From the monthly archives: "March 2002"
What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Hello,
My name is Andrew Gable. I have a question to ask about the possible identification of an apparent bee or wasp I saw. In October-November of the year (can’t remember the exact time, but approximately 1997 or ’98), while attending Lock Haven University in northern Pennsylvania, I saw a strange insect lying on the ground. I rememebr it was quite late in the year, and I thought it was awfully cool out to be seeing a bug of any sort. The insect appeared to resemble a yellow jacket or wasp, and had the typical yellow-and-black pattern though it was quite large (approximately an inch and a half to two inches in length). Its abdomen and thorax appeared somewhat flattened, though whether this was due to injury or natural appearance I can’t be certain. It didn’t appear injured, however. It was winged (its wings were long, and ‘clear’ like a fly’s). It also appeared to be somewhat glossy. It was, to the best of my judgment, near death. There was a vacant lot nearby, as well as a fairly large garden, so I don’t discount the possibility that it could have been a burrowing insect of some sort (I believe many of the stinging insects live in burrows).
When I returned via the same path fifteen or twenty minutes later, the insect was gone, and I can only assume that it somehow found the strength to fly off. I’ve often tried to determine what this thing may have been to no avail, and would appreciate any help.
Thanks in advance.
Andrew D. Gable

We suspect Andrew saw a Ci cada Killer, and his measurements were closer to the actual size, a thing many of our readers tend to exaggerate.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

I guess you already know that you must have a male cricket to get singing. I have known people who bought large quantities of crickets from the pet store to use in art installations as a sound component, so I know that pet store crickets will sing, though their songs are frail. Additionally, store crickets, usually European House Crickets (Acheta domesticus) are not very attractive, since they are an anemic shade of tan. Garden crickets or Field Crickets (Gryllus species) are a beautiful glossy black and have a robust chirp. Singing generally occurs in spring and early summer. I had a Field Cricket move into my bathroom sink drain many years ago, and it managed to hide somewhere in the pipes whenever I ran the water, though I was careful to not scald the free-loader. My cricket would sing constantly. I would recommend locating a cricket in your garden by tracking its chirp. Give it a cool, dark place and hope for the best. I cannot come up with a logical reason why your captives are mute, and I would suggest patience. Give the guy a chance to adapt, and eventually his romantic inclinations should bring on the song.


March 14, 2002
This is Ken Blanchard from the forum of cryptozoology.com. After inquiring about a weird caterpillar sighting I had years ago, I was referred to your Daniel Marlos. I can’t find a specific e-mail address to him on any of the insect pages, so I’d appreciate it if you would forward this to him.
Seven summers ago, my family and I were camping in the Catskills of New York State. While walking across a sickly campground lawn, I spotted a mostly to entirely pink hornworm crawling across the grass. It was about 5 inches long and about 0.75 inches thick. Its body was very smooth and it lacked the characteristic spine on its rump that is characteristic of hornworms. The lack of a spine appeared to be normal as the larva was
completely uninjured. I captured it and it cocooned itself within a few hours. Being just a foolish kid at the time and not thinking about the possible cryptozoological importance of my find, I threw the cocoon into the woods and never retrieved it. Is there a known lepidopteran in NY that starts out as such a larva? If not, then I made a big mistake, but at least it shows that I can make another entomological discovery here in NY if I try hard enough.

Dear Ken,
Hornworms, the larvae of the sphinx moths, do not form cocoons, choosing instead to bury themselves in the ground where they pupate. Caterpillars from the Saturnidae or giant silk moths, do however, form cocoons. They are also among the largest caterpillars in North America. Members of this family include the Cecropia, the Polyphemus and the Prometheus moths. All have caterpillars of varying shades of green. The adult moths from this family live only a few days, do not eat as adults, and their sole purpose in life is to mate and produce a new generation. One of the rarest and most beautiful of the Saturnidae is the pale green Luna moth which flies near dawn in the late spring.
Your caterpillar was pink. You will not find this caterpillar in any text on North American lepidoptera, which makes it an excellent candidate for cryptozoology. I was lucky enough many years ago, just before dawn on a blue moon in May, to encounter the comely specimen in this photo in Northeastern Ohio. It is a very rare color variation of the luna moth (I am the only known observer) which I have named Actias luna var. magenta. Magenta is the complimentary color to green, the normal hue of the moth, but magenta does not exist in the visible spectrum. It is created when the longest light rays, the red ones, are combined with the shortest light rays, the blue ones, turning the visible spectrum into a man-made color wheel. Magenta has no true wavelength, and since it is composed of the longest and
shortest light rays combined, the color tends to vibrate.
Ken, had you not, in a youthful lapse in judgement, pitched your cocoon into the woods, you might have been fortunate enough to witness a similar moth metamorphose before your very eyes. Tough luck.

