Q: I have these small, black insects all over the buds of my hibiscus plant. What are they and how do I control them?
A: Identifying the insects was easy since you brought a clipping of one of the buds into the Nassau County Extension Yulee satellite office plant clinic. The insects are aphids, which are small pear-shaped creatures that pierce into the plant material and remove vital nutrients. After looking at them on under the stereoscope however, we discovered something interesting. You mentioned you had not used any pesticide on the plant because you wanted to hear from me first. What we discovered was the aphids were being eaten by two syrphid fly larvae. These larvae are legless and look similar to other fly maggots but they vary in color and patterning. Most have a yellow longitudinal stripe on the back. It is fairly easy to see the difference between syrphid fly larvae and caterpillars. Syrphid larvae have no legs and the skin is opaque which provides a “window” to see their internal organs. The larvae can feed on hundreds of aphids in a month, which makes them very important for keeping aphids under control. The presence of the syrphid fly larvae indicates a healthy eco-system in your yard. I would leave well enough alone. Applying pesticides to the plants would also destroy the syrphid larvae and the natural balance you have achieved would be disrupted. Adult syrphid flies mimic bees as they have a black and yellow striped abdomen but they do not bite or sting. The syrphid fly adults feed on nectar and pollen. There are a few characteristics to watch for if you want to be able to determine if you have a fly or a bee. Flies have large compound eyes but bees have simple eyes. The antennae on the fly are short but bee antennae are longer. Bees have two sets of wings, flies only have one set.
Q: I am growing Anna apples and I found these tiny insects on the underside of the leaf. Can you tell me what they are?
A: The insects on the ‘Anna’ apple leaves are aphids. They are feeding on the plant juices in the leaf and causing the leaf to curl. There are dozens of them under one tiny leaf. Aphids do not require a male to reproduce and the young are born live, skipping the normal insect egg stage. Aphids can be controlled by applying horticulture oil on undersides of new leaf growth. More than one application may be necessary. Notice the aphids are attracted to new leaves as these leaves are most tender. Horticulture oil should be applied during the morning or early evening hours. Avoid applying oil in the heat of the day as this could damage the leaves. Remember to read and follow the directions on the pesticide label. ‘Anna’ is a good apple choice for Florida as are ‘Dorsett Golden’ and ‘TropicSweet’. Apples grown in Florida require a pollinator so use ‘Dorsett Golden’ to cross with ‘Anna’ or ‘TropicSweet’ to produce mature fruit. Fertilize in January and June. Irrigate 4-5 inches under the tree canopy once a week if sufficient rainfall does not occur.
Q: My son came home after playing with a friend to ask me about an ant lion. Is there such a thing and if so, what does it look like?
A: They do indeed exist and I suspect you have seen the larval mounds and did not even realize what you were observing. Many a youth as played along the ground and watched the antlion set a trap for its favorite prey – termites, beetle larvae and ants. The antlion, Glenurus gratus, larvae looks very menacing with its large, toothed mandible. They use these mandibles to capture and remove the fluid from their prey. The prey is bitten by the antlion, and then injected with a toxin which renders the prey immobile. The antlion build cone-shaped pits in which the prey fall. If the victim tries to climb out of the pit, the antlion with flick grains of sand at the prey ultimately knocking the prey back into its grasp. Antlions are terrific insects to keep in a classroom or a container at home as they are found abundantly and easy to feed. For more information on keeping an antlion in the classroom check out the University of Florida publication “Antlion Rearing” http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in760
Q: I found an insect which looks like an ant with wings. What could it be?
A: Actually, there are certain times when ants and termites form wings. The insects form wings to mate and form new nests. It is often difficult to determine the difference between a termite and an ant. The publication attached provides several pictures to assist in determining which insect you have. The most obvious difference is ants have a pinched waist whereas termites do not. Ant antennae are bent and ant wings are not the same size. Termite antennae are straight and their wings are equal in length. The insect you described is called an ant alate. http://flrec.ifas.ufl.edu/entomo/ants/Ant%20vs%20Termite.htm
Q: Can you tell me what kind of ant I have found?
A: The ant you brought into the office is called a crazy ant, Paratrechina longicornis, occurs in large numbers in homes or outdoors. They often forage long distances away from their nests, so nests are often difficult to control. The name "crazy ant" arises from its characteristic erratic and rapid movement not following trails as often as other ants. The crazy ant is not native to the United States but originally from Asian or African. In the United States the crazy ant can be found from Florida to South Carolina and west to Texas. The antennae of the crazy ant have 12-segments without a club and are extremely long. The stinger is lacking but the crazy may bite an intruder and curve its abdomen forward to inject a formic acid secretion onto the wound. On warm, humid evenings, large numbers of males gather outside nest entrances and may mill about excitedly. Workers patrol vegetation and other structures nearby. Workers feed on live and dead insects, seeds, honeydew, fruits, and many household foods. The crazy ant thrives in places such as gasoline stations, convenience stores, and sidewalk cafes where workers may be seen transporting crumbs and insects attracted to lights. They obtain honeydew by tending aphids, mealybugs, and soft scales. In cold climates, the ants nest in apartments and other buildings where they are potential pests year round. The crazy ant is highly adaptable, living in both very dry and rather moist habitats. It nests in such places as trash, refuse, cavities in plants and trees, rotten wood, in soil under objects and also have been found under debris left standing in buildings for long periods of time. Non-chemical control is based on exclusion through good housekeeping practices and cleanliness eliminating food sources. Crazy ants nest outdoors so prevention of their entrance by caulking exterior penetrations and weather-stripping may aid in their control. Indoors chemical controls are based on baits, dusts, and spot treatments with residual sprays. Outdoor treatments include chemical formulations as baits, granules, dusts, and sprays. Read and follow label instructions and precautions before using any insecticide.
Q: How do I best control fire ants?
A: Fire ants are one of Florida’s most aggressive landscape pests. Gardeners experience these biting and stinging insects almost daily. The easiest control method is to use baits. There are a few important things to know about the baits in order for them to work well. The baits must be fresh or the ants will not touch them. Do not sprinkle them directly into the hole but instead place the bait away from the mound as the ants need to forage for them. If the bait becomes wet it is no longer useful. Apply during the warm seasons when ants are foraging (seeking food). During the extreme heat of the summer apply the baits just before dusk as the ant will seek food then to avoid the high heat. Please, please, please follow the directions on the label. These labels have extensive research behind them and if you follow the directions the mound will eventually die – usually within weeks of the first application. Other methods of control are included and discussed in the publication attached. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/LH059
Q: I have found small brown insects in a tree stump in my yard. Do I need to be concerned about them infesting my house?
A: The insects you found are actually tiny ants, Cyphomyrmex rimosus. These insects were so tiny I had to look at them under a stereoscope. This was the first time I had seen this particular ant – they are quite menacing. Colonies can be polygynous, which means they have more than one queen. Workers forage on the surface of the ground, harvesting small insect parts and caterpillar droppings to use as substrate for fungal gardens. This is a good time to discuss the importance of insects. All ants are not the invasive fire ant which gives us so many problems. In face, very few insects cause problems to humans but unfortunately all the insects take a bad rap for the minute number of trouble makers. That seems to be true with humans too – sorry I digress. These insects play an important role by aiding in the decomposition of dead insects. It is important that we take a “live and let live” attitude so the good guys aren’t killed along with the bad insects. C. rimosus is the most abundant species in open areas, replaced in abundance by C. salvini in wet forest habitats. Nests are in the soil, under stones, or under dead wood on the ground. So, to answer your question - you do not need to worry about this insect, in fact we would classify it as a beneficial.
Q: What is this insect and what kind of insecticide can I use to kill it?
A: This is a beautiful example of the velvet ant or cow killer, which in reality is neither an ant nor a cow killer. Actually, the velvet ant belongs to the wasp family. The name “cow killer” comes from the tremendous pain inflicted by the sting of the velvet ant which seemed strong enough to “kill a cow.” Of course it cannot kill a cow or a human and probably seldom ever stung a cow. By the way, only female velvet ants have the capacity to sting. Velvet ants are solitary creatures unlike their cousins the bees. Adults feed on nectar but the larvae’s main food is burrowing beetle and bee larvae. Velvet ants are not aggressive but the female will sting if she is provoked. Velvet ants do not cause plant or property damage and should be left alone. If a chemical control is needed you may try a contact insecticide normally used on wasps or yellow jackets. Thanks for bringing this lovely wasp into the office. I look forward to using it when I teach my insect programs to local youth. Few youth or adults have seen this creature and I like to use every opportunity I can to instruct people on local fauna.
Q: I have found these insects on some of my plants and one of them bit me. Is it poisonous?
A: The insect you brought me is an assassin bug and although his name sounds menacing he is beneficial to man because he hunts insects that cause tremendous damage to our plants. We called these types of insects predators, which are organisms that consume more than one prey. Assassin bugs are characterized by the elongated, narrow head with the three-segmented beak folded back under the head. Probably the most distinguishing character of hemiptera is the wing structure, which generally has the front wings overlapping and lying flat on the back over the membranous hind wings. These insects are commonly found hunting on ornamental and fruit trees. The hairs of the front legs of this species secrete a sticky substance which probably aids in capturing its prey. Assassin bugs feed upon aphids, spittlebug adults, fall webworms, and other insects which makes them a valuable asset in the garden. They are not poisonous, but the conenose variety, while biting, can can harbor in its excretions a protozoan known as Trypanosoma cruzi--the cause of Chagas' disease, which now has been confirmed/identified in the United States.
The best thing to do is avoid contact with them and wear gloves when gardening.
Q: What are these small dark bees coming in and out of the ground in my lawn?
A: Andrenidae is the family which contains mining bees. These bees build nests in the ground and they are generally solitary creatures. Mining bees are usually darker in color and smaller than the honey bees. Large, empty areas in the lawn provide the perfect site for the female mining bee to lay her brood. If the lawn has plenty of barren areas then this insect has been known to have more than one female nesting site. Males are seen in the spring hovering close to the ground which often catches our attention. These bees are important pollinators and the site selection must have an abundant source of flowers to provide nectar. Mining bees are not aggressive and rarely sting unless provoked, unlike the yellow jacket wasp which has been known to sting numerous times. These valuable creatures are a normal spring occurrence and we would not recommend an application of any chemical to control them. The entrance holes to the burrow are about ¼ inch in diameter and the bees will often create small mounds of sand in order to excavate the burrow. Some people assume the bees are damaging the grass or grass roots but the real truth is the lawn started out weak. In your case, it probably died as a result of the freezing temperatures this past winter. Once the grass dies and leaves an area with no vegetation the mining bees take advantage. The best control is to have a healthy, thick lawn. Remember to use slow release nitrogen lawn fertilizers with a 1:0:1 or 2:0:1 (N-P-K) configuration. The mining bee is one of those examples of “grin and bear” it which require no action from you.
Q: I have found several small bees hovering in my lawn. They are white and black so I know they are not yellow jackets. They don’t seem to be aggressive but I wonder if I should be concerned?
A: You know how much I enjoy seeing insects and this one was particularly interesting as they were the first I had seen since I have began working in Nassau County 5 years ago. These insects are probably one of the andrenid bees, most likely a male, Anthophora urbana . These bees are solitary, ground-nesting insects. The bees nest in the ground in cylindrical tunnels dug by the females. A large group of bees frequently nests in a small area where the grass or ground cover is thin. Entrance to the tunnels is marked with small piles of soil. The opening to the nest will be approximately as small as the diameter of a pencil to the size of your index finger. It seems strange to call them solitary when they build large nests in one area but the solitary connotation means each female does her own work to provide a nest cell with nectar and pollen as a food for her offspring. Several females may cooperate to use a common entrance tunnel and corridor. The bees are about 1/4 to 1/2 inch long and variable in color (mostly dark, but some with markings of white, yellow or reddish brown). The ones you brought me were covered with fine, white hair and the stripes on the abdomen were also white. These beautiful creatures are not a serious pest and therefore chemical treatment is unnecessary unless they are in a high traffic area for child’s play. The entrances to the tunnels may be disruptive to the lawn but not usually damaging. It appears the grass is thin because of the bees, but it is more likely the bees are in the area because the grass was already thin. The threat of being stung by these insects is usually highly overrated. The bees are docile and not likely to sting unless handled or threatened. I released yours in the Nassau County Extension Demonstration garden hoping they might decide to stay – unfortunately, they quickly flew away. I suspect they were so glad to be out of their class prison, they did not take time to stop and visit the flowers. If the grass in your yard is thin, you might need to talk to me about how to care for your lawn grass.
Q: I was visiting my sister-in-law in Ponte Vedra a couple of days ago and she showed me a rose bush with damaged leaves. The leaves were systematically bitten on the outside edge and each bite was about half inch in diameter, perfectly round except where the bite was made at the outer edge. She took it to garden center at hardware store, they said the holes were made by a bee and that was where they had built a nest and then left. What do you think?
A: I suspect it is a Leaf-cutting bee ( Megachile species). This bee chews on many plants such as the Virginia creeper or ash trees but roses are a particular favorite. The cut out in the leaf is always a neat elliptical shape which makes it easier to identify than the cuts of beetles. The adult bees are more hairy and broader than a honeybee. Leaf-cutting bee females are 10-15mm long and the underside of the abdomen is covered in ginger hairs. The nests are made in tunnels in rotten wood, hollow plant stems or in flower pots and seed trays, especially where the compost has dried out. This is the work of leaf-cutting bees that use the leaf segments in the construction of their nests. Each leaf will be stocked with a mixture of nectar and pollen on which the bee lays an egg, before capping the cell with circular pieces of leaf. The process is repeated until the nest may contain between 20 to 40 cells. These bees are solitary with each female having her own individual nest that she constructs and provisions on her own. The females have stingers but lack aggression and do not chase or sting people. Most plants tolerate the damage, although small plants may suffer a significant loss of leaf area. Like all bees, leaf-cutters are beneficial in the garden as they act as pollinators of flowers, so they should not be persecuted unnecessarily. If small plants are suffering significant leaf loss, swat the bee when it comes to collect another piece of leaf, cover the roses with netting or “grin and bear it.” It is quite possible that all the damage on a plant is due to a single bee, as it will repeatedly visit a plant that has suitable leaves.
Q: I found a black ladybug and it has two red spots on it. I have never seen one like it before. Is it rare?
A: It is not rare but a wonderful treat for you to find it feeding on your palm tree fronds. It is called a Two-stabbed ladybird beetle, Chilocorus stigma. They love to feed on scale and aphids. The term ladybird is a name used in England for more than 600 years for the European beetle Coccinella septempunctata. As knowledge about insects increased, the name became extended to all its relatives, members of the beetle family Coccinellidae. Of course, these insects are not birds, just as butterflies are not flies. The lady for whom they were named was "the Virgin Mary," and common names in other European languages have the same association (the German name Marienkafer translates to "Marybeetle" or ladybeetle). Like most beneficial insects, C. stigma is susceptible to broad-spectrum insecticides. Using alternative control treatments such as dormant or horticultural oils may be less harmful to the lady beetles. Attached is a publication on several other ladybird beetles. Look over the different life cycles of this important insect as you may start to recognize other forms of this insect and they should be protected too. The larval stage of the ladybird beetle is also an important predator of harmful insects. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in327
Q: I found the largest beetle I have ever seen. Could it possibly be from one of the Caribbean countries? I found it on one of the tropical plants which comes from a warmer climate.
