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.

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.

September 21, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s Hay Fever Season — and the Culprit Unmasked

It’s Hay Fever Season — and the Culprit Unmasked

[OK … so this isn’t strictly IPM. But it does shed light on a glorious native plant that gets a bad rap for making the allergy-prone among us miserable — and its weedy relative, found in city and country alike, that’s to blame. An IPM solution? Prevention, for one — education about weeding weedy city lots before ragweed flowers.]  

It’s late summer and we are awash in brilliant oceans of mustard-yellow goldenrod blooms. At the same time, hay fever symptoms are ramping up.

As goldenrod becomes the dominant wildflower on the scene, an increased pollen load in the air is making life miserable for those who suffer from allergies. Because of this correlation, it seems logical to blame goldenrod for your red itchy eyes, sinus congestion, sneezing, and general histamine-soaked misery.

Got hay fever? Don’t blame goldenrod. Photo Steve Burt, Creative Commons.

But there is an easy way to tell for sure if goldenrod is to blame — a one-question test: Have you noticed a lot of bees up your nose recently? If yes, then goldenrod might be guilty. If no, there is another culprit lurking about.

As one of the most abundant blooms of late summer and early autumn, this native wildflower is for many insects, including numerous bee species, a vital source of nectar as well as nutritious pollen.

Unfortunately, this latter item has given goldenrod a black eye among many allergy sufferers.

But consider this — goldenrod isn’t common in vacant city lots. And lots of hay fever suffers live in cities. Besides,  goldenrod can’t be guilty because its pollen is very heavy. That’s a relative term, I suppose, since it is light enough for bees to carry it around. Yet in the pollen realm it’s heavy—and is also very sticky—and can’t be blown far from the plant.

For goldenrod pollen to trigger an allergic response, someone or something would have to deposit its pollen directly into your schnozz. And in general, bees are not in the habit of doing so.

Will the real hay fever specialist please stand up? Photo Krzysztof Ziarnek Kenraiz, Creative Commons.

So who’s to blame for the spike in late summer allergies? Surprisingly, the culprit is goldenrod’s cousin, ragweed, although it doesn’t behave at all like its golden relative. Ragweed, another native plant, is also in the aster family, but unlike goldenrod it churns out loads of very light pollen.

Just how light? Ragweed pollen can remain airborne for several days, and significant quantities have been found as far as 400 miles out to sea. Ragweed easily colonizes vacant city lots, where a single ragweed plant can produce a billion pollen grains to fly on the breeze and make you sneeze.

Yep, this is the stuff that stuffs you up.

One reason we don’t suspect ragweed is that its blossoms are dull green and look nothing like a typical flower. It’s as if they’re trying not to attract attention. Because it’s wind-pollinated, it has no need to advertise with bright colors and sweet nectar to entice pollinators.

Turns out it’s way easier to attract wind than bees.

Most ragweed species—there are about 50 of them—are annual, but they come back year after year from the copious seeds they produce each fall. Ragweed will keep billowing allergens until the first hard frost, so let’s hope it’s not too much of an extended season this year. And let’s spread the word about goldenrod to spare it further false accusations.

[Our thanks to Paul Hetzler for his kind permission to use this story. Hetzler is a horticulture and natural resources educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County. Unedited original at https://blogs.northcountrypublicradio.org/allin/2017/09/10/dont-blame-goldenrod-for-your-bless-you-hay-fever-symptoms/]

 

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!

April 7, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Every Day is Earth Day — and the IPM Connection

Every Day is Earth Day — and the IPM Connection

Consider our forests and farms. Our rivers and lakes. And yes, our homes and workplaces. Wherever we live, work or play — when we care for our surroundings, we’re celebrating Earth Day.

Belong to a community garden? Got a garden by the house? You can welcome Earth Day by welcoming the critters that make any garden a healthy garden.

The IPM connection? It could be

  1. the bugs that eat other bugs — bugs you don’t want
  2. the core IPM practices you use to prevent problems
  3. the pollinators that ensure you have fruits and veggies for dinner

    This critter looks a little freaky. But hey, it’s on your side. It just found a nice patch of aphids and as a growing larva, it’s got the munchies.

Let’s take a look at number 1 — and the critter in the photo. Creepy, no? But it’s a ladybug larva. Who knew? Now take a look at all those green critters. Aphids. Aphids are bad news for your gardens or crops.

During its short lifespan as a larva, this ladybug-in-waiting will eat about 400 aphids. Once it’s become an adult, it’ll eat about 5,000 more.

