New York State IPM Program

September 28, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
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In praise of messiness

KEMPTVILLE, ONTARIO. — On my twice-monthly drive on Highway 416 between Prescott and Ottawa, I pass the sign for Kemptville, a town of about 3,500 which lies roughly 40 km north of the St. Lawrence. It has a rich history, and no doubt is a fine place to live, but one of these days I need to stop there to verify that Kemptville is in fact a village of surpassing tidiness. (It’s Exit 34 in case anyone wants to take some field notes and get back to me.)

Most of us would prefer not to live in totally unkempt surroundings, but Western culture may have taken sanitation a bit too far. Claims that cleanliness is next to godliness have yet to be proven by science, but research does indicate a neat, well-coiffed landscape is bad for bees and other pollinators.

Dandelions are an essential early-season flowers for our 416 species of wild bees in New York.

With all due respect to honeybees, they are seldom required to produce fruits and vegetables. Please don’t spread this around, as I do not want to tarnish their public image. But the fact is that wild bees, along with other insects and the odd vertebrate here and there, do a bang-up job pollinating our crops, provided there are enough types of wild plants (i.e., messiness) around to keep them happy for the rest of the season.

As landscapes become neater and less diverse, wild bees cannot find enough natural foods to keep them in the neighborhood for the few weeks of the year we’d like them to wallow around in our apple or cucumber flowers. In sterile, highly manipulated environments like almond groves and suburban tracts, honeybees are critical.

Dr. Scott McArt, a bee specialist at Cornell’s Dyce Laboratory for Bee Research, says there are an estimated 416 species of wild bees in New York State. When I estimate stuff, the numbers tend to be less exact, such as “more than three,” but I’ve met Dr. McArt, and I trust him on this count. Dr. McArt is quick to point out that wild critters take care of things just fine in most places. He has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. My object is not to malign honeybees, but to point out that if we learn to live with a bit more unkemptness, we will improve the health of wild bees, wildflowers, food crops, and ourselves in the process.

Dr. McArt has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. There was a presentation about it at the 2015 Pollinator Conference.

Messiness also takes pressure off managed honeybees, an increasingly fragile species, by providing them a rich source of wild, non-sprayed nectar and pollen. Orchardists do not spray insecticides when their crops are flowering because they know it will kill bees. But many fungicides, which are not intended to kill insects, are sprayed during bloom. One of the unexpected findings of research done through the Dyce Lab is that non-lethal sprays like fungicides are directly linked with the decline of both wild bees and honeybees. But banning a particular chemical is not a panacea—the situation is far more complex than that. What is needed to save bees of all stripes is a real change in mindset regarding landscape aesthetics.

This garden at Bethpage State Park Golf Course is an excellent example of entropy. Primarily established with native wildflowers, there are also a significant number of volunteers. NYS IPM staff found over 100 different species of insects, primarily bees and wasps, taking advantage of the bounty.

Increasing the entropy on one’s property is as easy as falling off a log (which of course is a literal example of increased entropy). Pollinators need plants which bloom at all different times, grow at various heights, and have a multitude of flower shapes and structures. For greater abundance and diversity of wild flowering plants, all you need to do is stop. Stop constantly mowing everything. Choose some places to mow once a year in the late fall, and others where you will mow every second third year. Stop using herbicides, both the broadleaf kind and the non-selective type.

Before you know it, elderberry and raspberry will spring up. Woody plants like dogwoods and viburnums will start to appear. Coltsfoot and dandelions, essential early-season flowers, will come back. Asters and goldenrod (which by the way do not cause allergies), highly important late-season sources of nectar and pollen, will likewise return.

Despite their unassuming flowers, Virginia creeper attracts a large number of pollinating bees and wasps. Photo: Joellen Lampman

Wild grape, virgin’s bower, Virginia creeper and wild cucumber will ramble around, without any help whatsoever. However, you may choose to help this process along by sowing perennial or self-seeding wildflowers like purple coneflower, foxglove, bee balm, mint, or lupine. Even dandelion is worth planting. You’ll not only get more wild pollinators, you’ll also see more birds. Redstarts, tanagers, orioles, hummingbirds, catbirds, waxwings and more will be attracted to such glorious neglect. No feeders required.

I strongly advocate for more chaos in the plant department, even if the local Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Board frowns upon it. Remember, just because you’re an unkempt community doesn’t mean you have to change the name of your town.

Many thanks to Paul for letting us share his piece! For more information on protecting pollinators and enhancing their habitat, visit the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program’s pollinators webpage.

July 8, 2015
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Get Rid of Carpenter Bees? Yes, Please!

Get Rid of Carpenter Bees? Yes, Please!

Carpenter bees are common spring and summer insects in the eastern United States. They first come to attention when males “buzz” or “dive bomb” people passing by and females are seen excavating holes in wooden structures. Like carpenter ants, carpenter bees do not eat wood, but rather use the substrate for nesting. They are important pollinators, but can become a nuisance pest of structures.

Carpenter bee females create galleries or tunnels in dry wood during the spring. Bees bore into the wood, then turn 90 degrees to tunnel along the grain.
Carpenter bee females create galleries or tunnels in dry wood during the spring. Bees bore into the wood, then turn 90 degrees to tunnel along the grain.

Did You Know…?

  • By the numbers: Carpenter bees are solitary insects that do not form colonies, but many females may nest in the same area.
  • Mock attack: If males feel their nests are threatened, they will aggressively pursue and harass, but they have no stinger.
  • Look-alikes: Both carpenter and bumble bees are black and yellow, but bumble bees have fuzzy abdomens while carpenter bees are smooth.
  • Galleries: On average, galleries are 4 – 6”, but tunnels can extend up to 10 feet long.
  • Collateral Damage: In addition to the structural damage caused by carpenter bee tunneling, empty galleries can invite secondary pests such as beetles, moths and scavengers, and even fungal rot when moisture enters openings.

Integrated pest management can help to prevent carpenter bees from redecorating your home. See Get Rid of Carpenter Bees? Yes, Please! fact sheet for more information on carpenter bees and how to manage them.

April 4, 2013
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Don’t bee fooled

Don’t bee fooled

April can fool you all month long. Even if your pest-prevention responsibilities lie mostly indoors where frost and rain rarely intrude — a school, an office building, a museum, your home — April has some tricks up her sleeve. Those perimeter  pests, for example: wasps, bees, ants, termites. For many species of wasps and bees, queens are the only ones that survive the winter, so most likely you won’t see them making their solitary way in early spring. Take yellowjackets, paper wasps, and hornets. They’re out there scouting for nest sites — which means you should be scouting for them.

 

this starter nest is still small

Scope out entryways, porticos, eaves, and attics for small starter nests — it’s far easier to deal with a queen and a half-dozen workers now than a queen and 5,000 workers later. When you see a nest, knock it down with a broomstick, the spray nozzle on a hose, or even your kid’s Super Soaker. Then step on it. If using the broomstick, best done early on chilly mornings — wasps can’t move fast when it’s cool outside.

 

About yellowjackets — they’re really aggressive in defense of their nests. Not all species nest where you can see them. Some go underground — nesting in abandoned rodent burrows, for instance. Others find sneaky little holes leading into walls or attics. Get professional help — and never swat a yellowjacket (or any other wasp) — it releases alarm pheromones that call its kin to the scene. In the melee that follows you’re likely to get stung way more than you’d like.

 

Got bumblebees buzzing around your house? Most likely they’re carpenter bees, actually. Bumblebees look fuzzy; carpenter bees have shiny black bellies. Some are all-black.

 

Watch as they crawl in and out of their perfectly round holes — these bees are nature’s power drill. Though males will dive-bomb you if you move quickly, don’t be fooled (or frightened!): they can’t sting. Females (less often seen) can sting — but only if you work hard to provoke them. Though new nests are small, carpenter bees can do serious damage as subsequent generations bore deeper into wood to rear their young in turn. How to cope? Start here.

 

Worried you’ve got termites? They might be ants instead. And both termites and ants can swarm on warm spring days — maybe making you think you’ve got some kind of weird bee instead. But those wings are temporary.

 

Here’s how to tell termites and ants apart. Termites seem to have just two body parts: rounded heads with straight antennas and cigar-shaped bodies. Ants, au contraire, have three distinct body parts and (more distinctly yet) narrow-waisted hourglass figures. Note their bent antennae, too. Most ants are an annoyance and no more … but carpenter ants can remodel your home — while termites can demolish it. What to do? Begin here: Carpenter ants. Termites.

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