New York State IPM Program

September 28, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on In praise of messiness

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.

August 8, 2016
by Lynn A. Braband
Comments Off on Wasps and Festivals

Wasps and Festivals

One of the great things about living in New York State in the summer and fall is the availability of numerous festivals. It seems like every area has several each weekend. Hard to choose! In addition to sudden downpours, yellowjacket wasps are one of the consistent nemeses of festival attendees. This is especially true in late summer and early autumn when the wasps are present in seasonally high numbers and are attracted to sweets and other food of the ubiquitous concession stands.

Yellowjacket

Yellowjacket

Reduce attractants

Although not eliminated, the risks associated with yellowjackets can be reduced. Festival managers and vendors need to pay particular attention to reducing the vulnerability of drinks, food, and waste. Trash cans should be emptied frequently and have lids that close tightly. Regularly police the grounds for discarded trash. Keep exposed food and drinks to a minimum, and provide lids for beverage containers. Every one of these tactics are core to the premise of sound IPM: prevention is your best defense.

Trapping yellowjackets

Some festival organizers have reduced the number of reported stings after adding yellowjacket container traps. The wasps are attracted to a sweet liquid inside the trap and then drown. On-going research at Cornell indicates that use of these traps may reduce the number of yellowjackets by as much as 30%. We and our partners have largely established traps on poles surrounding the concession stand area. Some vendors trap in the immediate vicinity of the concessions.

The suggested protocol is to start trapping about a week before the festival and to continue trapping through the festival. The traps should be serviced daily, especially immediately before and during the festival. There is also evidence that the traps do not merely intercept wasps that would have been present anyway but attract wasps. Thus the best use of the traps is probably when there will already to an attractant, such as concession stands. Some wasps may be able to escape the traps. Use of a surfactant, as dishwater soap, may reduce this.

Personal protection

IPM gets personal: Light-colored clothing is less attractive to wasps than dark- or brightly-colored clothes. Perfumes and strong-smelling soaps and perfumes may also attract them. Avoid erratic movement when a wasp is flying or crawling near you — by which we mean don’t try to shoo them away — or worse, swat them. Keep your food and drinks covered. It is far from pleasant to drink down a wasp! Insect repellents will not deter wasps.

For more information

Please check out our video on yellowjackets and other stinging insects.

June 16, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26

Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26

Pollinator week — coming right up on June 20 — celebrates all pollinators. There’s honey bees, of course, but also native bees. In fact, NYS IPM-funded research has counted 104 known species alone in New York’s orchards. Of course, bees pollinate more than just orchards, and 450 species all told call New York home — including two on New York’s endangered species list. Collectively these bees contribute upward of $9 billion in pollination services to New York’s economy — and we’re not even talking the value of honey itself.

Gotta love bats, even if they don't pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.

Gotta love bats, even if they don’t pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.

For sure: we can’t leave out butterflies, moths, flies (think flower flies, hover flies, and more), wasps, beetles, and hummingbirds. If we lived in the Southwest, we’d be thanking bats as well.

Now, though, let’s focus on bees, since  entomologists have discovered so many cool things about how flowers attract bees  — and vice versa. Those scientists have found an array of captivating “who’d a thunk it” ways these symbiotic mutualists have evolved to do each other right.

Yet before we go down that track, a little detour — pointing you to info from NYS IPM’s “Protecting Pollinators” conference. Start with the first two: Emma Mullen’s fascinating talk and superb visuals, and Scott McArt’s tour of Cornell’s research, now in full swing.

OK, back to our symbiotic mutualists — the blossoms and the bees. Examples? Consider color. Bees don’t see red, but they do see ultraviolet. In fact, many flowers equip themselves with “come hither” ultraviolet landing platforms, landing strips, or both.

OK, bees don't see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.

OK, bees don’t see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.

And how about the electric fields wafting up from flower petals? “Everyone knows that bees buzz around flowers in their quest for nectar,” reports Marc Lallanilla at LiveScience. “But scientists have now learned that flowers are buzzing right back — with electricity.”

Gaillardia again ... with UV guidance to the goods.

Gaillardia again … with UV guidance to the goods.

Why? That electric charge advertises — you guessed it — a nectar source. On the other hand, a blossom just depleted of nectar needs to recharge its nectar reserves. So it emits a different signal, one that alerts the bees to just fly on by. After all, bees can learn. And they don’t have time to waste visiting pretty flowers if the nectar is gone. Bees might learn to ignore a flower with a reputation for false advertising (as it were) — even after the flower had topped off its tank.

And then … there’s also “buzz pollination” where flowers wait till a bee buzzes at the right frequency, then reward it with a cache of pollen. True, these flowers don’t offer free drinks (that would be nectar) as a reward. But the pollen they offer is, for some species of bees, reward enough. After all, it’s what they feed their young. Note that we said “for some species.” Bumble bees are great buzz pollinators, as are many native bees. But honey bees never learned that trick. (The science behind it ? Science Direct and Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society.)

