New York State IPM Program

July 18, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
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Tick, Tack, Toe the Line: Lyme Disease and What to Do

You’ve all heard about them, right? Yeah, the little buggers sneak up on you, bite you, and—maybe—make you sick. Sometimes really sick.

They’re not really bugs, of course, but tiny eight-legged critters remotely related to spiders but without the benefits spiders provide. (Note that adult females plump up like small grapes once they’ve satisfied their appetite.)

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

For today, we’re considering blacklegged ticks, aka the deer tick—the name it was christened with years ago, before entomologists realized that tick is already here; has been for thousands of years—and it already has a name. Yes, we’ve got a couple of other ticks we can’t ignore. But that’s for another day.

So … the best reason for ditching the name “deer tick”? It suggests deer are the problem. OK, blacklegged ticks do infest deer and deer can travel widely, so yes, they carry them around in the literal sense and ticks will drop off here, there, most anywhere. But no, deer don’t vector (aka “carry”) Lyme disease. Look to mice, chipmunks, and shrews for that.

So. Back to the topic at hand. The youngest ticks are six-legged larvae, the size of the period at the end of this sentence—and with one exception, they don’t vector disease. (More on that in another post.) After they feed on, say, a mouse or robin, they morph into nymphs and grow as large as poppy seeds. Since poppy seeds with legs are still darn small, they’re the ones that most often nail us.

And the adults? They’re more likely to vector Lyme and the co-infections that too often accompany it or act in its stead. After all, ticks have adapted to be secretive; to keep from being detected. But since by now they’re the size of sesame seeds—still small, yes, but easier to see—you’re more likely to get shed of them before they do damage.

No matter which life stage they’re at, know how to protect yourself. Because you can’t count on feeling them crawling on you. Here’s the countdown:

Tick habitat—it’s everywhere.

Recognize and avoid tick habitat. Tick species differ in where they prefer to hang out, but it’s possible to come too close for comfort to a tick anytime you leave the pavement. Sure, some parts of the state are home to orders of magnitude more ticks than others are, but that’s no reason to think you’re immune to those nasty little critters catching you unawares. And it’s so easy to be unaware.

Daily Tick Check! Regardless how careful you are, you won’t manage to steer clear of ticks 100 percent of the time. Perform daily tick checks even if you haven’t been outdoors in a day or so. Get to know the spots and bumps on your skin so you can recognize new ones. New ones that just happen to have legs.

Dress the part. If you’ll be in tick habitat (meaning you step off the pavement), take precautions by wearing light-colored, long pants tucked into your socks and a light-colored shirt tucked into pants. It’ll be easier to see ticks crawling on you and more difficult for ticks to get to your skin.

Get yourself some super-pointy tweezers, the type that airport security would probably confiscate. Be firm: steady and straight up until that sucker lets go.

Use repellents. Here’s more on choosing the right repellent.  and this guide from Consumers Reports.

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 “It’s tick season. Put away the matches.

Which is all we’ll say for now, other than on August 7 we’re hosting a statewide conference on—you guessed it—ticks:

  • Breaking the Cycle: Integrated Management of Ticks and Mosquitoes
  • Tuesday, August 7, 2018, 9 AM
  • Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave, White Plains, New York

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
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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
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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 2, 2018
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Let’s work on being less attractive (to blood-thirsty mosquitos)

Let’s work on being less attractive (to blood-thirsty mosquitos)

We have been thinking a lot about ticks these days, so we are particularly grateful to our guest contributor, Paul Hetzler, for writing about another blood-sucking ectoparasite – mosquitoes.

Originally published on April 28, 2018 – Courtesy of Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County

Hooray—it’s the end of April and the snow has mostly receded. Before it warms up too much, though, we really should try to solve our attractiveness problems. I recommend doing this through some tweaks to our attire, diet and lifestyle. With all the bloodthirsty mosquitoes outside, there is no sense being more alluring than necessary.

The Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is an invasive day-biting mosquito from Asia.

