Minstrels of the meadow: Short-winged meadow katydid, Conocephalus brevipennis

Minstrels of the meadow: Short-winged meadow katydid, Conocephalus brevipennis

 

Female katydids are easily distinguished from males by their egg-laying appendage, the ovipositor, on their rear end.

Female katydids are easily distinguished from males by their egg-laying appendage, the ovipositor, on their rear end.

 

September and October are spectacular months to head for the meadow. Many insects and other arthropods that have spent the entire spring and summer months developing reach their magnificent fully-grown size in autumn. On a recent outing with a hearty band of graduate students from the University of Maryland, we encountered one of the most interesting minstrels of the meadow, the delightful short-winged katydid. Armed with a bug net on a stick, one plucky student captured a gorgeous female katydid. While extracting said beauty from the net, Ms. Katydid demonstrated her prodigious leaping ability with a vault exceeding her body length by at least a dozen times.

Check out the super long egg-laying appendage called an ovipositor on the katydid’s rear end, her ginormous legs for springing away from danger, and her very short wings giving her the common name of short-winged meadow katydid.

In addition to observing and handling these amazing leapers, one of the true pleasures of fall is the serenade provided by katydids and their relatives, crickets. Both day and night in September and October, trills, chirps, and clicks can be heard in forests, meadows, and home landscapes as katydids and crickets engage in dating games. Katydids produce sound by rubbing a structure found on one forewing, called a scraper, against another structure, called a file, on the opposing forewing. These sounds are called stridulations.  Many insects and other animals stridulate as a form of defense or to communicate with other members of their species. The song of the melodious male short-winged meadow katydid consists of a series of buzzes and ticks interspersed with short pauses. His goal is to attract a mate. At a distance, female short-winged katydids are first drawn to the general din created by several males as they vie to create the perfect song. After locating other members of her species, the lady short-winged meadow katydid plays the role of Ariana Grande on The Voice and judges the worthiness of her potential mate by the quality of his song. Clever scientists have found that the buzz component of the male’s song may be the vibe that seals the deal and wins her katydidly attention. To hear the courting song of the male short-winged meadow katydid, please click on the following link.

http://songsofinsects.com/katydids/short-winged-meadow-katydid

Like katydids we met in previous episodes, short-winged katydids are omnivores. Foliage, flowers, and occasional meaty tidbits like aphids are on the menu. As we admired our captive katydid, a question arose as to how one knows the gender of katydid. For many members of the katydid and cricket clans, this task is pretty simple. As with all insects, female katydids are the ones that lay eggs. To shield eggs from the wicked winter, female katydids of different species deposit eggs in protected locations beneath the surface of the soil, in plant tissue, or under the bark of a tree. This task is accomplished with the help of an elongated egg-laying appendage called an ovipositor, located on the rear end of the katydid. Males lack an ovipositor so differentiation of female and male katydids is a straightforward task. On a warm autumn day take a moment to visit the meadow and listen for the katydid’s song. If you are lucky enough to spot one, check for the ovipositor and see if you have discovered the troubadour, a male singing his heart out, or the object of his desire, the lovely female short-winged katydid.

Acknowledgements

We thank the Entomology Graduate Student Organization of the University of Maryland, Montgomery County Master Naturalists, and the Audubon Naturalists Society at Woodend for providing the inspiration for this and a previous episode about short-winged katydids. The interesting article “Calling Communication in Meadow Katydids (Orthoptera, Tettigoniidae): Female Preferences for Species-specific Wingstroke Rates “ by Patrick A. Guerra and Glenn K. Morris, and “Songs of Insects, A Guide to the Voices of Crickets, Katydids & Cicadas” were used to prepare this episode.

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2021 Emergence of Brood X Cicadas

Learn About the 2021 Periodical Brood X Cicada Emergence & Its Effect on the Eastern United States

That incessant buzzing noise droning throughout the spring and summer nights in the Eastern United States is due to the periodical cicada.

The sounds we hear are actually mating calls made by male periodical cicadas (Hemiptera). To create such a sound, the pest uses a drum-like organ known as a tymbal.

Residents on the East Coast have dealt with the noisiest evenings ever. This is due to the 2021 emergence of Brood X or the Great Eastern Brood, which has resulted in billions of the periodical cicadas crowding 15 states throughout the Eastern U.S. Those affected states include Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, among others.

A natural phenomenon that occurs only once every 17 years, the 2021 emergence of Brood X marks the largest arrival of periodical cicadas yet.

Brood X Cicadas & Their Environmental Impact on the Eastern U.S.

The 17-year cicada emergence of 2021 resulted in billions of the bugs — about 1.4 million cicadas per acre — according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

This number has the potential to reach up to a trillion periodical cicadas, which is more pests than most people care to see.

Signs of Brood X cicadas include casts of thin, brown cicada shells scattered on the ground or on trees, small tunnels and holes near or around the bases of tree trunks, and loud buzzing sounds at night.

closeup of a cream-colored emerging periodical cicada shedding its brown shell on a tree trunk

Farmers and orchard owners may find the bugs to be a nuisance as female periodical cicadas make incisions in young trees to lay their eggs, causing harm to the tree. This can be avoided, however, by wrapping young trees in netting or other man-made barriers.

Otherwise, it is highly suggested by the USDA that farmers and orchard owners refrain from planting trees during the springtime, as the plants can be destroyed by periodical cicadas.

But periodical cicadas are harmless to fully grown shrubs and trees.

After emerging, the pest has a lifespan of only four weeks, which means farmers and orchard owners can safely resume their work schedule as early as August.

Aside from young trees, periodical cicadas pose little threat to the environment, people, or animals.

Actually, in many respects periodical cicadas are beneficial to the environment.

Upon emergence, the tunnels and holes periodical cicadas dig provide aeration for soil. When they die, the decaying bodies provide nitrogen and nutrients needed for growing trees.

Periodical cicadas are not venomous, nor do they bite or sting. In terms of lawn pests, periodical cicadas are not dangerous, but can be a nuisance.

 What to Know About Periodical Cicadas

Due to periodical cicadas’ numerous predators — such as frogs, mice, racoons, birds, opossums, and even certain types of fungi — the species collectively births a single brood of millions to a billion of cicadas.

The brood that emerged in 2021, known as Brood X, burrowed underground and lived by eating the roots of plants until this year, after 17 years, they emerged en masse from beneath the surface to mature above ground. 

Without the species’ synchronized, high-volume birth or emergence, periodical Brood X cicadas would otherwise face extinction as there would not be enough of the bugs left to reproduce.

But through this survival strategy, called prey satiation, predators can eat their fill of the bugs while leaving plenty of excess periodical cicadas to breed the next generation.

Periodical cicadas normally emerge during the first or second week of May. In order for the brood to dig its way to the surface, ground temperatures must reach at least 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

At this temperature, the ground is soft enough for the bugs to break out from underground. Depending on weather conditions, the soil temperature is perfect for the species’ arrival by late spring — or at the very latest, early summer.

Periodical cicadas enjoy a diet of deciduous tree roots and twigs. As a result, the deciduous forests of the Eastern region of the U.S. face high populations of the bug. Periodical cicadas can be found in 15 Eastern states, including those bordering New England, like New York.

This species of pest is easily identifiable by their thick, black bodies, orange abdomens, bright red, bulging eyes, and large, transparent wings.

They are often seen on the stems or leaves of shrubs, trees, and other forest plants. Male cicadas emit loud buzzing noises to attract female mates.

closeup of a black-bodied Brood X cicada with red eyes and transparent wings crawling across a gray rock and a brown stick.

