Carpenter Bees and Your House

Anyone on the east coast of the US has probably seen them. They are big, slow flying, hairy bees that are a major pollinator of open faced flowers and like to live in wood. Sometimes that wood is in trees or shrubs, but sometimes it can be in the wood in your house.

Carpenter or “wood boring” bees are considered solitary bees and live in tunnels they drill in wood. Many times they or their progeny return to the same place and live in the same holes year after year.

Certain times of the year, especially in the spring, you can see these giant bees slowly flying around your house or hanging around, almost hovering motionless around your eaves. These are generally the male carpenter bee and they are protecting the entrance hole to where their mate lives.

Male bees will sometimes buzz you, but they don’t have any stingers, so though it seems scary, they are pretty harmless. The female bees, which are the ones that do the real damage, do have stingers; but they are not very aggressive and generally more interested in foraging for food. They will generally only sting if really provoked.

Although carpenter bees are solitary bees, they are gregarious and like to live near one another. The damage they do is to make nests by tunneling into wood. They do this by rasping their mandibles (mouth parts) against the wood and then vibrating their bodies. They can drill nearly perfect circular holes in a beam or facia board that is about the diameter of your little finger. This tunnel serves as a nursery for their young as well as a storehouse of pollen for them to eat.
A good way to spot if you have carpenter bees is to look for the “spray” or grayish to black drip-like discoloration that fans out on the shingles or siding below where the bee hole is located.

Although you can eliminate these bees yourself, it is a tedious job. One way is to squirt insecticide or boraic acid into each of the individual holes and then fill them with caulking compound and then repaint the wood. If the infestation is bad enough the wood might have to be replaced.

In the case of carpenter bees or any other wood destroying insect, it is always best to call a professional so that you can be sure that the job is done right.

Raccoons and Rabies: What is the Danger?

Rabies is regarded by most of us as a very scary disease that makes you crazy, makes you foam at the mouth, and then kills you. Raccoons have a bad reputation for being carriers of rabies. Although there is no doubt that raccoons, like people, can get rabies, they are not necessarily more susceptible to it than your dog. If a raccoon, or any animal for that matter get rabies (except humans that can receive shots to prevent the disease from taking its ultimate course) it will die.

Rabies is a virus. It can only be transferred from one mammal to another during a very short contagious stage when the animal is close to death. You can detect an animal with rabies if you see it acting very aggressively for no reason, acting confused and walking in circles, possibly dragging its legs partially paralyzed, or foaming at the mouth. It is in the animal’s saliva by which rabies is most frequently transferred.

Just because you see a raccoon walking around in the daytime does not mean it is rabid, unless it is showing these other symptoms. It is probably just hungry or can’t sleep. If an animal looks and is acting healthy, then it probably is.

In terms of being able to get rabies from a raccoon, that is pretty rare and there have been only less than a handful of reported cases in which raccoons have given rabies to humans. Rabies is most often reported in raccoons, as opposed to skunks, foxes, groundhogs, and bats which also are susceptible, because raccoons are more likely to live close to humans. So we tend to see them more than other wild animals. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rats, and rabbits can sometimes get rabies, but this is not very common and there are no reported cases where these animals have transmitted the disease to humans.

Urban Living: Keeping the Critters Out

Living in the city one doesnt expect to see much wildlife. However, there are some wild things that like living there just as much as we do. That is primarily because humans are a relatively messy people. In the city, there is always plenty of trash and garbage lying around to feed a robust population of rodents and other small mammals. We also like to have a lot of tasty plants with berries and other ornamental attributes on them, which can provide food and shelter for small animals. Ways you can help to minimize the rat, rodent, skunk, opossum, or raccoon populations around where you live are:

1. Check around where you live and clean up all garbage, paper, food, and berries or fruit on the ground. Then walk around and check to be sure you didnt miss anything.

2. Put your garbage in metal garbage cans with lids that stay tight and that are attached.

3. Put heavy weights on the garbage can lids to prevent raccoons or other animals from being able to pry them open.

4. Wash out your garbage cans at least once every couple of weeks to keep them from smelling.

5. Don’t allow any standing water on your property for mosquitoes to breed in or for undesirable animals to drink.

6. If you have a garage, store your trash cans in there as opposed to outside where animals can get at them.

7. When you throw away meat or other tempting food, put some bleach or strong smelling cleaner in the bag before you heave it in the garbage can.

8. Make sure any birdseed or bird feeders are out of the reach of squirrels, raccoons, rats, or other seed eating animals.

Yellow Jackets – Know Your Enemy

Anyone who has ever picnicked in the park has experienced the dive-bombing and swarming of yellow jackets. Yellow jackets are aggressive predatory wasps that have yellow and black or black and white striped bodies and are about the same size as a bee, but skinnier and less hairy looking.

Like bees, yellow jackets are social insects that live in colonies, but a lot smaller than the ones bees live in. Like bees, yellow jackets carry a nasty stinger, but because it is not barbed, they can sting repeatedly while a bee can only sting once. Although annoying at your picnic as they buzz your ham sandwich and potato salad, they are in fact beneficial insects because they prey on other insects.

Yellow jackets eat a number of things. They can capture and chew up insects (or your lunch meat), but they also have a long proboscis for sucking nectar, fruit, and other juices. Yellow jacket nests are generally found in trees or shrubs where they are in a protected environment. They can also be found in human structures such as attics, hollow walls, inside flooring, in sheds, or under porches or house eaves. Some even live in abandoned mouse burrows or in cavities in the soil. Their nests are made from chewed up wood fiber.

In the spring, adults feed on things rich in sugar, but their larva feed on protein, which the adults find, chew, and condition to feed their young. The young produce a sugar the adults relish. In late summer as larva mature, worker yellow jackets change their food preference from meats to sweets as the young stop producing sweet treats for the adults that feed them.

If you find a yellow jacket nest near your house, it is best to get rid of it so you or anyone else or your pets don’t mistakenly aggravate them and get stung. Because these insects are aggressive and can sting repeatedly, it is best to call a professional to clear the nest away.

The Mystery of the Vanishing Honey Bees Solved

Not all bugs are bad. Some, in fact, are essential to our well being on the planet. One of these is the honey bee, which pollinates tens of billions of dollars worth of crops across the US. Without these insects we would have no oranges, almonds, and many of the other fruits, nuts, and vegetables we eat every day, not to mention a lot of flowers that help to beautify our homes and gardens.

Only a few years ago, something ominous started happening. Honey bees would leave their hives to gather pollen and then never return, leaving the other adult bees and queen so starve to death. Bee keepers who would transport their bees around to different orchards to pollinate the trees were finding that a within a relatively short period many of their hives, sometimes up to 70% of them in a single season, were being abandoned. No one knew why.

Some speculated that cell phones or magnetic fields were mucking with the bees’ ability to navigate and that they would get lost trying to make it back to their hives from the flowers. Thanks to molecular biologists and geneticists, we now know that the cause of this devastating crash in the honey bee population is due to a virus.

Scientists found this out by comparing the bee genome (the arrangement of genes in honey bee DNA) of disappearing bee populations with those that were not having the problem. Turns out that the bee populations being compromised were infected with a virus that was first found in bee colonies in Israel in 2002. It is a close, probably mutated, version of the Kashmir bee virus.

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