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Termites: How to Identify an Infestation

Although not true of all species, termites are insects that can potentially be very destructive.

Termites, especially in Australia, are commonly known as “white ants” however, as a species, they are only distantly related to the ant and, in fact, are more closely related to cockroaches.

Termites have pale brown to white bodies with a darker head and no waist between their thorax and abdomen. The non-reproductive insects in the colony never develop wings, are blind, and have thin skin that makes them vulnerable to drying out. The reproductive individuals, on the other hand, have two pairs of wings, eyes and a thicker skin that better protects them from drying out.

Termites are similar to ants, bees and wasps in that they have segregated castes and divide labor among these casts. Similarly, they also take care of young collectively.

A termite colony can have a population ranging from several hundred to several thousand insects. These termites live and work together in order to survive. A colony contains nymphs (semi-mature young), workers, soldiers, and reproductive individuals of both genders, often including several egg-laying queens.

They primarily feed on dead plant material including wood, leaf litter, soil and animal feces. However, termites may also feed on damaged paper, books, insulation, and even swimming pool liners and filtration systems. While most people view termites as destructive creatures, only about 10% of the estimated 4,000 species are considered pests that can seriously damage buildings, crops or plantations. In fact, most termites are considered to be ecologically important, as they have the ability to recycle wood and other plant matter.

Termites that do feed on wood structures, crops and other valuable personal property are of great concern.

The discovery of winged termites indoors is the most tell-tale sign that you have an infestation in your home.

Termite swarmers are attracted to light and can often be seen around windows and doors. Swarmers that emerge from stumps, woodpiles and other locations in the yard may not be of concern however, if winged termites are seen emerging from the base of a foundation wall or adjoining porches and patios an infestation is likely.

Another sign of an infestation is mud tubes extending over foundation walls, support pillars, etc.

These mud tubes are typically the diameter of a pencil and used by worker termites to safely travel back and forth from the colony to the structure. In order to determine whether the infestation is active, break open a tube and check for the presence of any workers. If the tube is in use then an active infestation is present. However, even if the tube is vacant this does not mean that you do not have an infestation, as termites will often abandon a tube while they are raiding other parts of the structure.

Rippled or sunken wall coverings may also be an indication of termite damage.

The appearance of a termite may sometimes be confused with that of an ant however you can differentiate between the two by looking closely at the insect. Termites have straight, uniformed waits and wings that are all equal in size while ants have elbowed antennae, constricted waits and fore-wings that are larger than their hind wings.

Termite damage can be distinguished from moisture damage and that caused by other insects in that bits of dried mud or soil will line the hollowed out areas where the termites have been feeding.

It is common for infestations to go unnoticed, even if the wood is exposed, as termites usually leave the outer surface of the material that they are feeding on in tact.

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Termites: Prevention and Treatment

Termite damage costs Americans more than $1 billion every year! Termites have the ability to enter through spaces that are as thin as a piece of paper and can infest every part of your home. Termite colonies never stop working and eating and will continue to eat away at your home 24 hours per day. It is therefore undeniably important to take preventative measures to protect your home as well as the necessary steps to eradicate termites in the case of an infestation.

Some preventative measures include:

    • Having your home checked for termites yearly as well as before buying or selling a home.

    • Avoiding wood to ground contact (a minimum of 6 inches should be left between any
      wood siding and the ground).

    • Treating any wood surface that is in contact with the ground.

    • Preventing excessive moisture from gathering under or adjacent to your home and
       improving surface drainage.

    • Cutting back trees, shrubs, vines and any other plant material that is near or on your

    • Removing any wood piles that exist near your home.

In the case of an infestation it is important to take immediate action.

Special skills are required in order to totally eradicate a termite infestation. Many points of entry for termites are difficult to access and identify therefore strong knowledge of building construction and specialized equipment is often needed. Masonry drills, pumps, large-capacity tanks, and soil treatment rods are needed in order to inject liquid pesticide, into the ground alongside the foundation, beneath concrete slabs, and within foundation walls.

It may be possible to treat a small termite problem yourself, however. For example, if a mailbox post, sandbox or other small wooden object not attached to the house is infested you may be able to solve the problem with a do-it-yourself product. Food grade diatomaceous earth has been suggested as a way to eliminate small infestations of termites. When it comes to a large infestation in your home, however, treatment is better left to professionals.

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Bird Seed: Common Pests

There are many pests that enjoy feeding on bird seed. Below is information to help you identify an infestation and what type of pest you may be dealing with.

