The Southern Home Bestuary: Living with our critter friends and enimies.

17-year cicadas: Red eyed and noisy
May 16, 2011, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
Numerous                                                    Noisy                                                    Ignore

The 17-year cicada showing its distinctive red eyes.

  From the Piedmont of Virginia through the Carolinas into Georgia and on west to Arkansas,  Brood 19 of the 17-year cicadas are emerging by the millions for their brief above-ground stay. For about two weeks they sing their “hearts” out.  Actually they do not sing with their hearts, but once the southern woods warm up they put out an almost mechanical-sounding buzz,  like a piece of heavy machinery,  that can reach a noise level of 100 decibel. Seldom does only one sing. More often  it is thousands of them that get cranked up in their enthusiastic efforts to attract a willing mate. The numbers of these insects can be staggering, with up to 1.5 million per acre.

17-year cicadas with 25-cent coin for scale.

 They emerge, climb a vertical surface and then molt. Initially they are  ghostly white but ultimately harden into darker brown and yellow hews. The distinctive red eyes distinguish these from the common, or annual, cicadas. They may feed extensively enough to damage young shrubs, but mature trees are almost always able to withstand even heavy feeding without damage.

 Wild turkey’s enthusiastically feed on this bounty of free crunchy protein, as do many small mammals. Although big and noisy, their mouth parts are not suitable for biting. The enormous numbers of them insure that a sufficient number will survive to bring on the next brood.    

  Once mating takes place, eggs are laid, pupate and then fall to the ground where they spend the next 16 years about a foot below ground feeding from juices extracted from plant roots.

2010 in review
January 3, 2011, 7:40 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 6,500 times in 2010. That’s about 16 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 5 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 17 posts. There were 9 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 8th with 76 views. The most popular post that day was Dung Beetles.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for black little bugs in the bed, red wasps, red wasp, tiny brown bugs in house, and toads and frogs.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Dung Beetles June 2009


The Mystery of the Black Dots September 2009
1 comment


Looking for Love May 2009


Wisteria, Purple and White Death April 2010


Red wasps in the eaves August 2009

Carpenter Ants – Big Black Indicator Species
August 24, 2010, 9:30 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
Carpenter Ants
Common in                                    indicator species                                Seal home
 old tree cavities                          for house damage                               replace wood

Carpenter ants and their nesting cavity exposed in a cut, fallen limb

  Carpenter ants are large, black,  scary looking; but are more valuable as an indicator of water damaged wood inside houses than they are trouble. These ants live and forage outside and will most frequently be seen on and around old trees. Although they can bite, they are not aggressive towards man as are other ant species such as the fire ant.

This small hole in a pecan limb provided entry to a nest containing hundreds of carpenter ants.

  In any southern environment where there are mature trees, there will be sufficient cavities to support a thriving population of carpenter ants. However, when these ants start being spotted indoors or going into structures, this means that there is wet wood where they are nesting.  By the time ants appear, termites have also usually been active for some time. Very often this means that structural damage has already been done by termites and treatment and wood replacement will be necessary.

  One carpenter ant spotted inside a house is not a particular cause of alarm; but when these start to be seen regularly inside a house or apparently going in and out, immediate corrective actions need to be taken.

Spiders, Friends and Allies – Mostly
July 8, 2010, 12:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Spiders                                 Transplant when must                                   Largely ignore 

Common Garden Spider


  Spiders have an adverse psychological impact on many people. With the exception of two species in the Southeastern U.S., they represent no real danger; although all spiders kill with venom which can sometimes cause septic wounds in people and occasionally be deadly. One thing that spiders know very well is their typical prey, whether they catch it in webs or stalk it like wolf spiders. Humans are too big for spiders to consume and , unless they feel a need to defend themselves, they will save their venom for something they can eat.  More people are likely injured attempting to escape from harmless spiders than are bitten by them. 

  A systematic count of species in and around Whitehall  would likely turn up more than 20 varieties. The largest is the common garden spider shown in the photo. This is an exterior web-spinning spider. Once it finds a spot where it can catch insects it will tend to stay in that area all Summer. The individual shown is about 2-inches long. They will increase body size during the summer, but not grow significantly in over-all length.  The largest North American spiders are the tarantulas which are native to the Desert Southwest and are seen in Georgia only in pet stores. 

  Even the largest spiders will only bite man when provoked. I do have to be careful of black widow spiders when working near wood piles, inside sheds where there may be piles of old boxes, or even under the house. If I disturb their homes, spiders will sometimes bite. I can’t say that they make a direct link between me and their environment  being moved around; but a bite can result.  These bites can make an adult  ill, and a few people who are susceptible may even die from a black widow’s bite, although this is an unusual event. I have never been bitten. 

  Many insects bite, and spiders often get the blame for unexplained bites caused by bed bugs or other pests. When webs in the corners of the ceiling get too big, I sweep them down. Mostly  I let spiders “do their thing” and hunt some of the household insects. I will occasionally rescue a spider who gets trapped in a tub or sink. The way to do this is to fold up a cone of paper,  let it scoot inside, close the cone and release it outside.  They are too fragile to attempt to pick up by the legs. 

