New York State IPM Program

January 16, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on We give awards: IPM, excellence, and Julie Suarez

We give awards: IPM, excellence, and Julie Suarez

True — this media release dates back to January 4. But that’s not so long ago, and for someone like Julie Suarez it bears repeating. In short: we presented Julie (whom you’ll meet in a minute) with an Excellence in IPM award for—well, we could name a host of reasons. But we’ll let this speak to some of the best.

Advocacy and accolades earn Excellence in IPM award for Cornell champion Julie Suarez

Four hundred-plus wild
pollinators: this hover fly is
one of many that contribute to New York’s multi-billion-dollar
ag industry — not to
mention flowers in our landscapes. Courtesy Dawn Dailey O’Brien.

GENEVA, NY, January 4, 2018: Julie Suarez’s passion is people. People at work, people at home, people in need. Whether it’s about the farm or urban communities, she’s keenly aware of the pests and the problems. She knows the issues, the legislators, the associations and nonprofits. She’s a natural.

Now Suarez, assistant dean of Governmental and Community Relations at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), has received an Excellence in IPM award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYSIPM) for her unstinting advocacy for the people and programs at Cornell on issues that matter to all New Yorkers.

An accomplished facilitator, Suarez helps people

  • deal with invasive pests that threaten the livelihood of many farmers
  • preserve the pollinators—the honey bees and their kin—that are key to growing fruits and vegetables worth $1.15 billion to New York’s economy
  • cope with the relentless pressure of ticks and tick-borne diseases, which affected an estimated 8,000 New Yorkers in 2017 alone

Accolades for Suarez include:

  • Julie was instrumental in addressing the crisis when a new pest, a tiny fruit fly the size of a pinhead, threatened to put berry farmers out of business. She would answer questions, provide guidance and inform—usually responding to emails within minutes. I don’t know how she did it.
  • Julie reached out to me about research on pollinator health as soon as I arrived at Cornell. I’m impressed with the breadth and depth of her knowledge and her ability to work with scientists, officials and stakeholder groups statewide.
  • Julie is keenly aware of the key issues for state legislators, noting the committees they serve on and the needs of their constituents. That’s how the NYSIPM Program became involved with the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease.

“Julie is proactive, strengthening the bonds between  the  IPM  Program  and the community at large,” says New York Senator Sue Serino, herself a leader in the fight against Lyme disease. “She consistently exceeds the expectations of those around her.”

“Julie brings legislators in Albany to Cornell and Cornell researchers to the legislators. She gets it that programs like ours take science to the people,” says Jennifer Grant, director of NYSIPM. “It’s a privilege working with Julie to serve all New York’s citizens.”

Suarez received her Excellence in IPM award on January 4 at the NYS Agricultural Society’s Annual Forum in Syracuse, NY. Learn more about IPM at nysipm.cornell.edu.

Left to Right: L-R: Dean Kathryn Boor, CALS; Commissioner Richard Ball, NYS Ag & Markets; Assistant Dean Julie Suarez, Governmental and Community Relations, CALS; Director Jennifer Grant, NYS IPM ; President Beth Claypoole, NYS Ag Society. Photo provided.

January 5, 2018
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Ticks and the freezing weather

Ticks and the freezing weather

“That is a bracing cold, an invigorating cold. Lord, is it cold!” – Sheldon Cooper

It is inevitable that when the temperatures drop below zero we are asked “Will this extended period of extremely low temps kill off ticks?”

First, the bad news. We do not expect the cold to directly affect black-legged or dog ticks as they are adapted to this climate and will survive just fine under the blankets of leaf litter and snow.

The good news, followed by some bad news, is we are basically looking at a reversal of the large quantities of ticks in 2017 that began in 2015 when oaks in New York underwent a mast seeding event. (In simple terms, there was an enormous amount of acorns on the ground across the state. If you want to delve more deeply into the mast year phenomenon, check out Mechanisms of mast seeding: resources, weather, cues, and selection.) Abundant quantities of food led to a large quantity of small mammals in 2016. Large numbers of small mammals led to a substantial number of ticks in 2017. Researchers at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies have decades of field research to back up the relationship, and lag time, between mast years and Lyme disease risk.

Which brings us to the current frigid weather, and probably even more importantly, the ice under the snow, and how it will impact small mammals. Animals that have a harder time finding food are more likely to (in order of lessening consequences) die of starvation, succumb to other stresses such as disease or predation, fail to mate, give birth to fewer young, and give birth less often. In a nutshell, there should be fewer hosts come spring. And fewer hosts eventually lead to fewer ticks. Good so far.

But there is some bad news, too. During the time of high tick numbers and fewer small mammal hosts, each of us, and our companion animals, are at greater risk of coming into contact with questing ticks. So as soon as the temperatures rise into the mid-30s (and we know you will be out enjoying the veritable heat wave), ticks will be questing and we need to Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way.

I am afraid the search for a reason to fully embrace the cold continues.

December 15, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Rats! the latest research comes with surprises

Rats! the latest research comes with surprises

Hidden in plain sight: rats own the night.

Consider the rat — the urban sort. Then consider our health, our food, and the damage rats do to our buildings. Yet despite the considerable impact they have, there’s not much science out there. Until recently, most of the research dates back to the mid-1900’s.

Now, though, rodent researchers worldwide are taking a closer look at rats — at their biology, ecology and evolution. Here are some takeaways:

Genomics shift as cities change.
Consider the evolution of life in large cities — and how understanding these changes can help us cope with rats. For instance, an eight-lane highway or even a really busy street are as dangerous for rats to cross as they are for us. Unlike us, however, rats have few opportunities to date (and hence to mate with) other rats from across, say, Broadway. (A side street poses less of a problem). As we learn what gene flow teaches us, we can see that the areas rats occupy — whether a single building or several city blocks — matters. A lot.

After all, ridding rats from a bagel shop or coffee bar doesn’t really help if rats can quickly re-infest the premises from establishments down the street.

Metro New York’s rats arrived in the 1700’s — then closed the doors.
The Big Apple’s rats are evolutionary kin of — believe it — rats from Great Britain and France. Sure, the colonies traded mainly with Britain and France during the 1700’s. But what’s surprising is the lack of evidence for rat introductions from any other part of the globe. This suggests that the rats that took up shop in what was then a small but fast-growing burg killed or repelled every rat that arrived at the Port of New York since then. Ecologists call this biotic resistance.

Plenty of food and soil for nests can lead to high rat populations.

Rat populations are patchy in urban areas.
Several studies showed that rats mainly occupy urban hot spots where food, water and shelter abound. Might rat genomics lead to habitat preferences? Do some prefer to live in high rises, others in parks and still others in warehouses or office buildings — all in the same cluster of blocks? Indeed, rat colonies nearby could differ genetically while those further away but in similar habitats show similarities.

Regardless — just short of a mile is what it takes to separate one colony from another. The occasional rat that crosses that boundary isn’t enough to keep them genetically related. Your Uptown Rat and your Downtown Rat — forget any romance there.

Reflecting above a water source: a pool of sewage in a building crawlspace.

Rodent-borne disease is patchy in urban areas.
Just as rat populations are patchy in urban environments, rodent-borne disease is also found in hot spots. Consider Bartonella. This group of bacterial pathogens has a number of health consequences for people, but the recent research shows that

  • some populations had high percentages of infected rats
  • rats from those sites were host to a greater diversity of pathogens and ectoparasites
  • human health risks are unknown and can be known only with more complete sampling

Rats are sneaky and diabolically clever, making them hard to study. Rats on the day shift are often weaker members of the colony.

In urban areas, rats are really hard to study.
As people who have conducted rodent research, we can tell you that rats are hard to study. They’re secretive, they nest underground, they’re nocturnal, accessing them is difficult — and they’re likely to croak before we can study them. Radio telemetry and Global Positioning System (GPS) rarely work because of interference from buildings and hard surfaces.

Urban rodents have plagued cities around the world throughout recorded history. But with the tools of modern science we can glimpse their complex and secretive lives, exposing some of their mysteries. With more questions than answers, the field of urban rodentology is an open book.

