Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kudzu Bug - A Small, Brown, "Lady Bug" That Invades Homes and Gardens

Kudzu bugs clustered on wisteria. Photo by Julie W.
If you live in the south-eastern US you may have noticed a new insect this summer and fall (see photo): the insect is called the kudzu bug (Megacopta cribraria) and is characterized by -
  • small, brownish/green in color
  • shaped sort-of like a ladybug
  • not seen prior to about 2 years ago
  • invades homes in the fall
  • congregates on garden plants, and especially, kudzu vine (For those that don't live in the southern US, kudzu is a highly invasive weedy vine, "the vine that ate the south!", that grows everywhere, on everything.)
  • a new and important pest of soybean
    This true bug (Hemiptera)  resembles a ladybug (a cocinellid beetle) in size and shape, but not color (see this page for a picture of a real ladybug/lady beetle). Also, you don't generally find ladybugs clustered together like you see in the photo.

    This a new "lady bug" has some unpleasant characteristics. (1) Feeds on and weakens garden plants as well as some agricultural crops, like soybean, in addition to weedy plants like kudzu; (2) produces a distinctive, strong odour when disturbed; (3) congregates on houses in the fall when air temperatures start to drop. This final characteristic of "invading" homes in the fall is the one that many people will notice first.

    The kudzu bug was first found in north-eastern Georgia in 2009 but has since spread to North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and will likely spread to all south-eastern states in time, anywhere kudzu grows.

    Kudzu bugs as nuisance pests

    Because the kudzu bug arrived in North America without the natural enemies that would normally keep populations in check in their native lands (Asia), this bug has seen explosive growth. After feeding and multiplying all summer the population of kudzu bugs in an area can be large. Then as the air temperatures begin to decline in fall these bugs move from their host plants and seek shelter for winter months. They often congregate on houses just like similar bugs such as the brown marmorated stink bug of the northeastern US and the boxelder bug. And, like these others kudzu bugs are harmless to people and homes but can be a significant nuisance to homeowners when they congregate on siding, and enter walls and attic spaces.

    What should you do?

    Treat kudzu bug invasions like you would boxelder bugs or brown marmorated stink bugs - see How to Manage Boxelder Bug Invasions for details. Eventually the numbers of kudzu bug will decline as native predators and parasites discover this new insect and adapt to it. Until then, at least it is impacting the growth of kudzu vine!


    Saturday, August 27, 2011

    Pictures of Bed Bugs Biting and Chigger Bites

    I've just posted incredible close-up pictures of bed bugs in the act of biting and early and late-stage chigger bites at our 'Bugs site. These images are from the CDC Public Health Image Database.

    For life history, identification, and treatment of rooms for bed bugs see this page. Also, visit the main chigger mite page for life history of these biting mites.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    Ant Problem in the Kitchen, Home or Apartment

    ants feeding on sugary bait
    Sooner or later almost everyone experiences ant problems in their home or apartment. Ants often invade kitchens first but can spread to other areas of the home as well. They are several different species of tiny black/brown ants that enter homes in search of food and water.

    Ant colonies (see below) can be located in the soil around and beneath the structure but they can also be in the walls and/or ceiling.

    Ant Colonies and Ant Control

    All ants live in complex, highly organized colonies where workers gather food and water for the developing young and the egg-laying queen. The trick with any successful ant control program is to use the worker ants to collect food for the colony that has been laced with a poison (poison bait). The poison bait is fed to developing young and the queen thus disrupting the entire colony. Spray insecticides do not work against household nuisance ants.

    The least expensive ant bait is a sugary liquid that has been laced with boric acid. This is the standard recipe for products like Terro (tm) and this type of bait can also be home-made (see Home-Made Ant Baits for more information). Sugar-based boric acid baits work well for small, active colonies but may not be effective against large, stubborn infestations, and against certain species that are not attracted to sugary foods.

    In the last few years a new type of ant bait has become available to home-owners. These baits are typically supplied in tubes that look like large hypodermic syringes, without the needles, or single-use trays (bait stations). The tubes/trays contain a paste or gel that has been laced with an insecticide, or insect growth regulator. Since the attractiveness of an individual bait will vary between different species it may be necessary to try several different baits until you find the one that your ants will most readily accept. See Professional Ant Baits for more information.