A: Actually, I have discussed this beetle in a previous column but the photo I used was of a female which had no horns. Your beetle was a male with a set of “C” shaped horns. Since he is such a beautiful beetle, with unusual horns, I thought I would share a photo of him with everyone. The large beetle is the Eastern Hercules beetle, Dynastes tityus. The adults are beige or yellow-green in color. Some have mottled spotting on the outer forewings, called elytra, while others have no spots at all. The grubs spend six months to one year feeding underground on decaying matter typically found in forest areas. Eastern Hercules beetle grubs can grow up to 4 ½ inches long, whereas the adults reach only 2 ½ inches. Because of their large size, these grubs are often sought after by a variety of predators such as raccoons, skunks, centipedes and spiders. Even the eggs are preyed upon by mites and fly maggots. All of these adversaries keep the Eastern Hercules beetle population to small numbers, which is probably why so few of us see them lumbering about our landscapes. The horns on the males are used to vie for a mating opportunity with a female. Generally, no deaths occur but one male beetle must ultimately yield. If you see one of these adult beetles count yourself lucky. In all my time searching for insects, I have yet to come across one. There is little reason to reach for an insecticide as they seldom cause severe damage to any of our landscape plants.
Q: I found this yellow beetle on a plant in my yard. It looks like a lady bug but the spots on it are not round. What is it?
A: You are not alone in wondering what kind of beetle this might be as most people think lady beetles are only red in color with black dots. Lady beetles are, with a few exceptions, one of the most important beneficial insects we find locally. They are predaceous which means they are great hunters and feed on insect pests. Your beetle is probably in the genus Hippodamia, but I am not positive. If you are really interested in seeing some important varieties of lady beetles search http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/ent/biocontrol/predators/ladybintro.html and look at the photos at the bottom of the article. These small creatures come in a multitude of colors from red to yellow and black. The spots on their wings may be perfectly round or form parenthesis or lines. Notice in the article how many of them which are predatory towards our nuisance plant pests such as aphids and scale. When we see these creatures on our plants we know they are working hard to keep the pest insect in check. It is important for us to be mindful of what pesticides we are using and do our best to protect these insects. Try to keep softer pesticides such as horticulture oil and insecticidal soap in your arsenal when managing aphids and scale.
Q I just moved here from New Hampshire and I brought my wool carpets with me. I now have tiny beetles all over my house and I suspect most of them came from this carpet. I never had a problem with insects in the past. What kind of insect is this?
A: First I want to welcome you to Northeast Florida. It will take you a while to adjust to our weather conditions, but I am sure you will come to love the mild climate. However because our seasons are milder insects have an opportunity to produce several generations each year and unless conditions are harsh insects seldom stop breeding. The adult insect (Dermestidea) is small, usually less than ¼ inch long. They feed mostly on pollen and nectar and can be found on outdoor plants during the summer. The larvae are very distinct, almost furry looking, because they have dense tufts of long setae (bristles) at the end of their bodies. Adult carpet beetles are commonly found indoors at windows. Carpet beetle larvae often wander about the infested location, from room to room, this behavior results in spreading the infestation throughout the house. Eggs are laid in lint, behind and under baseboards, in floor cracks, or other dark and protected locations. Eggs hatch in one to three weeks. The larval stages cause damage to a variety of material such as wool carpets and other wool products, furs, hides, horns, feathers, hair, and silk. They will also feed on linen, cotton, and rayon if these fabrics are soiled with juice, food, or animal excreta and cereal products. The best way to attack a carpet beetle problem is prevention. Vacuum regularly, do not store soiled fabrics, and use moth crystals or flakes when storing wool or other potential food of carpet beetles. When an infestation has become established, it is necessary to locate the source of the infestation in the house and discard all infested material.
Q: I am finding this tiny insect all over the kitchen. Can you tell me what it is?
A: This beetle was so small it required a microscope to identify. The antennae are the most distinguishing characteristic and once I could see them, the insect was easy to label. It is the cigarette beetle. The cigarette beetle, Lasioderma serricorne, also known as the tobacco beetle, is a pest of stored products -- some were found in dried resin from the tomb of Egyptian King Tutankhamun. Besides the dubious honor of being the most damaging pest of stored tobacco, the cigarette beetle also is a major pest of many stored food products including flours, dry mixes, dried fruits such as dates and raisins, cereals, cocoa, coffee beans, herbs, spices, nuts, rice, dry dog food and other products kept in kitchen cabinets. Non-food products that it infests include dried plants and herbarium specimens, dried floral arrangements, potpourri, decorative grapevine wreaths, prescription drugs and pills, medicinal herbs, pinned insects, furniture stuffing, papier-mâché‚ and bookbinding paste. Residual insecticides registered for use on cigarette beetles can be applied to cracks, crevices and shelves in storage areas after removal of stored products (check labels for specific use). Insect growth regulators (IGR) also are used as part of an Integrated Pest Maintenance (IPM) program.
Q: I have an insect on my cleomes and they are eating it up. What is this insect?
A: I am so glad you brought this specimen in for me to see. What was equally exciting was to see the egg sacs too. While I was examining the egg sacs, the nymphs began to hatch out – I was beside myself! What you have on your plants is called the harlequin beetle. It is a beautiful insect in all of its stages – even the eggs are intriguingly striped black and white. The harlequin bug feeds on its host plant by sucking the plant's juices. The literal "sucking-to-death" of the host plant results in wilting, browning, and eventual death. Throughout most of its range, the harlequin bug continues to feed and reproduce during the entire year. The harlequin bug is an important insect pest of cabbage and related crops in the southern half of the United States. This pest has the ability to destroy the entire crop where it is not controlled. Hand-picking and destruction of the insect pests and egg masses may deter damage where low numbers of insects are found.
For those of you unfamiliar with the summer annual, Cleome it is a wonderful, hardy, old-fashioned garden plant. However, one of its downfalls is it can get tall and leggy, but some new dwarf varieties are being developed - ‘Linde Armstrong’ cleome. This new variety produces purple flowers and should prove to be a wonderful addition to your home garden. Check with your local nursery if you are interested in this annual.
Q: I live in the historic district of Fernandina Beach and my pine floors have holes in them. I believe the holes were caused by powder post beetles; could you give me some information regarding these beetles?
A: The University of Florida has several publications on wood destroying insects such as beetles and termites. Replacement of your wood floors and treatment can be very expensive; it may be beneficial for you to get professional help from one of the local pesticide companies. As a consumer, you can ask for estimated costs, what chemicals they will be using and about the company’s guarantees and warranties. Don’t be afraid to check with the Better Business Bureau regarding complaints. Ask neighbors and friends for recommendations too. Nassau County has several pesticide companies who work hard and strive to maintain a good reputation. I hope all goes well, good luck .Check out beetles: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/IG11; termites: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/IG097 or other wood destroying insects: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/IN035
Q: I found this large bug in my yard. Can you tell me what it is?
A: This large beetle is the probably the Eastern Hercules beetle, Dynastes tityus (Linneaus). These beetles are about 1-½ to 2-½ inches long and colored yellowish or greenish-gray with brown to black spots, rarely are they reddish-brown. Males have three projections on the shield behind the head (pronotum) with the central one the longest and nearly meeting an additional projection on the head. You brought a female into the office and they have only small raised areas (tubercles) in place of the horns. Larvae are large C-shaped grubs similar to June beetles. Hercules beetles probably produce only one generation every year or two. Larvae take most of the year to develop and spend the winter underground. Adult beetles are active in the summer. The mouthparts of these beetles are made for chewing but it is the larvae that would do most of the feeding. The larvae live in rotten logs or high organic matter conditions, especially forest, shady areas. Adults do not seem to feed much but may eat leaves of plants. The adult beetle has the ability to exude a foul smelling odor when trying to evade predators. They often fall prey to large birds such as owls or crow and the larvae are eaten by woodpeckers. Eastern Hercules beetles are generally not considered important ornamental or economic pests and therefore no pesticide is required.
Q: What is the name of this insect?
A: Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful, iridescent blue-green insect with me. This is one of the ground beetles and I believe it could be the Fiery Searcher, Calosoma scrutator, or Caterpillar Hunter. The caterpillar hunter is one of the largest representatives of the ground beetles, and a common North American species. Like other ground beetles it prefers cool, damp places to live, and so is often found on the ground under rocks, logs, leaves, bark, decomposing wood and other debris. However, the caterpillar hunter will climb trees in search of their favorite prey, caterpillars. Their most common prey includes tent caterpillars, gypsy moth caterpillars, and other forest caterpillars. The caterpillar hunter generally feeds at night and hides during the day. Adults may live up to two or three years. The adult caterpillar hunter is 2.5 cm (1") to 2.9 cm (1 3/8") in length, with a violet/blue luster on the sides of the head and thorax. The wing covers (elytra) are metallic green with red margins, and have fine grooves running from front to back.
Q: I have found this beetle all over my flowers on several of my trees. I have never noticed it before. Should I be concerned?
A:"False blister beetles," sometimes known also as "pollen feeding beetles," are unique in that adults of all the approximately 1,000 species in the world are pollen feeders. They obtain their common name because many species cause blisters when pinched or squashed against the skin. Being pollen feeders, they are often common on flowers. They are also attracted to lights. Oxycopis mcdonaldi (Arnett) causes skin blistering and makes itself a nuisance at resort areas where the beetles are attracted by night lights around swimming pools, tennis courts, and open air restaurants. Adults mate on flower heads during pollen feeding. Both sexes feed on pollen but the female will not accept the male until her gut is packed full of pollen. The pollen grain contents are then digested and used in the manufacture of eggs. Eggs are laid under bark of nearby trees. Larvae hatch, drop to the ground, bore into damp soil and complete their larval life. In the soil they probably feed on rootlets and fungal rhizomes. Pupation takes place in the soil, and adults emerge to continue the yearly cycle, which usually coincides with the blossoming of certain flowers. Other species of false blister beetles have larvae which bore into driftwood, pilings, decaying wood, debris, and some make vertical tunnels in moist soil. Adults of some species prefer the pollen of a single plant species, while others are found on a variety of hosts.
Q: I have found dozens of these colorful insects on my tree. I am concerned because the tree limb is weeping exactly where I saw these insects. What are they?
A: The photos you showed me are of the Blue-green Sharpshooter, Graphocephala atropunctata. Like all true bugs, sharpshooters have piercing-sucking mouthparts, which they use to tap into and feed upon xylem or phloem tissue of plants, which is why you see the sap leaking from the tree limb. Sharpshooters and their close relatives the leafhoppers are some of the most colorful insects which they use as camouflage. They often have elaborate pattern in colors of red, green or yellow. These insects are incredible jumpers. Sharpshooters are gregarious and often seen in large numbers together. If threatened, they move directly opposite the threat. Sharpshooters have large eyes for excellent visual acuity to avoid detection and capture by potential predators. Woody plants, including grapevines, are favored for feeding and reproduction. The list of plants on which it regularly feeds is enormous, but it favors some plant species over others, especially for laying eggs. In ornamental landscapes in residential areas or parks, it favors roses, fuschia, ivy and a variety of ornamental shrubs or trees.
Adult blue-green sharpshooters are long-lived. There is usually only a single generation per year. Most females require a period of cool temperatures to mature reproductively and do not lay eggs until the following spring. A high percentage of adults survive the winter, but not much is known of their behavior during winter. The most important concern regarding sharpshooters is they can be vectors of bacteria. If they are carriers of bacteria, plants can become infected by their piercing/sucking feeding habits.
Management suggestions are from University of Florida/IFAS Features Creatures. Recommendations include foliar applied actamiprid and soil applied imidacloprid.
Q: What is the name of the insect and what does it do? It looks like it has a long stinger at the end of the abdomen.
A: I believe the insect you brought in to the office is a Broad-neck root borer, possibly Prionus laticollis. The female is much larger than the male, growing to two inches or more. The structure you see at the end of the abdomen is actually called an ovipositor, not a stinger. Ovipositors are structures on female insects in which they deposit eggs. This particular insect deposits eggs into the ground around trees and shrubs. The yellow eggs are about 1/8 inch long developing into larvae which then feed on the living roots of trees and shrubs. One female may lay as many as 100 eggs in clusters. The larvae may be as long as 3 ½ inches with black mandibles (very scary). Broad-neck root borers prefer deciduous trees of the forest but have been known to feed on fruit trees and shrubs such as peach, pear, apple, blueberries and even grapes. The complete life cycle takes about three years. Adults emerge from the ground between June and August eating the foliage of trees and, on some occasions, even damaging the fruit. Generally, the adults feed at night but stay hidden during the day. The smaller males are seen more often as they are attracted to light. Broad-necked root borer’s range is from Quebec and Ontario to Minnesota and as far south as Florida. Because the larva of this insect feeds exclusively on the roots of trees, the only visible symptoms are limb die-back and the yellowing and/or thinning of foliage. Borers can completely destroy young trees and make older trees more susceptible to being blown over. Prevention is the best way to deal with a borer. Keep grass, leaves, mulch, bark and other litter cleared away from the bases of trees. This prevents the borer from having a place to hide and makes it more visible to predatory birds. In addition, avoid over pruning, over fertilizing and over watering trees – all of these can cause additional stresses.
Q: Some time ago I removed and replaced wood from my staircase because they were infested with borers. Now I am seeing holes in the drywall near the stairs. What should I do?
A: There are many solutions for getting rid of insects which bore into wood structures in our homes. Some products, which can be purchased over the counter at local garden centers, may provide some control. However, since the problem has returned I would suggest you consider contacting a professional. It is extremely difficult to locate the nesting or brooding sites of wood boring insects. Chemical treatments must kill not only the workers but must also destroy the queen (or egg-laying). In addition, professional pesticide companies have chemicals you cannot purchase. These insecticides are often much better at controlling infestations of wood eating insects. The procedure for application of the chemicals is also very important to the overall success of managing the insect population. Consider asking several companies to bid on the project. Examine each of the contracts to determine what they will cover in case the problem returns. Although cost is important, service should be equally considered. I want to prepare you for the possibility of this project becoming costly. The damage to the interior wood studs and steps may be well beyond what you can see from the outside walls. The sooner you have someone work on this issue – the better it will be for you and your home.
Q: How long do butterflies live?
A: The life span of butterflies varies according to the butterfly. Larvae generally live longer than the adults. The longest life spans are associated with the migrating Monarchs, Mourning Cloaks, and some moths which can live for about 6 to 12 months. The caterpillar of the monarch butterfly feeds only on milkweed. The caterpillar of the mourning cloak feeds in groups on the leaves of deciduous trees, including the willow, elm, hackberry, cottonwood, poplar, rose, birch, hawthorn, and mulberry. The adult mourning cloak butterfly feeds on tree sap and rotting fruit. It may also eat nectar from flowers. The shortest butterfly life spans are found among the Coppers and Small Blues butterflies which live in their adult state for only a few days!
Q: What kind of caterpillar is this? It looks similar to a monarch butterfly caterpillar but I know it is not.
A: Thank you for bringing in the caterpillar on a leafy twig so it has something to eat. The caterpillar is the larval stage of the black swallowtail butterfly. The colors on both caterpillars are white, yellow and black. The monarch caterpillar configuration is more striped while the black swallowtail caterpillar has yellow dots. Both produce beautiful adult butterflies which are important pollinators for our area. Because the larval stage of the black swallowtail does devour some of our ornamental flowering plants, it has been labeled as a pest by a few in the horticulture business – but not this horticulturist! Habitats of the black swallowtail are generally open areas, including both uplands and wet areas—wet prairies, fields, flat-woods, pine savannas, roadsides, weedy areas, and gardens. Males perch and patrol open areas for females—often near patches of a host plant. Eggs are laid singly on the host plants—usually on new foliage and occasionally on flowers. Development time varies depending on temperature and host plant species, but generally the egg stage lasts four to nine days, the larval stage 10–30 days, and the pupal stage nine to 18 days (except for overwintering pupae). Pupae are the overwintering stage. There are two generations in northern parts of the range but at least three generations in the South. All swallowtail larvae have eversible horn-like organs behind the head known as osmeteria. The osmeterium of the black swallowtail is bright yellow-orange. When threatened, larvae rear up, extrude the osmeterium, and attempt to smear the potential predator with a chemical repellent. Black swallowtails feed on sweet fennel, dill, Queen Anne’s lace and hemlocks. For more complete information look over this University of Florida/IFAS publication: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in906
Q: Can you tell me what insect makes this cocoon?
A: Thank you so much for sending me that photo. I believe it is the pupal stage of the Cloudless Sulphur butterfly, Phoebis sennae. The cloudless Sulphur is widespread in the southern United States. Cloudless sulphurs may be found in all habitats when migrating, but breed in disturbed open areas where their caterpillar host plants and nectar plants are found. They have relatively long tongues and can reach the nectar of some tubular flowers that some other butterflies cannot (May 1992). In Florida, Cloudless sulphur butterflies frequently feed on the nectar from red morning-glories, scarlet creeper (Ipomoea hederifolia) and cypressvine (Ipomoea quamoclit), and also at scarlet sage, Salvia coccinea. Males sometimes drink from mud. At night, on dark, cloudy days, and during storms, adult cloudless surphurs roost singly on leaves. Before settling, they are very choosey of just the right place. An adult preparing to roost makes an erratic flight around a potential tree or shrub, settling briefly at times, then flying about some more, and typically selecting a yellow or reddish leaf within other leaves on which to finally stop. This behavior may help prevent attacks from predators, such as birds, that may also be perching nearby and watching the activity. Although the adults are brightly colored when flying, they seem to disappear against similarly colored leaves in the shade. The fall migration of cloudless sulphurs is the easiest to observe butterfly migration in the southeastern United States. On fine days in the fall, in the Southeast, any butterfly watcher driving an east-west road through open country will likely see these bright yellow butterflies crossing the road. Monarchs are migrating at the same time, but they generally fly too high to see and are heading for Mexico and hence may miss the Southeast. This information was taken from a UF/IFAS Entomology Department publication: http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/bfly2/cloudless_sulphur.htm
Q: What is the name of this caterpillar eating my passion vine? It is orange with black spikes.
A: The number one chewing insect on passion vine is the caterpillar of the gulf fritillary butterfly. The Gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae (Linnaeus), is a brightly colored butterfly common across extreme southern portions of the United States. At home in most open, sunny habitats, it frequents roadsides, disturbed sites, fields, open woodlands, pastures, yards, and parks. It is a regular in most butterfly gardens, including those in more urban settings. The Gulf fritillary occurs throughout the southern United States southward through Mexico, Central America and the West Indies to South America. In Florida, it can be found in all 67 counties. The Gulf fritillary produces multiple generations each year. Adults may be found in all months of the year throughout much of Florida. Adults have a quick, erratic flight but are easily drawn to nearby flowers. Larvae may feed on all parts of the plant and can rapidly defoliate host vines. This information was taken from a UF/IFAS Entomology Department publication: http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/gulf_fritillary.htm
Q: What is this caterpillar eating my parsley?
A: Thank you for sharing the photo. This is the larvae or caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly. The black swallowtail larvae are often confused with the monarch butterfly caterpillar as the colors are quite similar. However, if you look closer you will notice distinctive differences in the yellow and black markings of the two caterpillars. On the black swallowtail caterpillar, the yellow coloring breaks up the black whereas on the monarch the yellow and black seem to form more straight bands. Once you see them side by side you will never make the mistake of confusing them. It is interesting how different both of the caterpillars look from the adult butterfly. You would think the adult butterfly would at least keep the same color as the caterpillar – yellow, black and green. However, the monarch butterfly develops into an orange and black butterfly while the black swallowtail is almost completely black. Nature never ceases to amaze me.
Q: I saw these two caterpillars on my passion vine. What can you tell me about them?
A: I was glad you sent me a photo of the larvae as that made the identification so much easier. The caterpillar on your vine is probably the Puss caterpillar, Megalopyge opercularis. It is a convex, stout-bodied larva, almost 1" long when mature, and completely covered with gray to brown hairs. They look furry and appealing enough to touch but that would be a mistake because under the soft hairs are stiff spines attached to poison glands. When touched, these poisonous spines break off in the skin and cause severe pain and/or itching. Tenderness in the joints may occur as well as red blotches or rashes. Severe cases may result in nausea or vomiting. Some people experience severe reactions to the poison released by the spines and require medical attention. Others experience only an itching or burning sensation. It is always best to consult your physician when concerned about your physical reaction to stings. The adult moth causes no damage. Puss caterpillars feed on a variety of broadleaf trees and shrubs such as pecans, persimmon, and roses but most often on oaks and citrus. Damage done to mature trees or shrubs is minimal. In Florida there are two generations a year, one in spring and the other in fall. They are typically loners therefore you seldom find them in large groups. Natural enemies keep these caterpillars at low numbers during most years, but they periodically become numerous. The four major "stinging" caterpillars occurring in Florida are the puss caterpillar, saddleback caterpillar, Io moth caterpillar and hag caterpillar. For complete information of stinging caterpillars check out the University of Florida/IFAS publication called, “Stinging and Venomous Caterpillars”: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/IN014
Q: I found this strange looking caterpillar on my tree trunk. Will you identify it for me?
A: I have received e-mails with photos of this caterpillar within the last few weeks so I know it is time to talk about it. Your caterpillar is called a puss moth caterpillar. The southern flannel moth, Megalopyge opercularis is an attractive small moth best known because of its larva, the puss caterpillar. The genus name Megalopyge are derived from the Greek roots Megalo (large) and pygidium (rump)—probably because of the shape of the caterpillars. The photos are mine from a caterpillar and cocoon attached to my garage door. In north central Florida, puss caterpillars are most common on various species of oaks but are also common on elms – including both native species and the exotic Chinese elm. Young larvae feed by skeletonizing leaves and later eat small holes in the leaves.
This caterpillar is one of the most venomous caterpillars in the United States. The venomous spines of puss caterpillars are hollow and each is equipped with a venom gland at its base. In Texas, they have been so numerous in some years that schools in San Antonio in 1923 and Galveston in 1951 were closed temporarily because of stings to children.It was reported in 1922 by Dr. Foot different severity to stings between people depending on the thickness of the skin where the sting occurred. The sting produces an immediate intense burning pain followed by the appearance of a red grid-like pattern on the skin matching the pattern of the venomous spines on the caterpillar. In addition to the characteristic localized symptoms, more general systemic manifestations may also occur including headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, seizures and more rarely, abdominal pain, muscle spasms, swelling of the lymph nodes and convulsions.
Eagleman (2008) has reviewed common treatments for puss caterpillar stings. Remedies that may be helpful in some cases include removing broken spine tips from the skin with tape, applying ice packs, use of oral antihistamine, application of hydrocortisone cream to the site of the sting, systemic corticosteroids, and intravenous calcium gluconate. The caterpillar does have natural enemies such as the tachinid fly, Hyposoter fugitivus, Lanugo retentor and Hyposotor fugitivus all of which are predatory wasps. In most years, puss caterpillars are kept under control by natural enemies. If control measures are required, chemical insecticide or Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) applications recommended for control of other caterpillars should be effective. For more complete information, please read the University of Florida publication: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in976
Q: What are these caterpillars I am finding on my azaleas? I picked off 47 yesterday.
A: Wow, 47 caterpillars from one bush; that is amazing. The caterpillar you brought into the office is the azalea caterpillar, Datana major. It is found in Florida from July through October on azaleas (Rhododendron spp.). Often, the caterpillars completely defoliate much of the plant before they are detected. While the caterpillar appears to be a stinging variety; it is harmless to humans and can be picked off the bushes by hand, which you discovered when you were removing them from your plant. The caterpillars seem to prefer indica azaleas, but they have been found on blueberries, red oak and even apple trees. The semi-skeletonized leaves dry up, turn brown, and remain on the plant for several days. If disturbed some of the caterpillars drop one or two inches below the infested leaf and hang by a silken thread. When it is disturbed, the caterpillar raises its front and rear ends into the air. Young larvae skeletonize the leaves and the larger ones eat the entire leaf. In some parts of the South there may be a partial second generation, but one generation per year is usually the rule. Most of the damage in the southeast United States occurs in August and September, but in Florida it continues through October.
Q: What is causing all the webbing in the trees along the roadsides? Are they dangerous?
A: The webbing is caused by the eastern tent caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum. Although this caterpillar is a pest native to North America it is not dangerous. Populations fluctuate from year to year, with outbreaks occurring every several years. Defoliation of trees, building of unsightly silken nests in trees, and wandering caterpillars crawling over plants, walkways, and roads cause this insect to be a pest in the late spring and early summer.Eastern tent caterpillar nests are commonly found on wild cherry, apple, and crabapple, but may be found on hawthorn, maple, cherry, peach, pear and plum as well. While tent caterpillars can nearly defoliate a tree when numerous, the tree will usually recover and put out a new crop of leaves. In the landscape, however, nests can become an eyesore, particularly when exposed by excessive defoliation. The silken nests are built in the crotches of limbs and can become quite large. Removal and destruction of the egg masses from ornamentals and fruit trees during winter greatly reduces the problem next spring. In the early spring, small tents can be removed and destroyed by hand. Larger tents may be pruned out and destroyed or removed by winding the nest upon the end of a stick.
Q: I know I should know the answer to this question, but I do not. What are the insects making the loud noises from dinner time until it is dark? I do not really notice the noise during the day.
A: The insect is probably the cicada. Which one is it? Well, identifying it might be a little tough since there are almost twenty different species of cicada found in Florida. I have tried capturing them for my insect collection but have had very little success thus far. Cicadas can be identified by their “song” and attached is a website from the University of Florida to help you: http://www.entnemdept.ufl.edu/walker/buzz/c700fl1.htm I listened to the dusk singing cicada, Tibicen auletes (Germar), which might be the cicada you are hearing especially since it sings at dusk. Some cicadas have long life cycle periods and emerge in 13 or 17 year intervals. These cyclical or periodical cicadas do not live in Florida; cicadas are produced here annually. Cicadas rarely cause any significant damage to vegetables or ornamental plants in Florida. Although their size, which can but over 2 ½ inches long, makes them somewhat menacing, we need not be afraid of them as they do not sting or bite. Cicadas are an important part of the food chain in forest and home landscapes as they are a source of food for birds and small mammals.
Q: My sister says cicadas are the same as locusts. Are they? I’m keeping my fingers crossed as I have a dinner bet on this.
A: Well, get your fork and knife ready because you are correct, cicadas and locusts are different species with very distinct characteristics. The fame of locusts is of Biblical proportions because of their tendency to swarm in large numbers. However, it should be noted, cicadas have been known to show a similar behavior but they are not nearly as destructive. Locusts belong to the family of family Acrididae (grasshoppers) and Tettigoniidae (katydids) whereas cicadas belong to the family Cicadidae. Locusts are found on every continent outside of North America and Antarctica, so they really have an impact all over the world, but not here. The U.S. did have a serious locust species around the late 1800s called the Rocky Mountain locust, and it caused numerous problems for settlers in the region, but then it quietly became extinct around 1900. When food supplies are high, the locusts will produce large numbers of offspring. The large number of offspring causes the locusts to swarm to other outlying areas seeking other food supplies and better habitat sites. So the locusts start migrating from their original birth site in bands or swarms. There may be millions at one time eating every green thing in sight. The area of atmosphere the locusts cover may be as much as 500 square kilometers. The largest recorded swarm has covered more than 1,000 square kilometers. Typically agricultural crops are highly nutritional and are grown in large patches or plots providing the perfect place for locusts. Once the location is found there can be severe damage the crops, making the locust a serious pest to farmers. Cicadas have large, membranous forewings which easily extend beyond their abdomen. These wings are important for flying. Cicadas have distinctive, large eyes located far apart in their head. The noise we hear in our oak trees is often caused by the male cicada. The sound of cicadas is distinctive, and species can be differentiated by their calls. Only males can make sounds, most of which are calling songs to attract female mates. Periodical cicadas are species with synchronized development so they mature into adults in the same year, usually on 13 or 17 year life cycles. News reports and interest pieces are popular around the time the cicadas emerge. Florida, however, does not have periodical populations of cicadas, and adults emerge every year from late spring through the fall. Cicadas are not considered to be a pest of any significance in Florida. They do not require treatment and are best left alone, since any damage they cause is negligible. Cicadas do not bite or sting and do not carry harmful diseases. They are a food source for wildlife and can even be a food source for people - but I will let you try them first!
Q: I was raking leaves and noticed a large cockroach with yellow markings. I have never seen it before. Can you identify it for me?
A: I suspect the cockroach you saw was the Australian cockroach, Periplaneta australasiae, which is commonly found outdoors among leaf litter, in flower beds, garden areas and green houses. It has yellow markings on its thorax and a yellow stripe on either side of its wings. The Australian cockroach takes about one year to develop into a mature adult. This cockroach has been found in all the southern coastal regions of the U.S. and as far west as California. There is no reason to be concerned about this creature roaming your property outside but an insecticide can be applied along the perimeter of your home. A chemical application will prevent this cockroach, as well as any other insects, from entering into your home. If an infestation of any cockroach is found in the home, it might be advisable to consider calling in a professional exterminator who has training in locating pest nesting sites. Finding the Australian cockroach in your home is not an indicator of filth like the German cockroach. Australian cockroaches would prefer to be outside and they do not necessarily carry the serious pathogens of the German cockroach. However, you have my permission to kill the Australian cockroach if it ends up in your house – otherwise do not worry about it. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg231
Q: What is this green insect? It looks like a little fish to me.