Granary and Rice Weevils

Commonly referred to as ‘snout weevils’, Granary and Rice Weevils often infest bird seed in grain storage facilities before the seed is processed. Due to the fact that the larvae feed inside the grain, infestations are often only discovered when the adult weevils are seen exiting the grain through tiny holes. Granary and Rice Weevils are not harmful to humans and will not bite or sting. In addition to bird seed, Granary and Rice Weevils may also infest whole grains, rice, corn, millet, rye, beans and caked meal.

To check for an infestation of Granary or Rice Weevils, use a flashlight to exam your bird seed closely for any adult insects.

Maize Weevil

The Maize Weevil is a very common pest found in bird seed. This insect often infests the seed at the processing factory or pet store. Adult Maize Weevils have long snouts. They are reddish brown or black in color and often have tiny red spots on their backs. In addition to bird seed, Maize Weevils may also infest whole grains, rice, corn, millet, rye, beans, bird seed, and caked meal

To check for an infestation of Maize Weevils, use a flashlight to exam your bird seed closely.

Cigarette Beetle

Adult Cigarette Beetles are very small and oval in shape. They may be observed flying around when the light is low. In addition to bird seed, they may also infest rice, ginger, raisins, pepper, dates, various drugs, seeds, spices, dried flowers and other dried botanicals, tobacco products, upholstery, pasta, and cereal products.

 Indian Meal Moth

An infestation of Meal Moths may occur in stores, feed companies, manufacturers or originate at home. The moths lay their eggs in the seed where the larvae will consume the feed before turning into adult moths. These larvae look like tiny worms with black heads and will often leave the food and climb walls where they may be found suspended on silk webs. The adult moths will often fly around in the dark. In addition to bird seed, Indian Meal Moths may also infest grain and grain products, dried fruits, seeds, crackers, nuts, powdered milk, candies, dried red peppers, meal, cracked corn, flour, graham crackers, pasta and dry pet food.

To check for an infestation of Indian Meal Moths, look closely for the fine silk webbing that the moths spin in the feed.

In the case that your bird seed is infested, it is best to dispose of it immediately, as these pests can travel from your bird seed to flour, grains and other stored food products.

Image by M.D. Photos

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Road Salt Alternatives: Non-Clumping Cat Litter

With environmental sustainability in mind, many people are looking for environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional products.

For many years salt has been used to melt ice on sidewalks, driveways and public roads however salt is not only hazardous to the environment and animals but also to vehicles, concrete and asphalt surfaces. Salt can harm vegetation and water supplies, it may attract animals to busy and dangerous roadways, burn the paws of pets, leaves salt residue on driveways and sidewalks and rust vehicles and other equipment. The active ingredient in most ice melt products is salt. It can be either sodium chloride, like table salt, or calcium chloride, which will melt ice at lower temperatures and is more harmful to the environment. Often ice melt products will contain both sodium and calcium based salts.

Experimenting with alternative products, it has been found that natural, non-clumping cat litters, such as Special Kitty, WC Cat and Cattitudes, are great eco-friendly substitutes to salt. These products can be sprinkled on driveways and walkways to provide traction in icy conditions. It has also been highly recommended that these products be kept in the trunk of a vehicle while traveling. Not only will a bag of Special Kitty, WC Cat or Cattitudes add weight to the rear of the vehicle to increase traction on ice and snow but it can also be used in the case that the vehicle becomes stuck. In this event, the non-clumping cat litter can be sprinkled under the tires for extra traction.

Special Kitty, WC Cat and Cattitudes cat litters are natural, environmentally friendly alternatives to salt that will not harm vegetation, animals, vehicles, cement or paved surfaces.

**Please Note: do not use clumping cat litter for this purpose, as it becomes slippery when wet and can cause accidents.

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What to Compost: Interesting Things You Can Compost

Interesting things to compost

Does your compost consist of common waste including the usual fruit and vegetable peels, leaves, grass clippings, etc.? Consult the list below to make the most out of your compost bin and start composting some of these surprising items!

  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Paper napkins
  • Crumbs from the counters and floors
  • Plain cooked pasta and rice
  • Bread
  • Olive pits
  • Cereals, crackers, chips, cookies, etc.
  • Nut shells (except walnut shells, which contain a chemical that can be toxic to plants)
  • Herbs and spices
  • Pretzels
  • Pizza crusts
  • Cereal boxes (torn into small pieces)
  • Wine corks
  • Moldy cheese
  • Melted ice cream
  • Old jelly, jam, or preserves
  • Beer and wine
  • Cardboard and paper egg cartons
  • Toothpicks
  • Bamboo skewers
  • Facial tissues
  • Human and pet hair
  • Nail clippings
  • 100% cotton balls
  • Dryer lint
  • 100 % cotton or wool clothing (ripped or cut into small pieces)
  • Pencil shavings
  • Paper business cards (as long as they aren’t glossy)
  • Receipts
  • Newspapers (shredded or torn into small pieces)
  • Ashes from the fireplace, barbecue grill, or outdoor fire pit
  • Latex balloons
  • Feathers
  • Dry dog or cat food
  • Wood chips and sawdust
  • Fabric sheets from the dryer
  • Paper bags (ripped or balled up)
  • Post-it notes
  • Pizza boxes (ripped into small pieces)
  • Paper plates (as long as they don’t have a waxy coating)
  • Paper envelopes, bills and other documents (make sure not to compost envelopes with
  • plastic windows and that the paper has been shredded)
  • Paper or wood-based matches
  • Paper towel/ toilet paper/ wrapping paper rolls
  • Leather belts, shoes, wallets, gloves (it is best if the leather is fairly old)
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Masking tape
  • Jell-O (gelatin)
  • Paper muffin and cupcake cups
  • Price tags
  • Candy (with the wrapper removed)
  • Chewing gum
  • Old rope
  • Dead houseplants
  • Halloween pumpkins
  • Rawhide dog chews

Please note that not all of these items are organic and therefore should not be added to your compost if it will be used in an organic garden.

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Crazy Ants

Raspberry crazy ants are named after Tom Raspberry, an exterminator who first discovered them in Texas in 2002. Originating in South America, Raspberry crazy ants are also known as tawny ants or Nylanderia fulva. The species is referred to as “crazy ant” due to their quick, erratic and somewhat psychotic behavior. Raspberry crazy ants are reddish-brown in color. Colonies do not have centralized nests or mounds but, rather, live under stones or piles. Large colonies can have numbers in the billions and, in some cases, they may be so tightly packed together that they are mistaken for dirt. Crazy ants do not fly and therefore only move, on average, 200 meters per year. However, they are spread via humans in abandoned boxes, potted plants, vehicles, etc. Crazy ant colonies have established themselves throughout the states along the Gulf Coast of the United States as well as in at least 27 counties in Texas. They have also been seen in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia.

Crazy ants have the ability to harm the environment, effecting ecosystems by reducing the number of other invertebrates, including spiders and centipedes, which are staples for species like birds. As well, crazy ants may cause property damage and are commonly known for destroying electrical equipment including car stereos, circuit boxes, laptops, water pumps, gas meters, machinery and apparently have even temporarily shut down chemical plants. So many ants will gather inside of a device that they form a single mass that shorts the circuit. While crazy ants do not sting, they are capable of killing animals through asphyxiation. They may smother chicks as they are hatching, obstruct the nasal cavities of chickens, causing asphyxiation, and even swarm into cows’ eyes.

Crazy ants are the first known insect species with the ability to protect themselves from another insect’s poison. The ants cover themselves with formic acid which protects them from being affected by the venom of their close relative the fire ant. This acid is exuded from where a stinger would normally be located on other ant species. This area also allows crazy ants to spray their enemies, contributing to their survival by allowing them to eliminate competing species that would usually keep them at bay. In fact, crazy ant colonies have the ability to take over active nests from other ant species as well as overtake beehives. They will infiltrate any cavity available, including pipes, fuse boxes and even the inner-workings of a car.

Crazy ants are very difficult to exterminate. With one colony having multiple queens, they reproduce quickly and can easily rebound even after an extermination. In the fall, a colony may experience a large loss of worker ants due to a drop in temperature however, the queens survive and come spring an even larger population may emerge.

It is suggested, by Paul Nester, a program specialist with Texas A&M’s Agrilife Extension Services, that individuals modify their homes and gardens to help protect their property from crazy ants. It is suggested that homeowners remove mulch, potted plants and wood piles, fallen tree limbs, rocks, and other objects sitting directly on the ground to eliminate areas where crazy ants may thrive. Crazy ants prefer humid, wet conditions therefore it is advised that individuals reduce the amount of irrigation, repair leaks and improve drainage to help prevent infestations. It is also important to inspect anything being moved from an infested area in order to avoid the transfer of crazy ants to a new location.

Please note: If you suspect that your house or property is infested with crazy ants it is important to call a pest control professional.

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Turf Pests: The European Chafer

What is a European Chafer?

The European chafer (Rhizotrogus majalis) was first discovered in the United States in 1940 when a grub was found in a nursery near Rochester, New York. European chafers are native to western and central Europe but have been reported in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Ohio, Michigan, Delaware, southern Ontario and British Columbia.