Recent Rodent Research Articles (November 2017)
Angley, LP, MC Combs, C Firth, MJ Frye, I Lipkin, JL Richardson, & J Munshi-South. Spatial variation in the parasite communities and genomic structure of urban rat vectors in New York City. Zoonoses and Public Health DOI10.1111/zph.12418

Byers, KA, MJ Lee, CM Donovan, DM Patrick, & CG Himsworth. 2017. A Novel Method for Affixing Global Positioning System (GPS) Tags to Urban Norway Rats(Rattus norvegicus): Feasibility, Health Impacts and Potential for Tracking Movement. Journal of Urban Econology 3(1): jux010

Combs, M, EE Puckett, J Richardson, D Mims, & J Munshi-South. 2017. Spatial Population Genomics of the Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) in New York City. Molecular Ecology

MTJ Johnson & J Munshi-South. 2017. Evolution of Life in Urban Environments. Science 358(6363): eaam8327

Peterson, AC, BM Ghersi, F Alda, C Firth, MJ Frye, Y Bai, LM Osikowicz, C Riegel, WI Lipkin, MY Kosoy, & MJ Blum. Rodent-borne Bartonella infection varies according to host species within and among cities. EcoHealth. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-017-1291-4

December 8, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Wasps in winter? the IPM do-nothing approach

Wasps in winter? the IPM do-nothing approach

You might live in a row house, an apartment house, a single-family dwelling. You might have a carport or outbuildings. You might be buttoning up a concession stand for the winter and moving the picnic benches under cover for the winter.

And then … you see it. Feel it. A wasp or hornet nest, up in the corner of a window jamb or down under a bench. It might even be in a porch light fixture or a parking meter. It might feel like dried mud. Vaguely resemble a chunk of honeycomb, minus the honey. Look like a football (more or less), built of layer upon layer of flaky gray papery stuff.

At least that gray papery stuff didn’t effect reading the meter. Photo Way Out In The Margi

You don’t see any wasps flying in or out. But just to be sure, you get the wasp spray and douse that nest but good. And hope you killed them all, because the last thing you want is wasps knocking at the door this year or next.

But… nobody’s home. It’s not summer anymore. The old queen has died. A newly fertilized queen, replete with eggs, is doing the insect equivalent of hibernation and taken refuge beneath a piece of bark somewhere.

And the rest of the hive? Each member has died a solitary death. Not one is holed up in the nest, waiting to help the new queen clean house, make necessary repairs, and set up shop come spring. Even knowing this, maybe you’re inspired to knock down the hive and stomp on it, just to be sure. Besides, you don’t want wasps nesting under the picnic benches ever again.

Knocking the nest down is all well and good, but it’s rare that a queen would repopulate it anyway. She wants a fresh start. If come spring you see the occasional wasp hanging out on an old hive, know that it’s gathering material for new digs somewhere else. If you’re a paper wasp, for instance, it’s easier to chew that old nest into a mushy pulp for brand new paper than to strip wood from a twig and start from scratch.

A summer home made of mud, off to a good start. Photo Harper College.

Yes, it’s lucky no one handled that nest under the picnic bench or fire-escape railing or any of a hundred other places that nest might have been.

But should you see some wasps next spring and suddenly this story comes to mind, take a look around you. See any signs of tiny new nests taking shape? Are they high under an eave and far from anyplace you could get to with ease? Or is one right next to the entryway to your home? We’ll have a brand-new post for you with brand-new info on wasps, their nests, and what to do about them.

Can’t wait? Go here.

December 2, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on How to choose a healthy, happy Christmas tree

How to choose a healthy, happy Christmas tree

First things first, should you have heard the sudden flurry of news about thousands of bugs infesting your Christmas tree. Not true, not true at all. Stories like this are way overblown.

Here in New York, Christmas tree growers use solid IPM practices to deal with pests — and “most insects aren’t hanging around this time of year anyway,” says Elizabeth Lamb, a Christmas tree expert with NYS IPM. Know also that most Christmas tree farms — whether cut-your-own or wholesale — have shakers, special machines that shake bugs to the ground before the trees are sold.

Whether it’s a cut your own or wholesale Christmas tree farm, growers focus on providing happy, healthy trees.

But now back to our story. Already some of us have begun the quest for the just-right Christmas tree. Are you one? Before you go tree-shopping, keep these seven simple steps in mind:

  1. Measure your space before you shop so your tree will fit nicely in your home. And don’t put it next to a radiator or furnace vent.
  2. Look for a tree with a solid green color — or for some kinds, blue-green. Do you see yellowing needles or slight brown speckles? Be forewarned — its needles might drop early.
  3. Choose a tree that fits your needs. Each kind offers its own shape, color, fragrance, and even branch stiffness — important for holding ornaments.
  4. Don’t be afraid to handle and bend the branches and shoots. The needles shouldn’t come off in your hands. The shoots should be flexible. If its shoots crack or snap with handling, this is not the tree for you.

    Do the needles stay on the tree? Are they flexible? Are they fragrant? All these point to a healthy tree.

  5. Christmas trees should smell good. Not much fragrance when you flex the needles? The tree might have been cut too long ago.
  6. Resist if you can the impulse to bring your tree inside right away. Keeping it  outside (on a deck, porch, or even a balcony) in the chill air, its base in a bucket of water, will keep it happy and healthy until you and yours just can’t wait any longer. If you have a small bowsaw, make a fresh cut on the bottom to help it take up water.
  7. Trees get thirsty. They can drink  as much as a gallon a day. Once your tree is inside, always keep the water in the tree stand topped off.

At NYS IPM, we put prevention first by promoting healthy plants. But in this case preventing disappointment — your disappointment — is what we’re about.

November 22, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Gray squirrels skittering around to keep up — their pantry or yours?

Gray squirrels skittering around to keep up — their pantry or yours?

PUBLISHED ON November 11, 2017 | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County

“Squirrels have been criticized for hiding nuts in various places for future use and then forgetting the places. Well, squirrels do not bother with minor details like that. They have other things on their mind, such as hiding more nuts where they can’t find them.”

Although those that feed birds think squirrels are there strictly to torment them, squirrels are quite useful in maintaining hardwood forests.

Unfortunately, that succulent passage was penned in 1949 by W. Cuppy in his book “How To Attract A Wombat.” I say unfortunately because I wanted to write it first, but was unable to get born in time. The tradeoff, which is that I got to be quite a bit younger than he, probably worked out for the best anyway.

Before learning stuff like “facts” about squirrels, it made me feel smug to think that their attention span was even worse than mine. Popular wisdom used to hold that the fluffy-tailed rodents spent half their lives burying nuts, only to forget about most of them a few minutes later. I figured that was why they generally seemed frantic, always thinking they hadn’t stored any food yet.

The great thing about the whole affair is that tons of butternuts, oaks, hickories and walnuts get planted each fall, mostly in flower boxes, but some in actual forests where they can grow to maturity. As a kid I would see untold numbers of squirrels in parks, on college campuses and around dumpsters, but few in the woods. The latter, I assumed, were lost, or in transit to a day-old bakery outlet.

So it came as a surprise to learn gray squirrels are native to temperate hardwood forests, at home in large unbroken tracts of woods. In fact, squirrels are critical to the survival of many nut-bearing trees. Walnuts, acorns and hickory nuts, which do not tend to waft on the breeze so well, and which soon dry out and degrade on the ground, need someone to cart them off and plant them in the ground.

Gray squirrels can be so numerous in the human domain that they become pests. Photo credit: get down flickr

The irony is that while gray squirrels can be so numerous in the human domain that they become pests, they are disappearing from the forests that depend on them for regeneration. The reason is that most woodlands today are patchwork. In a shocking failure of the free market, it seems no one is making large contiguous tracts of forested land any more, even though they’re increasingly rare.

It’s hard to criticize agriculture, especially if you eat on a regular basis, but clearing land to grow food has fragmented our woods. One problem with breaking up forest land is that animals may need more than just a piece of it at a time.

Gray squirrels have large, shared territories with no real borders. Although they are great at things like tree planting and eating the faces off Halloween pumpkins, they’re not so good at running across fields to the next patch of trees. Well the running works OK, but not the looking out for predators. Gray squirrels evolved in a world where hiding places grew on trees. As a result, predation was low. But since the time they have been forced to hike out in the open, hawks, coyotes and foxes have taken a bite out of wild squirrel populations.

Red squirrels, however, are moving into habitats once occupied by gray squirrels. It seems logical to think that an army of red, fluffy nut-planters would be just as good as propagating an oak-hickory forest as the gray, fluffy sort were. Not so. The reds, which evolved among conifers, are accustomed to stashing pine, spruce and fir cones in hollow trees or right out in the open. When they encountered acorns and nuts, they carried on with this tradition. In the open-air caches of the red squirrels, tree nuts desiccate and become non-viable. Nothing gets planted. Also, red squirrels have smaller, discrete territories they do not share, so they’re not as apt as the grays to gallivant over to a nearby block of trees, and thus they avoid those pesky carnivores. In this way they’re better adapted to a fragmented forest than the grays are.

