Pocket Gophers and Moles – What’s the Difference?

gopher-52685_1280This time of year brings out the pests in droves. There are pests that bite and sting. Some buzz, some creep, some are just creepy. But according to a wildlife specialist from Kansas State University, the number one problem pests are moles. Moles can make a huge mess out of your lawn or garden. But pocket gophers, often referred to as just plain gophers, can cause the same time of tunneling damage, so how do you tell if you have moles or gophers? And why does it matter?

Although they are commonly mistaken for one another, they definitely are not interchangeable. Gophers are rodents, whereas moles mole-13298_1280are related to mice or voles, in the shrew family. Moles are insectivores and their diet consists of mainly earthworms, millipedes, centipedes, snails and slugs, but not vegetation. Gophers are strictly herbivores, making a meal of the vegetation in your lawn and garden.

The problem for humans is, both of these critters will tear up your lawn or garden with their incessant burrowing and tunneling, but for different reasons. Which makes them just that much harder to eradicate.

Also, you may never see the pest to tell whether it’s a gopher or mole. It would probably be advantageous to trap at least one, so you will know what you are dealing with.

It is possible to get rid of moles by contaminating their food source with red pepper or castor oil. A mixture including plenty of dish soap sprayed in or near their tunnel will also make them want to go elsewhere for a different food source.

Gophers on the other hand can be put off by noise or animals like cats and dogs. A well placed pile of dog doo-doo in the tunnel can alarm the gopher to canine presence and they will high-tail it out of there. Same with what the cat leaves. One article suggested playing loud music near the tunnel but that isn’t really a neighbor-friendly tactic.

Of course, there is always poison, if that is the road you wish to take, but the possibility exists that animals other than the intended victim will find it.

The easiest way to deal with either of them is to call your pest control expert. Leave it to the professionals and enjoy your pest-free lawn and garden.

Fire Ant Zombies

Now that spring has sprung and summer is soon upon us, outside activities are in full force. But whether you are a golfer, gardener, or enjoy some other outdoor activity, the one thing we all need to be aware of is fire ants.

ant-564617_1280Fire ants are arguably one of the worst of all invasive species. Their sting is extremely painful, although not lethal, unless the victim has an allergy to the venom. They have been known to kill small animals. And, possibly the strangest fire ant trait of all is their ability to escape a flood by forming a raft of bodies that will float. There is a very cool You Tube video of a researcher trying to push a “raft” of fire ants under the water which can be found at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bdry7_5qck

There are predators however, that can turn fire ants into zombies. Several species of phorid flies from the area of South America that gave us the fire ants to begin with, have kept fire ants under control in that area. So enterprising researchers in Texas have begun to import those flies in the hope that they will control fire ants in their area as well.

These flies lay their eggs on the heads of the ants. When the eggs hatch into maggots inside the head, common-fly-447307_1280they begin to eat away at the brain of the fire ant. The ant doesn’t die immediately, but wanders aimlessly, zombie-like while the brain is being destroyed, then after about a month their head falls off. What a way to go.

The hope is, since these flies keep the fire ants under control in the areas of origination in South America,  it is possible that they will also do the job wherever fire ants can be found. At least, that is the hope.

It will take a lot of flies to make a dent in the fire ant population, but you have to start somewhere. And this is an organic method, no pesticides or insecticides needed, you can’t ask for more than that.

The Gulf Coast and Zika – Not a Pretty Picture

We are all Zika-weary by now. We have heard nothing but Zika, Zika, Zika for months now. But a new study says that we won’t be getting any relief from hearing about the newest, and by all accounts, worst, mosquito borne illness any time soon.

The virus is Public Enemy #1 when it comes to pregnant women, as it is suspected of causing microcephaly, a condition which the infant’s brain does not grow correctly in the womb. It is also linked to mosquito-542159_1280paralysis and other serious issues.

This new study indicates that the Gulf Coast could be Ground Zero for the Zika virus. That is over 60 million people. The climate of high humidity, very warm temperatures and already an abundant population of mosquitos create the perfect environment for the spread of Zika.