A: Thanks for bringing in this interest insect. The insect is an adult Cuban cockroach, Panchlora nivea. It is interesting to note the immature (nymphs) Cuban cockroaches are brown in color and change to the pale green color after several molts. They are also known as banana cockroaches. Cuban cockroaches are generally not household pests as they prefer to live in leaf litter, under logs and around landscape shrubbery in the organic mulches. Since they are originally from warmer climates they often do not survive the cold winters here in Northeast Florida. Like many other cockroaches, they are active during the evening hours but have been known to be take flight around porch lights. Keeping any of the outdoor cockroaches out of the house can be done by ensuring tight seals around windows and doors as well as caulking around bathroom and kitchen drain pipes. One other interesting note is because of their attractive color, they have been known to be kept as pets in sealed aquariums or kept as food for insectivores – not my cup of tea, but hey, to each his own.
Q: With all the rain we have been having my wife is upset at the number of insects showing up in the house. She especially hates the earwigs. We have been smashing them, but that is very unpleasant. Some people say they are dangerous and other say they are harmless. What does the University say?
A: Many of us have been experiencing a variety of insects coming in from the rain – they are not as dumb as people seem to think! We can definitely say earwigs are not dangerous but you will have to decide if you think they are harmless. Vegetable growers would classify them as a nuisance because ringlegged earwigs (Euborellia annulipes), which are nocturnal, like to feed on lettuce or root crops. The ringlegged earwig is the most common earwig found in Florida and it is particularly fond of plants found in greenhouses. However, they are also voracious predators eating sowbugs and other insects like our major St. Augustine grass pest – the evil chinch bug. Another earwig species have been found in North Florida called the European earwig but they are not well established here. European earwigs are generally classified only as a nuisance pest because the damage they cause is only aesthetic damage. You may want to encourage your wife to sweep up the earwig and throw it back outside where it prefers to live and can hunt other insects. I will leave you with a quote from a University of Florida publication on earwigs: “It is mostly known as a nuisance, and the small amount of plant feeding injury it causes likely is offset by its beneficial predatory habits.” Now you can decide how best to handle this tiny pest - I am voting for the “sweep and toss” method!
Q: How do I get rid of fire ants? They have already taken over my flower beds and garden.
A: The ant probably giving you the most trouble is the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren. This ant is originally from Brazil and we believe it entered into the United States in the early 1930’s through Alabama or Pensacola, Florida. It is now found in the lower southern states from the Carolinas to California. We have several other fire ants in Florida and even one native fire ant; but none give us the red, pustule infected area after a bite like the red imported fire ant. Actually, the red imported fire ant bites and stings at the same time. Aren’t you glad to know that piece of information? The most effective management tool is the ant bait for individual mounds and broadcast throughout the landscape. Remember, ants are foraging insects, which means they leave the mound to seek food from the surrounding area. Baits should not be sprinkled directly onto the mound as the ants will not touch it. The idea is to place it in areas they are likely to be hunting for food. The ants take the bait back to the mound and feed it to the rest of the colony. The bait gets fed to the queen and then the colony is killed. Baits do not work immediately but they do work. Be patient because even though it acts slowly, it works better than drenching the mound, or applying chemicals directly. For complete information on the red imported fire ant and other methods of control check out the University of Florida/IFAS publications: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in352 and http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh059
Q: I saw these small flies coming from the drain in my garage. What are they?
A: Thanks for bringing samples of this insect to the office. I believe it is probably filter/moth/drain flies. This fly belongs to the family of flies generally called moth flies, because their scale-covered wings resemble those of a moth. They are very tiny – about 1/16 to 1/18 inch in length and light gray to tan. Their life cycle is seven to 20 days. Adult flies have the body and wings covered with dense, long hairs. Moth/filter flies breed in decomposing organic material, such as moist plant litter, garbage, sewage, and around kitchen or bathroom sinks and water traps in plumbing fixtures. You might consider removing the drain and clean out the source of food for the flies. Best chemical control methods aim at managing the maggots or larvae.
Q: I found this insect on my sidewalk. It is mostly black but it had white legs. It looks like a wasp but it does not seem to have a stinger. Can you identify it for me?
A: I believe the insect is a black soldier fly. The black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens (Linnaeus), is a sleek looking fly often mistaken as a wasp. However, like most flies, the black soldier flies only have two wings (wasps have four). In addition, this fly, like other flies, does not possess a stinger. Although the loud buzzing they create when flying is enough to concern many people, adult soldier flies pose no danger. The black soldier fly is often associated with the outdoors and livestock, usually around decaying organic matter such as animal waste or plant material. Since black soldier fly larvae consume decaying matter, they have been used to reduce animal manure in commercial swine and poultry facilities. In the southeastern United States, the black soldier fly is abundant during late spring and early fall. Many are mimics of other flying insects, such as bees and wasps. Black soldier fly adults have a wasp-like appearance and are black or blue in color. The adult black soldier fly is not usually considered a pest. In addition to being a good source of oil and protein for animal feed, black soldier fly larvae have the potential of improving organic waste into a rich fertilizer. For more information, check out the publication from the University of Florida: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/livestock/black_soldier_fly.htm
Q: I find large, mosquito looking insects in my house. They do not seem to bite but I want to know if this is really true. What can you tell me about them?
A: You are describing a crane fly from Tipulidae, which is the largest family of Diptera. Diptera has about 1,500 species in North America and 12,000 species worldwide. Crane flies are not mosquitoes at all and you are correct – they do not bite. Crane flies live in fresh water and moist soil but you can rest easy since they do not feed on humans or animals. The adult stage does not feed at all but merely is alive to reproduce. The larval stage has chewing mouth parts and feeds on decaying leaves and other organic material. The larvae, called "leatherjackets," because of their tough, outer skin are usually found in damp soil feeding on decaying vegetable matter. The maggots have no legs with poorly developed heads. They are about one inch long when mature and normally found in poorly-drained soils. Even though you may see them in large numbers we generally considered them beneficial because crane fly larvae are an important part of the decomposition cycle. One other important thing to note is crane flies carry no disease and therefore it is not necessary to manage or chemically treat them.
Q: I have found small flies which have a striped body on my window sill. What can they be?
A: I suspect the fly may be a Hover Fly, Allograpta obliqua, which is also called flower fly, or syrphid fly. The adults are important pollinators for several common plants in our area and they are found in Northeast Florida throughout the year – winter, spring, summer or fall. The larvae develop into an adult much slower in the winter, which takes about 8 days whereas during the summer it may only takes 1-2 days to mature. Hover flies feed on the nectar of flowers as well as the honeydew secreted by aphids. Remember, aphids are piercing/sucking insects which feed on the new growth of plants. The larvae of the Hover Fly are veracious eaters feeding on aphid pests commonly found on citrus, subtropical fruit trees, grains, corn, alfalfa, cotton, grapes, lettuce, and ornamental plants. When Hover fly larval populations are high they can nearly eliminate the aphid infestations of a specific plant. One Hover Fly can eat as many as 34 aphids a day – so you can see why they are valuable to any gardener and why we need to do all we can to protect them. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in342
Q: What is this scary, big bug I found on the outside of my house?
A: Thanks for bringing in this insect which was about 2 1/2 inches long. It has long, gray, very membranous wings. What you have is an adult Eastern Dobson fly, Corydalus cornutus. It likes to live near flowing streams which provide the perfect environment for its developing larvae. You were lucky to see the adult as the males only live about three days and females live from 8 – 10 days. The adults possess larges jaws but really do not feed on anything in a natural environment and their sole purpose is to mate. Larvae feed on soft-bodied creatures in the water. No need to fear this large insect at all. I would release it near the stream of water in your neighborhood so it can fulfill its purpose. For more information check out the University of Florida website called “Featured Creatures” - http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/eastern_dobsonfly.htm
Q: I found this insect on the wall of my garage the other day. I don’t think is it a dragonfly but the wings look similar. What is it?
A: I had several of these around my house a few weeks ago too and since they are beneficial insects – I left them alone. Interestingly, we just recently received a publication on this insect which I attached to this answer for you. The eastern dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus, is one of our largest non-lepidopteran (butterflies and moths) insects. Its larvae, known as hellgrammites, are the top invertebrate predators in rocky streams where they occur. Adult male dobsonflies are particularly spectacular because of their large sickle-shaped mandibles (jaws). The dobsonfly is found throughout most of eastern North America east of the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico near flowing streams which provide habitat for its larvae. Dobsonflies are beneficial insects and should be conserved. Hellgrammites are prized as bait by fishermen (particularly for smallmouth bass) and are available for sale at bait shops in some areas. Because of the effort required to collect them, they are fairly expensive to purchase. Therefore, they may be subject to over-exploitation and their collection for sale is regulated in some states. Although, hellgrammites are great fish bait, they are rarely found in the stomachs of fish - probably because they spend most of their time under rocks where they are inaccessible. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in987
Q: I keep seeing these small black grasshoppers with red stripes. What are they?
A: This is the early stage of the large Eastern lubber grasshopper, Romalea microptera, which can grow to over 3 inches long. They can be extremely colorful making them very easy to identify. Color variation can be from light yellow to dark black with many variations between. We would recommend you get rid of the young grasshopper now as it is an eating machine and it likes just about anything green. Insect growth regulators will stop it from reproducing any more grasshoppers or you can simply take the Rebecca Jordi method and smash it. I particularly enjoy killing them knowing I am reducing the future population and I find it very therapeutic. The young, black grasshoppers are often found in large numbers clustering together on weeds or green vegetation. “Lubber” is derived from an old English word “lobre” which means lazy or clumsy. There are some very serious chemicals but you must weigh that against the possibility of killing beneficial insects at the same time. Take the smash method route instead!! Check out the publication from the University of Florida Entomology department.
Q: What is the name of the flying grasshopper I am seeing all over my open field. Whenever I walk through the wildflowers, I can see this grasshopper flying.
A: It might be the American grasshopper, Schistocerca Americana. When found in large numbers, the American grasshopper can cause serious damage to agriculture crops and landscape plantings. There are short and long wing varieties. The short winged grasshoppers do not fly as often or as far as the long winged ones. The American grasshopper is generally tan to brown in color with specked wings. The female lay from 60 – 80 eggs which take about 3-4 weeks to hatch. Initially, they stay in small clusters until they become more mature. The nymphs, or youth stage, may start out green but will ultimately change to the brownish color. The American grasshopper can cause injury to citrus, corn, cotton, oats, peanuts, rye, sugarcane, tobacco and vegetables. This species receives attention in Florida due its defoliation of young citrus trees. The plants are damaged by the grasshopper gnawing on the leaves, and young vegetable plants can be eaten to the ground. Most of the feeding damage is caused by the third, fourth, and fifth instar nymphs. Aside from commercial crops, the American grasshopper also shows a preference for several species of grasses: bahiagrass, bermudagrass, crabgrass, nutgrass and woodsgrass. It also feeds on dogwood, hickory, citrus and palm trees. Best management of these and any other grasshopper is to control the weeds surrounding the plants we want to protect. Chemical controls such as insect growth regulators (IGRs) work best with the insects is very small – in the nymph stage. Of course, you can always use the Jordi method of grab, squash and stomp to control them too!! I am told they are not bad as fish bait either – full circle of life!
Q: We were cutting down some tree limbs and my wife saw this large caterpillar. It scared her so much that I brought it to you hoping you might be able to tell me something about it. I have been here all my life and never seen anything like this.
A: I was so excited that you brought this beautiful caterpillar in the office for all of us to see. The caterpillar is called the Hickory Horned Devil, Citheronia regalis , which will develop into the Regal Moth. The hickory horned devil is among the largest of our native caterpillars (12.5-14 cm in length - about the size of a large hot dog). They vary slightly in color, but are commonly blue-green. Sections near the head have two long and two shorter orange, black-tipped appendages that look like horns. Although the caterpillar appears to be fierce and dangerous, it is harmless. It is most often observed when it is full grown and comes down from the trees in search of a place to burrow for pupation. Trees such as pecan, sweet gum, persimmon and sumac are the most common food sources for the caterpillar. If a larva is found crawling on pavement or in an area of thick turf grass where it would have difficulty burrowing, it should be moved to an area of soft soil or a mulched area where it can burrow for pupation. Again, it is harmless and should not be killed. The regal moth has a wingspan of 9.5-15.5 cm with females growing larger than males. The forewings are gray to gray-green with orange veins and a row of seven to nine yellow spots near the margin. The hind wing is mostly orange with yellow spots on the margins. The hind wing may also have one to two rows of gray-green spots. The body is orange with narrow yellow banding. The adult moth typically has only a single generation per year, usually in the summer.
Q: What is this creature? I found it in my backyard and I have never seen anything like it.
I get this question at least once a year and the caterpillar is so spectacular that it is worth repeating it to the public. The caterpillar is the Hickory Horned Devil, Citheronia regalis, which is the larvae form of the regal moth. This moth produces only one generation per year. In Florida, adults have been collected in May, but are more common during the summer. Eggs hatch in six to 10 days, and the duration of the larval stage is about 35 days. The hickory horned devil is among the largest of our native saturniid caterpillars (12.5-14 cm in length - about the size of a large hot dog). The caterpillars vary slightly in color, but are commonly blue-green with long red and black, fleshy structures at the posterior and anterior ends. The long, red and black structures are harmless and the caterpillar can be handled. The Horned Devil has been found on walnut trees, hickories, sweetgum, persimmon and sumacs. The regal moth is beautiful and its larvae should not be killed. If a larva is found crawling on pavement or in an area of thick turf grass where it would have difficulty burrowing, it should be moved to an area of soft soil or a mulched area where it can burrow for pupation during the winter.
Q: Along the stem of one of my citrus trees is a cluster of gray, oval shaped structures. I am thinking they are eggs of some insect but before I destroyed them, I wanted to know what you thought.
A: You have wonderful instincts and you are correct they are the eggs of an insect. I actually have a photo of the same insect eggs which were laid on the electrical or telephone wire outside my office in Yulee. The eggs belong to an insect called the katydid. The nymphs of the katydid should be emerging soon and this is the best time to control them. If they have not yet hatched out, then you have my permission to destroy the eggs right now. You could simply crush them directly on the stem of the tree. No chemical pesticide will control this insect in the egg stage. Nymphs and adults feed on the leaves and citrus trees seem to be one of their favorites. In addition, adult katydids can make small impressions on the rind of citrus when it feeds causing the fruit to become unappetizing. The interior portion of the citrus is left unharmed and safe to eat but many people cannot get past the seeing the damage from the insect.
Q: I have seen small, green grasshoppers on my citrus. They are chewing the leaves but they are really unusual because their antennae are not solid black, but black and white. Do you know what they are?
A: Yes, I have seen these same creatures on my citrus and flowering plants and shrubs. They are difficult to spot as they are often the same color as the new growth but their long black and white antennae make them a little easier to find. The creatures you have seen are the nymph or young stage of katydids, probably, Microcentrum rhombifolium. There are several generations per year in Florida resulting in increasing populations from June through September. This species can go from egg to sexually mature adult in about three months. The eggs are rather easy to identify as they are laid along leaf margins in rows usually in large trees. Katydids feed on the foliage of citrus trees during the mid to late morning. This means if you are a good scout you can catch and kill them before it becomes too hot for outside work. Foliage feeding on larger trees is usually insignificant, but severe defoliation can occur on young trees. Katydids, like grasshoppers, sometimes feed on the peel of growing oranges, resulting in large, smooth, sunken areas in the rind as the fruit develops. Some of the fruit will drop but others will remain on the tree with unsightly blemishes. The fruit is still safe to eat but it is not very attractive. Although this damage is commonly called "katydid damage," it can also be caused by grasshoppers, crickets, and other insects. You can use a pesticide labeled for grasshoppers but it will work best if applied when the insect is young and small.
