About buyunghadi

Like bugs, good food, beer, fascinating books and conversations. Not necessarily in that order.

Sighted at McCrory: Dazzling colors in a tight package

Photo: Nita S. Dewi

We saw this little critter with dazzling colors at McCrory last week. I’m not a specialist in cicadelids but I think it’s a red-banded leafhopper, a common insect among trees around here. If it is indeed a red-banded leafhopper, it has the ability to transmit Xylella fastidiosa, a phytopathogenic bacteria causing Pierce’s Disease or leaf scorch on elms and oaks. I just can’t get over its dazzling colors. The run-of-the-mill hypothesis for adaptive advantage of having such brilliant combination of body colors is that it signals bad taste or down-right poison to any potential predators out there. Could this be the case here? Judging by my limited knowledge of leafhoppers, they are not necessarily poisonous or bad tasting to birds or other predators. If so, what drove the evolution of beautiful green-red stripes seemingly airbrushed on the critter’s side?

Sighted at McCrory: It’s a bird, it’s a moth…it’s a hummingbird moth!

Every year I and my wife eagerly await for hummingbird moth appearance at McCory Gardens and this year doesn’t disappoint. Last week we stepped into the garden just before sunset and I immediately spotted six figures hovering above some flowers. Hummingbirds moth are indeed hummingbird-like. They flap their wings very fast and as the result are able to hover steadily in the air while telescoping their long proboscis into the flowers’ nectaries, usually located way down in the bottom of the flowers. The wings usually flap so rapidly, they seem to be a blur.

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White-lined sphinx moth (Photo: Nita Sari Dewi)

The long proboscis are retractable and are usually coiled and tucked underneath the head when not used to feed. The picture below illustrates the beginning of proboscis coiling just after the moth finished feeding on a flower’s nectary.

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Note the coiling of the proboscis (Photo: Nita Sari Dewi)

The species of hummingbird moth that we seem to always spot here in Brookings is white-lined sphinx moth, Hyles lineata.White-lined sphinx moth is readily identifiable by the white streak on the forewings and the pink area on the hindwings. The larvae have a unique feature of a horn jutting out of the hind end, earning its nickname of ‘hornworm’. White-lined sphinx moth larvae feed on various plants including garden plants such as tomato, elm or evening primrose. Yet the injuries caused by their feeding are relatively mild and do not usually require any control. The larvae burrow into the ground to pupate. It takes 3-4 weeks for adult moth to emerge from the pupa. Here in South Dakota we normally see up to two generations of hummingbird moth per year.

Although some have reported that hummingbird moths are easily spotted in daylight, I always found them at dusk. This past week has been a week for hummingbird moth sightings. A professor whose office is above me stopped by and asked about ‘a hummingbird-like moth’ he saw in his yard. A research specialist left two hummingbird moths on my desk (“They were coming after me!”), and finally I caught the town librarians chattering about these moths when checking out my customary weekend books on Friday. How about you? Have you spotted a hummingbird moth lately?

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Photo: Nita Sari Dewi

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What is pink, clumpy and found in a birdfeeder?

A couple of weeks ago, one of our county extension offices sent an email connecting me with somebody with an amusing insect story from her backyard. Susan Stone-Douglas was the person with the story. She is kind enough to write her part of the story for this blog:

“On April 17, 2012 I took my birdfeeder down to fill it and found this cocoon-like matter under the lid.  I thought it was a spider nest.  Being allergic to spider bites I wasn’t thrilled.  But at the same time I was totally fascinated by the beauty and symmetry of what Mother Nature produces. 

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I first emailed my picture to my friend Shari Kosel and she forwarded it to her sister in New Mexico, whose 10 year old son, Reiney Houfek, loves bugs of any kind.  Reiney told Shari it wasn’t a spider nest it was a clump of moth eggs.

Meanwhile I had Googled the Extension Service and emailed my picture to them at SDSU and also my friend Dr. Holly Downing, an entomologist at BHSU.  The entomologist’s from both colleges confirmed our budding 10 year old entomologist was correct and went on to identify the moth.  Holly told me the black dot in the center of each egg told her they had already hatched, which, of course, proved true.  I never did get to see what came out of the cocoon.  I’m just happy it wasn’t spiders.

I also posted my picture on Facebook and an amazing conversation resulted.”

An amusing story indeed! It has all sorts of interesting little parts: mysterious cocoon-like thing in a bird feeder, a 10 year-old budding entomologist and a testimony of Facebook power to create conversations. What more can you want from a story?

The egg clump found in Sue’s bird feeder is indeed a moth egg cluster. Meal moths in particular are fond of laying their eggs in any location with accumulation of bird feeds with a long-term view that the hatching larvae can use the bird feed as food source later. Meal moths do not constitute a problem outdoors. They shouldn’t harm the bird and their populations do not usually become too big. They can become a problem indoors when they do get in. Meal moth larvae tend to be found in stored grains and their derivative products (e.g. flour, pet food, etc.). Keeping the stored grains in well lidded containers, not keeping them for too long and general sanitation of the storage area are good practices to keep meal moths away.

Again, thanks to Sue for sharing her story and kudos for Reiney Houfek for the spot-on id of the moth eggs!

Sighted at McCrory: Red admirals in disguise and another good-old butter-colored fly

This is the first post of what I expect to be highly irregular yet hopefully unique reports of insect sightings at McCrory Gardens in Brookings, SD. I, my wife and our baby enjoy McCrory gardens about once a week especially in the spring and fall. Each time we spot a blog-worthy insect during our walk, I’ll try to share it on this blog.
This past weekend, McCrory Gardens was teeming with butterflies, mostly Pierid butterflies and red admirals. We were walking past the  the cottage garden when I saw something I’ve never noticed about red admirals before. Take a look at the picture above if you please.
The picture above shows a spread of leaf litter right outside the small cottage. Now, try to spot a red admiral hidden among the litter.
Found it yet? If not, try the picture below for a size. This second picture was taken at a more or less same angle as the first one with a bit of a zoom.
A bit clearer, eh? Indeed, I’ve not noticed that red admirals blend rather well with leaf litters. The underside of the wings is dull and blend even better with dead leaves (I tried to wait until it rested flat-winged but my patience ran over pretty quickly), but even with the bright red lines on the upperside of the wings they still seemed to disguise themselves quite fine. The picture below shows the closest zoom of the three pics I took.
Red admirals are fun. They belong to the family Nymphalidae or brush-footed butterflies. Other popular nymphalids include emperor and tortoiseshell butterflies. Red admirals are readily found in backyard gardens and I’ve heard stories that once a red admiral chose a garden to be its home, it also adopts the gardener alighting on him/her quite unabashedly.
As a parting image of this first-ever ‘Sighted at McCrory’ posting, below is a picture of a Pierid butterfly taken at the gardens. Pieridae is a family of butterfly commonly identified by its yellow-white-orangish wing color. The story goes that the word ‘butterfly’ was first coined in conjunction with the color property of a pierid butterfly: butter-colored fly.
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How do seed-applied insecticides affect bee health?

Pick an insecticide with a neonicotinoid active ingredient, say Thiamethoxam, and browse through the label to the point where you find the information on “Environmental Hazard”. It is that part of the label that tells you  whether the particular insecticide is toxic against non-target organisms. Under this headline, you’ll find something like “This product is toxic to wildlife and highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates.” with a standard precautionary note running like “do not contaminate water”. Interestingly, depending on the insecticide label you read, you may or may not find this line “This toxic is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops or weeds”. Two insecticides with exactly the same neonicotinoid active ingredient may have differing labels when it comes to bee-related risks, what gives?

The underlying thought is that some insecticides are utilized as foliar application and thus have a very real risk of being sprayed on bees. Yet other insecticides, albeit containing the same active ingredient, are formulated as seed treatment and, consequently, assumed to pose low risk to bees due to low chance of exposure. Risk is, as the mantra goes, the meeting of toxicity and exposure.

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Photo: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, http://www.insectimages.org

A research by a team of entomologists at Purdue University may shed a light on this matter. In their open-access paper, the authors reported that “extremely high levels of clothianidin and thiamethoxam were found in planter exhaust material produced during the planting of treated maize seed.” Insecticide-treated seeds are sticky and to prevent the sticking of seeds in the planter talc are often added to the mixture. The talc that has been in close contact with insecticide are often blown away as a part of planter ‘exhaust material’, carrying traces of insecticides on them. Blooming weeds around planted fields, in this case dandelions, were found to contain neonicotinioid insecticides. The detectable level of neonicotinoids on these flowers may come from direct settling of insecticide-containing dust on them or by the weeds taking up the insecticides from the soil. Honey bees readily forage on these flowering weeds.

At the minimum, this result highlighted a possible route of exposure previously assumed not to exist: insecticide may still reach bees even if it is used to treat seeds and not as a foliar spray. Whether the amount of insecticide carried through planter exhaust poses significant poisoning risk to bees is yet to be convincingly proven. Yet, if further research shows that this route of exposure significantly increase the poisoning risk to bees during planting season, thought must be given on managing planter exhaust.

A tale of two bad bugs: bed bug vs bat bug

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It’s unseasonably warm for a winter in South Dakota. Yet, we have not seen many outdoor bugs. Indoor bug, unfortunately, is another story. This winter, we’ve had sightings of the bug deemed worthy to be called the most evil animal by Time Magazine: bed bugs. Yes, bed bugs are on the prowl, even here in South Dakota.

Interestingly enough, among the submissions to Diagnostic Clinic at SDSU, some of the bugs showed decidedly different characteristics. It turned out that we have some bat bugs mixed in with the bed bugs submission.

In the picture above, bed bug (Cimex lectularius) is the specimen on the left while bat bug (Cimes pilosellus) is the specimen on the right. Compared to bed bugs, bat bugs have longer hairs all over their bodies, as hopefully shown in the picture above. While both can feed on human, bat bugs feed primarily on bats as the name implies. Thus, bat bug infestation usually coincides with bats making home in the same structure. Bat bugs do not fare well when limited on human blood diet and consequently do not cause a prolonged infestation problem that bed bugs can pose.

Inspecting the rooms where the bugs are found is crucial. Look for bugs in seams, creases and folds of the mattress and box springs. Search the bed frame and head board thoroughly. In advanced stage of infestation, the bugs may also hide anywhere in the room, such as behind electrical switch plates, plaster cracks, underneath the rugs, etc. Cleaning all the clothes and linens in hot water and vacuuming the room and furniture thoroughly may help. Eventually, getting rid of bed bugs is tricky and if infestation continues it may be best left to pest control professionals.