New York State IPM Program

September 20, 2018
by Debra E. Marvin
Comments Off on Boxwood Blight is Breaking the Bank

Boxwood Blight is Breaking the Bank

Boxwood blight, Cylindrocladium buxicola, was first identified in 2011 when submitted samples were examined at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. This marked the first confirmed cases outside of the UK and New Zealand. Since then, it’s been found on many cultivars of boxwood, Buxus spp., up and down the east coast.

Boxwood Blight, Photo credit Oregon Department of Agriculture

Now, it’s not only showing up in many downstate counties and Long Island, but completely decimating formal gardens and landscape nurseries. With various landscape and cutting uses, Boxwood is a million dollar plus industry, including its use as a major component in holiday wreaths and decorations.

Boxwood Blight, photo credit Margery Daughtery

While boxwood blight might not be a concern in your yard, you’d notice its loss in many landscapes. This is a major concern of landscapers, horticulturalists and growers.

Boxwood blight shows up as dark brown spots on leaves. These lesions enlarge with dark borders until they merge with others. By then an entire leaf—and many nearby—may be covered. These browned out or straw-colored dead leaves drop in record time. “That’s why they call it a blight.”

Stem infection also occurs and shows up as long black lesions. This FUNGAL DISEASE forms sporadochia (fruiting structures), visible with a hand lens. In layman’s terms, sporadochia produce sticky spores—nasty seeds of destruction if you’re a fungal disease! Spores happily spread by wind, rain, splashing water, or by hitchhiking on you, your lawnmower and rake, your dog, even your favorite garden birds.

Why this sudden outbreak? Anyone who suffered through this swampy summer can guess. According to Cornell Alum and New York State Climatologist, Mark Wysocki, “This is more typical for the Gulf Coast states.” Syracuse, for example, sweated through 531 hours when the dew point, a standard measure of humidity, was at least 70 degrees. That’s more than double the number of sticky hours of the next closest year, 2005.

THIS CHART SHOWS # OF HOURS OF DEWPOINT >= 70 at Ithaca Tompkins Airport by year 1996-2018

With relatively new pests, IPM and conventional treatment options aren’t time-tested. Other factors such as soil health, over or under-watering and winter injury increase susceptibility, but this year’s humidity has come at a high cost to boxwood.

For more on boxwood blight, here are two great resources:

Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Dr. Sharon M. Douglas

 Margery Daughtery, Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center for Cornell University.

September 7, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The eat-local movement: IPM works for you…

The eat-local movement: IPM works for you…

… no matter who you are.

Eat local! For towns and cities small and large, the eat-local movement is a boon for farmers and consumers alike. You (the consumer) get your veggies fresh, while you (the farmer) can build a base of local buyers who know your products.

Tomatoes, cukes, and sweet peppers. Lettuce and spinach, arugula and swiss chard. For farmers who grow them, the season is always too short—and winter too long. Now some have adopted the high-tunnel approach to get ahead of the game.

These tomatoes are just getting traction. Next up….

Ripe local tomatoes … ready for you.

And what is a high tunnel, exactly? Uh … well, I’ll grant you there’s no “exactly” to many a thing—high tunnels included. But whatever the specifics, they have much in common. For starters, this type of greenhouse is usually a plastic covered structure with less environmental control, relying on passive ventilation for cooling.

But like everything in agriculture, high-tunnel crops have can have insect pests. Plant pathogens. Weeds.

How do we help? Let us count the ways. Crafting a solid IPM plan is a great place to start. The plan lays out practices that help prevent pests, be they diseases, weeds or insects. Choosing pest-resistant varieties helps lessens the need for pesticides. Ditto with becoming familiar with a range of biocontrols while you’re still ahead of the game. Then there’s getting the ID’s right: learning the appearance or symptoms of pests that just happen to be checking out the premises. Once you’ve nailed the IDs, it’s time to scout early and often.

Diversifying and rotating crops plays a big role too. So does getting watering, ventilation, and fertilizing down to an art—a must-do, since too much or too little of any of these can encourage those pests you are trying to control.

Next time you are buying local – ask your local farmer how they include IPM in their production.  You’ll find they are all doing their best to grow beautiful, delicious veggies for you.

Eat local!

