AUSTIN – Spring is in the air, and so are billions of insects in Central and South Texas. They’re also on the ground, in trees and inside homes.
“Insect activity goes into overdrive this time of year,” said Wizzie Brown, Texas Cooperative Extension agent for entomology and integrated pest management in Travis County. “This spring, along with some of the more well-known pests, there are other pests affecting people in the central and southern part of the state.”
Along with typical pests such as fire ants and termites, this spring is bringing leafcutter ants, cankerworms, oak leaf rollers and other lesser-known bugs, she said.
“Fire ants become more noticeable in the spring, as do termites,” she said. “But in this part of the state we also get leafcutter ants which strip landscape foliage and create large, crater-shaped mounds. Other springtime insects include cankerworms and oak leaf rollers, which eat tree leaves and dangle from the trees by silk threads.”
Leafcutter ants create large underground “fungus gardens” where they produce their food, Brown noted.
“Along with building large above-ground mounds, these ants have been known to tunnel under houses and to cause foundation slabs to crack due to inadequate support,” she said. “Leafcutter ants are not nearly as well known as fire ants, but they have a lot of destructive potential.”
Cankerworms and oak leaf rollers are not worms but caterpillars, and are more often a threat to the tree owner’s sensibilities than to the tree itself.
“For many people, these just look creepy hanging from the trees from their threads,” Brown said. “But they do eat tree leaves and can create some ugly spots in the foliage. They may also possibly harm the tree if they cause enough leaf loss.”
Most of the broad-leaf trees where these insects nest can easily survive an encounter with them, added Skip Richter, Extension agent for horticulture in Travis County.
“Most trees endure these insects pretty well,” Richter said. “But if they cause significant defoliation, such more than half of a tree’s leaves, this can weaken the tree and leave it susceptible to certain diseases. And if they cause extreme defoliation to an already weak or stressed’ tree, that has the potential of contributing to its death.”
Bacillus thuringiensis can be used as an organic control for canker and oak leaf rollers, Brown noted.
“Most controls work more effectively if used when the larvae are smaller,” she said. “Other ways to control these pests include spinosad, acephate, carbaryl or any product labeled for controlling caterpillars that can be used on trees. ”
Central and South Texas have experienced a large amount of honey bee activity as well, Brown said.
“Spring is also the time when honey bees begin to swarm as part of the colony’s normal reproductive process,” she said. “Swarming honey bees are gentle and unlikely to sting unless provoked.”
Swarms usually don’t need control and will move along in a few days, she said.
“But if the bees establish a colony on your property, these should be controlled by a professional pest control company with the proper equipment to handle the job,” she added.
Some webworm activity in this region of Texas has been reported too, said Dr. Noel Troxclair, Extension entomologist at the Texas A&M University Research and Extension Center in Uvalde.
“The reports are unconfirmed, but if true it’s unusual to have webworm activity this early in the year,” he said. “It normally begins in early May.”
Different regions of the state have different challenges with insects, and those challenges vary within urban and rural areas, Troxclair said.
“There are also different climates within the state and the same pest may not appear at the same time in different regions,” he said. “We have Extension entomologists throughout the state who have their pulse on the local pest situation and can answer questions from residents in their area in a timely manner.”
Information on integrated pest management is available through most Extension offices statewide, he said.
“For example, Extension offices in many urban areas of the state can even coordinate community-wide fire ant management, often through homeowners associations,” he said.