The above-ground lifespan of a periodical cicada is only a month. Meaning, in only a four-week window, adult cicadas will have mated, produced offspring, and died.

Before their death, female periodical cicadas can lay over 500 eggs, which are stored in trees.

This pest has quite the list of tasks to accomplish in such a short timeframe!

Cicadas are cold-blooded, so they rely on warm external temperatures to survive. When the temperature reaches below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, periodical cicadas do not have the energy to sing, fly, or mate — and thus, the pest dies.

Also known as nymphs, after baby cicadas hatch, they will crawl down from their birthplaces within the incisions of tree trunks and burrow underground to hide from the cold. The nymphs will live as subterranean beings until another 17 years have passed.

Address Infestations with Pest Experts

Homeowners and business owners alike can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that it is unlikely to encounter a cicada infestation in the home or office.

But that doesn’t mean protection from this pest — and many others — should be put on the back burner.

Cicadas can cause significant damage to young trees, such as maple, oak, or apple — all of which are commonly found in the Northeast.

Tree damage can be prevented by adding tree wraps or other protection around the trunk of the tree. It’s also important to avoid planting adolescent trees within four years of a cicada emergence as the young plant could still be susceptible to damage.

If you do find that your home or business has an infestation of any kind, it’s best to consult with a professional for proper treatment and exclusion.  

The pest control professionals at Catseye Pest Control have the necessary training and skills to handle a multitude of infestations — including pest, rodent, and wildlife infestations.

Even though cicadas aren’t a direct threat to humans, the damage caused by the pest can be a nightmare for property owners.

To learn how the pest and wildlife control services from Catseye can benefit your home or business, contact us today.

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How to Keep Mosquitoes Away & Prevent Bites

Protect Yourself & Loved Ones from Mosquitoes & How to Treat Their Bites

A common nuisance that can quickly turn into a deadly threat, mosquitoes are a buzzkill to summer family fun outdoors.

Mosquito season for the Northeast United States begins mid-April or early May and can last until mid-to-late October. If the fall weather is unseasonably warm, it can continue until November.

Although often harmless, mosquitoes can carry multiple deadly viruses, including Zika and EEE (Eastern equine encephalitis), for which there are currently no publicly available vaccines or medicines.

Therefore, it is important to protect yourself from mosquitoes, especially in moist climates where the pests thrive.

What Attracts Mosquitoes?

Mosquitoes are attracted to stagnant water as they like laying their eggs on the surface. Common examples of stagnant water around the home include untreated pools, puddles, ponds, and basins.

In fact, only female mosquitoes bite people and animals for a blood meal. Blood from other organisms is needed for female mosquitoes to produce eggs.

The odor and bacteria released from human skin via perspiration also attracts mosquitoes. Enjoying a volleyball game with the family or working in the garden can quickly become a dream scenario for any mosquito.  

As a result, exposed parts of the body that retain moisture such as the feet, ankles, wrists, and hands are more susceptible to mosquito bites.

Mosquitoes are most active in the early morning and evening. As the temperature drops, mosquitoes move to enclosed areas like sheds and garages for warmth.

Preventative Methods Against Mosquitoes

The most effective prevention methods against mosquitoes focus on discouraging the lawn pests from mating and reproducing. This means removing or destroying mosquitoes’ breeding habitats.

Keep objects that retain standing water such as toys, tarp covers, or buckets, dry and empty. Dump the standing water from objects and drain excess water around the home to eliminate potential places for mosquitoes to lay eggs.

Change the water in bird baths, basins, and plant trays at least once a week. Swimming pools should be regularly treated and continuously circulating. If this isn’t possible, covering the pool when not in use can help to deter the pest.

Netting around terraces, canopies, and other outdoor spaces can help to provide a protective barrier from adult mosquitoes.

Gaps in walls, doors, and windows must be sealed to prevent mosquitoes from entering. Without refuge from low temperatures, the cold will kill them naturally.

Mosquitoes tend to thrive in higher temperatures — around 80 degrees Fahrenheit — but temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit can be troublesome for the pest.

Ankles and feet tend to have an odor that mosquitoes find appealing.

Using an electric fan aimed low can help to keep the lawn pests at bay.  Their flimsy, papery wings can make them poor flyers, especially against a strong breeze.

Mosquitoes love bright lights. Use LED lights or yellow lights as these types of lights tend to be ignored by mosquitoes.

Organic & EPA-Approved Repellents

Appropriate use of EPA-approved or organic repellents can protect from mosquitoes. These repellents are also safe for children and expectant mothers.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these EPA-approved and child-friendly mosquito repellents:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • IR3535
  • 2-undecanone
  • PMD or Para-menthane-diol (for children ages three and over)
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (for children ages three and over)

While not EPA-approved, natural or organic mosquito repellents are an alternative for those uncomfortable with using chemicals.

The following are organic repellents that are not to be used on children under three years old or pets:

  • Lavender
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Thyme oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Citronella
  • Tea tree oil

Pet-owners concerned about toxic repellents can use these pet-safe natural repellents:

  • Basil plant
  • Catnip plant
  • Lemon balm
  • Rosemary
  • Geranium oil
  • Soybean oil

Treating clothing with a repellent can turn garments into another protective layer against mosquitoes.

Repellent sprays with less than 1% of permethrin can protect a piece of clothing for up to six washes, but it must be applied generously.

Mosquito bites look like puffy, reddish hive-like bumps or dark bruises. In the event that you do get bit, avoid itching the affected area as this causes irritation and infection. Instead, focus on soothing the affected area.

closeup of an irritated mosquito bite on a person’s arm

To soothe a mosquito bite, wash the area with soap and water then apply ice. Ice calms the itching and swelling.

Make a paste using a tablespoon of baking soda and a small amount of water. Treat the affected area with this paste, let sit for 10 minutes, then wash it off.

For further treatment, over-the-counter anti-itch creams or antihistamine lotions also successfully soothe mosquito bites.

Safeguard Your Property from Mosquitoes with Catseye

Having a safe and fun summer or fall means keeping your home and outdoor living space pest-free.

Catseye Pest Control offers organic tick and mosquito treatments for outdoor spaces and yards.

Clients can expect an in-depth inspection of the property followed by a customizable treatment program and monthly maintenance services to ensure the yard and property remains pest-free.

Using organic and environmentally friendly products, this treatment plan reinforces properties against lawn pests while also being safe for children and pets.

Catseye provides organic, foolproof mosquito control solutions for any property, leaving you with peace of mind. Contact Catseye today for a free inspection.

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USDA 2021 Efforts to Eradicate Invasive Asian Longhorned Beetle

Learn About the 2021 National Asian Longhorned Beetle Eradication Project to Remove the Invasive Pest From the Most Affected States

In 1996, the United States received influxes of Chinese exports in raw wooden packaging material.

Little did anyone know that such cargo also transported an invasive species — the Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis) or ALB — right onto U.S. soil.

The first sighting of the nonnative beetle was reported in New York of that same year. The wood-eating pest quickly spread to other parts of the country, especially the Northeast. States like Massachusetts and New Jersey started facing severe infestations.

Today, Asian longhorned beetles threaten the country’s valuable forest resources and national reserves that are worth billions.

As a result, the foreign beetle has been engaged in an ongoing battle with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA’s efforts successfully eradicated the invasive pests from Illinois in 2014, New Jersey in 2013, and parts of New York between 2013 and 2019.

But the problem still persists. Acute numbers of ALB infected trees have been discovered in Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina.

Now, the USDA’s 2021 Asian longhorned beetle eradication program is focused on combatting the foreign beetle infestation in, what are currently, the most affected states.

