New York State IPM Program

October 30, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen
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Deal with “Empty Nester” Wasps Now — Prevent Problems Next Year

Anxious about that wasp nest near the back door that you hadn’t noticed till now?

Not to worry. By this time of year, most wasp colonies have disbanded. Fertile young queens fly off to hide under tree bark or some other place to wait out the cold weather — to chill out, as it were. And all those worker wasps? Their lifespan is over and most will wander off to die, unremarked in the great scheme of things.

Those empty nests they leave behind — it’s easy to think that something live is still lurking there; that come next year, those same nests will still be that colony’s home-sweet-home. And indeed a few workers might hunker down in the nest — but rarely if ever do they survive the winter. Even if they did, they’d have no purpose in life without a queen to care for come spring. And new queens want new homes.

Those worker wasps would be goners, pure and simple.

Come spring, though, it might be tricky to tell those old nests from new. And though wasps provide clear services as predators of pesky caterpillars, still, a nest too close to home could be a hazard.

So that you don’t get unduly worried next year (and miss an easy way to tell which nests are new and worth dealing with), get rid of old nests now.

Here’s your simple, tried-and-true IPM solution. First, take a close look at the undersides of porch railings, the eaves over doors and window, the undersides of picnic benches or swing sets — you get the idea. Note where the nests are.

Super-soakers, a hose, a broomstick, a shop-vac — you get the idea. Photo credit K. English

Super-soakers, a hose, a broomstick, a shop-vac — you get the idea. Photo credit K. English

Then on some cold night take a stick, broom handle, high-pressure hose, shop vac — even your kid’s super-soaker — to every abandoned nest you can get to. Vacuum them up or knock them to the ground. Then just for good measure, stomp on them with your boots.

Why choose a cold night? Just in case, that’s why. If a few wasps remain, they need light to see by. Plus, wasps move very slowly on cold nights. But how to manage without a light that you can see by? By using red-filtered light. You might have a flashlight on hand with a red-filter lens you can screw on. Or you could just buy “light filter film” online. (Get the “orange-red” kind.) Then get out your scissors, cut a piece the size of your lens — a piece that include four half-inch tabs at each point on the compass (as it were). Next, fix the filter snugly over the lens with tape or rubber bands.

In fact, you could even use red holiday wrap. But you’d have to cut a strip wider than your flashlight (you want an inch or two to spare) and fold it end over end to make a small square about 1/8 in thick — then do the tape or rubber-band thing.

And there you have it. Now all you need is a chilly night, in abundance this time of year. And come next spring, we’ll walk you through the same process — this time, to deal with the new nests you find. (And no pesticides needed. Mostly.)

October 27, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen
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This IPM Annual Report: A Good Read — No, Make That GREAT

Annual Report. Sounds like a snoozer, doesn’t it?

But hey, ours is great. Worth bragging about, frankly. Because we tell true stories about the really cool IPM work, whether research or outreach, we do around New York — and even with partners around the Northeast and across the nation.

Stories crafted with you, the busy (but curious) reader, in mind. Seek no further: NYS IPM’s The year in review: 2013 – 2014.

The 2013-2014 NYS IPM Annual Report

The 2013-2014 NYS IPM Annual Report

What kind of work? In a nutshell: whatever will help curb both pests and pesticide use while keeping farms, homes, schools, you-name-it, as healthy and safe as can be. Stories about bed bugs. Our organic vegetable guides. How to keep adaptable pests at bay — pests that become resistant to pesticides, including Bt corn. The huge impact a tiny, newly invasive pest can pose. How a new IPM app can provide ammo in the greenhouse bug wars: an app that brings together both pest and beneficial ID, beneficial application technology, and scouting records. And many more.


Scouting Made Easy: No more carrying a clipboard through the greenhouse or looking for where you jotted down those sticky card counts. Now your smart phone or tablet puts everything you need to know in the palm of your hand. Literally. Find it at your favorite app store.


And then — take a look at our past annual reports as well.

Happy reading!