Planting potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers (all relatives in the Solanaceae family) or pumpkins, zucchinis, and blueberries? Know that native bees are your go-to experts in buzz pollination. (If you live, say, in a high-rise with a window gardens and no access to rooftop beekeepers, you could buy a VegiBee pollinator and do it yourself.)

Of course, not every flower does any or all of the above. If you want to do right by bees, think before you plant and focus on these four things:

  • Plant for continuous bloom — pollinators don’t get down time; your garden shouldn’t either. Is your yard tiny? Try collaborating with your neighbors and think of it as yet another form of symbiotic mutualism.
  • Is this a bee-friendly flower? Example: if you love roses, plant those old-timey kinds with the simple “single” flowers. Densely clustered petals just get in the way. (While roses provide little in the way of nectar, they’ve got pollen to spare.)
  • Cluster your plants. Groups of long-blooming flowers, rather than single plants scattered here and there, offer bees a better use of their time and energy.
  • Nectar sounds juicy, but pollinators need straight-up water too. Just be sure to empty your bird feeder or plant saucer every few days. Yes, even mosquitoes pollinate flowers. But that’s not reason enough to invite them into your yard. (Float a piece of wood in the water to give bees a safe landing place.)

What to plant? Variety is the spice of life.

Trees and shrubs: oak, cherry, willow, basswood, birch, tulip poplar, crabapple, blueberry, red maple, pine, hawthorn, linden, redbud, arrowwood viburnum, chokecherry, Rhododendron canadense, spicebush, gray dogwood, serviceberry, New Jersey tea, buttonbush, summersweet, Virginia sweetspire, American witchhazel.

Perennials for sun: aster, goldenrod, sunflower, Joe Pye weed, violet (also does well in shade), hardy geranium, black-eyed Susan, iris, milkweed, penstemon, phlox, threadleaf coreopsis, bee balm, cardinal flower, mountain mint, purple coneflower, columbine, liatris.

Perennials for shade: woodland phlox, blue lobelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, indian pink, wood aster, Dutchman’s breeches, violets (also does well in sun).

Weeds: OK, so you don’t need to plant dandelions; they plant themselves. They aren’t native and some people can’t stand them. But they’re here and they provide crucial early-season food for bees.

So there you have it. You too can protect pollinators.

June 9, 2016
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on For Wasps, Prevention Is Key — and the Time Is Now

For Wasps, Prevention Is Key — and the Time Is Now

Most of the wasps we’re too familiar with (and afraid of) are sociable with their own kind, building large nests in trees or underground. The problem is when they build nests under your eaves, picnic tables, or even (if you’re a farmer) under the seat of that baler  you’re about to rev up as part of your pre-harvest maintenance check.

At a distance these wasps make great neighbors. As predators of flies, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects, they help keep their numbers in balance. And that balance, that ounce of prevention, is a core tenet of IPM. But wasps are trigger-happy, so to speak — grab that picnic table to move it out of the sun and you’ll wish you looked underneath it first.

We could talk about any wasp you want, but today we’re focusing on bald-faced hornets. Just know that you can also apply IPM’s preventive tactics — we’ll get to that later — to your standard-issue yellow jackets, paper wasps, mud daubers and honey bees.

Big nests for big bruisers: this carton nest is too close to home.

Big nests for big bruisers: this carton nest is too close to home.

Bald-faced hornets house their colonies in large, enclosed carton nests. Like most wasps (and bees) these mostly mild-mannered critters turn nasty when their nest is threatened. They don’t know you had no intention of harm. But when  bald-faced hornets live too close, yes, they represent a public health concern.

Bald-faced hornet, up close and personal. Courtesy Gary Alpert, Harvard U.

Bald-faced hornet, up close and personal. Courtesy Gary Alpert, Harvard U.

Did You Know…?

  • What’s in a name?: White-faced hornets can be easily identified by the large patch of white on their faces.
  • Family relations: This hornet is the largest yellow jacket species in North America.
  • By the numbers: A nest can contain hundreds of hornets, and most will attack to protect their queen.
  • Danger! White-faced hornets have unbarbed stingers, so they sting repeatedly. (Author’s note: Take it from me — disturb a nest and yes, you might get stung way more than you’d like.)
  • Beneficial insect: White-faced hornets are important predators of flies, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects.
Only one way out of a carton home, but space enough for a battalion of angry moths to exit. courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Only one way out of a carton home, but space enough for a battalion of angry moths to exit. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Since technically it’s still spring and a chilly May slowed them down, you still have time. Inspect (in IPM lingo, “scout”) the aforementioned eaves, picnic tables, and outdoor equipment as well as the undersides of the railing on your porch or deck; that sort of thing. You’re looking for small carton nests that look like these, only way smaller. For other stinging wasps, keep and eye out for what looks like clots of mud (nifty inside, should you get a chance to dissect one) and the clusters of open cells, rather like honeycombs, that comprise a paper-wasp nest. Basically, you want to find a nest under construction, as it were — one with just a few workers ferrying back and forth to care for their queen.