We are lucky in Northern New York that of the approximately 3,000 mosquito species on the planet, fewer than 50 live here. (If only that was the number of mosquitoes, not species.) Some, such as the Culex species which carry the West Nile virus, overwinter as adults and can appear on the first breath of spring. Most spend the winter in the larval or egg stages, and may take a week or more before they take to the skies in the spring.

An article which appeared on April 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences spilled the beans on what mosquitoes find most attractive about us. Number one on the list of what drives female mosquitoes wild: unwashed socks worn for several days by malaria-infected children. You may as well take those out of your sock drawer right now. That particular study, by the way, was aimed at finding the best chemicals to use in mosquito traps, not at giving practical wardrobe advice.

Because all mosquitoes are annoying, and a tiny fraction of them (two species in the U.S. at the moment) can transmit life-threatening illnesses such as the Zika virus, they are the subject of a lot of research. It is good to separate fact from fiction regarding what mosquitoes like and what they don’t.

They like compounds we give off, especially carbon dioxide. Aldehydes are semi-aromatic chemicals, mostly naturally occurring (formaldehyde is an exception; mosquitoes do not fare well in that) on out skin, especially after a beer or two. Lactic acid, another ’skeeter treat, accumulates on our skin when we sweat.

We can rinse often, or maybe skip the drink at a cookout, but some things are harder to avoid. Most people like to exhale on a regular basis, for example. If you have Type O blood, tough luck—you’re a ’skeeter magnet. Type A blood on the other hand, is not at the top of mosquito menus. And expectant women can expect twice as many visits from mosquitoes than those who are not pregnant.

DIYers can treat their own clothing with permethrin. Be sure to read and follow label directions carefully.

Where ’skeeters are concerned, the best defense is a good defense. Clothing that is factory-treated with the insecticide permethrin is excellent at repelling both mosquitoes and ticks. It remains effective for months, through dozens of wash cycles. Permethrin spray can also be purchased at hardware stores for use on clothing and gear. Just don’t use it on your skin.

N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, known affectionately as DEET, has been around since the 1940s, and is labeled for use on both clothing and skin. DEET is effective for roughly seven hours depending on conditions and its strength, which typically ranges from 12 to 30 percent, although 100 percent formulations are available. Picaridin is a less-toxic option which is becoming more widely used. It is equally effective as DEET but may have to be reapplied slightly more often. (Picaradin is not suggested as a tick repellant, though.)

While botanical oils are not effective against ticks, many do keep mosquitoes away. Eucalyptus oil in particular seems to be one of the best. The down side is that they are often only effective for one to two hours.

Apps available for mobile devices claim to keep biting insects at bay, but evidence shows they do not work. Not even a little. And though some people swear by home remedies such as garlic or B-vitamins, repeated trials indicate these are also of no use as repellents. Since these are good for you, in moderation, there is no need to quit — just use something that works in addition.

I always assumed mosquitoes whined to raise the blood pressure of their victim to ensure a fast fill-up. Apparently that is how they communicate — their antennae sense this vibration. In one experiment, if female mosquitoes did not whine, the males paid no attention to them.

In case you think mosquitoes have no redeeming quality, they actually pollinate certain flowers. Photo: k yamada flickr

In case you think mosquitoes have no redeeming quality, they actually pollinate certain flowers. The males in particular, which do not drink blood, can be found visiting sunflowers if you go out at night with a flashlight. Just leave the beer at home.

For more information on mosquitoes and using IPM to prevent them from breeding near your home, visit https://nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/mosquitoes-and-other-biting-flies.

Paul Hetzler is a natural resource and horticultural educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.

April 6, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The Craziest of Worms

The Craziest of Worms

They sound kind of cute, right? “Crazy worms” that could actually amuse you? Gyrating in a box of soil, say, sort of like disco dancers? (I’m showing my age here.)

Oh. And trust me; I’m not going off topic here: for many kinds of fish, fishing season started a few days ago. A date that synced, purely by chance, with April Fools Day. (We’ll leave Easter Sunday out of the equation.)

