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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Nuisance Pests

Posted by John Fulton -

With alternating warm and cool (or cold) weather, we see many nuisance pests when we get the warm days. We've been through the second round at least, and I'll guarantee at least one more round this spring. Add to that the fact we are active on the warm days, and we are doing things like destroying their resting places by cleaning off flower beds and raking up piles of leaves.

Let's start with the Asian ladybugs. Right now they are alternating between resting and sunning, weather dependent of course. These are the beetles that overwintered as adults, and are looking for a place to stay and something to eat. We've already had a round or two this spring, and we're sure to have more with the type of weather we've experienced. Sunrooms, porches, and windows are the obvious collection points for the beetles. The best control in the home is a vacuum cleaner. If you have numbers too large for that control, area sprays of an aerosol flying insect killer will knock down the ones it hits. If you are terribly bothered, try a perimeter spray of the foundation, door areas, and window areas on the home with a pesticide that will last for a while. Color test the material on siding first, and hope for the best. The pesticides are effective, but they are sometimes overwhelmed by the number of ladybugs that you are trying to control. Permethrin and bifenthrin are probably the most commonly used pesticides for perimeter sprays.

A common home invader over the past several weeks has been the millipede. Millipedes are hard shelled animals that are worm-like with many segments. They also curl up when disturbed. Most body segments have 2 pair of legs, except for the 3 behind the head. Adults are 1-2 inches long and can be brown, tan, or gray. Most millipedes are scavengers. They feed on decaying organic matter such as leaves, compost, and grass clippings. They may sometimes injure small, young plants by feeding on the roots and tender plant parts, but this is rather rare.

When they enter the home in large numbers, they can become quite a nuisance. They do not bite, feed on clothing, or cause any real damage. They are simply a nuisance. Control of millipedes in the house is best accomplished by running the vacuum cleaner. Most insecticides are not very effective against millipedes. The best way to prevent them from entering the home is to remove and discard accumulations of leaves, rocks, boards, and other trash from around the foundation of the house. Also, keep shrubbery and flower beds free of leaf mulch during the warm months. Foundation sprays of permethrin or bifenthrin may have some effectiveness, but they may not provide satisfactory control. To apply these sprays, spray the foundation of the house and the adjacent foot of soil. In severe cases, you may need to expand the soil treatment area (and maybe spray the entire yard).

Also with some warmer weather comes the swarms of insects that raise that perennial question of "Are they ants or termites?" Swarming time for both insects is about the same time, and they are really looking to start new colonies because they have outgrown their old ones. This is the reason for the winged insects, the wings allow the ants or termites to cover larger areas to start their new colonies. The differences between ants and termites are several.

Let's start with the body color. Termites are always blackish in color, while ants may be black or other colors. If you have winged insects that are not black, you don't have termites. Next, look at the body shape. Ants have a constricted "waist" while termites don't have that classic hour-glass figure. Antennae and wings are the other two body parts to look at. Antennae on ants are elbowed, basically in an "L" shape, and those on termites are straight. Both ants and termites have pairs of wings, but termite wings on the same side will be of equal length, while ant wings are of different lengths on the same side.

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