The Red-eyed Invasion in KY

They are called periodical cicadas and it’s happening right now in Louisville KY at the home of my daughter. These are the red-eyed cicadas that emerge simultaneously from the ground in 13 or 17 year predictable intervals, according to U. of Kentucky extension entomologist.  Only this is a year it wasn’t supposed to happen. I guess no one told the cicadas.

red-eyed cicadas

 

The nymphs live beneath the soil feeding on roots and emerge when the soil temperature is warm enough in the spring. They have been exiting the ground by the masses on her property and will continue to do so for a couple more weeks.

She first noticed the empty shells all over the ground one morning. Most were empty but some nymphs are unable to extricate as you can see the wing of the partially open shell.

cicada shells in Louisville KY 2017

After leaving the ground at night, they slowly make their way up any vertical surface and molt into adults, a prolonged overnight process. I’ve spent many a night as a child watching the annual cicadas, a different cicada, slowly struggle out of shells, and pump their wings out straight.

This cicada on tree bark is newly emerged and still wet:

Louisville KY 2017

After drying, their body will darken:

Louisville KY 2017

In the morning, shells will be hanging from a multitude of surfaces and lying all over the ground.  Most of the adults will have flown but some may still be there until their wings have fully expanded and dried enough to fly. It’s an amazing process to watch.

Louisville Cicadas 2017

Louisville KY cicadas 2017

Louisville KY 2017

The males are the ones you hear singing to attract the females. The adult cicadas will mate and the female lays eggs in small tree branches. The eggs will mature for weeks, then hatch and fall to the ground, where they burrow and start the cycle over.

Cicadas don’t bite or sting and are fairly benign to adult vegetation and trees….. rarely causing damage, unless you own an orchard or vineyard where they could possibly inflict some monetary damage, states the extension service. Generally, what follows is a smorgasbord of food for insect eating birds and mammals. It’s nature’s way….

Thankfully, this is a daughter who appreciates insects (taught by her mother!). She used the occasion as a teaching tool and took the kids outside to watch the mature nymphs emerge last night. Following is her ‘choppy’ video 😏 of her kids learning about the life cycle of cicadas as they watch the nymphs emerge from the soil and look for vertical surfaces… even my granddaughter’s leg:

Beetle Mania

English: Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipenni...The emerald ash borer has officially arrived in New Hampshire. The larva of this bright metallic green insect has killed millions of ash trees across the country since being spotted in Michigan in 2002. The insect hails from China and it wiped out Michigan ash trees before moving south into other states. Officials knew it was just a matter of time before it would invade New Hampshire.

My son and his family are the owners of a wooded property surrounding their new home in Ohio. Visiting them this summer, he sadly pointed out the ash trees that were either dead or in deep decline from the emerald ash borer. These trees didn’t stand a chance against the invader and last weekend he removed 11 ash trees.

Two years ago at my daughter’s home in Portsmouth NH, I noticed several ash trees with declining canopies on neighboring properties and I told her she should check them for signs of borers. I don’t believe any signs of the borer were evident to her and the trees may have been stressed from other causes, perhaps a previous drought. They were so stressed that in a recent windstorm, one tree fell across the fence into her yard… now a rental property they own.

Ash Tree in Portsmouth NHShe says I must wait for the final verdict from the tree experts to learn what caused the ash to fall. Or if I’m pushy enough, she might let me visit and examine the bark myself.

Sadly, the ash is such a staple of urban life found in landscapes and lining city streets. They are beautiful and majestic trees that replaced the elm trees after Dutch Elm Disease wiped them out. The adult borer eats only the leaves of the ash but the female lays from 60 – 90 eggs in crevices on the bark. The larvae live beneath the bark for about two years before adulthood, becoming pupae in the inner bark the final winter… where a multitude of larvae and pupae interfere with the transport of water and nutrients to the tree’s canopy. In the spring, the insects chew their way out and the cycle repeats.

It’s just beginning in New Hampshire and precautions are being taken. Quarantines on firewood is the first step. Click here to learn about ash trees and exciting new biological steps being taken to find an enemy of the borer. Chemicals have become more effective in treating early infestations in larger trees, applied either by companies or the homeowners.

12-11-2013 Update:  The Emerald Ash Borer has now been detected in the town of North Andover MA. Click on the blog IPM of New Hampshire  for more information.

Let me in! It’s cold outside….

With the season changing and evening temperatures dropping, there have been one or two visitors that have found their way indoors this fall. And we’ve seen a few wandering around on the outside of the house.  It’s the Tree Stink Bug, Brochymena spp., sometimes called Bark or Rough Stink Bug. They’re all looking for a warm place to spend the winter months. Most will hibernate in leaf litter or under the bark of a tree but they can feel the warmth of our man-made shelter and are drawn to it.

Tree Stink Bug

Tree or Rough Stink Bug

These true bugs have spent the summer gorging on flora with their piercing mouthpiece and now they are looking for a good hibernation spot. The one pictured above had hibernated in leaf litter and I uncovered it while putting my garden to bed for the winter.

The Tree Stink Bug is very similar in appearance to a more dangerous stink bug, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, that has swept into the USA after being  accidentally introduced in the late 90’s. Two characteristics that can tell these two stink bugs apart are the toothed or ridged shoulders and the lack of white banding on the antennae on the Tree Stink Bug.

Tree Stink Bug

The Tree Stink Bug has ridges along the shoulder.  The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug does not. Click the photo to see the ridges up close.

Most folks are aware of the invasion of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. In some areas of the country, the insects have invaded homes by the hundreds. And they are the cause of great damage to fruits and crops. Pesticides have limited effect on the insect and there is no natural enemy in our country. The insect has been spotted in one neighborhood in Portsmouth.  UNH Cooperative Extension Specialist, Alan Eaton, and State Entomologist Piera Siegert ask to be notified if you spot the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug (BMSB) anywhere in New Hampshire. Check out the Wikipedia photo of the BMSB below. There is white banding on the antennae and there are no ridges on the shoulders.

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug need to be reported if seen in NH. (Wikipedia photo)

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug needs to be reported if seen in NH.

Summer Serenades

As we sat on the deck on warm evenings in late summer, we were serenaded loudly by a certain insect I could not quite identify. It was not the chirping field crickets so commonly heard in Virginia and it didn’t quite sound like the call of katydids.This buzzing insect song was loud and long. I searched in the direction of the call with a flashlight but it was well-camouflaged in dense foliage. It took me a few weeks to discover one of these well-hidden insects out in the open during the day.

I don’t think I’d ever seen this insect. It’s a tree cricket… the two-spotted tree cricket (Neoxabea bipunctata), one of many varieties of nocturnal tree crickets around the world. The first one I found, a female (below) with two identifying spots on her back, sat on a begonia leaf.

Two-Spotted Tree CricketThe male, the vocal cricket who serenaded us so sweetly, I only discovered recently. It is interesting how the tiny male can project such a loud song. He chews a hole in the underside of a leaf, raises his wings at a 90 degree angle over the hole, and chirps away. The hole and the wings amplify his song like a megaphone. How cool is that?

Here is a male that must have fallen from above with one of his wings askew. The circular spot between his wings is called the ‘honey spot.’ The female will dine on gland secretions during mating.

male Two-Spotted Tree CricketI believe these must be fairly common crickets around these parts. I do feel lucky to be a part of their habitat. To read more about these crickets and see how the male sings through a leaf, click HERE.

The Click Beetle

I received the following email today from a friend:

From:     Felicity
Subject:  Bug
Date:      July 12, 2011 1:55:46 PM EDT
To:          Ann

Yesterday, I saw a large black and white beetle with bull’s-eye eyes. It clicked and fell over dead. What are they called?  It was black spotted with white. I thought it was dead and kicked it off the deck. Are they friend or foe?