Dear What’s that Bug,
Being from Georgia I am used to hearing insects chirping at night and even bullfrogs doing their thing in the backyard. I am fond of these sounds and find them relaxing. And I know that having a cricket inside is supposed to be good luck. (Or is it just good luck if it is in your closet?)
However, the cricket or other chirping insect that is currently residing in my bathroom is not making me happy or relaxed. In fact, it is getting on my nerves and disturbing my sleep. I want to know what I should do. I don’t want to hear this sound that sort of echoes around in my empty bathroom but I don’t really want to kill this bug, nor would I really know how.
I have not spotted the bug, but it is really making it’s presence known. Any advice?
Thanks!
Amanda

Dear Amanda,
There are many folk beliefs in existence about crickets. Their presence in the home is generally thought to be an omen of good fortune in many parts of the world, and in China they are kept in captivity. The Chinese also match crickets for combat in a sport that is as popular there as cock fighting is in other countries. Extravagant wages are made on the outcome of championship fights.
The most common species in Southern California is the Tree Cricket (Oecanthus sp.) which is generally found in gardens and is almost always heard and not seen. They are usually green or white in color and only about 1/2 an inch long. It is common knowledge that the chirp rate of this cricket varies with the surrounding temperature, increasing at higher degrees and decreasing at lower ones. This fact has inspired formulas for calculating the temperature from the number of chirps per minute. The Snowy Tree Cricket, also called the Thermometer Cricket (Oecanthus fultoni) indicates the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit if one counts the number of chirps in 13 seconds and adds 40.
Your tenant is, however, more likely another type of cricket. Field Crickets (Gryllus sp.) are much larger than tree crickets, with body lengths up to 1 1/4 inches. Field Crickets live on the ground in fissures and under litter, vegetation and stones. They sometimes sing in the morning or late afternoon, but more usually at night when they come out to feed on all sorts of organic matter. They occasionally enter homes and become a nuisance by their unwelcome presence and incessant chirping.
A third possibility is that you are hosting a European House Cricket (Acheta domesticus) which are about 3/4 inch long as straw-brown in color. The species was apparently introduced into the eastern United States from Europe, although its original home may have been Africa. It has since become widespread in Southern California, where it is usually associated with human habitations. Lacking a dormancy period and hence being easy to raise, it is sold as fish bait and animal food in pet stores. Its chirp is frail and attracts less attention than that of its Field Cricket relatives. Bathrooms and kitchens are the most likely places to find crickets in the home.
I once had one who lived in the drain of my bathroom sink and I found its chirping to be quite soothing. I think you should lighten up and surrender to the sounds of nature.

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Dear What’s Th
at Bug,
I was walking through the woods yesterday evening when I ran across several of these creatures. We live in the southeastern U.S….these were found near dusk in a drizzle in a forest. I have always heard of them being called ‘cherry bugs’ due to the scent that they emit when startled or feel threatened…they are between 1.5 and 2.5 inches in length, black, with yellow spots down not only the sides, but also down the center of the back as well. All markings are symmetrical. They look *very* similar to a picture I saw of a yellow-spotted millipede…the difference being the extra row of yellow spots down the center of the back….plus, the yellow-spots are from Oregon…and we are in Tennessee. I am curious to know what exactly these are, they are interesting creatures, and I’d like to know a bit more about them. Also, any care advice would be appreciated as well.
Thank you! -
Christina Loder

Dear Christina,
Unfortunately, if you enclosed a photograph, it did not arrive. Based on your description, and your latitude and longitude, I would guess that you have stumbled upon some caterpillars, more specifically, the larvae of some local swallowtail (Papilio sp.) My guess would be the larvae of the black swallowtail butterfly, which feeds on parsley and related plants including Queen Anne’s Lace which grows in uncultivated meadows. The caterpillars are green, black and yellow, and have two orange horns which are hidden near the head. When the caterpillar is threatened, the horns emerge, along with a musty smell that I would not really liken to the scent of cherries. Try this: http://www.ivyhall.district96.k12.il.us/4th/kkhp/
1insects/BSC.html

If you keep them in captivity, you can feed them carrot tops. They will form a crysalid and a butterfly will eventually emerge.