Current USDA Efforts to Expel the Asian Longhorned Beetle From the Eastern U.S.

In 2021, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is cracking down on Asian longhorned beetle infestations by quarantining highly infected areas in Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina.

The federally quarantined areas include:

  • 110 square miles in Worcester County, Massachusetts.
  • 53 square miles in Long Island, New York.
  • 56.5 square miles in Clermont County, Ohio.
  • 76.4 square miles in Charleston and Dorchester Counties of South Carolina.

Property owners in these areas can rest easy as USDA APHIS experts remove and treat infested trees for free. And this year, the APHIS is not using insecticides.

Instead, program officials want to focus on removal of infected trees and treatment of high risk trees.

Ultimately, the goal of the 2021 USDA APHIS Asian longhorn beetle eradication program is to eliminate the invasive beetles from the U.S. through environmentally friendly practices.

Upon discovery of infected trees, APHIS teams completely remove them from the premises. This includes uprooting the host trees’ stumps, roots, and all shoots.

tree with green, orange, and yellow leaves being cut down with a white crane

Enclosed trucks transport all infected materials away from the quarantined site(s), so no ALB debris escapes. The infested components are then incinerated.

Although such removal practices may seem extreme, they eliminate any chance of reinfestation. To stop the spread, all infested sprouts and foliage of a host tree must be completely destroyed.

High risk trees within the quarantined site(s) are treated before infestation can begin with herbicides or other chemical agents — except for insecticides.

This reinforces high risk trees to withstand or repel Asian longhorn beetle infestations until experts can completely eradicate the pests from all surrounding areas.

The Damaging Effects of Asian Longhorned Beetles on Hardwood Forests

Since their arrival in 1996, Asian longhorned beetles’ parasitic effects on their hardwood hosts have resulted in the removal of over 30,000 trees.

The subsequent damage to recreational areas, forest reserves and national parks has cost state and federal governments over $269 million.

Trees that host these invasive beetles die within 10 years, with no chance of regrowth or recovery. They simply rot away, allowing more Asian longhorned beetles to spread and infect surrounding trees.

Asian longhorned beetle infestations cause more collective damage than gypsy moths and contagious tree diseases — such Dutch elm disease and chestnut tree blight — combined.

But the potential losses are even greater.

If left unaddressed, Asian longhorn beetles could cost tree-reliant industries — such as lumber, maple syrup production, and fall-foliage tourism over $41 billion in losses.

The potential number of destroyed trees could reach 1.2 billion. This translates into a nationwide economic loss of $669 billion.

Signs of An ALB Infestation

Asian longhorned beetles originated from East Asia, namely China, Japan, and Korea. By infesting wooden crates used to deliver imported goods into the U.S., the species infiltrated the country’s national forests.

Most hardwood deciduous trees fall victim to the Asian longhorned beetle, including:

  • Maple trees
  • Birch trees
  • Chestnut trees
  • Elmwood trees
  • Poplar trees
  • Willow trees
  • Ash trees
  • Horse trees

Using their mandibles or jaws to drill dime-sized holes into the bark of trees, Asian longhorned beetles turn hardwood trunks into hollow chambers to store their eggs.

Beetle types that exhibit such behavior are called borers because they “bore” into wood.

closeup of brown tree with small holes on it with red manmade markings, on a background with red cobblestones

A single female Asian longhorned beetle can lay up to 90 eggs in her lifetime. Typically, these eggs are stored under tree bark. Asian longhorned beetle eggs resemble white rice grains.

brown exposed wood piece with white Asian longhorned beetle eggs on it held by a hand

In addition to tunneling under bark and hollowing out trees to make room for their eggs, Asian longhorn beetles also eat the bark, wood, and leaves.

When Asian longhorned beetle eggs hatch, the babies, called larvae, remain inside their birth chambers until after the pupal stage, where they mature into adults.

During their immature years as larvae and pupae, the beetles look like small cream-colored or brown grubs.

white larva and silver dime held by a man’s hand wearing a gold ring

It takes a year for this invasive beetle to grow up. Prior to adulthood, immature Asian longhorned beetles live safely within the trees they were born in. They eat the trees’ woody tissue for nutrients.  

To survive winters, the invasive beetle’s larvae burrow deeper inside trees, lining the resulting tunnels and chambers with their own excrement, known as frass. Frass looks like sawdust. This substance acts as an insulator for ALB larvae, but obstructs trees’ vascular systems, killing them from the inside out.

Infected trees are riddled with holes. Sap seeps from the bark, making infected trees look as if they’re bleeding syrup.

The insides of infected trees appear rotted. Hollow chambers housing ALB grubs on beds of frass can be found.

Fully maturated Asian longhorned beetles emerge from their pupal chambers in the summer — mostly from June through July.

Within three weeks after emerging, adult Asian longhorned beetles mate, reproduce, and die. The spread, however, continues through the species’ numerous offspring.

How to Identify Asian Longhorned Beetles

Asian longhorned beetles are big. On average, they reach 1 and-a-half inches in length. Their bullet-shaped bodies are a lustrous black speckled with bright white spots.

These unique markings give the ALB its nickname — the starry sky beetle.

black and white Asian longhorned beetle crawling across a green leaf next to brown and white wet rocks

The beetle’s long black and white striped antennae can’t be missed. Paired with their sharp jaws, called mandibles, adult Asian longhorned beetles are quite intimidating.

But its frightful appearance is just that. The invasive beetle is completely harmless to animals and people.

Unless you are made of wood, bark, or leaves, you are in no direct danger of this foreign pest.

Combat Invasive Pests with Catseye

A beautiful yard or property can turn into a nightmare if infested by an invasive, destructive pest like the Asian longhorned beetle.

However, while Catseye Pest Control does not treat for this particular species, our licensed professionals are experts in eradicating many other types of pests.

Lawn pests  — including ticks, mosquitoes, hornets, wasps, and more — all pose major threats to both people and property. But tackling an infestation alone is not only dangerous. It’s ineffective.

An untrained individual puts both themselves and others at risk if they confront an infestation without the help of a licensed pest control specialist.

Unlike an untrained individual, a pest control expert has the equipment, know-how, and experience to completely eradicate an infestation safely.

A licensed expert also reinforces the property to ensure a reinfestation does not occur.

Catseye Pest Control’s experienced pest control professionals handle infestations of all insect types, from stinging insects to wood-eating vermin like termites.

Our trained specialists use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices to effectively remove any pest from the premises. IPM methods are safe for pets and children. Plus, it’s environmentally friendly.

There are four main steps to the IPM approach:

  • Inspection — pest control specialists conduct a meticulous analysis of the property to assess the severity of the infestation.
  • Identification — from the inspection, we determine what kind of pest is infesting the home, how it is infesting the home, and what to do to stop them.
  • Treatment — using organic and environmentally friendly pest products, we treat the affected area accordingly.
  • Partnership — our pest control experts regularly communicate with clients and install monitoring devices throughout the property to consistently surveil the affected area for suspicious activity even after treatment is completed.

With Catseye Pest Control, homeowners and property owners can rest assured their infestations are properly eradicated. Contact us today for a free inspection.

This article appeared first on Catseye Pest

Get Rid of Yellowjacket Nests in Your Walls & Home

Signs of a Yellowjacket Wasp Nest Inside Walls of a House & How to Handle an Infestation

Yellowjacket wasps are aggressive and dangerous stinging insects native to the Northeast.

The stinging insect is a common nuisance to the region, particularly during the summer, as it thrives in warm climates.

Residents of the New England area, and surrounding states, should beware of this venomous pest. Its stings are painful and can trigger fatal allergic reactions like anaphylaxis.