And this comes at a time when federal funding to help states and localities prepare for disasters, which includes infectious disease outbreaks, has fallen 30 percent in the past 14 years, according to a report from The Trust For America’s Health. During an outbreak, public health labs would be inundated with request for tests on pregnant women for every mosquito bite. They would soon be overwhelmed, which would lead to delays and increased anxiety of the mothers-to-be, waiting for test results.

mosquito-871913_1280Larger cities have more resources available to fight the kind of fight needed for such a public health risk. But smaller communities may be left without much help.

Whatever happens at the government level, individuals can always be the first line of defense. Make sure the yard is free of places where water can accumulate and become a breeding ground for mosquitos. Always wearing some sort of bug repellent when going outside is another thing. Just using good, common sense and being aware can go a long way to keeping your family safe.

Ticks and Lyme Disease

There are many reasons to be outside in the spring. It is warming up, but not too warm, yet. The flowers are blooming, the world seems to be putting on a fresh new face and it makes us just want to be outside to enjoy it. But we need to use good sense to avoid being bitten by mosquitos and ticks that might pass on disease.

Of course we have all heard about the Zika virus that is spread by mosquitos and what it can do to unborn children. That in itself is reason enough to wear insect repellant at all times, but ticks are another hazard we don’t want to overlook.

Probably the most well known of the diseases spread by ticks is Lyme disease. One startling statistic is tick-482613_1280that of all the reported cases of Lyme disease from 1999-2008, 30 percent were acquired in Florida.

The symptoms of Lyme disease vary and usually they appear in stages. If you are bitten by a tick you will see a small red bump, which in itself does not indicate Lyme disease. However, if, within a month, you start to have a circular rash which is sometimes clear in the center and resembles a bull’s eye pattern, accompanied by fever, chills, fatigue, body and head aches see your doctor immediately. Even if the symptoms disappear, don’t assume you are free, Lyme disease symptoms can come and go.

Untreated Lyme disease can go from making a person just feel rotten to much worse things, like meningitis or Bell’s palsy. It can affect your muscles and limbs, causing impaired movement.

Lyme disease can be successfully treated by a 2 to 3 week antibiotic treatment. However, if left untreated for some time it may require intravenous antibiotic treatment to rid the body of the disease.

So, get out there and enjoy spring, before the intense heat hits again, but just make sure to wear plenty offlorida-50189_1280 insect repellent. And, if you do happen to be bitten by a Lyme disease carrying tick, don’t let symptoms linger without being treated, it will only get worse.

Zika Virus – Are GMO Mosquitos the Answer?

The Zika virus scare has taken people everywhere by surprise. For most of the population, being bitten by a mosquito carrying the Zika virus would not be a big deal. Some show no symptoms at all. Those who are affected might experience a fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, headache and a general malaise. These conditions, usually mild, may last for a couple of days or up to a week.

However, for some it may be worse. In Brazil there has been a rise in Guillain-Barré syndrome, seemingly connected with the Zika virus, but the study is not complete on the exact causes.

Far worse than that though, is the possible connection of the Zika virus with babies born with microcephaly, a medical condition in which the brain develops abnormally resulting in a smaller than normal head, usually resulting in intellectual disability and other related disorders.

Up to now the only preventative measure has been to encourage mosquito repellant and protective clothing whenever out of doors. But now Oxitec, a British firm, has genetically modified the type of mosquito that carries lab-385348_1280not only Zika but also dengue fever and chikunguny so that the offspring of these mosquitos will not live.

This is still in the developmental stages, but the early results are promising. In testing on Grand Cayman Island they were able to reduce the mosquito population by 80%. In 2011 another test was done in Brazil which reduced the mosquitos by 80-95%. Very encouraging results.

This year the government in Brazil, where most of the birth defects have occurred, has allowed the company to use this method to try and combat the Zika virus in one town in Brazil.

But is it too little too late? The damage has already been done to countless families throughout the Central and South America. And who knows where it will spread next?

And what will be the after effects of redesigning nature? We can only hope that there is nothing found down the road that will make the decision of the governments involved look short-sighted.mother-434355_1280

But for right now the focus is to reduce the number of babies born with microcephaly and any solution to that problem will be welcomed.