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Dear Readers,

In the 2 1/2 years that I have been writing this column, “What’s That Bug?," I often seem to get questions concerning the same creepy, crawly culprits over and over again. This is most noticeably evidenced by the plethora of readers who have encountered the dreaded no-see-ums. A recent letter on that peskiest of pests is still waiting for my reply. Writing these replies has also caused me to become hyper-aware of bugs that have caught my readers’ eyes. With this in mind, I have decided to launch a new offshoot of “What’s That Bug?” subtitled “Where Are They Now.”
It is only fitting that the inaugural bug for this new column should be one from the debut issue of American Homebody, so I am rerunning one of my initial letters.

Dear Daniel,
Perhaps you can help me figure out the answer to the perennial question: What’s That Bug? It’s hard to draw this bug. It was moving so fast and very erratically and it was extremely LOUD buzzing and it swerved towards me as if it were drunk! I drew it actual size–to the best of my knowledge.

Dear Bugged by Buzzing Behemoth,
To the best of my knowledge, you have had an encounter with a female Valley Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta). These very large (1 inch) bees are so named because they bore into wood, forming tunnel-like nests for the rearing of young. Telephone poles and fences are often attacked. The Valley Carpenter Bee has earned itself a bad reputation because of its formidable size and habit of “buzzing” people. The green-eyed male is light brown with golden hairs and looks velvety. The female is a shiny black with bronze reflections on the wings. The female bees can sting, but do so very reluctantly, causing only mild pain.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Late in the afternoon on Labor Day, while preparing for Diorama Club, I noticed a very large, very shiny female Valley Carpenter Bee buzzing loudly and crawling around on a dead branch of my carob tree. I also noticed a perfectly round hole in her proximity. Issuing from the hole was additional buzzing. In the spring, a female VCB had been seen in the vicinity. At that time the honeysuckle was in full bloom along the street, and female VCB’s were often found lapping up nectar. Could it be that I was witnessing the emergence of her brood from the tunnel she had dug for them? I hoped if I watched long enough, I would get to see one of the males. The sexual dimorphism that occurs in the VCB is quite extreme, and a Casual Observer

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

ll in cracks–and I’m sleeping much better knowing that neither bug is eating my house into sawdust. What a valuable service you perform for those of us who are bug-clueless!
Many thanks again.
tricia

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

MY name is joey. Today a bug fell of my wall the bug is mostly orange with black stripes and when i squeshed it it smelt really bad. it had six legs and like a spout like thing under its head the back is like a oval. I was just wondering what it was and if it was harmful. I live in VA to if that helps please write back sone the bug was half a starburst or a little more
JOEY
Dear Joey,
The reason your bug smelt so badly is because it was probably a type of stink bug (family Pentatomidae) of the harlequin variety. They are true bugs, hence the sucking mouthparts which may look like a spout. They are not harmful to humans, except for the foul smelling odor which they emit from glands near the hind legs. The odor serves to discourage or repel enemies. The harlequin stink bug can be harmful to plants, especially those of the cabbage family, and they use their sucking mouthparts to withdraw vital fluids from their hosts, occasionally causing major damage when large numbers of bugs are present.
—Daniel Marlos "What’s That Bug?"

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Daniel,
We just bought an old house and in the basement and on the lower outside walls of the house we have an infestation (I mean millions) of black bugs with thin, neatly drawn orange lines outlining their backs/wings. Thee bugs have narrow bodies, are about 3/4 of an inch long, and have long antennae. They fly occasionally, but mostly just crawl around, and they sit in large clusters–they pile right on top of each other. Strangely, we also have lots of lady bugs mixing in with them. I live in southern York county, PA (on the PA/MD line) and we have had an unusually warm winter.
Any idea what the black bugs are, why they and the lady
bugs are here, whether they are doing damage and what I can
do to get rid of them and prevent them from returning?
Many, many thanks.
Tricia


Does this look familiar?

Dear Tricia,
Ladybugs are famous for communal hibernation, generally in mountainous areas. In recent years though, throughout the Eastern states, they have begun to invade homes. My internet search turned up this quote from the site http://www.uky.edu :

"People first started reporting large aggregations of lady beetles (ladybugs) on homes and buildings in Kentucky during the fall of 1993. Ladybugs are normally considered beneficial insects because they feed outdoors on aphids and other harmful plant pests. However, these beetles are congregating on the sides of buildings, and if given the opportunity, moving
inside. Lady beetles do not sting or carry diseases, nor do they infest food, clothing, or wood. Nonetheless, this particular species (Harmonia axyridis) can become a nuisance when large numbers begin crawling on windows, walls, light fixtures, and other indoor surfaces. When disturbed, they also secrete a foul-smelling orange-colored fluid that can spot and stain walls, carpeting, and other surfaces….
Because the Asian lady beetle is a tree-dwelling insect, homes and buildings in forested areas are especially prone to infestation. Suburban and landscaped industrial settings adjacent to wooded areas have also had large lady beetle aggregations. Once the beetles land on the sunny side of the
building, they attempt to locate cracks and other dark openings for hibernation sites. These locations may ultimately be on any side of the structure. Common overwintering sites include cracks and crevices around window and door frames, porches, garages and outbuildings, beneath exterior siding and roof shingles, and within wall voids, attics, and soffits. Structures in poor repair or with many cracks and openings are especially vulnerable to problems."

The site goes on to recomment removing the ladybugs with a vacuum cleaner. Your other insect is most probably a box elder bug (Leptocoris trivittatus).
On http://www.pma.edmonton.ab.ca it says, "When present in large enough numbers Box Elder Bugs can do damage to Manitoba Maple trees. Most people call us in the fall because they are curious about the large numbers on the walls of their houses or concerned about the numbers that are getting in the houses. Washing them off the walls of the house with a blast of cold water from a hose may help. The only way to ensure that they do not get inside the house is to fill in all
cracks where they could be getting in, a rather daunting and expensive task."
Though each of these insects is known to form communes, I have never heard of them bedding down together, but they’re not the strangest bedfellows I’ve encountered by far.


daniel, you are my hero. Many thanks for your help. We’re promptly getting out the hose and starting to fill in cracks–and I’m sleeping much better knowing that neither bug is eating my house into sawdust. What a valuable service you perform for those of us who are bug-clueless!
Many thanks again.
tricia

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Daniel,
We just bought an old house and in the basement and on the lower outside walls of the house we have an infestation (I mean millions) of black bugs with thin, neatly drawn orange lines outlining their backs/wings. Thee bugs have narrow bodies, are about 3/4 of an inch long, and have long antennae. They fly occasionally, but mostly just crawl around, and they sit in large clusters–they pile right on top of each other. Strangely, we also have lots of lady bugs mixing in with them. I live in southern York county, PA (on the PA/MD line) and we have had an unusually warm winter.
Any idea what the black bugs are, why they and the lady
bugs are here, whether they are doing damage and what I can
do to get rid of them and prevent them from returning?
Many, many thanks.
Tricia


Does this look familiar?

Dear Tricia,
Ladybugs are famous for communal hibernation, generally in mountainous areas. In recent years though, throughout the Eastern states, they have begun to invade homes. My internet search turned up this quote from the site http://www.uky.edu :

"People first started reporting large aggregations of lady beetles (ladybugs) on homes and buildings in Kentucky during the fall of 1993. Ladybugs are normally considered beneficial insects because they feed outdoors on aphids and other harmful plant pests. However, these beetles are congregating on the sides of buildings, and if given the opportunity, moving
inside. Lady beetles do not sting or carry diseases, nor do they infest food, clothing, or wood. Nonetheless, this particular species (Harmonia axyridis) can become a nuisance when large numbers begin crawling on windows, walls, light fixtures, and other indoor surfaces. When disturbed, they also secrete a foul-smelling orange-colored fluid that can spot and stain walls, carpeting, and other surfaces….
Because the Asian lady beetle is a tree-dwelling insect, homes and buildings in forested areas are especially prone to infestation. Suburban and landscaped industrial settings adjacent to wooded areas have also had large lady beetle aggregations. Once the beetles land on the sunny side of the
building, they attempt to locate cracks and other dark openings for hibernation sites. These locations may ultimately be on any side of the structure. Common overwintering sites include cracks and crevices around window and door frames, porches, garages and outbuildings, beneath exterior siding and roof shingles, and within wall voids, attics, and soffits. Structures in poor repair or with many cracks and openings are especially vulnerable to problems."

The site goes on to recomment removing the ladybugs with a vacuum cleaner. Your other insect is most probably a box elder bug (Leptocoris trivittatus).
On http://www.pma.edmonton.ab.ca it says, "When present in large enough numbers Box Elder Bugs can do damage to Manitoba Maple trees. Most people call us in the fall because they are curious about the large numbers on the walls of their houses or concerned about the numbers that are getting in the houses. Washing them off the walls of the house with a blast of cold water from a hose may help. The only way to ensure that they do not get inside the house is to fill in all
cracks where they could be getting in, a rather daunting and expensive task."
Though each of these insects is known to form communes, I have never heard of them bedding down together, but they’re not the strangest bedfellows I’ve encountered by far.


daniel, you are my hero. Many thanks for your help. We’re promptly getting out the hose and starting to fill in cracks–and I’m sleeping much better knowing that neither bug is eating my house into sawdust. What a valuable service you perform for those of us who are bug-clueless!
Many thanks again.
tricia

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination