Month: July 2015

The Monarch Butterfly

By: Ana Legrand, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, 2015.

Monarch on purple cone flower
Monarch on purple cone flower. Photo: Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service

The monarch butterfly holds the record for the longest regularly repeated migration. A delicate butterfly that is able to travel between 1,200 and 2,980 miles to journey between three countries – Mexico, United States and Canada. But more on these amazing travels later. Monarchs (a.k.a Danaus plexippus for their scientific name) are bright orange butterflies with white dots on their black wing borders. They also have well-defined black veins on the wings. One can distinguish male from female butterflies by looking at the hindwings. Males have a dark spot on the hindwings while females do not.

This insect has been the inspiration of many stories and has become the symbol for many civic organizations. Its development is representative of an amazing transformation going from a single egg to a larval or caterpillar stage then to a pupa stage and finally to the adult butterfly form. Monarch caterpillars use milkweeds as their food plants. If their life cycle is intriguing then their manner of escaping harsh winter conditions is awe-inspiring. In late summer we may encounter these butterflies in what may appear a casual flight around our surroundings. However, they are engaged in a determined journey to some of the tallest mountain peaks in Mexico. In these mountains, monarchs find shelter in dense fir dominant forests. In Mexico, the fir forests are known as the ‘oyamel’ forests. Monarchs begin their voyage in summer breeding grounds in Canada and United States and fly south to avoid our harsh winters. We might take for granted our knowledge of the eastern monarch’s migration but it took a 38-year search by Frederick and Norah Urquhart to find out where the monarchs of eastern North America overwintered. The oyamel forests are found at elevations from about 9,800 to 11,000 feet above sea level on nine mountains west of Mexico City. There the butterflies form huge aggregations on oyamel firs and cypresses found also in the region. To make it through a journey of 2,980 miles, butterflies build up large quantities of body fat (yes, they too deal with that). Those that leave Canada with poor body fat reserves are less likely to reach Mexico. During their trip they stop to take nectar and in Texas and northern Mexico they really load up to make sure that their body fat reserves are good for their overwintering stay. The oyamel forests do not provide sufficient food for the millions of butterflies that assemble there.

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar. Photo: Bruce Watt, Bugwood.org

Higher air temperatures and longer days during January and early February signal to the monarchs that it is time to leave their oyamel forests. Mating begins in January but it really peaks up during March. The butterflies that overwintered in the oyamel forests are known as the Methuselah generation because the adults survive 7-8 months. The offspring of these monarchs will not be so long-lived but survive around 4-5 weeks sufficient to leave new offspring as they keep on their journey northwards. Eventually, the great-great-great-grandchildren of the monarchs that traveled from Canada to Mexico are the ones that reach their northernmost breeding grounds during summer.

Unfortunately, these butterflies that have been able to survive such long journeys between Canada, United States and Mexico might not survive our encroachment on their habitat. Western populations of monarchs that overwinter in California face destruction of their overwintering sites as coastal land is developed. Eastern monarchs suffer increased mortality due to the loss of dense oyamel forests that provide critical microclimate protection. Other threats are loss of milkweeds for the caterpillars and impacts from climate change. In January 2015 the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico reported that the size of the 2014-2015 overwintering population was the second smallest since monitoring began in 1994. To learn more about the monarchs check out the following websites:

http://www.xerces.org/monarchs/

http://www.monarchwatch.org/

Papalotzin – documentary clip

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APyvV6S2p10

Monarch caterpillar feeding and pupating video

http://video.bugwood.org/browse/detail.cfm?vidnum=00000355

Acorn Weevil

Acorn weevil (Curculio sp.)

By: Joan Allen, UConn Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, 2015

Jon Aspinwall photo
Adult Acorn weevil. Photo: Jon Aspinwall.

The acorn weevil is not often seen but is impressive to look at because of its long snout. The chewing mouthparts are at the end of the snout, so this long ‘beak’ does not make it difficult to feed on leaves.

Eggs are laid in green acorns on trees. Larvae feed inside and emerge after the acorns fall to the ground. They burrow into the ground where they remain for 1-3 years until they become adults, completing the life cycle. The video at the National Geographic link is great for a close-up view of adult egg-laying preparation, larval emergence, and, unfortunately, a sad ending.

Acorn weevil video.

Acorn weevil life cycle and info.