The Case of the Grass Killing Chinch Bug

grass-340458_1280April, the time of year when everything is green. In your world, if everything is green but your lawn, you may have a chinch bug problem.

While chinch bugs are not poisonous or harmful to humans or animals, they can destroy your lawn of St. Augustine grass in no time at all. They suck the sap out of the roots and stems of the grass. The first signs of infestation will be a change in the grass from green to yellow and then it will turn reddish brown. This usually happens in irregular patches. The blades of grass will curl up and die, with the bugs sucking the juices out.

They thrive in sunny areas and areas afflicted with drought, where the grass is already stressed. They just kill it off for good.

Chinch bug’s eggs can hatch in as little as one week during the summer. It takes about four to six weeks for the nymphs to mature. Chinch bug adults are about one-fifth of an inch long and are black with white patches on their wings. Chinch bug nymphs range in color from pink to red with a white stripe across their middle. Being so tiny, they are hard to see. You can get on your hands and knees and inspect your lawn, but you may still have trouble seeing them. One way to make sure if you have chinch bugs or not is to make a tube of a can by cutting both ends off. Then push the tube into the ground and pour water into it. If there are chinch bugs in your lawn they will start floating to the surface.

tree-970850_1280In order to get rid of chinch bugs, treatment needs to begin as soon as any infestation is expected. A call to your pest control expert is the way to go. And the sooner the better to save your green lawn from ending up nothing but brown.

Formosan Termites – Nature’s Destruction Crew

Spring is such a great time of year! The flowering trees are in bloom, azaleas are splashing color everywhere, wisteria is dangling purple blossoms from huge pine trees. And the termites are coming to life, the unpleasant side of spring.

There are several kinds of termites, but the Formosan termites, sometimes referred to as super-termites, are the most destructive species. All termites need moisture to survive, but the difference with the Formosan termites is their ability to build nests that collect moisture, so they can survive until they find a more permanent water source. Their colonies are bigger than other species of termites, ranging in size from hundreds of thousands termites-34672_1280-1to millions of members.

A mature colony of Formosan termites can consume as much as 13 ounces of wood a day. It only takes about 3 months at that rate, to severely damage a structure. Once they become established, it’s possible that they will never be completely eradicated from that area.

These tenacious creatures can also venture around 130 feet from their nest in their search for food and water. And then when they find it, they leave a trail of sorts for the others to follow.
And they don’t sleep! Twenty-four hours a day the workers can be chewing on your home. They can get in by way of a crack in the foundation that is no more then one sixty-fourth of an inch. Once inside, they work tirelessly to bring food to the colony, food that used to be part of your home.

Termites cannot survive in the sunlight or open air for more than a few minutes, which is why they tunnel their nokomis-701849_1280-1way into the foundation. It’s amazing to think how these tiny little insects can reduce a wooden structure to sawdust in record time.

So, with that thought, it’s time to call the pest control expert. Let them treat your home so the termites will go elsewhere for their nutrition.

Opossums: Making Meals of Ticks and Rattlesnakes

With spring here and summer well on the way, the one thing that we have to worry about are the biting insects that carry disease. Like mosquitos that carry malaria, encephalitis and right now the big scare from mosquitos is the Zika virus. Ticks too carry many diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and many others.

There are many things on the market to keep these insects off us, like sprays and devices, supposedly guaranteed to keep the bugs away, but these often don’t work as advertised or contain things we would rather not put near our bodies. Ideally we would like something that is natural, not going to poison us or the environment.

And, Voila! it has been found, strangely enough, in the common opossum. And it is opossum, for those of us in the possum-478162_1280western hemisphere, as opposed to those possums that live in Australia and have bushy tails. Interesting reading found at http://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-opossum-and-vs-possum/

The wild marsupial whose life expectancy is 2 to 4 years due to being hunted for food and being run over by cars, can actually help rid your yard of the ticks that cause disease. Opossums are omnivores, which means they eat everything, from the trash that isn’t secured well enough to ticks and rattlesnakes. They are nature’s clean up crew, eating dead animals and overripe fruit and nuts that falls from trees. They hunt mice and snakes.