Well, Felicity, I’m fairly certain you saw a click beetle. There are hundreds of different species in North America. All of the species have a common behavior which gives them their name. When on their backs or when threatened by a predator, they all snap their heads with an audible “click” with such force that they are launched into the air, either landing upright, at a distance from trouble or they fly away during the launch.

The click beetles that I commonly see are smaller, solid black or grey, nocturnal and attracted to light. When I turn on an outdoor light, among the moths and a variety of beetles is the click beetle, flying around the light or resting  on the wall in the glow of the bulb. The click beetle is one I cannot resist picking up between my thumb and index finger with its head exposed. It bends its head back, hesitates a split second, then forcefully snaps it forward. With each snap, it inches slowly from my grip finally catapulting into the darkness of the night. What a neat insect!

Blind Click Beetle - Photo courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pcoin/4832741348/

The click beetle that Felicity saw sounds like either the Eyed Elater or Eyed Click Beetle, one that can grow to 2″ long or she saw the Blind Click Beetle, a smaller insect with smaller eyes.  The eyes of both are false. They have evolved to frighten off predators. The real eyes are small and are located closer to the insect’s antenna.

The larvae of the Eyed Click Beetle, Alanus oculatus and Blind Click Beetle, Alaus myops, live in damp decaying matter such as rotting logs or under a blanket of decaying leaves. They can spend years in this stage as predators of insect larvae, including noxious insect larvae like wood-borers. In the adult form, they feed sparingly on nectar and juices from plants. In our part of the country we see more of the Alanus myops, the smaller Blind Click Beetle.

So Felicity…. this is a friend, not a foe. It does not bite. It does not sting. You can pick it up without harm. You can watch it entertain you with acrobatic tricks. You may also see it playing possum fooling you into thinking it is dead… and kicking it off your deck to freedom.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Garden Stitch In Time

Caterpillars of all shapes and sizes, both moths and butterflies, are invading areas of the garden at this time of year.  Some, like the black swallowtail caterpillar, I welcome; others are pests, like the Eastern tent caterpillar, and then there are a few that interest me, like the Redbud Leaffolder.

A tiny moth caterpillar, the Redbud Leaffolder (Fascista cercerisella), has turned some of the tree’s lovely heart shaped leaves into a patchwork quilt by folding or rolling the leaves. These black/white striped caterpillars pull a corner of the leaf over and ‘stitch’ the edges together with silk thread while they consume the leaf from the inside. I have opened some of the leaves to have a peek inside. I found several caterpillars in each fold and I was met with a flurry of movement.  The caterpillars twist and jump, eventually falling to the ground as an escape.

A tiny leaffolder moth visits lamps at night

The adult is a teeny black moth with white spots. I have read that that these common moths breed twice a summer. I would not describe our tree as infested and I’m not ready to use pesticides.  I’m watching and waiting. If I sense a problem, I’ll first try picking the leaf and stepping on it to squish the inhabitants.  Pesticides will be the last option and it would have to be ruinous for the redbud before I take that final step.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Argiope, The Beautiful Garden Spider

Like many youngsters, I had a huge fear of spiders as a child, but through the years I’ve gotten braver and learned to appreciate spiders and the benefits of having them in the garden.  I still scream if I run into a web but the neighbors no longer dash to my aid. They all know I simply had another close encounter with a spider.

September and October are the perfect months to discover more about the intriguing world of spiders and webs in our gardens.  Step outside in the early morning while dew still covers the Argiope waiting for her mealgrass and be introduced to a silken wonderland of glistening webs festooning the grass, bushes, and trees in a variety of designs from tunnels to chaotic masses, to long threads connecting shrubs and trees, and to the ones that amaze me the most–the giant orb webs.