Getting back to forgetfulness, science has polished up the reputation of gray squirrels by observing them. Evidently no one thought of doing this novel procedure until 1990. That’s when Lucia F. Jacobs and Emily R. Lyman of Princeton University’s Biology Department set up a series of nut-caching experiments with gray squirrels. And hopefully a few interns as well. Their impressive article was published in the Journal of Animal Behavior in 1991, and is readily available online in case anyone has an attention span longer than mine.

I should mention that gray squirrels are considered “scatter hoarders,” stashing nuts and acorns all over the place. They tend to dig them up and rebury them as many as five times prior to winter, possibly to confound greedy neighbors or pilfering jays. Each successive re-cache takes them farther and farther from the parent tree, which is good in terms of forest ecology.

Jacob and Lyons concluded that even after waiting 12 days, gray squirrels quickly located about 2/3 of the nuts they buried, but that they also exhumed a few that weren’t theirs. However, each squirrel managed to end with at least 90% of the original number provided by researchers. This shows that memory is the primary means of locating cached tree nuts. And that while they don’t plant as many trees as we once thought, they make up for it by planting each one many times.

The search continues for a squirrel-proof bird feeder. Photo credit: Ken flickr

Many thanks to Paul for letting us share his piece! For more information on what to do to prevent squirrels from planting trees in your flower boxes or, worse yet, nesting in your attic, visit the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program’s What’s Bugging You – Wayward Wanderers webpage. When it comes to keeping them out of bird feeders, you are on your own.

Paul Hetzler is a forester and a horticulture and natural resources educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County

November 16, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Sandbox or Litterbox – You Decide

Sandbox or Litterbox – You Decide

Raccoons are pretty cute, but you really don’t want them pooping on the property. Photo: Nell McIntosh

We don’t have to go to wild places to find wildlife. A surprisingly wide range of species can be found in our sities and towns, from familiar animals like the raccoon to more exotic ones like the mountain lion. – Roger Tory Peterson

When I was younger, raccoons were my favorite animal. It was hard to resist their clever little hands and cute bandit masks. My stuffed raccoon was named Rickie. Even when I was old enough to learn about rabies, my love didn’t wane. But then, when taking a wildlife rehabilitation workshop, I learned about Baylisascaris procyonis (raccoon roundworm), an intestinal parasite passed in raccoon poo.

The speakers at that workshop recommended using a blowtorch to kill the eggs of this intestinal parasite which, terrifyingly, can enter our eyes and nervous systems. The cuddly raccoon lost its place in my heart.

My love-hate relationship with raccoons came to mind when I saw the CDC has released a fact sheet on raccoon latrines and Baylisascaris procyonis. I do work quite a bit with school and child care facilities with their obligatory playgrounds. The CDC notes that “young children or developmentally disabled persons are at highest risk for infection, as they may be more likely to put contaminated fingers, soil, or objects into their mouths.” But they fail to point out that sandboxes can serve as a raccoon latrine. (It’s listed as a possibility here.) Of course, cats, which carry their own suite of parasites, are more likely to use sandboxes as their own personal litter box. It’s good IPM to prevent all types of animals from accessing your sandboxes.

The idea is good, but the implementation is lacking. Without securing the tarp, animals can easily slip under it. Photo: Joellen Lampman

No need to rid your property of sandboxes — indeed, there are sensory and group play opportunities with sandboxes (just Google “sand play activities”). But you must prevent animals from gaining access. Here’s how:

  • Keep sanitation a priority to avoid attracting wildlife – ensure that trash is cleaned up and put in a sealed container at the end of each day. (This will also help with other pests such as rats and yellow jackets.)
  • Have a “no food in the sandbox” rule – there is no need to provide an enticement for local animals to check out the box.
  • Have a solid box bottom — not only will this help prevent sand loss, but it keeps critters from burrowing in from underneath.
  • Have a durable cover on your box and make sure it is only uncovered during playtime.
  • Pest proof your buildings (including outbuildings) to reduce den sites. Raccoons will gladly set up facilities in your attic or garden shed.

    Sandbox with cover rolled back. Photo: Gil Garcia

    Tarp ties on the sandbox hold the tarp securely in place. Photo: Gil Garcia

If you find a latrine, check out the CDC fact sheet that includes information on cleaning it up while protecting your health. (Spoiler alert: they also recommend using a propane torch, since chemicals will not kill the eggs.)