Did You Know…?

  • Last year’s empties: See a scary-big nest? Most likely it’s from last year — and wasps don’t reuse them. On the other hand, a subtle scent left behind tells other wasps that this could be a good place to build a nest of their own. So get rid of empties.

Moving quietly on a warm-enough day, stake out a claim nearby and watch the nest for 15 minutes or so. See any wasps? You’ve got an active one. No wasps? Best to scrape the old nest off so they won’t worry you later.

How to get rid of them? At dusk or dawn (dawn is better — it’s usually cooler) get out there with a tall pole, a SuperSoaker, or a hose with a good nozzle on it (you want a focused, powerful stream of water) and knock them down one at a time. Then stomp on them. Need a light? Don’t shine it right on the nest; better yet, cover your light with red cellophane. (Wasps don’t register red.)

Looking ahead — for larger nests later in summer, ask yourself if the nest is close enough to where you live, work or play to pose a significant threat. If it’s at a distance, best to leave it be.

More prevention (core IPM!): cover outdoor garbage receptacles and pick up dropped fruit under fruit-bearing trees. Integrated pest management can help to determine if a bald-face hornet nest is a danger and what to do if it should be removed.

For more information visit:

For more information from the New York State IPM Program on other stinging insects, click here.

October 24, 2014
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Critters Can Do — Match the Pest and What It Does

Critters Can Do — Match the Pest and What It Does

Match the critter to what it does — or in one case, what natural force could kill it. (Answer key below.)

critter

can do

mouse 1 eats pests of crops or pollinates them — or both
cockroach 2 emerges from cocoon when it feels vibration of approaching host
aphid 3 makes tunnels within leaves
flea 4 killed by raindrops
wasp 5 squeezes through a hole the size of a dime
leaf miner 6 live weeks — perhaps months — without food
paper wasp

This wasp helps control pests while doing adjunct duty as a pollinator. Photo courtesy Ward Upham, Kansas State University, Bugwood.org.

leaf miner

This chrysanthemum leaf-miner is the larvae of a fly-family pest. Photo courtesy Central Science Laboratory, Harpenden Archive, Bugwood.org.

Answer key:

critter

can do

mouse 5
cockroach 6
aphid 4
flea 2
wasp 1
leaf miner 3

Where the links will take you:

  1. Some large stinging wasps eat crop pests; others help pollinate them. Some do both.
  2. Yes, different researchers say different things. Just know that cockroaches can survive without food for a couple of weeks and maybe much longer. (At need, “food” could include wallpaper paste, envelope glue, and more.)
  3. “For an aphid, a raindrop is something like what a refrigerator would be like falling on us,” said researcher Jeremy McNeil, an entomologist and chemical ecologist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.
  4. Fleas can live a long time inside the cocoon they pupated in — until they sense a host nearby.
  5. Follow the link to a fun, one-minute video of a fat mouse scrambling through a tiny hole.
  6. Their name (they dig mines, as it were) gives them away — but you’d be surprised at how many different sorts of insects have larvae that burrow through something as thin as a leaf.

August 5, 2014
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Dog-day Cicadas — and the Wasps That Do Them In

Dog-day Cicadas — and the Wasps That Do Them In

Midsummer in New York is when things really start to heat up. And as if hot days aren’t enough, the sound of the dog day cicada makes it seem even hotter.

Cicadas are robust insects —  up to 1 ¼ inch — with piercing mouthparts that suck up plant juices. Cicada nymphs live underground, feeding on sap from roots. Adults, on the other hand, feed from trees and shrubs. 

But this story isn’t about dog day cicadas. It’s about the predator that eats them.

Bold yellow stripes on a black body have "wasp" written all over them.

Bold yellow stripes on a black body have “wasp” written all over them.

Cicada killer wasp measure from a little over an inch to 2 inches. And that’s big. Cicada killers are solitary wasps: each female digs her own burrow, usually in light or sandy soil. The males that guard a female can be aggressive — but as far as we’re concerned, it’s all an act.  Why? They don’t have stingers. They pose little threat to humans — besides intimidation.

But females — they have stingers (though not for us). And that’s where the action begins. In fact,  female cicada killers can catch cicadas in flight, then inject them with a paralyzing venom. Next, they drag them into their burrows — each female to her own — where the cicada serve as food for the wasp larvae as they grow.

For their own nourishment, though, these females dine on plant nectar. Just don’t provoke them too much — they can sting in self-defense.

Don’t want them too close to home? Just don’t use a wasp and hornet spray; learn why here. Putting down grass seed on exposed soil in sunny spots or mulching your flower beds will make the habitat less suitable for cicada killers.

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