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

I just finished reading your letter about the evil "tomato bugs". On a 3 day weekend last year 4 of the nasty guys destroyed 3 of my tomato plants. I DO NOT want this to happen again. I was wondering what they look like when they are just starting out their reign of terror. I have only ever seen pictures of them when they were about 3 inches long. Also where do they come from, and is there a way of preventing their arival at all?

Dear Stephanie,
I’m sorry for the delay in this reply. Somehow, your letter got lost in cyberspace. "Tomato bugs" are the larval stage of a sphinx moth, Manduca sexta. They begin life as eggs and hatch into tiny caterpillars about 1/4 inch long. They are green, and their coloration combined with their lighter traverse markings help them to blend into the foliage of the tomato plants they feed upon. Look for them on the undersides of the leaves where they prefer to hang. Often the first evidence that there is a tomato hornworm is the presence of their telltale droppings along with nibbled leaves. They eat the soft portion of the leaf, leaving only the stems behind. Diligence is your best defence. Spend time with your plants, especially when they are young, and search for evidence of grazing hornworms daily.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Hi Daniel,
I’m having an ongoing problem with what I’m told are grubs in my St. Augustin grass. Each summer I get these patches which turn yellow/ brown and die out, just as if I hadn’t watered them in ages, which is, of course, not the case. Apparently they eat the roots of the grass causing the tops to die. I have usually spread grub killer and that seems to take care of it. The problem is that the grub killer, called “Seven,” I believe, is super toxic, indicating the need to wear socks, long pants, gloves, respirator (my addition), etc. Do you know of any similar remedy for grubs that would not be so environmentally horrendous? I have three cats who live in this grass daily and I don’t want one of them to start growing an extra head or some other such gruesome mutation. Caroline, a Manx, already has all the extra toes she can handle.
Thanks,
Kathleen (a.k.a. Toxic Avenger)

Dear Kathleen,
I can think of three possible culprits for your St. Agustine grass problem, the likliest one being the chinch bug, Blissus insularis, small gray-black insects that suck plant juices from grass blades, especially St. Agustine grass, especially in hot weather. To confirm chinch bugs, according to the Western Garden Book , push a bottomless can into the soil just where the grass is beginning to turn brown. Fill can with water, If lawn is infested, chinch bugs will float to the surface. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos are chemical controls. According to Hogue, the Southern Chinch Bug feeds on several grasses, but Saint Augustine is by far the preferred host plant. The insect’s feeding may cause considerable damage: the grass becomes dwarfed, turns yellow and then brown, and dies. Because of the tendency of the species to form aggregations, the symptoms of attack are usually visible in scattered patches. The species is not a native. It first appeared in the Los Angeles area in the late 1960′s, having come from the southeastern states. It produces two generations per year and is most abundant in midsummer. Two additional possible culprits that require the same chemical control are Sod Webworms and beetle grubs. If you see whitish to buff colored moths flying around the lawn in a zigzag pattern at night, check for their larvae. To confirm Sod Webworms, drench area of lawn with a solution of 1 tablespoon dishwashing soap diluted in 1 gallon of water. Larvae will come to surface. Treat if there are 15 or more webworms per square yard.

Update: (07/13/2008)
organic solutions
Bugman, I love your web site but in a recent post (see below), you recommended some harsh chemicals to get rid of chinch bugs. Diazinon has been banned on golf courses because it kills birds. http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/FactSheet/Pesticide/fs28.diazinon.cfm Could you also recommend organic alternatives to bug control? Lots of lawn problems are caused by over fertilizing and overwatering the lawn rather than building up the soil itself. Here’s a web site with ideas for controlling chinch bugs without pesticides: http://versicolor.ca/lawns/ chinchNOW.html#action1 I live in a house built in 1908 in Massachusetts and I figure the lawn is an old pasture. The grass and clover lawn is deep rooted and survives even the longest droughts. I never water or fertilize. I just mow high with a mulching mower that basically chops up the grass blades and creates compost every time I mow. When friends complain about grubs, I don’t have a thing to add because the lawn is evidently so healthy that they don’t thrive. And if a drought is long enough to turn the grass brown, I still don’t worry, because the roots are healthy so the next rain brings back the green growth. Plus I see loads of butterflies, dragonflies, fireflies, interesting bugs, birds and other critters all summer long. Lots of builders strip the existing topsoil off a site (to sell to landscapers) and replace it with a shallow layer of topsoil, then seed it with grass that can never establish really deep roots in that thin layer. The homeowner is then stuck in a cycle of watering and fertilizing. If you dig into your lawn, you can figure out how deep the topsoil actually is. If it’s shallow, get a couple truckloads of topsoil laid down so you have a good 8-12 inches of soil, add a few inches of compost (which is often free from your city recycling center), re-establish the lawn with grasses that do well locally and then mow high with a mulching mower. You can save on your water bill while avoiding toxic chemicals that could hurt your kids, pets, birds and bugs. Thanks, Bugman, for a fantastic and fascinating site.
Carol

