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Pest Check

Hungary, Hungary Ticks Appear!

            Don’t be surprised if you venture outside and find ticks crawling on your body. Ticks are in the class Arachnida, since adult ticks have eight legs. The female ticks occur in large numbers in early summer, in order to feed on blood. After engorging itself on blood, the female will drop off and lay clusters of thousands of eggs in ground litter. The female will die soon after laying eggs and the male tick will die after mating with one or more female ticks.  The eggs will hatch into "seed ticks," since they are small in size. The seed ticks will feed on a host and then drop off to molt into the nymphal stage.  There will be two or three nymphal stages before molting into an adult, depending upon the species of tick.  It can sometimes take up to 3 years for a tick to complete its lifecycle, from egg to adult.  

            Ticks have piercing-sucking mouthparts that allow them to ingest blood from a host, in order to survive and produce eggs.  They feed by making a small cut into the skin with their piercing mouthparts.  Then they set the barbed teeth onto the anchoring device and secrete a fluid to cement their mouthparts onto the skin.

            Some of the most common ticks in Texas are the Lone Star Tick (Ambylomma americanum), the American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis), and the Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus).  The Lone Star tick is brown to tan in color, with males being 1/3 inch in length and females being ½ inch in length when engorged.  The females will have a single silvery-white spot on its back, while the male has scattered spots around the entire margin of its body.  The American Dog Tick has pale whitish or yellowish markings on its back, with males being 1/8 inches in length and females being ½ inches when engorged.  The preferred host is dogs, but it can feed on other animals, including humans.  The Brown Dog tick is reddish-brown in color, with males being 1/8 inches in length and females being ½ inches when engorged.  It prefers dogs and other animals and rarely attaches to humans.  It is the most commonly found tick in and around homes, since it feeds on dogs and then drops off. 

            Ticks can be dangerous animals since they can cause anemia and they have been linked to transmitting disease agents that can cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and tularemia. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can cause high fever, muscle aches, chills and a rash that develops a few days later.  Lyme disease can cause rashes on the skin and problems to the joint, heart and nervous system.  Tularemia can cause such symptoms as enlarged lymph nodes, headaches, fever, muscle aches, and weight loss. 

            Remember that ticks must be attached for multiple hours before disease-causing bacteria are injected into its host.  Always check yourself when you leave a tick-infested area.  If you find a tick attached to you or your companion animal, use tweezers to grasp the tick at the surface of the skin and pull straight out.  If no tweezers are present, use a tissue to protect your fingers from exposure to the tick’s bodily fluids.

Some Ways to Prevent Tick Bites:

  1. Tuck your pant legs into your socks and apply a repellent to your clothing, such as DEET.  
  2. Mow grass to a short length.  Shorter grass is hotter and less humid than tall grass. Do not leave pet food outside and fix fences to avoid stray or wild animals from entering yard.  This should decrease the number of ticks entering your area from wild animals.
  3. Ticks can hide in almost any crevice such as in bricks, under the edges of siding and along walkways or paving stones. Granular and liquid insecticides can be used in these areas, such as those containing permethrin or bifenthrin. Read the product label before applying. 
  4. Ticks are hard to control, so persistent treatments are needed.

Adult female Lone star tick, Amblyoma americanum
(Linnaeus) (Acari: Ixodidae). Photo by Dr. John
Jackman, Extension Entomologist and Professor
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX.

Small Insect That Causes Big Problems

            As we walk into our backyards for a nice relaxing evening, we will be joined by another unwanted pest, the mosquito.  Mosquitoes are a diverse group of flies that are found worldwide and new mosquito species are continually being introduced into the United States.  Currently, there are around 85 species of mosquitoes found in Texas.

            Mosquitoes develop through a complete lifecycle with an egg, larva, pupa and adult stage.  Mosquito eggs may be laid individually or in clusters on the surface of water or individually in dry locations that will flood periodically.  The eggs hatch into larvae that eat microscopic plants, animals and organic debris in the water. The larvae will develop into pupae, which do not feed.  The adult stage will then emerge from the water to take flight. 

            Adult male and female mosquitoes will feed on nectar, honeydew and fruit juices.  Male mosquitoes will have hairy antennae that they use to locate females.

            The female mosquito will consume blood in order to develop her eggs.   This causes mosquitoes to be considered one of the biggest medical threats to humans, since they capable of transmitting many diseases, such as West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Yellow Fever.  Also females inject saliva as they consume the blood meal.  This will cause the skin to itch after she flies away.

Controlling Mosquito Populations Outdoors:

Some Control Options Outdoors:

The number one way to reduce mosquito populations in your yard is source reduction! Mosquitoes need as little as a bottle cap full of water to complete their lifecycle, so all areas where water collects needs to be emptied or changed weekly.  If standing water is eliminated in your backyard, then the overall mosquito population in your area will be reduced. 

  1. Areas containing water should be changed or emptied, such as wading pools buckets, bird baths, pet dishes, ponds, boat covers, irrigation systems, and French drains. 
  2. Holes or depressions in trees should be filled with sand or mortar. 
  3. Leaky pipes faucets should be repaired.
  4. If there is standing water that can not be drained, then mosquito dunks containing Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti), can be used.      

Mow tall grass and reduce the amount of foliage, in order to reduce the resting sites for adult mosquitoes.

Insecticides can be applied to trees and shrubs, such as those containing pyrethrin, to kill adult mosquitoes.

Some options to prevent mosquito bites:

  1. Limit evening activities since mosquitoes are active at night.
  2. Avoid wearing dark colors, since mosquitoes rely on visual cues to locate hosts.
  3. Avoid exercising or yard work in the heat of the day, since mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide and perspiration.
  4. Avoid wearing fruity or floral fragrances in perfumes, hair products, or sunscreens, since these scents are more attractive to mosquitoes.
  5. Wear long, loose-fitting clothing to avoid mosquito bites.
  6. Chemicals can be applied to the skin and clothes to prevent bites.  One chemical, DEET, has been an effective repellent to mosquitoes for over 50 years.  There are also other mosquito repellents are the market such as picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, oil of eucalyptus, and soybean oil-based repellents. 

Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus (Skuse).  Photo by Drees.

Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus (Skuse) (Diptera: Culicidae). Photo by Dr. Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist.

Irritating Fleas Jumping Around

            The most common type of flea is the cat flea.  However, there are a number of other flea species which occur in Texas, including the dog flea, Ctenocephalides canis (Curtis), and the oriental rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis (Rothschild). All of these fleas are around 1/8 inches in length, dark brown in color and have a wingless flattened body.    Mated female fleas lay eggs that are white and round, after consuming host blood. Eggs fall to the ground in the area where the host spends time and rests. Whitish, legless larvae hatch from eggs in 2 to 3 weeks. The larvae develop in 9 to 15 days under optimum conditions.  Fully developed larvae will then pupate by spinning a cocoon of silk that becomes covered with soil particles and debris.  This protects the pupa and makes them hard to detect. The pupal stage lasts from 7 days up to a year before adults emerge. Under optimum temperature and humidity conditions, fleas can complete their lifecycle from egg to adult in 30 to 75 days.

            Adult mouthparts are modified for piercing and sucking blood and they can bite repeatedly. Not only are flea bites irritating due to an itchy reaction, but they can also transmit diseases such as murine typhus.

            Sometimes buildings can become infested with fleas even when there are no pets around. Other animals such as bats, roof rats, squirrels, raccoons, and wild dogs and cats commonly have fleas and may bring them within structures.  The building should be inspected and all openings should be sealed so wildlife can not enter.

Non-Chemical Control Suggestions:

            Change pet bedding regularly and vacuum thoroughly. Vacuum under furniture, cushions, chairs, beds, and along walls. Make sure to discard vacuum cleaner bags at least once a week, since fleas can continue to develop inside vacuum cleaner bags.    

Some Chemical Control Suggestions:

Treat your pets. One suggestion is to use a product containing an insect growth regulator that are available as sprays, spot-ons, pills or food additives. Insect growth regulators work by disrupting the normal development of flea eggs and larvae.  With all products, read and follow label directions carefully. Products designed for use on adult dogs should not be used on puppies or cats, unless specified on the label.

Treating homes. The pet’s living area should be treated at the same time that the pet is treated. This will hopefully kill immature and newly emerging fleas and will prevent re-infestation of the pet. Citrus sprays containing d-limonene is one suggestion that can be applied to rugs, carpeting and pet bedding. Also, insect growth regulators such as methoprene and pyriproxyfen can be used indoors. Methoprene is unstable in sunlight so it is an effective indoor treatment. However pyriproxyfen sprays, can be applied both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors, treat areas where pets spend most of their time, such as bedding areas or under shade trees. 

            Remember to inspect your pet for fleas regularly and carefully follow the label directions on the insecticide products.

Photo of a cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis (Bouche) (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae),
larva, pupa, adult and pupal case (bottom). Photo by Bart Drees, Professor
 and Extension Entomologist,
Texas A&M University.

Mention of commercial products is for educational purposes only and does not represent endorsement by Texas AgriLife Extension or The Texas A&M University System. Insecticide label registrations are subject to change, and changes may have occurred since this publication was printed. The pesticide user is always responsible for applying products in accordance with label directions. Always read and carefully follow the instructions on the container label.

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