    Using Ant Baits

    • Place baits near established ant trails and don't disturb these trails.
    • Do not contaminate the area with insecticides as this will prevent ants from finding and accepting the baits.

    As always Read and Follow package instructions carefully, especially regarding bait placement.

    See Controlling Household Nuisance Ants for more detailed information and precautions.

    Please see our Disclaimer as well.


    Thursday, July 21, 2011

    Tiny Jumping Bugs In Homes and Yards - Springtails

    close-up of springtail/collembola
    I get questions through my 'Bugs site every week about tiny jumping bugs in people's homes. The questions usually start something like: "I've found tiny jumping bugs on my _____, what are they and what should I do?" Since there are only a few small insects that actually jump or hop when disturbed this question is pretty easy to answer even without a good photo.

    These tiny critters are called springtails, or collembola, and they are not really insects at all but rather primitive soil micro-arthropods (a distinction that is only of interest to an entomologist!).

    See Springtails In Homes and Gardens for more pictures and life history.

    Springtails live in soil where they feed on bacteria, fungi, and occasionally plant roots. They are harmless to plants and even beneficial to healthy soils. Very large populations can build in highly organic soils. They are most often noticed following heavy rains when they are washed out of the soil by flooding and concentrate where rain water pools.

    Springtails can enter homes when outside soils are saturated following heavy rains, or they can be brought in with house plant soil. Again, they are completely harmless and can be simply swept up when found. See the article cited above for more information.


    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Tiny, Yellow, Biting Bugs

    a thrips next to a leaf vein
    Have you every felt a sharp pinch while outside during summer only to find a tiny, yellow, sliver-like bug when you investigate the bite?

    These bites are from a tiny insect called a thrips (the name is always plural; one thrips, many thrips).

    Thrips normally feed on plants with very sharp, knife-like mouthparts. If they happen to land on us they can bite causing a sharp, stabbing pain. The bites are annoying but completely harmless and are more common in mid- to late summer. Unfortunately, insect repellents don't work against thrips. See this article at the 'Bugs website for more information.

    Thrips can be important plant pests where they damage leaves and in some cases even infect plants with a virus. Greenhouse growers in particular often treat their crops with insecticide to prevent thrips damage. 

    drawing showing feathery wings


    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    Bugs That Look Like Bed Bugs

    bed bug (drawing)
    Bed bugs are pretty easy to distinguish from other insects that you may find around homes. First, since bed bugs can't fly they are confined to areas near where people sleep. You won't find bed bugs crawling across the floor or flying around a light! Second, bed bugs are large enough to be easily seen, about 1/4" as adults, and are a distinctive chestnut brown color.

    See this page for close-up pictures of bed bugs actually feeding.

    Bed bugs hide during daylight hours in cracks and crevices around bedding and in folds of mattresses. These areas will also generally show dark stains caused by their fecal matter (digested blood, see drawing below). Finally, bed bug bites look like bad mosquito bites on most people (see drawing below). Some people, however, don't show the characteristic bites and some lucky folks hardly react at all. When combined, these signs are usually unmistakable. If bed bugs are found use our control suggestions to manage the infestation.

    nearly full grown bed bug

    bed bug hiding places, bites

    See the 'Bugs Website for bed bug control and other home pest control questions.


    Saturday, July 09, 2011

    Tiny, White, Bugs In Homes - What Are They?

    mold mite (drawing)
    Have you ever found tiny white bugs crawling on the kitchen counter or over a sack of pet food, or on your computer keyboard, or in some similar situation? The bugs are too small to see clearly and are often described as "salt" or "sugar" that moves! If you look very close, with a magnifying glass, you'll probably see long "hairs" from tiny round whitish bodies.

    There are a couple of things that people describe this way but in my experience mold mites (mould mites), also called grain mites, are the most common.

    These tiny mites feed on mold that grows on damp surfaces so are almost always associated with excess moisture and mold growth in one way or another. Their presence in kitchens can indicate a leaky pipe or dishwasher.

    The mites don't bite or cause any harm but some people will experience an allergic reaction to large numbers of mites similar to dust mite allergy. In fact mold mites are related to dust mites. This allergic reaction can be as simple as a stuffy noise or an itchy rash or even difficulty breathing.

    The only treatment that is needed is to control the sources of moisture. Once the area dries out the mites and mold will go away. After all sources of moisture are eliminated the area can be treated with a botanical insecticide like EcoPCO-ARX to control remaining mites.


    See the 'Bugs Website for information about other insect and mite pests.


    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Indoor Spider Control/Spider Traps

    "Wandering-Type" Spiders

    brown recluse spider
    Most spiders spin a web and stay close to the web for much of their lives. A few don't spin webs or don't stay close to the ones they do spin. These spiders are more active hunters and tend to "wander" into homes more often than the less active type.

    The term "wandering spider" is not a taxonomic classification but rather refers to this more active, hunting behavior. Two wandering-type spiders in particular, the brown recluse spider and the hobo spider, are noteworthy because they are also venomous.

    Sticky Spider Traps

    Sticky spider traps are generally considered to be the best way to reduce the number of venomous, wandering-type spiders in homes. Not only are traps effective but since they contain no pesticides they are very safe to use.

    Sticky traps are very simple, consisting of a cardboard tube that is partly coated inside with a sticky material. The spiders wander into the tube at one end, but never make it out. Traps are inexpensive but can also be home-made (see Making Sticky Spider Traps). Place traps along walls where spiders tend to move and behind furniture. Replace traps when they become full of debris.

    Foundation "Perimeter" Treatment

    If you are finding more than just the occasional spider indoors, or you are especially sensitive to them, consider treating the exterior of your home with an insecticide barrier. This barrier will slow the movement of wandering-type spiders from outside to inside. To establish the barrier you'll need to spray a 6"-12" band of insecticide on the foundation starting from where the house siding ends to the soil (this is sometimes called a "perimeter spray"). Onslaught Microencapsulated Insecticide is a good choice for this application because the microencapsulation makes it long-lasting compared to non-encapsulated insecticides.


    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Yellowjacket Wasp Control In Vineyards With Poison Baits

    aerial wasp nest
    Yellowjacket wasps (social wasps in the family Vespidae) are significant pests in grape vineyards both in terms of the direct damage they do to fruit and also the impact their aggressive, territorial behavior has on vineyard worker productivity and safety.

    Fruit Damage

    Most wasp species forage for live prey, mostly other insects, as well as carrion and plant sap. Maturing grapes are a source of plant sap and wasps will tear the outer skin to get at the grape juice inside causing yield and quality losses. Since wasp nests reach their maximum size about the time grapes mature, this damage can be significant in some varieties, in some years.

    Worker Productivity and Safety

    The social wasps build large communal colonies (nests) consisting of hundreds to thousands of individual wasps each capable of delivering a painful sting to an intruder. These colonies are built both above ground (aerial nests, see photo), and below ground in abandoned rodent burrows or other cavities (ground nests). Nests are aggressively defended against intruders and even a slight disturbance can incite swarming of a perceived enemy. These large, aggressive colonies can be a hazard to vineyard workers and can slow or even stop a work crew. Multiple stings from swarming wasps can be a medical emergency as well, especially if the victim is allergic to wasp venom.

    For these reasons vineyards have tried to manage wasp nests in a variety of ways. Some managers depend on early season capture of queens prior to nest establishment while other vineyards use a kind of seek and destroy strategy for existing nests during the summer.

    Poison Baits to the Rescue

    Until about 10 years ago some growers used poison baits to control yellowjacket wasps in vineyards and orchards. At the time there was an insecticide that could legally be used to prepare a poison bait that when deployed in vineyards and orchards significantly reduced yellowjacket activity, sometimes for several years following a successful baiting program. The baiting technology was inexpensive and had virtually no effect on non-target organisms or the environment***. About ten years ago this pesticide was removed from the market, for reasons unrelated to its use in wasp baits, and there has been no replacement until now.

    Onslaught Microencapsulated Insecticide is now labelled for use in preparing poison bait for yellowjacket control (read and follow label instructions). See Using Poison Bait To Control Yellowjacket Wasp Nests for details regarding bait preparation and deployment.