Which leads us to core IPM practices and number 2. Provide good habitat for predators like ladybugs and you’ll have healthier plants. Which in turns leads to number 3: pollinators. Because if you don’t have healthy plants, you won’t have healthy flowers — and the fewer flowers, the fewer pollinators.

The cycle of life. Every day is Earth Day.

 

March 29, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Earth Day IPM for birds and bees — and native plants that nourish them

Earth Day IPM for birds and bees — and native plants that nourish them

We’re starting this post with a detour. But we have little choice. Before you go shopping around for landscape plants, you need to know the backstory.

Invasive plants, trees, shrubs, vines and flowers, many of them brought from afar because yes, they’re lovely in the landscape, have become a bit too much of a good thing. In part it’s because they didn’t evolve here. That could mean the critters — mostly insects or pathogens that co-evolved with them and helped keep them in check — don’t live here. Where that’s the case, there’s little here to naturally keep them in check.

OK, sumac berries aren’t all that tasty. But for migratory songbirds powering their way north, they offer needed nutrients. (Photo credit Mary Holland)

True, not all imported plants are invasive. But it’s all too easy to dig up a seedling or sucker from an invasive when you don’t know the extent of the problem. Which is partly why New York passed the Invasive Species Prevention Act in 2012.

Native plants, on the other hand, are less likely to get out of hand. Plus they can encourage biological control by attracting predatory or parasitoid insects — the good guys that prey on insect pests. And promoting these good guys is key to good IPM.

So with Earth Day in mind and planting season at hand, let’s note this threesome of invasive trees: angelica tree, sycamore maple, and Amur cork tree. These landscape trees are no longer for sale in New York. For a threesome of attractive natives that can fill their place — while helping the birds and bees — consider the merits of (drum roll) staghorn sumac, Juneberry, and white fringetree.

As we speak, migrating birds are stripping last year’s crop of staghorn sumac seeds, now mostly dry and withered but still nourishing, to power their northbound flight. Love birds? Your sumac planting will benefit robins, bluebirds, thrushes, catbirds, cardinals, chickadees, starlings, wild turkey, pileated woodpecker — and that’s just for starters. Soon its tiny yellowish flowers will attract bees and butterflies. Fiery autumn color. Drought resistant, and an excellent soil stabilizer on hillsides.

Juneberry isn’t your traditional hummingbird plant but welcoming even so. And first to flower means first to fruit — nourishment for many nesting songbirds. (Photo credit Hans. Thank you, Pixabay)

Juneberry (Amelanchier spp., with more  common names than you can shake a stick at) is also an early bloomer that draws hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. When its fruits ripen in early summer, robins, waxwings, cardinals, vireos, tanagers, and grosbeaks make a point of stopping by for a meal. You might too — the subtle flavor, shape, and color are reminiscent of blueberries. Grows well in full sun or part shade; adapts to wet or dry soils — but note soil must be acidic.

And then — raise your hand if you’ve seen our native witch hazel. This late bloomer is (metaphorically, that is) the golden chrysanthemum of the woods, daring to blossom when other trees have tucked in for a long winter’s nap. How to describe its flowers? Ribbonlike. Spidery. Kinky. Confetti-like — these all serve for a tree that’s the only show in town. But … if pollinators have tucked in too, how to play the pollination game? Turns out a native moth, the sallows, comes out on chilly nights — shivering its flight muscles and raising its body temperature upward of 50 degrees, then flying off search of food. And during a warm spell, bees will sup here too. Yes, this tree benefits birds and wildlife too, but more on that another time.

Witch hazel makes a lovely understory tree. Prefers part shade and moist but well-drained soil.

Common to all? They fit neatly under power lines.

And now a plug for IPM: it’s easy to talk about the birds and bees. Yet so many critters are on our side. Understandably we shudder when wasps and flies come to mind. But consider the scads of wasp and fly species that are on our side. Hey, plenty of wasps don’t even have stingers; they care only to lay their eggs within pest insects. Flies? Ever heard of flower flies? They do what their names suggests, while their larvae prey on aphids and thrips. And there’s scores more good guys in the family they belong to.

You can find plenty of detailed info here: Finding Alternatives to Invasive Ornamental Plants in New York. And know that we’re hosting a statewide IPM conference on invasive species and what to do about them on July 13. Save the date!

November 29, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Nature’s Herbicides and Lessons from Black Walnut Trees

Nature’s Herbicides and Lessons from Black Walnut Trees

You’re prepping your garden for winter, muttering about the sapling black walnut trees the squirrels planted on your behalf mere inches away — and the mother tree is in your neighbor’s yard. You know you can’t put off removing them: this might be the last year your loppers can manage the task.

