Monday, January 30, 2012

Last Chance to Stop Cluster Flies?

Stop clusters of flies forming
The cluster flies that have plagued many a rural home and farm in New Zealand over recent years are a very seasonal pest. When cool weather firsts strikes the flies seek shelter in dark and dry corners of buildings. The pheromone (smell) that each fly releases when a it finds a good place to hide for the winter attracts other cluster flies. As more flies join the cluster the pheromone strength builds until all the flies in the area are clustered together in the same roof void, or other place in homes and farm buildings. A home can be infested with thousands of these slow moving smelly flies.

Although cluster flies do not pose a human health hazard their huge numbers can be considerable nuisance, plus, in large numbers the rancid fat like smell they produce will have a 'gross out' effect on those whose homes are infested.


The life cycle of cluster flies has eggs laid in earthworm burrows in pasture and lawns through spring and summer. The larva that hatch from the eggs parasitise the earthworms before pupating and emerging as adult flies. Cluster flies pass through several life cycles through summer. The final life-cycle produces the adults that attempt to overwinter in clusters.

Although it is not cool enough yet to induce flies to begin clustering, that does not happen until  around March, it is when the last life cycle is beginning. Therefore now is the time to treat the cluster flies at source; in the lawns and pastures where the eggs, larvae and pupae are.

Treat your lawns, particularly those close to buildings, with a soil insecticide such as Kiwicare Lawngard Prills. Sprinkle the prills (granules) over the grass areas and water well in to take the insecticide deep into the soil where it will control the flies before they emerge as adults.

Although some preventative work can be done on homes to stop cluster flies choosing the house as a place to cluster, and clusters can be removed, it is preferable to be pro-active and stop their breeding cycle now.

For more information on cluster flies in New Zealand and how to get rid of clusters and prevent them.

A man is stopped by a traffic cop for speeding. As the officer leans towards the driver's window he tries to swat a fly that is circling his head.

"What sort of fly is that?" Exclaims the officer.

"It's a circle fly." says the driver helpfully. "They're usually found flying around a horse's ass."

"Are you calling me a horse's ass, sir?" Says the officer, annoyed.

"No." Replies the driver. "But you can't fool a circle fly."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Grass Grub and Porina Look Set to Devour Lawns

Grass grub
Gras grub and porina caterpillar are soil pests that eat the roots and bases of grasses in lawns and pasture. Grass grub are the larvae of bronze beetle and porina caterpillars the larvae of the porina moth. Grass grub eat the roots of grass deep in the soil and porina live in the soil and emerge to eat the crowns of grass.

There have been "extended flights of porina moths in most areas this summer" according to PestWeb a joint venture of the agricultural industries in New Zealand.

They also say that "grass grub have been flying [bronze beetle] in large numbers over many areas, particularly Canterbury, Otago and Southland....."

Porina caterpillar
This suggests that numbers of grass grubs and porina caterpillars in both pastures and lawns is likely to be high in autumn and winter causing damage to grass.

Now is the recommended time to control the young porina caterpillars and grass grubs with soil insecticides such as Kiwicare Lawngard Prills

A third common pest of pastures and lawn grasses are the Armyworm and greasy cutworm, the caterpillars of these pests will also damage laws and is controlled by the same use of soil insecticides such as Lawngard Prills.

Two caterpillars are watching a chrysalis. When it bursts open and a beautiful butterfly emerges and stretches its wings before flying away. One caterpillar turns to the other and says, ‘You’ll never get me up in one of those things.’

Monday, January 23, 2012

What are those Little Fluffy Tailed Insects?

Passion Vine Hopper nymphs
Have you seen small fluffy tailed insects on the shoots of your citrus trees, jasmine, wisteria, hydrangea, privet or other ornamentals? They may be the nymphs of the passion vine hopper. These little insects suck the sap of many garden plants and can cause distorted leaves and shoots and their honeydew waste products will encourage sooty moulds.

A similar insect is the nymph of the green plant hopper, however the nymphs of the green plant hopper keep their fluffy tails straight back rather than up in the air as the passion vine hopper does. The green plant hopper nymph body is pale green rather than the passion vine hopper white.