Just a note that raccoon latrines can be found in other areas, including (yikes!) inside buildings. Be sure to pest proof your buildings to prevent raccoons (and squirrels and bats and birds) from making your building their new den. To keep wildlife out of your buildings and discourage them from your grounds, visit the NYS IPM Program web page: What’s Bugging You: Wayward Wanderers.

November 7, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Pollinators, awards — and IPM

Pollinators, awards — and IPM

Just one short week ago, we celebrated the College of Agriculture and Life Science at Cornell University’s Outstanding Accomplishments in Extension and Outreach Award. This award honors a team effort that benefits an important segment of the population or area of the state.

It takes teamwork — whether you’re a bee or a researcher. (Photo Sasha Israel)

New York, like the rest of the world, is highly dependent on the hundreds of species of crop pollinators that collectively contribute roughly $170 billion a year to the global economy. Many are in decline and under threat in New York and elsewhere.

That’s why Dean Kathryn J. Boor ’80 recognized the Cornell Pollinator Health Team for their outstanding outreach accomplishments in a ceremony that celebrated research, extension and staff excellence.

Pollinator Team at the 2017 CALS Award Ceremony

On hand to accept from Dean Kathryn Boor (L) were (L-R) Jennifer Grant, Bryan Danforth, Dan Wixted and Scott McArt.

The seven-member team includes entomologists, extension  outreach specialists and pest management experts  — one being NYS IPM‘s director Jennifer Grant.

The team provides critical extension and outreach on pollinator declines, including information on

  • optimal habitats for honey bees, native bees, and other pollinators
  • diseases that afflict bees
  • how pesticides affect bees — other pollinators too
  • what to do when your honey bees are in decline

Hi. I’m a hover fly and I pollinate lots of plants too. Plus my larvae eat aphids for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And no, I won’t sting you. (Photo credit Susan Ellis.)

With its focus on extension and outreach, the team has given more than 70 extension talks over the past three years in New York and elsewhere on pollinator health, bee diversity, integrated pest management practices and pesticide recommendations that minimize risks to bees — to all pollinators, in fact. Their audiences have included beekeepers, farmers, and lawmakers — as well as state and national organizations such as the New York Farm Bureau, the Audubon Society and Future Farmers of America.

“In three short years, the work of this team has made a notable impact both in scope and relevance to beekeepers,” Boor said at the ceremony. “The pollinator health team represents a model for how collaboration among different units at Cornell can lead to highly integrative and creative extension and outreach.”

November 1, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

Sorry to bring up a sore subject, but it’s still tick season. And will be all year round. What … during winter? Really? Yes. But for starters here’s your pop quiz:

A tick’s lifespan is

  • three months
  • ten months
  • twenty-four months (that is, about two years)

The best way to remove a tick is to

  • swab it with nail polish
  • hold a hot match to its behind
  • pull it straight up with fine-point tweezers

Even 15 million years ago, it was tick season. Trapped in amber, this tick carries Lyme-causing bacteria. (Photo credit Oregon State University.)

But back to our intro. Here’s the scoop: an adult female that hasn’t yet managed to grab hold of a large animal (think deer — or person) to get that all-important blood meal (can’t lay eggs without it) doesn’t want to wait around till a sunshiny summer day next year, because by then its number is up. Besides, the mice, chipmunks or birds it fed on earlier in its life cycle have only so much blood to go around. So that tick stays just below the soil where tall meadow flowers or low shrubs grow. Waiting. Waiting for a thaw barely long enough for it to scramble up one of those stems.

Waiting for the cues that tell it a warm-blooded animal is at close range. An animal that might be you.

And now for a look at our quiz. A tick’s lifespan? Your answer is (drumroll) C: upward of two years. Here’s how it works: Ticks spend a lot of time in dormancy, aka diapause. Eggs are laid in spring, tucked away out of sight. If some critter doesn’t find and eat them, they’ll hatch during summer as larval ticks (seed ticks, they’re sometimes called). Larval ticks are not infected with Lyme when they hatch — indeed, they’re pure as the fallen snow.

Meanwhile if likely hosts — those mice, chipmunks or birds — wander by, the ticks latch on. And if a host is already infected with Lyme disease or any of its nasty co-infections, those larval ticks, pure no more, are infected too.