Squirrels are pretty good at finding the walnuts they stashed here and there for winter. But they always miss a few.

Squirrels are pretty good at finding the walnuts they stashed here and there for winter. But they always miss a few.

Black walnuts get a lot of grief from gardeners. For those with small yards and a great love of tomatoes, the black walnut in a neighboring yard is bad news. But for the moment pretend you’ve got couple of acres, mostly meadow. Pretend the mama walnut tree in the hedgerow out back is framed by a couple of invasive ailanthus (aka tree of heaven) and some elderly pines and sugar maples. Pretend also that goldenrod, quackgrass, and garlic mustard are well-established meadow plants that push their way into your garden every chance they get.

And while you’re at it, pretend you planted buckwheat as a cover crop earlier this summer in some beds where weeds have held sway.

Buckwheat contains three allelopathic chemicals. Are they potential herbicides? Could be.

Buckwheat contains three allelopathic chemicals. Plus they grow really fast, out-competing many weeds.

What do all these plants have in common?

They’re alleopathic. That is: they have compounds in their leaves, roots, seeds, or stems that stave off other plants. True, some (think garlic mustard) will only hurt you. But some — buckwheat, for instance — will help. (Hint: click on the fifth bullet point when you open the page.)

NYS IPM’s horticulturalist Brian Eshenaur calls such allelopathic compounds “nature’s herbicides.” If you choose and use them, you might avoid the worrisome traits of conventional herbicides.

What worrisome traits? For starters, the potential for weeds to become herbicide-resistant. If using herbicides is the only way you’ve learned to deal with weeds, you could be in trouble. Could weeds (which, like plant diseases, qualify as pests) also become resistant to nature’s herbicides?

No one is sure. The research has just begun. But by way of example, consider this: insect pests become pesticide-resistant with relative ease. On the other hand, they don’t easily outsmart other bugs that evolved to eat them — which is why biocontrol is a key tenet of IPM.

Worried about walnut trees? Garlic mustard is acquiring a nasty reputation of its own.

Worried about walnut trees? Garlic mustard has a nasty reputation of its own.

Yes, black walnuts freely release their plant-suppressive chemicals. But even they have their soft spot.

Here’s what black walnuts are willing to live with:

lima, snap and soybeans; beets and swiss chard; corn; onions, garlic and leeks; parsnip and carrots; cauliflower; parsley; Jerusalem artichoke; melons, squash and pumpkins.

And here’s what they aren’t:

asparagus; cabbage, broccoli and kale; eggplant, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes; rhubarb; peas.

Where walnuts crowd too close, build raised beds with root barriers in the bottom — concrete or rubber patio blocks are one option. Hefty tubs are another. You could raise those beds even higher: built at waist height, they could keep your back happy too.

Worried about those walnut leaves that blow into your yard each fall? Can you add them to your compost? Have no fear. Exposed to air, water and bacteria, their toxic effect is history in two to four weeks. [1.]

Want to know more about shrubs and flowers that don’t mind walnut trees? Cornell Cooperative Extension is here to help.

Also, take a look at Eshenaur’s Weed-Suppressive Groundcovers. And consider that most of these plants are great when massed in perennial flowerbeds — and could provide welcome food and shelter for pollinators. Multitasking plants? They’re onto IPM.

1

  1. extension.iastate.edu/news/2005/jul/070701; this site also lists some compatible and incompatible plants.

September 28, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Move Over, Medusa: Pretty? Poisonous! in the Caterpillar Clan

Move Over, Medusa: Pretty? Poisonous! in the Caterpillar Clan

Our gratitude to Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County, for letting us use this post. The IPM connection? ID those fuzzy beasts before you add them to your “warm and fuzzy” petting zoo. 

When I was a kid I was fascinated by caterpillars but had trouble with the word. To me, the sweet little woolly-bear traversing my hand was a “calipitter.” It was only years later I learned that a calipitter is an instrument used to measure the diameter of a caterpillar to the nearest micron.

Caterpillars continue to interest me, although I no longer find them universally cute. Imagine the letdown and loss of innocence following the discovery that some of these fuzzy, fascinating, gentle creatures that tickled their way across my hand were venomous. This revelation was akin to finding out Bambi was a dangerous carnivore, which in fact is a fear that haunts me to this day.

Stunning — and striking in a not-so-nice sort of way. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Stunning — and striking in a less-than-pleasant sort of way. White-marked tussock moth larvae, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

It seems a further injustice that many of the so-called “stinging-hair caterpillars” are among the cutest and most colorful out there. But at least they are not aggressive the way yellow jackets can be. They are strictly defensive, the defense being hollow hairs connected to poison glands that secrete toxins. The chemical cocktail is species-specific, and often involves serotonin, histamine, formic acid and various amino acids.

