Bagworms are emerging from bags in Nebraska!

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School parking lots, strip malls, and neighborhood trees become infested with bagworms

There are a few insects that really bug Nebraskans, but one of those are bagworms. Bagworms are a major pest of coniferous or evergreen trees from June to August. These destructive caterpillars are called bagworms because they feed, grow, and live all, or most of their lives inside a bag. They remain mobile though because their head and thoracic legs stick out as they feed all over the host plant. When they are disturbed they can retract and cinch up the bag, which is already highly camouflaged.

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Bagworm infestations go unnoticed for years, until evergreens start to show symptoms

Bagworms are a pest of juniper, pine, spruce, arborvitae and other evergreen species. They will also feed on deciduous trees like shade, ornamental, and fruit trees, but  because deciduous plants drop their leaves and grow new ones each year, the defoliation does not often kill the tree. Evergreen trees though, do not shed their needles and large populations of bagworms can kill the tree.

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Bagworm damage includes bronzing, defoliation, and sometimes tree death

Hundreds of tiny bagworm caterpillars in Nebraska emerge from their bag(s) in late May/early June. (The first ones ones I saw were in Omaha May 25, 2019). They begin feeding and promptly find protection by covering themselves with a protective bag made from silk and their host plant material. They feed and grow, as as they do, their bags become enlarged. Mature caterpillars stop eating in August and attach the bag a branch with a strong strand of silk and pupate inside. Male bagworms pupate and emerge as moths in the fall. Females bagworms transform into a wingless moth, but do not leave the bag. Males moths locate the female bags, mate with the females, and then die shortly thereafter. After the female lays 200-300 eggs inside her bag, she dies, and the eggs overwinter. The eggs are heavily insulated inside the pupal case inside the silk bag.  There is one generation per year.

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Young bagworms are 1/8-inch long

Dealing with bagworms can be extremely frustrating because:

  1. Bagworms remain incognito until major damage is detected.
  2. Newly emerged bagworms can disperse with the wind from nearby trees.
  3. Bagworms are difficult to control in large trees (like windbreaks) because they are cannot be reached to physically remove or treat with insecticides.
  4. Bagworms remain protected in the bag and there is a small window for effective insecticide treatment (after caterpillars hatch, but before bags are 1/2-inch long).
  5. Bagworms are not picky about their host plant and will feed on all types of plants. 
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    Bagworms will crawl away and infest another plant if they are not destroyed

Management for bagworms include:

  • Cutting or handpicking the bags off and destroying them before caterpillars emerge late May.
  • Destroy bagworms by dropping them in a bucket of soapy water or seal them in an airtight bag that they cannot escape.
  • Bacillius thuringiensis (kurstaki) is a biological insecticide that can be applied to foliage to kill young caterpillars as they feed.
    • Must have complete coverage
    • Must be consumed to be effective
    • Works best in June when bagworms are small

For our bagworm infographic.

Watch the bagworm segment from Backyard Farmer

Recent bagworm article from Lincoln Journal Star by Sarah Browning

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Small Flies Indoors During the Winter? Check Potted Plants

Fungus gnats are nuisance pests that occur indoors throughout the winter months. They breed and develop in overwatered potted plants. Many people do not realize plants take up less water in the winter, continue to water regularly, thereby creating a suitable habitat in the soil for the fungus gnat to complete its life cycle.

fungus gnats on dime

Fungus gnats are very small, often mistaken for fruit flies.

Adults are grayish-black, about 1/8-inch long and have one pair of wings. At first glance, they may appear similar to fruit flies, but they complete their development in top layers of soil. Females lay 100–150 eggs in moist potting soil and the larvae feed and develop on the fungi and organic matter. Fungus gnat larvae are white, slender, legless maggots with translucent bodies and dark heads. Larval feeding sometimes includes gnawing on the roots and stems of plants.

fungus gnat

When magnified, fungus gnats have dark-colored body, long antennae and Y-shaped wing vein.

In warm conditions, overlapping generations may occur, producing large populations which can cause spotting, curling, yellowing or plant death. After pupating in the soil, they emerge as winged adults, bothering people by flying around faces, lights, windows and food items.

In order to eliminate a fungus gnat infestation, the life cycle must be broken. This can be done by removing the fungus in which they breed, while simultaneously reducing the number of breeding and egg-laying adults. A non-chemical approach is to reduce the topsoil moisture by less frequent watering, drying out the soil and changing the plant medium to provide better drainage.

fungus gnats in jade plant

Fungus gnats breed in the moist soil of potted plants.

To catch flying adults, yellow sticky card traps are available at garden stores and placed at the soil surface. In addition, there are biological control products such as the microorganism, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is applied to the soil to kill larvae after ingestion. Bti (subspecies israelensis) is selective to insect fly larvae, non-toxic to humans, pets and contains no harmful residues. A product labeled to control fungus gnats in plant beds or pots include Mosquito Bits® by Summit Chemical Company.

Check out our guide to help identify other common pesky flies that may be bugging you in your home. For help with vinegar flies or fruit flies, check out this blog post.screen shot 2019-01-22 at 10.13.35 am

Confessions of an Extension Entomologist: I have two plants in my home that have to get dry and droopy before I water them. I do not have a green thumb.

Keep calm and respect the critters,

Jody

Bed Bugs Don’t Fly…Unless on an Airplane

A recent article last week in Canadian headlines brought attention to the possibility of bed bugs hitchhiking on planes.

Fellow entomologist, Joe Ballenger asked via Twitter how common incidents were of bed bugs on planes. I don’t know the statistics or if there is a document that records this data. From what I know about bed bugs, it is completely possible and frightening to think about.

The following post is a summary and expansion of some of the tweets @JodyBugsMeUNL that took place over the past few days regarding bed bugs and airplanes. Continue reading

Little Black Ants Everywhere!

Odorous house ant profile

Odorous house ant has a flat, hidden node, so it cannot be seen by side profile compared to other ants.  Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

If you’re like most homeowners, this is the time of year small ants seem to be invading your home. Here in Lancaster County, household ant identification and inquiries are high. Spring has sprung, but the varying soil and air temperatures may not be stable enough to produce the food (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) to support the many ants becoming active in the ecosystem. They may be too close for comfort and here are the reasons they’re entering your space:

  1. They can.
  2. They’re hungry.
  3. They’re thirsty.

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Bed Bugs and the Aging Community

Human Bed Bug

Human bed bug is typically reddish-brown in color, oval-shaped, wingless and has sucking mouthparts to suck blood from its host. Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

Bed bugs are blood sucking insects that primarily feed on the exposed skin of humans while they sleep. Though they are not known to spread diseases to humans, their presence and feeding behavior causes great social, emotional and financial stress to many individuals and their families. Whether we choose to be believe it or not, bed bugs are real and they’re closer than we may want to believe. They can be seen in different shapes and sizes based on age and feeding status (fed vs. hungry).

Engorged bed bug nymph, poppy seed for scale, bed bug egg, unfed bed bug nymph.

Engorged bed bug nymph, poppy seed for scale, bed bug egg, unfed bed bug nymph. Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

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Flour Beetles: Pesky Pests of the Pantry

Another common pantry pest of homes are flour beetles. Flour beetles are very common in homes. They can fly in from outdoors or be brought into the home on infested products  from the grocery store.

There are two flour beetles that have similar biology, behaviors, lifecycle and feeding habits, the red and confused flour beetles. The red flour beetle has a three-segmented club, and the confused beetle does not. This difference though slight, provides an important difference when dealing with origin of the infestation because the red flour beetle is a flier and the confused flour beetle is not capable of flight.

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Red flour beetle has a three-segmented club. Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

Adult flour beetles are approximately 1/8 inch long and reddish-brown in color. The larvae are creamy to yellow-brown, with light hairs and pointed projections on the last segment. Before pupation, mature larvae are about 1/4 inch long. All life stages can be found in large numbers feeding on broken kernels and other grain products.

Flour beetle larvae

Flour beetle larvae. Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

Signs of red flour beetle infestations in the home include:

1) Adult beetles flying around inside the house. They are attracted to light and may accumulate along the window sills.

2) Larvae and adults can be found together in the same food products that contain flour and grain products.

Red flour beetle adult and larva feeding on dog biscuit (Photo by J. Green)

Red flour beetle adult and larva feeding on dog biscuit. Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

Prevention and sanitation is your best protection against flour beetles. Here are some ways you can prevent infestations in the home, minimize wasted food and save money:

  • Before purchase, check expiration dates for old products that have been on the shelves for a long period of time.
  • Be extra cautious buying plenty of heavily discounted products on clearance.
  • Avoid buying in bulk and storing large quantities of products in the pantry.
  • Store products in air-tight, transparent, insect-proof containers.
  • Use the oldest products first to ensure freshness and proper stock rotation.
  • Store infrequently used dry ingredients in the freezer.
  • Clean up spills and crumbs in food storage areas so not to attract pests.
  • Vacuum cracks and crevices where insects can hide and grains can accumulate.
  • Dispose infested foods in trash and put outdoors.
  • Flour beetles are often found devouring old dog biscuits forgotten on high shelves or trapped under furniture.

Treatment strategies for red and confused flour beetle do not include insecticide use inside the home. A thorough inspection is necessary to locate and eliminate the source of the infestation for a long term solution. Most people overlook prepackaged and prepared foods, unopened packages and non-food items, but a variety of products are vulnerable. There are pheromone traps available, that will trap beetles in a pitfall trap, but these are preferred as a monitoring tool, rather than a control method.

Flour beetles

Flour beetles can be a problem that starts at the manufacturing facility like the flour mill. Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

Flour beetles can occur year round in heated buildings. Keep your eye on your food and don’t share it with pantry pests.

Confessions of an Extension Entomologist: I bake so infrequently, that our flour is stored permanently in air tight containers in the freezer. If I didn’t have this job, I might be a professional pantry specialist. I enjoy organizing other people’s stored food products and finding insect-infested products. Note: Always check the pancake mix.

Red flour beetles in pancake mix

Flour beetles of all life stages and cast skins (exoskeletons) in pancake mix. Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

For more information on pests found in and around the home, visit http://lancaster.unl.edu/pest.

Stay calm and respect the critters,

Jody

 

 

 

Fruit Flies: The Red Eye Guys

Fruit flies are small, but not microscopic, have short life cycles and can reproduce rapidly in tiny spaces with limited resources. These characteristics make fruit flies the model organism for genetic research, but are the very reason why fruit flies are such a nuisance when they appear in our homes.

Identification and Biology

Fruit flies are 1/8 inch long and typically have red eyes. They are one of the smallest and most common flies in houses, restaurants and grocery stores – anywhere food ripens, rots and ferments. Fruit flies begin as eggs before they hatch into legless larvae or maggots. The maggots enter a pupal stage so they can develop into mature, winged adult flies. They are active year round indoors, but their life cycle will slow considerably at cooler temperatures. Under optimal conditions in the summer, they can complete their life cycle in 7-10 days.

Fruit fly

The fruit fly has red eyes, two wings, and dark stripes on the abdomen. Photo by Jody Green, Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County.

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