New York State IPM Program

June 28, 2018
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on What can I spray for …

What can I spray for …

What can I spray for ants and other critters?

Nobody—not even an entomologist like me—wants to see critters in their home, office, school, or favorite restaurant. But see them we do. And unfortunately, the first reaction most people have is to reach for a can of bug spray and hose the place down.

But what does this really accomplish? Two things: a quick kill of only the critters you sprayed, and you’ve now left a coating of pesticides wherever you sprayed. Satisfied? Probably not, since your goal is to solve the problem, not just kill a few critters. If so, then put down the bug spray and walk away—slowly.

When we think of pests, we might imagine them as vile creatures that are intentionally tormenting us. The truth, however, is that pests are always there for a reason. Maybe they are inside because they found a gap leading to a safe place to spend the winter (think brown marmorated stink bug, ladybug, or boxelder bug). Or maybe your gutters are clogged and there is a moisture problem inviting to carpenter ants. Or you have overripe bananas with the stem torn at the top, exposing the fruit within, and now you see fruit flies. While it’s true that a spray might kill pests—so too can a swift shoe.

But if we want to develop a solution that addresses the issue and prevents future problems, we must follow two simple steps:

Inspection. Where are the pests found and how did they get there? It might feel like your whole house is infested, but with a thorough inspection you can often find the source of a problem by looking for where the critters or their evidence are most numerous. If you can find the source of where they are feeding or breeding, chances are you can do them in.

Identification. Knowing the identity of a pest tells you why it is there. It’s also a necessity for crafting a sound management plan. For example, this spring I received many calls about ants. Even when callers had tried sprays, they were ineffective. Why? Each pest is there for a different reason—and needs its own management approach.

  • Carpenter ants trailing on the outside of a building

    Carpenter ants trailing on the outside of a building might be moving from outdoor parent nests to indoor satellite nests.

    Case 1: Ants in Rental Home! Using a few pictures to determine size and the number of nodes, the ants were identified as carpenter ants, which do not actually eat wood. Instead, they excavate rotten wood to make their nests. This means carpenter ants indicate a moisture problem somewhere in the structure; an important problem you might not otherwise have known about. So in an oddball way, you owe them a debt of gratitude. And although parent nests are typically outdoors, satellite nests can be found inside buildings—so an inspection is needed to discover where the ants are living. This can be accomplished by baiting and tracking ants to the source, then eliminating the rotten wood and ant nest. For more details, see our carpenter ant fact sheet.

  • Case 2: Ants in Bathroom! These ants are identified by how they smell when crushed. Their name? The odorous house ant (abbreviated OHA). They build nests in moist locations and forage indoors for spilled foods.
    odorous house ants

    Odorous house ants can move their entire colony or split into several colonies — making it tough to deal with them. (Credit: Janet Hurley)

    Based on their biology, OHA can be difficult to manage because the colony is mobile—moving nest locations at will—and can actually split into multiple colonies if sprayed or for other reasons. To date, the best method to control OHA are certain baits that, when placed correctly, can be spread throughout the colony to achieve control.

  • Case 3: Winged Ants Indoors! Known as citronella ants by their smell, this species isn’t really a pest of homes because they don’t eat what we eat, nor are they at home indoors. Instead they live in the soil and feed on secretions from root-feeding insects. But they can be a nuisance when winged ants emerge into homes. Since their sole purpose in life is finding a new place to live, spraying or baiting are pointless. To avoid problems down the line, you’ll need to eliminate the cracks and crevices where ants are getting inside.

    Foraging pavement ants bring bait back to the nest and spread throughout the colony. They’re a great target for baits.

After you’ve found where the pests really are and ID’d them correctly, you can a develop short-term plan to reduce their numbers and long-term solutions that fix the conditions that allowed or enticed them in in the first place.

Need help identifying a pest? Here are some options:

To identify common structure infesting ants:

July 27, 2017
by Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann
Comments Off on Ants in your house? Throw them a party!

Ants in your house? Throw them a party!

