False Milkweed Bug, a.k.a. False Sunflower bug: Lygaeus turcicus

False Milkweed Bug, a.k.a. False Sunflower bug: Lygaeus turcicus

 

False milkweed bugs truly had me fooled the first time I saw them.

False milkweed bugs truly had me fooled the first time I saw them.

 

The DMV abounds with some of the best nature centers in the country. Two of my favorites are Woodend Sanctuary, nestled inside the Beltway in Chevy Chase, Maryland and home of the Audubon Naturalist Society, and the Howard Conservancy, a 232-acre wildlife sanctuary in Woodstock, Maryland. Summer is always an exciting time to take a suburban safari at these refuges when some of Mother Nature’s wildest flowers are at their best. On a recent trip to the Howard Conservancy, large patches of Heliopsis, a.k.a. false sunflower and oxeye, were in dazzling full bloom. Oxeyes are full bodied members of the aster clan and our native species are dynamite attractors for many interesting insects.

See if you can tell the difference between this small milkweed bug and the false milkweed bug above.

See if you can tell the difference between this small milkweed bug and the false milkweed bug above.

While immersed among some oxeyes, I was surprised to find hordes of gorgeous seed bugs busily sucking nutrients from the developing flowers and engaging in their buggy mating rituals amongst the blooms. These little beauties are close relatives of other true bugs like the milkweed bugs and scentless plant bugs we’ve met in previous episodes. In fact, early records often confused this species with small milkweed bugs and recorded it as a denizen of milkweed. Careful observations by one Reverend James M. Sullivan of St. Louis, Missouri, helped clarify the true pattern of food choice of false milkweed bugs. However, the name false milkweed bug is a bit of a misnomer, as these little rascals actually are connoisseurs of members of the aster family.

Heliopsis is a great plant to spot false milkweed bugs. Watch as the bug on the left nonchalantly grooms its antennae while its mate taps its left hind leg somewhat impatiently while dining on a floret. Bugs are pretty entertaining.

Oxeyes are a spectacular native attractor of beneficial insects and a great place to lose yourself with bugs.

Oxeyes are a spectacular native attractor of beneficial insects and a great place to lose yourself with bugs.

After choosing a handsome mate and consummating the relationship, the female false milkweed bug lays eggs in batches of 15 to 50. Eggs hatch and bright red nymphs use their elongated sucking mouthparts to sip fluids from the plant. Adults can live two months, and along with their nymphs these beauties can be seen on oxeye from June through August in many parts of the country. Bug of the Week recommends a trip to the meadows and gardens at Woodend Sanctuary and the Howard Conservancy to glimpse members of the aster clan. If you encounter glorious oxeyes, take a few moments to hunt for false milkweed bugs.

Acknowledgements

We thank Woodend Sanctuary and Howard Conservancy for providing inspiration for this episode. The interesting article, “On the Biology and Food Plants of Lygaeus turcicus (Fabr.) (Hemiptera: Lygaeidae)“ by James A. Slater, was used to prepare this episode.

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Squash and squash: Squash bugs, Anasa tristis

 

Rascally squash bugs can make a mess of your cucurbits.

Rascally squash bugs can make a mess of your cucurbits.

 

Homonyms, words with two or more meanings, are interesting constructs of any language. For example, take bark, it has a couple meanings. It can be the corky tissue protecting the outside of a tree or the vocalizations of furry, four-legged mammals that like trees for, well, you know. My dictionary defines squash as a noun meaning “vegetable of the gourd family” and as a verb meaning “to crush something with pressure.” Let’s look at the first meaning of squash. Squash, zucchini, pumpkins, and gourds are all delectable and nutritious members of the cucurbit family. However, humans are not the only ones that find these prickly plants scrumptious. In a previous episode of Bug of the Week, we met the dastardly squash vine borer, a caterpillar with the power to wilt even the toughest pumpkin vine. While admiring some squash vines in a community garden, I noticed several plants with wilted, yellow leaves. A closer inspection failed to find bad borers, however, the leaves of the squash were loaded with immature and adult squash bugs merrily sipping sap.

Squash bugs are members of the true bug clan, meaning they have an elongated beak for sucking liquid food, wings that are part membranous and part leathery, and, as juveniles, they are known as nymphs. We met other members of this cantankerous clique including bed bugs, brown marmorated stink bug, boxelder bug, and wheel bug in stories past. Both nymph and adult squash bugs consume fluids from their cucurbit hosts and problems arise when dozens of feeding squash bugs jab so many beaks into the vascular system of the plant. Inserting the beak damages the plant’s vascular system. In addition, squash bugs can transmit a nasty bacterium, Serratia marcescens, causing what is known as cucurbit yellow vine disease. These insults and removal of vascular liquids cause plants to wilt. When squash bugs are abundant, their damage can reduce the bounty produced by your squash and zucchini vines.

Who doesn’t love pattypan squash? But look out pattypan, those clusters of bronze eggs will soon hatch into tiny green and black squash bug nymphs. As they grow and molt, white wax cloaks their bodies. If you see adults roaming on your cucurbits, or discover eggs and nymphs, snatch them off and dispose of them in whatever way you like.

Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can use to foil the squash bug’s shenanigans:

1)       At the end of the year, rid your garden of decaying vegetation and remnants of vines and leaves. These refuges are used by adult squash bugs to survive the wild winter.

2)       In spring, plant varieties such as Butternut, Royal Acorn, or Sweet Cheese that are more resistant to squash bugs.

Floating row covers placed early in the season may help keep squash bugs and other insects from infesting your crops.

Floating row covers placed early in the season may help keep squash bugs and other insects from infesting your crops.

3)       I have spoken to gardeners who place floating row covers over their plants early in the season to help keep these buggers from colonizing their plants. If you go this route, remember to remove row covers when blossoms first appear. If you don’t, then pollinators cannot do their job. No pollination means no pumpkins, squash, or zucchini.

Been waiting for the second meaning of squash? If you see squash bugs, squash the squash bugs. Really, if you have just a few plants, it is relatively easy to inspect plants and when you find the golden-bronze eggs, green or whitish nymphs, or tawny adults, crush them.

If squashing squash bugs isn’t your thing, remove them from the plant and drop them into a vessel of soapy water. Squash bugs are poor swimmers and when they have expired their tiny bodies can be placed in the compost heap to nourish your garden next season. Have a squashing good time!  

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks community gardeners of Montgomery and Howard Counties for providing the inspiration for this episode and the backdrops for observing squash bugs.

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 Types of Bugs That Could Be Biting You in Bed 

 Learn What Types of Bugs Could Be Living in Your Mattress & How to Get Rid of Them  

When people think of intrusive and unpleasant pests, bed bugs tend to come to mind first.  

And with good reason.  

There are approximately 90 species of bed bugs. Fortunately, only three species are a threat to people. The blood-sucking pest has been known to bite animals, but they do prefer humans.  

Yet they aren’t the only pest that could be interrupting our sleep.  

There are other critters that prey on humans while we are getting shuteye, too. But there are also ways to remedy the situation, and it starts with identification of said critters.  

Different Species of Mattress Pests 

Finding marks on your body or stains on the bedding can be cause for concern.  

It’s Imperative to understand which type(s) of pest could be infesting your home. 

Bed Bugs 

It is not crucial for you to know which type of bed bug is inhabiting your home, as do-it-yourself efforts are often fruitless. But having an understanding of the pest and how it can become an issue is vital.  

brown bed bug with red-orange legs on a white paper towel

But a pest and wildlife technician will be able to identify the species. And the type of bed bug in your home will largely depend on where you live.  

C. hemipterus and C. lectularius are most commonly found throughout the United States and in Europe. These types of bed bugs will congregate in hiding places like mattresses, curtains, behind picture frames on a wall, bed frames, and many more.  

L. boueti is another bed bug species that can be a concern for people, but it is only found in tropical climates. Those who live in the New England area don’t have to worry about this particular species unless they visit areas like South America. 

Bed bugs typically feed at night, leaving behind itchy welts on the host. 

Fleas 

Creases or seams in mattresses and box springs are also a great place for fleas.  

The pest enjoys warm, moist environments and can thrive off the blood of animals or humans.  

closeup of a brown adult flea standing on the skin of an adult person

An adult flea can survive for 12 months while consuming the blood of its host, leaving behind small, red bite marks. A flea bite can be slightly raised with a small, red dot in the center, surrounded by a halo. 

In addition to mattresses, fleas can be found living in carpets, drapes, furnishings, and even indoor plants. If you spot signs of fleas in your bedroom, it’s time to call for professional flea-removal services

Ticks 

When we think of pests crawling in our beds, ticks don’t always come to mind.  

But it is possible to wake up to a tick or two in your bed hoping to make you their next meal.  

Ticks will feed off their hosts, which can include humans, household pets, and even livestock animals. 

closeup of an American dog tick that is brownish-red in color on an adult

After feeding, ticks will typically fall off the host, leaving behind a bite that resembles a bullseye. Ticks can spread diseases such as Lyme disease.  

Hitching a ride with a friend, family member, or pet, ticks will hide in a variety of places like bedding or box springs. These places are preferred as it means easy access to their next meal for the pest.  

Since ticks can be quite problematic for people and animals, professional tick-control services are essential. 

Mites 

Mites are small insects that are usually thought of as living on rodents or other small animals.  

And even though it’s rare that a mite will transmit a disease to a human, the pest can still be a cause for concern. 

If left on the skin long enough, a mite could bite their host. But typically, mites will just cause skin irritations or rashes if the reaction is severe.  

red mite with black spots and white hairs standing on a green leaf

 

The pest will typically eat decaying organic matter or mold, so if the conditions are ideal, a mite infestation is possible.  

The pest could find its way inside your home if there was a recent rodent infestation, or if another animal infested with mites was present.  

Clover Mites  

Although clover mites do not bite people or animals, the pest can invade houseplants and homes causing skin irritations or allergic reactions.  

Named for their love of grasses and clover, the red-colored pest prefers to eat plants. This doesn’t make a clover mite infestation any less of a concern for homeowners, however.  

Clover mites can appear in large numbers and prefer temperatures ranging from 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and begin to emerge as the climate becomes warmer.     

