Creature Feature

Captain Stan’s ‘Creature Features’ Volume 7 – Cluster Flies November 2022

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Welcome to the seventh edition of ‘Captain Stan’s Creature Features,’ where we are looking at some of the more interesting animals in the pest management universe.  This month, we learn about the cluster fly, one of our so-called ‘fall invaders.’  Some interesting facts follow:

  • During cool months, some insects seek to enter structures for temporary shelter.  The most common of the flies that do this are known as cluster flies.
  • Cluster flies are often problematic in areas of irrigated turfgrass, near streams or rivers, and other sites where soils are moist.
  • Cluster flies are dull grayish-brown and about 3/8 to ½ inch long, which is slightly larger than the house fly.  They can be distinguished from similar flies by the golden, tangled hairs on the thorax (the body region right behind the head).
  • Cluster flies are not a type of ‘filth fly’ that develop in carrion, decaying plant matter, or garbage.  Instead, the larvae of most cluster flies in North America feed on earthworms, of all things!  Yummy!  They find an earthworm, penetrate the body, and the resultant feeding kills the earthworm.  Adult flies feed on water and other available liquids, such as nectar.
  • As cooler, shorter days approach, cluster flies (and other fall invaders) can be seen resting on sun-warmed (mainly south and west) walls of buildings.  They will then make use of any available entry sites to go in the structure.  
  • Once in the structure, the flies will cease reproduction, slow down their metabolism, and enter a dormant period.  They will remain in this inactive state but may become active during the occasional warm, sunny day.  At this point, they may wander into living areas and become a nuisance.  
  • The basic premise, and the really only effective method to prevent cluster fly problems is exclusion; exclusion BEFORE they enter the structure.  If all potential entry points are not sealed, it is next to impossible to control cluster flies inside a structure.
  • The value of insecticides in managing cluster fly problems is limited and involves two primary uses.  Residual insecticides can be applied as sprays targeted to cracks and crevices on the building exterior in late summer.  Be sure that the label allows for such applications.  Desiccants/dusts can also be injected into voids or other areas behind walls where cluster flies aggregate.
  • Cluster flies are not attracted to things such as fly paper or traps with lures.  However, they are attracted to certain types of light traps placed strategically within structures or in living areas where cluster flies are seen.  Finally, simply vacuuming the flies is also effective.  

Captain Stan’s ‘Creature Features’ Volume 6 – Velvet Ants (AKA ‘Cow Killer’) September 2022

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Welcome to Volume 6 of my ‘Creature Features’.  This month we spotlight an insect that is attractive, dangerous, and misnamed – the velvet ant.  Misnamed you say?  Hmmm.  Read on and find out why in the following interesting facts.

  • Insect Order: Hymenoptera = ‘Membrane-Winged’ Family – Mutillidae
  • Velvet ants look like large, hairy ants but they are actually wasps. Yup!  So, why do we call them ‘ants’, you ask?  I have no idea.  They are also known as ‘cow killers’. They differ from ants by having straight rather than elbowed antennae and there is only a slight constriction between the thorax and abdomen.
  • Males have two pairs of black, transparent wings while the females are wingless. Velvet ants are brightly colored, hence attracting attention, and are shades of yellow and brown or red and black.
  • These solitary ants may be seen in lawns and pastures, or on occasion will wander into buildings and believe me, they will get the attention of a homeowner (and potential customer!)
  • Velvet ants are not aggressive and will try to escape any encounter. Females have a long, needle-like stinger concealed at the tip of the abdomen and they can deliver a very painful sting if handled (in other words, leave them alone!)
  • There are about 3,000 known species of velvet ants and some of them can produce a squeaking or chirping sound when disturbed.
  • The so-called ‘cow killer’ velvet ant is nearly an inch in length and is most common in late summer. This moniker is a result of the reputation surrounding the female’s sting.
  • Adult velvet ants feed on nectar and water. The immature stages are external parasites of bees and wasps (also in the order Hymenoptera) that nest in the ground.  Some species parasitize flies and beetles.
  • Unlike fire ants, there are no identifiable nests to treat. Velvet ants prefer pastures and fields with sandy soil, where their prey is likely to be found.