The older nymphs will hop and try and fly when disturbed. Their adult form lacks the fluffy white tail and is a small brown moth like insect with functional wings. The adults form from January - April. they also suck sap and lay eggs that overwinter on the underside of leaves.

Control of these insects is best achieved in the nymphal stage November-March. Spray with systemic insecticide and fungicide or with spraying oil.

More information on passion vine hoppers and how to get rid of them. http://www.kiwicare.co.nz/garden/pests/q-z/vine-hopper/

Why did the gardener need a puncture repair kit?
Because his garden had sprung a leek.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Has Your Citrus Tree Got a Sooty Mould?

If you have noticed your lemon tree getting a coating of black soot like stuff, your tree may have an infestation of citrus whitefly.

The citrus whitefly came to New Zealand from Australia in around 1995 and because it has few predators in NZ it has become common, particularly in the North Island. It is a small sap sucking insect which like other aphids and whitefly produces a sweet honeydew waste product from its rear. Sooty mould grows on the surfaces of leaves covered in the sticky honeydew.

The combination of whitefly sucking sap from the plant, spreading other disease and the loss of photosynthesis due to the covering of sooty mould can be very damaging to the health of the tree and the yield of fruit.

So if you see your citrus tree looking sooty it may not be enough to treat it with a fungicide alone.

Control of these whitefly is achieved with the use of spraying with mineral oil such as Kiwicare Organic Super Spraying Oil. The oil should be applied directly onto the insects as it works by suffocating them. It can be used in conjunction with copper spray such as Organic Copper Oxy to control the sooty mould.

A woman goes for a job picking citrus. The farmer is surprised at the woman's CV.
"You seem a bit over qualified" He says "I see you have a PhD! Have you ever picked lemons before?"
"Yes" She replies. "I've had three husbands and I bought a BMW last year."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fleas Ready to Pounce on Returning Holidaymakers

Returning from your extended summer holiday can have hidden dangers, particularly if you have pets, cats or dogs, that you have taken with you or put in kennels or catteries. You could return home to find ravenous fleas pouncing on you and your pets as soon as you open the door.

If your pets had fleas before you left, their fleas will have been left behind in the house. It is a popular misconception that fleas live on their animals. In fact fleas live in pet bedding and carpet and furniture around the home. They hop onto their animals for a feed and then hop off again. The adults will lay eggs on the animals but these fall off soon after. Larvae that emerge from the eggs feed exclusively on dust and detritus in carpets and bedding and don't bite or feed on the animals or people directly.

While people and pets are away from the house the flea larvae will pupate. The pupae may hatch and adult fleas emerge hungry and seeking a blood feed. Even those flea pupa that do not hatch will be waiting to hatch and pounce on the returning holidaymakers and their pets. The fleas emerge rapidly on sensing vibrations and heat from potential blood feeds.

So take care when you and your pets return home. You may need to tuck your trousers in your socks as I used to do when carrying out professional flea treatments. I would even spray the socks and trousers with a little permethrin to try and stop the fleas biting me through the clothes.

To treat your home and get rid of the fleas you will find useful information and advice here.

An alternative, and perhaps cruel, method of dealing with a ravenous flea ambush as recommended by some is to treat your pets with a flea drops and send them into the home first. The fleas then hop on to the pets, take a feed and seal their doom. It is then safe for the people to enter. I am not sure the pets would approve of this method, but it does work.

What is the difference between someone waiting to go on holiday and a someone returning home to a flea ridden house?
One's itching to go and the other's going to itch.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wet December 'Good' for the Home and Garden?

New Zealand’s North Island and Upper South Island suffered one the wettest Decembers on record in 2011. January has begun in a similar fashion and the weather pattern is set to continue for the first two of weeks of 2012 at least. The wet weather has influenced the levels of many pests and diseases in homes and gardens.
Common insect pests such as cockroaches thrive in moist humid conditions. They normally have to hide in cracks and crevices to keep from drying out during hot dry summers, but with the recent wet conditions they are able to travel from building to building more easily. It is likely that people will encounter many new cockroach infestations this summer.

Flies breed in decaying animal and vegetable matter and as decay is accelerated and flies survive longer in warm moist conditions, fly numbers are consequently well above normal.  It is a good time to 'top up' your fly proofing or applying the insecticide now if you have not already. See my previous blog How to Fly Proof Your Home.
In the garden the biggest threats are from weeds, diseases and aphids.
Weed seeds continue to germinate and grow rapidly in soil with high moisture levels. They quickly spread and strangle garden plants. At a time of year when the weed threat is usually diminishing weeds are giving gardeners an on-going battle to keep them under control.
Fungal diseases such as rusts, blackspot, brown rot, sooty mould and mildew are more prevalent in damp warm conditions. The wet leaves encourage fungal growth and many fungal spores are spread by water splashing from leaf to leaf.
Greenfly and other aphids usually reduce in numbers after the holiday when drier weather reduces numbers and more mature plants are better able to resist the sap sucking insect pests. The continued growth of plants and weeds with plenty of sap is meaning that sap suckers are surviving longer and damaging more garden plants. It may also be the case that the rain is discouraging to gardeners, so they don't to get into the garden to get rid of weeds and protect garden plants from insect pests and disease.
However, the wet weather is not all bad news. Some pest numbers are reduced in these conditions. Ants in places where heavy rain has caused flooding are drowned out of nests and when the water recedes the ants must put their energy into rebuilding the nest before beginning breeding again. Wasp numbers are likely to be reduced this year compared to the high levels of last year. Wasp nests can be affected by flooding and a proportion of their food comes from the honeydew produced by sap sucking scale insects. The honey dew gets washed away in wet weather and so wasps will have had less food so far this year, keeping the population lower.
NIWA and the Met Service are still predicting that warmer weather in February and if this happens it may still change the range of pests and diseases we will be fighting around our homes and gardens for the second half of summer.
A man walks into an Auckland bar. The barman asks "Have you had a good summer?"
The man replies "Yes. We had a barbecue that afternoon."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Borer Weather

Wood boring insects such as the common borer (bora), two tooth longhorn and others like their wood with a little moisture; 'to aid digestion.'

The North Island and Upper South Island of New Zealand have experienced one of the wettest Decembers on record and the damp conditions are set to continue for another week or two at least. This is the middle of the borer flight season and it is the time that people notice extra little holes in their weatherboards, floorboards, skirting, architraves, furniture and other wood around the home.

You may not be aware the extra activity in the borer world but the woodworm (borer larvae) will be taking advantage of the conditions to chew through more of your home and furniture. Then they pupate near the surface before emerging as adult beetles. As can be seen from the profile of the floorboard above the majority of damage and flight holes are on the underside, so that the adult borer emerge into the dark damp sub-floor areas. Damage to the observable surfaces of such timbers are a small fraction of the damage within.

The adults fly to find a mate and then the female seeks out some bare wood, preferably wood with a little moisture (sub-floor, old flight holes, eaves, etc.), to lay her eggs and start the whole life cycle over again.

Now is the best time to inject flight holes with borer injector fluid and the paint or spray bare timbers. if there are timbers such as the sud-floor that cannot be reached, bomb the adult borer with borer bombs.

What did the borer larvae say when he walked into the bar?
"Is the bar tender here?"

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gammarus - Large Flea Shaped 'Bugs'?

Gammarus flea like crustaceans
I have had several enquiries recently from people experiencing an influx of a 'mysterious' orange brown flea shaped creatures. They have been found in garages and homes in large numbers. All the calls have originated in the North Island of New Zealand.

These creatures are gammarus which are not insects but are shrimp like crustaceans. There are more than 200 species of Gammarus worldwide and several in NZ. They are much larger than fleas but have a similar body shape, being flattened from the sides. They also have long legs and can hop in a similar way to fleas. In many parts of the world Gammarus are known as sand hoppers. Their normal habitats would be sea beaches, near rivers and lakes and below rocks and leaf litter in gardens. They need moist conditions and die quickly if exposed so they are usually under rocks or other cover.

Gammarus do not bite and are not normally a pest but the recent warm and moist weather in the North Island of New Zealand has encouraged numbers to boom. As they spread and try to find new places to live many people have experienced them moving indoors. Gammarus will die quickly in the dry indoor conditions and most callers have described finding many dead.

Ring type treatments with spray insecticide and/or soil insecticide granules will reduce numbers and reduce the likelihood of them infesting a home but they are only an occasional pest and do not cause any harm.

What do you call a happy sand hopper?
A hoptomist.