Ladybug, ladybug

As a youngster, do you remember singing, “Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home…”, as a ladybug crawled up on your finger and flew away?  Well, little beetle, if you haven’t flown away home by now, it may be too late as the temperatures have dropped into single digits in New England overnight. In the fall, these attractive little beetles of the Coccinellidae family seek out warm spots to hibernate, such as under debris outside or under bark on a tree but one particular variety often seeks refuge inside our homes.

The ladybugs we see inside our homes are the Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis). When temperatures drop, they will congregate on the sunny side of a home, favoring lighter color homes for some reason, where they seek out any crevice to hibernate. If a crack or crevice opens to the inside, then they will come right in… sometimes by the hundreds.

For years, the insects were introduced as an aphid and scale control in a number of states across North America. But the insects did not do well. They were found in Louisiana in 1988, some say from a Japanese freighter, and have expanded to much of the USA and Canada.

There are two good identifying characteristics of the Asian ladybug. First, the black markings on the head form the letter M (or the letter W, depending on whether we are facing the insect), and the legs are reddish. The adults can be a wide variety of colors from shades of orange to tan to red, some with many spots and others with spots that blend together as a black ladybug. The ones with fewer spots are usually male.

Asian LadybugAlthough I can feel the small beetles occasionally nibble my skin when I hold them, the insects are not harmful to humans. They eat other insects so they have small chewing mouthpieces. The nuisance is the odor they emit and the yellow secretion they have when they are disturbed.

I have only seen a few of these beetles in New Hampshire, however, in parts of the country, it can be a mass invasion some years and other years not many at all. I can remember one year in Virginia, we had dozens entering through a window that didn’t shut properly. Solution? We swept them up, released them in the daisy patch where aphids lived, then simply sealed the crack.

Asian Ladybug

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.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Clouds of colorful tall phlox greeted me in the garden after returning from a family vacation. Although not the exact shade of pink I would have chosen, these billowy blooms still supply a mid-summer punch to the border and nectar for garden friends.

At first glance, some might mistaken this guest (below) for a tiny hummingbird as it hovers above the blooms sipping nectar. But it’s a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) that is seen through central and eastern North America and Alaska. The ‘fur’ on the body of the insect looks more like a hummingbird’s feathers.

These attractive moths may confuse some because they are active during the daytime along with hummingbirds, not at night with many other moth species. Below see the curled proboscis or mouth part used to suck nectar from the flower.

As the moth prepares to feed, it uncurls the proboscis and inserts it into the center of a bloom.

I suspect the host plant for the hummingbird moth is my coral honeysuckle growing against a post beneath the deck. Tomorrow I will inspect the plant to see if I can discover any hummingbird moth caterpillars… which is fine with me. This insect is a delight to see in the garden… not a pest at all.

It’s a small, small, small world…

I have a few aphids on some of my beautiful Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum ‘Becky), daisies that have flowered profusely throughout the summer. I know aphids can overtake and cause havoc in the bed of daisies but I needed to know how much of a problem I had.

Shasta daisies

Insects buzzed and circled around my head yesterday as I knelt to check out the aphids that traveled along stems beneath the blooms. These insects will suck the sap out of leaves, tender stems and the flowers, and they will transmit diseases like fungus and mold. I saw no signs of wilting leaves or buds. And I saw very few aphids. Now the question, “Should I treat these flowers with an insecticide?” That’s a question that every gardener faces when insect pests invade their gardens. Insecticides would certainly take care of the aphids, but….

… what damage would the insecticide do? The answer to that question comes by observing your garden. There is a small world of insects living there, good ones and pests. Insecticides will kill all insects, benign insects as well as insects that are the natural predators of pests such as ladybugs, praying mantis, assassin bugs, spiders and more.  Let’s take a closer look at the small world around these daisies.

Hover Fly – click photo

The hover fly is a common fly in our area. It gets its name from their ability to hover in midair, then dart here and there, sometimes backwards. The adult does not sting and feeds on pollen and nectar and they are important pollinators but their larvae are very important predators of aphids, thrips, and other caterpillars. These are excellent insects for the garden. Insecticides would eliminate them.

Green Bottle Fly – click

The green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata), also called a blowfly, is a scavenger of all things decomposing and will lay eggs in carrion, thus cleaning up what other animals cannot eat. Unless this fly invades your house or garbage and causes problems, it is not a threat to humans in the garden. It’s a natural pollinator attracted to the nectar of the daisy.

miniature ants – click photo

Almost too small to be identified as ants by my eyesight, the camera zoomed in on these miniature ants who are after food, too. These are benign insects that do no harm to the daisies and are food for other insects and birds.

 Skipper Butterfly – click photo

This little butterfly could be the Yehl Skipper (Poanes yehl), a fairly uncommon skipper that is seen along the coast at this time of year, but I prefer my IDs to be confirmed by an expert. This fella would be done in by an insecticide.

Soldier Beetle – click photo

This soldier beetle or Pennsylvania leatherwing beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) is a cousin to the lightning bug. They are common in the garden and beneficial as a pollinator and a predator of aphids and other small insects.

sweat bee – click photo

A variety of bees visited the daisies and we all know we need those pollinators. Although the sweat bee can be a nuisance when it seeks out the salt in our sweat, it is considered a benefit in the garden due to pollination.

mystery insect – click photo

These tiny insects were unknown to me. These winged insects were the size of pepper flakes to the naked eye. I watched them through the camera lens become the meal of a few hungry crab spiders that lived around the petals.

The answer to the original question about insecticides is IPM (Integrated Pest Management). IPM is a sustainable method of management using biological, cultural, physical and some chemicals to minimize environmental damage. Using a insecticide for the aphids indiscriminately will have a negative and damaging effect on all insects that depend on this small ecosystem for life.  Because there is no sign of damage to the plants and the insects are a part of the food chain for predator insects, I will allow the aphids to live in the daisy bed and permit the natural system to work. But I will monitor the flowers for signs of disease or damage. If I must interfere, I will learn about the life cycle of the insect, how best to control it physically, such as picking off or pinching the colonies to kill them. My next step will be to spray soapy water beneath the blooms. And if all else fails, the very last attempt would be a careful use of pesticides, preferably the newer natural pesticides derived from botanicals.

It’s better to become familiar with IPM techniques and implement a regular monitoring program before using any biological controls. Read more about IPM here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester