Category Archives: Gardening

Alternative lawn signs for Mosquito Shield

Mosquito Shield is just one of dozens of companies that spray pyrethroids to kill mosquitoes. Homeowners typically pay $800 per summer for treatments spaced every 21 days and, as part of the deal, agree to feature a sign in their yard for the season.

Two types of people have these yard signs. The main category is homeowners who fully understand that pesticides have bad environmental effects but who simply don’t care. These are likely the same people who knowingly drive with their high beams on at night (“It’s safer for ME!”). And then there are people who were duped by the pesticide companies into believing pyrethroids kill only mosquitoes.

To better reach this second type of person as well as those who are interested in mosquito sprays but are still on the fence, I’ve fabricated six signs that highlight the fact that pyrethroids kill other animals:

All the signs are fairly self-explanatory except for perhaps the Bird Shield one. Pyrethroids don’t kill birds directly but many species depend on insects and spiders to feed themselves and their young. So when you hire Mosquito Shield to nuke your yard every three weeks you are reducing the numbers of birds that can survive in an area.

I realize that none of the above signs is going to be used by an actual pesticide company. Their business model is to obfuscate about the effects of pyrethroids. Indeed, most companies try to hide the fact that their mosquito sprays even contain pesticides. That’s why the government (federal and/or state) should require companies to clearly indicate the active ingredient of the spray. Here’s how it could (should) look, thus allowing curious neighbors to Google the chemical and be horrified.

Pyrethroid sign for Mosquito Shield

If you are an influential part of a local government, please consider enacting an ordinance that requires disclosure of the pesticide name on signs.

If you need an individual sign for your a presentation, here are some image files: fireflies, butterflies, bees, spiders, fish, birds.

Please share this page on your neighborhood social media to get the word out. These companies are spreading in popularity and it’s horrifying.

More details here.

Identifying mantid egg cases in Pennsylvania

There is one native and three introduced mantid species where I live in Pennsylvania (Delaware County), and I’m trying to get the word out that the invasive ones should be killed when found. This post has photographs of the oothecae along with some brief comments about what makes each species distinctive. At the end of the post I have suggestions on how to put the invasive oothecae to good use.

Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina)

Carolina mantids (the only native species in my area) form relatively smooth, teardrop-shaped oothecae with a central portion that is lightly colored. Often found on tree trunks, rocks, and buildings.

Egg case of Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina)

Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensis)

Chinese mantid oothecae are typically round (or roundish) roughly textured, and uniform in color. Introduced from Asia, as you probably guessed.

Egg case of Chinese mantid (Tenodera sinensis)

Narrow-winged mantid (Tenodera angustipennis)

Narrow-winged mantid oothecae are usually rather elongate. They are also seem to have red streaks, though the color seems to be most noticeable after they age a few months. Introduced from Asia, too.

Egg case of narrow-winged mantid (Tenodera angustipennis)

European mantis (Mantis religiosa)

I’ve never encountered a European mantis ootheca, so here’s a photograph by Hans Hillewaert (via Wikipedia):

By © Hans Hillewaert, CC BY-SA 4.0

Another common name for the European mantis is praying mantis (not preying mantis).

More ID help

If you need help identifying an ootheca, I highly recommend posting a photograph on iNaturalist. If you post there, feel free to include my iNaturalist username (@colinpurrington) in your caption so that I can have a look. Not only will you get an answer from the iNaturalist community within a day or two, your submission helps scientists track the spread of invasive species.

For an excellent overview of all of these species, please see the Cape May Wildlife Guide’s page on mantids.

What should you do with the non-native oothecae?

Invasive mantids eat butterflies, native bees, honey bees, small birds, and also the native mantid, so when you find egg cases, dispose of them. Here are some suggestions on how to do that:

  • Give them to local bird rehabilitation centers — if local bird rehabilitation center doesn’t know what you’re talking about, inform them that insectivorous birds absolutely adore frozen mantid hatchlings.
  • Give them to a neighbor who has chickens.
  • Give them to a neighbor who has a pet tarantula, snake, lizard, or fish.
  • Put them in a freezer for a week.
  • Step on them.

But whatever you do, do not just relocate oothecae to some nearby field — that just transfers the problem to someplace where you can’t see the problem. I.e., even though you might pride yourself as being a gentle soul that wouldn’t kill a fly, releasing invasive predators will result in monarch butterflies being eaten alive. Don’t be that person. If you simply cannot bring yourself to kill the eggs, ask somebody to help you do the right thing.

But aren’t mantids great for pest control?

Many people (I include myself) grew up being told by highly-educated, seemingly trustworthy adults that mantids are ideal for providing chemical-free pest control in the garden. That view, it turns out, is a myth. Although it’s true that young mantids consume small, pestiferous insects, when mantids are fully grown they tend to camp out on flowers and wait for large butterflies (and even birds). I.e., when a mantid is fully grown it will not even look at an aphid. Mantids are, of course, excellent for controlling butterflies and hummingbirds, just in case you happen to hate those animals.

Some people even believe that mantids can control ticks. They don’t. They are equally ineffective at controlling mosquitoes.

Miniature mason bee hotel

Just a pic of the latest mason bee hotel I made, this one for my sister. It’s heavy, but designed to slide into a medium USPS flat rate box. Sides are cedar, top is exterior-grade plywood sprayed with a preservative. Blocks are made from old dimensional lumber (circa 1906), with 5/16″ holes that are 6″ deep. Block unit is removable so that pupae can be protected from parasites, birds, and weather once all the holes are sealed. Next spring, new blocks will be popped in while the current blocks are set outside (inside a box that has a small escape hole) to release their occupants.

Bees are going to begin their activities in the next couple of weeks, so build yours ASAP or buy online. Situate the hotel near a window so you have something to watch while you sip coffee in the morning. They make great gifts, especially if recipient has a garden, fruit trees, or blueberries.

For details and links on building mason bee houses, please see my earlier post. If you already have one and own a nice camera, please post photographs of residents on iNaturalist, then add to my Bee and Wasp Hotels project. There are multiple species of mason bees, plus you’ll get leafcutter bees, and nest-provisioning wasps. All of these residents will, of course, attract parasites such as cuckoo wasps.

For an excellent introduction to mason bees, I highly recommend “Mason bees: fun and friendly” and “It’s mason bee season!” by Marten Edwards (who was in my chemistry class at Reed College).