    One or two bait stations per acre (see page cited above) should be sufficient to maintain control in most situations. Start baiting about mid-summer, replace baits about every three days until the level of control you want is achieved. Don't start much earlier than mid-summer since the low number of foraging yellowjackets prior to this time will limit the effectiveness of the bait.

    ***Because all wasps on predators they are considered beneficial insects, especially in agricultural systems. This benefit, however, must be weight against the potential for losses as outlined above.


    Thursday, June 09, 2011

    Wood Treatment With Bora Care or TimBor

    Boric acid, or borate salt, is an excellent wood preservative, fungicide (kills rot fungi) and insecticide. It is very low toxicity, has low environmental impact and is relatively cheap. It is an ideal material for treating both hardwood and softwood against attack by fungi (dry rot fungi), and insects. The only real downside is that borate compounds are generally water soluble so must be used in dry environments or protected with a finish of some kind that seals them in the wood.

    Borates are available as dry powders (TimBor and others) or as glycol-based liquid concentrates (Bora Care and others). Glycol is intended to improve the penetration of borate into wood fibers but studies have not definitively demonstrated an advantage over simple water solutions. Glycol-based products are also somewhat more expensive than powder forms.

    Both TimBor and Bora Care should be applied to dry, unfinished wood surfaces with a pump sprayer or paint roller. Two coats are sometimes needed (see product label). Powder forms like TimBor can also be applied as a dry powder to wall voids for carpenter ant treatments.

    Borate wood treatments are generally not available in stores but are available here.


    Tuesday, June 07, 2011

    Small, Brown, Hardshell Bugs!

    Have you ever found small, brown, slow-moving bugs crawling around your house that appear to have a hard-shell? If you look closely the hard cover appears to be split down the back.

    These are beetles, probably one of several "stored product" beetles that infest dry foods and natural fabrics. If the beetles appear black, or mottled with red/gray/black, instead of brown they are probably one of the dermestid (Dermestidae) carpet beetles but the brown ones are likely one of the anobiid (Anobiidae) beetles, for example the cigarette or drugstore beetles.

    If the brown/black beetle has a tan stripe across the back it is probably the larder beetle, another one of the dermestid beetles.

    This very large and diverse group of beetles are specialist scavengers on dead plant and animal products. They evolved as nature's master recyclers that help breakdown and decompose dead plant and animal tissue. If you think about it from the beetle's point of view a piece of wool cloth (or animal carrion) or a dog biscuit (or cache of seeds) is just another dead animal or plant, and something good to eat.

    Larval Stage
    The larvae of all these different beetles are the real recycling workhorses whereas the adults are simply there to ensure the next generation. Depending on the species, larvae can survive on a wide range or natural plant and animal matter, from cereal stored in cupboard to the wool rug in the den. In more natural situations they would feast on dead plant material or animal carcasses.

    When you find the beetles indoors it usually means there's an infestation somewhere in the house. The beetles are harmless but obviously if the infestation is large damage can be done to your stored food or natural fabrics.

    See the pages cited above for ways to detect and manage infestations of stored product beetles. Once the infestation is found and cleaned up you can treat the surrounding area with one of the new Botanical Insecticides like EcoPCO AR-X to eliminate any stragglers that may have been missed.

    Tuesday, May 31, 2011

    Dust Allergy Treatment

    This blog is about insects and mites and the damage a few of them cause to we humans. Few people realize that a tiny mite that lives in the dust in our homes can cause severe, even life-threatening, allergy symptoms. While most people are unaffected, just like most people are not allergic to grass pollen, for those that are it can significantly impact their lives.

    What causes dust allergy?

    Allergies to household dust are common and tend to be worse in winter when houses are sealed up tight against cold weather. All allergies are caused by the reaction of our immune system to molecules called proteins that enter through our lungs, digestive system, or skin. If we eat something we are allergic to our body reacts, often violently. Likewise if we breath something we are allergic to we experience a range of symptoms from a mildly stuffy nose to anaphylactic shock. An allergy to dust is caused by proteins in the dust that we react to when they enter our lungs. The allergy-producing protein (allergen) is in dust because of a tiny mite, the dust mite, that lives in and consumes part of the dust. The allergen is part of the mite's waste products.

    Treating dust allergies

    The key steps to treating dust allergies are (1) reduce the amount of dust, and allergen, in your environment; (2) reduce the activity of dust mites; (3) medically treat the allergy symptoms.

    Step 1

    Dust and allergen can be reduced by normal cleaning, choosing the right the furnishings for a room, and filtering the air to remove allergen particles. It is especially important to reduce the amount of dust and allergen in bedrooms because of the adverse effect these allergies have on sleep quality.

    Wet cleaning is much better than dry sweeping or dusting which only serves to stir up dust and the allergen pool. Most types of vacuum cleaners are counter productive as well. Floors and windows should be regularly washed, even the walls and ceiling in the bedroom should be washed yearly. No special soap is needed. The idea is to remove dust and allergens and simple water plus a mild detergent will suffice.

    Remove rugs and other dust-trapping fabrics from the bedroom. Furniture should be covered in removable fabric that can be washed at least once a year. Bedding should likewise be washed as often as possible, plus an allergen-proof mattress cover.

    Finally, install an air filtering system (air purifier) that employs HEPA-type filters. These filters scrub the air and remove nearly all suspended allergen so it can't enter your lungs. These air filters can be fairly expensive, and expensive to operate, but do reduce the level of allergy-causing allergen in the air stream. See Air Purifiers For Dust Mite Allergy for more information.

    Step 2

    Dust mites themselves are nearly microscopic, don't bite and would go largely unnoticed except for the fact that they produce these allergens. You can't effectively treat the mites directly with insecticide but you can slow their development by reducing dampness in the air (humidity), as dry air tends to reduce mite activity. Central heating and air conditioning are very effective. Also, it may help to put a barrier between you and mites that may live in your mattress using an allergen-proof mattress cover.

    Step 3

    Very effective allergy therapies are now available. Mild allergies can be treated with OTC medications (respiratory allergy) while more severe allergies can be treated with desensitisation therapy or prescription allergy medications. See your medical professional, get tested for the specific allergen so that it can be managed.


    Monday, May 30, 2011

    Wasp Nest Removal With Poison Bait

    As a follow-up to last week's post about the new poison baits that can be deployed to eliminate threatening yellowjacket wasp nests, here are some details.

    Bear in mind that while certain wasps can be dangerous, especially in late summer and early fall, all wasps are important predators of other insect pests. Only remove those wasp nests that are directly threatening such as nests located near picnic areas or playgrounds.

    First, see this article about Wasp Removal With Baits at the 'Bugs site for background information.

    Start your baiting program in mid- to late summer, starting any earlier is probably a waste of time since wasp activity is generally too low for baits to be effective until mid-summer.

    Poison baits are prepared from some kind of minced meat (canned tuna and canned cat food work well) plus Microencapsulated Onslaught Insecticide (see below for insecticide and kits). Be certain that your bait station and placements are designed such as to prevent all non-target animals from accessing the bait. It is your responsibility to ensure that the poison bait is deployed so that only wasps can access it.

    Once foraging wasps locate the poison bait they will carry a portion back to their nest (aerial and ground nests) where it will be feed to developing brood and eventually the queen. You will probably notice a significant reduction in wasp activity in 1 to several weeks that should last all season.

    Poison baits are only effective against scavenger species since non-scavenger species are only attracted to living prey, not canned tuna!

    For outdoor events such as picnics and weddings you'll want to start your baiting program at least a week before the event (after mid-summer) to have the best chance of effectively reducing wasp activity prior to the event.

    Please read and print our Disclaimer.


    Monday, May 23, 2011

    A New Yellowjacket Wasp Bait Insecticide

    yellowjacket nest
    A new insecticide is available for use in preparing baits for control of troublesome yellowjacket (social wasp) nests on an area-wide basis. The insecticide is called Onslaught Microencapsulated Insecticide. The Onslaught label allows for the insecticide to be mixed with a meat-based bait and dispensed to foraging yellowjackets. The combination should be very effective for area-wide suppression of yellowjacket nests and may even suppress wasp numbers the following year because of the impact it has on queen production.

    Details regarding bait preparation, dispenser design, the Onslaught label and theory behind baiting can be found at the 'Bugs site here.


    Saturday, April 30, 2011

    New Head Lice Medication Available By Prescription

    louse nit and louse
    In January, 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that it had approved a new product called Natroba Topical Suspension to treat head lice in both children (4 years of age and older) and adults. The original FDA announcement is here.

    See Head Lice Biology and Control in School-Age Children for current treatment guidelines for parents and schools.

    The active ingredient in Natroba is spinosad a relatively new type of natural, organic insecticide that has been used in commercial agriculture and home gardens for several years. Spinosad is derived through a fermentation process using a specific microbe that was originally isolated from soil. See Using Spinosad in Home Gardens for more information. Natroba is currently available only by prescription.

    Over-the-counter medications containing permethrin and pyrethrum are still effective against the majority of louse populations but there is some evidence that insecticide resistance to these compounds is increasing. Where resistance to permethrin and/or pyrethrum is suspected spinosad-based treatments may be a viable alternative. No matter which pediculicide (louse medication/insecticide) is used however, proper combing with a fine-tined metal comb is still critically important (see Selection and Use of Lice Combs).


    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Indoor Pest Control: Least-Toxic Methods

    German Cockroach
    Do I Need To Use Pesticides Inside My Home?

    I'm frequently contacted for pest control advice by people who routinely treat their homes, both indoors and outside, with pesticides in order to protect them from "bugs". Often the homeowners don't even know for sure what the target pest is, nor do they really care.

    These homeowners have been convinced that if they don't do these treatments, or hire a pest control company to do them at monthly or quarterly intervals, their homes will become infested and may even be significantly damaged. It's like changing the oil in your car every 3000 miles, hype that has been promulgated by so called "quick-lube" oil companies, either you pay now or you'll somehow have to "pay-the-piper" later!

    In fact, these routine pesticide treatments are rarely if ever needed, and indoor use of conventional pesticides, in single-family homes, is almost never justified. Frequent use of pesticides indoors may actually expose the occupants to unhealthy residues. All insect and related pests that occur in our homes (see 'Bugs News: Common Household Bugs for a list of common household pests and ways to safely deal with them) can nowadays be safely managed with some combination of sanitation, low-hazard traps and baits, and, in rare instances, new low-toxicity dust and plant-based insecticides. Plus, you don't need costly "maintenance contracts" from the local pest control company.

    Sanitation is usually the best and least expensive pest control strategy, and the one most often neglected. By eliminating food and water sources you'll prevent many of the most important household pests like ants and cockroaches. This is especially important in older houses and multi-family apartment buildings where leaky pipes and accumulated debris can be a problem.

    Traps and baits are the next most important pest control strategy for homeowners. Traps are very effective for indoor spiders (see Using Spider Traps) like the brown recluse spider. Traps can also be used to detect a small infestation before it gets too large to easily manage. Meal moth infestations can be detected early, or isolated to a particular room, using pheromone traps.

    Baits are now available for a wide variety of household pests including nuisance ants, carpenter ants, cockroaches, and termites. Baits work best for the pests that live in colonies because the toxic material is carried back to the colony by foraging "workers". See the pest-specific links above for details.

    Plant Derived Insecticides

    With the introduction a few years ago of insecticides that are based on natural plant oils, sometimes called botanicals, indoor pest control with insecticides has become significantly less toxic. While I generally shy away from using any insecticides indoors, if you are going to use them the botanical insecticides are the less hazardous, better alternative.

    Questions? Post your comment or question below.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    "Skin Mites"/ "Collembola Mites" - Are They Real?

    bird/nest mite of hummingbirds

    Do you experience any of the following symptoms on a daily and/or regular basis?
    • A crawling sensation sometimes accompanied by feeling "pin prick-like bites".
    • Itchy skin, especially at night.
    • Red skin lesions that resemble flea or mosquito bites, while not able to capture an actual bug.
    • A fear that you and your home/office/car are infested with an unseen bug.
    • You repeatedly wash bedding and treat your home with insecticide in an attempt to rid yourself of this invisible infestation.
    If this sounds like you, first of all be assured that you are not alone - the symptoms are very real and widespread. I am asked about these so-called infestations at least several times a week through my bug consulting activities. The cause, however, is not what you may have been lead to believe. These symptoms are not caused by an insect or mite and no amount of insecticide, whether organic or not, will help you solve this problem.

    What are so called "skin mites" and "collembola mites"?

    The names skin mite and collembola mite are not scientific names for any real mite nor are they accepted common names for a real organism of any kind. They describe a set of symptoms (condition), not the name of an insect or mite.
    What exactly do these terms mean? By using the word "mite" both terms are very misleading in that they incorrectly imply that the symptoms are caused by a living organism (a mite). There is no evidence that a living organism is involved, in fact the lack of a clearly identifiable organism is a hallmark of this condition. My concern is that people will try to eliminate the "mite infestation" with insecticides/miticides which needlessly exposes themselves to potential toxins and distracts them from searching for the real cause of their discomfort.

    From a scientific standpoint the term "collembola mite" is particularly troublesome since collembola (springtails) are an entirely different type of arthropod, not related to mites at all (see Collembola/Springtails for a description). Collembola are harmless soil microarthropods that are abundant in rich, organic soils. Mites are a well-defined and very specific group of arthropods that are related to spiders and ticks, in fact ticks are a type of mite.

    "Skin mite" is occasionally used as a common name for a group of mites that are actually parasitic on birds and rodents. Bird mites (see photo above), poultry mites, rodent mites and nest mites are the more widely accepted common names for these mites. These mites DO NOT infest homes and don't require treatment other than removal of the source nest (bird or rodent) and general cleaning (see Bird/Rodent/Nest Mite Biology and Control)

    So what causes the symptoms described above?

    Certain medical conditions mimic, and are easily mistaken for, bug bites. The skin lesions ("bites") can look similar and are often accompanied by itchiness and a crawling sensation. If you are predisposed by a fear of insects or perhaps a prior bad experience with an insect or mite, you may misinterpret these symptoms as "bug bites".

    Allergies are probably the most common cause. You can come into contact with allergens (the stuff your body reacts to) in a variety of ways. Airborne allergens like plant pollen and dust mite allergen are inhaled but you can also have direct contact with an allergen as occurs with certain poisonous plants (contact allergens). Food allergens are consumed along with the food we eat. Allergies can affect you in a variety of ways but skin lesions, hives and itchiness are frequent complaints.

    Chemical/physical irritants include things as simple as a new brand of laundry detergent, new furniture or carpets, fibreglass insulation, cleaning solvents, and so forth. The list is long and can include products that you would never suspect. In one recent example an individual had lesions that resembled bug bites (and was convinced he was infested) but it turned out that he had started using a new solvent to clean his guns about the same time that the "bites" first appeared.

    Reaction to drugs can include prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs and supplements, as well as illegal, recreational drugs.

    Emotional stress and anxiety are potent triggers for all sorts of physical manifestations. For example, I remember as a graduate student that the skin on my hands would start to literally slough off before major exams and seminars because of my long-term anxiety and stress over these events.

    Pre-existing illness, some of which are serious, can cause these reactions as well. Since the underlying illness may be serious in some cases, the sooner you get a proper diagnosis the better.

    So, my hope is that rather than spending your money on insecticides or expensive application equipment like foggers, talk with a medical professional about your symptoms. Discuss the possibility of allergic reactions but also consider the other possibilities.


    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    What Are "White Ants"?

    termite worker ("white ant")
    White Ants = Termites
    The term "white ants" generally refers to a group of insects that are more commonly called termites (Isoptera), more specifically subterranean termite workers. Worker termites are very pale and delicate, and superficially resemble delicate, white "ants" (see photo). However, termites and ants (order Hymenoptera) are not closely related at all and have very little in common. See the following pages about Termite Biology and Control for more information about these potentially destructive insects.

    Termites are fairly primitive insects that live in colonies. Unlike almost every other insects, termites feed on cellulose (wood fiber) with the help of special microbes in their gut. This ability to utilize wood as food makes termites a serious potential structural pest in our homes. While true ants also live in colonies, they are far more advanced than termites in terms of their developmental biology and behavior. Ants are mostly scavengers/predators (the large carpenter ants, which can also damage structural wood, do not feed on wood but only use it as building material).

    Because of the potential for costly damage, structures are often treated for termites during construction ("pre-construction treatment") or after construction when damage is detected ("post-construction treatment"). For more information about termites, termite control and termite baitings see our 'Bugs site.