Thursday, February 26, 2009

Flea-Fly-Foe-Fume: Uninvited House Guests

This article deals with creeply crawly gate-crashers and exposes their hide-outs in your home sweet home.

Feed the need
Like humans, pests have basic needs and these include food, water and shelter. We may be tempting the critters with five star digs and bountiful banquets without even realizing it. There’s probably a pest for every nook and cranny in an average home, and some sort of food suited to the pickiest pest palate. Fabric moths snack on your clothes, pantry pests such as flour beetles love flour, silverfish munch on books, and blood-sucking mosquitoes, fleas and bedbugs have a taste for warm human blood. Roaches, ants and flies are the least fussy eaters and would be more than happy to polish off your scraps and garbage.

Pests, problem ‘pets’

Pests aren’t big eaters, individually, because they are small. A stale breadcrumb is a scrumptious supper for a cockroach and a grain of sugar is a delightful dessert for an ant. The problem arises when Mrs Roach makes 150 new baby mouths to feed, or when Missy Ant crawls

The Fly Files: Domesticated House Flies

This article advises against rearing house flies as pets and explores some interesting house fly facts relevant to its control.

Different folks different strokes

Flies are a large and extremely diverse group of insects, including beneficial predators such as the robber flies and hover flies, nectar-feeding pollinating bee-flies and even bot flies that snack on human flesh. The fly group also includes mosquitoes, house flies (discussed here) and other common pest flies.

A filthy stalker

The house fly (Musca domestica) is a common cosmopolitan pest. This domesticated human-loving critter likes to hang out in and around our homes. It is quite the stalker, having followed humans to the farthest reaches of the planet. While it wants nothing more than to share our food and is even content to dine on our scraps, house flies don’t make very good pets for the average homeowner. For one, these two-winged beasties can transmit some nasty stomach bugs such as Salmonella, Shigella and Escherichia that could lay you out for days, or worse. This is also true for most common pest flies except the blood-feeding stable flies, which aren’t disease carriers.

Flies have bad table manners
Flies aren’t finicky feeders and love a varied diet of organic materials such as manure, garbage and your home-made meal, on occasion. Sharing food with a fly wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t have such unrefined table manners. Flies have an offensive habit of vomiting on their (or your) dinner, then

Mosquitoes: A Fatal Attraction

This article will give you the lowdown on the mosquito’s attraction to the human race, why this love is unrequited, and how to avoid donating blood to these leechers.

A one-sided love affair

Mosquitoes have had a thing for humans for thousands of years. The human-loving tendencies of these winged whiners have not been reciprocated however. Despite repeated rejection and death threats, they keep coming back to plant unwanted kisses on us. There being about 3000 species of mosquitoes makes for an interesting range of body-part preferences. The conservative ones stick to a quick peck on the cheek while some exhibit foot fetishes. Anopheles and Culex mosquitoes sneak smoochies at dusk and after dark while Aedes mosquitoes favor public daytime displays of affection. These mini molesters share a common modus operandi – they furtively insert their syringe-like mouths into your flesh and pump in itch-inducing anti-clotting saliva while taking their fill of you.

Mosquitoes aren’t very bright

A mosquito’s itty bitty brain, housed in its teeny tiny head, weighs way less than its 2.5 mg body. It’s not much of a thinker since it has very limited neuronal processing abilities. However, these featherweights are hardwired to

Bedbugs: Bloodsucking Bedmates

This article will explain why bedbugs are so good at sucking human blood, how to recognize a bedbug infestation, and how to reclaim your sleep haven from these blood-sucking critters.

Bedbugs are covert operations specialists
Few creatures can match the stealth of the bedbug in extracting a human bloodmeal. Under the cover of darkness, it silently crawls from a nearby hiding place to seek its next victim. A sleeping human, warm and exhaling carbon dioxide, is the preferred fare of this flat, apple-seed-like insect. It painlessly pierces the skin with a syringe-like mouth then proceeds to engorge itself with blood. The victim feels nothing during those few minutes he or she is feasted upon. An adult female can make lots of bedbug babies after a bloodmeal, totaling 400 eggs in a lifetime. Given the right conditions, these offspring become adults in two months.

Recognizing bedbug bites
Bedbugs are fidgety feeders, and usually leave a tell-tale three welt track on the skin of the victim. Unlike flea bites, which have a characteristic spot in the center, bedbug bites look more like

The Good and Bad of Termites

Is there is such a thing as a ‘good’ termite? This article will reveal the little known good side of these insects, what gets them in our bad books, and how homeowners unwittingly invite termites into their homes.

Most termites are good guys

Termites are the ultimate recyclers.
Over 2000 species of termites can be found between latitude 50°N and 50°S, and more than 90% of these would never consider your home a tasty snack. Some termite species farm their own mushrooms and about half of all termite species actually eat dirt. The rest are miniature wood-digesting ‘machines’ that specialize in recycling of dead trees in forests. A termite first shreds wood with its powerful jaws, and swallows the lot. In its gut, an enzyme-rich soup breaks down the wood fibers and releases energy that the termite uses. The end result is fertile termite poo returned to Mother Nature, and less dead wood lying around that could fuel forest fires.

Termites provide sustenance.

Termites are an important part of the food chain. Ants, birds, geckos, aardvarks and chimps eat them. Some African tribespeople feast on lightly-roasted termites, which have a nutty flavor and are rich in fat. In some parts of Asia, the termite queen is traditionally sought after and eaten live to cure asthma. And a delicious fungus that grows only from mounds of the mushroom-farming termites mentioned above.

Which houses taste good to which termites?

Which termites?
If you are living in the USA, the name of your termite invader is likely

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What's Eating (and Killing) My Goji Plants?: Goji Killing Aphids

Summary of Post
How to identify aphid infestations on your potted goji plants. And how to get rid of these pesky sap sucking insects.

The Attack of the Aphids
I started my Goji Berry Germinating Endeavour in the fall of 2008, way before I potted my mint, basil, pepper, strawberry and other plants to bring indoors over winter. Unbeknownst to me, a mama aphid had hitched a ride on one of these plants, into my home sweet home. Aphids have a incredible propensity for making babies. If you were to examine my mama aphid under a very powerful microscope, you could see her baby developing inside her, and her baby's baby developing inside her baby. (Freaky huh?). These ladies don't even need Mr Aphid to reproduce (Nonono, it's not what you think. No lady lovin' - these critters are Asexual. Some aphid life cycle info here). After two weeks I started noticing some tiny yellowish bugs the size of a pin head, on my basil (see aphid enlarged pic at right). I squashed them with my fingers, hoping for the best, but knowing deep deep within my heart that I would soon be facing the challenge of my career.

I am embarrassed to admit, I should have known better being an entomologist and all - Quarantine Quarantine Quarantine. (This means that when one brings potted plants indoors, one should isolate these plants from existing house plants for a week or two until one is extremely sure there are no six legged pests lurking and skulking on the newbies).

Aphid Explosion
Within a month the aphids and their daughters were the majority in my home. I was outnumbered 1000 to 1. They preferred some plants over others, and for a while I thought my goji plants were not going to be harassed. Ah woe!