Why Insects Make Great Ambassadors for Science Education

Entomology Today

Butterfly Pavilion At Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado, one of the only standalone invertebrate zoos in the United States, guests can get up close with butterflies and other insects—and learn about important scientific concepts, too. Butterfly Pavilion’s entomologist and community programs manager will be on hand at Entomology 2017, November 5-8, in Denver for a presentation on science communication. (Photo courtesy of the Butterfly Pavilion)

Even though most insects are relatively small animals, they make a great focal point to discuss big concepts.

“We use invertebrates as a model system to carry out science communication,” says Mario Padilla, entomologist at Butterfly Pavilion near Denver, Colorado. “Because, when you talk about invertebrates, that’s an extremely diverse group of animals that we can make a connection to a variety of different things, whether it be environmental preservation, sustainability, or climate change.”

Butterfly Pavilion is one of the only standalone invertebrate zoos in the United…

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Crawl Spaces 

In some homes there is one area that most of my clients have no desire to spend time in. That area is the crawl space  in a pier and beam constructed structure. Here in East Texas most of my clients homes are on concrete slabs. I have a few that have true basements, and some that to inspect I have to crawl around under.img_0164

It is not the most accessible area to enter sometimes.  Once inside some also lack what one would call “elbow room”.   If you add plumbing and HVAC duct work, the available space shrinks even more. Oh yea, you sometimes have company under there!


Hi! My name is Seymour. What’s Yours? Got any Kibble?


Then there is always the issue of moisture. It rises from the soil, enters from the foundation edge, or my favorite; the wet spring that develops under the house. Nothing like having to break out scuba gear to inspect under a house. Some crawl spaces  have plastic sheeting spread out to slow the moisture that evaporates from the soil. The vents on the foundation help to remove this moisture by the use of wind currents. Many of these don’t work very well. The main reason is because they are blocked or kept covered up. The lack of wind movement in a crawl space will lead to wood rot fungus, and decay of load bearing beams, and the possible appearance of wood damaging insects.rottedwood


The latest improvements to crawl space environments is the adaptation of climate controls and encapsulation. Climate controlled crawl spaces are insulated,heated and cooled and most are cement floored.  The inspection time for these is minimised by the use of mechanics dolly to transverse the areas.


These crawl spaces are sealed to prevent moisture intrusion and to keep humidity levels to a minimum. Also No Seymours!

The encapsulated crawl space is a retrofit solution for older pier and beam constructed structures. The use of dehumidifiers  to maintain humidity levels, and 12 to 20 ml liners to seal the crawl space to moisture intrusion lowers the chance of wood damaging organisms. Also makes my inspection process more convenient and faster.img_0010img_0011

These solutions also lowers the mold levels and allergens in my clients living environments above the crawl space level.

National Honey Bee Day

Saturday August 19th was National Honey Bee Day. The following link from Entomology Today one of several publications of the Entomology Society of America has some great advice on how to help protect Pollinators in your turf landscape environments.




Mow Before You Spray, and Other Tips for Protecting Pollinators in Grassy Landscapes.

The World Wide Web

How many times have you walked around a yard in the early morning, late afternoon or even in the middle of the day when all of a sudden you start flopping around like you have been afflicted with Saint Elmo’s Fire.  It happens to me often.  NO, I am not sick! I walked into another spider web.


Arachnids(Spiders) are some of the most interesting arthropods on this planet. They do not cause damage to food sources, structures, or cause allergies like Roaches, Rodents or Termites. Even if the Widow and Recluse species have toxic venom, mosquitoes, wasps, bees and ticks create far more health concerns to humans and pets. They are considered a nuisance and their presence is usually the impetus for clients to call demanding Al Capone Style Retribution. They want them dead! Their Parents, Dead! Their Children, Dead!


In some areas of the world Spiders are considered talismans of good news, luck, and wealth. They have become even part of the mythology of African culture with Arachne the weaver and Anansi.  In India they are spread like confetti at weddings. That would have cleared the church at mine!

In Boy Scouts my troop took a trip to Big Bend National Park. At night the Tarantulas would roam around in large numbers. Sure glad we had cots, and were not sleeping on the ground. We captured one that barely fit inside a 3 pound coffee can.  My dad was a little upset when he discovered he had carried  it in his pack, when we trekked up to the North Rim.  He also carried it back down too.

At Texas A&M University I studied Entomology with a professor that kept large tarantulas as pets, and let them roam around his office.  Clarence (the largest) like to crawl over visitors if they sat in guest chairs.  It seems like he had a different secretary every week.  He also collected paintings and photos of outhouses as an example of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).  After World War II, the number of cases of Black Widow Bites decreased every year. The professor’s theory was indoor plumbing and the expansion of public waste systems and the decline in the number of outhouses and Sears catalogs.

I find them lately in homes built with White Austin Stone and structures near hay meadows. Must be the reflected light quality, the brighter the better.

In the United States the largest spiders are the Mygalomorph burrow spiders (tarantulas) of the southwest. The largest spiders in East Texas would be the Wolf Spiders.  These nocturnal spiders green eyes can be seen at night with a flashlight from 10 to 30 feet away depending on their size.  They also carry their young offspring on their backs.  The picture below is nothing compared  to a client that sees what looks like hundreds of pin head size spider babies scattering in all directions.


