Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silverfish……or Not

Silverfish are bugs we don’t hear that much about, but not one we want to have in our homes. They are not as well known as the mosquitoes or cockroaches, and they don’t transmit disease like rats or fleas, but they are very destructive pests.

Their diet includes things like book bindings, carpet, glue, paper, photos, plaster, sugar and clothing. In short, they can make a meal out of most anything. In times of famine they have been known to attack leather and synthetic fabrics. And, strangest of all, they can live for a year or more without eating.

As far as the name silverfish goes, they could not have been more appropriately named, considering they are silver in color, have scales and they sort of slither along, much like a fish out of water.silverfish-61638_1920

They are quite long-lived for insects, their lifespan is two to eight years. They are quick too, can outrun predators like spiders and centipedes, which probably explains how they can live for up to eight years. However, they don’t have appendages which would allow them to climb vertically, so you won’t see them climbing walls.

Silverfish don’t seem to be a particularly horrible pest. They don’t sting, bite, fly, carry disease or create massive invasions. However, they are very destructive to property. Can you imagine what would happen to an old book, perhaps a first edition of some classic, with a silverfish stationed inside eating everything from the binding and glue to the paper it was printed on? For eight years!? You may return to it and find nothing but dust. Not good.

One do-it-yourself treatment involves using cinnamon as a repellent, but that is as far as that goes, it doesn’t kill the silverfish. And it certainly doesn’t kill the eggs.

No, this is one best left to the professionals. Call your pest control expert as soon as you see silverfish or the evidence that they are present. They can take care of the problem and leave your home, book shelves and valuables, silverfish, and all other pests, free.

Roof Rats: The Bane of Homeowners

Roof rats are pests homeowners would rather not be acquainted with. They range in size from 13 to 18 inches and their coloring ranges from brown to black.  They are thinner than Norway, or regular street, rats and no matter their size, they can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter. They want to get inside to escape from heat and cold and find food and water. They can climb trees, which means nothing is safe, as they can easily gain the roof from the overhanging trees.

roof-rat-961499_1920One clear evidence that roof rats have found your citrus trees is when you finding the rind, only the rind, with the inside very neatly hollowed out, a trick which most humans would find challenging. In their quest for water, they are attracted to water lines in the home. One of those would be the dishwasher line, which appears to be a favorite of the rats.

It’s not a problem for the rats to chew through the water lines, they have long, sharp front teeth that grow constantly. The rats must chew to keep their teeth ground down, water lines would be like a delicacy for them, especially if the end of the line yields the water they need to survive. The water lines for your dishwasher are usually found in a small area between the counter and the dishwasher. A place where rats can exist undisturbed by dogs and cats. The perfect place to take care of the teeth and find water.

So, what can be done so you don’t come home and find rats left your kitchen floor covered in soapy water? For one, any hole, tiny as it may seem, needs to be covered or filled in. Rats are little Houdinis that can, and will, find any existing way to food and water. Roof tiles or shingles need to be secured. Tree limbs that overhang the roof need to be trimmed back so the rats can’t easily access the roof.

Or, just contract your pest control experts and allow them to make sure no rats make a meal of your water lines.

Invasion of The Egg-Snatchers

Alien invasions are generally considered to be a bad thing. Especially since War of the Worlds aired on radio in 1938 and scared the beejeepers out of millions of people who had either missed the disclaimer stating it was a fictional program, or disregarded it. Just the word “invasion” is enough to make some people run for the hills.

It’s Enough to Scare Citrus Growers!

Invasions of another kind have had citrus farmers quaking in their boots. Particularly the invasion of a small aphid, the brown marmorated stink bug. Originating in Asia, this bug has made it across oceans and has now taken up residence in the US. Citrus orchards are under attack and the trees have been decimated.leaf-482600_1920

The stink bug nymphs feed on the new shoots of citrus trees. As they do so they produce a toxin that causes the shoots to become distorted or die back, so the leaves don’t grown normally. Worse is the fact that they transmit a bacteria that causes Huanglongbing or citrus greening disease, which leaves the fruit inedible and the trees have to be destroyed.

A Hopeful Invasion?

However, it appears that all is not lost, not yet anyway. Another invasion has brought an Asian wasp, which is native to the same regions that originated the brown marmorated stink bug. Apparently, this wasp has a taste for the eggs of stink bugs, especially the most damaging one. It has been found in the wild, eating the eggs of the citrus greening disease causing stink bugs…..woohoo!

This wasp doesn’t sting or attack humans. Scientists are studying how it might affect other kinds of stink bugs, no one wants to promote an invasion that might turn out to be harmful to native plants, insects or animals, so much research still needs to be done.

Uninvited, but Welcome

Researchers are unsure how this wasp came to be found in the wild, eating the eggs of stink bugs. It probably arrived with foliage or live plants that were imported to the US. These wasps are capable to living for several months, so they may have hitchhiked their way in.wasps-711689_1920

However it happened, it’s here now, and hopefully it will help citrus farmers combat citrus greening disease. Hopefully.

But, there are no guarantees. Invasive species have been known to take over. Kudzu, lion fish, Burmese pythons, to name just a few. By the time it is labeled as an invasive species, it has already taken firm hold and eradication is impossible. By that time it is just hoped it can be contained.

The Trouble With Invasive Species…….

That is the trouble with invasions, they are not identified as such until after the fact. The first person who released a lion fish into the ocean was not thinking of the environmental impact years later. Kudzu was an easy way to stop soil erosion. Farmers were actually paid to sow their topsoil with it. Perhaps a python escaped or was released and found the perfect environment in the everglades.

So this stink-bug-egg-eating wasp invasion seems like a good thing and maybe it will be, but that remains to be seen. It is a fact that citrus growers need a break, lets just hope this is it.

And The Award Goes To……

Awards are nice. They make people feel good, whether it’s a personal award or collective, for your city, town or village. For instance, the award for the best place to live in the United States goes to Rochester, Minnesota. Seriously, winters not withstanding, people love living in Minnesota. Who knew?

However, some awards are not so great. Like the award for the buggiest city in the country. In 2015 that award goes to: Phoenix, Arizona. Apparently, it’s not just the amount of bugs, but also how many different ones there are. Phoenix has a great variety of different critters, most well known are the Africanized killer bees and scorpions, of which not a whole lot of cities can boast. But Phoenix also has lots of flies and cockroaches, not to mention West Nile virus carrying mosquitoes, to name just a few.

Phoenix doesn’t have cold winters to kill off some of the pests, so they proliferate all year long. Great for the pests, not so great for the humans.

mosquito-542156_1920If we are just talking mosquitoes, apparently Atlanta tops the list this year (and last) for the most mosquito infested place. Chicago, believe it or not, comes in second, in this less than prestigious category. For overall pests, including rodents, it seems New Orleans, Louisiana tops that list.

As you can no doubt tell, there are many categories where a city can win….or lose, depending on how you look at it. For instance, in the cockroach category, our own Tampa, Florida tops the list as the cockroach capital of the country.

Apparently, the results depend on who is taking the survey, as there seems to be different answers to different wood-mouse-823796_1280questions. The Census Bureau asked its participants to list the number of critter sightings and then tabulated the results counting on the dependability of what was seen. Not an incredibly reliable survey, in my estimation. I mean, have you ever had a small vole or mouse in your home? You would swear that one little mouse is a huge, large cat-sized rat, with teeth the size of Detroit. Then when the little mouse is captured, it seems impossible to have been the culprit. So, just speaking from personal experience, sightings by people are not the most reliable.

And speaking of Detroit, that city ranks very, very low on the list of infested places. However, I imagine by now pests probably outnumber people in that formerly robust city, so it must be hard to find survey participants. Of the human kind, that is, and the rats aren’t talking.