The European chafer is a very serious pest that affects turf, horticulture, and field crops. In fact, the European chafer is more damaging to home lawns and turf than the Japanese beetle. Unlike the Japanese beetle, however, the European chafer is not a problem in daily irrigated turf.

Adult European chafer beetles are tan in color and resemble a small June beetle. The larvae, or grubs, have C-shaped bodies and brown heads and can reach up to 1 inch (25 mm) long, when mature.

European chafer eggs hatch in mid-July. Mature grubs feed during the fall and are well adapted to the cool moist conditions. The grub remain within 2 inches (5 cm) of the surface of the turf, except when freezing conditions exist in which case they dig down further into the soil. The grubs feed throughout the spring until approximately April when they become pupae. In May, they emerge from the turf as adults and fly to nearby deciduous trees to mate and feed. Adult beetles are active at dusk and can be seen in groups in deciduous trees. They, however, do not cause any damage.

It is the European chafer grubs that cause damage. The grubs feed most heavily on grass roots from August to November and from March to early May. Even during the winter months, grubs may resume feeding during warm spells. They feed on all types of grass and may move into vegetable plantings and other crops, if they are in large numbers and food is scarce. The grubs prefer to feed on fibrous roots, and can damage ornamental and nursery plants by reducing their fibrous root system. While most of the damage is done by the grubs in the fall and early spring, it may not be noticed until drier weather results in the appearance of brown, dying patches of turf or other crops. In addition to the damage caused by the grubs themselves, further damage may be caused in the fall and winter by animals, such as skunks and birds, which will dig up the grass to feed on the grubs. While animals feeding on larvae may damage turf, it is also beneficial in that it helps to decrease the pest population.

How Can I Check for an Infestation?

In order to check for grubs, cut 3 sides of a 12 x 12 inch (30 x 30 cm) piece of sod to a depth of 2 inches (5 cm), and fold it back to count the grubs. Healthy, well-irrigated turf can withstand low levels of grub feeding however, in the case that more than 20 grubs are found, control may be warranted.

How Can I Protect My Yard and Garden?

In order to help protect your lawn mow it at approximately 2-4 inches (6- 9 cm) in height, as taller turf is less preferred by egg-laying female beetles, and is more drought tolerant. Do not re-seed until feeding is completed and grubs have pupated. Do not remove soil from infested areas and do not import plants form infested areas, as European chafers can be spread to new areas by movement of infested soil.

How Can I Eliminate an Infestation?

If an infestation occurs, certain pesticides are often helpful in eliminating the problem. These pesticides are best applied to non-frozen turf in the fall and early spring. Before applying, remove excessive thatch and irrigate the soil (if it is dry) to bring the grubs to the surface. After a treatment has been applied, water the treated area to move the product into the root zone.

Food grade diatomaceous earth is often used for insect control and can be an effective alternative to chemical pesticides. While the product is not registered for use against European chafer grubs, and has not been tested against them, pests with similar body types are often eradicated using DE. Last Crawl Insect DEstroyer Insecticide , when in direct contact with pests such as caterpillars and slugs will work to kill them by lacerating their bodies and dehydrating them. By applying DE under your turf or watering it into the lawn, you may be able to help kill European chafer grubs.

If your infestation is large or the problem persists, the help of a pest control professional may be the best solution.

Have you used Last Crawl Insect DEstroyer Insecticide to help eliminate a European chafer grub infestation? We would love to hear your story!

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The Bed Bug Epidemic

For almost sixty years the developed world has lived in peace from bed bugs. In fact, bed bugs were almost non-existent in countries like Canada and the United States after WWII. However, in the last few years bed bug infestations have risen by approximately 500%. These infestations have affected homes, hotels and other public places including movie theaters and clothing stores.

Bed bugs are small parasitic insects that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals. The species that we most commonly refer to, and those that are found in homes, hotels, and other public places, prefer to feed on human blood.

Bed bugs do not spread disease but do leave large, painful welts where they have bit their victim. As well, the saliva of bed bugs has been known to cause allergic reactions in people. In some cases individuals may even develop asthma or (although very rarely) life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

A baby bed bug is the size of a pinhead while a full-grown adult is about the size of an apple seed. These insects are nocturnal and wait for night to come out and feed on bare patches of skin. A person experiencing a severe infestation can get up to 500 bites per night!

Beg bugs like to hide in dark spots, as they do not like light and are less likely to be disturbed here. It may be difficult to find a live bed bug when searching your room so be sure to look for the signs of bed bugs including rust-colored spots (blood stains), eggs, molted skins and black specks.

Despite their name, bed bugs do not just live in mattresses and bedding in fact, the insects can live in anything from couches to luggage to clothing. Beg bugs are most commonly found in the following places:

  • Box springs: bed bugs love the wood frame of a box spring so be sure to look underneath, in any cracks or crevices and even inside.
  • Furniture: bed bugs may hide in the cracks and crevices of sofas, behind headboards, and the backs and undersides of night stands.
  • Wall: bed bugs can be found behind pictures, paintings and wallpaper.
  • Theaters: bed bugs can be found on the seats at the movie theatre and may climb onto your clothing or even into your belongings. When looking for bed bugs check the cracks and crevices of the seat and under the armrests.
  • Malls: clothing stores are most at risk as many people try on, take home and return the same piece of clothing before it permanently leaves the store. Be sure to check the clothing under the arms, behind the collar, inside cuffs and at the seams, as this is where bed bugs may hide.

There are various methods of getting rid of bedbugs and some are more effective and economical than others.

For more information on bed bugs and how to get rid of them check out: Diatomaceous Earth for Bed Bugs

Image by Medill DC – Courtesy of the National Pest Management Association

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Fall Gardening: Tips and Ideas

Squirrel in the Fall Leaves

Fall is here and winter is fast approaching! In order to keep your garden healthy and prepare it for the spring there are some crucial steps you should take. Here are some fall gardening tips to help keep your flowers flourishing and prepare your garden for next year.

  • Remove any dead heads (dead flowers).
  • Regularly water your plants and provide them with a balanced fertilizer.
  • Cut back annuals and diseased plants to half their height and they will rebound. Perennials can be cut back too but make sure not to do this too early.
  • Do not dispose of any plant until you are sure it’s dead and can not be revived. To test to see if the plant is dead give it a gentle tug, if its roots hold then it is still alive.
  • Remove the leaves from any grassy areas that you have as it is crucial for the grass to get sunlight during the fall months. As well, remove any diseased leaves from under your plants as they will spread disease spores to your plants in the spring if they are left on the soil all winter.
  • Use winter mulch to help keep your plants at an even temperature as they may die during periods of irregular temperature conditions.
  • Protect your newly planted bulbs from squirrels by planting the bulbs in large groups, flooding the soil above them with water and covering them with leaves. Squirrels are able to locate bulbs by detecting disturbed soil. By creating these diversions you can outwit them and protect your garden.
  • Don’t wrap you’re your plants too tightly in burlap, as this can do more harm than good by holding ice against their tissues.

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Spring Vegetables

Spring has sprung! And it’s time to start planting your garden!

Early spring is a great time to start growing hardy vegetables like kale, spinach and collards. These veggies are able to withstand hard frost and, in fact, taste best when they mature in cool weather.

However, there are many more vegetables that are suitable for your spring garden! These include:

  • Spinach – depending on the weather, and the variety of spinach that you’ve planted, your spinach can begin to be harvested within three weeks of planting!
  • Swiss chard – while the Swiss chard leaves may take up to 50 days to reach their full size, some varieties of Swiss chard can be harvested as baby greens in as little as 25 days.
  • Peas – depending on the variety, peas may take from 50 to 65 days to mature
  • Brussel sprouts – Brussel sprouts may take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to mature.
  • Onions – from seed onions can take 3 to 5 months to mature. Planting onion ‘sets’ or small bulbs however, can shorten this maturity time to 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Cauliflower – cauliflower can be harvested 30 to 80 days after being planted.
  • Beets – on average, beets can be harvested within 50 to 70 days.
  • Carrots – carrots take approximately 2.5 months to mature.
  • Radishes – many varieties of radishes can be harvested in as little as 3 weeks.
  • Lettuce – while it may take approximately 55 to 75 days for the leaves to be fully grown depending on the variety), baby greens may be harvested in as little as 2 weeks.
  • Cabbage – for most green cabbage varieties, harvesting can occur approximately 70 days after planting.
  • Broccoli – broccoli may take anywhere from 45 to 60 days before it can be harvested.
  • Celery – some varieties of celery may be as little as 60 days to grow to maturity.
  • Potatoes – depending on the variety, potatoes may take 90 – 110 (or more) days to mature. Early varieties including ‘Irish Cobbler’, ‘Caribe’, ‘Red Norland’ and ‘King Harry’ mature in less than 90 days.

Full sized kale leaves can mature in 40 to 60 days, however baby kale leaves may be harvested in as little as 3 weeks. Both spinach and collard can be harvested approximately 4 to 6 weeks after being planted.

Please note: Lettuce and Swiss chard should to be covered if temperatures drop below freezing.

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