August 3, 2018
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Stop the Bite – Mosquito IPM

Stop the Bite – Mosquito IPM

Lest you think we only care about ticks these days, another bloodsucker is at its prime. The hot, muggy, wet weather has created perfect conditions for buzzy, bitey mosquitoes. Besides itchy welts, they too can transmit pathogens that cause disease. And the first report of mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile Virus in NY this year was recently released.

Seasonal items will fill with water and provide mosquito breeding habitat.

So, with all the rain, it’s time for a quick yard inspection. When I conducted mine, it was too easy to find collected rainwater. The wheelbarrow was left right-side up. A snow rake tucked behind the shed was filled with water. An upside down garbage can collected water in its grooves. For these items, I simply flipped them over and the mosquito problem was solved. This simplest of IPM method is highlighted in the video, Managing Mosquito Breeding Sites, by Dr. Matt Frye.

For less flippable items, such as garden ponds, Amara Dunn, NYS IPM Program biocontrol specialist, just released a new fact sheet on using Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, or Bti for those in the know, to kill mosquito larvae.

These mosquito larvae are thriving in a driveway puddle – at least until the puddle evaporates.

Keeping an eye on the weather can also help with management decisions. Take, for example, the puddles formed in my driveway. Getting into inspection position (head down, butt up), it was easy to see the wriggling larvae. I checked the weather, saw it was going to be dry through the next day, and made the decision to let the puddle dry up. When I checked the driveway the next day, the puddle, and the mosquito larvae, were gone.

Alas, the rainy forecast will cause it to refill with water, again providing a good location for female mosquitoes to lay her eggs. Next step? Fill in the low spots in the driveway with sand to prevent standing water.

This dried puddle is no longer able to support mosquito larvae.

Diligence in monitoring is the key to preventing mosquitoes from breeding on your property. Monitor regularly and take steps to prevent standing water from becoming mosquito breeding sites.

For more information on mosquito IPM, visit https://nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/mosquitoes-and-other-biting-flies/.

July 26, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Tick Check 1.2.3.

Tick Check 1.2.3.

Just last week we posted a pretty good rundown on what to do about ticks—and how. So if you need a review, just call up “Tick, Tack, Toe the Line: Lyme Disease and What to Do” and carry on from there. Remember, the basic idea is no matter which life stage they’re at, know how to protect yourself. Because you can’t count on feeling them crawling on you.

And speaking of life cycles—OK, so the blacklegged tick’s larvae have finished, the nymphs are mostly dormant right now, and the adults have yet to strut their stuff. But that’s no reason to let down your guard. If you’ve been following our posts, you know that there’s a new tick in town (and if you’re following the news, another waiting in the wings.) Their life-cycles can be different. Be watchful!

So here’s what you do:

Two years. Yup. Ticks know how to make good use of their time.

Steer clear of hitchhikers. Ticks don’t survive long in most homes because of low humidity, but still—you’re safest if you put your clothes in a clothes dryer and run it on high heat for 20 minutes. The tumbling action of the dryer and the high heat kill ticks and similar critters.

Wear tick-killing clothing. Information on proper application of permethrin can be found on our post “Minimize tick risk while minimizing pesticide risk.” Also consider buying pretreated cloths or sending your outdoor socks, pants, and shirts for professional treatments.

(Permethrin is an insecticide in the pyrethroid family. Pyrethroids are synthetic chemicals that act like natural extracts from the chrysanthemum flower. BTW, plants can’t run—that’s why many have evolved chemical means of protection. So say I went the DIY route, soaked some mums in oil, put the oil in a spray bottle, and spritzed my pants. But it failed to repel or kill ticks the ticks I bumped up against. Why? Mums come with a cocktail of natural chemicals inside those lovely flowers. And for permethrin and thus for repelling and killing ticks, I’d need to have the right chemicals in my brew—not to mention the know-how for making the stuff.)

Here’s your full-on tick check. Did we say to be thorough? Well, we’re saying it now.

Check for ticks. It bears repeating. Do a tick check at least once a day. Get to know the spots and bumps on your skin so you can recognize new ones. New ones that just happen to have legs.

Protect your pets. Just like people, pets can encounter ticks and acquire tick-borne disease. They can also bring ticks inside with them, which might expose you to ticks. So if your pet goes outdoors, it should have some protection against ticks. Ask your vet. And give it a tick check too—every day.