New York City ranks first on one survey for the most infested city, which seems reasonable. Its the largest city, by population of people, so it must have the most pests also.

My assessment, such as it is, is that there are pests in every city. If you want warmth and sun, such as Phoenix or Tampa, you will have to put up with year-round pests. Minnesota may be a great place to live, have less pests in the winter, but those winters can be brutal.

It all depends on what you are happy with and what you want to deal with. Personally, I will take sun and warmth and pests over cold, wet and snow and less pests, any day.

“It’s a winter wonderland – where are all the bugs?”?

Winter is fast approaching. The farther north you go, the cooler it is. Leaves are turning color and falling off. Even if you happen to live in a warmer climate, the calendar is still declaring it to be the middle of October, winter won’t be long now.

As the weather grows cooler and the days shorter, humans have a tendency to exhibit their own kind of hibernation.dog-879962_1920 Who doesn’t love to curl up with a good book, in front of a blazing fire, dog at your side and a cat on your lap, letting the weather do what it will. But that’s a very human thing to do. I have often wondered, what do bugs do in the winter?

Animal Hibernation

Everyone knows that bears and groundhogs hibernate, as do some bats, frogs and, believe it or not, gila monsters in the desert. Geese fly south for the winter. Even butterflies migrate to warmer places when the temperature dips up north. But what of insects, bugs and spiders? Speaking, of course, of those who don’t take up residence in houses. Because, if allowed to do so, no doubt that would be their preferred place to live out the winter.

Bees, Ants and Termites, Oh My!

apiary-87692_1920Using the premise that there is warmth in numbers, some insects like honey bees, cluster together and share body heat to keep the brood warm. Ants and termites burrow into the ground below the frost level, where they have been busy storing up food for the occasion. Apparently this is what the ants are doing all summer when we see them scattering here and there, running for all they’re worth. They are busily filling the underground larder so winter will be just one big party below the frost level. Smart little buggers.

Spider Hiders

Spiders differ greatly by type as to how they spend the winter. Some spiders who die off when winter comes lay eggs and those mature over the winter so the baby spiders can start out fresh in the spring. Some spiders, like black widows and tarantulas live longer so they need to hibernate in a protected place until the warmer weather comes.

Most of these insects, especially the ones like moths that form cocoons need the cold winter period to develop completely. If it is not cold enough or if they are somehow indoors they develop too quickly and are unable to survive outdoors.

Ah, Nature!

Nature has ways of protecting itself. Each individual being has an internal clock that keeps time with the seasons. From human to the smallest insects, survival is the order of the day. Winter is the time to slow down, shut down or go south. When temperatures start to rise in the spring everything awakens to a new day, new season, new start. Something to look forward to during the sometimes bleak, often long, winter.

Yes, spring will be here soon enough. But lets not rush it. Time moves fast enough as it is. If we look for things to enjoy about winter, we will find them. If nothing else, enjoy the bug-free world while you can!

Styrofoam Meets Its Match

In 1941 scientists for the Dow Chemical Company developed an extruded foam product that resists moisture, is lightweight and buoyant and has tremendous insulating properties. Amazing stuff. So amazing that it became essential in the manufacture of life rafts and vests, building materials, insulation, road and structure building and floral arrangements, to name just a few of it’s many uses. This magic substance is polystyrene foam, developed by Dow as Styrofoam.foam-315556_1280

THE answer?

It seemed like the perfect answer to so many problems. Almost too good to be true, and it was. Along with the uses found for polystyrene foam comes many environmental issues. Hydrofluorocarbons are used in its manufacture which has been shown to increase the potential of global warming, or more politically correct, climate change.


If that weren’t enough, you can’t get rid of the stuff. Seriously, it will last indefinitely. Long after the meal has been eaten and the cooler has served it’s usefulness, the packaging sits in a landfill, perhaps for centuries, still holding a semblance of its original shape. It cannot be recycled, will not degrade. Which has caused some large cities to ban its use in the food industry. Landfills are clogged with non-biodegradable waste, which makes the magic substance something of a curse.

From a Pest Comes Hope?

But there seems to be hope. Researchers have found a mealworm who loves to eat plastic and, wait for it……polystyrene foam. Finally, something that can take on the indestructible substance!

Mealworms are the larvae for of the darkling beetle, the most common member of the beetle family. Apparently, mealworm larvae are commonly sold in pet stores as food for other animals such as birds, lizards and snakes. But the adult beetles are sometimes kept as pets, which seems odd to the portion of population that thinks pets should have at least some fur to stroke, but then, to each his own.beetle-562035_1280

But this mealworm and its appetite may be the salvation of landfills every where. Apparently the mealworm’s gut contains microorganisms that are able to breakdown and digest plastic and foam.
And the really good news is, they are not alone. It turns out that waxworms, the larvae of Indian mealmoths have been found to eat and digest plastic garbage bags, another bane of landfills everywhere.


Bring on the Mealworms!

This new discovery has given scientists hope that perhaps they will be able to develop substances that not only destroy polystyrene, but also other kinds of plastics that are seemingly indestructible.

The US produces around 33 million tons of plastic every year. While some is recycled, like the reusable grocery bag made from plastic water bottles that I purchased recently, less than 10 percent is actually reused, the rest ends up clogging landfills.

How ironic if the answer to the growing landfill issues lies with formerly detested and maligned mealworm. If so, bring it on, much better to be overrun with beetles than drowning in a sea of packing peanuts!

Autumn – The Buggiest Time of the Year?

Autumn – such a great time of year. After the heat and humidity of the summer, just the thought of cooler tree-99852_1280temperatures is enough to brighten your day. In some places trees turn shades of red, orange and yellow not formerly seen in nature. Pumpkins, squash and collards are the vegetables of the season. Just a deep breath of crisp cool air refreshes the spirit. Time to be outside.


Or not. Usually autumn is the time to go out, when one is safer from mosquitos, ticks and other biters, but apparently, not this year. Because of the hot, wet summer, insects in the southeast have been able to develop faster than normal. And, it’s not just ticks and mosquitos, but kudzu bugs, lady bugs and stink bugs have proliferated. Not to mention the ever-present, much hated termite. Yikes.

However, lest you think the southeast is exclusive in the propagation of insects, be assured that the rest of the country is having the same issues, sometimes different bugs, but weather related insect issues.


A very warm May followed by record setting rainfall and high humidity through the summer resulted in mosquitos and ticks doing quite well in the northeast. And they will continue on the same path until the temperatures go below 50 degrees. Don’t leave the house without the bug spray.

pumpkin-902493_1280The midwest also saw record rainfall, which in many places means standing water, the perfect place to raise bunches and bunches of little mosquitos. And as with the northeast, the mosquitos will be active until the weather gets too cold for them. However, places that experienced severe flooding may see a drop in pest populations because the insects may not have survived the extreme weather. An upside, or not, depending on whether everything you own was washed away, in which case the last thing on your mind is mosquito populations.


In the northwest things are a bit different. There was record breaking heat, and also drought conditions, which are not good for mosquito growth. The same can be said for ticks. It looks to be a great autumn for those who love the outdoors. That may be doubly true since the forecast is for ants and other insects to move indoors to find water. Outside may be the insect-free zone.

West Coast

On the west coast some cities did see rainfall, but it was not enough to break the drought that has gripped California for several years now. The places that did see the rain may have higher than normal mosquito populations. Humans may see a decline overall, but the extreme drought have left trees and other vegetation more suseptible to bugs, such as the walnut scale, a tiny little insect that has wreaked havoc on walnut trees. The bugs have taken advantage of the weakened state of the drought-stricken trees and moved in to suck whatever moisture is left in it.