My favorite spiders are the large Araneomorph  Yellow Garden Orb Weavers. The intricate webs are spun with different styles of silk depending on their function. Sticky strands to capture prey, support strands to  hold the web in place, and broadly weaved area to reflect light that attracts their prey.  Even better it keeps me from looking like a Kung Fu Master on a clients property.






It still amazes me that my professional life can be so focused on the end product of the digestive workings of the animal kingdom.  I am talking about Feces, Dung, Poop, Manure, S_ _ _ and Shinola, Droppings, Night Earth of the slumbering water buffalo. CRAP!

As a young man raising swine for FFA, I became aware that manure and its removal or use was a large part of the agricultural process.  Chicken house Droppings composted for the garden, still make the best tomatoes taste better. Horse stall barn hay  was always saved for the Rose bushes. And PIG Poop well it just covered their pens and was a mess to clean up. If you ever have to wash a pig for a livestock show, bring a good bristle brush.


There was always a dog around my house growing up too.  Large Dobermans and small Dachshunds can both leave a back yard full of land mines for bare feet and sports games. And don’t even mention that time on the Smith Family hunting trip that someone’s pooch rolled in a “cow pie”.

When you become a Pest Management Professional the identification of pests focuses on the many attributes of an organism. And the easiest factor for identification of some pest  are their feces.  In a structure that is infested with fleas, our industry emphasis is on proper preparation by the client. One important area of pre-treatment inspection is a couch or chair. Removing  cushions will sometimes reveal a large collection of salt & pepper like objects that are flea eggs and blood feces. Removal of these can prevent rehydration of the feces and prevent blood stains from staining fabrics and other surfaces.  You really don’t want a CSI episode on your watch.

flea salt pepper

Like Fleas, Bedbugs also leave a blood feces.  Theirs is more of a spotting than a dropping than a dropping though.   Bedbugs leave behind shed skins and eggs as well.

bedbug dropping

The Blattodea , which contains  the  Roach family, leave All of these and more. The size and shape of the feces can even give you an identification of  the variety.  Blatella germanica can carry disease organisms and their droppings have a unique odor. The feces and shed skins are known allergens and have been shown to be large contributing factors to  Asthma attacks in children in economically depressed living conditions. The emitted odor is attributed to the spotty black feces.  It serves as a marker that signals to others that this is a safe habitat. Many will gather in those spots, and the Rave is on.

roach droppings

Large Roaches are usually classified as Occasional Invaders. They are often associated with wet, transition areas or the outside of a structure.  Their Droppings serve the same purpose as their smaller cousins. The pheromones left behind in the Droppings mark the infected area as a safe place. When disturbed they will return to those safe areas, some by flying.  They are not attacking when they fly at you. You are just in their way.

Their  Feces can be somewhat large as well. Clients have sometimes believed that they have mice instead. The large Roach has a great need for moisture control. That is why they appear waxy, and their feces have ridges where the lower digestive track has squeezed out as much moisture as possible for retention before release.

The Commensal Rodents (Man’s Table) are often identified through Droppings only. The droppings of a house mouse are small, pointed and approximately 1/4inch in  length. It  does Not have the ridges on the sides.

dropings photo

The large Commensal Rodents are the Norway Rat (King Olaf) and the Roof Rat. Norway rats are the big boys of the commensal rodents. They are omnivores and grow to be up to two pounds.  They can form burrows around a structure or live in woodpiles or other safe habitats. Their droppings are large, blunted and about 3/4 of an inch long from mature animals.

The Roof Rat is the acrobat of the commensal rodent world. He can walk wires, jump from tree to tree, climb to great heights, and will be that clawing, scratching sound coming from above the ceiling in the middle of the night. As vegetarians they will eat fruits and nuts, and grow at their largest usually no more than one pound. You need to be slim to fly without wings.

Rodents can cause serious damage to structures, food sources and storage. The use of traps and Rodenticides need to be used with extreme caution.  Accidental poisonings are horrific. And,  the springs on traps are hard on one’s fingers. Professional help is always recommended.

I have had clients say that they think I must be as crazy as a Mississippi Squirrel for some of the places I have crawled into.  Who doesn’t like Ray Stevens? You meet the most interesting things under houses. The lady below was just hanging around for dinner! there has not been a rodent at this house in years I am told.


Pest Management Professionals and Entomologists ( Board, Associate, or amateur)  are different, and we accept that. We are the kind of people that are always looking for a challenge.  I have never met anyone like the fellow below at any professional meeting of colleagues.  I love the dedication to the hunt Walken’s character gave in the Mouse Hunt movie. Don’t think I would hire him  for a tech position though . Cow Bell ringer, Maybe!So, please do not sniff, taste, or handle Droppings without  using proper Personal Protective Equipment.  And only a lab technician can tell the sex, nutrient deficiencies and place of origin from Feces.