Q: My cousin has hundreds of ladybugs in her house what can she do to get rid of them?
A: The ladybug you mentioned is probably the multicolored Asian lady beetle Harmonia axyridis Pallas, which was introduced from Asia both purposefully for classical biological control of arthropod pests and accidentally into the United States many times during the twentieth century. It finally became established and quickly spread over the entire United States sometime in the late 1980's and early 1990's. They should not be mistaken for another introduced ladybug from Europe, thehttp://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/ent/biocontrol/predators/ladybintro.htm, Coccinella septempunctata Linnaeus, which is often found feeding on the same insect hosts and plants. The H. axyridis lady beetle is orange in color and may or may not be spotted. H. axyridis is a voracious predator of arthropod pests such as aphids, mites, thrips, scale and Lepidoptera eggs. As a predator, it is beneficial for most of the year and has contributed to a decrease in pesticide use. Both H. axyridis larvae and adults feed on pests and quickly build up to large numbers locally (10-20 thousand have been found in homes). However, unlike other ladybugs in the U.S., H. axyridis is attracted to light colored dwellings and other manmade objects which it uses as overwintering sites. The ladybugs often return to the same buildings year after year. Once the ladybugs are inside a building there are several options for removal. The best option is to purchase a black light trap and use it in rooms where ladybugs are observed as soon as they are seen. When operated at night the light traps are very effective. Use of a vacuum cleaner or other cleaning tools that handle the beetles roughly, while effective, will result in production of the defensive compound by the ladybugs with its unwanted side effects as previously described. Despite their overwintering behavior, H. axyridis are very valuable as natural enemies of many insect pests and should be tolerated and conserved when possible. This information was taken from a publication by the Department of Entomology & Nematology and the Department of Plant Industry.
Q: I have been finding these large brown bugs with a white stripe across their back on my shrubs. Can you tell me what they are?
A: Leaf-footed bug, Leptoglossus [= Theognis] phyllopus is a widespread and conspicuous minor pest of many kinds of crops, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and ornamentals. It has been reported as a major pest in citrus groves when feeding on ripening fruit causes premature color break and fruit drop. Serious infestations do not occur commonly, but a large proportion of the crop may be lost when they do. I have seen as many as 10 on my blueberry shrubs this summer although fruit drop was not substantial. This insect is easy to identify from other leaf-footed bugs because of a continuous white crossbar across its back. The adult is chocolate brown in color. Most of the problem on citrus involves early and mid-season oranges, tangerines, and satsumas, with injury usually occurring between September 1 and late November. Pecan is one of the other crops attacked leaving a black pit and kernel spot of pecan. Some of the ornamentals attacked include hibiscus, crape myrtle, ligustrum, ixora, gladiolus, Gerbera daisy, and rose. Wild hosts include thistle, goldenrod, and elderberry. Adults have been seen during all months of the year in the Deep South, but populations peak during the warmer months. Often removal of wild host plants is the best way to control this insect although I have taken great pleasure in the squish and stomp method.
Q: Is this the “kissing bug” recently described on television?
A: You are the second person to bring me one of these insects asking if it was the “kissing bug” seen on a recent television program. In both instances, the insect was a leaffooted bug, Leptoglossus phyllopus. This insect is a minor pest of various crops, including fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and ornamentals landscape plants as well as citrus. Most of the problem on citrus involves early and mid-season oranges, tangerines, and satsumas, with injury usually occurring between early September and late November. Since we are well into the fall season, most of you have been finding these insects on your citrus fruit. Pecan is one of the other crops attacked causing a black pit and kernel spot of pecan. Nuts with black pit can drop prematurely. The “kissing bug” is actually known as the eastern bloodsucking conenose, Triatoma sanguisuga. The eastern bloodsucking conenose looks quite different from the leaffooted bug and it is not a plant pest at all. Kissing bugs are members of a larger group known as assassin bugs. Assassin bugs are named for their habit of attacking and voraciously feeding on insects with their piercing-sucking mouthparts. In this way, assassin bugs can reduce pest insect populations, and are considered beneficial. What makes kissing bugs unusual is they require blood meals to survive and reproduce. These particular insects can also harbor Triatoma sanguisuga which is a vector of American trypanosomiasis (or Chagas Disease) in South America, a debilitating illness caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. This parasite has a complex life cycle, relying on both invertebrate vectors (such as the eastern bloodsucking conenose) and mammal hosts (such as humans, livestock and rats) to reproduce and spread. This disease is a problem in South and Central America and has been detected in the United States, but has not been found in Florida. For more complete information on both insects, look over the following University of Florida publications: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in1018; http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in229
Q: A bug was on the edge of one of my flower pots looking like a prehistoric critter of the first order. What is it and does it do good or bad things to my growing efforts?
A: I was so excited that you sent me these pictures! Your insect does indeed seem reminiscent of prehistoric times. I in turn, sent a copy to the University of Florida for an expert opinion, but I suspected it was some kind of tree insect. Dr. Lyle Buss identified it as a grizzled mantid, Gonatista grisea . All mantids are predators, which means they eat other insects and in most cases they are not very discriminating. By that we mean they will eat any insect including each other. Therefore, you need not worry about them bothering you or your plants. In fact, some people have been known to keep them as pets. Although I must warn you, one of the agents in the panhandle was pinched severely when the praying mantid grasped him between his thumb and finger. Ouch! These insects are usually large; many are well over 2 inches in length. They can be green, brown or mottled as was the insect you found in your yard. The United States has only 20 species, but over 1800 are found worldwide. Mantids are the only insects that have a freely moveable head with a distinctive triangle shape. The grizzled mantid you saw is often called a bark mantid because it spends a great deal of time on tree bark hunting its prey and often collects bits of lichen to help it camouflage itself against the tree. It is quite a wonderful insect and one not often seen by the general public. I am so glad you took time to share it with us.
Q: My corn plant is an indoor house plant and I have had it for years. This past year, it has been doing poorly and I want to know what is wrong with it.
A: After looking at the plant closely I discovered mealy bugs, which are a common house plant insect. You will need to be diligent in scouting this pest as he is very small. In fact, he is so small that he often goes undetected until his population becomes too large to ignore. The best method of control might be to combine physical and chemical applications. First, take a clean, damp paper towel and wipe off the infected area – that is the physical part. Don’t be afraid of the insects, they won’t bite you. Throw the paper towels in a plastic bag, tie them up and toss them out with the trash. Purchase some horticulture oil and/or insecticidal soap and spray the plant thoroughly – apply to the underside of leaves, along the stems and deep into crevices. Follow the directions on the label regarding reapplication. You can find these products at any garden center. They are extremely useful because they can be used on your indoor plants as well as those planted outside.
Q: I found this large dead bug that didn’t look like a snake or a worm but was too big to be a “roly-poly”. What is it and do I need to be concerned about finding others?
A: The insect you showed me is a Millipede, which actually is not a bug or insect at all. Insects have 3 body parts and only 6 legs. Millipedes are commonly known as "thousand leggers" and belong to a group of arthropods called Diplopods. Millipedes are worm-like, cylindrical animals with many body segments. Most of the body segments bear two pairs of legs. Millipedes tend to coil up tightly when disturbed and some species can secrete a foul smelling fluid. Millipedes feed on decaying vegetable matter and are often found under stones, flower pots, boards or similar debris where there is abundant moisture. Occasionally after rains or during cold weather, large numbers of millipedes may migrate into buildings. They can climb foundation walls and enter homes through any small opening. These pests are generally more troublesome in wooded or newly developed areas where decaying vegetation provide excellent food and breeding conditions. They really cause little harm and your are in no danger of being bitten. If you find them in your home, sweep them into a dust pan and put them back outside.
Q: I keep seeing these small, black creatures on the sidewalks along the lawn areas. What are they?
A: I believe you are describing small, one inch millipedes. You may find the garden millipede in large numbers, they do not bite, sting, or transmit diseases, nor do they infest food, clothing or dry, structurally sound wood. Millipedes can vary in both color and size with the most common species being the "garden millipede", which are brownish-black in color and about one inch long. Millipedes are scavengers, feeding primarily on decomposing vegetation, but occasionally they will damage soft-stemmed plants in gardens. Major nuisance problems usually occur when the conditions become too hot and dry and the millipedes move to find moisture, or else when it's too wet and water-saturated soils force them to the surface and higher ground where they often end up on concrete slabs, foundations and siding. With all the rain we have been getting lately, it is no wonder you have been finding so many crawling across the sidewalks and driveways. Since they are outside, we do not recommend any type of chemical treatment.
Q: Do those mosquito plants work? If so, I am going to buy dozens of them.
A: A Dutch botanist incorporated the genes of Chinese citronella grass into an African geranium resulting in a hybrid plant which has the growth habits of a geranium and the scent of citronella. It works best when leaves are crushed and rubbed on the skin. Mosquitos don't like the scent of citronella and will avoid it. Be sure and "patch test" yourself for any allergy to these leaves by testing a small amount repeatedly on your inner forearm for a day or so; if there's no irritating skin reaction or redness, then it should be safe to rub on your skin. The mosquito plant has also been called the "citrosa" plant after its chemical constituent. The leaves may contain up to 40% of the repellency of DEET, the active ingredient in DEEP WOODS OFF. Lemon thyme has 62% as much repellant ability as DEEP WOODS OFF! However, the plant as a whole is only about 0.09% citronellal, the chemical in citronella oil. "So," Arthur Tucker Ph.D., a plant fragrance specialist from Delaware State College, says "the plant will do no good sitting there in a pot, the best chance of it repelling mosquitos if rubbing the crushed leaves on skin after testing a small patch for allergies." Bottom line – you will need to protect your skin to keep the mosquitoes away. However, a good supply of frogs, toads, lizards and spiders will help keep the pest at bay. Plus, remember to empty any standing water in the bottom of flower pots, old toys or tires, etc. to limit the places for mosquitoes to breed in your yard. They need still, stagnant water for the larvae to reach maturity and remember only the adult female mosquito bites as they need blood to reproduce young.
Q: Can you identify this caterpillar? I found it under my redbud tree.
A: I have not seen this large caterpillar before, so I called an entomologist at the University of Florida who identified it as the caterpillar of the Large Tolype moth. The two – three inch caterpillar can be found feeding on the leaves of apple, ash, birch, elm, oak, plum, and several other trees. The first thing you will notice about the Large Tolype adult moth is the white to grey hairy body. The moth grows from 1 – 2.5 inches long. The Large Tolype moth is a very striking moth with variations of color from white to black and grey – love to have one in my collection. The Large Tolype moth can commonly be found from as far north as Nova Scotia south to central Florida, and westward to Minnesota, Nebraska, and Texas.
Q: My daughter found this unusual rust, colored moth with a ruffled edge wing. Can you tell me what it is?
A: The moth is probably a Virginia-creeper Sphinx moth, Darapsa myron. It can be found throughout most of the states along the eastern seaboard upwards into the lower portions of Canada. The Virginia creeper moth gets its name from the larvae feeding on – you guessed it – Virginia creeper. But the caterpillar has also been known to like the taste of grape leaves too. We certainly have plenty of wild grapes growing along the roadsides and timberland in our area. The adults feed on decaying fruit – they are not important pollinators as they do not visit flowers.
Q: I found this large butterfly or moth on my Chaste tree. Can you tell me what it is? Do I need to worry about it eating my tree?
A: The large insect you found is actually a moth, which I believe to be the Imperial moth. As an adult, moths and butterflies are generally only seeking nectar from the flowers and they are not chewing on leaves. You do not need to worry about moths or butterflies eating the leaves of your tree. The larvae or caterpillar of butterflies or moths are the ones eating the leaves of vegetable and ornamental plants. We often try to control the moth larvae because they have a tendency to feed on vegetables and lawn grass. At the same time, we turn a blind eye to the butterfly caterpillars as we know they are important pollinators. However, many of us do not know the difference between butterfly and moth larvae and may be killing the caterpillars we should be allowing to live. These larvae feed on oak, maple, pine, sycamore, sweet gum and sassafras along with many other plants. The caterpillars of this size usually do little damage as they are seldom gregarious, which means they are not found in large groups. Large groups of larvae can defoliate a limb or tree quite readily. But these large, lumbering caterpillars eat slowly and are easy for prey to capture so many never reach the adult stage. The photo you see is one I found recently in the UF/IFAS Nassau County Extension Demonstration garden. (The larva picture is from the University of Kentucky).
Q: I am new to the area and I have been complaining about being bitten by something when I am outside working in the yard. However, I don’t hear anything buzzing around me and I never see anything. Do you have any idea what it might be?
A: It might be a small insect called “No-see’ums”. No, I am not making this up; they are real insects in the order Diptera. The adults are extremely small, less than 1/16 inch long. They are dark gray to black in color with one pair of spotted wings. Although no-see’ums breed predominantly in salt marshes, some inland species breed in tree holes and other fresh water areas. The larvae of this pest are often found in mud, sand, and other moist debris surrounding the edges of ponds, springs, lakes, creeks, tree holes, or on slime-covered bark. In the water, larvae occur as free-living swimmers that are commonly found on floating twigs or leaf debris. In Florida, larvae can be found in marshes year-round with the period of greatest adult activity during June, July, and August. Eventually, the larvae enter the pupa stage on floating debris or at the water’s edge where they remain until emerging as adults. Like mosquitoes, adult female no-see’ums require blood to develop their eggs; males do not bite. Adult no-see’um activity is associated with air movement. Subsequently, little feeding occurs in the presence of a slight breeze. No-see’ums are also able to detect animals with high body temperatures which are preferred by these pests. In addition, persons performing hard labor outdoors are frequently severely annoyed by these insects. The best thing to do is use an insect spray especially formulated to apply to your skin to protect yourself.
Q: I found small, black and red weevils in the top of my palm tree. What should I do?
A: The insect you found is called a palmetto weevil, Rhynchophorus cruentatus , which is the largest native weevil in Florida. It is found from South Carolina to Texas and feeds on many palms such as our Cabbage Palm and Saw Palmetto. The weevil is seldom found in natural areas but often found in newly transplanted and environmentally stressed palms in homeowner and commercial landscapes. The first indication of an infestation likely occurs on new fronds (leaves) which will not fully develop and droop, although early detection is difficult to diagnose. Currently, there is no chemical treatment for a weevil infestation and the palm needs to be removed and destroyed to prevent infection in other palms. The best we can do is to be sure the palms receive adequate fertilization (use a palm fertilizer) and do not over-water. Remember most palms are drought tolerant and should not be watered as often as turfgrass. In addition, when transplanting palms we should do all possible to avoid wounding the trunk area.
Q: I decided to clean out the shrub beds and remove the old wood mulch. When I did, I dug up dozens of roly-poly bugs, the insects which roll up into little balls when you touch them. Should I be concerned about finding so many of these insects in my shrub bed?
