Beasts that Bite and Things that Sting

Beasts that Bite and Things that Sting

Our recent storm was traumatic in a lot of ways, and not only for humans. Many animals found their homes destroyed by the weather, which may unfortunately make cleanup and recovery even more difficult for everybody. While cooler temperatures in the fall and winter seasons will keep a lot of creatures from being too active, it can also send those who lost their shelter looking for new places to hide. If you live in a storm affected area – and most of the Florida panhandle was, in one way or another – watch out for dangerous wildlife.

Paper wasps often build their nests overhead on the eaves of buildings or in trees. Watch out!

Insects that build nests, such as bees, yellowjackets, and wasps, may still be on the wing. When their nests are destroyed or disturbed, individuals who are displaced may be flying around, looking for food or shelter. New nests will undoubtedly be built in areas that may not have had any previously, and any source of food is bound to attract attention. Piles of debris are good places for insects such as these to seek shelter, so wear protective clothing and pay close attention while doing cleanup. A brush pile that stays in the same place for a week or more might gain some unwelcome tenants. Look for paper wasp nests on eaves or in plant material, yellowjacket burrows in the ground or in hollow trees or stumps, and hornets in trees. Remove potential sources of food such as garbage with sugary residues or tree debris with sweet sap. Don’t forget that any pets or livestock you own might be affected by insects as well, so keep a close eye on pastures and areas where pets reside for signs of new infestations of stinging insects. A simple homemade trap may help to keep wasps and yellowjackets under control (you can find more information on making traps:  Do-It-Yourself Insect Pest Traps. If you find a nest and need to use insecticides to get rid of it, remember to read the label before using the product.

Some snakes are harmless, like this hognose rattlesnake. Similar looking snakes such as the pygmy rattlesnake might be dangerous to people and livestock.

Snakes are another potentially dangerous creature that may be displaced, and constant wet weather may have them residing in areas they wouldn’t otherwise consider. Anywhere that might offer some warmth in these cool months is particularly attractive to a cold-blooded creature, and damaged buildings or brush piles fit the bill perfectly. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths are some of the more dangerous snakes we have around, but remember that not every species of snake is dangerous. For help in identifying snakes, consult our EDIS publications on this topic: Dealing with Snakes in Florida’s Residential Areas—Identifying Commonly Encountered SnakesRecognizing Florida’s Venomous Snakes, and Native Snakes Easily Mistaken for Introduced Constrictors in Florida.  Keep leaf piles, cut branches and trees, and other debris away from homes and areas where domesticated animals and pets live, if possible .

Remember that you can always contact your local Extension office for help in identifying and advice on controlling pests, whether they’re snakes or hornets, spiders or scorpions, or something even more exotic.

Evan Anderson, Walton County Agriculture Agent

Ticks:  A Health Risk for Livestock and their Owners

Ticks: A Health Risk for Livestock and their Owners


Historical photo of ranchers spraying cattle for ticks in Florida. Photos from the Smathers Archives.

The bacteria that cause Lyme disease is transmitted by the black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis. Credit:  James M. Newman, UF/IFAS FMEL

Most people can probably tell you that ticks carry Lyme disease. This bacterial disease can cause long-term health problems for humans if left untreated, but it is thankfully relatively rare to find in Florida (132 confirmed cases in 2016). Though Lyme disease may be the best known tick-borne disease, there are others, such as Ehrlichia and Anaplasma, that are potentially harmful to both humans and animals, including livestock.

Ticks are not insects. They are arachnids, closely related to spiders, but with the bad habit of feeding on blood. Humans are not the preferred source of blood for ticks, but most species are perfectly happy settling for human blood. Of the ticks found in our area, the brown dog tick and American dog tick cause the most trouble. That being said, you might also find other species such as the Gulf Coast tick or lone star tick, but these are less likely to be problematic.

The cattle tick may be of interest to livestock owners, as it may transmit disease to not only cattle but also horses, sheep, and goats. Introduced to the United States along with the cattle that accompanied early explorers, this tick was originally native to the Mediterranean region and the Near East. It stays on one host, feeding for 18-20 days before females drop off to lay their eggs. They may produce up to four generations every year, meaning that a small population, once established, has the potential to grow very large very quickly. This makes them dangerous, coupled with the fact that they can carry diseases such as anaplasmosis, caused by the bacteria Anaplasma marginale, and Texas cattle fever, caused by the haemoprotozoan parasites Babesia bigmina and Babesia bovis.

Texas cattle fever devastated herds in the late 1800s, spread by the cattle tick. Eradication programs in place since 1906 have limited this species of tick to a few counties in south Texas, but the danger exists that deer or other wildlife could carry these pests to other areas. Part of what helps keep this danger to a minimum are ongoing eradication and surveillance efforts, including surveillance by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). You can help these efforts, whether or not you own livestock, by turning ticks you find in for testing to FDACS. Their Division of Animal Industry can be reached at (850) 573-0299.