Mouse hunt

I have chased many a rodent around many a structure for more than twenty-five years. It can be frustrating. Ok, at times I have almost felt like the guys below.

mouse hunt 2

When the client calls and says  – Hey, they’re back!

Oh, Crap!!!





How much is that bug in the window? or Is my house going to fall down today?

Swarmers in East Texas

Well it’s that time of year. I go from being available, to several weeks behind in one or two days. Swarm Season is the time of year when obnoxious offspring  of one of the most damaging insects are released into the world. Their numbers can be few or in such large numbers they are considered a catastrophic swarm.  It will usually start the day or two after a strong Spring storm followed by a mild warm day. Then at approximately 2:00 pm CST, the phone begins to ring. Then at approximately 3:00 pm CST when Kids return home from School; 5:00 pm  and 7:00 pm CST when people arrive home from work. Holidays are no exception. I have even received calls on Easter Sunday while at Church.


If you are wondering, I am not looking for Easter eggs in the picture above.  Corrective treatments can be challenging. We have many tools and new technologies to help contain and minimize the damage of Termites, but they are a formidable opponent.  They cause so much damage that insurance companies won’t cover their treatment cost. It is estimated they do more damage each year than fires and storms combined in the United States.

Termite Tubes in Floor Joist

The question that always comes up is,” How much damage do you think they have done”.  It  all depends on the species. Some cause damage more quickly due to their increased numbers and abilities to create sub-colony waystations (cartons)  so they don’t have to return to the soil. All are damaging to cellulose containing materials. Lumber and paper products are  bound together collections of water, cellulose and wood fibers. Unless the termites are left undetected or untreated, it will take a substantial  time for a house to “fall down” from termite damage.

Termite Shelter Tube

The most common Termites in the Southern United States are the Subterranean Termites, Reticulitermes Sp.  and her more evil cousin Coptotermes formosanus.  Yes, I said her. As with most colony type insects the colony  members are almost all female or asexual. They do have a king and he mates for life with the queen. They travel everywhere outside the colony in a sheltered highway tunnel of mud. Even through the material they are consuming. They have soldiers for protection and they need it. Ants are the termites’ eternal enemy. If their was ever a good reason for  Fire Ants (Solenopsis Sp.) this may be it.

Well the good news is we have many options to manage termites and minimize damage to the structure. From conventional liquid methods to baits the technology is evolving for more efficient, environmentally responsible methods.  The key to minimizing damage is to be proactive and have the structure inspected occasionally by a professional who is licensed and insured. Then follow up on their recommendations if you have any conditions that are condusive to Termite infestations.

Well got to go! Another call, another swarm castle. Somedays my life is like herding cats.

Swarm Castle

The Real Reason To Study Entomology. Pt.2

My fishing devotion started on the Gulf coast of Texas with my Dad and Uncle Bob. These evil men would  wake me at what I thought of as an ungodly hour of 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning to drive to the bay after stopping to fill their thermos and pick up frozen shrimp. Then launch the boats and fly across the bay at light speed, in all conditions to drop the first lines over the oyster beds by first light. Later we would purchase live shrimp from the Shrimp boats working the bay, to go after Specs and Bull reds.

My love for fly fishing I will blame on two lovely ladies. My beautiful bride who one Christmas gave me a knockout graphite shafted rod and reel combo with a Bailey fly box full of imitations. I was the proverbial kid in the candy store.  The organization I was with at the time planned a trip in late spring down the Quadalupe River.  Tubing one afternoon with my kit I enticed a Rainbow to swallow my gnat fly. We were both hooked, him to be released, me on a journey.

The other lady is known as dorothea. She is known in Latin as Ephemerella dorothea. Most people call her the Mayfly.  She has captivated fishermen and fish for millenia. Her life is a classic ugly duckling story, however prey and preditor love her no matter what she looks like.  She abides most of her life at the bottom of the stream striving to survive and not become a meal for almost all her neighbors.

young dorothea pict

young dorothea pict

Then one perfect day, she rises to the surface and unfolds her wings to dry and flys to the nearest perch to bask in the sun and orient herself to her new surroundings. She don’t have long, she won’t even eat for her two days of life out of water. Find her partner, mate, return to the water surface and release her eggs to sink to the bottom of the stream, then allow the current to carry her as life fades.

dorothea pict

dorothea pict

The immitations of her carry more names than one can remember.  Floating one down in the middle of a rise is thrilling. Seeing it swallowed and the fight that follows is regenerative.  Brings back memories of men who were not really evil, now just saints. Miss those guys!!

dorothea stamp

dorothea stamp



The real reason to study Entomology. Part 1.

As with most Fly-fishermen and women I can be impatient at times.   I have been known to have many projects going at the same time.  Peace comes not from the catch, the completion of the project , or at Payday. Peace comes in preparing for the trip, the loading of the perfect cast, the discovery of the usually unseen during the inspection.

Ok, the feeling at the end of a morning walk through cold water waving a stick is mighty peaceful. And I admit sitting in front of a fire after the evening walk, sipping out my flask warming up is too. But the memories of the most severe critics in the world rising and taking without reservation your creation of wire, string and feathers is timeless.