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Beetles Have an Eye Out for Figs

Help for the Home Gardener from the Contra Costa Master Gardener Help Desk

Client's Problem:

Black Mission Figs
The client has a Mission Fig tree that is about 5 years old. It has produced just fine until this year. The client is seeing little black insects that look like fleas on branches, but thinks they may be little beetles. Additionally, something is infecting the figs. About half of them are getting black inside. The client thinks it could be a fungus. The client wants to know what this is and how to control it.

CCMG Help Desk's Response:
I'm responding to your telephone inquiry yesterday about a problem with your Mission Fig. I under stand that you have observed little black insects on the tree branches which are about the size of a flea but may be beetles. You also reported that something is infecting the figs. Some figs are getting black inside and may have some fungal growth.

It is likely that the small insects that you have observed are the cause of the problem with the rotting figs. The insects may be dried fruit and/or sap beetles. There are several closely related species of this insect. The adults are small brown or black beetles with or without lighter spots on the wings, depending on the species, They range in size from 0.1 to 0.2 inch long and have clubbed antennae. The wings do not cover the last two to three abdominal segments. The larvae are white and 0.1 to 0.2 inch long when mature. Here are photos showing two different species of such beetles: 

Dried Fruit Beetle
photo: UC IPM
Adult Confused Sap Beetle
photo: UC IPM

As figs mature, the fruit often develops an entry point at the eye of the fig which the beetles use to gain entry into the soft fruit tissue. They can also enter the fruit at other openings in the fruit caused by mechanical injury or by other insects. After they enter the fruit, the beetles transmit spoilage organisms that cause the fruit to sour and ferment. The rotting figs in tum can attract other pests such as vinegar files and navel orange worms. The beetle larvae feed inside the fruit until they are mature enough to emerge and drop to the ground where they pupate and emerge as adult beetles.

To manage an infestation of the beetles the University of California recommends that you promptly remove and destroy all infected fruit. You may want to dispose of the rotting fruit in a plastic bag in your garbage to stop reproduction and spread of the beetles. You should remove any infected fruit from the tree and also promptly and thoroughly remove any fruit that drops to the ground.

UC also recommends trapping the beetles in a container with an inverted cone top. You can find a link to a drawing of such a container at this UC Davis website: You bait the trap with fermenting figs and water. You could also add some bakers yeast to speed up the fermentation process in the trap. If you decide to try traps, check them every couple of days and remove trapped beetles. Also replenish the water if needed.

As new figs start developing on your tree, check them carefully to try to detect and remove any that may have been invaded by the beetles. You may want to try harvesting on the early side of ripeness to reduce the chances that the beetles will have gained entry into the fruit.

UC also reports that fig varieties with small eyes (like a Mission fig) are less likely to be infected by the beetles than fig varieties with large eyes. The fact that your Mission fig appears to have been attacked by the beetles demonstrates that even they are not immune to attack.

As a final caution, the beetles can also infect other fruit such as stone fruits (e.g., peaches, plums, cherries, etc.) and citrus. So if you have such trees, keep an eye out for a problem. Early removal of any infected fruit and thorough and quick clean-up of fruit that drops to the ground would also help manage the problem in other fruit trees.

Hope this information is helpful. You are welcome to contact us again if you have further questions.

Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk

Editor's Note: The Contra Costa Master Gardener Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions.  Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA  94523.

We can also be reached via telephone:  (925) 646-6586, email:, and we are on the web at

Posted on Saturday, November 22, 2014 at 12:03 AM

Myths and Gifts

Author Fran Keller with her dogface butterfly book. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Myths and gifts...

When the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology hosts its open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 23, the theme will be "Insect Myths." (Okay, and spider myths, too!)

You'll learn about honey bee, ladybug, butterfly and spider myths at this family-oriented event, which is free and open to the public.

The insect museum  located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is not only the home of nearly 8 million insect specimens, but it operates a live "pettting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and a year-around gift shop filled with T-shirts, jewelry, posters, books, bug-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy, including chocolate-dipped scorpions, crunchy crickets, and protein-rich lollipops. 

Insect jewelry is popular at the Bohart Museum. Proceeds are earmarked for educational efforts. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two of the latest books available in the gift shop are Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday), co-authored by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. Thorp is an associate at the Bohart Museum and maintains an office in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.  

Another popular book, published in 2013, is a 35-page children's book, The Story of the Dogface Butterfly, authored by entomologist Fran Keller, who this year received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis. She is a researcher, college instructor, mentor, artist, photographer, and author.