But best of all, when a tick falls on them, they eat it. They are immune to its poison, same thing with rattlesnakes, they are not affected by the venom. And being nocturnal, they do all this while we are asleep.cayenne-tick-542169_1280

Even if we had a yard full of opossums, we would still need to wear some sort of repellant to insure that the mosquitos and ticks don’t bite, but it’s nice to know that if we do have an opossum or two in the yard, they will do their part. So, if you see the funny looking guys hanging from your trees, be sure and be nice to them. Unbeknownst to us, they are making meals of things we detest, like ticks. Think of them as the invisible pet we don’t have to feed or clean up after.  Can’t ask for more than that!

Fleas and Ticks and Pets – Oh My!

Spring. Just the word can make us think of flowers and trees budding, of the resurgence of new life. It can also make pet owners think of unpleasant things, like fleas and ticks.

It is the time of year when fleas try to take up residence in the fur of your favorite cat or dog. Or ferret. Or any other warm blooded furry creature. Fleas aren’t picky, but cats and dogs sure are.

You can tell when fleas are looking for a new home by the increase of scratching going on. Cats will groom themselves extra hard to try and rid themselves of the little pests. Dogs will scratch more and more. But the annoyance of fleas is nothing compared with the danger that fleas and ticks can pose to your pets.

Fleas breed ridiculously fast, with your pets fur being the perfect incubating place. And the fleas saliva can cause anemia, dermatitis and can even transfer tapeworms.

tick-1271763_1280Ticks can transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever to humans, but they can also cause tick paralysis in dogs. This can cause muscle weakness, loss of coordination and even death to an infected dog.

So, how can we keep dogs and cats and other furry pets safe from fleas and ticks? The National Pest Management Association has put out some tips designed to prevent fleas and ticks. Most are just common sense, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat them, especially where the health of our pets is concerned. Some of the tips are:

Check pets frequently for fleas and flea dirt. Be aware of excessive scratching, licking and nibbling grooming behavior in pets

Avoid walking in tall grass, low growing brushy vegetation, like along the edge of the woods or trail, where ticks and fleas flourish

Wash pet bedding and toys frequently, same with human bedding. Vacuum carpets and furniture frequently.

And, to be absolutely sure your pet is safe, talk to your veterinarian about flea and tick prevention treatments. That way you can enjoy the spring without worrying cat-1231368_1920about what’s biting your pet.

Roach Robots to the Rescue!

Cockroaches. The most hated of all insects. Just the word can make some people shudder in dread of the creepy critters. But scientists have found the cockroach to be the perfect model for a robotic design.

Cockroaches can withstand 300 times their body weight as they moved through tight tunnels and could take 900 times their body weight before they experienced any bodily injury. Wouldn’t it be great if we could control how they move?image

Researchers at UC Berkeley have designed a robot based on a cockroach design that can move through ridiculously tight areas at high speed. This could be extremely helpful in search and rescue situations for spaces too tight for humans or dogs to squeeze through.

However, researchers at Texas A&M university have decided to use the Frankenstein approach and fuse a cockroach with a computer. The aim is to have a controllable insect that could carry a camera, microphone or other tiny sensors that could go into areas human cannot to see and hear if there is anyone there to rescue or just what the situation is.

The computers were placed in tiny backpacks fitted on the back of the cockroaches. The backpack contains a computer chip that sends signals down wires connected to nerves that control the cockroaches movement. The scientists stimulate nerves making the cockroach go in the direction the scientists indicate.

imageIt’s a great idea, in theory, but in actuality it needs work. When the scientists put the roaches on little leashes they steered correctly about 70% of the time. But when they were left to roam freely, controlled remotely, they only obeyed the instructions about 60% of the time, not a stellar outcome.

But the researchers are not disheartened. They are investigating how to make the roaches respond more reliably.

It really is a good idea, whether it’s a remotely controlled live insect or a robotic facsimile of a cockroach, if it could help in search and rescue it’s worth the time and money for research.

A life saving cockroach, as unbelievable as that sounds, would be a marvelous thing.