Homes or properties with flower beds, wall voids, rock piles, or sheds may face a yellowjacket infestation at some point in the spring or summer season, as these can look quite inviting to the stinging pest.

Yellowjackets love to build their nests in trees, shrubs, and man-made structures — like the walls of a home, garage, shed, or other building.

To keep yourself and loved ones safe, it’s important to understand how to detect the signs of a yellowjacket infestation.

It’s also just as vital to know who to call to get rid of a wasp nest in walls of a house or other manmade structure.

Signs of a Yellowjacket Wasp Nest Inside Walls

Homeowners should be alarmed if they notice a large number of yellowjackets flying in or around the home, garage, or other structure on the property.  

It should also raise concern if a round, paper nest about the size of a softball is found on the premises. This softball-sized nest is a budding habitat that can house up to 4,000 yellowjackets if left unaddressed.

: closeup of gray yellowjacket nest in a house eave with three wasps crawling out of the nest

Yellowjackets can enter the walls of a structure through the mortar, frame, or an opening in the ventilation system. To build or expand nests in walls, yellowjackets chew through the infrastructure of a building — primarily wood, drywall, or even caulk.

A major sign that a yellowjacket nest is in the walls of a structure is hearing scratching, humming, or crinkling noises that sound from the wall(s). The crinkling noises sound as if someone is rustling cellophane against the wall.

Such noises can indicate that a yellowjacket colony is building or expanding their habitat within the wall(s) of the house. If you hear this sound while in your home, garage, shed, or other structure on the property, a professional must be called to get rid of the wasp nest in the walls.

Fully developed yellowjacket nests in walls contain many layers and consequently have numerous access points.

The nest’s intricate infrastructure ensures the yellowjacket colony is sheltered from danger and thus makes it incredibly difficult and risky for an untrained individual to remove.

Yellowjackets are also very territorial and will attack if they feel the colony is being threatened. Moreover, unlike bees, a single yellowjacket can sting multiple times. Even worse is yellowjackets oftentimes attack in groups.

Homeowners should be extremely cautious if they suspect a yellowjacket nest is hiding in the walls of the home and immediately call a licensed pest control expert.

A licensed specialist can remove the yellowjacket nest and seal all the points of entry into the home or building as leaving open entryways heightens the possibility of a reoccurrence.

Avoid Getting Stung

If a yellowjacket infestation is found in or around the home, it is important residents take care to avoid getting stung until a pest control specialist arrives.

The primary danger of yellowjacket stings is that yellowjacket venom can trigger allergic reactions like swelling, hives, or rashes. If severe enough, these reactions can be life-threatening.

However, the only way to know if a person is allergic to yellowjacket venom is to get stung — which is not advisable.

Considering the possibility of severe reactions caused by yellowjacket stings, residents should take precautions to protect themselves.

If you suspect there is an infestation on the property or wasp nest in the walls of the house, individuals are advised to wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, gloves, and closed-toe shoes — especially when outside.

Layered or thick clothing can help protect skin against yellowjackets, but keep in mind that yellowjacket stingers can puncture through most fabrics, so this only works with strong, durable material, like denim.

For additional shielding, a netted veil and hat, similar to what a beekeeper might wear, can help to shield the face.

To discourage yellowjackets from swarming around the home, cover outside garbage cans as the contents, such as sugary residues from soda bottles can attract yellowjackets.

Plant herbs like thyme, citronella, and lemongrass. These herbs help to repel yellowjackets and other lawn pests, like mosquitoes.

Until a professional can address the infestation, such measures should be taken to discourage more yellowjackets from invading the property.

How Catseye Pest Control Can Eliminate a Yellowjacket Infestation

The pest and wildlife professionals at Catseye Pest Control have the skills, training, and necessary equipment to properly handle a yellowjacket infestation and wasp nest removal.

Catseye performs a free, detailed inspection of the property then creates a customized wasp removal service depending on the severity of the infestation.

To reinforce the home or building against future infestations or stimy reoccurrence, Catseye uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, which are effective yet environmentally friendly methods that remove and repel pests.

IPM is included with the Catseye Platinum Protection Program, a service that keeps pests at bay all year-round.

Contact a Professional

Unlike hornets, whose nests are typically above ground, yellowjackets prefer more enclosed spaces like walls, so finding the points of entry can be exceedingly difficult.

A trained pest technician can locate and identify access points that an untrained eye would overlook.

Yellowjackets’ aggressive nature and poisonous stingers make them tactical predators capable of harming people.

Therefore, it is best to seek a professional’s help to safely address the infestation and properly remove the nest.

Allow us to provide the swift and thorough care your property needs and that your family deserves.

Contact our technicians today to learn how we can help defend your home against unwanted pests.

This article appeared first on Catseye Pest

Coming soon to your neighborhood? Spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula

 

Like thousands of her kin in the eastern half of the United States, this very pregnant female lanternfly rests on the bark of a tree before depositing a bumper crop of eggs.

Like thousands of her kin in the eastern half of the United States, this very pregnant female lanternfly rests on the bark of a tree before depositing a bumper crop of eggs.

 

Last September we caught up the spotted lanternfly, one of the most important recent invaders of crops and landscape plants in the eastern United States. We learned about its detection in the US in 2014 in Berks County, Pennsylvania, crop damage and despair associated with lanternfly infestations, and how immature stages and adults are moving throughout our land. This year, while humans were struggling with the rampant spread of the Delta variant of Covid, lanternflies were engaged in their own astonishing spread throughout our land. Locally in the DMV, the number of infested counties went from two on September 23, 2020 to six on September 7, 2021, and Maryland saw an even greater number of infestations with a jump from two infested counties in 2020 to nine in 2021. Far-flung infestations have popped up hundreds of miles distant from the initial infestation in Berks County, PA and have appeared in Indiana, Ohio, and New York this year. Isolated detections of individual lanternflies have been found almost 500 miles from Berks County in Henderson County, North Carolina.       

In the DMV and nearby states, the number of counties infested with spotted lanternfly has increased dramatically in the past year.

In the DMV and nearby states, the number of counties infested with spotted lanternfly has increased dramatically in the past year.

How do spotted lanternflies move about? Entomologists at Penn State have found flight-incapable immature stages of spotted lanternflies able to travel hundreds of feet in their quest for food. Scientists at Cornell suggest that on their own, lanternflies can move 3 to 4 miles by walking, jumping, and flying. So, if self-initiated lanternfly dispersal is limited to a matter of miles, how are isolated individuals discovered and infestations generated hundreds of miles from the generally infested area in the mid-Atlantic? According to entomologist Julie Urban at Penn State, the most likely explanation for these long-distance peregrinations lays in human-assisted transport of lanternflies, especially lanternfly eggs. It is believed that spotted lanternflies arrived in Pennsylvania around 2012 from Asia, a trip of some 7,000 miles, in a shipment of stone products bearing lanternfly egg masses. Unlike many herbivorous insects that lay eggs on food plants of their young, spotted lanternfly mothers deposit egg masses on non-host objects including stones, cinder blocks, lawn furniture, and vehicles, in addition to trees.  These nondescript egg masses are easily overlooked on natural and human-made items and easily transported inadvertently by road or rail. Unfortunately, at the epicenter of the spotted lanternfly infestation in southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, several major interstate highways and railways run north and south, east and west, crisscrossing a region replete with warehouses, truck stops, and railroad depots embedded in a matrix of orchards, vineyards, and forests that serve as hosts for lanternflies.  Unfortunately, recent climatic data from the US and Asia suggest that much of the mid-Atlantic and Central regions of the US and portions of California, Oregon, and Washington State have climates suitable for the survival of spotted lanternfly.  

