Insects and Other Arthropods
Frequently Asked Questions

  1. I understand brown widow spiders are quite common in Polk County. How can I recognize one and what should I do if I get bitten by one?
  2. I have a sago palm and the bottom of the fronds are covered with a white material which resembles newly fallen snow. What is the problem with my sago?
  3. I have been seeing large ants inside and outside my house. Will these ants damage the structure of my house?
  4. I see a very large wasp with yellow markings on the abdomen flying around my yard. They seem to nest in the ground. What kind of bug is this?
  5. I have a white cottony material, about 2-3 inches long, on the stems of many of my landscape plants. There appears to be a bug in the cottony material that jumps. Do you think that this is some type of mealybug?
  6. My husband was stung by some sort of bug and he had to be rushed to the hospital for treatment. It had large, long front legs and a large needle-like structure protruding from it's head. It had 6 legs so it wasn't a spider. Do you know what this bug is?

1. I understand brown widow spiders are quite common in Polk County. How can I recognize one and what should I do if I get bitten by one?

Brown Widow SpiderYes, they are very common in Polk County and fortunately are not as aggressive as the black widow spider. You would have to physically damage one to get it to bite you, such as trapping one while putting on your clothes. 

Brown Widow Spider Egg SacThe adults are sometimes difficult to recognize, and can be confused with the black widow spider, because they vary from light tan to dark brown or almost black, white, yellow, orange or brown on the back of their abdomen. Brown widow spiders all have a characteristic yellowish-orange hourglass on the bottom of the abdomen, while the black widow spider has a characteristic bright red hourglass on the bottom side of it's abdomen. In addition, the brown widow spider's egg sac has projections on its surface like a sandbur. I don't know of any other spiders with a similar looking egg sac.

Breeding sites of brown widow spidersBrown widow spiders can often be found inside old tires, empty containers such as buckets and nursery pots, mail boxes, entryway corners, under eves, stacked equipment, cluttered storage closets and garages, behind hurricane shutters, recessed hand grips of plastic garbage cans, undercarriages of mobile homes, underneath outside chairs and branches of shrubs.

Nest Site in Corner of DoorwaySanitation is the most important strategy in reducing widow spider infestations around the home. Inside a home or garage, a thorough cleaning with a vacuum cleaner is an effective way to remove spiders, their egg sacs and webbing. After vacuuming, the bag should be removed an sealed in a plastic bag for disposal.

Nest site in eave of structureOutside the home, potential hiding places such as firewood, building materials, and other debris lying on the ground should be moved away from the building and thrown away. Any cracks, holes or spaces around windows and doors should be sealed or fitted with weather stripping.

Brown Widow Spider with Egg SacsIf spider problems persist, then non-residual sprays such as pyrethrum, and labeled residual sprays may be used, however the reproductive potential of brown widow spiders and their reclusive habit make their total elimination around the home extremely difficult, if not impossible.

If you think that you have been bitten by a widow spider, try to capture the spider for identification, and then consult a physician. Photos by Fred Santana, Sarasota County Extension Service.

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2. I have a sago palm and the bottom of the fronds are covered with a white material which resembles newly fallen snow. What is the problem with my sago?

infected king sago palmThis is a relatively new pest of sago palms in central Florida. It is called aulacaspis cycad scale and has the potential to kill your plant if it is not treated. It normally infests the lower side of fronds at first and then moves to the upper surface. They also infest the stem and roots down a foot or more into the soil which make total control difficult. A heavy infestation on a sago does resemble a fresh snow fall. The aulacaspis scale can be confused with the false magnolia scale which normally infests the upper side of the frond leaflets and generally is not a serious problem.

infected king sago palm frondsControl at this point is not well understood and research is ongoing. Currently, it is recommended that all totally infested fronds be pruned and placed in plastic bags for disposal. The remaining fronds, particularly the bottom side, and trunk should be sprayed with horticultural oil, such as Organocide, Volck oil or Ultrafine oil, weekly for 5 weeks at which time the fronds and stem should be washed with a hose water to remove dead scale. If the scale returns in a few weeks, then start the oil spray again. Oil will keep the cycad scale in check but will not give complete control.

scales attacking king sago frondsMr. Doug Caldwell, at the Collier County Extension office suggests using DiSyston granules every three months and alternate with 1 application of dimethoate as a root drench. He recommends using 2 ounces of 25% dimethoate in one gallon of water. If the sago is taller than 2 feet, add 1/2 gallon of solution for each 6 inches of additional height. However, dimethoate will soon be taken off the market as a homeowner product. 

Wasp parasite on a female scaleSome people have been using the systemic insecticide imidacloprid (Merit, Marathon or Bayer Advanced Shrub and Tree Insect Killer) as a control for cycad scale. At the moment, the general feeling is that imidacloprid will not give adequate control of cycad scale either as a foliar spray or as a drench. The good news is that there are several new products coming on the market which have shown promise for control of cycad scale.

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3. I have been seeing large ants inside and outside my house. Will these ants damage the structure of my house?

These large ants (as big as 3/4 of an inch) are called Florida carpenter ants. The head and thorax are brown and the abdomen is black. They do not excavate wood for their nests, but instead seek existing voids in which to nest or excavate soft materials such as rotten or pithy wood. 

Carpenter antsThey will build nests both inside homes and outside in the yard and they will travel from one nest to another. They will nest just about anywhere there is a potential void and moisture. They are more of a nuisance than a real problem as they don't have a fierce sting like fire ants. They can make a mess inside a home, because they eject dead ants and pieces of rotten wood from the nest.

The best method of control is to find the nest and treat it with an insecticide. Check for foraging ants after dark with a flashlight. When a trail of ants is found, it can be tracked back to the nest. Entrance holes in the house can be found and plugged. Residual insecticides can be applied to areas where ants trail such as fences and cables. They like to feed on honey dew from aphids and scales, so it helps to control these pests on landscape shrubs.

Finding and treating carpenter ants in the home is often a real problem. They tend to nest in wall voids, under attic insulation near the eaves, under bath tubs, under window and door frames, around skylights, in appliances like dishwashers, flat roofs, behind wood panels, etc. Control is the same as outside-find the nest and treat. Sometimes tapping on a wall void or a rafter in the attic will disturb the colony. When disturbed, they make a characteristic rustling sound which will lead you to the nest. Baits can be used, but they are not real effective do to the feeding behavior of this ant.

 

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4. I see a very large wasp with yellow markings on the abdomen flying around my yard. They seem to nest in the ground. What kind of bug is this?

Cicada Killer WaspI think this large wasp is a cicada killer. The females catch, sting and paralyze cicadas and then place them in a cell in the ground. You usually see a small pile of dirt by the hole. They lay an egg on the paralyzed cicada and then seal the cell. The wasp grub devours the cicada, and becomes an adult wasp the next spring. They don't have a dangerous sting and are generally considered beneficial, however control may be warranted if allergic humans are close to the nests.

Adult CicadaThe adults can sometimes be killed by putting insecticide down the hole, but this probably will not kill the offspring emerging the following year. Nesting can be discouraged culturally by allowing vegetation to grow tall - mulching infested areas also may help. 

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5. I have a white cottony material, about 2-3 inches long, on the stems of many of my landscape plants. There appears to be a bug in the cottony material that jumps. Do you think that this is some type of mealybug?

Fladid PlanthopperNo, I think what you are seeing is a flatid planthopper.  It feeds on many common landscape plants such as azaleas, hibiscus, citrus, camellia, Indian hawthorn, and many more. It is readily seen mainly on the stems as a 2-3 inch long white covering of the stem. At first it looks like mealybugs, but if you disturb the cottony material, you will find a whitish planthopper which rapidly jumps off the stem. 

Plantid Residue on stemI don't think this insect does a lot of damage to the plant, but the white cottony material is quite unsightly.  Pruning seems to remove most of the infested plant material. If necessary, spray with horticultural oil like Ultra-Fine.

 

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My husband was stung by some sort of bug and he had to be rushed to the hospital for treatment. It had large, long front legs and a large needle-like structure protruding from it's head. It had 6 legs so it wasn't a spider. Do you know what this bug is?

Blood Sucking ConenoseI think what bite your husband was an assassin bug. These are generally beneficial and many species prey on other insects, however a few will inflict a painful bite on humans. One of the common assassin bugs is called a wheel bug because of a semicircular crest on it's pronotum that terminates in spurs and resembles a cogwheel. Another assassin bug is the blood sucking conenose which invades houses and feeds on the blood of sleeping persons. It has a less painful bite than the wheel bug.Wheel Bug

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