Remove ticks safely. Only one method has been officially evaluated for its ability to safely remove ticks — using sharp tweezers, grab a tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull up. Other methods could increase the risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease. To learn more, see our post “It’s tick season. Put away the matches.

Swimming or bathing won’t kill ticks, whether attached or not.

Ticks have a different system of breathing than humans. You can immerse them in water for hours and they won’t croak. Besides, swimming or bathing might not be enough to remove an unattached tick crawling on your body. The best way to kill a tick? Remove it safely with pointy tweezers, then place in a jar of rubbing alcohol.

And there you have it. If we don’t see you at our statewide conference Breaking the Cycle: Integrated Management of Ticks and Mosquitoes on August 7 (9 AM at the Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave, White Plains, New York), we’ll have a video of the conference uploaded on our website soon after.

It’s not too late to register. Open to the public!

And, as always, we have more Tick Information on our DON’T GET TICKED NEW YORK homepage

 

 

 

 

 

July 3, 2018
by Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann
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The Jumping Spider at Your Service

It’s rare that a creature as small as a spider could be aware of a human in such a charismatic way, but that’s the nature of the jumping spider. With two pairs of forward-facing eyes set on a flat face (along with two other pairs pointing outward) the jumping spider is a predator that relies on its keen vision to find prey—even as it evades predators and keeps an eye on you. No larger than an inch (and mostly much smaller), these spiders are harmless to humans but present in our environment in all but the coldest weather. They seem to thrive in the complex outdoor spaces that we create with our homes, sheds, landscapes, patio furniture and gardens.

Look at that dude’s face! (It’s a male.) credit: Creative Commons en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

Why? Because there are plenty of spaces for hiding and lots of prey.

Jumping spiders make up the largest group of spiders in the world—about 13 percent of those we’ve named. While most are found in the tropics, over 300 species of jumping spiders inhabit North America. They are mainly carnivorous, meaning they are hunters. Sometimes jumping spiders incorporate nectar into their diets, and one species is known to feed on plant matter—making it unique among all spiders. As hunters, jumping spiders use a variety of strategies, from ambushing prey to sneakily dropping down on their victims from above.

Like most spiders, they extrude silk from silk glands at the rear end of their abdomen, but jumping spiders don’t spin webs. They use their silk as a safety line for rappelling and to remember where they’ve been. Jumping spiders can take prey much larger than themselves. Like all spiders, they subdue their prey with venom from their jaws, aka chelicerae.

One of the truly remarkable things about jumping spiders is their ability to … you guessed it … jump. With those big binocular eyes, they calculate the distance of a leap and the position of prey before leaping. Once airborne, they drop that silk line for safety.

Jumping spiders have also have elaborate mating rituals. These include drumming and vivid dancing by male spiders hoping to attract females. The peacock spider is a great example.

So what does this have to do with IPM? Sometimes just understanding the creatures we see in our everyday lives can have an impact on our feelings about killing them. Many people have negative feelings about spiders. Yet most are completely harmless and never infest homes. They are serious predators of flies, mosquitoes and other pest insects. In fact, the ecological services of spiders are much larger than we can measure.

Jumping spider captures a carpenter ant queen

Consider the ways you manage your home landscape, especially the areas around the perimeter of the house or building. Reducing the use of insecticides can help conserve beneficial arthropods like jumping spiders. Most home landscapes never need insecticides for management. If a shrub or a plant has persistent pest issues, such as aphids or mites, it might not be worth keeping. Just remove that problem plant and replace it with something better adapted and pest-free. After all, choosing the right plant for the right place is core to good IPM.

Meanwhile, keeping mulch away from the foundation (consider a pebble border) can help keep insects such as ants out of your house. Make sure those shrubs and trees around the home are not touching the side of the building to eliminate the bridge from landscape to house and the need for perimeter insecticide use.

Creating a more sustainable landscape encourages beneficial arthropods—the spiders and such—naturally found in your yard. Spiders, mysterious and creepy as they might seem, are top predators of insect pests. As the charismatic ambassadors of the spider world, jumping spiders remind us that it’s OK to live and let live.

June 19, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Tick Trickery

Tick Trickery

Got ticks on your mind? Your questions. Our answers:

How common are tick-borne diseases — and who is at risk?