What’s the connection? The economic impact of fresh-water fishing for New York is about $2.26 billion. Watch them in action and crazy worms (aka jumping worms) would seem the ideal bait worm. But don’t even think about it. Illegally sold as bait in some places, this thing has already spread way too far. To have equipped yourself for April First with these critters would have been foolery, pure and simple.

Yet surely—aren’t earthworms good for composting; for your garden and lawn? Won’t they help aerate the soil? Feed the soil?

Alas, these worms make our everyday night crawlers (a mixed blessing in many ecologist’s books) look wondrously benign. Because unlike some other worms that help build soil, crazy worms destroy it, devouring everything that makes soil. Nor do they snub the roots of (for instance) your veggies, your posies, and yes, your lawn—these roots are solid fare for crazy worms. (Farmers aren’t happy campers either.)

And get a load of the crazy worms’ craziest attribute: their remarkable birthing abilities. Most of your standard-issue night crawlers are hermaphrodites—they possess both males and female organs—but at least they must date another of the same kind if they’re going to make babies. Crazy worms? All are female. No need for dates or mates. And their reproduction rate far exceeds that of other worms.

What about our cold winters? They encase their eggs in cocoons. And while crazy worms don’t survive severe northern winters, their cocoons do. All it takes is one to begin an infestation. And if that doesn’t give you pause….

BTW, our forests are as threatened as our fields. Where infestations are high, these worms strip all organic matter from the forest floor, exposing tree roots. Gone is the soil layer that seedlings and wildflowers rely on. When soil is stripped of organics it becomes clumpy, granular, and prone to compaction and erosion. Bad news all around.

Oh—and they’re accomplished hitch-hikers. You might find them in, say, that potted plant you bought from your local big box store. You could also find them in bagged mulch and compost. You might even find their cocoons—small and dark, resembling a clump of soil, on the soles of your boots.

Found some? Your next step: call your county’s Cooperative Extension office or regional NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. They need to know. For heaven’s sake, don’t give seedlings or plants from infested soil to your neighbor down the street or a plant exchange in your town. And if you’re an angler? Take the high road. Don’t buy crazy worms from out-of-state suppliers.

Resources: As you look through these resources, note the crazy worm’s other name: jumping worms.

Cornell Master Naturalist Program Invasive Species Series: Jumping Worms

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Horticulture Program: Crazy Worms in Maine

Iowa State University Horticulture & Home Pest News: Asian Jumping Worms

University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum Research Update: Jumping Worms and Sleeping Cocoons

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Magazine: Jumping Worms

March 23, 2018
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Right Plant, Right Place – For Pollinators

Right Plant, Right Place – For Pollinators

“He that plants trees loves others besides himself.” – Thomas Fuller

Have you considered planting a tree for pollinators? Eastern redbud is a good early flowering choice currently on sale at many Soil & Water Conservation District tree and shrub sales. Photo Credit: Karen flickr

Pollinators have been big news over the past few years. Whether you are a farmer, golf course superintendent, landscaper, gardener, or just a random person walking down the street, it is likely that you have heard the importance of protecting pollinators and doing your part to increase their habitat. We dedicated an annual conference to the subject back in 2015 and have penned numerous blog posts that cover pollinator topics.

Often the call to create habitat comes in the form of planting pollinator attractive flowers, whether they be plants for your formal garden bed or a swath of wildflower meadow along the edge of your property. For your garden, resources abound on choosing great plants. On the Pollinator Partnership webpage, you can type in your zip code and it will provide you with a guide to your particular Ecoregional Planting Guide. The Xerces Society has numerous guidelines describing how to establish wildflower meadows.  And Audubon International has a new program targeting the creation of milkweed and other pollinator friendly wildflowers on golf courses called Monarchs in the Rough.

These resources, and many like them, provide wonderful information, but an opportunity that is often missed is choosing the larger plants – trees and shrubs, for their pollinator benefits. Dr. Dan Potter and Bernadette Mach put together a Woody Ornamentals for Bee-Friendly Landscapes piece for the Ohio Valley Region. The resource includes whether the tree or shrub is native or nonnative, how often the trees are visited by bees, and bloom time.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation teamed up to create a searchable database of plants with Special Value to Native Bees.

For a list of NY plants, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation teamed up to create a searchable database of plants with Special Value to Native Bees. A simple search of NY trees of special value to native bees has a search result of 57 results. It lists 105 NY shrubs. And you can, of course, also look to see what wildflowers are also noted as helpful to pollinators. (259 in case you were wondering.) You can narrow the search by specifying lifespan, light requirement, soil moisture, bloom time, bloom color, height, and leaf arrangement and retention.

Why bring this up now? Because many County Soil & Water Conservation Districts are hosting their annual tree and shrub sales. Often these are small, bare root seedlings, but if you are looking for an inexpensive step to up your pollinator game, consider purchasing from them.

If you have the room for multiple species, try to choose trees and shrubs that bloom at different times to provide a food source throughout the year.

For more information on pollinators, visit the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program page dedicated to Pollinators.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese proverb

March 16, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Pests, Pesticides and Proposals: Funding IPM Community Projects

Pests, Pesticides and Proposals: Funding IPM Community Projects

Pests and pesticides—both can pose problems to our health, our environment, and our economy. At the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM), we help New Yorkers address those problems safely and thoughtfully. How? Through innovative biological, cultural, technological, and educational practices. IPM, in a word.

Community IPM takes place in settings as varied as school buildings and grounds; residential and office buildings; gardens, parks and landscapes; and golf courses and right-of-ways. Now we invite grant proposals from qualified New Yorkers who want to develop, evaluate, or demonstrate feasible IPM methods. Budgets must not exceed $8,500. Our deadline: April 6, 2018. Funds must be spent by February 28, 2019.

The German cockroach needs no introduction. If it can get on your fork, it can get in your food. Credit Clemson University, USDA.

All projects must accomplish one or more of the following:

  • develop, advance, test or refine new IPM strategies;
  • demonstrate a link between IPM practices and reduced risk to human health or pesticide residues;
  • measure the positive change or potential impact of IPM practices or adoption, or survey current IPM knowledge;
  • develop Community IPM resources, such as brochures, websites, fact sheets, manuals, and apps for smartphones and tablets;
  • develop IPM educational programs, such as workshops or curriculum;
  • educate others about IPM through outreach and demonstrations.

Audiences could include school administrators, teachers and students; landscape and structural pest management professionals; vector control specialists; municipal employees; nuisance wildlife control operators; golf course personnel; arborists; right-of-way managers; day care operators—just about anyone, in fact. We encourage projects that reach new audiences or develop new partnerships.

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

Our Community IPM priorities include: develop or demonstrate solid strategies for dealing with rodents or cockroaches; develop, confirm or promote methods to lessen the impact of ticks; research, demonstrate or create outreach projects that promote pollinator health and conservation; and research and demonstrate alternatives to imidacloprid on lawns and athletic fields.

Yes, there are plenty more. But for 2018, these four are our greatest needs.

Got Questions? We encourage you to discuss your ideas with NYS IPM community staff, including:

  • coordinator: Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, Long Island, 631-539-8680, jlg23@cornell.edu (Do you work outside Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension? Get in touch with Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann.)
  • educator: Lynn Braband, Rochester, 585-753-2562, lab45@cornell.edu
  • educator: Amara Dunn, Geneva, 315-787-2206, arc55@cornell.edu
  • educator: Matthew Frye, Westchester, 914-285-4633, mjf267@cornell.edu
  • educator: Joellen Lampman, Albany, 518-441-1303, jkz6@cornell.edu

NYS IPM Ornamentals IPM Staff

  • coordinator: Elizabeth Lamb, Ithaca, 607-254-8800, eml38@cornell.edu
  • educator: Brian Eshenaur, Rochester, 585-753-2561, bce1@cornell.edu

And consider: the most common critiques of past proposals have been that the budget lacked in clarity, explanation or justification—and those seeking grants didn’t discuss projects ahead of time with IPM staff.

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