Eliminating the Mattress Pests Plaguing Your Home  

Many of these pests can be hard to find with the naked eye — especially if you aren’t trained to look for signs of an infestation or know what you’re looking for.  

Keeping your family safe and home pest-free is essential whether it’s a pest that is out for blood or one that is looking for something else to consume — or just a place to spend the night.  

Efforts like washing the bedding frequently or even vacuuming the mattress can help to reduce the chances of an infestation. But these efforts aren’t always going to be guaranteed to work without issue — especially if the pest has already moved in. 

Therefore, it is important to consult a team of pest control professionals determine and effectively eliminate the bed pest that is infiltrating your home.  

To learn how our pest control technicians can help remedy the issue plaguing your home so you can rest easily at night, contact us right away.  

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Sweet times for sweat bees: Sweat bees, Halictus ligatus and Agapostemon virescens

 

To enjoy beautiful native bees like Agapostemon , why not plant some cone flowers?

To enjoy beautiful native bees like Agapostemon, why not plant some cone flowers?

 

Echinacea, a.k.a. cone flower, renowned for its medicinal qualities as well as its beauty, is blooming at full throttle this week in gardens here in the DMV. Just after sunrise, the fragrance of cone flowers is delightful not only to humans, but also to a raft of pollinators. Bumble bees are usually the first arrivals in the morning, but shortly thereafter industrious bees, members of the halictid clan, arrive to collect nectar and pollen for youngsters in their colonies. The name “sweat bee” is a little goofy and somewhat misleading. These bees don’t sweat, but like sweat bees we visited at Bug of the Week some years ago, some halictids alight on humans and imbibe salt-rich perspiration. Guess this is why they are called sweat bees.

Unlike mason bees and plasterer bees we met in previous episodes, which are solitary with every female caring for her own young, halictid bees vary in their social structure. Some species like Agapostemon virescens adopt the solitary life style, while others like Halictus ligatus are eusocial (truly social) with queens producing non-reproductive daughters known as worker bees, tasked with foraging for nectar and pollen and tending the brood of their mothers. Colonies are founded in spring by females, survivors of winter’s ravages. The sweat bees we’re visiting this week adore cone flowers as a source of food, and both build nests in soil. Founding queens of Halictus ligatus gather pollen and lay eggs that hatch into daughters, worker bees, destined to help with caring for the young and gathering food for the colony. Some of these daughters will eventually become reproductively active and produce daughters and sons of their own. A fascinating study of Halictus ligatus by Miriam H. Richards and Laurence Packer discovered that when weather conditions were favorable, worker bees survived at greater rates and grew larger. Some of these large workers produced their own offspring. However, under less favorable conditions of temperature and food availability, workers were smaller and produced fewer offspring of their own, submitting to larger, more aggressive queens that produced the majority of offspring. Shifting conditions of temperature and food availability govern the social dynamics of halictid bees like Halitcus ligatus.

Cone flowers are a gold mine for many kinds of pollinators. Watch as female halictid bees, a.k.a. sweat bees, gather and store huge loads of pollen in pollen baskets, called corbiculae, on their hind legs. The smaller bee in the first two clips is Halictus ligatus or its sibling species, Halictus poeyi, and the last clip is the gorgeous Agapostemon virescens.  

This patch of Echinacea attracts hundreds of pollinators daily from sunrise to sunset.

This patch of Echinacea attracts hundreds of pollinators daily from sunrise to sunset.

Beautiful Agapostemon virescens, sometimes called “little green bees”, favor loamy soils with sparse vegetation as prime real estate to build their nests. Individual nests may contain more than 100 brood cells and, while more than one female has been observed in a single nest, this species is considered to be solitary. Once they find favorable plots of land, many Agapostemon virescens queens may move in and form large aggregations of nests. To enjoy these delightful native pollinators, consider letting part of your lush lawn go a little thin in a sunny spot to provide nest sites for nurseries of these bees. Both species of sweat bees and many others of their clan are generalist pollinators and a diversity of flowering plants provide food. However, on this week of Independence Day celebrations, Echinacea and other members of the Asteraceae are dynamite attractors of these beauties to your garden.  

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks Dr. Paula Shrewsbury for planting cone flowers that served as the backdrop for these delightful bees. Great references consulted for this episode include “Bees of Northwestern America: Agapostemon (Hymenoptera:Halictidae)” by  Radclyffe B. Roberts, “The Socioecology of Body Size Variation in the Primitively Eusocial Sweat Bee, Halictus ligatus (Hymenoptera: Halictidae)” by Miriam H. Richards and Laurence Packer, “The Insect Societies” by Edward O. Wilson, “The bees of the world” by Charles D. Michener, and “Bees, wasps, and ants” by Eric Grissell.  Special thanks to Sam Droege for identifying the halictids featured in this episode.      

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Chemical engineers recycling forest matter: Millipedes, Diplopoda

 

When disturbed this beautiful millipede smells like almonds, but beware because it also releases other noxious compounds to defend itself. Photo credit: Maggie Shuttlesworth

When disturbed this beautiful millipede smells like almonds, but beware because it also releases other noxious compounds to defend itself. Photo credit: Maggie Shuttlesworth

 

Last week scorching temperatures in our region provided an excellent reason to head for the hills for a cool hike. Forest trails of the Catoctin Mountain Park provide both the perfect location to escape summer’s heat and an opportunity to visit some of Mother Nature’s most interesting recyclers of organic compounds, millipedes. Millipedes are detritivores, creatures that consume organic matter including mosses, algae, and decaying vegetation that carpet the forest floor. Millipedes belong to the subphylum of the arthropods called Myriapoda, those with “many feet.” Do they really have a thousand feet? Nah, they don’t really have feet, but they do have legs and the record number of legs for a millipede is somewhere around 750. However, most millipedes have fewer than 400 legs. Young millipedes have only a few body segments, each of which bears a single pair of legs. As millipedes molt and grow, body segments with two pairs of legs each are added. Millipedes live two to seven years and can produce hundreds of offspring during their lifetime. Millipedes do not bite or sting, but several species secrete noxious chemicals from glands lining the margins of their body.  

On a stony forest trail, we happened upon two remarkable members of the millipede clan. The first was Narceus americanus-annularis, one of the true giants of the millipede world in North America. Its otherwise dull brown body was accented with beet-red legs and red bands encircling the body at each segment. These colors might serve as a warning of noxious defenses ready to be unleashed by the millipede. Unable to resist handling Narceus earned me an acrid reward of benzoquinones, foul smelling droplets of the millipede’s chemical defense. A bit further down the trail, we encountered one of the flat-backed millipedes, perhaps Apheloria virginiensis. Blending in with the forest floor was clearly not this creature’s game as it sported lemon-yellow legs, alternating bands of yellow and black along the back, and pink-hewed margins.  

Many legs of the millipede work in a wavelike fashion to propel these timid grazers as they search for organic matter to eat. Watch as it munches moss on the surface of a boulder. Nearby, another millipede dashes across a forest trail. Bright contrasting colors may warn predators not to mess with these chemically defended detritivores. Defensive compounds released by this millipede smell like almond extract.

When plucked from the ground, the smell of almonds filled the air and brought me back to my days of organic chemistry when benzaldehyde was the unknown compound on the lab practical. Benzaldehyde is the compound found in bitter almonds and is used as a flavoring in almond extract. Ah, but benzaldehyde is not the only compound found in Apheloria’s defensive secretion. The other more lethal moiety released by the millipede is hydrogen cyanide, a highly toxic irritant. Glad no one sniffed this millipede too deeply! Millipedes, important recyclers of organic matter, are well-protected by potent toxins and irritants that could make a bird, lizard, or toad think twice about messing around with these denizens of the forest floor.

Acknowledgements

We thank the intrepid hikers of the Catoctin Mountain: Erin, Ellie, Abby, Maggie, Jo, Paula, Laurie, and Kevin for providing inspiration for this episode. Thomas Eisner’s books “The Love of Insects” and “Secret Weapons” were used as resources for this story.

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Auf wiedersehen Brood X: Cicadas, Magicicada spp.

 

For millions of youngsters and not-so-youngsters, periodical cicadas are a source of fascination and fun, a chance to learn about the wonders of insects and the natural world.

For millions of youngsters and not-so-youngsters, periodical cicadas are a source of fascination and fun, a chance to learn about the wonders of insects and the natural world.

 

wings1500.jpg

Over the last three months, we explored the ecology, behavior, and interactions of Brood X periodical cicadas with humans, other animals, and plants in the eastern United States.  We visited cicadas underground, watched the emergence of cicada nymphs from their subterranean crypts, discovered how male cicadas make noisy and ethereal sounds, learned how to tell the boys from the girls, watched as hungry predators enjoyed the cicada bounty, witnessed mating and oviposition by females, shuddered at their lethal STD, and witnessed havoc wrought upon young trees when females laid their eggs. In the waning weeks of June here in the DMV at locations that had formerly been zones of rollicking cicada choruses a few weeks ago, there is now an eerie silence. The reason for the hush is immediately apparent. Beneath trees and shrubs, the ground is littered with thousands of spent exuviae, the shed skins of cicada nymphs, and the bodies of adult cicadas that survived the onslaught of hungry sparrows, blue jays, hawks, mocking birds, foxes, raccoons, squirrels, dogs, and dozens of other predators. Also scattered about are wings and fragmented body parts of cicadas that were not so lucky. Macabre half cicadas with abdomens transformed into fungal fruiting bodies litter the ground, victims of Massaspora. Hungry ants and maggots repurpose cicada protein and return it to the food web. Along neighborhood roadways and sidewalks greasy black patches mark the spots where cicadas found their final resting place beneath the tires of vehicles or shoes of humans.

What other legacies did cicadas leave behind? For the natural world they provided a bounty for countless predators. This year, birds produced larger clutches more frequently and nestlings were heavier and enjoyed greater survival (Anderson 1977, Strehl and White 1986). As cicadas return to the earth upon death, decomposition of their remains creates a pulse of nutrients to the forest floor boosting microbial biomass, adding nutrients, and enhancing the growth and reproduction of understory plants (Yang 2004). Similar changes in microbial communities occur when cicadas enter streams (Menninger et al. 2008). Young trees took a beating when female cicadas laid eggs in small branches but trees protected by cicada netting were largely spared from this injury (Ahern et al. 2005). Although established mature trees experienced cicada injury, they are able to shrug off this insult in the long run (Clay et al. 2009).

As the door closes on Brood X in 2021, cicadas leave behind billions of holes to aerate the soil, a feast for necrophagous creatures like tiny hungry ants, oily spots along roads where cars were the grim reaper, sidewalks littered with shells and carcasses, and tons of shed skins and decaying bodies that return nutrients to the soil. A solitary late comer to the party wanders amongst earthly remains of its brood mates.  Auf wiedersehen Brood X, until next time in 2038.

For cicadaphiles, this was a season to enjoy a truly remarkable event that happens nowhere else on earth except in the eastern Unites States, only a handful of times in a lifetime. Cicada lovers from as far away as California planned family vacations to enjoy the emergence of Brood X while cicadaphobes tried to cope with the immensity of the event in various ways. Some strove to understand cicadas better and were counseled on how to cope with these red-eyed critters, while others planned a cicada escape. One friend had plane tickets at the ready and when warned that emergence was just around the corner, he departed for a cicada escape to Idaho. For Bug of the Week, it was a welcome break from COVID and other strange events of the past year and a fine time to share a few bug stories. Here in the DMV cicadas had a spectacular run and the teenage offspring of Brood X, 2021 will return in 2038 for their day in the sun.

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks members of the Cicada Crew, journalists of print and non-print media, neighbors of the Allview community in Columbia, MD, and cicada geniuses that devote their professional careers to studying these strange, whacky, and mysterious insects, who all assisted in the telling of cicada stories. The following references were used to prepare this episode: “Reproductive responses of sparrows to a superabundant food supply” by T. R. Anderson, “Effects of superabundant food on breeding success and behavior of the red-winged blackbird” by C. E. Strehl and J. White, “Periodical cicadas as resource pulses in North American forests” by L. H. Yang, “Periodical cicada detritus impacts stream ecosystem metabolism” by Holly L. Menninger, Margaret A. Palmer, Laura S. Craig, and David C. Richardson,“Effects of oviposition by periodical cicadas on tree growth” by Keith Clay, Angela L. Shelton, and Chuck Winkle, and “Comparison of exclusion and imidacloprid for reduction of oviposition damage to young trees by periodical cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae)” by R. G. Ahern, S. D. Frank and M. J. Raupp.

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Egg-laying and the dark side of cicadas: Cicadas, Magicicada spp.

 

Newly laid cicada eggs deposited in egg nests will hatch in July and August, enter the earth, and reappear as Brood X in 2038.

Newly laid cicada eggs deposited in egg nests will hatch in July and August, enter the earth, and reappear as Brood X in 2038.

 

The egg-laying appendage of the cicada, called an ovipositor, slits tender branches to create egg nests that serve as the nursery for developing eggs.

The egg-laying appendage of the cicada, called an ovipositor, slits tender branches to create egg nests that serve as the nursery for developing eggs.

With thousands of cicadas chorusing in the treetops this week, male cicadas wooed potential mates and females chose the fathers of their offspring. Within hours of mating, females move to the tips of branches and select soft greenwood terminals about the diameter of a pencil to be the nursery for their offspring. Using a sharp egg-laying appendage called an ovipositor, the female cicada slices narrow slits parallel to the long axis of the branch. She then inserts her hollow ovipositor into the branch and with powerful abdominal contractions, she pumps between 20 and 30 tiny eggs into each slit, creating what is technically known in cicada-speak as an egg nest. Each female has the potential to lay between 200 and 400 eggs during the course of her two to four-week lifespan. In the warmth of summer days and nights, cicada eggs develop and, after six to ten weeks, nymphs hatch and tumble to the earth below.

And now for the dark side of periodical cicadas – plant injury. Injury caused by adults as they sip xylem fluid is inconsequential. The real insult to woody plants comes from the wounds caused by female cicadas when they slice branches to insert eggs. Where densities are great, egg-laying, a.k.a. oviposition, causes tips of many branches to wither and die. Dying and dead terminals droop, resulting in a type of tree injury called flagging. Some injured terminals break and fall to the ground. Branches that do not break may eventually heal, but the wound-site may form a gnarly irregular swelling on the branch.

With the mating game completed, female cicadas fly to small branches where they deposit eggs in egg nests. Using her sharp egg laying appendage called an ovipositor, the cicada slices the branch and then deposits 20 to 30 eggs into each slit to form egg nests.

Older, established trees will shrug-off injury caused by egg-laying cicadas with no long term negative effects.

Older, established trees will shrug-off injury caused by egg-laying cicadas with no long term negative effects.

Which plants are most likely to be affected? The bad news here is that periodical cicadas are broad generalists. Miller and Crowley (1998) studied 140 genera of trees at the Morton Arboretum and found more than half sustained injury caused by ovipositing females.  Among the most severely affected were ones common to landscapes in the DMV, including Acer (maple), Amelanchier (shadbush), Carpinus (hornbeam), Castanea (chestnut), Cercidphyllum (katsura), Cercis (redbud), Chionanthus (fringe tree), Fagus (beech), Quercus (oak), Myrica (bayberry), Ostrya (hophornbeam), Prunus (cherry) and Weigela (weigela). Another study by Brown and Zuefle (2009) of 42 woody plant species added several new genera to the list and found all but 10 species were used by cicadas to lay eggs. This study found that native and non-native woody plants were equally likely to be used for oviposition by cicadas but alien plants, those with no other known congener (plants of the same genus) in the US, were less likely to be hosts for eggs.  

Dense populations of cicadas spell trouble for young trees. Scores of egg nests damage tender branches causing them to wilt, die, and eventually drop from the tree. Withered branches should be carefully pruned from the tree to promote wound closure and encourage restorative growth from axillary buds.

Young, recently planted trees may sustain heavy damage where cicadas are abundant.

Young, recently planted trees may sustain heavy damage where cicadas are abundant.

Factors beyond taxonomic identity of a plant affect decisions made by female cicadas regarding where to place their eggs. Small, compact plants often have fewer egg-nests compared to those with longer more open branching habits. Trees at the edges of forests with rapidly growing branches exposed to sunlight often sustain more cicada injury. These trends are easily seen in tree nursery stock and recently transplanted saplings found in yards, commercial landscapes, parks, and transportation corridors, especially those near established trees that historically support cicadas. While ovipositional injury poses a threat to newly planted trees, for older and well-established trees flagging and limb breakage may occur in the short term, however, studies indicate that the long-term threat to tree vitality is minimal (Miller and Croft 1998). Early successional trees exhibited no clear reduction in radial growth or overall growth rates of trees attacked by cicadas (Clay et al. 2009). For small trees and shrubs injured by cicadas, wait until the cicada season ends and remove the injured branches by carefully pruning them back to the nearest node before the cicada injury.

Acknowledgements

Much of the background information for this episode was taken from “Return of periodical cicadas in 2021: Biology, Plant Injury and Management” by Michael Raupp. Other great references include “Does the periodical cicada, Magicicada septendecim, prefer to oviposit on native or exotic plant species?” by W. P. Brown and M. E. Zueffle, “Effects of oviposition by periodical cicadas on tree growth” by K. Clay, A. L. Shelton and C. Winkle, “Periodical Cicada (Magicicada cassini) Oviposition Damage: Visually Impressive yet Dynamically Irrelevant” by W. M. Cook and R. D. Holt, “Effects of periodical cicada ovipositional injury on woody plants” by F. Miller and W. Crowley, and “The ecology, behavior and evolution of periodical cicadas” by K. S. Williams and C. Simon. We thank Randy and all the good folks in the Allview neighborhood for allowing us to visit, photograph, and film cicadas in their landscapes.

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4 Early Signs of Bed Bugs

Learn the Signs to Looks for so You Can Protect Your Home or Business from a Bed Bug Infestation

The age-old adage “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” is one that many of us heard while growing up, but didn’t give much thought.

But what the saying doesn’t tell us is that bed bugs in your home or business are a serious situation.

In fact, a bed bug infestation can be a nightmare — not exactly something that will leave you sleeping soundly during the night.

There are ways to prevent getting bed bugs, but sometimes even your best efforts to keep these pests away will be unfruitful. 

Bed bugs are small, oval, brownish-colored insects that feed off of blood from humans or animals. And even though the pest does not fly, they can travel across furniture, floors, or walls. 

A room with a bed bug infestation could mean finding the pest hiding in more places than just your bed.

The pest will hide in drawer joints, chair seams, electrical outlets or appliances, beneath loose wallpaper, even in the corner of a wall. Bed bugs can also be found behind pictures on the wall.

A female bed bug can lay hundreds of eggs over a lifetime. Each egg can be as small as a speck of dust. And can lead to an enormous problem.

If conditions are favorable, or if they go unnoticed, bed bugs can fully develop in as little as a month, then produce their own offspring.

An infestation can get out of hand quite fast, especially if you don’t notice the early signs of these pests.

1. Shells & Body Parts

Bed bugs are known for their ability to hide in cracks and crevices of bedding, mattresses, rugs, and furniture. 

But what they aren’t known for is their ability to clean up after themselves. Whether it’s molted skin, blood from a meal, or fecal matter on sheets, pajamas, or furniture, bed bugs leave a mess whenever they are.

Talk about something that nightmares are made of.

If you suspect there are bed bugs invading your home, begin with inspecting the edges, crevices, and piping of mattresses, box spring, or furniture.

You may find bed bug shells — or molted exoskeleton, in varying sizes due to the different life stages of bed bugs.

As a bed bug begins to mature, they will shed their exoskeleton so that they may grow larger. This process is called molting, and a single bed bug can molt five times as they mature.

2. Blood, Fecal Matter & Eggs

During an inspection you may also find blood stains, fecal matter, or eggs.

A bed bug egg might be harder to spot because they are quite small — about the size of a pinhead. So, if you don’t know what to look for, you might miss the eggs.

Bed bug eggs and eggshells are typically a pale white or light yellow in color. 

During your search, you may find dark brown or black-colored smears or spots. These spots are fecal matter left behind after the bed bug has enjoyed its feast.

These droppings can resemble a mark left behind from a felt-tip marker.

Rust-colored or red marks left behind on mattresses, chairs, carpeting, or other areas are blood stains caused by the pest being squished.

3. Smell

Thanks to their scent gland, bed bugs produce a smell similar to coriander. It can become quite overwhelming and unpleasant. 

A home, hotel, or other business that has been plagued with a bed bug infestation will begin to smell like moldy shoes or moldy clothes after a period of time.

4. Bed Bug Bites

Bed bug bites can be painless at first but can quickly turn into itchy welts. Swelling and a rash around the bite can also occur.

But they are often confused for bites from other pests, like fleas and mosquitoes.

Unlike flea bites that are typically found around the ankle, bed bugs will opt for exposed skin while you’re sleeping.

So, a bite from a bed bug is most commonly found in a few places including the neck, arms, shoulders, and legs.

Bed bug bites can be itchy, red, and could appear to be in a cluster, zigzag pattern, or line. However, during the early infestation stages, a pattern might not be distinguishable.

If insect bites appear and you aren’t positive if it’s from a mosquito or flea bite, it’s time to take the sheets off your bed and inspect your furniture.

It’s important to keep the bite marks clean while they heal and avoid scratching. If pain, swelling, or itching persists you may have to consult with your doctor as it could be a reaction to the bite.

What to Do if You Have a Bed Bug Infestation?

Bed bugs can be quite difficult — nearly impossible — to get rid of on your own. Treatment to eliminate the infestation can be tedious, difficult to implement successfully, or dangerous if it is not executed properly. 

If the treatment is not executed properly, it can also cause the pests to simply relocate, rather than eliminating the issue. Because of this, we do not recommend do-it-yourself treatments.

The Bed Bug Treatment & Removal program from Catseye Pest Control offers a tailored solution to fit the needs of your bed bug infestation — no matter how big or small.

After a thorough inspection, we can determine the best course of action to implement so that you can once again sleep peacefully at night.

In the event that you spot any of these bed bug signs either in your home or business, it’s important to contact a professional immediately. Rapid reproduction and growth cycles means a situation can go from bad to out of control in just a matter of days.

Our knowledge, equipment, and technical training allows us to properly treat the situation, so you do not run the risk injuring yourself or someone else. 

To learn more about our Bed Bug Treatment & Removal program and how the process can work for you, contact our technicians today.

 

 

This article appeared first on Catseye Pest

Fly, feed, pee: Cicadas, Magicicada species

 

A droplet of “pee” accumulates just before dropping from the rear-end of a cicada.

A droplet of “pee” accumulates just before dropping from the rear-end of a cicada.

 

This week cicadas have taken to wing, dashing across yards, roadways, and landscapes as they try to hook up with other members of their species. While standing beneath a raucous chorus of Magicicada cassini, a gentle sprinkle wafted down on my head, kind of a summer shower on a hot day provided by the periodical cicadas. Thinking back to John Fogerty’s 1970 lyrical query “I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain, comin’ down on a sunny day”, I mused about what exactly was behind a cicada shower? Recall that cicada nymphs feed on a nutrient poor fluid carried in a vascular tissue called xylem. Developing nymphs process large amounts of this liquid to gain sufficient nutrients to grow. Now consider the needs of the adult cicada. While living a normal life span of two to four weeks, they must mature, find mates, defy death from the jaws of predators, and, for the females, fly to trees to find suitable locations to deposit several hundred eggs. These activities are conducted in sometimes scorching heat that can exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Clearly, cicada adults need some sort of fuel to undertake all these activities in just a few short weeks.

With almost all cicadas up and out of the ground, noisy cicadas are busy flying throughout the landscape to find their brood mates. Hundreds line the trunks and branches of trees to feed and find mates. First at full speed and again at half speed, watch as one female rids herself of liquid waste – a.k.a. cicada pee. Our periodical cicadas produce a gentle shower of pee, but large cicadas of the Costa Rican rainforest can deliver a firehose-like torrent of pee.

For many flying cicadas, the journey ends on the windshield or headlight of a car.

For many flying cicadas, the journey ends on the windshield or headlight of a car.

Some common lore has it that adult cicadas do not feed; however, adults do indeed feed. Soda-straw-like mouthparts are inserted into the plant’s xylem vessels and a massive pump in the head of the cicada creates negative pressure to suck xylem fluid from vessels located in tree branches and along the trunk, into the digestive tract of the cicada. Xylem fluid replaces moisture lost from these small creatures as they respire and move about. To survive above ground they process vast quantities of fluid. Their specialized digestive tract enables them to suck copious amounts of sap from trees and then rapidly excrete the excess fluid. “Pee” is a term usually applied to urine, a liquid produced by the kidneys of vertebrates to rid the body of metabolic waste products. Cicadas and other members of the Hemiptera clan produce liquid waste. Specialized organs called the malpighian tubules remove waste products from the hemolymph of the cicada and pass it to the colon for excretion. Sucking insects such as aphids and soft scales feed on another vascular fluid called phloem and produce a waste product called honeydew. This sugar-rich liquid is quite different from that produced by cicadas and other xylem feeders. For periodical cicadas, their liquid waste is not exactly “pee”. However, amidst the Brood X cicada chorus, don’t be surprised if you see and feel rain comin’ down on a sunny day.  

Acknowledgements

Bug of the Week thanks Dr. Shrewsbury for inspiring this episode and Randy, ruler of all cicadas, for allowing us to photograph and record cicadas in her beautiful landscape. 

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An STD in cicada land has cicadas behaving strangely: Magicicada spp. and Massospora cicadina

 

Massospora turns the cicada’s abdomen into a fungus garden.

Massospora turns the cicada’s abdomen into a fungus garden.

 

In a previous episode, we described the bizarre strategy called predator satiation used by periodical cicadas to overwhelm hordes of hungry predators intent on filling their bellies with these nutritious insects. The cicada’s long life span may also enable periodical cicadas to elude short-lived predators such as birds and small mammals that simply track cicadas through time. Who can wait 13 or 17 years for their next meal? But one patient nemesis of periodical cicadas has evolved a diabolical plan for making the most of the cicada bounty. In the soil beneath trees where cicada nymphs spend their youth sipping sap, resting spores of the fungal pathogen Massospora cicadina lay in wait for 13 or 17 years. During April and May as cicada nymphs escape from the earth, spores of Massospora adhere to the exoskeletons of nymphs. Compounds on the surface of the cicada send a signal to the spores that dinner is served and it is time to germinate. Like an invading army, the fungus penetrates the skin of the cicada and multiplies, turning the cicada into a fungus garden. In a short suspense, the infection turns the abdomen of the cicada into a buff-colored mass of fungus. At this stage of their life cycle, tens of thousands of newly molted adult cicadas populate the landscape to begin the courtship rituals. The infection sterilizes both male and female cicadas, but does nothing to quell the libido of the sex-crazed male cicada. Infected males continue to seek and attempt to mate with females despite their contagious infection. In a game of tit for tat, female cicadas infected with Massospora remain attractive to healthy males that soon become infected as they attempt to mate with females. At this point in time Massospora becomes a cicada STD and is transmitted from one cicada to another, thereby increasing its numbers each day. While the STD is strange enough, Massospora has one more trick to ensure maximum transmission of its spores. Recall from last week’s episode, that in the cicada mating game, after the male cicada puts on his best performance, the female signals her willingness to mate with an audible series of wing flicks. By a still not fully understood physiological mechanism, Massospora exerts mind control over an infected male cicada, causing him to mimic the female’s wing flick behavior. This results in horny male cicadas attempting to mate with Massospora infected males, further spreading the fungus through the cicadas’ populations.

Early in the Massospora infection cycle males and females with distended, distorted abdomens appear. Soon, fungal spore masses replace terminal abdominal segments. Sterile infected cicadas walk around and fly about, attempting to mate with uninfected cicadas and spewing spores into the environment while infecting their brood mates. Nearby, a healthy male cicada becomes entangled with an infected cicada in a bizarre pas de deux. In a strange twist of mind control, Massospora causes male cicadas to mimic the female’s wing-flick behavior, her coy signal of willingness to mate. Watch as a male uses his courtship call and attempts to woo a fungus-infected cicada that had just flicked its wings. His overactive libido will likely end in a lethal infection,n further spreading Massospora through cicada land. Videos by Michael Raupp and Paula Shrewsbury

Cicadas wandering about with hollow abdomens missing abdominal segments are hallmarks of the fungal infection.

Cicadas wandering about with hollow abdomens missing abdominal segments are hallmarks of the fungal infection.

A recent discovery of psychoactive compounds produced by Massospora suggests that these neuromodulators may play a role in altering the male’s behavior, contributing to the active transmission of the fungus by the cicada. Infected cicadas are flight capable and their peregrinations carry the fungus to new habitats as cicadas fly about. In low density populations of cicadas, mortality rates caused by Massospora range < 5% to ~ 25%. A second, more sinister wave of infection follows the first. In this stage, fungus-laden abdomens of infected cicadas and dying infected cicadas inoculate the soil with the resting spores of Massospora. While the loss of an abdomen spells instant death for a human, this is not the case for a cicada. Sensory and integrative neurological functions in the head and locomotory functions of flight and walking directed by the thorax remain intact despite the loss of the abdomen.  As the season of the cicada progresses throughout cicada land, keep an eye out for male and female Massospora victims as they walk about missing their abdomen, macabre reminders of a very clever fungus.

Acknowledgements

The wonderful articles “A specialized fungal parasite (Massospora cicadina) hijacks the sexual signals of periodical cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae: Magicicada) by John R. Cooley, David C. Marshall, and Kathy B. R. Hill, “The ecology, behavior, and evolution of periodical cicadas” by K. S. Williams and C. Simon, and “Behavioral betrayal: How select fungal parasites enlist living insects to do their bidding” by Brian Lovett, Angie Macias, Jason E. Stajich, John Cooley, Jørgen Eilenberg, Henrik H. de Fine Licht, and Matt T. Kasson where used to prepare this episode.

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