The book, geared for  kindergarten through sixth-grade classrooms, and also a favorite of  adults, tells the untold story of the California dogface butterfly (Zerene eurydice), and how a classroom successfully mounted a campaign to name it the California state insect. Illustrations by artist Laine Bauer, a UC Davis graduate, and photographs by naturalist Greg Kareofelas, a Bohart Museum volunteer, depict the life cycle of this butterfly and show the host plant, false indigo (Amorpha californica). Net proceeds from the sale of this book are earmarked for the education, outreach and research programs at the Bohart Museum.

Gift shop items are available both in the store (Monday through Thursday) and online,

Among the favorites gifts at the Bohart Museum:

  • T-shirts depicting images of dragonflies, butterflies,  beetles and moths
  • Bohart Museum coffee mug
  • Insect collecting net
  • Posters of butterflies of Central Californian, Dragonflies of California, and the California Dogface butterfly
  • Butterfly habitat
  • Jewelry depicting bees, butterflies, dragonflies and ladybugs (many of the boxes are engraved with the Bohart logo and treasured)
  • Science kits
  • Insect and spider books
  • Insect magnets

The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, is open to the public  from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. More information is available by contacting the Bohart Museum at (530) 752-0493 or Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at

Robbin Thorp with two of the books he co-authored. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Robbin Thorp with two of the books he co-authored. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Robbin Thorp with two of the books he co-authored. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014 at 5:40 PM

For the Love of Bats

Big-eared Townsend bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management)
Most of us think about bats at least twice a year: during National Pollinator Week, when bees, beetles, butterflies and bats beckon, and on Halloween, when bats mingle with the witches, ghosts, ghouls, goblins and other things that go bump in the night.

Bats are pollinators? Definitely.  According to the USDA Forest Service, more than 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination. The crops include mangos, bananas and guavas, grown in tropical and desert climates. While bees take the daytime pollinator shift, bats take the nighttime shift. 

Entomologists and agriculturists think about bats a lot, too, because bats eat insects that ravage our crops.

Someone who really knows and appreciates bats is Yolo County Farm Advisor Rachael Freeman Long. "I've had a long time interest in ecosystem services of bats because they feed on insects and can help with pest control in agricultural crops," Long said.  "For example, we just determined that in walnuts, each bat provides about $6 in pest control services for codling moth control, a major pest in this crop (Long RF et al. 2014. What's a bat worth to a walnut orchard? BATS Magazine [Bat Conservation International] Spring 2014)."

A person of many interests and talents, Long has also written a children's book that features bats.

The cover of Valley Fire.
It's actually part of a trilogy published by Tate Publishing Co. The first was Gold Fever. The second, newly published, is Valley Fire. She's half-way through writing the third and final book in the trilogy, River of No Return.

In honor of bats,  The Avid Reader, 617 2nd St., Davis, between E and F St., is planning a special program from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22. Long will be there for the book signing, and talk about her book, and Corky Quirk of Nor Cal Bats will be there with her live bats and talk about their importance in the world. The organization is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of bats throughout Northern California. 

"My interest in writing this trilogy is science literacy for kids to teach them about the natural history of bats and the incredible importance of bats in our world for pollination and pest control benefits," Long said. "Bats are major pollinators of many plants; without bats we wouldn't have tequila as they are the main pollinators of the agave plant from which tequila is made!"

"In my stories, we learn all kinds of wonderful tidbits about bats, including echolocation, migration, that they feed on insects and that 'blind as a bat' is a total myth. I'll have to talk about their shiny poop in my third book with all the insect exoskeleton parts that bats can't digest and the fancy name of guano!"

Long recalls telling these stories to her son, when he was little, "on our long drives into town from our ranch."

"He loved them so much that one day I finally decided to write them down to share with other children--and adults too!!"

Sadly, bats often get a bad rap. When a person is mentally unstable, he's "batty" or has "bats in the belfry." Visual issues? "Blind as a bat."  And who hasn't heard the expression, "like a bat out of hell?" (usually referring to a speeding car heading toward you at breakneck speed).

In Long's book, a little boy named Jack falls into a cave and loses his memory. We won't tell you what happens next but that the book is engaging and entertaining.

Just like bats. 