There are no effective control measures for velvet ants.  If they are abundant in a particular area, it may be useful to grow a good grass cover, which will discourage their prey from nesting there.  Finally, because velvet ants are uncommon and cause no damage, no chemical control is recommended.



Captain Stan’s ‘Creature Features’ Volume 5 – Captain Stan Himself!! August 2022

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Welcome to Volume 5 of my ‘Creature Features’.  Last month, I shared our piece on the Asian longhorned tick with my daughter.  She replied ‘they should do one on you’!  I thought, well, I am a ‘creature’ of sorts and maybe, just maybe, readers would like to know  a bit more about CAPT Stan.  So, at the risk of seeming self-centered, here goes:

  • I was born and raised in Huntington, Indiana and am the ‘baby’ of four children.
  • Like most kids growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I played all kinds of sports with major emphasis on baseball, basketball, and ice hockey. Oh, and I pitched a no-hitter in Little League, high school, and college.
  • Although I am now a professional medical entomologist, I was not overly interested in bugs as a kid and never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up!
  • In contrast to my favorite insect, the mosquito, I have two legs only instead of six, I cannot fly, for I have no wings, and I certainly do not suck blood!
  • I attended Swarthmore College, University of Delaware, and UCLA for my degrees in Biology, Entomology, and Public Health respectively.

The Cattail Mosquito: An Unusual Creature Indeed!

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Captain Stan The Mosquito Man

August 2022

This month we spotlight one of the most unusual, and most pestiferous mosquitoes that PMPs might have to deal with – the cattail mosquito Coquillettidia perturbans.  Even the name indicates that this is a bad actor.  Here is the lowdown:

  • There are about 60 species of Coquillettidia worldwide but only one in the United States; the cattail mosquito. This species occurs throughout Canada, the United States, and Mexico.  It is widely distributed across the eastern U.S., southern Canada, and several areas in the western U.S.
  • They prefer to breed in permanent freshwater sources such as along the edges of lakes and ponds.
  • Much like the common house mosquito (Culex), individual eggs are glued together by the female as they are deposited to form a floating raft. She can lay between 150-350 eggs after just one blood meal.  The eggs hatch in 2-3 days.
  • The larvae and pupae do not obtain their required oxygen at the water surface via the siphon (air tube) as almost all other mosquito species do. Instead, their siphon is heavily sclerotized and resembles a short, pointed saw.  This modified structure is then used to pierce the hollow roots or submersed stems of aquatic plants for respiration – kind of like a ‘mosquito snorkel’!
  • Adults are medium-sized and have a ‘salt and pepper’ coloration due to the colors and patterns of scales on the wings. The life span of the adults is approximately one to two months, although this can vary depending on environmental conditions.  Females tend to outlive the males.
  • Female cattail mosquitoes are persistent and painful biters of humans and domestic animals. They actively seek hosts during early evening hours but will also bite humans in shady places where adult mosquitoes are resting during the day.  They can penetrate clothing with their mouthparts, and they are able to fly up to about 5 miles from their breeding sites.  Ouch!
  • In addition to being just a dang biting nuisance, they are known to transmit West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalomyelitis virus to humans and animals.
  • So, what to do about them, you say? Good question!  They are very difficult to control with conventional larvicides.  Barrier sprays may have some effectiveness but remember adults can fly onto a customer’s property from long distances and may not land on treated surfaces before attacking.  Removal of excessive cattail growth (source reduction) often is the only effective and economical long-term method of control.  And when all else fails, use an insect repellent with an EPA-registered active ingredient.  Oh, and good luck!


Captain Stan’s ‘Creature Features’ Volume 4 – Asian Longhorned Ticks July 2022

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Welcome to the fourth edition of ‘Captain Stan’s Creature Features,’ where we are looking at some of the more interesting animals in the pest management universe.  This month, the star of the show is the Asian longhorned tick (ALT), an invasive species relatively new to the United States.  Some interesting facts follow:


  • Ticks, like insects, are members of the phylum Arthropoda (meaning ‘jointed legs’) but they are in a separate class, Arachnida, not Insecta. The scientific name of the ALT is Haemaphysalis longicornis.
  • They were first detected in the United States in 2017 on a farm in New Jersey. As of September 2021, they had spread to 16 other states including Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • Scientists are still studying the ALT to determine host preferences for feeding, preferred habitats (woodland vs. open areas), and other key biological factors.
  • ALTs have been found on pets, livestock, wildlife, and humans. Thousands at a time may be found on grass, shrubs, or animals.
  • Female ALTs can lay eggs and reproduce without mating, a condition known as ‘parthenogenesis.’ This is a highly successful survival mechanism as well as a great method of dispersion; a single female can be transported to a new location and start a new population!
  • The ALT appears to be less attracted to human skin/odors than some of our common native species such as the blacklegged tick, the Lone star tick, and the American dog tick.
  • In other countries, germs spread by the ALT can make people and animals seriously ill. Research on this is ongoing in the United States; one recent study suggested that it is not likely to be involved in spreading the spirochetes that cause Lyme disease.  It is likely that these ticks will be found naturally infected with pathogens in the United States but that does not necessarily mean that those pathogens can be transmitted to humans and/or animals.  That will require substantial laboratory testing.

Captain Stan’s ‘Creature Features’ – Volume 3 – Moles June 2022

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Welcome to the third installment of ‘Captain Stan’s Creature Features,’ where we are looking at some of the more interesting animals in the pest management universe.  This month, the star of the show is the underappreciated and under loved mole.  Some interesting facts follow:


  • There are 7 different species of moles in the United States. They live and search for food underground.  One mole’s range can extend to almost 3 acres!
  • Moles can dig tunnels at the rate of 15 feet per hour.
  • A mole’s favorite food is earthworms – yum! – and their saliva contains a toxin that can paralyze the worms so they can be chomped on later for a snack. They will also dine on grubs and insects.
  • Moles are hairless and have a pointed snout, small eyes, and no visible ears (they would get filled with dirt!).
  • Male moles are called ‘boars’ and female moles are called ‘sows’. Just like pigs.
  • Ever hear the expression ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’? Well, when moles dig their tunnels, that dirt has to go somewhere so it is usually piled up near the entrance to a tunnel.
  • The Eastern, or common mole, can live up to 6 years.

Captain Stan’s ‘Creature Features’ – Volume 2 – Scorpions May 2022

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Welcome to the second edition of ‘Captain Stan’s Creature Features,’ where we are looking at some of the more interesting animals in the pest management universe.  This month, the star of the show is the scorpion, an arthropod that strikes fear into many who encounter one of them.  Some interesting facts follow:

  • Scorpions are arachnids, not insects, so they are close cousins to spiders, ticks, daddy longlegs, and others.
  • Scorpions have a very impressive method for hunting their food. They will quickly grab their potential meal with their pincers, and then whip their telson (the poisonous tip of their tale) forward, sting their prey, and well, soon begin snacking!
  • There are about 2,000 species worldwide, and they are found on six of the 7 continents.
  • Some species give birth to over 100 live offspring, which then quickly climb on mommy’s back where they hitch a ride and are fed for several weeks.
  • A scorpion’s venom takes lots of energy to produce. It is used for subduing prey, self-defense, and, in some species, mating. Even newborn scorpions have potent venom so don’t underestimate them!
  • Under a UV or ‘black light’, scorpions will noticeably glow They are active primarily at night.
  • The scorpion is one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, appearing as Scorpio The Scorpion. Under the right conditions and time of year, the constellation is easily seen.  It is very impressive.