October 24, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen
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Critters Can Do — Match the Pest and What It Does

Match the critter to what it does — or in one case, what natural force could kill it. (Answer key below.)


can do

mouse 1 eats pests of crops or pollinates them — or both
cockroach 2 emerges from cocoon when it feels vibration of approaching host
aphid 3 makes tunnels within leaves
flea 4 killed by raindrops
wasp 5 squeezes through a hole the size of a dime
leaf miner 6 live weeks — perhaps months — without food
paper wasp

This wasp helps control pests while doing adjunct duty as a pollinator. Photo courtesy Ward Upham, Kansas State University,

leaf miner

This chrysanthemum leaf-miner is the larvae of a fly-family pest. Photo courtesy Central Science Laboratory, Harpenden Archive,

Answer key:


can do

mouse 5
cockroach 6
aphid 4
flea 2
wasp 1
leaf miner 3

Where the links will take you:

  1. Some large stinging wasps eat crop pests; others help pollinate them. Some do both.
  2. Yes, different researchers say different things. Just know that cockroaches can survive without food for a couple of weeks and maybe much longer. (At need, “food” could include wallpaper paste, envelope glue, and more.)
  3. “For an aphid, a raindrop is something like what a refrigerator would be like falling on us,” said researcher Jeremy McNeil, an entomologist and chemical ecologist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.
  4. Fleas can live a long time inside the cocoon they pupated in — until they sense a host nearby.
  5. Follow the link to a fun, one-minute video of a fat mouse scrambling through a tiny hole.
  6. Their name (they dig mines, as it were) gives them away — but you’d be surprised at how many different sorts of insects have larvae that burrow through something as thin as a leaf.

October 22, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen
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IPM for Wildlife — the Hotline Begins Here

Maybe it’s the chipmunk stashing a winter’s-worth of nuts and seeds in the cellar. Or momma raccoon bringing up baby in the attic (the latrine she made is conveniently nearby). Or any of 20-plus critters that set up shop where we want them least.

Nationwide, Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener volunteers are IPM-trained and equipped to field pest questions of every stripe and hue. Well — nearly. Striped cucumber beetle? No prob. But striped skunk?

rat wall

Make Prevention Your Mantra: Chipmunks and rats can get through holes the size of a quarter — and mice, a dime. Ask for a roll of galvanized hardware cloth at your local hardware or lumber store, then build a “rat wall” to protect your crawl space or cellar. Illustration by M. S. Heller, from Wildlife Damage Management for Master Gardeners

Wildlife professionals have IPM resources at their fingertips. But none of these resources are geared for nonprofessionals. Now a team of Extension educators based at Cornell and the University of Nebraska have crafted a first-time-ever guide giving master gardeners from coast to coast a wealth of carefully presented, commonsense advice they can share with those who turn to them for help. Please see online the National Wildlife Control Training Program for Master Gardeners.

October 15, 2014
by Jody
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What’s the Buzz — About Citronella Ants

In late September and early October, on warm days, you may notice a buzz in the air. This is the time of year when citronella ants swarm, and they can overwhelm a backyard with winged queens and kings looking for a mate and a new home. Citronella ants are a bit larger than pavement ants and are yellow to amber in color. Winged swarmers are larger and darker in color with smoky tinted wings. When crushed, they smell just like a citronella candle.

Citronella ants care for, or tend, root aphids.

Citronella ants care for, or tend, root aphids.

The life and habits of citronella ants aren’t well-studied, but they do have one fascinating trait. They tend herds of underground aphids, known as root aphids as if they were cattle, and harvesting sweet honeydew excreted by the sap-loving aphids. Root aphids feed on the roots of shrubs and plants, in my case flowering dogwoods. Root aphids may contribute to poor health of some plants, but they are extremely common and remain mostly undetectable beneath the soil.

Citronella ants care for, or tend, root aphids.

Citronella ants are not a home-invading species of ant, although they may accidentally fly indoors during a mating flight. Swarmers may also end up indoors if the roots of shrubs have reached a structure foundation that, due to gaps or cracks, provides an exit into the building. Either way, these ants are not household pests, preferring to remain in their own habitat, tending their herds and minding their own business.

October 9, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen
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Head Smut Alert! Check Your Corn

When you don’t see a crop disease for decades, it’s easy to forget it even existed. And then to find it at an unlikely time of year — all we can say is “Farmers and gardeners, check your crop.” Just — well, just because.

