Feature Contributors Archives for 2023-06


Education is frustrating. This past week I took 5th-grade students to Prairie Edge Nature Park to experience …nature. As we sat down on the platform built especially to educate students there was a bee flying around and the hands began to flail.

As an Extension Educator for the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service, I advise people on the treatment of many insect problems. Regularly during the summer, I explain to a concerned person that bees are categorized as either solitary or social. Solitary bees live all around us. They do not livein colonies and consequently, they don’t have the instinct to defend their nest and they rarely sting.

They come in all sizes, and the bigger ones garner the most attention. In August, a monster two-inch wasp called the cicada killer can be found hovering over and burrowing into the sandy ground. Those holes serve as the repository where the female wasp has repeatedly stung and stuffed a single cicada. Here she will carefully place an egg that will hatch into a larva that gradually consumes the paralyzed cicada. A horror movie in real life.

 The sheer size of these wasps alarms people and triggers the killer instinct. I assure them that the males cannot sting and the females only do when they are in physical danger. But many are eventually destroyed out of human fear.

The bumble bee is a social wasp. They, like the hornets, yellow jackets, paper wasps and honey bees, will fiercely defend their nest with a stinging frenzy when provoked. Several years ago, my father was stung multiple times while using a farm tractor and mower in a hay field. He was stung enough that he had to seek medical attention. He had disturbed their nest and they were out for revenge.

Most of the time when people get stung, they do not see it coming. It is not just a lazy bee flying around that decides to sting people, they need a reason and it generally involves the social bee's nest. Those students waving their hands and threatening a bee can be a target if it is the right kind of insect. I like to point out the fact that if someone comes up to you and starts waving a hand in your face you may wish to fight back.

Pollinators have become a major buzzword in agriculture. The United States Department of Agriculture has several programs that encourage farmers to plant pollinators. According to them, “More than 3,500 species of native bees help increase crop yields.” This week I will spend time with a Purdue University Graduate student who is studying native bee pollination of tomatoes. This is the type of person who knows the value and respects bees instead of going crazy when one approach.

I believe the bee on the field trip was a carpenter bee. They look like bumble bees but are a solitary species, not social like the bumble bee. In this species, the male will threaten but cannot sting and the female can sting but rarely does.

If you want to pick on another subject that I have graduated way from and that is killing snakes. Unless they are in my house, I will not do that anymore. One of the students told me he killed five water moccasins lately. Water moccasins are also called copper mouths and they are only found in a few Indiana counties down close to the Ohio River. Those poor water snakes were killed out of ignorance as are most snakes slain.

One summer day my South Dakota sister-in-law had us help her pick up small hay bales she put on the ground two weeks prior near her ranch home. As we lifted one of the bales onto the wagon, a distinctive rattle sound could be heard. It seems that under those bales was a cool moist place for their native prairie rattlesnakes. After that, all the bales were tuned over before grasping.

I never did find myself in a confrontation with a rattler. But if I would have, I don’t think I would have been waving my hand in front of his face.


Sidewalks are for more than just humans or people walking their dogs.

One member of the mite family enjoys going for a stroll on concrete surfaces. So much its determination to spend a warm spring day on the hard surface we even call them concrete mites.

These bright red mites are very noticeable scurrying over the light-colored pavement and they arose suspicion in people's minds that they are up to no good. They are often seen in large numbers hurrying around on patios, masonry foundations, outside walls of homes and buildings, stonework, and other outdoor objects such as trash bins and picnic tables for a brief period.

Concrete mites are often mistaken for clover mites. In fact, clover mites were the name I was given for these insects 30 years ago. But like many things in science, as we know more the name changes. Clover mites are reddish brown in color, and the two front legs are about two times the length of the other legs. Additionally, clover mites are found on clover or surrounding plants whereas concrete mites are bright red and often seen on the surface of concrete and masonry. Fast moving for their size, and sunshine loving, they are most active on nice sunny days.

Concrete mites are eight-legged, just like spiders, so they are not technically insects. They have a life cycle of four stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. During all their active stages they are predators with piercing mouths. They eat other soft-bodied arthropods, including mites, small insects or insect eggs. They also are capable of supplementing their meat diet with pollen, especially in their larval stage. Research has revealed that the mites often start the season as pollen-feeders and switch to a meat diet later in the season as more prey becomes available. This explains why the mites can be found on nearly any outdoor surface and in flowers because pollen is everywhere and they are in search of food.

Technically they are actually beneficial mites. They do not cause damage to household products or homes. They can be a nuisance pest when a large number of them invade homes or congregate on surfaces where people may sit. When squashed or sat upon, they leave red stains. The stain is not blood; it is just their natural color.

Rarely do you need control as these beneficial mites' mass gatherings are short-lived. Should these mites threaten to spoil an outdoor event or invade the interior of your home, they can be controlled with a surface spray of a pyrethroid insecticide such as products containing bifenthrin.

They do like white clothing and events that feature a lot of white. I could see them being an uninvited guest at an outdoor wedding ceremony. Being the selfish type, only just thinking of their next meal, and lacking in social graces, they wouldn’t bring any gifts.


It is the time of year I like to talk about flies.

They are frustrating and I am not the animal getting bit most of the time. I take the extra effort to kill flies this time of year. Each time I kill a fly it reminds me of the statistic, the descendants of one pair of flies, if all lived and reproduced normally, would cover the entire land area of the world to a depth of 18 feet in one summer. Swatting a fly makes me think I am saving the animal world a lot of frustration.One of the most recent numbers I have seen was that flies cost the cattle industry $1 billion yearly.

There are many methods for fly control and they all have their issues. On my farm, we would start around Memorial Day with a pour-on from the family of Avermectins. By this time fly numbers are substantially increasing and an application to the back of cows would control flies for about one month. Technically the control will last longer but for us, around the 4th of July, we would bring the cows and calves through for vaccinations. At this point, animals would have insecticidal fly tags applied.

My wife’s ranch family used to talk about insecticidal fly tags. They were introduced in the early 1980s containing permethrin and fenvalerate and they were extremely effective in keeping flies off of cattle. The tags were convenient, required minimal labor, and provided control for an entire season. Within a few years, pyrethroid resistance was reported and these tags were no longer effective.

When a product is so good only a few flies live through their use, those limited flies find each other, mate, and rapidly build up resistance. So, it is essential that the type of insecticide in these ear tags get rotated. There are generally three types, organophosphate, synthetic pyrethroids, or macrocyclic lactone. Most currently available fly tags offer protection for 12 to 15 weeks but are most effective during the first 45 to 60 days following application. Fly tags applied too early in the grazing season may be largely expended and not offer enough protection during peak fly season. This is why I use the avermectins pour on first plus they give me parasitic worm control. This allows the use of fly tags later in the season so they still have some effectiveness into the fall.

The other type of fly control that I have used is the feed-through control as part of the mineral program. These use insect growth regulators that are effective on the fly larva developing in the manure. With this type of control, you are not going to see dead flies and the process has to start well before the flies come out in the spring. Probably around April 10 in our area, it should be put out and then around November 1, we could cease feeding this product.

I use all of the above as my goal is to reduce flies both on the animal and in and around my house. Then I add another. In my chicken house and goat buildings where animals get none of the above treatments, I put out the quarter-inch white sticky tape that comes in 600 hundred-foot wind-up rolls. I stretch out about 20 feet at a time. Flies accumulate on them to the point I have to roll out new tape sections about every other day. I appreciate their effectiveness.

There are other types of fly controls including sprays, pour-on, back rubbers, and dust bags. We have to be careful and make sure we are not using the same class of insecticides in all these methods. The chemicals have to be rotated. And the manurer breeding sites need to be cleaned

Horn flies and face flies are the major issues with cattle. There can be hundreds of these on an animal just biting away.On our farm, as we transitioned out of cattle into goats our flies also changed. With goats, the major flies are stable flies and house flies. The stable fly has piercing mouth parts and feeds on blood several times a day, normally attacking the legs and belly. They are a lot less visible on the animal compared to the flies of cattle. Stable flies take about three weeks to develop. Adult female flies can live 30 days and lay up to 400 eggs. Stable flies breed on organic debris such as wet straw, manure, and spilled feed.The house fly is non-biting. House flies also breed in organic matter including bedding, manure, decaying silage, and spilled feed.

Out in the pasture or around the buildings, this summer will bring a plethora of flies. I will do my part to save the world from fly overload. Even in the house sometimes the vacuum is my weapon for control. Whoosh, and they are gone! Yes!

Eastern Red Cedar

A few weeks ago, while visiting a rural homeowner, I was looking at some eastern red cedars and there were some brown balls hanging from the branches.

Now I am not a fan of eastern red cedars. They may be native to America but not here in our neck of the woods. The pioneers coming into this deciduous hardwood forest for the first time in the early 1800s would have found this tree confined principally to the bluffs of streams and rocky ravines according to Charles Deam who wrote “Trees of Indiana” in 1921. By the time Deam wrote the book, Indiana land coverage had gone from 87% trees to 8%. This opening up of the forest allowed the cedar more area to grow.

Today I see this tree growing everywhere including outside my office window. On my place, I cut them down. Out in the prairies of Nebraska, the native eastern red cedar has taken over rangeland, reducing grasses and the wildlife associated with grass plants. Without the massive prairie fires, this tree is expanding in numbers and has covered around 75% of the landscape in some areas. One article I read on this plant ended with “….cedar trees are awful. They take resources away from the native species of the Plains, displace native wildlife.”

I do not like them, but here in Indiana I would not call them awful yet. I do see it coming up along the highways here in our community and its numbers are sprouting especially around interchanges. I do have farmers that have concerns about their spreading. Just this week I saw a thin stand of woods starting to experience cedar tree growth. It is a tough tree and looking to get a hold in open areas.

One other bad characteristic of these trees goes back to those brown balls. They are actually a mass packed with fungal spores. Spring rains cause the ball to swell and turn into a gelatinous orange mass with structures known as telial horns protruding from it. Those spores find their way to newly emerging apple leaves and infect the plant so that leaves have an orangish spot that grows through the leaf bottom with little tubes attached.

This is called cedar apple rust. There are also conditions caused by similar organisms called Cedar-Quince rust and Cedar-Hawthorn Rust.They can affect the apple tree production but they do no harm to the cedar. Picking those balls off the cedar in the spring can reduce the disease on apples but it’s hard to get them all.

There are fungicides for apple trees that will prevent the disease but there is no use trying to protect the cedar. Any serious apple orchardist will remove any cedars within view and further as the spores could travel several miles if the wind is right. But in that situation, a few spores may show up versus having an infected cedar tree in the same yard.

I marvel at this disease as it has found a way to use two hosts to survive. There are so many amazing wonders of this world. Even though cedar apple sure is really kind of pretty, it's not healthy. In general, having cedar trees around is not a good idea.