The hairs inject their charge only when the critter is roughly handled. Or falls down your shirt, or gets in your sleeping bag, or is pressed against your skin in some other way. Their stings cause a painful rash which could persist a week or more. Some people have more severe reactions requiring medical treatment.

You’d think poisonous caterpillars would be from exotic locales, but to my knowledge all in our region are natives. One large group is the tussock moth clan. These caterpillars look about as terrifying as teddy bears. Two examples are the hickory (Lophocampa caryae) and white-marked (Orgyia leucostigma) tussock moths, common locally. I’ve had many encounters with these and their kin over the years.

Hickory tussock caterpillars are mostly white, peppered with a smattering of longer black “whiskers.” White-marked tussock moth larvae look like they’re fresh out of clown school, with a yellow-and-black striped pattern, bright red head, a pair of super-long black appendages as a headdress, a row of lateral white hairs on each side, and four bright yellow (sometimes white) tufts behind their heads like a row of smoke stacks.

The stubby brown hag moth caterpillar (Phobetron pithecium) definitely does not look like a caterpillar. It could easily be mistaken for a dust-bunny or bit of lint. Sometimes known as the monkey slug, this oddity has eight furry, arm-like appendages and should get a prize for its resemblance to a plush toy. If you come across the monkey slug, do resist the impulse to cuddle it.

Much like the way poison-arrow frogs dress flamboyantly to advertise they’re a poor choice as prey, some toxic caterpillars have paint jobs even brighter than those of the tussock moths. For example, the brilliantly attired stinging rose (Parasa indetermina) and saddleback (Acharia stimulea) caterpillars might make you think some practical joker has set out miniature party piñatas. Eye-catching and bristling with barbs, no one is going to mistake them for a plush toy.

Fortunately, many poisonous caterpillars look the part. The Io moth (Automeris io), a huge moth bearing a striking eye-spot shape on each wing, starts out as a neon-green (red until its first molt) caterpillar crowded with serious-looking barbs. Going further afield, the giant silkworm moth caterpillar (Lonomia oblique) of southern South America has been responsible for as many as 500 human deaths — and it looks terrifying, too.

Keep in mind that just about every fuzzy caterpillar, venomous or not, can induce asthma. Those hairs are fragile and readily become airborne. Pests such as the eastern and forest tent caterpillars — and gypsy moths too — sometimes  occur in numbers so great enough to trigger asthma, especially in children. Even the beloved woolly bears (many species of the family Arctiinae) trigger attacks in some people.

What to do for a sting? Use Scotch or packing tape on your skin to pull out embedded caterpillar hairs (along with a few of your own). Wash the area and isolate clothing you think might harbor stray hairs. Monitor for several hours for signs of a serious reaction and otherwise treat the rash the way you would any sting with calamine lotion, antihistamines, or hydrocortisone lotion as directed by your doctor.

Let’s hope that having a few bad apples around will not keep you from appreciating caterpillars. Even the ugliest ones grow up to be moths and butterflies, many of which are beautiful. And they’re all important pollinators. Stay away from the ones described here but feel free to investigate all others.

Just be sure to take along your callipitter.

 

August 26, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on World-class Golf Comes Home. Thank You, IPM

World-class Golf Comes Home. Thank You, IPM

The Barclays PGA Tournament kicks off the FedEx Cup playoff in professional golf. This year it’s right here, right now — at Bethpage State Park on Long Island in downstate New York. The IPM (integrated pest management) piece of this story? Here’s where we tested, developed, and showcased preventive, threshold-based IPM protocols that can steeply reduce year-in, year-out pesticide use on any golf course, anywhere — all while protecting habitat for pollinators and many other creatures. In fact, we’ve scored environmental impact quotients up to 96 percent lower than conventional practices.

Happening as we speak — at Bethpage State Park, also home to IPM research that informs thoughtful, preventive tactics for golf-course care.

Happening as we speak — at Bethpage State Park, also home to IPM research that informs thoughtful, preventive tactics for golf-course care.

The IPM tactics we honed on Bethpage’s Green Course over 12 years are also used on its Black Course — among the most challenging courses you could find anywhere. Think of it. Putting greens buzz-cut to within an inch of their life. Talk about stress! (Technically, that’s an 1/8th inch of their life.) Fairways mowed to about ½ inch. Roughs to an inch or so — and even that’s a height we don’t recommend trying at home.