 

 

 

 

Acornweevillarva.bugwood
Acorn weevil larva. Photo Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Aphids

By: Joan Allen, UConn Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, 2015

15-151aphid-JAllen
Photo: Joan Allen. Notice you can see the cornices (tubes on the abdomen)

Aphids are tiny, soft-bodies insects with pear-shaped bodies. They have long legs and a pair of tube-like cornicles on the back of their abdomen. They have incomplete metamorphosis which means the newly hatched young gradually molt through several nymph stages until they become adults. Aphids are plant feeders and they suck plant juices through straw-like mouth parts. There are many species of aphid and some are important plant pests. When present in large numbers they cause plants to yellow, produce stunted or deformed new growth, or even die. In addition, aphids vector some plant viruses. Some aphids produce white waxy filaments that cover their body and give them a cottony appearance. Aphids excrete a liquid high in sugars called honeydew that drips onto leaves and other surfaces. Black fungi called sooty molds grow on the honeydew. Some ants like to eat the honeydew and will even protect the aphids from predators to preserve their food supply. These tiny insects often go unnoticed in low numbers but they have fascinating life cycles.  Many aphids live on a wood plant in winter and migrate to an herbaceous ornamental or vegetable plant for the summer. Some are happy to feed on a variety of plants while others are quite fussy and will only feed and reproduce on one. Aphids grow and multiply rapidly, with the time from hatch to reproducing adult as short as one week under favorable conditions. Check out the links for more info and images.

 

Aphid information great for all ages.

Aphids and ants: a fascinating relationship!

Aphid life cycles and habits.

Aphids feeding
Photo: Joan Allen. Aphids feeding

Lady Beetle

By: Donna Ellis, UConn, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, 2015.

Lady beetles, also known as ladybird beetles or ladybugs, are members of the insect order Coleoptera, which are insects with sheathed or covered wings. The adults range in length from 1 to 10 mm, typically have round or oval bodies often brightly colored red or orange, and may have spots or other patterns on their wing covers, known as elytra. Lady beetles can be found in many habitats, including back yard landscapes, vegetable gardens and commercial farms, fruit orchards and vineyards, and natural areas, anywhere their food sources are abundant. The adult life stage of these beneficial insects can also feed on pollen, nectar, and honeydew from garden plants.

Most lady beetles are beneficial. They are predators of soft-bodied pests such as aphids and scale insects as well as insect eggs, immature insects, and mites. There are several species of lady beetles that are pests of beans, grains, and squash, however. A number of lady beetles have been used as biological controls for agricultural pests. Vedalia beetles (Rodolia cardinalis), for example, were the first biological control agents released in the US, where they controlled cottony cushion scale in California citrus groves. The twice-stabbed lady beetle (Chilocorus stigma) is a predator of aphids and scale insects in woodlands and orchards. There are native and non-native lady beetle species in the US.

Lady beetles undergo complete metamorphosis, changing from egg to adult in approximately 8 weeks. They overwinter as adults. In the spring, after mating, female lady beetles lay yellow eggs in clusters of 5 to 30, typically on the underside of leaves and often where a food source is abundant. Eggs hatch in about 4 days and the immature lady beetles, called larvae, begin to feed on their prey. Both larvae and adult lady beetles feed on the same types of prey. The larvae do not resemble adults at all, appearing more like tiny alligators with elongated bodies that are segmented, dark in color with yellow, white or red banding or spots, and sometimes with spines. Larvae feed abundantly, with a single larva devouring up to several dozen aphids per day. The larvae molt and pass through four growth stages, or instars, during a three- to four-week period. Larvae then develop into pupae, a transitional stage occurring in 3 to 12 days from which they emerge as adult lady beetles.

Some common lady beetles in Connecticut are the multi-colored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis), the 7-spotted lady beetle (Coccinella septempunctata), and the spotted lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculata).

Asian lady beetles-Louis Tedders

Louis Tedders, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

 

Multi-colored Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis)

Spotted lady beetle-Whitney Crapshaw

Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

 

Spotted lady beetle and eggs (Coleomegilla maculata)

Lady beeetle larva-Clemson

Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, , Bugwood.org

 

Lady beetle larva feeding on aphids

 

References

Cranshaw, W. 2004. Garden Insects of North America. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. 656 pp.

University of Florida Featured Creatures http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/beneficial/lady_beetles.htm

White, R.E. 1983. Beetles. Peterson Field Guides. Houghton Mifflin Company, NY, NY. 368 pp.

Mantids

By Donna Ellis, UConn, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, 2015.

The insect that we commonly refer to as a praying mantis is also known as a mantid. Praying mantids earned their nickname because they hold their forelegs bent and raised as if in prayer. These large, beautiful predators belong to the insect order Mantodea. Adult mantids common to our area range in length from 5 to 11 cm and have a distinctive appearance. They capture and feed on prey using large grasping forelegs with spines. Mantids can turn their triangular heads 180 degrees as they search for their next meal. Two large compound eyes and three simple eyes allow them to see up to 20 meters away. They have an elongated thorax, the middle of their 3 body segments, which gives the appearance of a “neck”.