Head smut (Sphacelotheca reiliana) can be seedborne. But it’s wind and rain that normally move head smut around, dropping its spores hither and yon. (Your tillage equipment can carry it too.) It enters plants only through the soil. But — it can retain its viability in the soil for several years.

When head smut gets into the kernels, here's what you see ...

When head smut gets into the kernels, here’s what you see …

... and when head smuts gets into the tassels, you see this.

… and when head smuts gets into the tassels, you see this.

The disease begins at the seedling stage, but the symptoms are usually hard to see until head smut erupts, seemingly out of nowhere, replacing the tassels or ears with masses of dark brown fungal sports. Those spores hitchhike around on wind or rain, so they won’t damage the rest of your corn this year. But next year? Watch out!

How to cope?

  • Plant resistant hybrids (and many are)
  • Plant early: spores don’t germinate when it’s cool
  • Keep soil nutrients at optimal levels
  • Use long rotations to other crops, due to spore longevity
  • Use fungicide-treated seed

Gardeners — if you’ve got a late-season crop still awaiting harvest, check out this guide.

Common smut is more common. Nice color — but still nasty.

Common smut is more common. Nice color — but still nasty.

BTW, don’t confuse head smut with common smut (Ustilago maydis). They’re two different animals.

Many thanks to NYS IPM’s Kenneth Wise for the material for this post. Head smut photos courtesy of Jaime Cummings, Cornell University. Common smut photo courtesy of Margaret McGrath, Cornell University.

September 30, 2014
by Joellen Lampman
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Dead Grass SOS

Grub damage is showing up in New York later this year than usual, so don’t let your guard down just because it’s October. Still, how do you know if it’s grubs — or something else? One test: see if you can loosen the sod with a trowel or garden fork, then peel it up like a carpet. Monitoring, though, is your best bet, and here’s how.

Recently I visited distressed homeowners with a lawn so badly infested, I could brush the turf away with a swipe of my fingers. They didn’t want to use pesticides, but they also didn’t know the proper way — mow right, feed right, and water right — to care for their lawn. Given how sandy soil their soil was, their turf showed drought stress despite 2014’s rainy summer. And they had never fertilized.

Home lawn infested with grubs

Stressed grass is more likely to succumb to pests like white grub

My recommendations:

  • Mow Right: Raise the height of cut on the mower to its highest level and sharpen the blades regularly.
  • Feed Right: Provide a fall nitrogen fertilizer application. Conduct a soil test to determine if other nutrients are also needed.
  • Water Right: Most grasses need one to two inches of water per week. When nature does not provide, it is important to provide supplemental water.

To tackle the grub issue, research at the State University of New York at Delhi has shown that turfgrass aerators can lower grub populations, sometimes as much as 90 percent. Aeration can also help better your success with overseeding. Beneficial nematodes are another, albeit more costly, choice for grub control.

Grub infested home lawn

Grubs had so badly damaged the roots that I could brush the grass away with my fingers.

While early fall is an excellent time to overseed with a drought-resistant turfgrass, when you have bare areas like this homeowner and have access to water, overseeding now will help get a jump on the weeds and help stabilize the soil. For these homeowners’ sandy, sunny location and their need for a low-maintenance lawn, Cornell recommends either a 100% tall fescue blend seeded at a rate of 7 to 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet — or a mixture of 65% fine fescue blend, 15% perennial ryegrasses, and 20% Kentucky bluegrass blend at 4 to 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet.

For more information, check out Lawn Care Without Pesticides: How to keep your grass healthy so that you can reduce or eliminate the need for lawn chemicals.

September 23, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen
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Test Your Bed-Bug IQ

Test your bed-bug knowledge — and no peeking at the answer key.

A. Which diseases do bed bugs spread?

  1. A. Hepatitis
  2. B. AIDs
  3. C. Malaria
  4. D. None
  5. E. Meningitis

B. How long might I need to leave my house for, so bed bugs will starve?

  1. A. A week

    From egg to adult, well-fed bed bugs (top) and hungry bed bugs (bottom)

    From egg to adult, well-fed bed bugs (top) and hungry bed bugs (bottom) Photo credit Allison Taisey

  2. B. Two weeks
  3. C. A month
  4. D. Two months
  5. E. As long as five months

C. What do bites from bed bugs look (and feel) like?

  1. A. Big red welts; painfully itchy
  2. B. So tiny you hardly see them; not painful
  3. C. Always in rows on the skin; itchy
  4. D. Mosquito bites; itchy
  5. E. It depends

D. What besides blood do bed bugs feed on?

  1. A. Sawdust left by carpenter ants and other wood-feeing insects
  2. B. Nothing else
  3. C. Fibers in mattresses, sheets, and pajamas
  4. D. Skin cells cast off as we sleep
  5. E. Pet food left out overnight

Answers: A: 4. (none, though some people are allergic, developing painful, sleep-depriving skin rashes and — rarely —anaphylaxis) B: 5. (some old reports say “a year or more,” but that’s outdated info)  C: 5. (it depends; some people don’t react at all) D. 2 (nothing else — regardless what you find on some websites)


September 18, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen
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Tiny Fruit-Fly Pest Packs Big Wallop — Now on TV

It’s tiny, but it packs a wallop. That’s SWD — spotted-wing drosophila — a new invasive fruit fly that’s put down roots in nearly every berry-growing region in North America. Losses can range from “lots” to “entire crop wiped out.” In New York alone, that’s millions of dollars down the drain.

CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock reported from the field, interviewing growers and scientists who seek an answer to this menace — along with up-close-and–personal footage of the damage it wreaks.

Your kitchen-variety fruit fly likes overripe or rotting fruit. But SWD zeros in on fresh fruit. And often you can’t see the damage till after you’ve harvested your crop. Which means you can’t market it.

“Growers are losing tens of thousands of dollars on a per-farm basis,” said Cornell scientist Peter Jentsch.

September 16, 2014
by Matt Frye
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What Is That Wasp in the Window?

Those of us who work in “structural pest management” (think office buildings, schools, or homes) tend to see the same cast of characters each year: cockroaches, ants, termites and bed bugs to name a few. But every now and then an interesting critter will show up that has a neat story to tell. Enter Brachymeria fonscolombei.

The Situation. In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from homeowners who’ve found small, compact (1/8 – 1/4 inch), black and red insects in their windowsills — with no apparent explanation for their presence. Indeed, these are wasps. But unlike your garden-variety wasps, B. fonscolombei won’t sting you or your pets.

B. fonscolombei

B. fonscolombei parasitize fly larvae. Photo: M. Frye

How to ID It. Like other wasps in its family, the Chalcididae, B. fonscolombei has large, toothed, dark-red hind femurs with a white dot. And parasites they are — but not the kind that could ever make us sick.

The Story. Brachymeria fonscolombei lay their eggs in the larvae of flies — especially house, bottle, and flesh flies. Finding them in your home follows a series of rather graphic events. It goes like this: not too long ago, a small animal — a mouse, say — died within your walls. Flies attracted to the scent laid their eggs on its body. When those  eggs hatched into larvae (“maggots” in the common lingo) along came B. fonscolombei — and laid its eggs in them. After three weeks or so (or if overwintering, as much as five or six months) a single adult wasp emerged from each maggot and looked for a way to get outdoors.


Small animal carcasses are food for flies such as this green bottle fly. Photo: J. Gangloff-Kaufmann.


Flies lay eggs on food sources that develop into maggots — fly larvae. Photo: M. Frye.

What to Do. It bears repeating: Brachymeria are wasps, but they can’t sting people. To manage them, you have to find and remove their food source (that would be fly larvae) and the source’s source (some kind of decaying stuff). Examples include pet poop, old food stuck on the bottom of a garbage can — and dead animals. If that’s is a mouse or rat that dined on rat bait, then inconveniently died inside your wall, think about using snap traps instead. With snap traps, you can remove dead rodents quickly — before the flies do it for you.

Did You Know? Cluster flies are a pest in upstate New York that congregate by the scores or hundreds in attics and other protected spaces. Whereas Brachymeria is a parasite of flies, cluster flies are parasites of earthworms!