A: I applaud you for removing the old mulch instead of just piling more on top – it is a great spring project and should be done every few years or so. Mulch should only be about 2-3 inches thick and never piled up against the trunk of any tree or shrub. You most likely have uncovered dozens of pillbugs, which are actually crustaceans, not insects. Remember, insects have three body parts and only six legs whereas pillbugs have numerous armored body segments and well over six legs. Pillbugs are wingless and active during the night time hours preferring to stay cool in the damp mulch during the heat of the day. Their reaction to touch by rolling into a ball may be why they were called “pill” bugs or roly-polies. For the most part, pillbugs feed on decaying organic material but occasionally they do feed on the roots of our prized plants. Pillbugs can be found throughout Florida, anywhere decaying mulch, leaves or grass clippings are deposited. The female carries 7 to 200 eggs in a pouch on her underside for 3-6 weeks until the eggs hatch. She will carry the young around for another 6 to 7 weeks, which is a fairly long period of time for many insects. Pillbugs can cause damage to young vegetable plants and fruit with their rasping mouth parts but they are generally considered of no economic importance as they prefer to feed on decaying material when it is available. Attached is a publication on common crustaceans from the University of Florida. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ig093 Photo by University of Florida
Q: What is causing this white cottony mass on my parsley?
A: The cottony masses may be the result of an infestation of several insects but after bringing in some specimens from your garden it was much easier to determine the culprit. You have a planthopper. Although I am not certain exactly which one I suspect it might be the Citrus flatid. I have attached a photo I took of the nymph (immature stage) taken from your parsley plant. These insects can be found on a variety of plants other than citrus. When found on nursery grown plants they will immediately lower its value so most growers set traps and scout of planthoppers. For home landscapes, most experts do not consider them a serious pest as they cause very little damage to the plant tissue. The only immediate concern for homeowners is how unsightly it looks. According to F.W. Mead (retired), Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry, this planthopper may potentially transmit viruses but it is unlikely. Therefore, no chemical application is necessary or recommended.
Q: I have clusters of white, cottony masses all over my star jasmine. After looking closely, I could see small white insects. Can you tell me what they are?
A: Once you brought this specimen in for me to see, I began to see it everywhere even on plants in the forest areas. I contacted the University of Florida Entomology Department because I was unable to identify the creature immediately, although it appeared to be a leafhopper. According to Dr. Lyle Buss, it is a planthopper called the Citrus Flatid planthopper, Metcalfa pruinosa. It is often mistaken for a mealy bug because the larvae of both insects look similar. This planthopper is found on citrus, but is common on numerous landscape shrubs such as viburnum, camellia, azalea, magnolia and holly. It seldom causes any true damage to the trees or shrubs unless it attaches to a plant already stressed by freeze damage. This insect is found throughout North America and even into eastern parts of Canada. In Florida, nymphs appear from April through June and adults have been found from April through October. No chemical treatment may be necessary unless the plant is covered with the insect and then insecticidal soap or one application of diluted Malathion can be used.
Q: I have webbing all over my tree, along the trunk and stems and I can see small insects inside the web. Can you tell me what they are and what I should do to get rid of them?
A: This is a common question in the summer and fall and since you are the third person to ask me about this insect, I decided to write about it again. The insect is the psocid, Archipsocus nomas, or tree lice. Trees are occasionally covered with a mat of cobweb-like material and many homeowners call to express concern when they see the trunk and major limbs of their trees encased in a giant silken web, which is completely harmless to the tree. The insects are probably common during most years but are only noticed until population levels are high and the amount of webbing becomes more apparent. Because bark lice cause no damage to the trees, no control is recommended. The webbing, which never extends into the foliage, is quite thin and fragile and will usually disappear in a few weeks. Psocids are small, soft-bodied insects that resemble aphids. Even though these insects are called bark lice or tree lice they are actually not lice at all. They are not parasitic and they do not harm the trees. In fact, we consider them beneficial because they clean the tree bark of fungi, spores, pollen, lichens, and other debris on the surface of a tree’s bark. Who said nothing in life is free? Here is a perfect example of nature at its best. So do not spray any chemical, they will move onto another tree in a few weeks and best of all, they don’t leave a bill!
Q: I do not know what these black insects are on my crape myrtle but there must be hundreds of them. Will they harm my tree?
A: Thanks for the photo as it made identifying this insect so much easier for me. What you have photographed are psocid nymphs hatching from their eggs. The sheer number of them would frighten most any gardener. I am so glad you waited to hear from me before applying a chemical to destroy them. When trying to determine if an insect is beneficial or harmful the general rule of thumb is – the larger the number the more likely the insect is not beneficial. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and this is one of those exceptions. Psocids are considered to be beneficial insects as they clean tree bark of bacteria, fungi and debris. Often they will form a thick webbing all over the trunk of the tree and limbs while they are feeding, which really scares people. But remember, once the psocids finish cleaning the tree, they move on to neighboring trees. The webbing will disappear eventually and you will have a healthier tree.
Q: What kind of roaches are these?
A: The bad kind – German cockroaches, Blattella germanica. While none of us like to have cockroaches in our house, the German cockroach is a true pest and the kind of insect that gives all insects a bad name. It can be found in most any type of building throughout Florida especially multifamily dwellings (apartments). In Florida, the German cockroach may be confused with the Asian cockroach, Blattella asahinai Mizukubo. While these cockroaches are very similar, there are some differences that a practiced eye can discern. The German cockroach is found throughout the world in association with humans. They are unable to survive in locations away from humans or human activity. The major factor limiting German cockroach survival appears to be cold temperatures. Studies have shown that German cockroaches were unable to colonize inactive ships during cool temperatures and could not survive in homes without central heating in northern climates. The availability of water, food, and harborage also govern the ability of German cockroaches to establish populations, and limit growth. Insecticides in the organophosphorous, carbamate, pyrethroid, amidinohydrazone, insect growth regulator, inorganic, microbial, and botanical classes are available for controlling German cockroaches. Insecticide treatments are available in a wide variety of formulations including baits, sprays (emulsifiable concentrates, wettable powders, microencapsulated), dusts, and powders. Non-toxic and low toxic alternatives for German cockroach control are available. Sticky traps can be used to monitor or reduce population size. Improving sanitation by eliminating food and water sources and clutter can have a significant impact on reducing the chances of infestation population size. Finally, exclusion practices such as sealing cracks and crevices will reduce harborage space and also negatively impact population size. For more complete information, consider reading the University of Florida publication titled, “The German Cockroach.” http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in028
Q: What is this white stuff on my prickly pear cactus?
A: Thanks for bringing in a sample. The pest is actually called a cochineal insect. Prickly pear cacti (Opuntia spp.) are native to the Americas. They are easy to grow and propagate making them an excellent choice for low water use landscaping. For fun, carefully scrape some of wax mass from the plant with a knife and crush it on a piece of paper. If this results in a deep red color, then you know you have the cochineal scale (Dactylopious spp.).Cochineal remained one of the most important sources of red dyestuffs until the 1850s, when the first synthetic dyes, called aniline dyes, were produced. Cochineal is still commercially produced in Mexico and India to furnish the permanent brilliant red dye for foods, drinks, cosmetics and artists' colors. The dye made from cochineal is often called carmine or carminic acid. You may want to look for these ingredients on the labels of some of your favorite shampoos, gelatins, fruit juices, candies, and other red-colored products. The cochineal scale is a piercing/sucking insect which uses the cottony wax to shelter female insects and egg masses. The crawler stage is when they spread on and among cactus plants. Once settled, they spin the waxy fiber to protect them from predators and the weather. While these small insects utilize the plant for food, the damage is usually negligible. If a plant is seriously colonized and showing signs of decline, you can prune off the worst pads and discard them (always prune at the joints). Blast the remaining portion of the plant with a high pressure hose. This should expose and weaken the insects. Then spray the exposed scale with and insecticidal soap.
Q: My magnolia has small white specks on the leaves. What are they and how do I get rid of them?
A:Diagnosis of spots on leaves is often difficult but I was able to identify these pests easily once you sent them to my office. Believe it or not – they even survived the postal service delivery! The spots are insects called False Oleander Scale, Pseudaulacaspis cockerelli. At one time this insect was called magnolia white scale and oleander scale. It was originally detected in palms from California but quickly became established here in the early 1950s. At this point it can be found throughout Florida and most of the southern Gulf States. It has become an economic pest for many local growers and garden nurseries especially since it is found on many ornamentals such as magnolia, dogwood, sweet bay, banana shrub, Aucuba, and oleander.Scales, especially armored scales are very difficult to control when mature. The protective covering of the female prevents pesticides from reaching the eggs. Examine plants for live scales by crushing the wax cover. Dead scales do not fall from plants. If you find live scale, apply horticulture oil, which is the best method of scale management. More than one application will be required – usually within two weeks. Be sure to follow the directions on the label. If the infestation is small, you can wipe them off with a paper towel and toss the towel in the trash. Continue to watch the plant and try to catch any future infestations early.
Q: I have scale insects on my maple tree leaves. They look like cottony cushion scale but I have never heard of it on maple. What do you think? How can I control it? My trees are 30 feet tall.
A: I am so glad you brought a sample of the insect into the office so we could look at it under the stereoscope together. The scale is called maple cotton scale, Pulvinaria innumerabilis whereas cottony cushion scale is Icerya purchasi, which I am sure clears that up completely for you doesn’t it? Maple cotton scale is found on several other common hardwood trees such as ash, elm and boxelder. If scale populations are heavy enough the tree may show twig and limb dieback as the insect spends the winter on the twigs once the leaves drop off. In extreme cases, it is possible to lose the tree. Usually, sooty mold indicates the presence of the insects but weather conditions may control the presence of mold in the air and therefore on the tree. High concentrations of honeydew may drop on cars, lawn furniture or outdoor barbeque grills, which could also be a nuisance. Since the tree is so large, it is impossible to apply horticulture oil directly to the leaves and stem of the tree. I suggest you use a systemic pesticide which contains imidacloprid. This should be applied to the root area totally under the canopy of the tree. The tree takes the chemical up through the vascular system and distributes it to the leaves. The insect pierces into the leaf and takes up the chemical into their digestive system causing it to die. You may need only one application of the chemical as it lasts for 6-9 months. Follow the directions on the pesticide label. Do no apply more product than the label suggests. I have heard people complain the product does not work when they spray it directly onto the insect. This product must be taken up through the root area of the plant and the insect must ingest via its piercing/sucking mouth parts. Direct application to the insect is useless. Remember: “The Label is the Law”. Avoid applying a chemical that contains both insecticide and fungicide unless you know the plant has both problems.
Q: My plum tree appears to have some sort of scale on it. What can you tell me about this scale?
A: The scale appears to be a wax scale. In general, adult females spend the winter on twigs and produce eggs very early in the spring. The eggs hatch to crawlers which move along the twigs to feed on leaves. This crawler stage is when the insect is vulnerable to insecticides, but it only lasts a few days. Maturity is attained in the summer, and a new generation of crawlers is produced. Wax scale feeds on a host of ornamental plants and shrubs as well as citrus. It is best to treat this scale by mechanical removal, pruning severely infested branches and applying horticulture oil. Be sure to follow the directions on the horticulture oil label.
Q: I have a sago palm that is covered with insects. The fronds actually look as though they are covered with snow. What insect is this?
A: The insect may be a scale insect called the cycad aulacaspis scale, Aulacaspis yasumatsui. It apparently originated from Thailand but it is kept in check overseas by local parasitoids. Of course, here in the U.S. this scale has no natural enemies. In 1996 it was found in Miami, Florida infesting cycads grown as ornamentals. Aulacaspis scale has since been rapidly spreading throughout Florida and has been located in Nassau County too.This scale is difficult to manage because it is found on the roots, stems and fronds of palms. Sometimes it has been incorrectly identified as magnolia white scale but experts can easily tell them apart. The aulacaspis scale female has an orange-pink body that is short and stout whereas the magnolia white scale female has a longer body structure and beige in color. Homeowners can use horticulture oils on the fronds and trunk to help control this pest. Some systemic pesticides have been applied to sago palms but the success against this pest has been limited. It may be a combination of methods will result in better control. Be careful to use sterile procedures when pruning to avoid infesting other plants. Some pruning of cycad fronds may be beneficial but do not remove too many as this will put the plant under additional stress.
Q: I have a rubber tree which we keep in the house and I am seeing yellow blotches on the upper leaves. What could be causing this problem?
A: I was glad you brought a leaf specimen into the office because I was able to locate several scale insects on the underside. The scale insects are removing the plant juice (the green chlorophyll) from the leaves and that is why you see the yellowing on the top of the leaves. These particular scale insects are very tiny and often overlooked. In fact, even when the leaves are examined using a magnifying lens the scale insects resemble a small brown dot. You can remove the scale by using a damp paper towel and wiping along the underside of the leaf then throw the towel away. I noticed most of the scale insects were gathered along the main leaf vein so they will be easy to clean off. Once you have cleaned the leaves, spray the underside with an insecticidal soap commonly found at any garden center. Occasionally scout the undersides of the leaves check to see if any of the scale has returned then spot treat them. This should help you get this problem under control.
Q: Do you know anything about indoor Ficus trees? I do like them very much and have three. One has developed black leaves, and the other, while it appears to be healthy, is very sticky. It deposits a residue on the table and carpet. Can you help?
A: The damage you described matches that of scale insects. These creatures do not appear to be insects because they are covered by an outer shell to protect their soft bodies. Check for small brown specks under leaves especially along the midrib or along the stems. The adult scale insect stays in one place so most people do not recognize them as living insects. The sticky substance you see is really a secretion from the insects called honeydew. The scale insect inserts its mouth parts into the plant tissue and sucks out the plant fluid. As a result, leaves may turn blotchy and yellow and may eventually drop off. Because of their protective coating, scale insects are difficult to control. You can remove the sticky secretions with a leaf cleaner which is available at any hardware store. In addition, you can spray the tree with horticulture oil and insecticidal soap once a week to help control the population. One other place to check for scale is on the trunk and stems; treat the trunk and stem area the same as you do the leaves. Good luck, this is a very common pest on Ficus and only diligence will help your get a handle on this troublesome pest.
Q: I have these small white specks on the back of my magnolia leaves. Can you tell me what they are and will they harm my magnolia?
A: At first I thought it might be some sort of tea scale but a closer look made me realize it was the pupa stage of some insect. I knew we probably needed to be concerned because there were so many of them. Beneficial insects seldom have large numbers of pupa; but destructive insects often produce abundant numbers of offspring. The type of insect was difficult to identify because most insect photos show the adult and sometimes the larvae or nymph stage but they seldom include the pupa stage. As I was examining the specimens under a scope which includes a light some of the insects began to break out of their pupa because of the intense heat. These tiny (about 2mm), winged insects showed no overt markings to assist me with identification. So, I sent photo samples to Dr. Lyle Buss from the University of Florida. He identified them as male tuliptree scales (Toumeyella liriodendri (Gmelin) (Homoptera: Coccidae). Guess what, insect photos usually don’t include the male scale either! The females are globular (a bit smaller than a pea) and are found on the twigs and/or main rib of the leaves. The males go to the back side of leaves. Adult male tuliptree scales are winged with a pair of filaments projecting from their abdomen. These scales produce a lot of honeydew which will result in sooty mold covering the leaves and stems, which is often a clue to an infestation. Tuliptree scale can be damaging to the trees sometimes killing only branches but if left unchecked the whole tree can be destroyed. These insects are very common on magnolias and yellow poplars (tuliptrees).
Q: What are theses black/brown growths on my Tulip Magnolia?
A: I have seen several scale insects this month on many young trees. The scale you brought to me is probably the Tuliptree scale, Toumeyella liriodendri. This scale is common on magnolias. They are often hard to spot because of their dark brown color. They often go unnoticed until their numbers are large enough to potentially kill the plant. They initially prefer to attach themselves to the small twigs and limbs of young trees. This insect is very difficult to control because of its hard outer covering. Strong chemicals are ineffective and wasteful because they cannot penetrate the outer “shell.” The female is underneath laying vast numbers of eggs. When the time is right the eggs develop into crawlers which come out from under the “shell.” It is this crawler stage that is vulnerable to insecticidal soaps or horticulture oil. However, this stage only lasts for about 3 days and there is no way to know exactly when that occurs. The first thing to do is scrape off as many of the scale insects you can and throw then away in the trash. They cannot fly, so whatever you remove is gone for good. Spray with insecticidal soap or an ultrafine horticulture oil (not dormant) during the morning hours or late evening – avoid full sun times. Light pruning of heavily infested twigs would be appropriate too. Follow the directions on the label as to when to reapply. This procedure would apply for any of the scale insects found on our woody ornamentals.
Q: We have been troubled with a bug our pesticide company has identified as a sowbug. My pesticide company has been to our home 3 times so far to spray and they cannot seem to get rid of it. Do you have any suggestions for a spray they can use? It has been about 6 weeks now and they are still a problem. I’d appreciate any ideas you might have.
A: Sowbugs and pillbugs are crustaceans more closely related to shrimp and crayfish than to insects. Other names used for these very common animals include rolypolies and isopods. Sowbugs and pillbugs live in damp habitats where they feed on decaying vegetable matter. Outdoors, these scavengers are found under dead leaves, rocks, boards, grass clippings, flower-bed mulch and other objects on damp ground. Dark, damp areas of the house may become breeding sites for sowbugs, although sowbugs found indoors are usually accidental invaders from outside. Sowbugs do not bite or sting and cannot damage household furnishings. They are a nuisance only. Sowbugs and pillbugs must have moisture to survive and die quickly if there is not a damp location where they can hide. Occasional annoyance by sowbugs should be tolerated; invaders can be vacuumed, swept or picked up and discarded. Persistent problems will require locating the sources of the sowbugs and eliminating or treating these areas. It may take some real detective work to find the breeding ground but it would be worthwhile. In addition, keeping mulch and organic matter away from the foundation (about 12 inches) of the house would be beneficial. The chemical your pesticide company sprayed is probably stronger than any product you can purchase over the counter. Products purchased in your garden center are often marked for sow bugs; a broadcast granular formula might work best. Outdoor insecticides should be applied directly to breeding sites or poured around the house to act as a barrier. The treatment must be applied with enough water to get the insecticide down to the soil surface.
Q: Last evening, I had a beautiful penta plant and this morning it was 75% stripped. Close examination identified two caterpillars which are about 3" long, 1/2" diameter, primary upper (top) body color earthy-brown-green (dark) with highlights consisting of a row of regular designs on the sides in a yellowish green that resemble slash marks. This critter has two eyes that look like tiny vitamin A or E gel capsules, clear, yellowish, about double the size of the head of the common pin. I have attached a photographed of them. What do you think and how do I get rid of them?
A: I am not sure about the specific species but I believe these larvae belong to the group of sphinx moths. These moths are comprised of a large and diverse group of heavy bodied, sometimes colorful moths. Familiar examples are the five-spotted hawk moth (the tomato hornworm) and the Carolina sphinx (the tobacco hornworm). Over 124 North America species are known. The adult moths have wing spans of 1-6 inches long that beat so quickly they resemble hummingbirds or large bees. The adult moths visit flowers for nectar but the large larvae can cause damage to vegetables and ornamentals. The larvae are stout, usually hairless, bright green to dull red or brown. In the United States, we call these creatures sphinx moths but in Europe and Canada they are referred to as Hawk Moths. It is going to be tough to control this larva since it is so large but you can try an insecticide specifically formulated for moth larvae or you could hand pick them off and throw them away.
Q: My dog brought me a large brown thing she dug up in the garden. What is it?
A: You are the second person to ask about these creatures so I guess it is time I talked about it in the Garden Talk column. The structures are actually the pupa stage of one of the large sphinx moths. They are unusual and most people do not expect to find something like this in the ground. The caterpillars of these moths can cause a great deal of damage to vegetable and fruit crops as well as ornamental shrubs. But for most of us, they are too few in number to cause us any worry. They are best controlled during the early stages of larval growth with chemicals specifically made for caterpillars such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). The adult moths cause no damage as they are interested in nectar at this stage and contribute to the pollination of flowers. In addition, these moths are among the largest and most attractive of moths.
Q: Are the dust gathering “cobwebs” caused by spiders?
A: Spiders of the family Theridiidae, or “cobweb spiders” are responsible for many of the loose, haphazard looking webs found in the corners of houses, barns, and sheds. The common house spider, Achaearanea tepidariorum (C.L. Koch), may be the most abundant of the several species of spiders living in the company of man in the southeastern United States. They are rather shy spiders displaying no aggression so we need not fear them. My only close encounter was in the shower – sadly the spider did not survive the hot water. I’m just not that fond of sharing my shower with arachnids. Females and juveniles make typical theridiid webs (tangle webs). These webs are frequently made between two adjoining edges of a building, for example, between an eave and a wall. Many individuals may occur in the same area and build nearly contiguous webs covering large areas of eaves, wall space, and window frames. Webs may be built both inside and outside of buildings; when inside, they are frequently a major contributor to the build-up of "cobwebs." Sheds, barns and stables, in addition to other outdoor dwellings, may have heavy populations of this species. Other characteristic habitats include undersides of highway bridges and culverts. Like most spider webs, the webs of cobweb spiders are sticky. When the spiders move away or die, the abandoned webs start to collect airborne lint and dust. Although
A. tepidariorum belongs to the same family (Theridiidae) as the notorious black widow spiders (Latrodectus spp.), it is not known to be dangerous to humans. One case of serious allergic reaction to the bite of A. tepidariorum is known from Gainesville, Florida. But remember, all spiders carry venom and our reaction will vary from case to case. A single female may produce many pear-shaped light brown eggsacs during the year, which are hung freely in the web. At least in Florida, all stages seem to occur throughout the year. Most of the information provided came from this University of Florida publication: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/spiders/common_house_spider.htm
Q: I found these spiders in my screen porch. What can you tell me about them?
A: Once I told people I wasn’t especially fond of spiders I have had specimens on my desk almost weekly! What is this about?! This small spider you brought me is commonly found on patios and screen enclosures. It is called a garbage line or trash line spider, Cyclosa conica. They wrap the bodies of their prey in silk and make a string of them which is often found hanging from the ceiling of outdoor porches. Similar to other spiders, they are important predators with most of their prey being tiny flies, moths or mosquitoes. All spiders have venom but this is not a spider we need to be concerned about hurting us. If you are not comfortable with the “string of dead bodies” hanging from the ceiling of your screened enclosure, just take a broom and sweep them off. It is important for those of you who are gardeners to wear gloves when working outside as spider bites are common and many of us can have a poor reaction to their venom. Wearing gloves helps to prevent the fangs from entering into the tender tissues of the hands and fingers. Any unusual reddening or swelling near or at the site of the bite should be attended to by a physician. No reason to become fearful of spiders but their proper place is outside the home.
Q: I just moved here and I have never seen so many of these large spiders outside. I seem to be running into their webs constantly. Their webs have this zigzag pattern in the middle which is where they hang out. I kid you not, they are huge. What is going on? What are they?
A: The spider you are encountering is probably one of the argiope spiders, most likely the yellow and black argiope, Argiope aurantia. I have seen hundreds of them in the summer and early fall months when I am out gathering clippings of tree limbs along the roadside and edges of forests. They are large (up to 2.5 cm) but they are not aggressive creatures, therefore you need not feel threatened by them. Although, I agree running into the web would be disconcerting. They are immensely beneficial to us in controlling insect populations as they can eat creatures several times larger than themselves. I have several yellow and black argiopes in my own yard and the photo attached is one of them.
She is living just outside my back door on one of my citrus trees. This morning I found a June bug in her web – unlucky for him! Yellow and black argiopes have a silvery, white outer covering on its cephalothorax (combination of head and chest). The 8 black and white legs are often held in pairs when at rest. The abdomen has intricate designs in black, white and yellow. These spiders often weave the zigzag design in the middle of their web, exactly as you described. They prefer to hang in the web with their heads toward the ground just along the zigzag area.
The argiope spider, like most other spiders, has fangs which produce venom to paralyze or kill their prey, but they are unlikely candidates for biting humans. Take the philosophy of “live and let live” with these creatures. Don’t mess with them and they won’t mess with you. If you are bitten by any spider and the area becomes inflamed and/or you develop flu-like symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor immediately.
Q: Is it typical to find Black Widow spiders in this area? We found one (male) outside our back door (it’s dead and still there) and I am not a happy camper. I wondered if the spiders might have been in the plants I transplanted outside. I’m a little nervous about this and would appreciate it if you can let me know or direct me to someone who might know.
A:They are common in this area. In fact, they are found all over the US, especially in the south.Male black widows don't bite so they are no threat to you. The females will bite if threatened. This species may hide in sheltered, dimly lit places such as barns, garages, basements, outdoor toilets, hollow stumps, rodent holes, trash, brush, and dense vegetation, so it is possible they were in the plants. Black widows usually seek dry, sheltered sites such as buildings during periods of cold weather.Always wear gloves when digging in the dirt as other spiders are lurking about too. I use the kind of gloves that fit snuggly at the wrist to prevent some unwanted pest crawling down the cuff. Sweep away any spider egg sacks you see around your home (outside doorways, etc.).Nurseries and garden centers carry insect sprays which will kill the adult spider on contact (but you must see them then spray immediately). Don't spray every spider you see, they are great hunters and kill many unwanted insects too. There is no reason for you to live in fear of any spider, even the black widow. The black widow is shy and does not like bright clean places. Keep your garage, tool shed and garden areas clean and you should have few problems. If you are bitten the area will be swollen and you may see 2 red puncture marks, which could be the sign of several other insects too. Be sure to visit a doctor soon after you discover the bite. He or she will be able to determine the best method of treatment.
Q: I have this very pretty spider in my garden. It has a very interesting pattern on its abdomen consisting of yellow, black and white colors. The web has a zig-zag pattern which I have never seen before. Can you tell me what it is?
A: This spider is called an argiope or common black and yellow argiope spider. The argiope group contains numerous spiders. Their large, conspicuous webs can often be seen along the edge of forests. The black and yellow argiope can reach a length of 25 mm. Its characteristic silver carapace and yellow-and-black markings make it easy to identify. Argiope spiders tend to hang head down in the middle of a medium-sized web that has thickened, zigzag bands of silk in the center. The photograph is actually from the UF/IFAS Demonstration garden at the James S. Page Governmental Complex. This spider has formed a web using one of the light poles in the median. I was pulling collecting trash and pulling weeds from the area and almost ran right into the web. Running into the web would have made both of us very unhappy. Spiders serve an important role as predators feeding on insects and small animals. Argiopes, though large, are generally not aggressive spiders. However, every spider possesses venom and each of us may react differently if bitten, therefore it is best to observe them from afar. Bites from spiders on children often occur when a youth is curious about the creature. No reason to teach children to be fearful but rather respectful. If someone is bitten and the area becomes red and/or inflamed around the bite then it is best to consult a physician immediately.
Q: I have attached a photo of a spider. Can you identify it for me?
A: What a beauty! Thanks for sending me the photo. This spider was easy to identify as he is one of the more colorful spiders in Florida. He is the spinybacked orbweaver, Gasteracantha cancriformis (Linnaeus) 1767. He is commonly referred to as a crab spider but I believe spinybacked orbweaver fits much better as each of the spiders has six protrusions or spines from its abdominal area. Remember that spiders are not insects because they have only 2 body parts (insects have 3) and they have 8 legs (insects have 6). The male spinybacked orbweaver are commonly seen in October and November or hanging from the females web during mating season. Females, which are found as adults throughout the year, are most common from October through January. Spinybacked orbweaves make their homes in forest areas with well-drained, acidic soil supporting a large diversity of hardwood trees and citrus groves. Ovate egg sacs are deposited on the undersides of leaves adjacent to the female's web from October through January. Eggs take 11 to 13 days to hatch. The bite of this common species is not known to cause serious effects to humans. Since these spiders prey on whiteflies, flies, moths, and beetles that are caught in their webs, we consider them beneficial. For more information on common Florida spiders check out the following University of Florida publication: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/IN017
Q: These are pictures of a beautiful spider that is about the size of a quarter with large eyes that are emerald green and it has a white marking on its back. I thought it might be a jumping spider. What do you think?
A: Thanks for sharing your photo; it is a great picture of a terrific looking spider. You have identified the spider correctly as a jumping spider, most likely a Regal Jumping Spider, Phidippus regius. The males are always black but the females may have brown or orange scales on the abdomen. The large, iridescent blue-green structures you saw are not eyes but chelicerae. Chelicerae are mouth parts, which are pointed appendages used to grasp food. These are found in place of the chewing jaw structures such as those on grasshoppers. The chelicerae found in spiders are hollow and contain (or are connected to) venom glands. Chelicerae are used to inject venom into prey or a (perceived) threat. Good thing you did not get too close or try to handle the spider as he would have considered you a threat. Jumping spiders, like all spiders, are good hunters and we classify them as beneficial arthropods. They have eight, tiny black, simple eyes, by the way, which are arranged in 3 just above the chelicerae. But you would have to be very close to see them - probably too close for most of us to be comfortable.
Q: What kind of spider is this? Is it some kind of exotic tarantula?
A: You know how I hate identifying spiders – old throw back from childhood. However, I believe this spider, with the orange coloration, is probably an adult female called the Regal jumping spider, Phidippus regius. Females completely covered with orange scales can be very striking. Although jumping spiders do not make webs to capture prey, they do use silk. Hunting spiders trail a dragline behind them to break their fall in case they miss a jump. Adults most often can be found living in palms and palmettos in Northeast Florida. Jumping spiders are harmless, beneficial creatures. The larger species, such as P. regius, are capable of delivering a painful bite, but will do so only if held tightly. For that very reason, I would not recommend handling any spider – they all have a potential for causing painful bites. Plus, it’s just creepy!
Q: I have an old bonsai and I have found tiny white insects all over the soil. Whenever I go near the soil and disturb anything they jump all over the place. Otherwise I never see them. What are they?