From September to December, spotted lanternflies can be found resting and feeding on tree bark and depositing eggs covered with white or grey wax. By late winter and early spring much of this protective cover has worn off and changed color to tawny brown or grey. Early stages of lanternfly nymphs are black with white speckles and in the final nymphal stage, they are red with black patches and brilliant white spots. From now until the arrival of lethal temperatures, they will be seen on a wide variety of trees. If you spot spotted lanternflies in your landscape, please report your sighting to your state Department of Agriculture or University Extension Service. Video by Mike Raupp and Mauri Hickin

Is there any good news in this unsavory story? You bet. Just as many of our indigenous beneficial insects ganged up to put a beat down on brown marmorated stink bugs, several of the same good guys – spiders, mantises, assassin bugs, and parasitic wasps – have added spotted lanternfly eggs, nymphs, and adults to their menus. Even more exciting is the discovery of two naturally occurring pathogenic fungi, Batkoa major and Beauveria bassiana, responsible for collapsing an infestation of spotted lanternflies near Reading, Pennsylvania in 2018. These and other fungi are showing great promise as mycoinsecticides that can be applied by growers and homeowners to control lanternfly nymphs and adults.

Will spotted lanternflies soon be coming to your neighborhood? Maybe so, and officials in several states are urging citizens to report sightings of spotted lanternflies to your state Department of Agriculture or University Extension Service.

This map shows the rapidly expanding number of counties reporting infestations of spotted lanternflies (blue counties). Internal state quarantines are outlined in red, and counties with isolated detections have a small purple dot. Map courtesy of Brian Eshenaur and the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM).

This map shows the rapidly expanding number of counties reporting infestations of spotted lanternflies (blue counties). Internal state quarantines are outlined in red, and counties with isolated detections have a small purple dot. Map courtesy of Brian Eshenaur and the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM).

To learn more about spotted lanternfly, please visit these links: 

https://extension.psu.edu/spotted-lanternfly

https://nysipm.cornell.edu/environment/invasive-species-exotic-pests/spotted-lanternfly/spotted-lanternfly-ipm/biology-life-cycle-identification-and-dispersion/

https://nysipm.cornell.edu/environment/invasive-species-exotic-pests/spotted-lanternfly/spotted-lanternfly-ipm/management-predators-and-parasitoids/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/09/13/spotted-laternfly-invasive-trees-midatlantic/

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks Kevin Ambrose for providing the inspiration for this episode and Dr. Shrewsbury for spotting and wrangling spotted lanternflies. Mauri Hickin graciously provided the image of the early instar nymphs. We acknowledge the great work of scientists contributing to our knowledge of this pest with particular thanks to authors of articles and aforementioned websites used as references, including “Perspective: shedding light on spotted lanternfly impacts in the USA” by Julie M. Urban, “Dispersal of Lycorma delicatula (Hemiptera: Fulgoridae) Nymphs Through Contiguous, Deciduous Forest” by Joseph A. Keller, Anne E. Johnson, Osariyekemwen Uyi, Sarah Wurzbacher, David Long, and Kelli Hoover, “The Establishment Risk of Lycorma delicatula (Hemiptera: Fulgoridae) in the United States and Globally” by Tewodros T. Wakie, Lisa G. Neven, Wee L. Yee, andZhaozhi Lu, and “Applications of Beauveria bassiana (Hypocreales: Cordycipitaceae) to Control Populations of Spotted Lanternfly (Hemiptera: Fulgoridae), in Semi-Natural Landscapes and on Grapevines” by Eric H. Clifton, Ann E. Hajek, Nina E. Jenkins, Richard T. Roush, John P. Rost, and David J. Biddinger. Thanks to Brian Eshenaur and the entire team at the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program of Cornell University for providing the updated maps of spotted lanternfly in the US.

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Damage Caused by Termites & How to Prevent It

Signs of Termite Damage & How to Prevent Costly Repairs with Prevention

At only 1/4-inch in length, termites manage to wreak serious havoc on homes and businesses that far outweighs their weight and size.

Damage caused by termites can render buildings structurally unsound — which is a terrifying thought for any homeowner or business operator.

In fact, an average-sized colony hosts about 60,000 worker termites, which can destroy the equivalent of a single foot of a two-by-four beam in a mere five months.

Colonies that are at least five years old may contain over a million termites. So, if a termite infestation goes unnoticed, it can become problematic quite quickly.

Coastal states such as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are especially susceptible to the pests. States lining New England’s shore are attractive to termites due to the dense forestry, humidity, and rich soil.

Termites flourish under such conditions and are most prevalent in the spring and summer, but they are still active during the cooler months.

In fall and winter, termites burrow deeper underground or into the wood they are invading to stay warm.

Most species reproduce rapidly and have long lifespans, such as the eastern subterranean termite species, which is native to the Northeast. Under suitable conditions, the termite queen can live for 30 or 50 years.

Since the queen could potentially live for 50 years, this creates ample opportunity for the colony to repopulate and thrive.

In the early stages of the colony, the queen might lay 10 to 20 eggs. But, as the colony begins to flourish, she can lay nearly 1,000 eggs at a time.

All of this can happen quite quickly and can cause more than just a headache for the property owner.  

The damage caused by termites is costly and can result in financial ruin for a homeowner or business owner.

These tiny structural pests, while helpful agents in breaking down rotted trees, are a menace to man-made structures and oftentimes they are found too late.

Within the U.S. alone, termites cost property owners billions of dollars in structural damage annually and over $2 billion in repairs.

It’s crucial, therefore, to understand what attracts termites, the damage of termites, and how to reinforce a property or home to prevent termites from invading the foundation and infrastructure.

Types of Termites & the Damage Each Can Cause

There are several types of termites that present major threats to homeowners or business owners, namely subterranean termites, drywood termites, and dampwood termites.

The damage each termite causes is based on the species, burrowing habits, and the type of wood they eat.

Subterranean Termite Damage

Subterranean termites (Reticulitermes flavipes), as the name suggests, live underground, making a meal out of moist or decaying wood.

Reputed for being the fastest reproducers amongst the termite species, subterranean termites are the most common termite species in the Northeast as they thrive off the region’s fertile soil, woods, and moist climate.

Subterranean termites possess sharp teeth and powerful jaws that can destroy an entire home’s foundation if left undetected — a headache for any homeowner.

closeup of a dark, brown-colored subterranean swarming termite crawling on light brown wood surface

This type of termite needs excessive moisture, so they are most attracted to areas like drains, leaky pipes, and wooden structures that are directly embedded in soil, like porches or fences.

Homes or businesses that struggle with poor water drainage, ventilation, or are surrounded by lots of exposed wood should check for these structural pests.

Signs of a termite infestation include:

  • Detached termite wings.
  • Drooping floors.
  • Tiny holes in drywall — also known as kick-holes.
  • Peeling paint.
  • Blisters, wood tunnels, or gaps in flooring.
  • Tiny mud tubes on the ground that lead to the foundation of a structure or home.
  • Incessant clicking noises made by termite jaws sawing through hard materials.

However, even if there are no visible signs of termite damage, this does not mean a home or business is completely termite-free. It is best to contact a pest control specialist to inspect for a termite infestation.

Damage inflicted by subterranean termites is not immediately apparent as these pests eat wood from the inside out, to the point of collapsing entire buildings.

Subterranean termites feed on subfloors and the subsequent destruction resembles water damage.

closeup of a baseboard on a black carpet that has been chewed apart by termites

Severely damaged wooden structures become hollow shells that resemble honeycombs thanks to the hollowed chambers. These openings create the perfect environment for subterranean colony nests.