  After nightfall on a Summer evening, take a flashlight and walk down a section of  mowed trail through a pasture or woods. sparkling back at you will be hundreds of dots of light glowing back at you.  In my yard these will often be sapphire blue providing an unusual contrast with the flashing yellow-white fire flies as Nature provides its own version of fireworks.

Mid-Summer Mice with Beetle Co-Stars
July 8, 2010, 11:39 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


Common house mouse apparently provides food for household beetles.

 Mice                                                       Remove                                                              Trap

 Populations of mice can grow to considerable numbers in old houses. I had been hearing mice in the false ceiling of my bedroom and started setting out traps. A dozen mice and two months later, I am still catching them. When I seem to catch them out of an area I move the traps and try there. I recently had Whitehall re-roofed, and I suspect the pounding and traffic displaced mice from the attic to the lower floors.

  As I reduce the population of mice, I find that I also reduce the numbers of small black beetles that I find on my bed and on  other surfaces in the house. Apparently there is a “cycle of life” going on here with the mice commonly feeding on other insects, and maybe the beetles too, and the beetles feeding on the mice’s droppings.

  A partial solution to solving a beetle infestation in your house is to aggressively trap mice and other rodents. This method of population control needs to be continued for a period of months to have a notable impact. My dogs help reduce the rodent population near the house by catching occasional squirrels and wood rats. They enjoy the work, but dig up the yard in the process as they also go after moles and chipmunks. The last two cause me no particular problems in the house; but any small rodent is considered “fair game” for hound dogs.   

 Employing the services of a good mouse-catching cat would also be an option; although at the expense of the local bird populations as collateral damage.

  It appears that very few things  are either all good or all bad. Adverse consequences will oftentimes arise from well-intended acts. The alternatives are to do nothing, or take measured risks with the expectation that the beneficial impact will be better than doing nothing.  All life is a measure of risk taking.

Wisteria, Purple and White Death
April 8, 2010, 9:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

 Wisteria vine                              invasive                                    eradicate

Old home site completely overgrown with several acres of wisteria-choked trees and brush.

   One sure way to locate old home sites in the South is to look for escaped and invasive purple globular clusters of wisteria blossoms hanging from the trees. This vine was brought in as an ornimental plant from China by the mid-1800s and has been planted around homes every since.

Purple death on pine tree.

  The blossoms come on in profusion for a few days in the Spring (early April in my part of GA), and then the vines proceed to take over homes, forest, lawns and anything else that they can climb on. They kill trees by choking them to death as they wind around the trunks and also make them more likely to lose limbs during winter storms because of the added ice and snow that clings to vines.

  Although the purple variety from China already had a very stong start, a white variety from Japan is also grown. This  has also gotten out of control, but the older variety is more common. It is not that we did not already have enough viney things in the Southeast with briers, honeysuckle (another import), kudzu (another import), blackberry vines and a host of others. Oh, I nearly forgot about poison oak and ivy. We have them too.

  Burning, poisoning, chopping and mowing will control its spread, but nothing but relentless hand pulling over a period of years will keep even a small piece of ground clear of the pesky plant.

Plant wisteria as an isolated tree in mid-lawn and be relentless about prunning limbs and roots.

  If you must plant it, plant it as an isolated bush in a clear patch of yard and trim it relentlessly. When you feel that you can no longer tend the plant properly, have it killed. Even so, it will take a couple of seasons follow-up to insure that you were successful.

  We have this plant now, but need no more of it.

“Lady Bugs” Not So Ladylike
March 13, 2010, 11:09 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Harmless, but smelly               Exclude                         Vacuum

Coming in through any opening these Lady Bug-like bettles overwinter in houses throughout the South.

  With a range that has expanded throughout the Southern States from Georgia to Oklahoma, the Formosan beetle, a Lady Bug look-alike, has been relentlessly invading homes in rural and forested areas.

  These beetles move inside with us, like wasp, and overwinter in clusters. They are most visible in the Fall when they come in and in the Spring when attempt to find their way out. Unlike the domestic Lady Bug, these beetles bite. They are not aggressive, but if handled (or rolled over on in bed) they will take a pinch. The bites are not dangerous, and I have never known one to draw blood; although I suppose that this could happen with individuals who are on blood thinners.

  Control measures are primarily exclusion by calking up holes around windows and doors and by relentlessly vacuuming them up when they come inside. You will never get them all, but you can temporally reduce their numbers.

  If you crush them they will stink and this smell may linger for days. While perhaps satisfying to stomp a few, vacuuming is the best method. 

  These bugs do have helpful biological function in that they feed on plant pests, like aphids. These invasive insects are now part of America’s permanent insect population, wanted or not. As creatures they are somewhat interesting in that each one has a unique arrangement of spots and a slightly different color. Most of us would think better of them if they were not so “friendly” and stayed outdoors.

The Mystery of the Black Dots
September 24, 2009, 7:33 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Small flesh-eating beetles        Harmless          These too will pass  

 As a child I slept with my toys and pets, as a man I slept with my wife now, as an aging widower, I prefer to sleep alone. In recent weeks I found that I had new bed partners in the way of black elongate dots that appeared to be fecal pellets from something being dropped from my fiberboard false ceiling.