The spider that spins these magnificent orbs, Argiope aurantia, is said to spin the strongest web in the spider world.  The highly visible female is the largest and most colorful spider in our Tidewater gardens. Her web spirals out from the center and can be 2 feet across with a telltale zigzag line in the center called a stabilimenta, the purpose of which is not completely understood.

The large yellow and black Argiope, aka Writing Spider, hangs head down in the center of her web.  Although fierce looking, she is benign.  If disturbed, she will either drop from her web to escape or she may vibrate her nest vigorously to intimidate, but she poses no threat.   A bite is rare, but should it happen, the reaction will be mild. The best thing for us to do is to leave her alone since she is fast approaching the end of her life cycle.

We fed one argiope moths a few summers ago and she was able to produce 3 egg sacs.

Egg Sacs

At this time of year she will  produce her eggs.  Her abdomen will swell before producing usually one, but up to three, egg sacs containing from 300 to over a thousand young in each, and her life  will end with the first frost. Her babies hatch inside the sac, where they also overwinter  before emerging in the spring looking like miniatures of their parents.

I have witnessed the emergence of the miniature spiders in the spring and it is reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web.  Off they scurry in every direction to begin their own summer journey of life.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Red Velvet Ant Stops in for Lunch

I stumbled upon my second Red Velvet Ant/Cow Killer of the summer. Recent storms dislodged a hummingbird feeder and the spilled sugar-water fanned out across a wide area.  In the middle of the pattern of nectar were tachinind flies, yellow jackets, a multitude of ants and one solitary Red Velvet Ant.sticky cow killer

Thinking she would quickly scurry away, mister gardener rushed my camera to me.  But we were mistaken.  This gal wasn’t going anywhere.  She was covered in the sticky sugary solution with bits of sand and debris stuck everywhere to her body, a comical sight. When I moved, she would dash under a leaf but she emerged seconds later and continued to wade into the pools of nectar, consuming as she strolled.  If I leaned too close, she would tilt her head sideways to look at me and raise her abdomen in a threatening way.  Around and around she circled, avoiding other insects as she gorged on puddles of hummingbird nectar, occasionally stopping to clean her antennae.

a sticky red velvet ant eyes the camera

A Virginia Tech entomologist recently answered my questions about the insect. After a previous post about the Red Velvet Ant in our Virginia gardens, comments came from Delaware to Georgia, Tennessee and Maryland questioning the increased presence of this wasp.  My 2-part question to the entomologist:  “Why are there more sightings of the Red Velvet Ant/Cow Killer wasp and are they common in northern states, like Delaware?”  His two word answer: “Global Warming.”  He added that the Red Velvet Ant is a tropical insect and more common to Texas.  In recent years, we have not experienced the long hard winter freezes that would kill the insect so their territories are expanding. On BugGuide.net, sightings has been reported as far north as Rhode Island and New Jersey and west to Illinois and Nebraska.

But I have seen more ground wasps, too.  It’s possible that our female is simply following her offsprings’ food source, the ground nesting cicada wasp whose painful sting I have experienced.  Without the solitary Red Velvet Ant, perhaps we would have an overabundance of those other stinging insects. I’d like to believe she is helping to balance the wasp and bee population and I’ll allow her to go on her way.

Check out the first Red Velvet Ant I saw.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Tobacco Hornworm, a thing of wonder!

Who's eating my tomato plant?It was three weeks ago that I first noticed the bare tips on a branch of a tomato plant in my small kitchen garden. I looked beneath the plant and saw some telltale caterpillar poo and I knew what was hiding on the under the leaves of my plant. I carefully lifted branch after branch until I found it… a tobacco hornworm caterpillar, the larva of the sphinx moth.

