Why Leafcutter Ant Infestations Are Extremely Difficult To Eradicate From Residential Lawns, And How They Can Cause Damage To Structures

Texas is home to numerous arthropod pest species that damage vegetation in residential yards. Some of these pests include chinch bugs, spider mites, fleas and many grub and caterpillar species. Some insect pests of this sort also inflict unsightly and economically significant damage to lawn grass, such as the red-imported fire ant. However, very few insect pests in the state are capable of damaging trees and houses in addition to lawns and garden plants, but leafcutter ants happen to fit the bill. During the mid 2000s, leaf cutter damage to properties in east, south and central Texas became a serious issue. During this time, the rate of leaf cutter ant infestations on residential properties began to skyrocket, and many infestations became extensive enough to damage the foundation of homes. The reason for the sudden increase in this species’ pest activity was largely due to the discontinuation of over-the-counter insecticides that homeowners had come to rely on to combat infestations. Today, leaf cutter ants have spread to most areas of Texas where they continue to stubbornly maintain infestations despite efforts to eradicate the pests from properties.

Leaf cutter ants cause more lawn damage than any other native ant pest in the US, and this is partly due to the massive size of their colonies, which can grow to contain 2 million individual specimens. These ants inhabit colonies that span great distances below the ground in urban, suburban and rural areas, and they strip the leaves off of countless plant species, including trees. Leaf cutter ants transport the foliage they collect to their subterranean colonies where they use the plant matter to cultivate fungus gardens. This fungus is fed to larval specimens and it is the only form of food that these ant pests eat. This makes leaf cutter ants difficult to eradicate from properties, as they tend to ignore baits, even sugar baits, and unfortunately, baits are the only way to control subterranean pests that build extensive colony tunnels over large areas of land deep below the ground. Leaf cutter ants also excavate sizable open ditches on properties, and when these dithces are excavated below homes, the foundation can crack due to the uneven weight distribution.

Have you ever had an ant infestation in your yard?






Drywood Termite Infestations

The annual economic cost of drywood termite infestations within structures in the US exceeds half of one billion dollars annually. This is certainly a massive dollar amount, but if the economic cost of subterranean termite damage is added to this figure, the annual cost of termite infestations in the US reaches 5 billion dollars or more annually. This is not surprising considering that the eastern subterranean termite, and other subterranean termite species in the US are more widely distributed than drywood termite species. Also, drywood termite colonies mature at a relatively slow rate, and they contain far fewer individual termites compared to subterranean termite colonies. Therefore, when considering the United States as a whole, drywood termites are relatively insignificant pests, but this is certainly not the case in the south, especially in Texas.

Both the eastern subterranean termite and the Formosan subterranean termite are the two most damaging termite species in Texas. The third most destructive termite species in the state, the southeastern drywood termite, mainly infests structures and single wood items in the southeastern portion of the state, but drywood termites can be found throughout Texas. Other drywood termite species in the state include the western drywood termite and the west Indian powderpost termite, the latter of which is a non-native species from the Caribbean that established in invasive habitat in the southern US states several decades ago.

All three of Texas’ three major drywood termite species maintain a habitat in the southeast, but they are frequently found all over the state, as these pests often infest wood items that are transported to new areas. To illustrate how easily these pests are transported to new regions within infested wood items, it should be mentioned that a 12 year old termite colony was recently found in a couch within a Minnesota home. This couch was shipped to Minnesota from the southern states where it became infested around a decade ago. When drywood termites infest an individual wood item, the infested item is placed within a chamber where it is heated to 120 degrees for at least four hours. This period of time allows high heat to penetrate deep within wood where drywood termites are active.

Have you ever witnessed a drywood termite swarm emerge within a home?


50% Of All Kissing Bugs In Texas Can Transmit Chagas Disease To Humans

While the group of insects that are frequently referred to as “kissing bugs” may sound like approachable and affectionate insects, like ladybugs or butterflies, they are actually a public health threat in the southern states due to a parasitic disease that the insects transmit to humans through their feces. The term “kissing bugs” is a common name for the airborne insects belonging to the Reduviidae genus. These insects inhabit South America, Mexico and several southern US states, and they are well known for invading homes where they can pose a nuisance, as well as a serious health threat to residents in the southernmost states, particularly Texas, Arizona, and Louisiana.

Kissing bugs get their name for their habit of inflicting bites on people’s faces, sometimes around the lips. Several kissing bug species that inhabit the southern states carry a parasite species known as T. cruzi, which is regularly expelled from the insects’ bodies within feces. The parasitic disease that these insects transmit to humans, chagas disease, cannot be treated if the illness advances, and no vaccines have been developed to induce immunity to this disease. Unsurprisingly, the current number of reported chagas disease cases in South America exceeds 8 million, and although the southern US is home to several of the same kissing bug species that transmit disease to humans in South America, the T. cruzi parasite is not normally found in US specimens. This is why very few people have contracted the disease in the US during the past several decades. Unfortunately, this is now changing, as researchers are beginning to find more disease-carrying kissing bug species in the US, and chagas disease cases have been increasing slightly during the past 20 years in the country.

