Fire Ants Marching into Decline? Fire Ants Marching into Decline?

FORT MYERS, FL (News-Press) – U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists will be poking around for fire ants in Southwest Florida Wednesday, part of a study of the ant’s population across the state.

The statewide study comes on the heels of anecdotal evidence that suggests the aggressive ant species may be decreasing in numbers.

Sanford Porter, research entomologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Gainesville, said scientists will collect data on ants in Collier and Hendry counties today.

The sites to be checked were part of a study done 20 years ago, Porter said. There had been more sites then, he said, but many have been obliterated by roads that have been expanded.

“The situation is that we have seen things that make it look like there are changes in fire ant abundance,” Porter said.

Porter said it was too early to make any sort of determination about the ant.

Locally, Porter said scientists would have been here sooner, but dry weather made collecting difficult.

“When it is dry, the ants don’t build their nests high and you have to dig for them,” he said, noting collection in the spring is “easier on us and easier on the ants.”

Porter said scientists will spend the next few months gathering data, noting they want to find if any change is local or statewide.

Mobile, moving

The fire ant, which packs a wallop when it stings, has been a problem since it was accidentally brought to the U.S. between 1933 and 1945, according to records. The ants spread from Mobile, Ala., where they were first found, to almost every state in the South, from Texas to Maryland.

The ant swarms when its nest is disturbed; it has a painful sting that can cause allergic reactions in sensitive victims.

“We’ve had a lot of anecdotal reports and have ourselves noticed that the numbers are down,” said Robert K. Vander Meer, a chemist and research leader for the Imported Fire Ant and Household Insects Unit at the USDA’s Center for Medical, Agriculture and Veterinary Entomology in Gainesville. “But we haven’t proved it scientifically.”

Vander Meer said the study has produced information in Ocala. “We’ve seen some changes in population levels – much lower,” he said.

He said as the study progresses scientists will check areas where data exists and then compare the information to see how things have changed.

Additionally, Vander Meer and Porter said there has been preliminary evidence showing an increase in colonies with one queen instead of multiple queens. Multiple queen colonies are an indicator ants are thriving, they said.


Possibly helping cut ant numbers, Vander Meer said, is an even smaller critter, the phorid fly.

He said several species of the fly, about 1/64 to 1/4 inches in length, have been released in Florida, including Southwest Florida, and other states starting in 1997, he said. Two of the species have spread out and colonized the state.

Phil Stansly, entomology professor at a University of Florida research center in Immokalee, said he was part of the release of the flies in Immokalee about 10 years ago. While Stansly said he has no evidence of the decline and isn’t part of the study, he said scientists in Gainesville believe the flies are causing a decline in ant numbers.

The flies are known as decapitating flies. After a fly egg is laid in the ant’s head and hatches, the ensuing larva will eat the ant’s brain and eventually the ant’s head falls off.

Vander Meer said the flies were evaluated before use to ensure they would not harm existing species.

“The flies are a great example of biological control,” he said, noting more species of the fly will be released after further study.

Exterminators say …

Locally, three pest control companies – one part of a large chain and two family-run operations – are split on the evidence about the ants’ decline.

Lenny Volberg Sr. of Lenny’s Pest Control in Cape Coral, said his company has been doing more work for fire ant control lately.

“Fire ants just don’t go away,” he said. “With the warm weather we’ve had lately, they’ll be coming out soon.”

But Terry McLaughlin of McLaughlin’s Pest Control in Bonita Springs said he has noticed a decrease in fire ant activity.

“We have gotten fewer calls,” he said. McLaughlin said he assumed the decrease was in response to new, more effective chemicals in use.

Bill McDole, a spokesman for Truly Nolen Pest Control in Fort Myers, said while he doesn’t have evidence fire ant mounds are in decline here, there are better chemical controls now and fewer people are getting bit by the ant.

“There are new baits out there that allow the ants to bring them back to the nest to infect the queens,” he said. He said it is pretty easy to kill fire ants. “All you have to do is pour hot water on them.”

Pests and predators battle over native gumbo limbo

Pests and predators battle over native gumbo limbo

By Jeff Wasielewski

The sturdy and fast-growing native tree known as the gumbo limbo, Bursera simaruba, has succumbed to a tandem of pests that have combined to turn this once-beautiful tree into something belonging in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

The gumbo limbo was the first tree I ever wrote an entire article on and for as long as I have taught the class “South Florida’s Top 40 Plants,” the gumbo has sat proudly near the top of that list as a quick-growing, elegant native that could produce quick shade while beautifying one’s yard. When my daughter Samantha was born 11 years ago, I planted a tiny gumbo seedling in her honor. A gumbo that is now 35 feet tall and just as wide.