It was a gorgeous 4” long pale green caterpillar with 5 pairs of prolegs and 7 white diagonal stripes on the sides of the body and a red-colored horn on the last segment.  It’s closely related to and often confused with the tomato hornworm caterpillar with similar markings but the red horn is a good identifying feature. I’ve read that tobacco hornworm is more prevalent in the southern United States and the tomato hornworm is found more in the northern states.Tobacco Hornworm

Both feed on plants in the nightshade family: tomato and tobacco and others such as potato, pepper or eggplant and these guys can wreak havoc in the garden and can cause extensive damage to plants. My big fellow had eaten 2 small unripe tomatoes and leaves on one small branch, however he was working alone and soon to enter the pupate stage so I left it on the plant.

Some natural bug deterrents are said to be red pepper sprinkled on the plants or a mixture of water, vegetable oil, and dish soap to repel them. Handpicking is an effective control in small gardens but one of the most common biological controls for the hornworm is the parasitic braconid wasp that lays its eggs inside the body of the caterpillar.  After hatching they bore through the skin of the caterpillar and attach white cocoons along the body. If you see one with the cocoons attached, do not kill the hornworm as the wasp will do the job.

pink spotted hawkmothThe large adult sphinx moth or hawkmoth is seen around flowers in my garden at dusk or dawn.  They are as graceful and agile as a hummingbird as they hover over blooms and flit quickly from flower to flower.  It’s a shame that something so full of wonder can begin life as a such a destructive insect in our gardens.

Annie, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Sawfly Larvae Invasion

sawflyThese acrobatic insects that are consuming the leaves of my Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick might resemble caterpillars but they are not.  These are sawfly larvae, the larvae of not a fly at all but one of 4,000 varieties of a primitive stingless wasp.  Look closely.  The larvae of moths and butterflies have 1 to 4 sets of abdominal prolegs (false legs), whereas sawfly larvae have 6 sets of prolegs.

Mouthparts are for chewing and in great numbers they can defoliate a tree or shrub or flower. Most of them are somewhat host-specific and feed on foliage of specific trees and flowers.  Some larvae work together on the leaf edges like these, some skeletonize leaves, some eat holes in leaves, some roll leaves, and some varieties create galls.  The most common varieties here feed together and some hold their abdomen in the air like these.  A defensive mechanism in many larvae is a row of glands on the abdomen that can expel an irritating fluid.

The benign winged sawfly adults are small and generally dark in color. They do not have the constricted waist of many stinging wasps and the females have a saw-toothed ovipositor, which is used to ‘saw’ into plant material and deposit eggs.   There is only one generation per year but the larvae can be destructive if they are numerous enough.  Ten years ago we were inundated with the Loblolly Pine Sawfly that destroyed a number of our young trees.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

The Cow Killer, also known as Red Velvet Ant

Cow KillerI’m not walking in the garden without shoes again.  Today I saw a Cow Killer as I weeded in my bare feet.  I called for mister gardener to quickly bring me my camera because the insect moves fast.  Named Red Velvet Ant for the fine layer of hairs on the body, it is also called Cow Killer for the venomous punch it packs when it stings.  Actually, it is not an ant at all but one of the 475 species of Velvet Ant parasitic wasps in North America.  The winged male does not sting but the wingless female, usually nocturnal, wanders the flower garden dining on nectar while searching for the tunnels of ground-nesting wasps, especially the cicada wasp.  The female Velvet Ant will sneak into the tunnel and lay eggs on the host larva which the Velvet Ant young will consume after hatching. She has a nearly indestructible exoskeleton which protects her from the sting of the cicada wasp should they meet in the ground nest.

cow killer

The Cow Killer is a solitary wasp and does not live in a colony or have a nest of her own.  She is not aggressive and will try to escape if disturbed.  Interestingly, she does make a sound.  As a child, I would touch one with a twig just to hear the tiny squeak it made.  These beautiful wasps are not numerous and cause no damage to plants. No chemical control is needed.  Teach others about them, appreciate them, and leave them alone as they have a purpose in keeping the bee and wasp population in check.  My advice: Simply defend yourself against a painful sting and wear shoes in the garden.

Red Velvet Ant

See September 12:  “A Red Velvet Ant Stops in for Lunch”

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester