Florida pests _ American Cockroach

During Week 5 of the Master Gardener Program, we learned about Florida pests. Shown here are various types of the American cockroach, very common in Florida. / Photos courtesy of the University of Florida

Decomposition. Composting. Nuisance wildlife. Vertebrate pest control. Cockroaches. Florida pests. Those and other topics were the main, if unappetizing, focus during Week 5 of the Florida Master Gardener Program.

Did you know that cockroaches prefer domestic foods — such as beer, sugar, even stamps and fingernails — to leaf litter, wood and fungi? Now you do.

That was just part of the Household Pests class that Bill Kern, Ph.D., of the Entomology and Nematology Department of the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center conducted.

Cockroaches migrate from a trickling filter at the Gainesville campus of the University of Florida’s sewage-treatment plant during flooding.

There are many varieties of cockroaches, and they thrive in our state’s warm, humid climate (especially South Florida’s). Some of them are domestic, and live only inside structures. Others are peridomestic; they live around structures and sometimes enter — even if they’re not invited.

To control them, seal all openings to the outdoors, and use baits and gels. Also, eliminate “refugia” — woodpiles, holes in trees, etc. — where they can seek safe shelter.

Another segment of Dr. Kern’s lecture, on ants, was just as enlightening — or depressing, depending on your perspective. There are many types, such as the bigheaded ant, Pheidole megacephala; and some species sting. How many Floridians can say they’ve never suffered pain at the hand — make that the stinger — of a fire ant?

“Decomposition” is not “composting”

John J. Pipoly, an urban horticulture extension agent, taught the Decomposition and Composting class. Yes, there’s a difference. “Decomposition,” a natural process, is the breakdown of a substance into different parts or simpler compounds. “Composting,” though similar, results from a deliberate action: the “decomposition of organic materials by microorganisms under controlled, aerobic (air), conditions to a relatively stable humus-like material called ‘compost,'” according to class materials.

Of course, all class lectures included plenty of graphic photos of the vermin that make life in Florida sometimes less than paradisical. For example, carrion beetles devouring a dead frog; two turkey vultures with an unidentifiable road-kill carcass.

But not every life form we discussed that day is bad. Earthworms, for instance, whether night-crawlers or red wigglers, are beneficial. The red wigglers, much smaller than their much larger cousins, are best for composting.

A glass bottle lasts 1 million years

How long does garbage last? Decomposition rates vary greatly: two to four weeks for a paper towel, one to five years for a wool sock, 10 to 20 for a plastic bag, and 450 years for a disposable diaper. The record-holder? A glass bottle — 1 million years (so please recycle)!

Don’t move bats now

Homeowners have a lot of leeway when “nuisance wildlife” invades their property. Nevertheless, restrictions apply; no black bears or deer can be removed or killed. Bats, too, are off-limits unless they’re removed with the intent to relocate them safely. And you can’t remove bats at all during breeding season, which runs from April 16 to Aug. 14.

Rats can use toilet as gateway to your home

What is one way to prevent rats from entering your home through your toilet (yes, it happens)? Install a heavy-duty screen over all sewer stacks on the roof. Other ways include putting poison-bait stations in trees near the roof.

Iguanas, which usually live in well-populated areas, can make a mess of your yard — and pool — and they multiply rapidly.

A segment titled “Iguana Options” detailed how to reduce the problem pests. Options include not feeding them; frequently harassing them so that they move somewhere else; setting a trap, baited with ripe fruit; and capturing them by hand or noose. Because iguanas are usually in well-populated areas, shooting them is frowned upon.

And so ended Week 5, which also included our first exam (ugh), for which we needed our omnipresent hand lens and a tablet or laptop computer.

5 “foul” facts about non-native fowl

1) Geese and swans are effective grazers and don’t differentiate between weeds and landscape plantings and flowers.
2) Ducks and geese produce about one-half-pound of manure per day, each — causing public-health, wildlife-health, water-quality and aesthetic problems.
3) Feral domestic ducks can mate with native desirable ducks such as Florida’s mottled duck, creating undesirable hybrids.
4) Most feral fowl belong to the property owner and can be trapped, caught and sold. One warning, though: Some local governments have passed ordinances to protect peafowl and other domestic birds. This might be unconstitutional, but you most likely don’t want to fight it all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.
5) If they are trespassing livestock, the damage they cause is the legal responsibility of their owner.