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Preparing for the beetle battle and a profuse tick season

By John Fulton

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[May 27, 2008]  It has definitely been another unusual year weatherwise. Of course, I could really make a case for there really not being a "usual" weather pattern anymore, but rather an average of extremes. We are probably running a good two weeks behind normal in development and temperature.

We do have the first May-June beetles out for the year. These insects come from grubs in the lawn or garden.

This brings us to the first frequently asked question of the week: "When do I treat for grubs?"

To start with, there are several types of grubs. There are the annual white grubs, true white grubs, Japanese beetle grubs and green June bug grubs. There are others, and these are called by many names as well, but this will suffice for the discussion today.

All these beetles have larvae called grubs and have a complete life cycle. The cycle goes like this: egg, larva, pupa and adult.

I mentioned seeing the first adults of the season for the May beetle. I also found several Japanese beetle larvae while planting some flowers. The larvae of the Japanese beetles will be with us for a few more weeks before they pupate. Then, of course, the actual beetle stage follows the pupa.

What this really means is we are in a rotten time to try to treat the larval (grub) stage. The May beetles will have all the eggs hatched out by the end of July, and the Japanese beetle larvae will be around the third or fourth week of August.

The old timing (before the Japanese beetle) for grub control was around the Logan County Fair. This allowed all the eggs to hatch out into grubs before the treatment was applied. The grubs were also small at the time, and smaller grubs are easier to control than the large ones. Now, with the Japanese beetles covering most of the county, it is recommended to treat around the end of August to allow all those eggs to hatch.

Many products say they can be applied in the spring to control grubs all season, and they will when they first come on the market. Over time, microbes that break the chemicals down build up in population. When this happens, the products can no longer provide long periods of control. History is full of cases of insecticides no longer being effective because of microbial degradation. I'll cover the products available for application when the correct application timing draws near.

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It's another year of very high tick populations. Probably, the frequent spring rains in much of the state have provided the high moisture and humidity that ticks need.

Ticks are large, flattened mites that feed as parasites on mammals, birds and reptiles. They hatch from eggs into six-legged larvae that locate hosts and feed before dropping off the host and molting into eight-legged nymphs. Nymphs locate hosts, feed and drop off to molt into eight-legged adults. Adults also locate hosts on which to feed. Males may stay on the host, mating with females coming there to feed. Females engorge on blood to several times their original size, drop off the host and lay hundreds of eggs. With each tick having to find three hosts in its lifetime, many ticks starve before reproducing, although ticks can survive for long periods without food.

Ticks are numerous in areas of tall grass, where humidity is high and hosts common. Mowing greatly reduces tick numbers.

When walking or working in areas of tall grass or other areas with ticks, apply a repellent containing about 30 percent DEET, such as Off or Cutter, to the lower legs and pants legs. If ticks are numerous in mowed areas, spraying carbaryl, permethrin or bifenthrin should help give some control.

If a tick is attached, grasp the head with tweezers where the mouthparts enter the skin, pulling slowly and consistently. The tick will release its mouthparts and come loose. Do not handle the tick. Other methods such as heat and nail polish commonly kill the tick, resulting in locked mouthparts that remain in the wound to cause infection. A tick typically feeds for 24 hours before releasing disease organisms. Remove ticks promptly when you find them.

[By JOHN FULTON, University of Illinois Extension, Logan County]


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