Flesh-eating beetles on a marble top - about one per square inch.

Flesh-eating beetles on a marble top - about one per square inch.

 Closer inspection with a 10-power hand lense revealed that these were actually small brown beetles. A call to Clemson University’s  “Bug Guys” elicited the opinion that these were likely members of a large group of undistinguished small beetles that were food specific. Among these were cigarette beetles, those that fed on fur and others that were carrion feeders. They postulated that I had a dried dead rat somewhere, and the insects were feeding and raising their young on it.

  As readers of previous posts will recall, I did have a problem with wood rats; and one had apparently died in the walls of the house or in the false ceiling. I had the ceiling panels taken down and that area cleaned. No rat was found. I used another “bug bomb,” and hoped for the best.

 No luck. I have still have them, but in fewer numbers. Ultimately they will exhaust their food supply and, having accomplished their biological function, will die out.  As they eat only dead flesh, I have no fear of being eaten alive in my bed, although this would make an interesting plot for a short story.

  The moral here is to always make your bed. You never know what may crawl, or fly, between the sheets with you.

Ticks, common, sometimes deadly, parasites
September 6, 2009, 9:10 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ticks & Fleas   Obnoxious, sometimes deadly     Repell       Exclude      Remove

  Blood-sucking parasites are not among most people’s favorite creatures. Ticks are considered frequently considered so disgusting that they are not

A few of thousands of ticks on an African Cape Buffalo.

A few of thousands of ticks on an African Cape Buffalo.

 mentioned in “polite society,” as if ignoring them would make them go away. This is unfortunately not so.

 The Southern woods are filled with ticks and every woodland animal will host them. Some ticks are specific to a group of animals, but some species will try us out too. This is where the problem lies because viruses carried on the tick’s mouth parts can infect us. The “star” tick, for example, is the vector for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. and deer ticks carry Lyme Disease.

  Sometimes dangerous bites can be administered by tiny “seed” ticks that are about the size of a grain of sand. Once, on an African hunt, I was covered by hundreds of them. In Georgia a friend, who was a surveyor, died as a result of massive number of bites. I know of others who have had long debilitating diseases of the muscular and nervous systems from tick bites.

 I have had African Tick Fever which was promptly treated with a powerful antibiotic. This particular tick nailed me under the watch band. Lyme disease is transferred by deer ticks. As I commonly hunt and skin deer I wear clothing that has ankle ties and frequently wash and inspect myself. Very often I can feel the larger ones crawling on my skin and remove them.

 DEET containing repellents work and are a general preventative. Mechanically removing them from your dogs will also make them more comfortable. I drop the ticks into a rubbing alcohol-water solution. For those on me, I usually use a knife blade and pressing the tick against the blade slowly pull until it releases. I then disinfect the bite site with alcohol. If the bite area does not quickly heal, it is prudent to consult a physician and get started on antibiotics. Most tick diseases are relatively easy to treat at the outset, but may be very difficult to treat once neurological or other symptoms develop.

Fleas on dogs, cats and us
August 24, 2009, 7:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Fleas                                   Obnoxious                               Control populations

 The common black dog flea is not only causes my dogs to be

"I got fleas. You got fleas. All God's chillen got fleas," Persiphone.

"I got fleas. You got fleas. All God's chillen got fleas," Persiphone.

miserable throughout much of the summer months, but are particularly troublesome when they move inside. One obvious solution is to not let dogs into the house, but I will have my dogs in with me, fleas or not. We battle these things together.

 The most effective thing to use inside a house is a canned flea spray designed for area treatment. There are room foggers, but this puts the poison on all surfaces and much is waisted because the fleas only live in the carpet and near floor areas.  It also helps to vacuum prior to spraying and twice a week during the summer. All interior dog beddings are washed once a week.

 Outside fleas hide in dry soils and grasses and jump onto the dogs, and people, as they walk by. A good test is to go outside wearing a set of light colored trousers and do an inventory on the numbers of fleas you have sticking to the lower parts of your trousers. Outside areas can be sprayed by any pest-control firm, but there must also be a simultaneous treatment of both the house and the dogs.

 My hounds, actually mixed-breed Labs, do not much enjoy their treatments with “eu de flea spray.”  As I apply it I comb it through their fur which increases the probability of it contacting, and killing, any adult fleas.  After an initial treatment, it is usually necessary during the summer months to repeat the interior, exterior  and dog treatment cycle again in about two weeks.

 Topically applied anti-flea preparationsthat are applied about every 30 days ( they  last only about 20-days on my dogs)  help, but they can be overwhelmed if the in-house and outside flea populations are high. If your pet commonly has blood-red granular “dirt” (actually dried blood)  next to the skin, the fleas are there and breeding on him.   

 Spraying or bathing the dogs, by itself, gives them temporary releaf; but they quickly pick up another population of fleas the instant they go outside.

 To reduce the number of flea bites on you, the best preventative is to always wear socks. An easy way to trap fleas is to take a piece of strapping tape, stick them on it and then fold it over. Fleas are strong. They will often escape if not stuck on both sides.