Lyme disease is the second most common infectious disease in the entire U.S. But over 96% of all cases come from only 14 states. Now that’s scary, because New York and the Northeast are at dead center for tick trickery.

What looks like spilled ink? That’s where most ticks hang out. (CDC)

Indeed, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the entire United States — and the second disease most commonly reported to the Centers of Disease Control, aka the CDC. (It comes right after chlamydia and before gonorrhea—both sexually transmitted diseases that could strike most anywhere.)

Each year, the CDC gets reports of about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease. But most likely that’s just a fraction of the number of cases. The CDC estimates that each year between 300,000 and 400,000 people are infected with the bacteria causing Lyme — and children ages 5 to 9 have the greatest risk. Parents, check your kids for ticks every day. Make it as mandatory as brushing teeth. “Oh, they were outside for only 10 minutes” or “Oh, but we live in a big city. How could there ticks possibly be here?” — trust us, these aren’t reasons to skip.

Those numbers on the left-hand side? It’s 5-9 year-old boys who most often run into the wrong side of a tick. (CDC)

No, you don’t have to be an outdoor adventurer to be exposed to disease. People can chance upon ticks in all sorts of places. Pushing a friend on the swings, gardening, picnicking at the park, taking a shortcut through a vacant lot, raking leaves—any perfectly normal activity could put you or your kids on the wrong side of a tick.

What diseases do ticks transmit?

Lyme disease is hardly the only pathogen ticks carry. They can also carry anaplasmosis, babesiosis, erhrlichiosis, Powassan virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Borrelia miyamotoi—a bacteria related to the agent of Lyme disease. (More info: Lyme Disease by the Numbers.)

Naturally, different kinds of ticks transmit different disease-causing pathogens — and the list of tick-borne pathogens continues to grow. Plus ticks can transmit more than one pathogen at a time. Example? The blacklegged tick  (aka the deer tick) can transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis all at once. Here’s the short list:

  • Blacklegged tick: Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan virus
  • Lone star tick: ehrlichiosis, southern tick associated rash illness (STARI), tularemia
  • American dog tick: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia

Does every tick convey disease-causing pathogens?

No. Ticks don’t share a common destiny. Not every tick carries the pathogens that make us sick. Here in the Northeast, three ticks transmit pathogens—the blacklegged, lone star and American dog ticks.

Larval ticks, the stage that hatches from eggs with only six legs (nymphs and adults have eight legs), aren’t thought to play a major role in disease. But if larval ticks take their first blood meal from an infected animal, well—they’re infected too. Once they morph into nymphs, they can transmit whatever pathogens they took on.

Note: it’s possible that Powassan virus, carried by the blacklegged tick, can be transmitted from a female to her offspring — and that larval blacklegged ticks can transmit Borrelia miyamotoi, a type of relapsing disease. And what’s a relapsing disease? It’s when signs and symptoms of disease return after it seemed the disease was gone.

Blacklegged nymphs cause the most disease—partly because

  • they’re roughly the size of a poppy seed—not easy to see, and …
  • they’re active in spring when people aren’t thinking about ticks — though it’ll be summer before symptoms show.

Some nymphs and adults never acquire pathogens. Not every tick is infected. The rate of infection differs throughout the region. No common destiny there.

If I find a tick crawling on me, am I at risk for disease? And … how do they transmit disease?

Ticks transmit pathogens only while they’re attached and feeding. So no, a tick can’t infect you while it’s still looking for a place to feed. Once it’s fed, it’ll drop right off. That said:

  • if you find a tick crawling on you, don’t squish it
  • brushing ticks off your clothing is no guarantee they’ll stay off.

But if you keep a small vial of rubbing alcohol in your backpack or bag, you can quickly kill ticks by dropping them in. And that’s one less tick in your neck of the woods.

How do they make you sick? Ticks pick up pathogens from one organism (make that the mouse rummaging around under the shrubbery) and transmit them to another (make this one your kid). Here, not for the faint of heart, is how it works:

Larval ticks slide their mouthparts into the mouse — their soon-to-be host — and begin sucking blood. (Those mouthparts might seem a poor excuse for a head, but they get the job done.) At the same time, their saliva enters that mouse’s bloodstream — and yes, the saliva might be carrying pathogens. The time required for pathogens to pass from tick to host is variable. While viruses such as Powassan virus can be transferred within minutes, bacteria appear to take longer. (Just how long is open to debate, so we won’t get involved in that one.)

