New York State IPM Program

May 20, 2015
by Matt Frye
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Inside-Outs of Dermestid Beetles

After a long, cold winter it seems we skipped spring and jumped into summer! The days are growing longer and May’s flowers are in full bloom. Concurrent with this change in seasons is a programmed response of many insects to emerge from overwintering and start their annual cycle. In some cases, these insects have spent the winter inside buildings and homes, and are now trying to get out!

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Dermestid beetle larvae. Photo by Joseph Burger, Bugwood.org

Overwintering insects such as the brown marmorated stink bug, boxelder bug, and ladybird beetles (ladybugs) are notorious for their emergence within homes in the spring. Meanwhile, a small colorful beetle that develops in homes year-round goes largely undetected. Dermestid beetles, such as the varied carpet beetle, develop as larvae on a tremendous variety of food sources. As pantry pests, dermestid larvae may feed on spices, grains and other dried food items. As fabric pests, they may feed on natural animal fibers such as wool, cashmere, silk and leather. As decomposers, they may feed on human and pet dander, or even dead insects and animals within the walls.

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Adult beetles may go undetected because of their small size.

Adult dermestid beetles are much more refined in their food preferences. In the spring, adults may be observed on walls or windowsills attempting to get outside to feed on pollen from those flowers that are just starting to pop. Once they have fed and reproduced, beetles are attracted to come back indoors and lay eggs near food sources.

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Adult dermestid beetles are approximately 2-4 mm long (seen here next to a quarter)

If you find dermestid beetles in your home, consider revisiting your spring-cleaning! Vacuum to remove dust, dander and food spillage, especially in rooms where you see beetles. Focus on those out of sight, out of mind places such as under furniture and in corners. During the summer when windows are open, make sure that screens fit snugly in the window frame and that no tears are present. This will prevent dermestid beetles from entering the home to lay eggs.

For additional information, see our What’s Bugging You? page.

April 28, 2015
by Matt Frye
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Ground Bees Come in Peace

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A female ground bee

One of the first springtime insects that homeowners observe are ground bees. These insects create ant-hill like mounds in areas of bare soil with a ¼” opening in the center (about the thickness of a pencil). On warm, sunny days there may be dozens to hundreds of bees flying low to the ground among the mounds. Despite a general and perhaps debilitating fear of bees – the truth is that this species is relatively harmless and may not require any management. Here’s why:

 

  1. Ephemeral: ground-nesting bees are pollinators of early blooming flowers. Because their lifecycle is tied to the cycle of these plants, ground bees are only active for a short period of time in early spring.

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    Two female ground bees hunker down in their burrows in response to movement.

  2. Solitary: fear of bees arises from the idea that disturbing a nest will provoke an entire colony of stinging insects. However, as it true of carpenter bees, cicada killer wasps, and mud dauber wasps, ground bees are solitary with only a single female bee per mound.
  3. Shy Gals: female bees make nests for the purpose of reproduction. After gathering nectar and pollen as food for their offspring, females will mate and lay eggs in the nest. While in the nest, females appear shy, and will retreat into the burrow if they see an approaching object.
  4. Males Hover, but Can’t Sting: All those bees you see flying low to the ground en masse – are males! And male bees do not possess a stinger. Their low, hovering flight is part of their effort to pair up with a female. Indeed, male ground bees are quite docile.

 

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Male ground bees cannot sting and are quite docile.

If you wish to discourage ground bees from living in your yard, an effective, safe and long-term solution is over-seeding with grass. By creating a dense lawn, bees will not be able to dig in the soil and will nest elsewhere.

For more information please see Ground nesting bees in your backyard!

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.

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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.

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

Larvae

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!

August 21, 2014
by Matt Frye
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Baiting for Mice, Rats? Try String!

