Recent Outbreak of Biting Flies

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By John Gordy, Fort Bend County Extension Agent-AG-NR

For the last couple of weeks there have been many local reports of and questions about biting “gnats”. Many of the reports indicate that the gnats are biting people during the day – particularly around the neck and head, and leaving persistently itchy swollen areas at the site of the bites. The actual culprits have been one or more species of black fly. Black fly species are small (5 mm or less) and have a characteristic “hump-back”, which is why they are also commonly called buffalo gnats. The flies are active during the day, and unlike mosquitoes, they are fast, strong fliers that can continue to be problematic even on very breezy days. Female flies have mouth parts modified to bite and feed on blood. They attack people as well as domestic animals, poultry and wildlife.

Most species of black fly larvae develop while attached to sub-merged rocks or logs in shallow moving waters of streams and rivers. However, there are some species that do well in sandy-bottomed streams and slow, muddy bodies of water. After the female lays eggs in the water, larval development can take any-where from two weeks to more than two months. Adult black flies, particularly females, can disperse great distances from their breeding habitats to feed. Along with the relatively warm winter we have experienced, rains farther north have provided ample freshwater coming down both the Brazos and San Bernard rivers, helping provide good conditions for large black fly populations. And while the black fly populations may soon decrease, it is possible that there will be another generation later in the year.

During periods of adult activity biting flies can become very annoying. Staying indoors is one option, but working outdoors may require dressing in long pants and long-sleeved shirt and wearing a cap and possibly a mesh veil. Insect repellents can be applied, particularly to the neck and head, but may not be very effective against these strong, fast flies. Additionally, you may have to try different repellents to find the one that works on the species near-est you. There is some research showing good efficacy of the active ingredient IR-3535 against some species of blackfly, deer flies and stable flies. Also, mixtures of DEET with other repellents like MGK 111, MGK 264, and MGK 326 appear to be better against blackflies than DEET alone. Some products that contain the above repellents include Avon Skin-so-soft Bug Guard, Coleman Skin Smart, Deep Woods Off, Sawyer picaridin repellent, and Cutter Backwoods. Additionally, some local re-ports indicate that herbal and essential oil based repellents work well, although there is no re-search to support it. Bites can be treated with over the counter insect bite remedies to help deaden the itching, but some people are very sensitive to the bites and may need to visit with their medical doctor.

For horses and livestock, individual animals may be stabled during the day when populations are abundant, but this practice is not possible for large herds. Fly repellents applied to the chest, belly and ears are somewhat effective but require daily application. Muslin or cotton bags fitted over horses’ ears may be used to prevent fly entry of those species attacking these areas, or white petroleum jelly inside the ears of horse will reduce bites. Additional options include dense smoke, repellents with permethrin, and ivermectin ear tags or pour-on and spray formulations.

Insects in the City: Kissing Bugs

By Michael Merchant, Ph.D., Urban Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Conenose, or kissing bugs (Triatoma sp.), are blood-feeding insects that are an occasional problem in Texas homes. Although conenose bugs bite humans and regularly transmit disease in parts of Latin America, for most U.S. victims the worst consequence is redness and itching at the site of the bite.
Conenose bugs are recognized by their elongated or “cone-shaped” head, prominent antennae, pear-shaped body, and spindly, stick-like legs. The body is black or dark brown, 1 to 3 cm (1 to 1 ½ inches) in length, with 12 orange spots ringing the outer edge of the abdomen. Long, beak-like mouthparts arise from the front of the head and are held under and against the center of the body when not in use.
Conenose bugs feed exclusively on the blood of vertebrate animals. Although generally rare, they are most common around animal nests or pet resting areas, emerging at night to search for blood meal. Their bites are gentle and painless, and usually occur while the victim is asleep. They are generally unable to bite through clothing. On humans, blood meals are sometimes taken from the tender areas of the face (hence the name “kissing bug”). Other sites of attack (in order of decreasing frequency) include the hands, arms, feet, head and trunk. Victims are frequently unaware of the bites until the following morning when unexplained reddened areas may be present on the skin of the arm or face.
Conenose bugs can be carriers of the protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, that causes Chagas’ disease–a serious disease of humans that occurs most commonly from Mexico to South America. For many years very few human cases of Chagas’ disease were recorded in Texas (five cases since 1955); however recent attention by researchers appears to be turning up more human cases than previously thought possible (8 Texas-acquired cases in 2013, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services). Cases among dogs are more common (over 200 reported cases in 2013), especially in southern regions of Texas. While overall frequency of Chagas transmission to people in Texas is still relatively rare, people should be careful when handling bugs and should take steps to eliminate these bugs when found indoors.
Natural reservoirs of the Trypanosoma parasite are maintained in nature among small vertebrate animals, notably armadillo, opossums, rodents, bats, cats and dogs. Conenose bugs commonly feed on several different hosts during their development. Nymphs feed on an infected host and become infected themselves. The parasite can then be transmitted during subsequent blood meals to an uninfested host. While feeding, the insect may defecate on the skin of its victim. When a victim touches the feces, para-sites may be transferred to the site of the bite, to the eye or to the mucous membranes around the mouth or nose. Transfer of the parasite may be hastened by scratching the bite. Chagas’ disease is difficult to diagnose, but is sometimes indicated in the initial stage by a swelling on one side of the face.
Conenose bugs are nocturnal and may be attracted to nighttime lights. In this way, solitary individuals may enter a home. A single conenose bug in the home is not necessarily cause for alarm. However the presence of nymphs (unwinged bugs) or numerous adult conenose bugs in your home suggested that a breeding population may be established nearby. Under these circumstances control may be justified.
Conenose bug infestations are likely to be more common in poorly constructed homes. Good sanitation and tight building construction tends to limit conenose bug infestations. Destroy trash piles, bird and ani-mal nests and burrows. Control and exclude rodents and birds from the house. Seal exterior cracks and openings into buildings and keep chimney flues closed tightly. Inspect and seal any openings from crawl spaces into the house sub-flooring. Check pets for signs of feeding and examine pet houses.
Insecticides can effectively control conenose bugs. Treat room corners and edges, window and door frames, pet houses, and other suspected entry points with a pesticide labeled for these sites. Few household insecticides are labeled specifically for use against conenose bug; however products intended for indoor use against cockroaches or other indoor pests can be used. Look for products containing permethrin, bifenthrin, esfenvalerate or cyfluthrin.
Consider using a licensed pest control professional for conenose bug control. Besides their experience in treating insect problems, professionals are better suited to assist you with control of possible rodent or pest bird problems. A professional can also point out ways to pest proof your home. The most effective professional products for conenose bug control include wettable powder or microencapsulated formulations of pyrethroid insecticides such as cypermethrin, lambdacyhalothrin, deltamethrin, or cyfluthrin.
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Filling in the Blanks

Amy Jo Holdaway, Vegetable Garden Chair – Fort Bend County Master Gardeners

January can be a great time for assessing our gardens. As the weather chills and we stroll through our yards, making plans for adding new plants and removing spent ones, and preparing for the coming spring and summer, it can also be a great time to fill in the empty spaces with something beautiful and edible.
There are many vegetables that need only 30 days or less before first harvest. Lettuces like Black Seeded Simpson, Parris Island Cos, and Red Sails grow beautifully this time of year. Most Mustard greens and Asian greens also flourish in these cool temps and can be harvested as baby leaves after only 27 days. Short season root crops like radishes and turnips can also be ready in 30-40 days. Even Kohlrabi can be ready to harvest in 30-40 days if you choose an early variety.
Have you already harvested your broccoli and cauliflower? Remove those old plants, mix a little com-post into the soil, and plant some lettuce seeds. Before you’re ready to put your tomatoes and peppers in the ground, you’ll be enjoying fresh baby-leaf salads. How about that container of over-grown and wilted annuals waiting for spring flowers? Pop in some radishes, turnips, or kohlrabi and eat the delicious results of your quick handiwork in just a few weeks. Have a bare spot in your flower garden? Mustard and Asian greens are not only delicious, they are also beautiful, with many frilled varieties that nary an HOA can detect.
The winter garden is so enjoyable and so much less work with less pests and diseases than the spring/summer garden, and with much more tolerable working temperatures. Why not round out your garden with these tasty and quick-producing vegetable varieties? Filling in the blanks can be a fun, easy, affordable way to while away the January gar-den while dreaming about all those tomatoes.
Not sure which you’d like to grow? Come check out the Fort Bend demonstration gardens at 1402 Band Road in Rosenberg, and see for yourself! We have examples of all the above listed vegetables growing in our multitude of gardens. Seeds are available through the many colorful seed catalogues arriving in our mailboxes now, and at most garden nurseries and big box stores. So get out there and plant some seeds! Happy gardening!
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Keep a look out for new palm disease

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By Boone Holladay, County Extension Agent-Horticulture

While attending a Region II TNLA meeting last summer, one of the local members gave a presentation on Palm Fusarium Wilt, a fungal disease specific to a select species of palms. At that time it wasn’t necessarily on the radar of potentially catastrophic landscape plant diseases. Well….it is now! This disease impacts both Queen Palms and Mexican Fan Palms, which happen to be our two most popular landscape palms in Fort Bend County. The disease has been con-firmed in Harris County and is suspect throughout the region. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has teamed up The Texas Nursery & Landscape Association to release a one page bulletin on the disease and is available for view or down-load at search que “Palm Fusarium Wilt”.

It’s pecan season in Fort Bend County!

by Boone Holladay, CEA – Horticulture Fort Bend County

Move over pumpkin-spiced products! Pecan flavored coffee and beers, pies and pastries, and a huge range of other pecan themed products are about to make it to the shelves. It’s pecan season in Fort Bend County and across the State. We’ve got big news to share with you concerning pecans in the county.

First off, we would like to spend a minute to congratulate local producers for their State award winning pecans! The 2014 Texas State Pecan Show, held in conjunction with the Texas Pecan Growers Association Conference & Trade Show was hosted this year in Frisco, Texas from July 12th through the 15th, 2015. State award winners from Fort Bend County included Pete Pavlovsky (3rd place Cape Fear), Bill Archer (2nd place GraCross and 3rd place Maramec), Reggie Ware (3rd place Shoshoni), Michael Weston (3rd place Podsednik), and Bill Birdwell (3rd place Success). To add clarity, samples from the 2014 county and regional pecan shows were held until the 2015 State pecan conference, thus it is entitled the “2014 State Pecan Show”, actually held in 2015.

Second off, we will be moving our 2015 program site away from the Bud O’Shieles Community Center in Rosenberg. The 2015 Fort Bend County & East Region Pecan Shows will be held at the Jones Creek Ranch Park Complex on FM 359 between Pecan Grove and Fulshear. This complex was formerly known as privately owned Gordon Ranch Event Center. It is now a Fort Bend County managed park space and event center and due to the geographic locale of many of our pecan orchards in the county, we think this site will be a great location for a pecan show. Contact our office or view our website for information on and directions to the Jones Creek Park facility.
The 2015 Fort Bend County and East Region Pecan Show will be held on Saturday, December 5th, 2015 from 9:30 to 11:00 am. Judged entries will be out for viewing and we will have an educational program on pecan production across Texas. As well, we will have a large assortment of pecan themed snacks and coffee provided by the Fort Bend County Master Gardeners and Fort Bend Farm Bureau. The event is free of charge, but bring your wallet as we will have pecan-themed gifts and new season local pecans for sale. The event flier is available at

Though this hasn’t been a bumper year for pecans in the county, we hope that you’ll enter your pecans in to the show. You may be our next big winner! Please keep in mind these shows are for everyone, large acreage to residential. One recent winner had only one tree! We’ll start taking entries on November 16th up until December 1st. For guidelines, rules, and regulations on the show, please visit our website at or call Brandy Rader at (281) 342-3034. See you in December.

Bagworms in the Fall

by Mike Merchant Posted on Insects in the City Blog on September 17, 2015

You’ve been watching your arborvitae all summer and noticing brown, spindle-shaped sacs hanging from the branches. Someone points out to you that these are bagworms, a case-making caterpillar that feeds on leaves and can be highly damaging, especially to ever-green trees and shrubs like arborvitae and cedar.

Now it’s late September, what do you do?

Before I answer that question, it’s worth pointing out that bagworms are interesting insects with a decidedly non-traditional life cycle. Bagworms are not really worms, but caterpillars, the immature stages of a nondescript moth. They are called bagworms because, shortly after they are born, they begin spinning a silken case or sac around themselves, using silk from glands associated with their mouth. The case is added to continually as the caterpillar grows. The caterpillar feeds on the host plant by sticking its head and legs out of the top of the bag and chewing on nearby leaves. Its legs grasp the branch of the host plant, and pro-pel the caterpillar like a kid cruising the monkey-bars.

Bagworms have one generation each year in Texas (some species possibly two). Once the larvae are fully grown they stop feeding. Males pupate and emerge as adults, usually a lit-tle before the female. Adult male moths exit the bag through the bottom, and fly off in search of a mate. Females also pupate, but the adult female that emerges is eyeless, wing-less and legless. She remains in her bag, emitting a pheromone to alert males to her pres-ence. Male moths locate the female bags and mate. Once mated the female gestates her eggs and dies, leaving a bag full of eggs that will hatch the following spring.

Once both male and female bagworms enter this last phase of life, feeding is over and so is any chance for effective control with insecticides. Bagworm bags are made of tightly wo-ven silk and bits of leaves from their food plant. For this reason, the caterpillars, pupae and eggs inside are well protected from insecticides. Only when actively feeding are bag-worms vulnerable to insecticide sprays.

So it’s late summer. Is it too late to spray for bagworms? That’s a good question, and will require some close observation on your part. If you have a bagworm-infested tree, pull off as many bags as you can for a quick inspection. Do you see red-brown pupal skins sticking out from the bottoms of many of the cases? If so, this is an indication that pupation and mating by at least some of the bagworms has begun. Are the cases easy to pull off the tree, or are they tightly bound with thick silk? Cases with thick bands of silk attaching them to the branch are an indication that the caterpillar has started the process of pupation, mating or egg laying. Open up some cases with a pointed knife or scissors. Do you find caterpillars still in the cases? If so, a spray may be worthwhile. If most cases are empty, or have only pupal skins or eggs inside, you’ve missed your chance this year to treat.

If you’ve missed your chance to spray this summer, that’s OK. Your bagworms will do no further damage this year. You have two options: wait until next spring to treat, or consider handpicking bags from trees during the winter or early spring.

Because female bagworms do not have wings, and there is only one generation a year, bagworm infestations are usually slow to spread. This means that on smaller trees, or trees that are deciduous (making the bags easy to spot), handpicking can sometimes eliminate or greatly reduce an infestation. Trees picked clean of bags are unlikely to become re-infested the following year.

Your other treatment option is to wait until spring when bagworms hatch (usually May to early June) to treat the tree. A relatively easy way to know the best time to treat emerging bagworms is to remove a number of bags from a tree and place outdoors in a screened jar in a shady spot. When the eggs hatch and young caterpillars are seen inside the jar, chances are that eggs are also hatching on your trees. Sprays such as Bacillus thuringiensis, spinosad and any of the pyrethroid insecticides are effective on bagworms, especially early in the season. Late season infestations, when bagworm caterpillars are larger and more difficult to kill, are best treated with pyre-throid sprays.

-For more information on bagworms, including photos of many of the life stages, see the excellent publication by the University of Florida.

Winter Citrus Care

By Deborah Birge; Fort Bend Master Gardener, Citrus Specialist

We may still be slogging through high temperatures and relentless humidity but it is time to begin thinking of winterizing our citrus trees. But, before we do that let’s take a look at how our trees are affected by the cold.

Lemons, limes and citrons are cold hardy to the high 20’s. All oranges, mandarin, grapefruit, tangerines and tangelos are hardy to the mid-20’s, with kumquats and satsumas the most cold hardy, with-standing temperatures in the low 20’s. However, timing and duration are everything.

A satsuma will sustain freeze damage if the temperatures dip for several hours to 18 degrees in December. However, that same satsuma could withstand the same temperatures for the same duration if it froze in February. Why? Because the tree had time to harden off and go dormant. So, even though you may have a tree that will handle 15 degrees, as some of the new Arctic varieties claim, if the very cold weather is too soon in the season, you would do well to protect your tree. Additionally, the cold hardiness of a tree will be tested when wind and rain are involved with the freezing temperatures. Both make the situation more dire for the citrus grower. That said, what steps can we take to help insure the survival of our citrus?

*Firstly, take a long look at your tree. Does it look healthy or stressed? If stressed, look for the reason. Too much water, too little light, and too little feeding can result in stress. If the stress is too much water, begin to taper off on watering. Ideally, citrus should not be watered in winter unless it is containerized or there is a drought situation. If the stress is too little light, consider trimming overhanging trees in the Spring or moving the tree. If the stress is nutritional, give the tree a very light feeding. No more than about one fourth of the recommended feeding. Late summer is still feeding time for leaf miners and the Asian Citrus Psyllid. A late flush of new leaves is like laying a buffet for these pests.
*Look for pests. Most typically, you will find scale, mealybugs, or aphids and ants. Scale and mealybugs can be dislodged with a strong spurt of water or an insecticidal soap. Aphids and ants work together so must be dealt with together. If you don’t eradicate the ants, the aphids will return.
*Prepare the tree floor. Bare soil will absorb and then release more heat than soil covered by grass or mulch. If you have either, remove it from under the tree outward to the dripline or outermost limbs of the tree. Do be careful of the shallow feeder roots when working around the base of the tree. Work carefully so not to damage these important roots. If the tree is grafted and is less than four years old, a proven method of graft protection is to mound soil, not mulch or compost, around the trunk of the tree up past the graft and lower limbs. This mound should be installed in late November and removed in March. A light application of a copper based fungicide to the trunk before installing the mound will help protect the trunk. After removal, be sure to wash the trunk clean of all remaining soil.
*Gather your freeze protection materials. Nothing worse than hunting for equipment when a freeze is coming. A good arsenal might include micro-cloth or tarps for covering, Christmas lights or a shop light for raising the temperature, while some even use grills and propane heaters. There is a new tool for the arsenal called antitranspirant spray. This is a polymer spray that helps the leaves from losing moisture. Some find it effective for freeze protection and drought protection. However, the cost is very high so one would need to weight the cost against the gain.

Now that we are prepared for the freeze, what to do when one is eminent? Remember that we now have bare ground under the tree. Water that well. Moist ground will absorb the heat of the sun and retain it longer. Cover and add lights as desired. Remember to not put plastic directly on the tree. This will cause more burn than if you use a cloth material next to the leaf, then plastic, if desired. If you do use plastic, remove it as soon as the freeze lifts or the ice begins to melt. Cloth can stay for an indefinite time.
A common question is whether to harvest exiting fruit when a freeze is predicted. It’s helpful to re-member that most predicted freezes do not occur. So, plan to leave the fruit on the tree, only harvesting the following day IF the fruit has frozen.

In our next article we will discuss After Freeze Dam-age Care. Let’s hope this will not be needed by any of us. Enjoy the winter!

Landscape and Irrigation Symposium

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Topic Lineup:

• Return on Investment for Low-Water Landscapes
• Integrating Water Savings into Your Business Model
• Communicating Water- What’s Your Role and Why?

Irrigation Track
• Water, Soil Relationship impacts the landscape
• Incorporating Rainwater Harvesting into Irrigation Design
• Quality Planning and Installation of Low Volume Irrigation

Landscape Track
• Watering and Plant Health
• Growing Business with Industry Programs
• Techniques for integrated water management

Click here to view the full flyer and download the registration form!

Arctic Frost Satsuma Mandarin Hybrid Named New Texas Superstar

by Robert Burns ,Extension Communication Specialist
Adapted by Barbara Buckley, Fort Bend County Master Gardener

Satsuma Arctic Frost has been named a Texas Superstar plant by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturists.
Arctic Frost is the most cold-hardy satsuma hybrid tested so far, having survived temperatures as low as 9 degrees at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center test site near Overton, said Dr. Brent Pemberton, AgriLife Research horticulturist and chair of the Texas Superstar executive board, Overton. The board has named other cold-hardy satsuma mandarins as Superstars: Satsuma Miho and Seto in 2010, and Orange Frost in 2014. (more…)

The Walnut Caterpillar, Round 3

By Boone Holladay, County Extension Agent-Horticulture & Bill Ree, Pecan IPM Specialist

Bill Ree and I have done much scouting and have collected some great data on the Walnut Caterpillars, which have been defoliating pecans in our area since early June. Here are some of our observations that will help you with an action plan. (more…)