Look close and you’ll see that spring, summer, fall, winter … every season is tick season. (Image credit Florida Dept. Health)

Larvae that make it this far morph into nymphs, and it’s diapause season again as the nymphs wait it out till the following spring. Assuming these ticks are now carriers —and about 25% will be — spring is the worst time of year for us. Because these ticks are tiny enough (the infamous poppy-seed stage) that they’re easy to overlook. If you get bit, ipso facto — you get Lyme (and quite possibly a co-infection too).

Things slack off in late summer as surviving nymphs enter a diapause that lasts till the following spring. But you can’t let down your guard, since by mid-fall through winter you’ve got those adult ticks to consider. The good thing (if “good thing” there is)? While half of these sesame seed-sized ticks are infected, they’re also easier to spot and remove.

Our second  quiz item? If any of these strike you as valuable folk wisdom, strike the valuable part and know it ain’t so. Nail polish? Matches? Don’t even think of it. Those first two items are just likely to tick that tick off — and it’ll vomit its gut contents into you in its hurry to get out. That is, if it can get out quickly; if it’s really drilled in, it has downloaded a cement-like substance to anchor itself. It takes some doing to disengage, however persuasive the nail polish, burnt match, or myriad other folklore remedies. (Twisting it is another no-no that comes to mind, mainly because someone asked me about it mid-way through this post.)

Pointy tweezers, held right against your skin and gripping the mouthparts, are the way to go. (Image credit tickencounter.org)

If you value your health, get yourself some pointy tweezers, sold for needlepoint and other crafts, and carry them with you always in your bag, backpack, or whatever you haul around. Grasp that tick as close as you can get to your skin and pull steadily. Did its mouthparts remain glued within? Not to worry — the tick will feed no more. And before too many days go by, your exfoliating skin (that’s when the top layer of skin cells drift away) will exfoliate them in turn.

With ticks, prevention can include everything from doing routine tick checks to wearing repellent clothing when you’re outdoors — regardless the season. And you can’t do much better than this for advice about dressing right.

Meanwhile here’s your catchphrase: 32, ticks on you. “32” as in 32°F. Stay watchful — and stay safe.

October 18, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Stink Bugs and Window Weeps

Stink Bugs and Window Weeps

This stink bug would appreciate a free pass into your home (or for that matter, your office). Learn how to keep it out.

After a few splendid years of low stink bug populations, we find ourselves in the midst of an epic invasion. In the past few weeks, I have captured dozens of brown marmorated stink bugs (aka BMSB), which fly from surrounding trees and perform a smack-landing onto my screen windows.

I do my best to capture the BMSB I see with a cup of soapy water. Simply place the cup under the bug and put your other hand over the bug. As a defensive mechanism, stink bugs will drop into the cup, requiring no physical contact on your part. Just toss them out the door or off your balcony. Or you could wrap it in a tissue and squish it; the tissue will keep stinky oils off your hands and out of the air. (As your final coup, you could drop the tissue in your compost bucket.) Both methods save a five-gallon flush down the toilet — really, you don’t ever have to flush stink bugs.

For the stink bugs I don’t catch, I try to keep them out of my house by making sure that my windows screens aren’t torn, there are no gaps around my windows and doors (they fit snugly into the frame), vents are screened or louvered, and window air conditioning units are removed before autumn — all key preventive tactics and core to good IPM. But I recently observed a new entry point on windows that I hadn’t considered before: the window weep hole.

Holes in screens are an invitation to stink bugs and other pests.

This window weep is missing its cover.

Weep holes are design features that allow water to escape from a structure, whether it’s a window, sliding door or a brick building. Weep holes must remain open for water to drain even as they exclude pests. For example, weep holes in brick can be covered with specifically designed screen materials or filled with pest exclusion products such as Xcluder Fill Fabric*. Newer windows have weep hole covers that function like one-way-doors: they open to drain water but are otherwise closed. Sometimes — as in the case of my windows — these break off, leaving an excellent entry point for pests such as BMSB. Once bugs enter the weep hole, they can climb up through gaps into the window track and into the space between the screen and the windowpane. When you open the window, well — you just gave them a free pass into your home.

Weep hole covers are available for purchase at a number of outlets, but you must buy the right cover to fit the dimensions of your window. Because of the variability in window weep hole sizes, pest professionals and maintenance personal who manage offices and apartment buildings might choose to use Xcluder Fill Fabric that can be cut to the proper size, providing both pest exclusion and water drainage.

*NOTE: Trade names used herein or products shown are for convenience only. No endorsement of products in intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products implied.

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