Rachael Long beneath the Yolo Causeway with a bat detector. Notice the bats in the photo.  (Photo courtesy of the California Farm Bureau Federation)
Rachael Long beneath the Yolo Causeway with a bat detector. Notice the bats in the photo. (Photo courtesy of the California Farm Bureau Federation)

Rachael Long beneath the Yolo Causeway with a bat detector. Notice the bats in the photo. (Photo courtesy of the California Farm Bureau Federation)

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Legacy of the drought may be fewer permanent crops

Louise Ferguson.
The California drought is expected to change planting patterns for the state's agricultural industry, reported Clint Jasper on Australian Rural Radio. Jasper interviewed Louise Ferguson, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and director of the UC Fruit and Nut Research and Information Center.

"Whether it's good or bad, in California we've become accustomed to a steady water supply though our catchments, dams and aqueducts that deliver water to the (Central) Valley," Ferguson said. "In the past 3 or 4 years of drought, we've become more dependent on wells, what you're always dependent upon here in Australia."

She predicted that, in the next three to five years, California will see a significant decrease in tree crops as a result.

"In California, up till now, we did not have groundwater use regulations," she said. "The increase in wells very shortly will lead to regulations, both quantity and quality. Meaning how much you can draw out and how much nitrogen you can use in your fertilization program."

Jasper also interviewed Almond Board of California president and chief executive officer Richard Waycott.

"As an industry we've been doing deficit irrigation research, and applying water efficiency research across our industry for many years," Waycott said. "The drought is caused by Mother Nature. All agriculture needs water, and our growers are responsible with the water they use."

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 1:27 PM

Chicken coops, the good the bad the ugly.

Authors coop and run
Full disclosure, I am handy. I have power tools, and I'm not afraid to use them. In my first blog post I wrote about having broken my leg shortly after I got my baby chicks. This left me with lots of time to contemplate and research the best coop for my location and needs. I had a dog run left over by the previous owners of my house, which I refused to get rid of knowing full well that it would make a great chicken enclosure. My husband tried for eight years to give it away, and I somehow convinced him each time that we needed to hang on to it. Never was the word "chicken" mentioned. If you read my previous post you will understand... Ok, chicken coops, you can spend a lot of money or like me, very little. I have a friend that bought a custom built coop and run for $1,700. It is very nice and maybe you have to go that route because building things is not your "thing". That's ok.


The most important thing is the safety and relative comfort of the occupants. It's a dangerous world if you are a chicken. Since I was using a 6 x12 dog run as my enclosure I had heavy pipe and chain link that I knew no predator could bend to gain access. However, any determined raccoon, fox, dog or cat could dig under the pipe, so I lined the floor of the run with hardware cloth and since chain link is large enough for a paw to slip through I also lined the inside perimeter with chicken wire. Chicken wire is quite flimsy and I would never use it alone since a determined predator could tear it apart. Hardware cloth, which is really wire, is much stronger. I also buried a 12" strip of chicken wire on the outside of the run as a deterrent. All the wire is connected to the bottom pipe. My chickens are as safe as kittens as long as they are inside their run. I designed their coop using three sheets of plywood and some 2x4s. I had some leftover metal roofing material that I used as well. The dimensions of the coop itself are 3x6, it is basically a box on stilts, with a bunch of hinged doors for access. Inside there is a 2x4 perch that spans the six foot length. This is where the chickens sleep. Chicken feet are not designed to grip, so using the 4" side of a 2x4 for them to perch on is more comfortable for their feet. Instead of putting a solid floor in my coop I wired the bottom with hardware cloth and then cut two pieces of plywood to fit on top to catch the poo. Fact: Chickens poop a lot at night. I made a hinged trap door that is the full length of the coop that I use to clean out the poop. I just partially pull out the plywood pieces and scrape the poop onto a bin. Easy. Above the trap door is the nesting box also with a trap door to gather eggs. I can do all this without ever entering the run. Above the nesting box is a window for ventilation. Inside the run on the other side of the coop is the small door and ramp for the chickens to enter. I recommend painting the interior so you can hose it down once and a while. The raw wood will absorb the poop and odors. Make no mistake, keeping chickens is messy enough, think about ease of cleaning before you commit to a design. 

You may have noticed, there's a lot of talk about poop. That's the bad and the ugly truth! I'm a neat, dare I say, freak. Keeping the chicken run and coop clean is a chore. I read somewhere that keeping chickens was as easy as keeping a cat. I believed it, until I had chickens. So before you design your coop or shop for one, keep the above in mind. When doing my research I used Pinterest and Google, as well as There are endless examples of chicken coop designs and ready made coops available at every price point. I encourage you to do as much research as possible before you step into the chicken keeping world. Most of the information out there has a rosy tint, very little bad or ugly. But you should know the all of it. As always, I welcome any questions you might have.

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 8:21 AM

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