Peanut butter is a staple in managing mice and rats, especially in residential settings. It’s easy to apply to traps, it stays fresh for several days — and a jar of peanut butter has a long shelf life. But peanut butter isn’t always your best bet. Because sometimes that peanut butter is a magnet for other pests — think cockroaches and ants. Besides, a large rodent population might have a wide range of food preferences. And for some, peanut butter might not be at the top of the list.

For those situations, here’s a trick that could help — bait those traps with string! String? Here’s why:

String tied to the paddle of a snap trap is a baiting technique that doesn't feed other pests.

String tied to the paddle of a snap trap is a baiting technique that doesn’t feed other pests.

Females can give birth to six to eight litters of pups throughout the year, though they breed more often when it’s warm. They work hard at building nests for their young, and among their favorite nesting materials is string. So just tie a short piece string or dental floss tightly to the paddle of a snap trap and there’s your bait. Be sure to loop your string closely around the base of the paddle. And this is one bait that’ll never spoil.

Find more info: watch our YouTube video on Trap Selection and Placement.

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August 19, 2014
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Have No Fear: Pests Are Smaller than They Appear

Have No Fear: Pests Are Smaller than They Appear

Are subway rats really the size of house cats? Are there American cockroaches or “waterbugs” as big as your hand? Fortunately, neither is true. But a 2012 study offers insight as to why those beliefs exist.

First, some background. Whenever I give a presentation about structural pests, I like to bring some specimens along for show and tell. Invariably, as I open up a box of pinned insect specimens someone says, “I’ve seen cockroaches twice that big!” Outwardly I might act surprised, but that’s because I’m thinking, “Hmm. I’ve been in some sketchy places and seen some nasty things, but the American cockroach is usually about 1.5 inches long, and the average Norway rat is about 16 inches from nose to tail and weighs about 12 ounces.”

Real-world American cockroaches — note their reddish-brown color — measure about 1.5 inches.

Real-world American cockroaches — note their reddish-brown color — measure about 1.5 inches.

Sure, there are exceptions — some can be smaller, others larger, but a three-inch-long cockroach? Surely there’s an explanation.

Then one day I stumbled on a post by ABC News: “Spiders Appear Bigger When You Fear Them” — and it all started to make sense. According to an Ohio State study, being scared can cause an individual to exaggerate the size of the object they fear. A rat racing past you on the subway is sure to induce fear, as is a cockroach in your bathroom. But looking at a dead cockroach, pinned in some entomologist’s specimen box? That’s not so scary.

A challenge: next time you see a critter that would normally make you afraid, take a closer look. You might find that your perception of their size more accurately represents their true size — which in all cases is large enough!

Snout to tail, your average Norway rat is 16 inches long and weighs in at about 12 ounces. Cats? A healthy weight for a small breeds is around 5 pounds; the very largest, 18 pounds.

Snout to tail, your average Norway rat is 16 inches long and weighs in at about 12 ounces. Cats? A healthy weight for a small breeds is around 5 pounds; the very largest, 18 pounds.

 

August 5, 2014
by Matt Frye
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Dog-day Cicadas — and the Wasps That Do Them In

Midsummer in New York is when things really start to heat up. And as if hot days aren’t enough, the sound of the dog day cicada makes it seem even hotter.

Cicadas are robust insects —  up to 1 ¼ inch — with piercing mouthparts that suck up plant juices. Cicada nymphs live underground, feeding on sap from roots. Adults, on the other hand, feed from trees and shrubs. 

But this story isn’t about dog day cicadas. It’s about the predator that eats them.

Bold yellow stripes on a black body have "wasp" written all over them.

Bold yellow stripes on a black body have “wasp” written all over them.

Cicada killer wasp measure from a little over an inch to 2 inches. And that’s big. Cicada killers are solitary wasps: each female digs her own burrow, usually in light or sandy soil. The males that guard a female can be aggressive — but as far as we’re concerned, it’s all an act.  Why? They don’t have stingers. They pose little threat to humans — besides intimidation.

But females — they have stingers (though not for us). And that’s where the action begins. In fact,  female cicada killers can catch cicadas in flight, then inject them with a paralyzing venom. Next, they drag them into their burrows — each female to her own — where the cicada serve as food for the wasp larvae as they grow.

For their own nourishment, though, these females dine on plant nectar. Just don’t provoke them too much — they can sting in self-defense.

Don’t want them too close to home? Just don’t use a wasp and hornet spray; learn why here. Putting down grass seed on exposed soil in sunny spots or mulching your flower beds will make the habitat less suitable for cicada killers.

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July 29, 2014
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Beware This Beetle: It Is B-A-D

Beware This Beetle: It Is B-A-D

This year New York celebrated its first Invasive Species Awareness Week. Across the state, organizations and communities rallied to educate people  about the damage caused by invaders. They gave workshops on pest ID. They even pulled weeds. Awareness Week was a great success, serving as a reminder for year-round vigilance in dealing with invasive species.

Big and bold in designer black and white makes ABL a standout.

Big and bold in designer black and white makes ABL a standout.

Among the worst is the Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB). Because it’s a killer; because of the potential for re-infestation, nearly 130,000 trees have been cut down since it first appeared in 1996. Last summer a new infestation was found on Long Island. More than 450 infested trees and many others at risk had to be cut down and chipped. If it gets into our forests — watch out.

So help save our trees. It’s easy — learn  the signs! ALB is large and leaves dime-sized emergence holes on tree trunks and branches — especially in August, when peak numbers of adults emerge from trees. Look for big, shiny black beetles about 1 to 1.5 inches long. They’ll have white spots and long, black-and-white antennae. And if you or your friends have an outdoor pool, check filters and skimmers for this critter. It could just be the least-expensive tactic for finding them yet.

Found one? Put it in a jar with a tight lid and contact the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Now.

Early detection and rapid response are our best hope against ALB. Join the fight!

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Egg-laying site: Female ABLs chew a depression in the bark where they lay a single egg.

More Resources:

August is Tree Check Month

USDA ALB Page

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Exit Hole: dime-sized and perfectly round, these holes are most common in August when adults emerge from the tree.

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Frass: as larvae develop inside the tree, sawdust-like frass (insect poo!) gets pushed out and will accumulate on the truck, branches or ground below.

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The Asian longhorned beetle is 1 to 1.5 inches long, black with white spots.

 

June 5, 2014
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on The 80/20 Rule of Pest Activity

The 80/20 Rule of Pest Activity

When a pest problem begins in an office or workshop, it might seem like the entire place is overrun. But more often the pests are feeding and breeding in just a few confined areas — making there way from there to other parts of the building. Pest managers call this the 80/20 rule, meaning that 80 percent of pest problems come from 20 percent of the area.

These two cases highlight the 80/20 rule:

Case One. The scene — a small office in a corporate building. What started as a few flies in the waiting room quickly escalated to hordes of flies around computers, lights, equipment — and guests — in every part of the office. These were Phorid flies — small, 1/8 to 1/4 inch long, but annoying nonetheless. How to ID them? For starters, they’re humpbacked and their wings have distinctive veins. They like to breed in rich organic material.

Our inspection took us to a part of the building that had been vacated several months prior — and we quickly found our problem’s source in an empty office, where swarms of flies surrounded a closed trashcan.

Spillage from the can had dried on the floor. And inside? Thousands of fly larvae and pupae — breeding in food discarded from a refrigerator emptied months before. This single trashcan was responsible for flies throughout the building.  The trashcan was bagged and removed, and sticky traps with an attractant captured the flies. Case closed.

Case Two: The scene — a school with an ongoing cockroach problem. Sightings had dropped dramatically over time, but still — building managers wanted to stay ahead of the game with proactive control measures. Our inspection found a few conditions conducive to pests, but none accounted for the large numbers of cockroaches previously seen.