So you see, the gumbo limbo and I have a long history, and I can honestly say that looking at the state the gumbo is in across the suburban landscape of South Florida brings me great sorrow.

The gumbo’s troubles began about two years ago when the croton scale began feeding on the gumbo’s succulent stems and leaves. This pest did not do major damage to the tree, but as it fed, it dripped something called honeydew onto the leaves and branches below. A black fungus called sooty mold grows on this honeydew and it quickly covered not only the gumbo’s leaves, but its trunk as well. Sooty mold is not particular and will grow on other plants, cars, deck chairs and anything else that happens to have the unfortunate lot to reside under the feeding croton scale.

The croton scale did minor damage to my daughter’s tree and countless other gumbos across South Florida, but I fought any impulse to spray pesticides as I waited and held fast to my belief that natural predators would come and help in the fight against this messy pest.

My predator prayers were answered in the form of a voracious ladybug known as Azya orbigera. This natural predator feeds on croton scale when it is in the larvae stage. The larval stage looks like a tiny little dust mop and is often mistaken for a pest.

With the help of my newfound ladybug friend, the croton scale and the resulting sooty mold were under control and I felt the worst had passed.

I was wrong.

Soon a new pest blew into South Florida, and set its sights on not only my beloved gumbo limbo, but just about everything else. Enter the rugose whitefly. This new pest affects gumbo limbos, oaks, black olives, coconut palms and a host of other South Florida staples. It is rarely fatal, but does make a mess in the form of the aforementioned sooty mold.

The rugose whitefly is larger than most whiteflies and leaves a pattern of eggs on the underside of affected leaves. It likes gumbo limbos so much that its common name was originally the gumbo limbo spiraling whitefly.

Although the croton scale and the rugose whitefly are being held somewhat in check by predators, their combined effect on most gumbo limbos across town is devastating. Gumbos aren’t dying, but they do look horrible.

The gumbo is a widespread native tree in South Florida and is so durable that it has been planted in swales and parking lots as well as housing developments and backyards all across the tri-county area.

The combined visual effect of the sooty mold on the thousands of gumbos across South Florida is harsh: The trees appear to be burnt and blackened beyond recognition.

Has a once-proud native tree finally met its match?

Probably not, as there is a new and very small ladybug as well as a parasitic wasp that have begun to control the rugose whitefly. And don’t forget the croton scale is being fairly well controlled by the Azya orbigera ladybug.

Although the trees look terrible now, the fact that they are semi-deciduous means that they will soon put out new flushes of growth to replace the old leaves that continue to shed through spring.

What can you do if your tree is covered in sooty mold as a result of a pest? My advice is to try to create an environment that is attractive to predator insects that will help you control your pests.

This is accomplished by having a variety of plants in your yard and refraining from pesticide use. Pesticides, when used improperly, can end up making a pest situation worse as pesticides are often more efficient at killing the natural predators than the actual pest. Just think of it this way: A pest population will rebound from a toxic spray much quicker than a predator will simply because pests reproduce much more quickly than predators.

As for the state of gumbos across the South Florida landscape, the future should hold an upswing for this magnificent native, but for the present, please try to be patient as the natural predators slowly work their magic.

For more information about gardening in South Florida, visit

Jeff Wasielewski is the multimedia specialist at Fairchild, an expert in South Florida horticulture and a professor of horticulture at Miami Dade College.

Read more here:

Information on Lawn Pests

Information on Lawn Pests

AntsLooking for information on lawn pests in Florida? You have found the right place on the web! Most homeowners in Florida take pride in maintaining their gardens and landscapes. But healthy landscapes can bring certain Florida bugs, and these pests feed on plants and grass. Unless protective pest control measures are taken, various outdoor invaders can do extensive damage to your yard and garden.

Chinch bugs are seriously damaging to St Augustine and other turf grass species. They suck the plant juices through their needle-like beak and can also cause other internal injuries to the grass, which can result in yellowish and brown patches in lawns. These affected areas are frequently noticed first along concrete or asphalt-paved edges, or in water-stressed areas where the grass is growing in full sun.

Aphids and whitefly feed on vegetable plantings, ornamentals and tender plant parts such as grass shoots, sucking out essential fluids. Aphids and scale excrete a sweet substance known as honeydew that attracts ants and forms a sticky coating on leaves. The honeydew can form a fungus called “sooty mold,” which can make leaves, especially on ornamentals, look black and dirty. Aphids can also transmit plant viruses to their food plants, which can cause the plant to die. These pests, as well as chinch bugs, are particularly prevalent throughout the spring months.

Armyworms, sod webworms and grubworms eat the grass blades and shoots that make up healthy lawns, causing major damage to various kinds of turf grass. They are common during the fall months.

