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Tips for managing spring Insect pests

posted in the IPM Communicator by Ann Chambliss, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service

There are thousands of insects in residential ecosystems, most of which emerge in response to the weather, temperature in particular. Spring weather conditions can change considerably from year to year, so can the time to take action against a certain insect. For centuries, people have used plant phenology (blooms, leaf flush) as nature’s signs to set up wasp traps and mend window screens to fend off house flies. Phenology uses the correlation of recurring seasonal plant and insect life cycle stages, rather than calendar date, to predict the activity of pests.

Though the exact dates of emergence of the same species may vary from year to year, pest emergence around homes in Alabama occurs in a very similar order every year. The temperature-dependent biology of insects makes them better in tune with an ever changing climate, than the calendar.

With spring in full swing, live creatures are reviving and coming out looking for food and mates. For home residents, now is the time to act against troublesome spring pests and to pest-proof your home.

Wasps and bees: A variety of bees and wasps always like to challenge unpredictable spring weather, taking advantage of the first blooms to feed after several months without food. Wasps usually do not sting unless they feel threatened. They also do not fly into your face and hair the way honey bees do.

Carpenter bees are among the first early spring adventurers. They tirelessly fly around collecting nectar/pollen from blooming ornamentals and buzzing around your home looking for wood in which to lay their eggs. They do not eat wood, but do severe damage by boring half-inch wide burrows that can extend up to 14 inches into exposed dry wood – such as the siding, the back side of fascia boards, and porch window trim, and porch ceilings. They also bore into decks, fence posts, swing sets, even outdoor furniture. If you had carpenter bees last year, you will likely have them again this year because carpenter bee females prefer to reuse the old galleries to rear the next generation. This behavior is called site-fidelity. Some of you may remember that from 2011-2014, our extension agent team evaluated the carpenter-bee specific traps donated by Mr. Brian Blazer. Two traps from that trial have been left hanging in the corners of the front porch at one site and checked every year. Yearly capture has decreased from >100 to 5 last year. One carpenter bee has been caught this year.

Wasps include hornets, mud daubers, and yellow jackets. They help control other insect populations, but their stings make them unwelcome. They are especially attracted to sweet food and drink. Spring is the time for them to build new nests. Hornets have open structure nests with visible hexagonal cells, often built under the eaves of houses, in attic rafters and other cover areas and resemble an upside down umbrella. Yellow jackets build open nests surrounded by a papery covering and are often found within wall voids and attic or cavities in the ground. Mud daubers construct small mud nests in or around homes, and under open structures. Spring is the time for wasp/bee inspection and nest removal. A little effort and time is sufficient to remove the nests when they are small and only a few wasps to deal with. You may be able to knock it down and dispose it before the queen has a chance to lay eggs. You may also use a can of wasp spray to kill the wasps before removal. Put on protective clothing for this job.

Trapping wasps and bees: If carpenter bees are the only problem, the carpenter bee specific trap should work. If you have a diverse wasp/bee problem and nest removal is not a good option for you, try Rescue TrapStik. We did a 3-year field evaluation of this product and found it worked well. It mainly works for wasps, but is also attractive to kudzu bug adults. The new design of this product has a bird-guard to keep birds away.

Ants: Most ants are opportunistic when it comes to temperature and food. They are active all year with increased activity in the warmer months. Argentine ants are the most common species around homes. They build colonies anywhere that is moist, dark, and undisturbed; in and under plant pots, used railroad ties in landscape, void and cavities of brick, rock, garbage can, etc. Fire ant mounds are popping up now in lawns and flowerbeds. The large black carpenter ants live in rotting or moisture-damaged wood and piles of sawdust-like shaving indicates its presence. Ants are generally around the periphery of a home, but may invade homes for food and refuge on rainy days. Last weekend, we witnessed Argentine ants marching; millions of ants walking about 200 feet! Control practices for Argentine ants begin with locating the colony site and kill them there. Get rid of all potential nesting and food sources around the home. Potted plants should be placed on raised objects and not touching the ground or treated with an insect growth regulator (IGR) underneath the pots. Most of the currently available fire ant baits work very well when applied according to label instruction. Make sure the bait is fresh and less than a year old. The last choice is creating an insecticidal barrier between the perimeter of the home and the rest of the landscape.

Cockroaches: Cockroaches are nasty and a nuisance. They can carry disease-causing pathogens and contaminate household. They also can trigger allergy symptoms in sensitive people. The large cockroaches, including American and smokybrown cockroaches generally live and reproduce outside homes. These large cockroaches may wander into homes but will not usually survive long inside. They are scavengers that love food waste and rotting organic materials. Your first defense is to protect and seal your home’s perimeter so that they never make it inside. Baits are proven to be effective in controlling cockroaches.

Seasonal invaders: Spring is the time for seasonal insects invading homes. This group includes ladybugs, kudzu bugs, brown marmorated stink bug, flies, adult carpet beetles, etc. These incidental invaders are bothersome, annoying and a nuisance, thought they don’t bite or sting.

Occasional invaders: These include boxelder bugs, centipedes, earwigs, millipedes, pillbugs and sowbugs, silverfish, and spring tails. They are mostly moisture-lovers.

How to fend off spring pests? Spring cleaning tips:

  • Seal up everything:  Insects can squeeze in through any tiny gap, crack, or opening in a wall, siding, around window and door, near gutter and along foundation, even on your roof.  The time you spend sealing up openings is an excellent investment in prevention of invaders later on.
  • Keep waste around the home cleaned and covered or sealed in tight containers. Promptly clean up pet excrement. Insect pests must eat and drink to live. Any food left out is an invitation for insects seeking a quick “snack” and drink. Leave no clutter inside or outside where pests may hide.
  • Do not bring them in. Many insects are excellent hitchhikers. Inspect what you bring into home. Look closely for insects on or in garden plants or in bags of soil and mulch. Examine paper bags and cardboard boxes for live insects or signs of their presence.
  • Minimize excess moisture and organic matter around your home. Check your home for damp areas that favor bugs. Create unsuitable environments (usually dryer and without many plants and rocks) so they will not want to come near. When watering, it’s better to water early in the morning rather than in the evening. The water will soak in and the excess will have a chance to evaporate.
  • Minimize hiding places. Landscape components can affect pest abundance. Clean up leaf litter, mow your lawn regularly, and discard the clippings away from the home.
  • Minimize contact between house and landscape. Trim plant material that touches the outside of the home. Insects can crawl from the soil, up a plant, and easily onto your home.

Xing Ping Hu and Arthur Appel

Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology

 Auburn University, AL 

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