Neither of the two mantids common to the US are native species. The European mantid (Mantis religiosa) is also known as the praying mantid. There are green and brown forms, with green being more common. The drab coloration of these insects helps to protect and camouflage them from predators. The Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) is a larger species, brown in color with yellow and green striping found on the sides of the wings. Mantid egg cases sold in garden centers and from online sources are typically from Chinese mantids.

Praying mantids can be found on plants with similar coloration to their bodies and in areas where other insects can be found. Mantids are predators of many types of insects, including flies, moths, grasshoppers, and crickets. They wait quietly, poised and ready until a prospective meal is within reach, then quickly grab the unsuspecting prey with their strong forelegs. This action occurs so fast that it can’t be seen with the naked eye. Mantids will feed on both harmful and beneficial insect species. A female mantid will often eat the male after mating.

The life cycle of mantids is an incomplete metamorphosis that includes eggs, an immature stage (nymphs), and adults. Female mantids lay hundreds of eggs each in papery sacs that they attach to weed or other plant stems. The egg sac is the overwintering life stage for the species, and the reinforced papery material provides protection from the elements during the colder months. When young mantids hatch in spring, these nymphs greatly resemble their adult parents but are much smaller and without wings.

The official state insect of Connecticut is the European or praying mantis, designated in 1977.

Mantis-Allen Bridgman

Allen Bridgman, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Bugwood.org

 

Praying mantid

 Mantis egg case-Jim Occi

Jim Occi, BugPics, Bugwood.org

 

Praying mantid egg case

 

References

Borror, D.J. and R.E. White. 1970. Insects. Peterson Field Guides. Houghton Mifflin Company, NY, NY. 404 pp.

Cranshaw, W. 2004. Garden Insects of North America. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. 656 pp.

National Geographic, Praying Mantis, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/praying-mantis/

Bug Week Offers Programs for the Whole Family

 

praying mantis
Praying Mantis. Photo: Stacey Stearns

UConn Extension’s Bug Week is right around the corner, and we have programs for the whole family.

Bugs are the unsung heroes of our ecosystem, providing services such as pollination and natural pest control. However, bugs don’t stop at environmental benefits. They have also impacted our culture through the manufacturing of silk, sources of dyes, wax and honey production, food sources, and the improvement of building materials and structures. There are also problem bugs, like the Emerald Ash Borer and Brown Marmorated Stink Bug who are a concern in Connecticut. Visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu for featured insects and resources.

All ages are welcome to attend and explore the activities and events dedicated to insects and their relatives. Bug Week programs include:

–      Pests and Guests will be held at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon on Monday, July 20th at 5:30 PM.Activities include: cooking with bugs, games and demos for the whole family, and learning about bugs in the garden. We still have a few spots available, please RSVP to bugweek@uconn.edu or call 860-870-6974.

–  Join UConn Extension faculty and Spring Valley Student Farm staff and students for an interactive, fun-filled ‘buggy’ event. Learn about our amazing and important insect friends by collecting and observing them. Activities for the whole family will include insect collecting, insect-inspired crafts and a scavenger hunt. This event will be held on Tuesday, July 21st from 9-10:30 am and 5:30-7 pm. The rain date is July 22nd. Both sessions will be offered in English and Spanish.

–       Dr. Jane O’Donnell, Manager of Scientific Collections, Invertebrates will offer tours of the Insect Collections in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology on Thursday, July 23rd. Times available are 10 AM, 10:30 AM, 2 PM and 2:30 PM. Please RSVP to bugweek@uconn.edu or 860-486-9228.

–       Find out all about insects and where to look for them in this UConn Bug Week event at the Museum of Natural History in Storrs on Saturday, July 25th from 1-3 PM. We’ll focus on Lepidopterans, the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths, but will see what other types of insects we can find too! This event will include a short indoor presentation with live specimens and an outdoor exploratory walk with tips on where to find a variety of insects in their natural habitats. Discover more Bug Week activities at http://bugs.uconn.edu.

–       For more information on our programs please visit http://bugs.uconn.edu

UConn Extension offices are spread across the state and offer an array of services dedicated to educating and informing the public on innovative technology and scientific improvements. Bug Week is one example of UConn Extension’s mission in tying research to real life by addressing insects and some of their relatives.

For more information on Bug Week, please visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu or email bugweek@uconn.eduor call 860-486-9228.

Want More Bugs?

butterfly on girls nose
Photo: The Maritime Aquarium of Norwalk

Are you looking for more bug related activities, and can’t wait for Bug Week? We’ve pulled together a few things of interest for you:

WayBack Burgers is offering Cricket Milkshakes. WNPR and the Daily Share both had news stories about it. The milkshakes are only offered for a limited time, stop and visit a Wayback Burger before September to try one.

The “Flutter Zone” is a special exhibit of live butterflies from Asia and South America at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. The Aquarium is also offering ‘Flight of the Butterflies’ in IMAX through September 7th.

Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

Million Pollinator logoPollinators are responsible for 1 out of 3 bites of food we take each day, and yet pollinators are at critical point in their own survival. Many reasons contribute to their recent decline. We know for certain, however, that more nectar and pollen sources provided by more flowering plants and trees will help improve their health and numbers. Increasing the number of pollinator-friendly gardens and landscapes will help revive the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators across the country.
The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge (MPGC) is a nationwide call to action to preserve and create gardens and landscapes that help revive the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators across America. We will move millions of individuals, kids and families outdoors and make a connection between pollinators and the healthy food people eat.
Pollinators Gardens Should
  • use plants that provide nectar and pollen sources
  • provide a water source,
  • be situated in sunny areas with wind breaks
  • create large “pollinator targets” of native or non-invasive plants
  • establish continuous bloom throughout the growing season
  • eliminate or minimize the impact of pesticides.
The MPGC mobilizes America’s extensive gardening community, and supports them in making more native and non-invasive pollen and nectar producing plants available in their gardens.  The Challenge increases their understanding of the critical role that such actions can play in reversing declining pollinator populations.

The Oriental Beetle

Photo and article by Joan Allen

Oriental Beetle
Oriental Beetle on lettuce. Photo: Joan Allen

Last week, an adult Oriental beetle was spotted on some lettuce in our vegetable garden. This in itself is not really a big deal because, unlike Japanese and Asiatic garden beetles, these adults are not voracious feeders and don’t typically require control. It can be important for a couple of other reasons though, to note the annual emergence of this species. One is that it typically precedes the emergence of the Japanese beetle by 1-2 weeks, so it’s a heads-up to be on the lookout for them. The other is that the larvae or grub stage of the Oriental beetle can cause significant damage to the roots of cool season turfgrasses and some ornamental plants including those in pots.

The adults are 3/8 to 7/16” long and have quite variable color and markings. They can range from light tan to dark brown and many have alternating dark and light line patterns on the wing covers (elytra). After emerging in mid to late June in southern New England, beetles feed and mate. Females lay eggs a few inches deep in moist soil in small groups for a total of 20-30 eggs per individual. If drought conditions prevail, egg-laying may be delayed as long as into September. Grubs hatch 18-24 days later under average temperature and weather conditions and feed on roots and organic matter near the soil surface. As grubs increase in size and grow through three instars or stages, the amount of damage done to host plants increases too. Third instar larvae overwinter deep in the soil (8-17”). They migrate upward and resume feeding when the soil warms in the spring. After feeding for 4-5 weeks, the grubs pupate and transform into adults, completing the annual life cycle.

If you are concerned (or know) that white grubs, the larvae of Oriental, Japanese and several other scarab beetles, are damaging your lawn or other plants, it is important to correctly identify the beetle species for selection of the most effective control strategies. Pheromone traps are available to monitor for the presence of adult male Oriental beetles. Because these traps only attract males, they do not have the potential to increase damage in the area as Japanese beetle traps can. Identification of white grubs to species requires a close look at their little rumps. Using a hand lens, inspect the pattern of ‘hairs’ on the lower side. The Oriental beetle grub has two parallel rows of small hairs down the middle.

How do you know if you have enough grubs to warrant a control product? For Oriental beetle, thresholds of 8-10 grubs per square foot of lawn are suggested. Peel back a one-foot square section of turf and check the soil and roots for grubs. White grubs will be in a C shape. They’re going to be most numerous and problematic in sunny areas. Don’t forget about grub identification!

Management strategies include cultural practices, biocontrols and chemical insecticides. For both biocontrol and most chemical products, the early instar or youngest grubs are the most vulnerable and therefore the most easily controlled. More information on these can be found at these links:

http://www.beyondpesticides.org/alternatives/factsheets/Grubs.pdf

http://www.ct.gov/caes/cwp/view.asp?a=2815&q=376940

Connecticut claim to fame: The Oriental beetle was first confirmed in the United States here in 1920. It didn’t appear to spread much until around the 1970s. Since then it has expanded its U.S. distribution to include most of the east coast and extending westward to Ohio.

If you need assistance with grub or beetle identification, or control tips, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center by phone at 860-486-6271 or by email at ladybug@uconn.edu.