During fall and winter, mites and scale are common. Scale insects live in the soil and suck the juices from the grass roots of turf grass; they can also be harmful to ornamental plants. Symptoms attributed to scale insects include yellowing of the grass, followed by browning; scale damage becomes most noticeable when the grass is under stress due to drought, nutritional deficiencies and other afflictions. Ordinarily not a pest in well-managed lawns, mites are known to attack grasses. They suck the sap and cause leaves to appear blotched and stippled, and severe infestations can also kill plants.

Some of these pests are especially damaging since they are literally born and raised on lawn turf grass in the surrounding soil. Sod webworms eat various grasses as larvae and continue doing so as adults. Others, like mole crickets, destroy lawns by tunneling through the soil near the lawn’s surface, which loosens the soil so that the grass is often uprooted and dies due to the drying out of the root system. They also feed on grass roots, causing thinning of the turf, eventually resulting in bare soil. Mole crickets are common when the temperatures are the warmest and rainfall and humidity is high. They can also be found in and around your home in dark, damp places.

Slugsandsnails often move about on lawns and may injure adjacent plants. They are night feeders and leave mucous trails on plants and sidewalks. Plaster bagworms, close relatives of the clothes moth, are often found in sheds and garages.

Do you live in Florida and have a lawn pest problem in your landscape? Hulett Environmental Services offers custom designed lawn care treatments to control and prevent these pests!



Industry encourages public education and awareness about household pest dangers

Whether it’s rodents, ants, termites, bed bugs or cockroaches, pest professionals help people safeguard their health and homes from disease-carrying and property-destroying pests. This month, Hulett environmental is proud to observe National Pest Management Month, which is formally recognized each year by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).

The annual observance recognizes the pest management industry’s contribution to society in protecting food, health and property from the harm and destruction of household pests and the safe use of pest management products.

“Spring is the perfect time of year to commemorate National Pest Management Month and to remind the public to take time this season to make pest-proofing part of their spring rituals,” said Greg Rice, Marketing Director at Hulett Environmental. “As pests emerge from their overwintering spots, it is important to ensure homes aren’t vulnerable to infestations. If an infestation is found, homeowners should consult with a professional pest management company to evaluate the extent of the problem and recommend the best course of treatment.”

During National Pest Management Month, Hulett Environmental is also reminding people to be aware of the most common household pests plaguing homeowners this season. To help, here are some interesting facts from the National Pest Management Association about these frequent home invaders:

Termites: Termites feed on the cellulose found in wood and paper products and cause more than $5 billion in property damage every year. With termite season upon us, homeowners should be on the lookout for swarmers (winged termites), which serve as a warning that a colony may have already settled inside.

Ants: Ants are the number one nuisance pest in the U.S. and are among the most difficult to control. According to a new NPMA survey of pest professionals, spring and summer are the busiest seasons for ant-related service calls. Ant infestations are most common in office buildings, restaurants, apartments and condos and single-family homes

Spiders: While spiders tend to elicit fear in many people, only a few pose serious health threats to humans. For example, both the brown recluse and black widow spiders can cause painful bites that are especially dangerous for children and the elderly, sometimes causing gaping wounds and fatal reactions.

Bed Bugs: Bed bugs continue to plague Americans as they infest hotels, schools college dorms, residences and other places where people gather. A 2011 survey, conducted by NPMA and the University of Kentucky found that 99 percent of pest professionals had encountered bed bugs in the past year; a number that has steadily risen over a 10-year period.

For more information about these and other pests, please visit


A closer Look at German Cockroaches

The German cockroach is by far the most important and usually the most common of the cockroaches. In addition to being a nuisance, the German cockroach has been implicated in outbreaks of illness and allergic reactions in many people. This species has worldwide distribution.


German cockroaches can be found throughout structures but show a preference for warm and humid places. They are usually found in kitchens and secondarily in bathrooms, but infestations often occur in rooms where people eat and drink


German cockroaches prefer to live in cracks and crevices near food sources and spend 75% of their time in such harborages. German cockroaches prefer to live close to sources of food and water, hence their affinity for residential and commercial kitchen environments.


Cockroaches have been reported to spread at least 33 kinds of bacteria, six kinds of parasitic worms, and at least seven other kinds of human pathogens. They can pick up germs on the spines of their legs and bodies as they crawl through decaying matter or sewage and then carry these into food or onto food surfaces. Germs that cockroaches eat from decaying matter or sewage are protected while in their bodies and may remain infective for several weeks longer than if they had been exposed to cleaning agents, rinse water, or just sunlight and air. Medical studies have shown that cockroach allergens cause lots of allergic reactions, especially in children. They were even shown t cause asthma in children. These allergens build up in deposits of droppings, secretions, cast skins, and dead bodies of roaches.