Subterranean termite nests appear as hollow strips that follow the grain of the wood.

The mandibles, or jaws, of subterranean termites can even saw through non-porous materials like plastic, varnished wood, and thin metal.

Other materials easily destroyed by the subterranean termite include paper, fiberboard, rubber, and cotton-based fabric.

Although it will not consume these materials, a termite could create an opening to access the wood beneath.

Drywood Termite Damage

Drywood termites (Incisitermes minor) are especially threatening to buildings and homes as they favor structurally sound, dry wood.

Drywood termites can invade the home by way of infested firewood or wooden furniture that is brought inside.

This species of termite is not as prevalent in the Northeast as they do not like excessively moist climates. But areas that face arid springs and summers like the Southeast or Midwest should beware of this termite species.

Drywood termites do not require vast sources of outside moisture to survive. The moisture contained within dry wood is enough to sustain them.

closeup of adult light brown and dark brown-colored drywood termite soldier on a piece of wood

Drywood termites’ colonies are much smaller than those of subterranean termites, generally housing only about 3,000 to 5,000 termites. Whereas subterranean termite colonies, on average, can reach around 60,000 termites or more.

But regardless of their small-sized colonies, drywood termites can still cause profound structural damage as multiple drywood colonies can exist in a single wood piece.

Drywood termites eat against the grain of wood, resulting in the destruction of both the soft springwood and hard summerwood layers of a piece of lumber.

closeup of a wooden patio post with holes created by drywood termites

This type of termite constructs its colonies by chewing tunnels and chambers in structurally sound wooden pieces such as:

  • Roof sheathing
  • Attic beams
  • Rafters
  • Siding
  • Exposed wood trim
  • Porches, decks, and patios
  • Floors
  • Subfloors
  • Door and window frames
  • Furniture
  • Walls

 

Drywood termites create kick-holes, or tiny holes in places like drywall and flooring, then dispense their feces, which resemble pellets called frass, through the openings. Frass and miniscule kick-holes are clear signs of drywood termites.

closeup of drywood termite pellets dispensed near a white baseboard

In addition to breaking beams and furniture, the presence of drywood termites can result in the structure of a home, shed, garage, or other building becoming weak and unstable.

While a subterranean termite colony can destroy a house’s infrastructure within three years, it can take a drywood termite colony between five to eight years to cause significant, but repairable — albeit expensive — damage.

But drywood termites are excellent hiders. To truly eradicate them from a building’s infrastructure, professional termite treatment and control is necessary.

Dampwood Termite Damage

Dampwood termites (termopsidae) inhabit wet wood, decayed wood, and wood embedded in or near the ground.

In terms of size, this species of termite is one of the largest found in North America. King and queen dampwood termites can reach nearly an inch in length.

closeup of a brown and yellow adult dampwood termite worker

Dampwood termites require constant exposure to water and humidity, so they often infest high-moisture areas, such as wall cavities, in structures that struggle with:

  • Old, plugged gutters
  • Leaky pipes
  • Broken ventilators
  • Obstructed drains

Buildings that face excessive moisture due to the issues listed above invite dampwood termites inside to build their colonies.

Like drywood termites, dampwood termites eat across the wood grain. Their colonies appear clean-cut since dampwood termites cover the holes they create with their own feces.

Water-damaged buildings and homes should beware of this pest as it can lead to significant issues.

closeup of termite-damaged wood next to a white, wood floor

The best defense against dampwood termites is good drainage that ensures water is swept away from the home.

A dry, well-insulated home or building helps to repel these destructive pests — making it important to repair water damage found throughout the structure.

How to Prevent Termite Damage

Although it can be nearly impossible to eliminate a termite infestation on your own, there are steps that homeowners and business owners can take as a means to help prevent an infestation from occurring.

One way to prevent termite damage before it begins is by reinforcing the structure, especially during construction. Taking extra precautions now can help to save time, headaches, and money later.

Additional steps that can be taken include:

  • Remove all surrounding, underground, or embedded tree stumps, roots, and other wood debris from the site prior to construction. This step should also be taken for established homes and buildings.
  • Enlist a licensed pest control specialist to treat soil and wood with EPA-approved liquid soil-applied termiticides and other chemicals.
  • Slope the soil surface around the building to help drain water away from the property.
  • Reinforce all foundations with concrete or barriers made from metal or plastic.
  • Properly store firewood by cutting it in small chunks, stacking it away from the home, and keeping the piles covered and raised off the ground.
  • Plant trees at least 20 feet away from a structure’s foundation
  • Immediately fix ventilation, leaking pipes, and blocked drains or gutters.
  • Regularly replace and maintain insulation to help keep it dry and pest-resistant.
  • Get rid of wood debris, rotting wood piles, damp lumber, and other similar items.

Termites are also often mistaken for carpenter ants, which cause relatively less damage and are not usually found in dry wood. But carpenter ants can still be a nightmare for homeowners and business owners alike.

Before construction, consult with a licensed pest control expert on how to reinforce the foundation and infrastructure to protect it from termite damage.

Control Termite Damage with Expert Help

Termites and other structural, wood-eating pests must be detected and stopped in the early stages of infestation to help save both the building and thousands of dollars in repair.

Do-it-yourself efforts can be helpful, but ultimately are not enough to repel termites and save a structure. Consulting an expert and having the property treated is the ultimate defense against termites.

Catseye Pest Control provides termite control and treatment services, an individualized service that covers all the bases of managing an infestation and keeps homes termite-free.

Catseye Pest Control’s termite control and treatment includes:

  • Using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices — environmentally friendly pest control techniques that focus on reinforcement against all types of pests.
  • Meticulous termite inspection(s) of the home.
  • Extensive service visits that go beyond the normally allotted time slots.
  • Customized termite treatment programs based on the severity of the property’s structural damage and infestation.

Contact Catseye now for a free pest inspection and to learn how we can help defend your home, garage, restaurant, or other building against termites.

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Large, scary hornets stripping bark from trees, eating fruit, and going “bump in the night”: European hornet, Vespa crabro

 

European hornets and other stinging insects are often found dining on fallen fruit beneath trees. Be careful near fruit trees during late summer and autumn when fruit is on the ground.

European hornets and other stinging insects are often found dining on fallen fruit beneath trees. Be careful near fruit trees during late summer and autumn when fruit is on the ground.

 

During the waning weeks of summer, messages pour in about large hornets bumping into windows at night, stripping bark from trees and shrubs, or simply frightening folks with their presence. Throughout the last two years, these giants of the wasp world were often mistaken for dreaded “murder hornets”, an invasive scourge of honeybees and beekeepers in the Pacific Northwest. Ergo, now is a good time to visit another foreigner, the European hornet, that calls the United States home. European hornets first appeared in the US in New York sometime between 1840 and 1860.These predators spread and now occupy territory from the east coast to the boarders of the Dakotas. In nature, European hornets use a tree cavity as the location for a nest, but occasionally, as was the case with my neighbor across the street, hornets will nest in a wall void.

European hornets are sometimes mistaken to be Asian giant hornets, a.k.a. murder hornets. This side-by-side comparison will help you to distinguish between the two.

European hornets are sometimes mistaken to be Asian giant hornets, a.k.a. murder hornets. This side-by-side comparison will help you to distinguish between the two.