A ten month old baby girl in Texas was the first person documented as having contracted chagas disease within the US. This case was described in 1955, and only a small number of people have contracted chagas within the US since then, but several studies have confirmed that around 50 percent of all 11 kissing bug species in Texas are carrying the T. cruzi parasite. Chagas disease is often asymptomatic in younger people for many years, but 30 percent of all disease cases see victims develop life threatening medical conditions, and the disease can be passed to unborn fetuses from infected mothers. Kissing bugs do not transmit the parasite with their bites, but they do defecate on human skin after collecting a human blood-meal. These bites are irritating, and when people go to itch the wound, they are likely to unknowingly smear the parasitic feces into the bite wound, allowing the parasite to enter the body. The CDC states that kissing bug bites often occur indoors, but applying insecticides within a home can repel the insect pests.

Do you fear the possibility that chagas disease may become more common in the southern US?


Africanized Honey Bees Attacked A Grieving Family At A Hutto Funeral Home

The honey bee species that beekeepers in the US raise for commercial purposes, the European honey bee, is not actually native to North America. This species’ common name gives away its non-native status, as well as its European origin. European honey bee hives were transported to Virginia from Europe back in 1622, and by 1639, European honey bees had established a non-native habitat within wooded areas throughout the northeast. European honey bees eventually spread to Texas during the early 19th century.

European honey bees can obviously inflict medically significant stings, and they can become aggressive toward humans in defense of their colony and queen, but European honey bees do not generally attack humans unless the insects perceive humans as a threat or are provoked. All yellow jacket species in the US are more apt than European honey bees to attack humans, and unlike yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets and paper wasps, European honey bees have a barbed stinger, which prevents the insects from inflicting more than one sting during their lifetime. However, another non-native honey bee species in the US, the Africanized honey bee, is notable for being extremely aggressive toward humans, and these invasive bees cause several deaths in the southern states each year.

Africanized honey bees, which are more commonly known as “killer bees,” invaded Texas during the early 1990s where they interbred with European honey bees. Today, most wild honey bees in Texas have become “Africanized.” Unsurprisingly, Africnaized honey bee attacks occur frequently in Texas. A recent Afircanized honey bee attack in the state saw the bees inflict numerous stings to three related individuals while they had been mourning the loss of a loved one at the Hutto Lutheran Cemetery. During the attack, 91 year old Victor Stern sustained 51 stings, but he later recovered in a local hospital. Stern’s son and grandson were also attacked, but they sustained fewer stings, and were quickly released from the hospital. Later the same day, several Africnaized honey bee nests were found partially buried in the ground along a fence line in the cemetery. Authorities marked this hazardous area with police tape until the hives could be professionally removed.

Have you ever stumbled upon a bee or wasp swarm?




Both Drywood And Subterranean Termite Infestations Have Been Found In Several Buildings Within The Tomball Museum Center

Tomball is a small town located near Houston in southeast Texas, which is a region that sees massive amounts of termite destruction. Several termite species inhabit southeast Texas, including the devastating and invasive Formosan subterranean termite. Tomball City Council members are currently holding meetings to discuss the town’s 2019-2020 budget, and as usual, the costs treating and renovating termite-damaged public buildings are central to these discussions. The Spring Creek County Historical Association has filed a request for nearly 60,000 dollars in local government funds that are needed to maintain the many historically significant structures and museums in the County. According to representatives with the historical association, 13,000 dollars of the request funds is urgently needed to eradicate drywood termite infestations within several buildings located within the Tomball Museum Center.

Tomball is home to many historically significant structures, and several museums have become established in the town in order to present residents and tourists with documented information concerning the town’s rich history. Unfortunately, drywood termites are now eating away at several important structures in the museum center, including a barn, the Theis house, the smokehouse, a log cabin, a corn crib and the Fellowship Hall, but more infestations may be found in additional structures. In addition to the drywood termite pests, subterranean termite infestations have also been found in a few of the buildings. Given how extensive the drywood termite infestations have become in the buildings, spot treating certain infested areas within the affected structures will not fully eliminate the termites, making full-structure fumigations necessary. Treating the buildings for drywood termite infestations will cost 11,000 dollars, while the subterranean termite infestations can be eliminated with only 2,000 dollars. A few residents are not enthusiastic about saving the buildings from termite destruction, but most residents find the funds request to be reasonable considering that the town’s total budget for the next year exceeds 60 million dollars. The request will likely be granted during the next city council meeting on September 3rd.

Would you want to see museums in your hometown saved from termite destruction if it meant paying slightly higher taxes?


