roof.) Forget stinging insects. The 1/4″ to 1/2″gap is large enough for bats and mice to enter. (Mice are good climbers.) This is relatively easy to repair by reseating the soffit flush with the bottom. To learn more about sealing openings, you can’t go wrong with the NYS IPM publication Beasts Begone! A Practitioner’s Guide to IPM in Buildings.

When yellow jacket nests are this small, there is little risk in removing them manually.

When yellow jacket nests are this small, there’s little risk in removing them manually.

Along with inspecting your house and outbuildings for openings that provide access to stinging insects, take the time you’d have spent on dandelions to watch for queens starting new nests under decks and eaves. These small nests can be easily removed using a broom handle or stream of water. (We covered this last year: Inspect for Wasps and Avoid the Sting.)

Looking for yet more info on stinging insects? Seek no further: NYS IPM’s Stinging Insect IPM video and What’s Bugging You page.

May 12, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
1 Comment

April Was the Cruelest Month: Hard Freeze in Fruit Orchards

Imagine a winter rather like this past one. A winter where February behaved like March (mostly) and March impersonated April. A delight to be sure. But not for the fruit grower with an eye on the weather. Not in New York; not anywhere in the Northeast or parts of the upper Midwest, for that matter. If growers made it through that sudden plunge on Valentines Day (which wiped out the peach crop in the upper Hudson Valley and several other northeastern states), it was time to start worrying all over again. Because along came April — an ordinary April. An April with nighttime temps that dropped like a stone in a well.

"Old temp" means the lowest temperature blossoms can endure, undamaged, for 30 minutes.

“Old temp” is the lowest temperature blossoms can endure, undamaged, for 30 minutes.

Whether they grow apples or pears, cherries or blueberries, growers might (even now) have reason to worry. They’ll likely get a decent crop this year if their orchards are sited on slopes with good air drainage, just-right soils that help slow bud-break, and the moderating influence of nearby lakes or oceanfront. And then there’s the simple fact that, for apples and pears (peaches too) at least, one viable blossom per cluster is about all a tree needs for a good crop. The trees might lose 90 percent of their blossoms, but growers don’t have to go back and thin them when the trees set fruit — Mother Nature just did it for them. (This rule of thumb doesn’t work for cherry or blueberry growers, though what mix of varieties they grow can make a big difference at harvest time.)

Growers in the most vulnerable locations did any or all of these four things:

  • Checked their Extension specialists’s email posts for advice.
  • Stocked up on fuel for smudge pot or burn piles.
  • Prayed for a temperature inversion.
  • Put up wind towers or called their helicopter pilot.

The Extension specialist (in this case Peter Jentsch, senior Extension associate at Cornell’s Hudson Valley Research Lab) probably said that smudge pots or small, strategically placed fires — 40 to 60 per acre — could help, raising ground temperature just enough to squeak by. “Strategically” means on the upwind side of the block. “Squeak by” means raising ground temps by about 3°. If 3° won’t do it, he would’ve said, don’t bother. And minus a temperature inversion — a canopy of slightly warmish air blanketing the cold air below it — don’t set up the wind machine or call the helicopter pilot. All it would do is blow more frigid air around, drying out buds and growing tips.

Smudge pots, strategically placed, can help raise temperatures just enough to make a difference.

Smudge pots, strategically placed, raise temperatures just enough to make a difference.

If there’s an inversion, those heaters and small fires might also have helped. Note that Jentsch didn’t say “bonfire.” Too hot a blaze could punch through to the inversion layer, depleting it. And growers who work on a big-enough scale might have turned on their wind machines or called an experienced pilot, because when it’s not too windy it could be worth a trip to the skies. The premise: a helicopter hovering overhead pulls down that warmish air. The ‘copter’s thermometer tells where and how the temperature shifts as it gains altitude. Depending on how much it shifts and how thick the canopy is, the decision is — is it worth paying big bucks to mix up?

April is past; May has begun. Jentsch is in touch with growers and other Extension specialists all through the Hudson Valley and beyond. “It’s not all the doom and gloom,” he says. “Growers with the best sites and mix of crops seem to be doing all right.” Still, it’s sobering to think about the effect two days at the wrong time can have, Jentsch says. “For the growers who got hammered, it can throw a their livelihood into a tailspin for many months to come.”

So there you have it — an April rather like this one. Normal in every way but one — that it followed so mild a winter.

May 9, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Futuristic Billboard Kills Zika Mosquitoes

Futuristic Billboard Kills Zika Mosquitoes

Its creators call this a billboard. And while it has much in common with the classy, upscale billboards now peppering cities and towns around the world, this particular model is actually a sophisticated piece of equipment — built to attract mosquitoes from more than a mile away.

The goal: to intercept and kill mosquitoes — specifically Aedes aegypti and kin — that might otherwise be inclined to sup on us.

The other goal: to slow the spread of Zika.

Zika is a relatively new mosquito-vectored virus. It hopscotched through Africa and Asia starting in the late 1940s, seemingly to little effect. But circa 2013 something changed. Outbreaks in Southeast Asia and several Pacific islands — where in French Polynesia the virus was linked to the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome — had scientists sounding the alarm.