The colony is founded by a single queen that survives the harsh winter beneath the bark of a fallen log or in a similar protected location. In spring when warmer temperatures return she becomes active, gathering bark from trees, constructing a small paper nest, and laying eggs destined to become workers. After the queen successfully raises her first batch of sterile female workers, she remains in the nest producing brood while her daughters take up the tasks of enlarging the nest, protecting it, and gathering food for the young. Caterpillars, flies, cicadas, grasshoppers and other stinging insects like yellowjackets are all on the menu. European hornets are somewhat unique from other clan members such as yellowjackets and baldfaced hornets in their foraging behaviors. European hornets hunt at night. They are also attracted to light and can be found buzzing around porch lights or heard crashing into windowpanes after dark. Several times this past month while reading in bed, European hornets were the “things that go bump in the night” at my bedroom windows.

In addition to eating other insects, in late summer and early autumn European hornets readily dine on fallen fruit and sap fluxes on tree bark. They engage in a somewhat unusual behavior of feeding on plant tissues beneath the bark of trees and shrubs. A visit to one of my neighbor’s lilacs revealed mischievous European hornets stripping bark and greedily lapping exudates leaking from the wound. This annoying behavior has been observed on many types of trees and shrubs including lilac, rhododendron, ash, and birch. Unfortunately, small trees and shrubs can be severely damaged by this behavior. Many stinging insects feast on the sweet bounty of fallen fruit beneath trees. To reduce chances of a sting by a European hornet, yellowjacket, or wasp, don protective gloves and carefully pick up fallen fruit and compost it if it poses a risk. Wear shoes rather than going barefoot when you walk near fruit trees.

Tree hollows are typical nesting sites for European hornets in the wild. Cicadas and other insects serve as protein sources for developing larvae back at the nest. Hornets often imbibe liquid nutrients from sap fluxes on tree trunks. Powerful jaws strip bark from trees to be used in nest construction and also to expose nutritious tissues just beneath the bark. Bark feeding is common on many trees and shrubs in late summer and early autumn. To get up close and personal with these hornets, wait until late autumn when stingless drones can be found.

During autumn, the hornet colony operates at a fevered pace. Inside the colony, the queen no longer produces sterile daughters. She has shifted production from workers to female and male hornets. Females are destined to become queens of future generations. Males have just one purpose and that is to mate with the new queens. After fulfilling this biological imperative, males die. As autumn wanes, the colony is abandoned and queens find protected places to spend the chilly months of late autumn and winter. The nest will not be reused in subsequent years.

This large European hornet nest came from a wall void in my neighbor’s home.

This large European hornet nest came from a wall void in my neighbor’s home.

Although these hornets are large and scary looking, humans are unlikely to be stung by European hornets. I have photographed and video-recorded these gentle giants at a very close range and other than receiving an inquisitive stare, I was unmolested. To avoid being stung, simply avoid disturbing the nest site or the hornets. If European hornets have nested in a home or another location that poses a threat to human safety, they may be exterminated. Assistance from a professional may not be a bad idea. However, if the nest is out of harm’s way, I favor the approach of my neighbors who had a “live and let live arrangement” with these giants that had taken up residence in a wall void of their home. They decided to give the nest a respectable berth and simply enjoy the comings and goings of these spectacular insects.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to many Master Naturalists and homeowners for sending images of European hornets, which served as the inspiration for this episode. Thanks to Dr. Shrewsbury for sharing videos of European hornets, Harry for directing me to his pillaged lilacs, and to Brooke and Ruth Ann for sharing a ginormous hornet’s nest that once resided inside their wall.

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How a cool creepy insect warms up: Eastern Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus

 

Large and a little creepy, dobsonflies are among the largest insects found in the DMV.

Large and a little creepy, dobsonflies are among the largest insects found in the DMV.

 

While much of the nation roasts through stifling heat waves this summer, it is hard to believe that any creature could struggle with cool temperatures. But remember from your high school biology days that many animals are poikilotherms, cold-blooded beings whose body temperatures largely depend on the ambient temperature of the environment they occupy. Terrestrial creatures including amphibians like frogs, non-feathered reptiles like snakes, and, of course, insects fit into the category of cold-blooded animals. However, to perform fundamental activities of locomotion either by legs or wings, muscles of cold-blooded insects must reach a minimum temperature to function. For example, take butterflies – in cool montane habitats of the Sierra Nevada, flight muscles in a butterfly’s thorax may require temperatures in the 90’s to sustain flight. One way to generate this level of heating is to bask in the strong mountain sunshine. Basking is a thermoregulatory behavior used by many insects and other poikilotherms to gather energy and warmth to facilitate metabolic processes and sustain activities such as walking and flight.

As homeotherms, that is, warm-blooded creatures, we have behaviors and the metabolism to help keep our body temperatures at optimal levels. One familiar way to keep warm is shivering, rapid involuntary contractions of our muscles that expend energy and generate heat to warm our bodies when we are cold. Do insects employ shivering or something akin to shivering as a way to warm up? You bet! Enter a chilly dobsonfly. Each year about this time, Bug of the Week receives requests to identify a large creepy looking insect found on the side of a building or on a plant, often near a porch light that attracts flying insects. These grotesque marvels belong to an order of insects known as the Megaloptera – “huge winged” insects – and go by the name of dobsonflies. They are among the largest winged insects found in the DMV, ranking in size with large moths and butterflies.

On a recent chilly morning on Cacapon Mountain, West Virginia when temperatures had dropped into the low 60s the night before, I spotted a magnificent female dobsonfly resting on a railing near a porch light. Apparently, temperatures in the upper 70s at nightfall were warm enough to enable this behemoth to fly toward the light and come to rest on the nearby railing of a deck. With morning’s first sunbeams just creeping over the mountains but not yet intense enough to warm flight muscles, the dobsonfly found a way to generate its own heat as a bug geek approached with a camera. Rather than a mammalian-style shiver, a burst of rapid wing-fluttering ensued. In just under two minutes, with flight muscles warmed and ready to rock, the dobsonfly escaped the probing lens of the paparazzi.

On a chilly mountain morning, watch as a creepy female dobsonfly flutters her wings to warm flight muscles in preparation for takeoff. In less than two minutes she is ready to escape the probing lens of the camera.

Extremely long mandibles of male dobsonflies are used to battle rivals. Photo credit: Nolan Jenkins

Extremely long mandibles of male dobsonflies are used to battle rivals. Photo credit: Nolan Jenkins

As you can see, female dobsonflies are magnificent, but males are really something special with their enormous sickle-shaped mandibles. Careful observations of mano-a-mano encounters between male dobsonflies reveal that their super large jaws are used in combat to dislodge competitors from substrates where potential mates might be present. These mandibles are useless in capturing prey and both male and female dobsonflies, which have powerful jaws, are not predatory as adults. As adults their diet is likely a liquid one.

Juvenile dobsonflies go by the name of hellgrammites and live a life aquatic. These fierce predators roam the interstitial spaces between stones and vegetation at the bottom of rapidly flowing streams, where they capture and dine on immature mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies. Experience tells me that their powerful jaws can deliver a memorable bite to unsuspecting humans attempting a capture. Hellgrammites are a key indicator of stream health and not found in polluted waters. Fish adore them and they are excellent bait. Like many aquatic insects, hellgrammites have gills lining the margins of the abdomen enabling them to extract oxygen from their watery habitat. In an unusual developmental twist, they also have spiracles, breathing ports, which allow them to obtain air on land. This adaptation is critical to their amphibious life style as they climb out of the water to build pupal chambers on land beneath stones, logs, or other moist protected structures. You may encounter adult dobsonflies in the morning near lighted buildings, as both sexes are attracted to light.  After mating, female dobsonflies deposit eggs on vegetation overhanging water. Hatchlings drop to the stream below to roam the benthos in search of prey. Larval development can take from one to three years. Over the next several weeks as you wander the banks of freshwater streams and rivers in our region, or visit structures with nighttime illumination near waterways, keep an eye open for these marvelous giants of the insect world.     

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks Nolan for providing images that were the inspiration for this episode. The wonderful publications “Behavioral Observations on the Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus (Megaloptera: Corydalidae) with Photographic Evidence of the Use of the Elongate Mandibles in the Male” by T. J. Simonsen, J. J. Dombroskie, and D. D. Lawrie, and “Featured Creatures, common name: eastern dobsonfly (adult), hellgrammite (larva), scientific name: Corydalus cornutus (Linnaeus) (Insecta: Megaloptera: Corydalidae: Corydalinae)” by D. Hall, and “Comparative Thermoregulation of Four Montane Butterflies of Different Mass” by Bernd Heinrich, were used as references for this episode. Many thanks to Nolan Jenkins for providing the cool image of the huge-jawed male dobsonfly.

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Monarchs arrive for their annual visit, but for how much longer? Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus

 

How much longer will beautiful monarchs visit our gardens and landscapes?

How much longer will beautiful monarchs visit our gardens and landscapes?

 

The last time we visited the magnificent monarch butterfly was August 27, 2018. That particular August turned out to be a rather good season for monarchs at my home in Columbia, MD. Monarch season this year got off to a pretty slow start with the first monarch arriving in the last week of July. Since then, on a daily basis, monarchs have been gliding about the flower beds, sipping nectar from the zinnias and cup plants during daylight hours. Their journey to grace my garden began months ago in early spring. In the Eastern US, these remarkable vagabonds depart their winter refuge in Mexico and continue their journey north for months, reaching milkweed patches in northern states and Southern Canada. In the Western US, a similar migration occurs as monarchs depart overwintering grounds in coastal California and head north to exploit patches of tender milkweeds as they become available in spring and summer. As summer wains days grow shorter and temperatures cool, and these travelers return to their hibernal redoubts. Eastern monarchs embark on an epic journey thousands of miles south to Oyamel fir forests in the mountains of Mexico. Western monarchs return to eucalypt and pine forests of coastal California from summering grounds in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and several other western states. While 2018 was a rather good year for monarchs in my garden in Maryland, the outlook for migratory monarchs in Eastern and Western North America isn’t so rosy.

In 2014 thousands of monarchs festooned branches of Monterey pines in the sanctuary at Pacific Grove.

In 2014 thousands of monarchs festooned branches of Monterey pines in the sanctuary at Pacific Grove.

In a previous episode, we communed with thousands of western monarchs in Pacific Grove, CA, also known as “Butterfly Town, USA.” During the brief six years since our last visit to Pacific Grove in 2014, overwintering populations of monarchs in California nose-dived from tens of thousands to a shocking 1,914 counted in the 2020 winter census, a decline of more than 99.9% from historic levels. Eastern monarchs have fared better but still their numbers have declined dramatically to around 20% of historic high levels. Many believe it may already be too late to save the Western migratory monarchs and Eastern monarchs may not be far behind. Attempts to have monarchs declared an endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service failed in December of 2020 as resources were needed to focus on “higher-priority listing actions” according to agency officials. The case for endangered species status will be revisited in upcoming years.

Scientists studying monarch butterflies believe multiple factors conspire to threaten populations of monarchs. Illegal logging of trees in the mountains of Mexico has reduced the critical overwintering habitat for monarchs. Without this refuge monarchs cannot survive winter. Scientists suggest that more severe weather events associated with climate change may also threaten monarchs. Freakish winter weather in the mountains of Mexico in 2002 killed an estimated 75% of overwintering monarchs. In the winter of 2015–2016, a late winter storm killed more than 7% of overwintering monarchs. These events translated into tens of millions fewer monarchs making their way north for the annual migration.

Dramatic declines in overwintering populations of monarchs in Mexico portends a gloomy fate for Eastern Monarchs unless this trend can be reversed. Graph credit: Center for Biological Diversity

Dramatic declines in overwintering populations of monarchs in Mexico portends a gloomy fate for Eastern Monarchs unless this trend can be reversed. Graph credit: Center for Biological Diversity

In the US Midwest and Pacific Northwest, record summer heat in 2012 and 2015 killed untold numbers of monarch caterpillars. Throughout the US, urban sprawl and the use of herbicides in agricultural production greatly reduce populations of milkweed plants that are vital for the survival of monarch caterpillars. Increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide may change the chemical composition of milkweeds, altering levels of pharmacological chemicals that help monarch caterpillars thwart disease-causing microbes. There is also concern that planting the exotic tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, may interrupt the primal migration behavior of monarchs and cause them to take up residence in areas where tropical milkweeds are planted, derailing their age-old migrations. Another study suggests that when tropical milkweed grows at high temperatures, it becomes more toxic to monarch caterpillars. As the world warms and the growing season get longer, monarchs may expand their range further northward into Canada in search of high-quality milkweeds. This may increase risks of starvation or predation as monarchs attempt an already very long and perilous journey to overwintering grounds in Mexico.  

In the winter of 2020 2021, Western Monarch Populations dipped below the extinction threshold. Graph credit: Center for Biological Diversity.

In the winter of 2020 2021, Western Monarch Populations dipped below the extinction threshold. Graph credit: Center for Biological Diversity.

What can be done to help save these unique and charismatic creatures? Globally, mitigating climate change, reducing unnecessary pesticide use, and conserving resources and habitats for wildlife will help. Locally, providing milkweeds for monarch caterpillars and nectar plants for adults will facilitate reproduction and survival. Regional references for milkweed plants can be found at this link https://xerces.org/milkweed and references for monarch nectar plants can be found at this link https://xerces.org/monarchs/monarch-nectar-plant-guides. Be sure to consult a reference to learn what milkweeds work well in your geographic region. Here in Maryland, species including common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, and butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, are good choices.

After imbibing nectar, the monarch finds just the right leaf on which to place an egg. Under the watchful gaze of a milkweed leaf beetle, a tiny monarch caterpillar consumes a leaf but soon it will grow into a behemoth capable of consuming milkweed seedpods. Within a dazzling chrysalis, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly ready to feed, fly, and spawn the next generation.

In the waning weeks of summer, go to the meadow and enjoy these beauties. Next spring plan to include milkweed and monarch nectar plants in your perennial gardens. We have a role to play in conserving these remarkable wanderers.

Acknowledgements

The excellent references, “Decline of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico: is the migratory phenomenon at risk?” by Lincoln Brower and colleagues, and “Quantifying impacts of climate change on species interactions while fostering undergraduate research experiences using the Monarch (Danaus plexippus)- Milkweed (Asclepias Sp.) system” by Matthew J. Faldyn, “Monarch butterflies denied endangered species listing despite shocking decline” by Farah Eltohamy, and “ We’re losing monarchs fast—here’s why. It’s not too late to save them, but it’s a question of whether we make the effort” by Carrie Arnold, were consulted for this episode. To learn more about monarchs, their migrations and perils, and how to conserve them, please visit the following websites:

https://xerces.org/monarchs/western-monarch-conservation

https://xerces.org/monarchs/eastern-monarch-conservation

https://xerces.org/blog/monarch-numbers-from-mexico-point-to-declining-population

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/monarch-butterflies-near-extinction

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/monarch-butterflies-risk-extinction-climate-change

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/climate-change-is-playing-havoc-with-mexicos-monarch-butterfly-migration/2019/12/23/e60c1e0e-21ab-11ea-b034-de7dc2b5199b_story.html

http://www.monarchwatch.org/index.html   

http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/agrawal/2017/02/10/monarch-population-size-over-winter-2016-2017-announced/

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