Are Mosquito-Borne Disease Rates Finally Dropping In Texas Since 2016’s Zika Scare?

Many people were affected by the 2016 Zika epidemic that struck South America, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and the most southern areas of the US, particularly the states of Texas and Florida. This devastating mosquito-borne virus can be transmitted sexually, and the virus is a serious health threat to the developing fetus of pregnant women who have become infected. This was the most tragic aspect of the epidemic, as it resulted in a massive increase in birth defect rates in the Americas. During the epidemic, pregnant women in America were strongly advised to avoid traveling to Zika affected areas abroad and in the southern US, including southern Texas. A Zika epidemic has not occurred since 2016, but public health officials in the US remain concerned about Zika-infected mosquitoes that may still inhabit certain areas of the southeastern US.

While the Zika virus is no longer infecting Texas residents, Kate Fowlie, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claims that the rate of annual mosquito-borne disease cases reported in the US has been increasing each year in the country since the Zika epidemic occurred three years ago. A growing number of cases involving lesser-known mosquito-borne diseases is driving this increase. Some of these lesser-known mosquito-borne diseases, such as St. Louis encephalitis and La Crosse encephalitis, have been reported with increasing frequency in Texas.

During 2016, six people contracted the Zika virus locally within Texas, 2017 saw 5 local Zika transmissions in the state, and since then, no locally acquired Zika cases have been reported in Texas. However, La Crosse virus cases have been increasing steadily in the east, southeast and upper midwest regions of the country during the past decade. Since 2009, 5 La Crosse virus cases have been reported in Texas, but experts suspect that this virus is significantly underreported. St Louis encephalitis is another mosquito-borne disease of concern among public health professionals in the US, and the state of Texas has seen 9 locally transmitted cases of this disease occur in the state during the past decade. For many people who contract St. Louis encephalitis, manageable symptoms including fever, headache and nausea are commonly reported, but around 90 percent of older adults who contract this disease develop meningitis, and 5 to 15 percent of these cases result in fatalities. The majority of fatality cases resulting from St. Louis encephalitis occurred within Texas, California and Arkansas.

Are you concerned about the growing rate of mosquito-borne diseases cases being reported in the country and the state of Texas?

Waco Pest Control

Texas Woman Was Recently Diagnosed With A Disease Spread By Kissing Bugs

Back in 2013, a 49 year-old Texas woman, Candace Stark, donated blood in support of those suffering from leukemia. However, Candace was surprised when she received a letter from the Blood Centers of Central Texas telling her that she had chagas disease. Of course, the letter informed her that she could no longer donate blood, and that she would need to consult with a medical professional about her condition immediately. Candace’s condition is rare in the United States, especially when she was diagnosed with chagas disease six years ago, but in recent years, chagas disease cases have been increasing in Texas and other southern states.

Chagas disease is caused by a parasite known as T. cruzi, and this parasite originates from the feces of kissing bugs. Not only do kissing bugs bite humans, but they also defecate on human skin. In many cases, kissing bug bites are inflicted on the face, hence the insect’s common name. After sustaining a bite, people itch at their skin, which causes the fecal parasite to enter the bite wound, resulting in chagas disease. Although Candace does not specifically recall sustaining a bite from a kissing bug, she did spot and capture a kissing bug at her parents’ house around a year and a half after her chagas diagnosis. Testing revealed the captured kissing bug specimen to be a carrier of T. cruzi. Considering the significant amount of time Candance had spent at her parents’ house, she believes that she must have contracted the disease at some point while visiting.

Kissing bugs can be recognized by their black backs and the orange or red-colored stripes along their sides. Kissing bugs can be as small as a penney and as large as a quarter. While most biting insects pester people outdoors, kissing bugs are notorious for inflicting bites both indoors and outdoors, and they are often found within homes, particularly around beds. During the past several years, Texas public health officials have recorded 20 human cases of chagas that had been contracted by kissing bugs in the state. Sealing foundation cracks, installing door sweeps and replacing damaged window screens will help to keep kissing bugs out of homes. The disease is currently considered rare in the US, but cases are becoming more frequent.

Do you believe that chagas disease cases will continue to increase in the United States?

waco rodent control

How Invasive Webspinners Arrived In Texas, And Why These Insects Are Considered Nuisance Pests

Several invasive insect species have become established in Texas. Some of these species include red-imported fire ants, argentine ants and Formosan subterranean termites. One little known invasive insect species in Texas, Oligotoma nigra, originates from India, and it is considered a nuisance pest in urban and suburban areas of the state due to their attraction to artificial light sources, such as porch lights and street lights. This species is commonly known as the “black webspinner,” and residents will most likely encounter males only, as females are not capable of flight. When these insects are not swarming in large numbers around porch lights they spend most of their time within their underground nests where they remain hidden from humans.

Black webspinners are around .35 of an inch in length with a dark brown to black exterior. While black webspinners are not considered an ecological threat in the US, they do consume nonvascular plants, such as moss and lichen, and they may move into yards in order to feed on dead plant matter. Recent research has revealed that black webspinners also feed on grasses and ornamental plants. Webspinners dwell in below ground nests where colonies construct tunnels coated with silk that the insects produce from specialized organs. Webspinners spend most of their lifespan below the ground in order to avoid predators. These insects have adapted to their underground habitat by developing particularly muscular hind legs that allow them to move backwards rapidly within narrow underground tunnels. Additional adaptations include thin elongated bodies, and males possess oval-shaped wings that allow for unobstructed underground tunnel movement.

There is no way to determine with certainty as to how non-native black webspinners arrived in Texas, but experts believe that this invasive pest species arrived in the state via a shipment of date palms imported from Egypt. Black webspinners are distributed throughout the Southwest, and controlling nuisance swarms around homes is often unnecessary, as most residents in areas where these insects are abundant have become accustomed to waiting out swarms.

Have you ever heard of black webspinner insects before?





Termites Wreak Havoc On Historically Significant Government Buildings

Numerous timber-made structures of historical significance are still inhabited today in Beaumont. Unfortunately, Beaumont’s location in eastern Texas means that termites of several species are also abundant in the city. Multiple subterranean termite species can be found in the region, including the most economically damaging species, the eastern subterranean termite, and the highly destructive invasive species known as the Formosan subterranean termite. Naturally, the high number of termites in eastern Texas wreak havoc on Beaumont’s many historically significant structures. Several large scale restoration projects have saved many of the town’s buildings from termite destruction over the years. For example, during the spring of 2016, the Jefferson County Courthouse in Beaumont underwent renovations in order to correct extensive damage inflicted by termites. The termite damage even reached the fourth floor of the courthouse, and renovations were not easy due to the unique style of decorative wood found throughout the structure.

The Jefferson County Courthouse was built during the 1930s at a cost of one million dollars. At the time this was a relatively high price for constructing a building, but the building’s majestic black walnut paneling was considered to be worth the high price, even during the depression era. The termite infestation had plagued the courthouse for what must have been decades, as termite damage inflicted to the expensive wood paneling in the commissioners court had been apparent for years to anyone who entered the fourth floor. Heavily damaged veneer, missing panels and deep termite tracks indicated Formosan subterranean termite activity. However, most of the termite damage had been inflicted to the soft longleaf and yellow pine timber-frame below the cosmetic wood paneling. One judge who had worked in the building claimed that he often had to brush sawdust-like wood carvings off his pants on a regular basis for years due to termite workers plowing through the wood above him. Another judge who worked in the building made a similar comment, only he recalled wood shavings landing directly on his head while presiding at his bench. Despite assurances from local pest control professionals that the building had been cleared of all termites, the judges still frequently visited the location during the renovation in order to see for themselves that the termite activity had truly ceased. Local regulations required the renovation company to find wood replacements that matched the original wood as closely as possible. Although this was a tall order, the courthouse was eventually restored to its original state.

Have you ever seen heavy termite damage within a home or building?



Large Numbers Of Tarantulas Are Invading Residential Areas

When tarantulas are found within homes they are usually being kept as pets, but during the summer season, the southwest United States becomes overrun with swarms of male tarantulas looking for mates. These annual migrations sometimes bring tatrantuals into homes in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Tarantula migrations draw tourists to certain hotspots in the southwest where the arachnids are expected to be found moving in enormous masses numbering into the thousands. Once male tarantulas find a female burrowing within the ground, up to 1,000 eggs are produced, so while tarantulas may be hated by arachnophobes in Texas, the eight-legged critters are not going anywhere.

Tarantula migrations occur all summer, but the largest migrating masses occur during July in north Texas, and thousands are likely traversing through populated residential areas right now in the state. The Mexican redknee tarantula is considered one of the most commonly encountered tarantula species in Texas, and they can sometimes wander into homes. Another common species in the state, the Texas brown tarantula, is notably large in size and particularly heavy, as females often weigh in excess of 3 ounces. Females of this species are docile and prefer to remain in their burrows, but during mating season, which lasts from May until October, females may leave their burrows and make contact with humans.

While tarantulas may be intimidating to look at, they are largely harmless to humans, but those looking to avoid tarantula encounters during mating season in Texas should be mindful around bushes where the spiders are often located, and keeping an eye on city streets is also wise, as hoards of tarantulas regularly travel through urban areas. Tarantulas can inflict venomous bites, but these bites almost never require medical attention, and the stinging sensation caused by tarantula bites are comparable to bee stings. However, some residents cannot stand the sight of tarantulas, and if this should be the case, yards can be treated to prevent tarantulas from invading properties.

Have you ever encountered a tarantula on your property?