A: These tiny primitive wingless insects are called springtails and are in the order Collembola. They are very small, usually less than 6 mm long and often colored white or gray. They have a fork-like tail on their abdomen which allows them to jump through the air for several centimeters if they feel threatened. Their common name, "springtail," originates from this peculiar behavior. They feed on many living and dead plant materials and are often found in moist soil of house plants. In fact, they are so abundant that they are found in soils throughout the world. They are especially troublesome on barefoot nursery seedlings. Springtails are no longer a threat once the stems become woody. Although no damage has been reported on container seedlings, springtails are important pests in other crops using artificial growing media where they may feed on root tips. If large numbers are visible and damage is present, it may be necessary to apply an insecticide. In addition, if you wish you can replace the soil and try to gain control of their numbers. If you decide to change the soil, be sure you are very gentile with the roots of your plant. Plus, you may need to cut back on the amount of water you are giving your houseplants. Remember, these insects prefer moist soil so by creating an uncomfortable environment you can control them better.
Q. My son brought me this green bug and I have no idea if it is good or bad. It was about the size of my index fingernail and he found it in my vegetable garden. Can you identify it for me?
A. What your son found was probably a southern green stink bug, which belongs to the order Hemiptera or "true bugs." As you may have already concluded, it often puts out a foul odor when destroyed. This insect pest has piercing-sucking mouth structures which it uses to ingest the juices from all parts of the plant. The damage on fruit from the punctures is hard brownish or black spots. These punctures affect the fruit's edible qualities and lower its market value. However, the fruit from our home gardens can be eaten. Young fruit growth is slowed and it often withers and drops from the plant. The southern green stinkbug often destroys vegetable crops during its young nymph stage of life therefore this pest is costly to many Florida vegetable growers. In addition, the tomato bacteria spot is transmitted by the southern green stinkbug. However, all stink bugs are not harmful; in fact some are beneficial to us because they prey on other harmful insects. Generally the “good” predator stink bugs will have pointed “shoulders” on their bodies.
Q: Family members told me about a new stink bug which has been found in Virginia. She said it has been found indoors in huge numbers. Do we need to be worried?
A: The insect is most likely the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), Halyomorpha halys Stål. It is a pest first officially reported from the western hemisphere in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 2001. There is some concern about this stink bug becoming a major agricultural pest in North America, similar to the southern green stink bug, Nezara viridula (L.). Both the brown marmorated and green stink bug are pests of numerous crops. At this point, the brown marmorated stink bug has been primarily reported as a household nuisance and ornamental pest. This stink bug is native of eastern Asia it is a pest on fruit trees and soybeans. Our concern would be if this insect takes an interest in our agronomic crops or some of our landscape ornamental plants. If you think you may have problems with any insect, please place a few in a plastic bag and bring them to me so we can indentify then for you. Whenever possible, please put then in the freezer for a few hours so they can be destroyed properly. We don’t believe they are in our area yet, so if you suspect you may have them, please let us know. Attached is a publication on this insect which may help you become better informed: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in623
Q: I found hundreds of flying insects swarming in my back yard. Will you be able to identify whether they are ants or termites?
A: I appreciate you bringing in a sample to the Extension office of the insect. There are a few easy ways to look at the insect to determine if it is an ant or termite. The most obvious feature to examine is the wings. On the termite the wings are equal in length and much longer than the insect’s body. The ant’s wings are different lengths with the lower (hind) wing being shorter than the upper (fore) wing. The antennae are straight on termites but have a definite bend or elbow shape on the ant. The body of the termite is solid but ants have a distinct, pinched waist. Do not use color of body to help you identify as both insects can vary in color. The winged stage of termites and ants is called an alate. The reason they swarm is they are seeking mates and another site to build a nest. Termites will fly a short distance, drop to the ground and shed their wings. Female termites begin to search for potential nesting sites such as moist crevices with wood and males follow closely behind. The pair forms a royal chamber in a moist site near wood and begins laying eggs, thus starting the life cycle of a subterranean termite colony. Individuals hatched from eggs (called larvae) then molt into workers or they may ultimately take over the role of queen. Since I have identified this insect as a termite, I would suggest you contact your pesticide company to determine the next step. If you have no specific pesticide company taking care of your home currently, then I would suggest you call several companies to assist you with how to best control this pest. Your home is most likely your biggest financial investment and you want to be sure it is protected. Attached is a publication from the University of Florida with photos regarding the differences between ants and termites. http://flrec.ifas.ufl.edu/entomo/ants/ant%20vs%20termite.htm
Q: Formosan termites have been in the news lately – what can you tell me about them?
A: The Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus, is the most widely distributed and most economically important of the termite species. The Formosan subterranean termite (FST) acquired its name because it was first described in Taiwan in the early 1900s, but Coptotermes formosanus is probably endemic to southern China. This destructive species was apparently transported to Japan prior to the 1600s and to Hawaii in the late 1800s. By the 1950s, it was reported in South Africa. During the 1960s, it was found in Texas, Louisiana, and South Carolina. In 1980, a well-established colony was thriving in a condominium in Hallandale, Florida. Just recently, they have been identified in Duval County. A single colony of FST may contain several million termites (versus several hundred thousand termites for native subterranean termite species) which can forage up to 300 feet in soil. Because of its population size and foraging range, the presence of FST colonies poses serious threats to nearby structures. The scariest part - once established, FST has never been eradicated from an area. There are more soldiers (10 to 15%) in an FST colony than the native subterranean species in Florida which generally contain only 1 to 2% of the total colony. Because the FST colony contains a larger soldier proportion than native subterranean termites, infestations with many soldiers is a clue to its presence. The FST attacks structural lumbers and living plants because they are sources of cellulose. However, this termite is also known to attack non-cellulose materials such as plaster, plastic, asphalt, and thin sheets of soft metal (lead or copper) in search of food and moisture. Their highly publicized ability to penetrate solid concrete is a fallacy. However, the FST is persistent in finding small cracks in concrete, which they enlarge and use as foraging routes. Leaky plumbing, air conditioning condensate, and any portion of the building collecting excessive amounts of moisture should be corrected to maintain an environment less attractive to FST. The conventional method for control of subterranean termites, including the FST is to place a chemical barrier between termites and the structure to be protected. In recent years, baits have become available to control Formosan subterranean termite populations near a structure. When termites are found in the station, the monitoring device is replaced with a tube containing chitin synthesis inhibitor (CSI) laced bait with the active ingredient hexaflumuron. Termites feeding in the stations then carry baits to other members of a colony, leading to the demise of entire colony population. For more complete information, please read the following University of Florida publication: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in278
Q: I have a furry caterpillar on my oaks; it has a split tail and white balls on its back. What it is?
A: The larvae you described are called the White marked Tussock Moth , Hemerocampa leucostigma . This moth is widely distributed throughout eastern North America, as far west as Texas and Colorado in the United States. The larvae are known to feed on foliage of a wide variety of trees, both conifers and hardwoods. Hardwood hosts include basswood, maple, sycamore, apple, oak, poplar, willow, and elm. They are seldom a problem in forest areas but are known to attack Douglas Firs. Eggs are laid in small, white masses and hatch in the early spring, usually April. Larvae become fully grown in five to six weeks; mature larvae have been found in early May. Young larvae chew small holes in leaves and feed until they pupate in May or June. Older larvae feed on leaf edges, consuming entire leaves except for larger veins and midribs and live about 2 to 4 weeks. This chewing can cause considerable damage to shade and ornamental trees although trees are seldom killed. In the South there may be as many as three generations per year. The best control is natural parasites, predators, microbial diseases, starvation, and unfavorable weather. In urban and recreation areas, insecticides may be desirable to avoid defoliation but need only be used if a true problem exists. Finding a few of the larvae does not constitute an epidemic so no chemical control should be necessary.
Q: The attached photo is of an insect I found (dead) in my yard. It is approximately 3 inches long. Can you identify it for me or direct me to a web site that could help me?
A: This is a walking stick. Most are herbaceous, which means they eat plants but few do enough damage for us to worry about them. Walking stick insects are among the largest insects in the world reaching over 12" in length. Most stick insects are tropical and nocturnal. During the day, many of them lie dormant surrounded by the sticks and leaves they resemble. The Phasimid order currently contains over 2,500 walking stick species worldwide. In addition to their foliage mimicking defensive strategies, some stick insects are also capable of spraying an irritating concoction from their thorax (such as the double striped walking stick). They have also been observed gently swaying as if being buffeted by the breeze. If a leg is lost, they have the capacity to regenerate new leg appendages. They will also drop to the ground and draw their legs together to forming a single elongated stick. This is truly an interesting creature.
Q: My son and I were walking in the woods recently and we came upon a walking stick. He was full of questions. What can you tell me about them?
A: These insects belong to the insect order Phasmida. All of the species are chewing insects which feed on the leaves of plants. The name "walkingstick" comes from their thin, slender body forms. They look like slender twigs or branches mimicking where they live, which helps them hide from predators. In addition, glands located on the thorax of many species can produce a foul-smelling liquid that repels predators. Walkingsticks are slow moving, wingless, with long, slender legs and thread-like antennae. They vary in color from green to brown and may grow to be almost 4 inches long to almost 7 inches long (Megaphasma dentricus), the longest insect in the United States! The seed-like eggs are dropped singly onto the ground, sometimes from great heights where they may remain dormant for more than a year before hatching. In our area, walkingsticks are seldom abundant enough to cause injury to their host plants. When attacked by a predator, the legs of some phasmids may separate from the body. Some species can even regenerate lost legs at the next molt. These are the only insects able to regenerate body parts. Host plants include apple, basswood, birch, dogwood, hackberry, hickory, locust, oak, pecan and wild cherry.
Q: What is this large wasp?
A: You brought in a Giant Cicada killer or giant ground hornet, Sphecious speciosus, which is the common Florida species. This insect can grow to almost 2 inches long and easily one of the largest wasps found in Florida. The females of the common Florida species hunt Tibicen spp. cicadas and can dig four-foot burrows in the ground with several branches and cells. Between one and four cicadas are deposited per cell depending on the size of the adult cicada. Cicada killers are usually considered beneficial insects since they destroy plant-feeding cicadas. Also, they rarely sting except when the females are handled. However, under certain circumstances, such as when elderly persons or young children are present in the breeding areas, one may want to discourage their presence. This can be done by eliminating or reducing the breeding area, which usually consists of exposed, sandy soil. This area can be mulched or covered with grass. Labeled insecticides can be applied to the nesting sites to kill the wasps. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in573
hjQ: What kind of wasp is this?
A: Thank you so much for bringing me a black and yellow mud dauber, Sceliphron caementarium. This attractive wasp can be found from southern Canada to Central America and the West Indies. It has a very distinct, long pedicel or waist attachment which is between the thorax and abdomen. The pedicel can be nearly twice as long as the abdomen. The wings of the black and yellow wasp are amber or smoky in color. The legs of this insect are black and yellow. The pedicel can be black or yellow but it will form a small yellow spot where it attaches to the top of the abdominal area. The black and yellow coloring tells other predators this insect should be left alone. The adult females collect mud for their nests, thus the name, "mud dauber." Each adult female wasp will build a nest of about 25 cylindrical cells or more at a sheltered location, such as the eaves of the house, in a barn or shed, or under a bridge. She will lay one egg per cell and insert a spider for the larva to consume once it has hatched; then she seals the cell with mud. While all wasps can sting multiple times, black and yellow wasps are generally gentle in nature and not easily provoked. We do not recommend poking them or handling them but as a rule - they are not aggressive. I know people do not often like so see the mud cases on their homes, but if possible, consider leaving them alone. Because they are hunters, we consider them beneficial. The adults also feed on nectar from local flowers.
Q: I have found this small fly in my house and I want to know what it is. It was the only one I have seen but it is very unusual. What can you tell me about it?
A: At first glance it doesn’t look too unusual but the hind legs were dramatically different from other flies and wasps I have seen come across my desk. So, I turned to an insect identification expert from the University of Florida who believes it is a predatory wasp, Brachymeria podagrica (Fab.). Apparently, this wasp is a beneficial insect that is common throughout the world and feeds on filth-breeding flies such as the blow fly and the common housefly. One thing we should remember about predatory insects is they generally do not sting humans so there is little need to worry about potential contact with people or children. One other important note, we have thousands of predatory insects and they are essential in order to keep our pest insects in check.
Q: What is the difference between a hornet and a yellow jacket?
A: Florida has two yellowjackets: eastern yellowjacket, Vespula maculifrons and the southern yellowjacket, Vespula squamosa. One species of hornet is also present: the baldfaced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata. The baldfaced hornet is actually a yellowjacket. It receives its common name “baldfaced” because it has a black colored body with a white face. Similar to most other hornets, it makes its nest above ground. In general, the term "hornet" is used for species which nest above ground and the term "yellowjacket" for those which make underground nests. Similar to bees, hornets and yellowjackets are social and live in colonies of hundreds to thousands of individuals. There are exceptions of yellowjackets making above ground nests which compounds the ability to truly make a definite distinction between yellowjackets and hornets. However, the coloration between the yellowjackets and the hornets in Florida are very obvious with the hornet having no yellow coloring on the body. All three of these wasps are important predators as they kill many insects attacking important landscape ornamental plants. However, nests near homes may prove a source of irritation and concern. If the nests are large or difficult to approach, for example within the walls of a house, the safest procedure would be to hire a pest control operator to eliminate the colony. If you already employ a pesticide service – call them first. However, it is important to note – not all pesticide companies will handle yellowjackets because of their aggressive nature if the alarm pheromone is released. If you decide to handle the destruction of the nest yourself, please do it after sunset when the wasps are inactive. It is critical to wear protective clothing. Even though the wasps are somewhat inactive at night, if disturbed, the alarm pheromone or scent can alert the hive and all wasps will come to the defense of one. Unlike honeybees, which die after they sting one time, wasps can sting multiple times. Yellowjackets and hornets are also attracted to sugar sources, such as berries and flower nectars. This can become a problem when the sugar source is a food or drink being consumed by a human. Sweet items like soft drinks, ripened fruits and watermelons attract bees and wasps. Keep these items covered outdoors. Pick fruit as it ripens and dispose of rotten fruits (Koehler and Oi 2003). In school yards, parks, and other community areas ensure lids on trash containers are either secure or able to prevent access by wasps as this potential food source (discarded drink containers, fruit remains, etc.) can attract wasps on a continual basis, leading to stinging incidents. This information was taken from a University of Florida publication titled: “Yellowjackets and Hornets.” https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in238
Q: I have been watching yellow jackets chew on my wooden arbor and wondered if this is normal behavior.
A: It is not an uncommon practice for wasps, hornets and yellow jackets to scrape small layers of wood to use in their nest building. If you look closely at the photo, you can see where the yellow jackets have scraped the wood and thin strips of light color wood are showing. The University of Florida considers many of the wasps beneficial; however caution should be used when around large wasps such as yellow jackets. They can sting multiple times, especially if they feel threatened, which generally occurs when digging or working around their nesting sites. Consider calling in a professional exterminator if a large nest needs to be removed. Some professional pesticide companies do not manage wasps, so you may need to call several companies to get the help needed. My son, who took the photo, grandson and I were planting in the back yard and noticed the same activity you described. The wasps were coming and going all day long but they never bother us nor did they seem agitated by our gardening activities. This leads me to believe it is possible to have yellow jackets around without being unduly alarmed or having them exterminated.