Magnolia Tree Buzzing with Insects?

Magnolia Tree Buzzing with Insects?

Do you notice a large number of bees or wasps visiting your magnolia  tree?  Do you see “bumps on the twigs”?  Are the leaves and branches turning black?  It is probably Magnolia or Tuliptree scale.

Large yellowish bumps on stem of plant

Photo by: Rebecca Bolestra

These scale belongs to a group of insects referred to as soft scales.  Scale insects feed by inserting their piercing-sucking mouthpart into the plant’s vascular system and removing sugar and water from the tissue.  As the insects feed the fluids become concentrated in the gut of the scale, forcing them to excrete a clear, sticky liquid called honeydew.  The honeydew drips onto the leaves, stems and anything else below.  Honeydew serves as a growth media for sooty mold, the thin layer of black fungus that forms on the surface.  The honeydew is a food source for other insects, like bees and wasps.  But, the sooty mold prevents sunlight from reaching the leaf surface, preventing photosynthesis from occurring.

Scales are identified by their body covering.  Magnolia scale (Neolecanium cornuparum) is one of the largest soft scale, measuring up to ½ inch in diameter.  They range from pink-orange to dark brown in color and are often covered with a white wax at maturity. Tuliptree scale (Toumeyella liriodendri) is a similar appearing scale that can infest magnolia species.  But, it does not form the white wax.

Magnolia and Tuliptree scale reaches maturity in August with one generation per year.  The female lays her eggs, which hatch internally and form crawlers that move from under the body covering and migrate to the underside of small twigs, where they will spend the winter.  Once settled in, the young scales begin to feed and never move again, growing larger in the same spot.

Now is the time to take action.  For small trees, the scales can be removed by hand with a soft brush.  Horticultural oil will smother adults and crawlers, if the trees to be treated are larger or time is limited.  Systemic insecticides can be applied for lasting effects.  Imidacloprid is a pesticide that can be applied as a soil-drench, reducing the potential for harm to pollinating insects.  In the fall, insecticidal soap can be applied to control the crawlers that hatched.  Plan on treating the tree again next year.  Scale population suppression usually requires at least two years of pest management.  For more information on scale insect management go to: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG00500.pdf

What are These Bugs in My Sod?

What are These Bugs in My Sod?

On a daily basis, it is not unusual for our Extension Office to get calls, emails, and walk-ins with questions about insect identification.  Sometimes we even get questions about imaginary insects!  The overwhelming opinion by our clientele is that the insects in question are harmful to their landscapes and gardens.  This is not always the case since there are more than 100,000 species of insects found in the United States, but less than 1% are harmful.

Recently I received a call about an abundance of bugs in a client’s newly installed sod.  He was concerned that the insects were taking over his yard.  Luckily, he was able to submit some good quality photos so the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Service could help him identify the insects.

Ground Beetle

An adult ground beetle (Mochtherus tetraspilotus). Photo Credit: Michael C. Thomas, Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

The photos were sent to a University of Florida Entomologist for identification verification.  It turns out the insects were ground beetles (family Carabidae).  Adult ground beetles are slender and range between 1/4″ and 3/8″ in length.  Their head and thorax are much narrower than their abdomens.  Ground beetles are beneficial insects that feed on moth eggs and larvae.  They are known predators of soybean loopers, cabbage loopers, and velvetbean caterpillars.  It is suspected that the beetles found by the client came from the sod farm and were living in the thatch layer of the sod.  They were possibly feeding on sod webworms or other moth larvae.

Accurate identification is the first step of integrated pest management (IPM).  In this case, the insect found wasn’t a pest at all.  If you need help identifying an insect, feel free to contact your local Extension Agent.  For more information on beneficial insects, visit these publications found at edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

Butterfly Gardening Resources

Butterfly Gardening Resources

We hope you were able to join us for Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Butterfly Gardening on July 9th to learn about attracting butterflies to your Florida gardens. As promised, we have compiled a list of butterfly resources that we talked about during the webinar and a few extra that we didn’t have time to cover.

If you were not able to join us live, you can still watch the videos on Facebook or YouTube

Click on the topic of interest for links to resources:

Don’t forget to tune in for our next Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! on July 23rd for Prepping for the Fall Garden. Register for that webinar on Zoom or Follow our Facebook Event for updates.

For a full list of upcoming webinars visit Gardening in the Panhandle: LIVE!
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Annoying Gnats Abound in Northwest Florida this Summer

Annoying Gnats Abound in Northwest Florida this Summer

If you’ve been outside this spring, you’ve probably been bothered by gnats. These tiny flies relentlessly congregate near the face getting into the eyes, nose, mouth and ears.

