New York State IPM Program

September 16, 2014
by Matt Frye
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What Is That Wasp in the Window?

Those of us who work in “structural pest management” (think office buildings, schools, or homes) tend to see the same cast of characters each year: cockroaches, ants, termites and bed bugs to name a few. But every now and then an interesting critter will show up that has a neat story to tell. Enter Brachymeria fonscolombei.

The Situation. In the past few weeks, I’ve heard from homeowners who’ve found small, compact (1/8 – 1/4 inch), black and red insects in their windowsills — with no apparent explanation for their presence. Indeed, these are wasps. But unlike your garden-variety wasps, B. fonscolombei won’t sting you or your pets.

B. fonscolombei

B. fonscolombei parasitize fly larvae. Photo: M. Frye

How to ID It. Like other wasps in its family, the Chalcididae, B. fonscolombei has large, toothed, dark-red hind femurs with a white dot. And parasites they are — but not the kind that could ever make us sick.

The Story. Brachymeria fonscolombei lay their eggs in the larvae of flies — especially house, bottle, and flesh flies. Finding them in your home follows a series of rather graphic events. It goes like this: not too long ago, a small animal — a mouse, say — died within your walls. Flies attracted to the scent laid their eggs on its body. When those  eggs hatched into larvae (“maggots” in the common lingo) along came B. fonscolombei — and laid its eggs in them. After three weeks or so (or if overwintering, as much as five or six months) a single adult wasp emerged from each maggot and looked for a way to get outdoors.

carcass

Small animal carcasses are food for flies such as this green bottle fly. Photo: J. Gangloff-Kaufmann.

Larvae

Flies lay eggs on food sources that develop into maggots — fly larvae. Photo: M. Frye.

What to Do. It bears repeating: Brachymeria are wasps, but they can’t sting people. To manage them, you have to find and remove their food source (that would be fly larvae) and the source’s source (some kind of decaying stuff). Examples include pet poop, old food stuck on the bottom of a garbage can — and dead animals. If that’s is a mouse or rat that dined on rat bait, then inconveniently died inside your wall, think about using snap traps instead. With snap traps, you can remove dead rodents quickly — before the flies do it for you.

Did You Know? Cluster flies are a pest in upstate New York that congregate by the scores or hundreds in attics and other protected spaces. Whereas Brachymeria is a parasite of flies, cluster flies are parasites of earthworms!

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.

IMG_1652

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

Don’t bee fooled

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

 

this starter nest is still small

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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