Which is why we can’t stress how important long-term, real-world research is. Whether it’s searing heat and no rain or relentless rain and chilly weather — or any combination thereof — well, you just don’t get truly useful results until you’ve tested your work in widely differing seasons and situations. And in dealing with pests on golf courses, it’s all about the season. It gets even more impressive when you consider that Bethpage (along with the other 24 public-park golf courses across New York) is open to all comers, facing heavy traffic and tight budgets.

92-plus: that's an impressive number of pollinators to find in mid-April 2015 after a long, difficult winter.

92-plus: that’s an impressive number of pollinators to find in mid-April 2015 after a long, difficult winter.

We’ve always known how important beneficial insects and other organisms are to ecosystem health. In fact, many of our IPMprotocols are built around using beneficials and biocontrols to keep pests at bay. Equally as important: protecting nontarget organisms — frogs, for example — from exposure to pesticides. Which is why we were happy to find this fine fella hanging out at Bethpage in a marshy verge during an Earth Day trek around Bethpage. And a 2015 survey of pollinators in naturalized areas at Bethpage revealed at least 92 species of bees, wasps, and other pollinators as well as a diversity of plants that attract them.

Good stuff. Thank you, Integrated Pest Management.

A green frog? Bullfrog? From this angle, hard to tell.

A green frog? Bullfrog? From this angle, hard to tell.

May 27, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on All Buzz. No Sting. Carpenter Bees Do Just What Their Name Suggests

All Buzz. No Sting. Carpenter Bees Do Just What Their Name Suggests

When winged assailants — bees, wasps, biting flies — come after us, well, we evolved to run or swat. Now, running makes sense. But swatting?

Sometimes that swatting thing can be an evolutionary dead end. Swat the wrong wasp and next thing you know the entire nest is on your case. An injured (or annoyed) wasp releases “attack pheromones” that tell its kith and kin there’s danger afoot and they’d best do

A gentle observer can get up close and personal with a male carpenter bee.

A gentle observer can get up close and personal with a male carpenter bee.

something about it, fast. If we get in the door quickly enough, too often we run for the wasp spray — not, by the way, a recommended IPM practice except in the most desperate cases. There’s simpler, more timely tricks of the trade. We suggested a couple  in our May 18 post.

Besides, not all creatures that buzz can harm us. That big bumble bee dive-bombing you — well, first off, it’s unlikely it’s a bumble bee. Bumble bees are remarkably gentle. But then, carpenter bees — bumble-bee lookalikes, only lots less furry — usually are too. (And remember: correct identification is key to good IPM.)

Females are busy making nests, but they'll rest on a gently outstretched hand.

Females are busy making nests, but they’ll rest on a gently outstretched hand.

Right now female carpenter bees are (as the saying goes) busy as bees. Whether it’s a horizontal tree branch, a cut log, your porch railing or the eaves of your home, they’re making nests for their young. If you just happen to wander too close, you might end up face to face with a large (and agitated) black and yellow bee — a mate-guarding male.

But in reality there’s nothing to fear.

Why? Because male carpenter bees have no stinger and pose no threat. So why all the fuss? The males are protecting females as they sculpt out nesting sites. If you stand by long enough, you might see several bees buzzing and tumbling with each other. You can identify the males by the pale yellow patch on their face. Two patch-faced tumbling bees — those are males in a tussle. One patch-faced, one without — those bees are mating.

These galleries go with the grain, providing shelter and provisioned with food for larvae en route to becoming adults.

These galleries go with the grain, providing shelter and provisioned with food for larvae en route to becoming adults.

And the females? They have a stinger. But they sting only at need to protect their nest. See some perfectly round holes (about a half-inch across) in your railing? These entryways make a 90-degree bend where females start creating galleries that run with the grain.

What do they eat? Nectar — which makes them useful pollinators. But these bees are smart cookies. When it comes to garden flowers like salvia and penstemon — anything with a slender, tubular flower that these big bees can’t get into — they become nectar robbers. They simply cut a slit at the base of corolla and steal the nectar, presumably leaving the pollination to somebody else.

So next time you’re hazed by a male carpenter bee, just stand quietly by (“quietly” is the operative word) and enjoy the show as they tumble about, mating with flying females or buzzing competing males. Next thing you know, they’re ignoring you entirely.

How to prevent them tunneling into your railings and eaves? After all, left untreated for years, it’s not that good for a home’s structural integrity. Seek no further for IPM’s: Get Rid of Carpenter Bees? Yes Please!

Many thanks to IPMer Matt Frye for providing the original material. Photo credits: male carpenter bee from  duggiehoo.deviantart.com/art/. Female carpenter bee from ysmad.com, Wikimedia Commons. Nesting galleries: buzzaboutbees.net/carpenter-bees.html.

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