In the southwest there has been extreme heat and above normal rain, a perfect formula for mosquitos, ants, termites and flies.

It doesn’t seem to matter where you are, it seems the weather is the least predictable thing there is. All we can do is prepare for the worst, hope for the best and don’t put the bug spray away just yet.

The Fruit Grower’s Nightmare – The Oriental Fruitfly

Riddle: What is approximately 8.0 millimeters or 0.315 inches, loves fruit and is going to cost Florida anywhere from $700 million to $1.6 billion? Answer: the Oriental fruit fly.fly-717854_1280

Just the name can send chills down the spine of any fruit grower. These particular fruit flies cause an alarming amount of damage to whatever fruit is available. They don’t seem to be picky eaters, they have been found in upwards of 300 different kinds of fruit. The females prefer to deposit their eggs into ripe fruit, but there again, they are not really picky, even unripe fruit has been found to host these insidious pests.

Multiplying Fast!

As with most insects, it doesn’t take long to go from egg to adult, approximately 10 days. Egg laying is a group activity, the females go in groups of 3 to 30 to lay their eggs under the skin of the fruit. Then if the temperature is just right the eggs hatch into larvae in about a day and a half. The larvae eat their way to maturity, tunneling their way through the chosen fruit, rendering it completely inedible by any self respecting human fruit lover.

When the larvae is mature it drops to the soil and continues its transformation. The adult fruit fly will emerge in approximately 10 days. And then about 8 days later the cycle begins again when the females mature and begin to lay their own eggs. In their lifetime, a female Oriental fruit fly can lay between 1200 and 3000 eggs. Adults can live for many months, all the while indiscriminately destroying fruit crops wherever they can.

Where to Begin?

The genesis of the Oriental fruit flies is, not surprisingly given the name, Asia. However, they have been found occasionally in the Hawaiian islands since 1944. There have been outbreaks of infestations in California, which were effectively eradicated by destroying all infested crops. But a few weeks ago they were discovered near Miami.


Since the discovery officials have acted quickly, quarantining 85 square miles of crops. The fruit was stripped and destroyed in all areas of known infestation. This coming at a time when the tropical fruits were just beginning to be harvested. Now instead of calculating their profits, farmers are spending their time trying to figure out how, or even if, they will survive this devastation.

Aerial Spraying?

Besides the destruction of infested fruit the next step of treatment will be aerial spraying of the crops. However, one of the most effective pesticides to use against the Oriental fruit fly is Malathion. Malathion is not only poisonous to the fruit flies, it is also dangerous for humans, which is why it requires a special clearance for use that must come from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Commission of Agriculture for the state of Florida has sent a team to negotiate with the EPA to get this special clearance. It has been used effectively on other infestations in California (1989) and elsewhere in Florida (1997). 

Organics – A Thing of the Past?

What this will do to the environment remains to be seen, but organic farmers are up in arms about the fact that their organic status will be invalidated by the aerial spraying. No crops within the sprayed area can be considered organic for 3 years, which will probably put the organic farmers out of business. As for the sprayed crops, the fruit flies may be gone, but will the fruit be harmful to eat?

This is a catch-22 situation if there ever was one. The Florida officials trying to make everyone happy while eradicating the Oriental fruit fly must feel this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt was penned just for them: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

Fallout from decisions will no doubt linger for years, but here’s hoping they far outlive the Oriental fruit fly.

Super Lice – Coming to a Head Near You

When I was in elementary school, many, many, too many, years ago, I remember the school nurse coming into the classroom pushing a cart with a light on it. She would go up and down the aisles looking at everyones head with this light. Being a curious kid I really wanted to know what they were looking for, but no one would tell me. I even asked one of the kids who got yanked out of his seat and had to stand in the hallway, but he didn’t know either. I know now. Lice. The bane of schools everywhere.louse-158325_1280

What Are They?

Lice are defined as: the plural of louse. That tells you a lot, eh? But under ‘louse” the dictionary gives a true definition: a small, wingless, parasitic insect that lives on the skin of mammals and birds.
It also defines a louse as a contemptible or unpleasant person, but that is a different story altogether.

Being parasites, living off of skin and other things found on their hosts body, lice cannot live long separated from a living thing. In years past all that was needed for treatment was to use the box of shampoo found at the drug store specifically for lice. Or louse, if he was alone.

Non-effective Treatment

But now, as is the case of so many irritating and troublesome bugs and infections, regular lice have become super-lice. They have mutated and formed a resistance to the usual removal methods. The results of a study done on super lice gave the following information:

“What we found was that 104 out of the 109 lice populations we tested had high levels of gene mutations, which have been linked to resistance to pyrethroids.”  Pyrethroids are insecticides that are derived from dried chrysanthemums. But now that treatment is ineffective for the most part. But, even if over the counter methods are not effective, prescription medications will still work, at least until the louse figures out how to overcome that one too.friends-589937_1280

Those Darn Selfies!

The usual age for contracting head lice is from 3 to 11 years, but lately more and more older teenagers have been treated for the malady. As to why, one suspect in this mystery is the “selfie”, the practice of taking pictures of oneself, and more often, oneself with a friend, which requires heads to come together so both can be included in the picture. Since lice can’t jump, a louse would have to be on the outside of the infected person’s hair to be transfered to the other person, so some experts doubt the selfie is to blame. But no one has come up with a more viable reason as to why the older kids are becoming infected. So, no more selfies, just in case. Yeah, like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Whatever the cause of the infection, how to get rid of them is the material point. If super lice come to call, seeing your doctor would probably be the best thing to do. Preventative measures would include teaching children not to share hair brushes or combs. And just to be on the safe side, no more selfies!

The Dangerous Fire Ant

ant-563286_1280Did you know that there are over 700 different kinds of ants in the US? Most of them are innocuous, they won’t hurt you even if you hunt them down or burn them with a magnifying glass, a cruel activity, to put it mildly. They can be annoying, especially if they find a route into your kitchen or invade your picnic. But dangerous, not likely.

However the one ant to be very wary of is the red imported fire ant. They originated in Brazil, but as most anything in this world that is growing smaller by the minute, they have come to our shores.

Not Picky

Most ants have certain foods that they like or need to live, but the red imported fire ants will eat anything or anyone, animal or plant. They have been known to kill small animals or rodents that have the misfortune to venture too close to the nest.

Ant Boat?

These enterprising little pests can can survive a flood by the whole colony coming together to form a ball that floats. The ball floats until it ends up on dry land, at which time they disembark from their makeshift ark and look for food, but don’t stand in their way because they are relentless in finding food and will attack with more venom than normal.

Their sting can be very painful, like being burned with fire, thus the name. The problems come because hardly anyone is stung only once. When they are fearful and feel endangered, the ants send out distress signals to the rest of the colony and their friends come running, stingers at the ready. Statistically, fire ant stings can send two percent of the population into anaphylactic shock. I know of a lady who accidentally stuck her hand into a nest, trying to brace herself from a fall. Her hand swelled to more than twice its normal size and she had to be treated in the emergency room. Fire ants are not to be taken lightly.


They nest in the soil, often near a water source. They are likely to hide their nests under rocks or logs, but if they have to build a nest in the open, it will be mounded. They were introduced into the US via the seaport of Mobile, Alabama and from there spread throughout the southern US, as far north as Virginia.

Enormous Cost!

According to the Food and Drug Administration, fire ants cost more than $5 billion a year on damage, damage control and medical treatment, not to mention the $750 million in agricultural damage, veterinary bills, livestock and crop loss. For something so little, fire ants are a big problem.

Avoidance is easier than eradication, as is the case with most invasive species. All we can do to protect ourselves is to be very careful and try not to anger any fire ants, which will no doubt mean keeping the magnifying glass far away from them.