Other than being creepy, crawling, icky and scary what do you know about insects?
What might seem like a page from a Stephen King novel, the Smithsonian Institute’s Department of Entomology’s, Terry Erwin, discovered there are some 10 quintillion (that’s with 19 zeros) individual insects alive on the earth. But don’t get worried because there’s only 91,000 species in the U.S. (butterflies number in at 750 species but they’re so cute I’m not sure we should count them). Okay, back to reality there are 300 pounds of insects for every pound of human so easy on those Big Macs.
Some insects are active all year. Others hibernate during colder months then make themselves known in Spring. Summer is the heyday for most insects, they thrive on heat. They can be active during the day or evening. Some are found inside while others outside. The tiniest of insects can seem like the largest creature on the planet making a grown man screech while standing on a kitchen chair. The good thing is most insects won’t ever bother you. They might be busy doing what they were created for whether it’s cleaning the carcass of a dead animal, enriching soil or becoming food for birds and critters. However, there’s always a number of insects that pester humans and our animal companions. These are insects that need to be dealt with. Some with a strong spray and others a gentle mist.
Nothing says summer like getting ravaged by mosquitos. All of a sudden you start scratching, then notice a welt. Where did that come from? Most skeeters are nocturnal with an appetite for anyone breathing. They are attracted by CO2 which expels with every outward breath. And you’re doubly in trouble if you’re a fair-skinned blonde female which makes you a prime target. But don’t get so sassy because a person’s scent, sweat, perfume or color of clothes can be an attractant, and so are those with an O-positive blood type. When you get ‘bit’ by a mosquito they inject their saliva while pulling out blood which keeps you from bleeding to death, that’s why we get a welt.
Although it may not seem like it, mosquitoes will hang around plants feeding on nectar and plant juices. But the females need protein and fats to juice them up so they can lay eggs. That’s why they search us out as their victims.
Control Method: Prevention is the best control by removing ALL stagnant water no matter how little the puddle is. They breed quickly and within a short amount of time after laying eggs, their offspring are ready to chow down on you and your pets (especially dogs).
DEET (diethyltoluamide), is an over-the-counter insecticide which can be sprayed on your body but gets really expensive. I’m a huge fan of the DIY method with plants you most likely already have in your yard and garden. Mosquitos absolutely hate citronella, lavender, rosemary, basil, lemon, marigolds and eucalyptus to name a few. Depending on the scent you’d like to sport it’s easy to infuse leaves, branches and flowers overnight in a quart of water then spritz yourself to ward them off. If you have any essential oils on-hand, spike the concoction with your fav for a double dose to put the fear of you in them. Put a pump spray bottle by the back door so everyone can mist themselves from head to toe before venturing out.
Since mosquitos do search out plant’s juices and nectar you can become a bit more aggressive in population control by spraying your lawn, shrubs and planter beds with a mild solution of Malathion or a liquid pyrethroid.
Sprayer Tip Fun Fact: Mexican Jumping Beans, sometimes sold commercially, have a caterpillar of a bean moth inside. You’re actually buying insects!
These punks can be as small as the head of a pin to upwards of ¾” depending on the 50,000 worldwide species. These blood-sucking insects feed on mammals and on rare occasion’s reptiles, so keep those pet gators at hands length. Linked to Lyme disease, Colorado tick fever, Q Fever, Tularem and a bunch of other diseases I can’t pronounce, they pounce on their prey with piercing mouth parts stopping bleeding with a natural anticoagulant. Oh, they aren’t done yet as they need to bury their heads in the wound before feasting.
Tick Control Method: Ticks like to climb so treatment needs to be focused on the ground up either inside or outside. Consider using an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) which is kind of a birth control prevention for immature ticks. Several applications will be necessary so patience is a virtue.
Pyrethrins are extracts from chrysanthemums. Without additives it’s considered an organic control. With added synthetics the toxicity is usually on the lower side and will make a great solution to control ticks out in the yard. As with IGRs, follow the directions on the label as several applications will be necessary.
When the droppings of millions of cattle started ruining the land in Australia, dung beetles were imported to reduce the problem. When there’s nothing more to eat the dung beetles die.
What’s a summer picnic without ants, right? A single ant isn’t intimidating but these tiny monsters roam around in legions. Most of the 700 species of ants found in the U.S. are hard to identify because of their subtle differences. And, as much as we’d like to think they only come out in summer they can be found all year. Ants can destroy all inside and outside plants, fruit, veggies, meat products and even wood (but, don’t get them mixed up with termites, those are different). With the exception of ants that can bite (i.e. Fire Ants) they contaminate food. Here are some that you might recognize by name: Red Imported Fire Ants, Carpenter Ants, Crazy Ants, Acrobat Ants, Pharaoh Ants, Odorous House Ant, Leaf-Cutting Ant, Rover Ant, Pavement Ants and Ants in the Pants!
Ants also do something that’s pretty fascinating. These guys chase away insects that would naturally eat the sap-sucking insects. For instance, aphids slurp the juices out of plants. If a good bug tries to eat the aphids, ants will chase it away so that the left behind juices will rot and then it turns into black sooty mold. Now we have ant caviar and they go nuts over the black sooty mold.
Ant Control Method: Ants live in colonies. They typically will march in a line from their food harvesting point to their nest or ant hill. Spinosad is an organic insecticide that kills on contact. Saturate the ant hill and follow the line to where it ends. Insecticidal soaps, which are potassium salts of fatty acids are good to use, too. If you promise not to tell too many people, I use Simple Green (the cleaning solution) inside and outside of the house for ant control. I always keep some in a 2-gallon sprayer so I’m armed when they start coming around.* Of course, outside the house pyrethroids and Malathion are extremely effective.
This “Top 3 Summer Insects to Control” was compiled from asking my radio audience which insects bugged them the most. Runners up included: Gnats, Spider mites, Cockroaches, Waterbugs, Squash bugs and fleas.
Award-winning radio & TV garden communicator
*Chapin doesn’t recommend leaving product in the sprayer over a long period of time. Chemicals could plug the shut-off and nozzle over time or depending on the product, damage the seals. For products that are less aggressive, Clean your sprayer at least every two weeks to make sure the chemicals don’t plug the shut-off, nozzle and other components. Best practice is to clean your sprayer after every use. For additional information on proper cleaning methods, visit www.chapin.com.
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