Then in 2015 came Brazil. Zika hit the big time and ballooned out of control. And along with the link to Guillain-Barré came a second: to microcephaly in the brains of newborns. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of newborns.

These links between mosquito-vectored Zika and severe neurological damage have yet to be proven, but few are in the mood to wait before taking action. Which is why two unlikely actors — NBS, a Brazilian ad agency, and billboard designers Posterscope (with offices in 34 countries) — collaborated on their Mosquito Killer Billboard.esquema_ENG_1000 panel 6

The billboard’s job: to attract mosquitoes with lactic acid (mimics human sweat) and CO2 (mimics human breath). The collaborators are demoing two of these billboards (the only two in existence) in Rio de Janeiro. Which means the jury is out on will they work on the scale they need to.

But the billboard’s Creative Commons license provides a blueprint that allows anyone, anywhere to replicate the work the designers put into their prototype.

Killer billboard's innards suggest DIY potential — if you have the skills.

Killer billboard’s innards suggest DIY potential — if you have the skills.

“The idea might be a bust if simply attracts mosquitoes to places where people also congregate,” says Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an entomologist and Extension specialist with Cornell University’s Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM). But strategically located on the periphery of public spaces, she suggests, “they could act as a sink that really does cut back on these unwanted visitors.”

Does this even matter to people in the Northeast? Rest assured. Aedes albopictus, aka Asian tiger mosquito, can also transmit Zika. This globe-trotting mosquito made landfall in the U.S. in 1985 and has spread widely through the Southeast, arriving in Long Island, the metro New York area New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island roughly ten years ago. Under laboratory conditions it vectors an impressive suite of diseases, though only a handful affect humans.

Still, that handful could prove worrisome if the tiger mosquito proves as competent a vector as its cousin A. aegypti. One factor in our favor is this: tiger mosquitoes like supping on birds even more than on us, which should lower their vector potential. But while both species are well adapted to urban lifestyles, A. aegypti prefers warmer zones in the southern U.S. For Zika, this makes A. albopictus the most likely vector of choice for people in more northerly areas.

Right now the best advice is to learn everything you can about Asian tiger mosquitoes and stay informed. Check the CDC’s website often and follow recommendations for keeping yourself, your loved ones, and your community safe.

April 26, 2016
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on It’s tick season. Put away the matches.

It’s tick season. Put away the matches.

It’s tick season and social media is blowing up with recommendations for removing ticks. Petroleum jelly, a hot match, twisting tools, and swirling with a cotton swab are a few on the list. They all promise to cause the tick to release with the head intact. People are very concerned about leaving the head behind.

Deer tick embedded in leg.

Deer tick embedded in leg. Photo: Wellcome Images flickr

But when it comes to ticks, the head and mouth parts are the least of your worries. Hot matches, petroleum jelly, etc. — just know that if the tick freaks out (and it will), more saliva or even what’s in its stomach — and both carry pathogens — will get into you. May the thought of a tick throwing up into your blood stream give you pause.

Though a literature review on tick removal techniques put out by the London based Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections shows the lack of research in this area, it concludes that grasping the head as close to the skin as possible using forceps or pointy tweezers and pulling straight up is the best method. This mirrors the current CDC recommendation and is what the NYS IPM Program advises.

Grasp the head as close to the skin as possible using pointy tweezers and pull straight up.

Grasp the head as close to the skin as possible using pointy tweezers and pull straight up. Photo: Fairfax County

And if you accidentally break off the head? Don’t sweat it. Just treat it like you would a splinter.

Want to see a video of the tweezer technique? Here’s a good one from the TickEncounter Resource Center.

After removing the tick, place it in a plastic bag, put the date on it, and stick it in the freezer. If you start to feel poorly in the next few weeks, take the tick with you to the doctor. Different ticks carry different diseases and knowing what species bit you can help the doctor decide on the best course of treatment.

Of course, avoiding being bitten is the best strategy of all. For more information on ticks, visit

April 20, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on BioBlitz! Earth Day Helps Teach Appreciation of Wild Things on Golf Courses

BioBlitz! Earth Day Helps Teach Appreciation of Wild Things on Golf Courses

BioBlitzLogo 2016It’s BioBlitz time. Beginning on Earth Day (Friday, April 22) and running through Migratory Bird Day (Saturday, May 24), hundreds of Audubon International-certified golf courses are hosting events for golfers, their families, their friends (kids too) — to see who can find and ID as many plants and critters (bugs and mushrooms count too) as they possibly can.

Fluffy owlets have a home at Bethpage State Park's golf course. Photo courtesy Audubon International.

Fluffy owlets have a home at Bethpage State Park’s golf course. Photo courtesy Audubon International.

In fact, any golf course in the world is welcome to participate. Most will have skilled group leaders on hand to help with ID or offer a pair of sharp eyes and ears to help people distinguish among the range of plants and animals whose homes border on fairways and roughs — especially those rare or endangered species.

And prizes? There’ll be prizes — but the biggest prize of all is engaging local interest, understanding, and support of the environmental advantages golf courses can provide to their towns.

Staghorn sumac at Bethpage provide great food reserves for migrating birds. Photo courtesy Audubon International.

Staghorn sumac at Bethpage State Park provide great winter food reserves for songbirds. Photo courtesy Audubon International.




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