- Author: Dustin Blakey
It's always fun when clients bring insects into the office to be identified. Although I'm pretty good at recognizing common pests, I'm not an entomologist. That makes it a little more work to figure out what I'm looking at.
This insect was recently brought in:
(Photo by Aaron Schusteff on BugGuide.net)
Usually I cringe when someone brings in a beetle because there are so many kinds; fortunately I was able to figure this one out! I've seen this insect out in the Tableland every year so I at least knew where it likes to live. I also recognized it as a blister beetle. The rest was just figuring out what I had from a greatly narrowed list of options.
This insect is Tegrodera latecincta, the iron cross blister beetle. It is found from Mono Lake to Antelope Valley in L.A. County. It has close relatives in nearby deserts.
Blister beetles have a defensive chemical called cantharidin that is pretty nasty stuff. It causes blisters to skin. It's not a good idea to handle blister beetles with your bare hands. Crushed up blister beetles can end up in hay, which can be dangerous to horses if eaten.
Apparently native species of Eriastrum are favored hosts of the adult beetle, but I'm sure I've seen it on other things. It is unknown what the immature stages eat. Maybe wasps or ants?
It's probably not a problem for your garden, but you never know if this will be on Jeopardy!
- Author: Dustin Blakey
I know you'll be glad to hear that there is a new garden pest in the Eastern Sierra. Well, it's native and so not technically new, but as far as I know, gardeners haven't had to deal with it in recent memory.
This insect is a stink bug with the gnarly name of Chlorochroa kanei. Don't try to say it quickly! As far as I know there is no common name for it. Characteristically it has a single dot on its back and a light border around its body. The color, at least this year, has been black, but dark green and brown variants are known to exist.
It normally feeds on the Great Basin plants in the desert, but this year it has shown up in gardens. We have seen it so far on English peas, artichokes and possibly potatoes. I tried to find a preferred host list for this pest and there wasn't really information. Other species of Chlorochroa do have preferred hosts figured out, but not this one.
If you encounter this pest, please let us know in the comments, and tell us which plants you found it on so we can better know what to look for.
Probably the best control in the garden will be to physically remove them and their eggs. UC IPM has some general information about stink bugs online here, but nothing on this particular pest. Information for those other species will apply here as well.
Chances are we may not see it again in the garden, but you never know!
National Pollinator Week is June 18 to 24,, 2018.
What better way to celebrate and support the importance of pollinators than to plant a pollinator garden? Even a few plants can help support pollinators such as butterflies, beetles, and bees.
Butterflies and other pollinators are very sensitive to pesticides so avoid using them in your garden. Insecticides kill insects, so if you want butterflies, don't use insecticides. If you do feel you have to use an insecticide, even an organic one, always use minimally. Do not apply when butterflies, bees or other pollinators are active and do not apply to open flowers.
To attract butterflies, provide good food, water and shelter all from a butterfly's point of view. Here are some tips to encourage butterflies to visit your garden.
Minimize pesticide use. Encouraging natural pest predators and using other alternative controls will make your garden safer for butterflies and their caterpillars.
Pick a sunny site. Butterflies generally feed in sunny locations. Choose a place in the garden that receives about six hours of sun each day. Gravel walkways and rocks for basking are good places to watch for butterflies warming up.
Plan the layout of your plants. Plant in groups of the same flowers rather than individual plants of the same kind scattered in the garden. This works because butterflies are near sighted and masses of flowers two or three feet across attract butterflies from a distance. Choosing plants of different heights adds interest to the garden and helps attract more pollinators.
Add native plants to your garden. Many native plants have good sources of nectar, and also are host plants that butterflies seek out to lay eggs. Research has shown that local native pollinators prefer local native plants. Please remember not to cut your garden back severely in the fall or you may lose overwintering eggs for the next season.
Provide shelter. On a rainy day or in high winds, butterflies wait out the bad weather on the undersides of leaves, in trees, shrubs, or vines. They also take butterfly breaks during their day; provide them places to hide with a combination of sites to roost and shelter.
For inspiration and information our local chapter of California Native Plant Society has created excellent resources for anyone to use. They have posted photos and lists of native plants with information, including a new two page Native Landscape Planting Guide. There is information on pollinators, water use, color descriptions and more.
Please remember it is both illegal and destructive to remove plants and flowers from their natural habitats but our local CNPS chapter has a plant sale every year and lots of great information on their website. Also, many nurseries are now carrying more native plants, be sure to ask.
References and further information:
CNPS Bristlecone chapter http://bristleconecnps.org
California Native Plant Society plant information www.Calscape.org
Art Shapiro's Butterfly Site http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu
National Wildlife Federation https://www.nwf.org
- Author: Alison Collin
Two years ago, overwhelmed by carpets of wormy, windfall apples I resorted to tossing them into a large plastic stock tank that had numerous holes in its sides, remnants of its original purpose - a crawdad washing device.
However, after a couple of weeks I needed the container and on tipping it over was astounded (and a bit revolted) to find that the bottom contained layers of hundreds of larvae. They were dark, grayish brown. I had not been aware of pest flies in the area, and there was no odor, but the huge numbers of larvae present gave me cause for concern. Research showed that I had just made my acquaintance with Black Soldier Fly larvae, Hermetia illucens, a species that efficiently breaks down organic material, especially the green (high nitrogen) matter in decomposing plant materials, and are considered to beneficial.
The adult flies are about 3/4” long, and are shiny black, looking more like a wasp than a house fly. However, these are not a pest or nuisance fly since they have no functioning mouth parts and therefore cannot bite, nor do they have a stinging mechanism. They flit about the garden, intent on their sole purpose; finding suitable sites for laying eggs which are deposited in batches of 600-800 at a time. There are far fewer nuisance flies around when Black Soldier Flies are present since the soldier flies devour the larvae of other species, and it has also been noted that significant reductions in levels of E. coli and salmonella are present in chicken manure when it has been processed by Black Soldier Fly larvae.
They like warm, moist conditions (e.g. rotting apples), and when the larvae hatch they feed voraciously on pretty much anything so long as those conditions are met; kitchen waste (they love coffee grounds), animal manure and carcasses, deserted bees' nests, and even dead fish as seen in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhR2jDS2IJI . The larvae are a pale beige with darker rings around the body segments, but as they mature they become a dark grayish brown. They can eat twice their body weight daily and soon convert kitchen vegetable waste into little fat bodies containing up to 43% protein and 35% fat. This makes them ideal food for chickens, and many chicken keepers farm them for this purpose. The larvae are also dried and used as food for exotic pets and fish. As they prepare to pupate, they tend to move upwards in order to leave their wet environment, searching for drier debris or soil until they mature as flies. This trait is put to good use since the mature larvae can easily be collected as they migrate out of their initial food source.
They do have a downside in some situations. Unfortunately, although Black Soldier Fly larvae and red worms both like the same food, the fly larvae are extremely active, like warm, moist conditions, and tend to make the soil acidic which is not good for worms, so if you have worm bins it is prudent to check them from time to time and remove any Black Soldier Fly larvae that may be present.
The frass that black soldier flies produce makes a clean, odor-free compost, but in my experience the food conversion into the body of the insect is so efficient, there is not a great volume of compost remaining! Dried larvae may also be pulverized and used as fertilizer.
For further reading on this subject:
David Haviland, Entomology Advisor, UCCE Kern County
Over the past few weeks there have been numerous reports of bug invasions near Ridgecrest, Inyokern, and other cities in the high desert of eastern Kern County. Residents and business owners have reported large aggregations of bugs within their homes, businesses, and on the streets. There have been no reports of damage to agricultural crops, landscape plants, or people. However, the nuisance and paranoia associated with bugs crawling on business walls and people has led to numerous inquiries into what is going on and how long it will last.
The bugs belong to a family of insects called lygaeids that are commonly referred to as seed bugs. Seed bugs use their straw-like mouthparts to extract moisture and nutrients from a wide range of plants, especially ones with seeds. The specific species of insects being found in Ridgecrest and surrounding areas is called Melacoryphus lateralis. It does not have a common name. This bug is very similar in appearance to other insects in the families Lygaeidae and Rhopalidae, such as the boxelder bug and milkweed bugs. It is not a beetle.
M. lateralis is found throughout the western United States and is most common in desert areas of Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and southern California. Immature and adult insects feed on native desert plants and then fly to find new feeding sites or mates when they are adults. Adults are highly attracted to lights and can fly long distances, especially in search of succulent plants on which to feed as desert plants become dry during mid-summer.
Populations of this insect vary from year to year with outbreaks most commonly reported in the Sonoran Desert areas of Arizona in years with elevated monsoon-like weather associated with above-average rainfall. In the areas around Ridgecrest, above-normal populations of this pest in 2015 are likely the result of a mild winter followed by above-normal rainfall in February that provided ample food for nymphs throughout the desert. Then, in July and August, the combination of drying host plants and the attractiveness of lights has caused mass migrations of the bugs to urban homes and landscapes.
Management of the bugs is difficult due to the migratory nature of adults. Pesticides that kill insects on contact, such as home perimeter treatments used by licensed pest control companies, can provide excellent control of bugs that they come in contact with, but are unlikely to have any residual effects after one or two days. Businesses and homeowners are encouraged to keep doors closed and turn off lights whenever possible after dusk to reduce the risk of attracting bugs. Once bugs get inside structures, vacuuming is the preferred method for their removal. Outdoors the bugs can be swept with a broom or blown away from business entrances, porches, or parking lots with a leafblower.
Nobody is certain how long the insects will be around. However, reports from Arizona suggest that aggregations of adults occur in July and August, which suggests that populations are likely to become reduced over the next few weeks. These reports also suggest that the outbreaks that are occurring in 2015 are likely a one-time anomaly that won't repeat itself again unless the favorable environmental conditions for the bugs are repeated. For the sake of Ridgecrest residents, let's hope that doesn't occur.