Eye gnats come right up to the faces of people and animals because they feed on fluids secreted by the eyes, nose and ears. Even though eye gnats are considered mostly a nuisance, they have been connected to transmission of several diseases, including pink eye.

Close up of eye gnat

Close up of eye gnat. Photo credit: Lyle Buss, UF Entomologist

Eye gnats are true flies. At about one-sixteenth of an inch in length, they are among the smallest fly species in Florida. They are known as eye gnats, eye flies, frit flies and grass flies. The name grass flies is somewhat descriptive as open grass areas such as pastures, hay fields, roadsides and lawns provide breeding sites for these gnats. They also breed in areas of freshly disturbed soil with adequate organic matter such as livestock farms.

Even though these gnats can be found in much of North and South America, they prefer areas with warm, wet weather and sandy soils. Sounds like Florida.

The lack of cold weather in late winter and early spring is the more likely reason for why these gnats are such a problem in our area this year. Without having the typical last killing frost around mid-March and with early warm weather and rains, the gnats got off to an early start.

Short of constantly swatting them away from your face or just not going outdoors, what can be done about these irritating little flies?

By the way, I grew up in an area of Georgia where gnats are common. I’ll let you in on a secret… Folks who live in Georgia are known to be overly friendly because they are always waving at people who are just passing through. More than likely, these “friendly” folks are busy swatting at gnats, not waving at others who happen to be driving by. Swatting is a quick swinging action with hand as if waving.

Because of their life cycle, extremely high reproductive numbers in the soil and because insecticides breakdown quickly, area-wide chemical control efforts don’t work well in combating this insect.

The use of the following where gnats are common can be helpful.

  • Correct use of insect repellents, particularly those containing DEET
  • Screens on windows to prevent entry of gnats into homes
  • Face-hugging sunglasses or other protective eyewear
  • Face masks – another use for your COVID-19 face mask

We may have to put up with these annoying gnats until cold weather arrives and be thankful that they don’t bite.

Additional info on eye gnats is available online at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in884 or from the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County.

Celebrate our Pollinators This Week (and Every Week!)

Celebrate our Pollinators This Week (and Every Week!)

For the 13th year we celebrate National Pollinator Week June 22-28 to bring awareness to the importance of our pollinators and the challenges they face. This is an opportunity to learn about ways to protect pollinators in our own landscapes. Every one of us can make a difference.

When we hear the word ‘pollinator’ most of us immediately think of honeybees. They are very important but there are so many other creatures that are important pollinators:

  • Native bees – Florida alone has over 300 species of bees
  • Hummingbirds – their long beaks can reach into long, tubular blooms
  • Bats – they pollinate over 500 plants including banana, mango, and agave (used to make tequila)
  • Beetles – considered to be a messy and minor pollinator; they pollinate the native paw paw
  • Butterflies – a minor pollinator as most have long legs that keep them perched above the pollen
  • Flies – pollinators of a variety of native plants

According to the USDA, 75% of flowering plants and about 35% of food crops around the globe rely on these animals for pollination. Without pollination, these plants would not reproduce or provide us food.

So, what can the average person do to make a difference?

  • Plant what bees and butterflies love!
  • Avoid using any insecticide unless it is absolutely necessary. Predators like assassin bugs, dragonflies and birds help to keep pests in check. Our songbirds rely on protein-rich insects (especially caterpillars) to feed their growing babies.
  • Don’t treat areas where pollinators are visiting the flowers, whether in the lawn or the landscape beds.
  • If you need to apply an insecticide to the lawn, mow first to remove the blooms from any weeds. Always follow the label instructions carefully.
  • Avoid using a systemic insecticide on plants that bloom and attract pollinators. The insecticide can remain in plants for a long time.

Happy gardening during National Pollinator Week!

For more information:

Pollinator Partnership: Pollinator Week Activities

US Fish & Wildlife Pollinator Site

Native Insect Pollinators of the Southeastern United States brochure

Purdue University: Protecting Pollinators in Home Lawns and Landscapes

Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides

Video: Diagnosing a Black Twig Borer Problem

Video: Diagnosing a Black Twig Borer Problem

The bay laurel tree in the Escambia County Demonstration Garden had some dead branches on the outer canopy.  Further investigation led us to the culprit, the black twig borer. Learn more In the Garden with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.