Chigger bites cause red, irritated marks on the skin. Chiggers prefer biting areas where skin is the thinnest or where clothing fits tightly, like places around the ankles and waist. (Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service photo by Dr. Mike Merchant)
As people become more active in summer, so do a few familiar pests that keep Texans itching – and scratching — for relief, said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologists.
“This time of year there’s usually a significant increase in chigger and flea activity,” said Wizzie Brown, AgriLife Extension entomologist, Travis County. “With people and their pets spending more time outdoors, the likelihood of getting bitten by chiggers or fleas also increases.”
Brown explained chiggers are mites in the immature stage.
Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension entomologist, Bexar County, said chiggers develop in fields and weedy areas, especially areas with tall grasses.
“While chiggers are active from spring through fall, they are most noticeable in the summer, especially early summer when there’s a good amount of vegetation,” Keck said. “The larvae gather on the tips of plants and other locations where they crawl onto hosts.”
She said chiggers typically live in edge habitats or zones – areas of denser vegetation next to areas more open or lacking in vegetation.
“This might be a thick garden along a fence line next to a well-manicured lawn or in the tall grass that borders a walking trail,” she said. “These are good locations to avoid.”
Brown said chiggers climb onto people walking through infested areas, crawl upwards and wander around the body seeking a good site to settle down and feed. The preferred feeding locations are areas where skin is thinnest or where clothing fits tightly, such as around the ankles or waist or behind the knees.
Brown said when chiggers feed, they inject a digestive enzyme that breaks down skin cells, which are then eaten.
“Itching and redness are caused by our body reacting to the enzymes injected into our skin,” she said. “It typically begins 3-6 hours after being bitten, peaks at 24 hours and can last up to two weeks.”
She said the best way to avoid chiggers is to keep away from areas likely to be infested, but if that is not possible, some other ways to protect from them include:
— Wearing protective clothing such as tightly woven items that fit loosely, including long sleeves and pants. Do not go barefoot or wear sandals or open-toed shoes.
— Use an insect repellent with DEET or picaridin.
— If wearing boots, tuck the pant legs into them.
— Avoid sitting on the ground.
— Remove and launder clothing as soon as possible after being in infested areas.
— Shower or bathe soon after being in an infested area. Scrub vigorously with a washcloth.
She said some ways to reduce the possibility of chigger infestations around the home include
keeping the lawn mowed, not allowing weeds to grow, keeping brush cleared and targeted use of residual pesticide sprays.
“Sprays with pyrethroids have proven to be effective,” Brown said. “But if you do get bitten, avoid scratching any pustules caused by the bite as opening them may lead to infection. Use oral antihistamines or topical anti-itch creams to relieve the discomfort.”
An adult flea. (Texas A&M Agrilife photo courtesy of Pat Porter)
Fleas too are pests that reappear persistently during summertime, the entomologists said.
“Fleas are small, wingless insects with flattened bodies and all body spines pointed to the rear for easier movement through the fur or hair of an animal,” Keck said. “Their mouthparts are formed for piercing and sucking.”
Flea larvae are found in the nests of various animals, in rugs or carpets in the home or in the soil in areas where animals frequent. They feed on organic debris and as adults are blood-feeders.
“Fleas are ectoparasites and females require a blood meal to produce eggs,” Brown said. “After feeding on a host, females can produce about 30-50 eggs per day that fall off the host animal and into carpeting or other areas inside and outside the home. After fleas pupate, they hatch out of the cocoon in about two weeks, but pupae can remain dormant for up to five months.”
She said proper flea management has multiple parts.
“Fleas should be managed on the pets as well as in the environment,” she said. “Grooming the animal with a flea comb and/or bathing it regularly can help reduce flea numbers. Wash pet bedding in hot water and avoid walking pets in known flea-infested areas.”
Brown said a veterinarian should be consulted about flea control products for pets.
“There are numerous products on the market that work well when used according to label instructions,” she said. “When you find fleas on a pet, you need to not only treat the pet but also any areas the pet frequents — both inside and outside the home.”
Brown noted fleas found around or in homes without pets may be coming from wildlife.
“Attic and crawl spaces should be inspected for wildlife activity,” she said. “Wildlife should be removed, and after removal the area should be treated with an insecticide labeled for fleas. Then the area should be sealed so wildlife cannot re-enter.”
Brown also advised that new homeowners may have problems with fleas shortly after moving in if the previous owners had pets with fleas.
“You should vacuum thoroughly and regularly under furniture and along baseboards to reduce flea eggs, larvae and pupae. Then place the used vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag and throw it into an outdoor garbage can so fleas do not hatch out and re-infest the home.”
She said outdoor flea treatments targeted to areas where pets frequent should be done at least twice.
“The second treatment should occur 10-14 days after the initial treatment,” she noted
Article by Jessica Rymel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Cass County
Texas A&M Agrilife Extension serves people of all ages regardless of race, color, sex, religion, disability, national origin, political beliefs and marital or family status. Individuals with disabilities who require auxiliary aide services or accommodation in order to participate in any of these events are encouraged to contact our office within 10 working day prior to the program.
Talk to most vegetable gardeners and you’ll quickly find that pests and pesticides are hot-button topics. While pests are strongly disliked, most gardeners are reluctant to use pesticides on fruits and vegetables in their own gardens. This is understandable. While most of us, to varying degrees, accept the need for pesticides in commercial food production, the home vegetable garden is seen almost universally as the best place to get fresh, wholesome produce–without pesticides. Fortunately, you can grow produce in your home garden with minimal use of artificial pest control products. Using less and safer pesticides, however, means knowing more about pests and pest control methods.
There are many other AgriLife publications on general gardening. Most of these have been recently updated and given a clean, new look. Check them out by going to http://agrilifebookstore.org and searching on the keyword “vegetable”.
Summertime Pond Management
Pond habitat can be simply defined as the environments that aquatic organisms live in and around. However, this definition encompasses a broad list of chemical, biological, and physical categories such as water depth, temperature, and oxygen content which can be impacted by pond bottom conditions and other natural and artificial structures with the environment.
Learning the habitat requirements and preferences of common fishes will help pond owners to not only manage the needs of various life stages of those fishes, but also provide habitat that improves angler success. During the summer months, dissolved oxygen levels become an issue for pond owners, but this can be remedied through water aeration and placement of artificial structures. For example, in most southern ponds, warm season water temperatures are too high and oxygen too low for several of our popular varieties of stocked fish. During summer months, our ponds become uncomfortably warm for fish nearer the surface, but the cooler bottom layer can become depleted of oxygen especially if winds do not regularly agitate the water’s surface. This will lead to large fish kill events in your ponds.
Aeration can help to prevent low dissolved oxygen levels from negatively impacting pond fish populations. In addition, certain types of aeration equipment can effectively mix the water in a pond to prevent water-layer stratification, which can occur in deeper ponds during warm months. Low dissolved oxygen levels can stress or even kill fish, whereas water stratification can limit fish use of cooler, deeper pond areas because of poorly oxygenated water. Anoxic (i.e., lacking oxygen) water does not permit bacteria to adequately process waste products, which then build-up on top of the pond’s bottom sediments. Dissolved oxygen in ponds is naturally affected by photosynthesis, temperature, salinity, wind, supplemental feeding of fish, fish density, and pond depth. The natural sources of dissolved oxygen are photosynthesis by aquatic plants and diffusion from the air. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants (especially algae) use sun light to manufacture food. One of the byproducts of this process is oxygen. In a pond, dissolved oxygen is also consumed through respiration by the living organisms within your pond. The most common dissolved oxygen problem occurs when the consumption of oxygen through respiration exceeds production through photosynthesis and diffusion.
During summer, calm and/or cloudy days may reduce oxygen production by plants while fish continue to respire, and at higher rates as water becomes warmer. On occasion, algae or submerged plants in the pond die suddenly and no longer produce oxygen. As the algae or plants decay, bacteria grow and consume even larger amounts of oxygen. In deeper ponds, fall destratification can cause the dissolved oxygen level to crash as deep, anoxic water mixes with surface water. Although pond fish can survive short periods of low dissolved oxygen concentrations, prolonged exposure can cause stress or even death.
Dissolved oxygen levels can be measured using a chemical kit or an electronic oxygen meter. The preferred times to monitor dissolved oxygen levels are at daybreak and nightfall. The general rule of thumb in determining the need for an aeration system is whether the pond contains greater than 1,000 pounds of fish biomass per surface acre. In most bass/sunfish ponds this carrying capacity is rarely exceeded. However, in fed catfish ponds, this threshold is occasionally exceeded by unknowing pond owners who do not harvest fish appropriately. Often, pond owners derive such pleasure from watching their “pets” grow and feed that they fail to harvest sufficiently to keep biomass within the 1,000-pounds-per-acre limit. For example, a pond owner who stocks 250, 6-inch channel catfish in a 1-acre pond, and feeds regularly, is safe within the limit. But in a couple years when those same 250 fish average 4 pounds each (total biomass = 1,000 pounds), a cloudy, summer morning could spell disaster. Aeration can serve as a pond owner’s insurance against such occurrences. A variety of aeration and destratification systems exist to assist the pond owner. Pump sprayer aerators, surface spray aerators, paddlewheel aerators, diffused air systems, and propeller aspirator pump aerators each bring advantages and disadvantages to each specific pond environment. A thorough review of the sources found in the References section will greatly assist the pond owner in deciding which system best fits any particular pond or budget.
Article by Jessica Rymel, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Cass County
4-Hers will have a planning meeting for the Canstruction project that will take place during multi-county camp on May 30th at 5 pm. We will meet at the extension office.
Registration for multi county camp ends on the 29th and packets must be turned into Ms. Karen at the Extension office by 5pm on this day. The registration packet is located below!