Not fond of ants in the kitchen? You are not alone. And even after you’ve cleaned them up, washed the countertop, swept away the crumbs and taken out the garbage — they just keep coming, looking for more.

It’s this time of year when ants invade homes looking for food, water and shelter. Where are they coming from — and how are they getting there?

At 1/16 to 1/8 inch long, this is one tiny ant. Photo credit Joseph Berger.

A number of ant species seem to specialize in homes. Among the most tenacious: the odorous house ant, Tapinoma sessile. You can tell it by its smell.  Just crush it in your fingers and give it a sniff.

What’s that smell? Some say it’s the smell of rotting coconut, but how many of us know the pleasure of a rotting coconut? Just call it pungent.

Odorous house ants are well adapted to the urban environment. In fact, being around man-made structures allows them to become the dominant ant species with enormous interconnected colonies. They invade homes and apartments through the smallest cracks and gaps, foraging for sweets. So keeping them out may be near impossible.

Pesticides and insecticidal ant baits are the most common forms of ant control. In IPM we almost never recommend spraying over other sound tactics. In the case of odorous house ants, spraying the foundation and soil around a structure can help. But it can also kill non-target insects.

Plus — it rarely kills the queen (an urban supercolony may have scores; even hundreds) and the colony might well live on.

Baiting for odorous house ants with sweet gel baits is an effective way to reduce the whole colony. Adult ants carried them back to the nest and fed to the larvae and queens — the beating heart of the colony.

You might choose to hire a professional who will identify the ant species (very important for baiting correctly) and place bait where ants are active. Or you might decide to use sweet boric acid bait from the hardware store. Either way there’s a critical step here.

…..  LET THE ANTS PARTY!  ….

Whatever the source — spilled food or bait station — ants do like to party. Invite yours with a sweet ant bait. Photo credit M. Potter, UKY.

If the odorous house ants accept the bait, more and more ants will show up for the feast. The more ants, the more bait they will transfer back to the larvae and queens. Let the party rage on! You could see dozens of ants, maybe hundreds.

Ignore them until at least the following day — and never spray an insecticide or cleanser on or near the bait. With professional-use baits, the disappearance of ants is quite dramatic. Boric acid baits will take a bit longer but are no less effective.

As always, before you use a pesticide, read the label and follow instructions. Once the party is over, clean up the remains with soap and water.

And remember, ants are like a sanitation department. They forage on what we leave behind, so keep those counters (and the sink, garbage can, compost bucket, microwave…) clean and free of food spills and crumbs. We best coexist with ants when we don’t invite them inside.

 

April 17, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Earth Day: What It Means to Me — and the IPM Connection

Earth Day: What It Means to Me — and the IPM Connection

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together … all things connect.” — attributed to Chief Seattle

I’m an environmental educator. Have been one all my life. Among my goals? To erase the line between us and the environment. So often we think of nature as someplace we have to travel to. But this separates us from understanding how we affect our world — for good or for bad.

Amazing creatures like this robber fly can be found in your backyard. These excellent predators catch their prey in the air.

At this time of year we are surrounded by appeals to plant trees. Conserve water. Recycle. Save the polar bears. Want to find examples of IPM as an Earth Day theme? Good luck.

Which is too bad. Because the critters and plants that surround us prove that the environment is right here, right now, all the time. The mice in your kitchen are proof that we coexist with nature even inside.

There is no line.

What’s in a name? Is this a weed or a spontaneous lawn flower? The bee doesn’t care!

Basic ecology tells us that all living things need food, water, shelter, and space. Overwater an indoor plant and you will find fungus gnats. Mow your lawn too short and spontaneous lawn flowers will outcompete the grass. Fail to empty outdoor buckets or refresh the water in your birdbath and there will be no shortage of mosquitoes.

When living things move into our space, we typically label them as pests. But this, my friends, is how nature works. When we provide food by leaving dirty dishes around, don’t seal the garbage right, or plant a favorite flower (tulips, say) in an area with no shortage of deer, we might as well just sit back and watch what comes to partake of our offerings.

Who needs to visit Africa? We can watch the circle of life in our backyards! And no need to get all those shots!

I dream of a world where, along with learning about tigers and redwood trees, children learn about our environment through ants and dandelions. For even in the most urban areas, we find ourselves in nature if we only open our eyes and take the time to recognize it.

My appeal? For Earth Day 2017, let’s each learn about one critter we see often – especially one we consider a pest. Where does it fit in the food web? What helping hand have we given it? And to help your exploration, I recommend starting with the NYS IPM Program’s What’s Bugging You webpage.

Erase the line. And have a very happy Earth Day.

p.s. I would love to hear about what you learned. Feel free to contact me at jkz6@cornell.edu with your story!

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

Pavement Ants – A Groovy Pest

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

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

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

Did you know …?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots more helpful IPM hints here:

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

Got other indoor pests? Seek no further.

August 24, 2015
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Carpenter Ant Satellite Nest – Elimination!

Carpenter Ant Satellite Nest – Elimination!

Of the ant species that invade homes, carpenter ants cause considerable distress due to their large size. This is particularly true in the spring and early summer, when foraging ants may be found in many rooms within a home. While these foragers are not much more than a nuisance, it is the nearby ant nest that is alarming to homeowners. Especially since carpenter ants can damage wood.

Carpenter ants can be thought of as an indicator species, since they tend to nest in wood that is damaged by moisture. Their presence is suggestive of a roof leak, clogged gutters, poor drainage from the home, or other structural issues that result in water-damaged wood. When nests are found in homes, they are often satellite colonies of the larger nest that is located outdoors in rotting wood such as a tree stump. It should be noted that carpenter ants do not eat wood as food (like termites), but rather use the structure for nesting purposes.

As an urban entomologist, my home is a laboratory of pest management trial and error. This spring and summer I observed carpenter ants in one corner of my garage. On the workbench below, I would occasionally see a dead ant or some frass (the excavated wood and food-stuffs kicked out of the nest). It wasn’t long before common house spiders (Parasteatoda tepidariorum) discovered the ants and started to feed on them, adding to the carnage on my work bench.

house_spider

House spider dining on a carpenter ant, with egg-sacs and newly-hatched spiders.

IMG_2062

What’s left after a spider feeds on many ants.

As summer progressed, I decided the experiment was over and wanted to rid myself of what I believed to be a satellite ant colony. I inspected the area around the ant sightings, and in the very corner of the garage, in a recessed void, I found what I was looking for – a large pile of frass and many ants. With my vacuum in hand (the same one I’ve used for eliminating yellowjackets), I vacuumed up as many ants as possible, plugged the end and left the vacuum in the heat of the sun for two days. Problem solved! Now I just need to find the parent colony.

IMG_2073

The spiders showed me exactly where the nest would be – the void in an upper corner of the workshop.

IMG_2075

Carpenter ant frass includes sawdust and pieces of insects.

Learn more in our carpenter ant factsheet!

June 23, 2015
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Don’t Let Carpenter Ants Renovate Your Home!

Don’t Let Carpenter Ants Renovate Your Home!

Carpenter ants are the most common ant pest found in the Northeastern United States. They cause structural damage when they excavate wood for nest sites. Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat wood, but rather scavenge on dead insects and collect sugary secretions (“honeydew”) produced by other insects such as aphids. Carpenter ants are a nuisance pest when workers are spotted inside foraging for food and when winged swarmers are found inside.

Carpenter Ant Damage

Carpenter Ant Damage

Did You Know … ?

  • Wood is Not-So-Tasty: Carpenter ants tunnel through moisture-damaged wood and spit out wood shavings. The resulting waste piles look like sawdust and often include ant body parts.
  • A Numbers Game: There are approximately 24 species of carpenter ants that are pests in North America; nine of these species are present in the northeast.
  • Hanging Out: Carpenter ant larvae are clumped together by J-shaped hairs, and cling like Velcro to the roof of their galleries.

See Don’t Let Carpenter Ants Renovate Your Home! for more information on carpenter ants and how to manage them.

October 15, 2014
by Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann
Comments Off on What’s the Buzz — About Citronella Ants

What’s the Buzz — About Citronella Ants

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

Citronella ants care for, or tend, root aphids.

Citronella ants care for, or tend, root aphids.

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

Citronella ants care for, or tend, root aphids.

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

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

October 22, 2013
by Karen English
Comments Off on Don’t Let Carpenter Ants Renovate Your Home!

Don’t Let Carpenter Ants Renovate Your Home!

Carpenter ants are the most common ant pest found in the Northeastern United States.

Black Carpenter Ant

Black Carpenter Ant

They cause structural damage when they excavate wood for nest sites.

Carpenter Ant Damage

Carpenter Ant Damage

Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat wood, but rather scavenge on dead insects and collect sugary secretions (“honeydew”) produced by other insects such as aphids. Carpenter ants are a nuisance pest when workers are spotted inside foraging for food and when winged swarmers are found inside.

Find out how to stop them here:  http://tinyurl.com/p42qlqg

April 30, 2013
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Review Your Balance Sheet (aka Better Late Than … )

Review Your Balance Sheet (aka Better Late Than … )

Never. This post was slated to go live the same day Uncle Sam started surcharging tardy tax returns. Then — human error took over.

 

You don’t have to step back in time, though, for this post to help you — it’s as relevant now as it was on April 15. And it’ll stay relevant year-round. Still, as with so many IPM tactics, the sooner you start the better.

******************** and now for the post: 

 

While Uncle Sam is busy reviewing your 2012 balance sheet, why not take a close look at your IPM 2012 “balance sheet”: your notes or scouting records? Sure, last year’s pest diary can’t predict what will hammer you this year. Still — other than new pests on the prowl, the pool of potential malcontents doesn’t differ much from year to year. You can learn a lot from reviewing which pests harassed you most (or gave you a break).

corn rootworm: unwelcome guest

 

Especially — if your records say what conditions tended to make problems worse. Did pests blow in on storm fronts from points south; were fields too wet too late; did Jack Frost leave a calling card when you least wanted it?

 

Conversely, your records could show which growing conditions hammered pests on your behalf.

 

With all that as your backdrop, what did you do about troubling pests? How well did your tactics work? What did you learn; what could you build on (or do differently) this year? If your records go back several years (a decade would be gravy), you’ve got lots of good material to draw on for evidence-based, least-toxic decisions about what to do when nature throws you a wild card.

 

onion thrips: sneak attack

Whether you’re a farmer, landscaper, groundskeeper, or gardener, we’re right there to suggest what cards to play. Tune into our timely pest forecasts, trap networks, and field reports to get a heads-up on what’s headed your way. And tweak the cultural and scouting practices that — for instance — favor healthy plants that shrug off disease or let you know that a pest’s natural enemies are about to take command.

 

IPM helps you make those evidence-based decisions — decisions that emphasize, for instance, resistant plant varieties, sanitation, the right nutrients at the right time, or pheromone traps that act like “come-hither” baits for pests otherwise intent on eating your crops. Prevention, in a word.

 

And while you’re at it — why not review our research reports to see what we’re learning? Example: maybe your records show you spent $60± per acre on preventive fungicides for field corn — fungicides that, according to belief, also promote higher yields. Or do they? We did the work and the math on a real-world farm and we’re thinking — not so fast. Because in this case, the farmer would take a hit of about $40 per acre on sprays that didn’t really improve yields all that much.

 

Your records are just as valuable for both pests, inside or out, at the schools,

yellowjackets are great pollinators and predators — at a distance

warehouses, concession stands, or rental properties you care for. Maybe last fall you saw way too many yellowjackets at the dumpster — but you can take steps early to prevent more of the same. Similarly, you’ll want to scout early whether it’s ants, stink bugs, cockroaches or mice knocking at your door.

 

The operative word: early. Which is why this review matters so much. Because late may as well be never.

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