To help control ticks of any sort, try maintaining the landscape to deter them. Keep wildlife out with fences or deterrents, and ensure the edge of lawns, fields, and pastures are free of leaf litter and debris. Keep lawns mowed and don’t let pets out into the woods where they can pick up ticks to bring home. Use insecticides if needed; repellents may work for personal use. Livestock may be treated with pyrethroid sprays or wipe-on products. Ticks may attach to any part of an animal, but in livestock tend to prefer the tail, head, neck, chest, and belly, particularly near the legs. Heavy infestations may require an application of insecticides to the area, indoors or out, to reduce major infestations.

The lone star tick feeds on the blood of various animals including humans. This tick does not transmit Lyme disease, but can transmit various other pathogens such as ehrlichiosis, rickettsiosis, tularemia, and theileriosis. Adult lone star ticks: male (left) and female (right).  Source:  EDIS Lone Star Tick Photo credit: Lyle Buss, UF/IFAS


For more information on this subject, use the following links:

Texas A&M’s TickApp

Ticks (Family Ixoididae)

Gulf Coast Tick, Amblyomma maculatum Koch (Acari: Ixodidae: Amblyomminae)

Lone Star Tick Amblyomma americanum (Linnaeus) (Acari: Ixodidae)

American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis (Say) (Arachnida: Ixodida: Ixodidae)

Brown Dog Tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus Latreille (Arachnida: Acari: Ixodidae)

Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease in Florida Horses

Ehrlichia and Anaplasma in Florida

External Parasites on Beef Cattle


Proper Hay Storage Can Save You Money

Proper Hay Storage Can Save You Money

Evan Anderson, Walton County Agriculture Agent

If you grow or purchase hay to feed livestock, you probably know that not all hay is created equal. There are a number of factors that contribute to the quality of the bale you end up with. If you’re relying on hay to provide your animals with the nutrition they need, it pays to take care when managing your hay pastures or deciding which hay to purchase.

First, the type of forage plays a role. Different crops have different average levels of crude protein and total digestible nutrients; in general, legumes and cool-season grasses are often higher quality than warm-season grasses. The way forage crops are treated while growing makes a difference, too. Fertilize your forage properly while it’s growing, and what you add will translate to more available nutrients for your livestock. Next, hay should be cut at the proper time. Let the forage grow too long, and it becomes tough, full of lignin and stems. This not only reduces the quality of the hay, but also makes it less palatable.

To determine the quality of your hay once it’s made, get it tested. A forage testing lab can tell you exactly what’s in your final product, ensuring that you are able to tailor your feeding program to give your livestock the right nutrition.

All this might seem like a lot, but it’s just the beginning. A surprising amount of quality can be lost, from even the best hay, after it has been cut and baled. Proper storage has a huge impact on not only the quality of the hay,  the health of your livestock, and to your wallet.

The cost of constructing a hay barn can be daunting. However, storing hay in a barn is an excellent way to reduce DM loss.

[important]You can lose up to a 50% of the nutrients from improperly storing hay![/important]

What does proper hay storage look like? Start by making or buying well-made bales that are dense, so they can shed water and reduce weathering losses. A loose bale lets water and air in, which leeches out nutrients. In a 5 foot diameter bale, the outer 4 inches accounts for 25% of the bale. If only that outer layer becomes weathered, you’ve lost up to one-quarter of the money you spent.

To help avoid this, wrap or cover the bales. Yes, bales that are high in moisture may need to dry in the sun for a day or two. Moisture levels above 20% are dangerous; mold can grow in damp bales, which can lead to sick animals or even spontaneous combustion of the bale. Once they’ve dried, however, they should be moved to shelter as soon as possible. A roof overhead is best, so a good pole barn will pay for itself eventually. If that’s not an option, try covering the bales with a tarp or plastic. Keep them off the ground if possible, on racks, tires, gravel, or at least on well-drained soil.  Treat your hay well, and the extra work and investment will pay off in the long run!


For more information, contact your local Extension office, or use the following links to fact sheets related to this subject:

Minimizing Losses in Hay Storage and Feeding

Round Bale Hay Storage

Factors Affecting Forage Quality

Implications of Round Bale Dimensions on Hay Use

Harvesting, Storing, and Feeding Forages as Round Bale Silage

Forage Testing


Low Oxygen Fish Kills in Managed Ponds

Low Oxygen Fish Kills in Managed Ponds

Sunny Pond. Credit: Evan Anderson

Fishermen aren’t the only people concerned with keeping ponds healthy, because fish can serve purposes other than adorning the dinner table. Some are kept as pets, and others serve to keep ponds free of aquatic weeds that might take over. Regardless of their purpose, sometimes things go wrong with fishponds. Anyone who owns or uses a pond might be familiar with fish kills, a phenomenon that occurs when something goes awry in the water and an alarming number of fish die in a short period of time.

What can cause a fish kill?

Large-scale fish kills are most often the result of natural causes, such as weather, disease, or parasites (as opposed to something like a pesticide spill).  Sometimes the causes can be difficult to predict, and once it starts, there isn’t always much you can do to stop it from happening.

One of the most common reasons for a fish kill, however, is low dissolved oxygen in the water. This can be an alarming scenario, because large fish are affected before smaller ones. Small fish may be seen gulping at the surface of the pond before a fish kill occurs, but the sudden appearance of many large, dead fish is certain to grab more attention!  Unlike other causes of fish kills, there are pond management practices you can implement to reduce your chances of a low oxygen fish kill.

Fish require a certain amount of oxygen in the water – at least 5 parts per million. Any lower than that, and they begin to have trouble; when dissolved oxygen levels fall below 2 ppm, an immediate fish kill will occur. Oxygen is added to the water by diffusion (wind and waves help oxygen to enter the water) and by photosynthesis from plants and algae (oxygen is a byproduct of photosynthesis). Oxygen is removed by organisms of all sorts, including fish, insects, bacteria, and even plants. During the night when plants are not photosynthesizing, they may remove oxygen instead of adding it to the water. Plants that die in a pond are food for bacteria, which use oxygen as they break down the dead plant matter. During the summer, long periods of cloudy rainy weather may prevent plants and algae from photosynthesizing, causing them to use more oxygen than they produce. Thunderstorms may wash plant debris into a pond, resulting in an explosion of bacterial activity.  All of these factors can result in a low dissolved oxygen fish kill.

The temperature of the water also plays a role in determining how much oxygen is available. While warm water holds less oxygen than cool water, it rises to the top of a pond, where wind and waves help refresh it.  During cold weather, that relatively oxygen-rich water cools down.  Cold water is more dense than warm water and this causes it to sink.  As the cold water sinks it is replaced by low-oxygen water from the bottom of the pond. A pond turnover like this is more likely to occur during the fall.

To help prevent fish kills, avoid the introduction of large amounts of nutrients to the pond.  Whenever possible, livestock, excess fertilizer, or dead plant material should be kept from entering the water. If you control weeds in your pond with herbicides, apply the herbicides to only one third to one half of the pond at a time.  This will allow the dead plants to decompose without using too much oxygen in the water.  Do not feed your fish more than they will eat at one time, because the uneaten food sinks to the bottom, and through its decomposition by bacteria, will take up additional oxygen.  In small ponds, aerators are strongly recommended as they will help to increase the amount of oxygen in the water.

Pond aerator. Source SRAC Pond Aeration fact sheet.

Low dissolved oxygen is not the only cause of fish kills, but it is the most common one.

For more information, use the following publication links:

Understanding Fish Kills in Florida Freshwater Systems

Pond Aeration

Warm Season Fish Pond Management

Growing Hops in the Panhandle

Growing Hops in the Panhandle

E. Anderson Hops Cones

Photo credit: Evan Anderson, Walton County Extension

When one thinks of hops, one most likely thinks first of beer. The brewing of beer, and especially its subsequent consumption, are likely to eclipse thoughts of any other part of the process that brings such a tasty beverage to the table.  There’s considerably more to the craft than just the end result. It takes careful cultivation to get hops to grow, especially in an area where they aren’t commonly planted. Even though they are more often grown in cooler climes, they can be grown in the Florida Panhandle.

Hops have been used in brewing for centuries. The fragrant cones of this climbing vine are used primarily to impart a bitter flavor to beer that balances the sweetness of the malt. They may also be used to flavor the beer, adding desirable season and aroma to the finished product. Hops also have some antibacterial properties, which can help brewer’s yeast compete against other, less desirable microorganisms.

E. Anderson Hops Trellises

Photo credit: Evan Anderson, Walton County Extension

E. Anderson Hops Vines

Photo credit: Evan Anderson, Walton County Extension

Being a vining crop, hops need plenty of room to stretch out. An aspiring hop farmer will need a source of poles upon which to string trellises. A standard height for hops trellises is 18 feet, which means that some method for harvesting at such heights is also required. A portable ladder of some sort is one option, as one of our local hop growers uses, or an adventurous farmer might try the antique method of using stilts.

Where problems arise is with pests and diseases in Florida.  The hot, humid weather, is an ideal environment for organisms that cause harm to crops. Some of the traditional problems that hop growers encounter are spider mites, aphids, loopers, various fungal pathogens, and even a couple of viruses. In Walton County, one of our growers has also had troubles with some less common hop pests, including plant hoppers, yellow-striped armyworms, and even some buck moth caterpillars (than normally feed on oak leaves).

The important thing for anyone growing hops, or any out-of-the-ordinary crop, is to scout regularly for problems and use the resources that are available to solve them. Extension is one of those resources – contact your local extension office if you need help!

For more information on hops in Florida, use the following EDIS publication link:

Florida Edible Garden Plants: Hops (Humulus lupulus)