Need to remove a tick? Learn how here: Its tick season. Put away the matches.

We’ve got a couple of other posts in the pipeline, so we won’t return to this riveting topic until early or mid-July. But do stay tuned.

June 8, 2018
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Tick and Mosquito Repellent Safety—for You and Yours

Tick and Mosquito Repellent Safety—for You and Yours

You might have noticed that we’re having a bit of a crisis with ticks and mosquitoes. They bite, they suck, and they can transmit pathogens to us during their feeding. One of the many things that we can do to avoid ticks and mosquitoes is to use repellents. But there are two important ideas to consider before picking a product from the shelf:

  1. Not every product has been proven effective, and
  2. The safety of a product depends on how you use it.

Product Efficacy
More than ever, an old adage reigns true: buyer beware! When it comes to tick and mosquito repellents, there are a number of products that claim to be effective—but offer no evidence or data to support the claim. This is especially true of many “natural” products with essential-oil active ingredients. Why? Products with essential-oil active ingredients don’t have to pass a scientific review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and can go to market without demonstrating that they work. These products give users a false sense of security that they are protected against biting insects when they are not. Learn more about this topic from our Tick FAQ section, What natural products can I use to repel ticks? For details on what products work, see the Insect Repellent Buying Guide from Consumer Reports

A confusing mix: some of these products can be applied to skin, others should not under any circumstance contact skin while wet. Read the label before using any pesticide product.

Product Safety and Use Restrictions: The Label Is the Law
As a pest management educator, I’ve said a million times, “the label is the law.” This is literally true—all labels of EPA registered products read, “It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.”

Here is a critical distinction about the products you might see on a shelf:

  • Products with the active ingredient permethrin can actually kill ticks and mosquitoes. According to one label, “This product must not be applied to clothing while it is being worn. Under no circumstances should bare skin or clothing on the body be treated. In other words, if you’re going to use permethrin, you have to treat your clothing or gear before you intend to use it so the pesticide can dry. According to the label on one product, this may be two to four hours.
  • On the other hand, products with active ingredients DEET, picaridin, and IR3535 can be sprayed on clothing and skin to repel biting pests. These products work by masking the cues that make you smell tasty to mosquitoes and ticks. According to one label for these products, Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin… Do not use under clothing… Frequent reapplication and saturation is unnecessary for effectiveness.” 

We want you to enjoy the outdoors—and we want you to do it safely. Both types of products can be used to protect you, your friends, and families from the bite of blood-feeding organisms. To further protect health, always read and follow label instructions.

For more information:

June 1, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The low-down on ticks. Part 1A, Biology Q&A

The low-down on ticks. Part 1A, Biology Q&A

Ticked off about ticks? You are not alone. And knowing the what, where, why, etc. is critical to knowing how to deal with them. So here it is, the first in a series: the low-down on that pest we love to hate.

May you, dear reader, stay tick-free and healthy.

1. What, exactly, is a tick?

Ticks are related to mites and spiders—but not to insects. (Now don’t go worrying about spiders—in the Northeast, virtually all are common victims of common misunderstandings.) Ticks have four life stages: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. All stages (well, not the eggs) feed on blood for energy to grow and later to reproduce. Larval ticks have six legs; nymphs and adults have eight.

Those things that look like antenna? Not—they’re highly adapted legs that process vital information. And that snout in the middle? Blood-sucking mouthparts. (Photo CDC)

Right now, three species are a health concern here in New York: the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick, and the American dog tick.

2. What do ticks look like?

Regardless the species, unfed ticks look like flattened teardrops with eight legs. And depending on their species, life stage and sex (male versus female), they have different color patterns on their bodies. But after they’ve eaten, their abdomens (the females’ especially) can expand so much that it’s really hard to know which is which. You can get positive IDs here.

Just keep in mind that learning a tick’s identity doesn’t mean you know if it’s carrying a disease.

I wrote a sentence on my finger, period and all. And yep, the larvae are that small. (Courtesy Cal Dept Public Health)

As for size? Again, that depends on the species, its life stage, and whether it has fed (and for how long). For blacklegged and lone star ticks, larvae are the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Nymphs? Think poppy seeds. Adults? Sesame seeds. When fully fed, adult females can be as large as a raisin.

American dog ticks, though, are a tad larger than the other two.

3. Are ticks a new problem? Why have we been hearing so much more about them lately?

Turns out ticks are nothing new. In fact, evidence suggests that ticks were carrying Lyme disease pathogens 15 to 20 million years ago (Lyme Disease’s Possible Bacterial Predecessor Found in Ancient Tick). What is new? We’re seeing far more ticks throughout the Northeast and much of North America than during any time in recorded history. And of course the more ticks in the neighborhood, the greater our risk of disease.

Why are ticks on the move? For one, (sub)urban sprawl leaves small patches of wooded areas—great habitat for mice and deer but far less welcoming to their traditional enemies—hawks or foxes, cougars or wolves. (More later on the role of mice and deer in tick-borne diseases.) In addition, a warming climate makes northern areas more hospitable for ticks.

Ah, yes. A place to call home—and nary a wolf in sight. (Photo provided.)

4. Where do ticks live? How do they find me? And where did the deer ticks go?

Blacklegged ticks are usually found in woodlots, forest edges, and groundcovers such as pachysandra or periwinkle—places where leaf litter, shrubs, and tree cover provide the moist environment they need. And how do they find us? Just as we sometimes go on quests, so too do they. Only they’re not seeking adventure or the Holy Grail, but simply a host. A host that provides the food (think blood) they need to thrive, or at least survive.

About deer ticks? Years ago, researchers thought they’d found a new species and gave it the common name “deer tick.” Turned out it was the same old blacklegged tick that’s been here since time immemorial.

No matter that these ticks lack eyes—questing ticks stand on the edge of a twig or leaf, their first pair of legs extended. Evolution endowed them with cleverly designed legs: they’ve got sensors to detect temperature, the carbon dioxide those hosts exhale, and odors or sounds specific to those hosts. When a host brushes past, they grab on tight.

The nymphs typically quest below a person’s knee-height. Because adult ticks feed on larger animals, they might quest higher up to find a host—as high as your waist-height or mine.

The lone star tick is on a roll, with its own suite of diseases and syndromes — some still mysterious. (Photo CDC)

The lone star tick thrives in a wide range of habitats, from shady forests to sunny lawns or roadsides. Unlike the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick hustles toward its prey, even across pavement or dry sand. Other distinguishing features? Well … it’s lots more aggressive. Imagine a tick that travels three times as fast as the blacklegged tick, has excellent vision, and hatches in stinging swarms that can put fire ants to shame.

Last but not least—the American dog tick. Forget the woods: this tick thrives in warm, dry places—roadsides, grassy fields, scrubland and lawns. Larvae and nymphs mostly feed on small mammals, while adults climb grass, brush, or twigs to find medium-sized animals—people included. And sometimes American dog ticks could be even more aggressive. TickEncounter has reported seeing American dog ticks follow a regular source of carbon dioxide that attracted them for upward a few hundred yards to the house. And in one memorable case ticks were crawling up the outside walls toward window screens and doors. Now if that doesn’t give you the willies….

No matter which tick you might collide with—this is one party you don’t want to host.

Stay tuned for another informative post on the biology behind that pest we love to hate.

(Adapted from nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/tick-faqs#answers)

May 23, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The Invasive of the Month Is … (Drum Roll)

The Invasive of the Month Is … (Drum Roll)

Drum Roll: The Spotted Lanternfly

Southeastern Pennsylvania, the epicenter of spotted lanternfly’s arrival in 2014, might seem far enough away to give us in New York prep time for dealing with this new pest, a weak flyer that usually hops to get around. But with the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula—and SLF for short), all bets are off. After all, it took over Korea, whose climate is surprisingly like our own, in no time flat. And now it’s in Maryland. Delaware. Virginia. New Jersey.

New York’s first find happened to be dead. Blind dumb luck.

A bit creepy, how cool it looks. (Photo insectimages)

How anything so pretty could be so nasty boggles the mind. But it’s the nature of nature. Since ID’ing SLF correctly is key to good IPM, let’s start with the nymphs—the young-uns. In this case they come in two snazzy colors. The early-stage nymphs are straight-on black or, once they’ve molted, black and white—handsome devils or trendy fashionistas; take your pick. For late-stage nymphs (late-stage means they molted—again—and outgrew the skin they had after they hatched), add blobs of blood-red, and that critter looks ready to conquer the world.

Which it might.

Does that bright, traffic-light red signal toxicity, as it does for many other potential prey? Right now all I know is that birds have been seen throwing up after grabbing one for a snack—and yes, they are toxic to us.

Red is ever a reminder to other critters: this might be toxic. (Photo Penn State)

Meanwhile, adult SLFs look positively benign. Lovely, in fact. Don’t believe it for a minute. These classy lads and lassies resemble butterflies or moths, but don’t believe that either—they are, you’ll recall, planthoppers; the name refers to its mode of locomotion.

Whatever. Spotted lanternflies have a destiny. Their natural expertise in the pole-vault isn’t their only way to get around. How many roads (think interstates especially) wend their way from southeastern Pennsylvania to points north, south, east and west? Lots.

Consider your car or camper, for starters. Firewood? You’d be slack-jawed at the degree to which firewood fits into the equation. Just the eggs alone—not easy to see with a cursory look—can easily hitch rides to new areas, meaning that New York is a mere hop, skip and a jump away. Trains, tractor trailers, wheel wells, the cargo hold in a jet—this pest doesn’t need to lay its eggs on organic matter.  Planning a long-distance road trip? California, here we come.

“I don’t want to scare people,” says Dr. Surendra Dara, an IPM and crop advisor at the University of California, “but it has the potential to spread, and we do not have a biological-control agent.”

Which is why you, dear reader, are our eyes on the ground.

But wait. Other than toxicity, I haven’t even told you why to be alarmed about this critter. Grapes, apples, hops—these and more high-value crops rank in the billions for New York. Apples alone ring the register at about $317 million.

New York’s forestry crops are vital, too. Here’s what forest crops provide:

  • jobs for 49,200 people with payrolls of over $1.6 billion;
  • manufacturing, recreation and tourism providing over $11.0 billion to our economy;
  • removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, sequestering carbon, and producing oxygen critical for all life on earth;
  • filtering and buffering clean drinking water for millions of New Yorkers.

As our eyes on the ground, here’s what you need to know. Signs that spotted lanternfly are at our collective doorstep include:

  • sap oozing or weeping from tiny open wounds on tree trunks;
  • a yeasty smell (been near a brewery lately? That’s it);
  • inch-long, brownish-gray egg masses—like waxy mud when new, brown and scaly when old
  • heaps of honeydew under trees and vines and covered, often as not, with black sooty mold.

When you see this many SPFs in your orchard (this is Pennsylvania, mind you) — watch out. (Photo Smyers, Penn State)

Besides fruit and hops, what’s at risk? Everything from willows to walnuts—and smooth-barked trees especially. But keep in mind that many a mature tree which, once it has packed on the pounds around its waist and takes on a decidedly rough or furrowed look, looks svelte and clean-cut while still relatively young. Go outside and look at any gently-furrowed tree, and chances are you’re looking at a host. For those areas where tree-of-heaven runs rife, well—you’re looking at what might be its most favorite host of all.

Though it’s hard to wrap your mind around, it sups on some—maybe all—field crops. “We’ve seen it in some of the grain crops that are out there, soybean and what have you,” said Fred R. Strathmeyer Jr., Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary of agriculture. “It’s able to feed on many, many different things.”

Now think about honeydew. Not the drink, not the melon; rather the stuff bugs secrete as they feed. A case of in one end, out the other as they move down the chow line. Although native insects also secrete honeydew, the size of the SLF and staggering numbers that congregate from place to place makes for a remarkable amount of honeydew. Parked your car beneath an infested tree? Time to clean off those sticky windshield wipers.

For sure—this sticky mess and the swarms of insects it attracts gets in the way of outdoor fun. In Pennsylvania, where SLF populations are the densest, people near the heart of the problem can’t go outside without getting honeydew on their hair, clothes, and whatever they’re carrying. At which point “outdoor” and “fun” no longer have all that much in common.

So that’s it in a nutshell and, for spotted lanternfly, all the news that’s fit to print. For now.

Wait … now for the late breaking news:

Lanternflies Eat Everything in Sight. The U.S. Is Looking Delicious …

 

May 15, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Poison ivy (like the Rolling Stones said …)

Poison ivy (like the Rolling Stones said …)

… and now, more than ever, poison ivy’s gonna make you itch. (The Rolling Stones)

I remember the first time I had poison ivy. The particulars are long lost along memory lane. Even so, it was unforgettable. Most likely I was about five years old and, as a born and bred tomboy, I’d been scrambling around in the woods. From that point forward I knew exactly what poison ivy looked like. Sometimes it’s shrubby or low to the ground. Other times its hairy, ropelike vines, thicker than my wrists, twine their way up trees like ropes on the masts of tall sailing ships of yore—or so I imagine them. And yes, the vines are poisonous too.

“Leaves of three, let it be.” Of course there’s more to ID’ing poison ivy. Read on. (Photo Massachusetts Audubon)

Only once since have I gotten poison ivy—not a bad case, either. I was, after all, dressed for the occasion. I was hunting it down, one tangled root after the next, from the woods behind a friend’s daycare home. Toddlers, as we all can appreciate, are simply too young to learn the perils of poison ivy. I hauled it out of there by the bushelful. Funny that after all these years I’ve no clue what I did with it.

Burn it I did not, that’s for sure. I have the merest sketch of a memory—my mom telling me how she’d breathed the smoke from a burning heap of the stuff. Nasty. Can make you really (really) sick—a serious occupational hazard of forest-firefighters.

But these days poison ivy isn’t just a hassle for woodsy sorts who live well past the edges of nearby villages and towns. It’s getting worse for everyone, though some more than others. Why? Let’s fast-forward to the here and now. To a relative here-and-now; the research I’m citing was published in 2006 in PNAS (the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Research that, btw, has yet to lose its gloss. News stories as recent as 2015 (The New York Times) cite that study in noting the likely consequences of an inadvertent brush with the stuff—especially if you live in a big city. Sure, urban dwellers always had to cope with this wicked vine too. But now they have lots more to worry about than country folk do.

More CO2 in the air is like putting poison ivy on steroids. (Image Climate Central)

Why? Lewis Ziska, one of the lead scientists on the six-year study in a forest at Duke University, found that with increased atmospheric CO2 we get bigger, stronger, leafier poison ivy. Poison ivy that can be way more potent in large cities. Here’s how it works:

Mega-cities are proxies for the planet. They have as much carbon dioxide in their air as the rest of the planet will have in 50 years or so. And CO2 is plant food. Like so many other plants, especially weeds (more on that some other day), poison ivy responds by piling on the pounds, as it were—and producing more urushiol.

If it’s climbing up your apartment building, what better reason could you have than learning to ID poison ivy? (Photo poison-ivy.org)

Haven’t heard of urushiol? It’s the toxic oil that causes that nasty rash. Ziska confirmed those findings in a follow-up study in growth chambers. His calculations, he told Climate Central, are based on the CO2 levels at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Administration (aka NOAA) Mauna Loa research station in Hawaii. What did the research tell him? CO2 concentrations on the ground, where poison ivy actually grows, are usually about 10 percent higher than they were in 1950—not long before my first encounter with poison ivy. And in urban areas they can be up to 30 percent higher.

Thirty percent. Take a moment to absorb that.

Not only that, but from parks to vacant lots, cities mimic the fragmented forests you see wherever a suburb has muscled its way into the landscape. And poison ivy likes fragmented landscapes. It also likes—well, what doesn’t it like? Poison ivy can grow in swampy forest edges and concrete rubble; along fences; in parks or on school grounds; or up and around homes and apartment buildings. So wherever you are, learn to ID poison ivy. “Leaves of three, let it be” is where you start. But some harmless plants also have clusters of three leaves. After all, the numero-uno IPM mantra for any environmental issue is prevention. And prevention is based on having a solid ID.

Curious? Want to check it out? Not! Just walk on by. (Photo TownVibe Wilton)

But surely you’re safe during winter? If only. Unlike many other weeds, which die back when the weather turns cold, the urushiol in poison ivy will get you regardless of the weather. Beware of leafless vines. This is not the time to try and yank them off your trees. If the toxin gets on your gloves or coveralls, it can get on you.

I could say so much more about no end of things related to poison ivy or rising CO2 (or both) … including (for instance) sleek vs. long-haired dogs and cats or the food choices of goats, muskrats and deer. But I have to stop somewhere. And that somewhere? It’s here.

 

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