Then — in a tucked-away part of the building, up a ladder and through a closed door, we came to a storage room. The place was littered with piles of frass (insect droppings) — which told us this area had

once hosted a large cockroach population. On the floor was dried sewage from an old leaky pipe, one that had recently been replaced. We had found the breeding and harborage site that attracted cockroaches in the first place.

The takeaway? If you have an abundance of pests, remember — the source is often in those areas that are out of sight, difficult to access, or otherwise hard to clean.

May 28, 2014
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Identifying Your Pest – with Poop?

Identifying Your Pest – with Poop?

Whether you are dealing with a pest problem, having car trouble, or trying to figure out who stole the cookie from the cookie jar, your job starts with an investigation — the information-gathering step where you search for clues. In pest management, inspection is the first and most important step toward addressing an issue, helping you discover what pest species are present — and why.

Here’s the scene: you’re inspecting a dark basement and happen upon some droppings. If from a rodent, your next step might be to look for more droppings, sebum trails (oily marks) that show where rodents have traveled, or chew marks. These clues help you determine how rodents are entering the building and where they are finding food, water and shelter. But fi the droppings are from cockroaches, your inspection will shift to looking for wet, decaying organic material and harborage areas.

For pest ID at work or at home, your eyes are your best tools — helped, perhaps, by a magnifying lens.

For pest ID at work or at home, your eyes are your best tools — helped, perhaps, by a magnifying lens.

But how do you tell the difference between the droppings?

Rodents dropping are relatively smooth and often pointed or tapered at one end Mice are smaller critters, so their droppings are typically less than ¼ inch long, whereas rat droppings are larger than 1/3 inch. Rodent droppings might also contain hair — rodents swallow it as they groom themselves.

Like other insects, cockroaches have structures called rectal pads that are used to absorb water and nutrients before their poop leaves their bodies. The orientation and shape of these pads gives insect droppings unique shapes. In the case of cockroaches, droppings appear to have ridges. For more information, see this pictorial key to rodents.

By conducting a thorough inspection and correctly identifying pests, you can develop an action plan to reduce their populations and prevent them from coming back.

 

May 13, 2014
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Top 5 Pest Hangouts — in Your Kitchen

Top 5 Pest Hangouts — in Your Kitchen

Spring! Time to fling open the windows, plant some flowers — and begin the annual tradition of spring-cleaning. But are you getting to all those places where pests find food, water, or shelter? Householders tend to overlook these five places. And they could be just the spots where pests come for a free meal or to catch a few zzzz’s.

Clean these often:

The Stove Top — or rather, the space right beneath it

Stove Top

Stove Top

Most cooks wipe down the top of the stove when they’ve fixed a meal. But what about the space under the stove lid? Here, spilled liquids, crumbs and other food materials can accumulate out of sight, providing food for rodents, cockroaches, and other pests.

Counter-Top Ledges

Counter-top Ledges

Counter-top Ledges

Crumbs, spilled coffee, whatever — they’re easy to see and clean up on your countertops. But food particles and liquid can accumulate on the undersides of ledges too. So while you’re at it, wipe down those ledge undersides.

The Toaster

Toaster

Toaster

Toasters and toaster ovens are great hidey-holes for crumbs. Lots of crumbs. Just be safe when you clean — unplug the toaster. Then pull out the tray and wash it. For even better results, invert the device to shake out the crumbs or go at it with your vacuum cleaner.

Behind the Faucet

Behind the Faucet

Behind the Faucet

The sink is our go-to place for cleaning dishes and utensils. But how often do we remember to clean behind the faucet or around its handles? Here, water and spilled food particles could make for the pest equivalent of the soup kitchen if not cleaned regularly.

The Trash Receptacle

Trash Receptacle

Trash Receptacle

Let’s face it — plastic bags are easy to tear. Too often, something we toss out tears the bag; then the combination of (for instance) food scraps and wet coffee ground means we’ve got stuff leaking out. The solution? Clean the receptacle when you take out the trash.

Sanitation. It’s core to managing pests.

All photos by Matt Frye, NYS IPM
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