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

(The Creatures
June2, 2002
) Hello Bug Person,
I saw your site and thought maybe you could help me and my roommate out. We have creatures. That’s what we call them, because they are unlike anything we’ve ever seen. In the last three places we’ve lived, we have seen the Creatures in our basement. They are similar to centipedes in that they are long, have many legs, and are creepy. But that’s where the similarities end. Centipedes are flattened with legs that look like this ^ with one joint, but these Creatures have 2 joints, like spider legs. They don’t have as many as a centipede but definitely more than 8. The legs are generally the same size too, not different lengths like a house centipede. they don’t have the front “fangs” like a centipede but a mandible similar to a spider’s – no antenae no little butt feelers. And they come in 3 different colors. I’ve seen very large ones (4-5 inches), black with white spots; others were just as big but dark brown; and just the other day, in our new duplex, we found a little one maybe 2-3 inches long and light brown. They are very fast and i even hit one with a book, cutting off its lower half, and the rest of it got away. Yeah, these things are evil. Nobody knows what these things are. We’ve had hunters, floridians, Arizonians, and other self-proclaimed bug experts, but we always get the same thing: a hideous blank stare and lonely nights in our basement. Can you tell me what the creatures are?

Alex,
Be afraid.  Be very afraid.  Scream Alex, scream for your life.  You have Tinglers living in your basement.  Barring the possibility that the horrific monster from the 50′s horror flick starring Vincent Price is in your basement, following you from house to house, I can think of several additional possibilities, though none seems to exactly fit your description.
Possibility #1 is the hellgrammite, the larval form of the dobson fly.  These four inch long creepy crawlies normally live in or near streams, but we have heard reports of them being found in basements.  Check out this website to see if the hellgrammite is your culprit. http://www.watersheds.org/blue/nature/gallery2/
pages/hellgramite.htm

Possibility #2 would be a sun spider or wind scorpion from the family Solpugidae.  They move quickly, and can be found in basements, though I haven’t heard of any American species quite as large as the creature you describe.  They are closely related to other arthropods called vinegaroons.
Possibility #3 would be a different type of centipede.  Scolopendra polymorpha is a six inch long species of centipede that resides within the continental U.S.   You can locate a photo of it and of the sun spider on this website.  http://www.angelfire.com/oh2/USInsects/
Arthropods.html

I shudder to think that we here at What’s That Bug have entered the ranks of hunters, floridians or Arizonians with blank stares, but without more concrete information, perhaps a photograph or a drawing, and some hint of your coordinates on the globe, we’ve run out of possible id’s.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Hello Bug Person,
I saw your site and thought maybe you could help me and my roommate out. We have creatures. That’s what we call them, because they are unlike anything we’ve ever seen. In the last three places we’ve lived, we have seen the Creatures in our basement. They are similar to centipedes in that they are long, have many legs, and are creepy. But that’s where the similarities end. Centipedes are flattened with legs that look like this ^ with one joint, but these Creatures have 2 joints, like spider legs. They don’t have as many as a centipede but definitely more than 8. The legs are generally the same size too, not different lengths like a house centipede. they don’t have the front "fangs" like a centipede but a mandible similar to a spider’s – no antenae no little butt feelers. And they come in 3 different colors. I’ve seen very large ones (4-5 inches), black with white spots; others were just as big but dark brown; and just the other day, in our new duplex, we found a little one maybe 2-3 inches long and light brown. They are very fast and i even hit one with a book, cutting off its lower half, and the rest of it got away. Yeah, these things are evil. Nobody knows what these things are. We’ve had hunters, floridians, Arizonians, and other self-proclaimed bug experts, but we always get the same thing: a hideous blank stare and lonely nights in our basement. Can you tell me what the creatures are?

Alex,
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Scream Alex, scream for your life. You have Tinglers living in your basement. Barring the possibility that the horrific monster from the 50′s horror flick starring Vincent Price is in your basement, following you from house to house, I can think of several additional possibilities, though none seems to exactly fit your description.
Possibility #1 is the hellgrammite, the larval form of the dobson fly. These four inch long creepy crawlies normally live in or near streams, but we have heard reports of them being found in basements. Check out this website to see if the hellgrammite is your culprit. http://www.watersheds.org/blue/nature/gallery2/
pages/hellgramite.htm

Possibility #2 would be a sun spider or wind scorpion from the family Solpugidae. They move quickly, and can be found in basements, though I haven’t heard of any American species quite as large as the creature you describe. They are closely related to other arthropods called vinegaroons.
Possibility #3 would be a different type of centipede. Scolopendra polymorpha is a six inch long species of centipede that resides within the continental U.S. You can locate a photo of it and of the sun spider on this website. http://www.angelfire.com/oh2/USInsects/
Arthropods.html

I shudder to think that we here at What’s That Bug have entered the ranks of hunters, floridians or Arizonians with blank stares, but without more concrete information, perhaps a photograph or a drawing, and some hint of your coordinates on the globe, we’ve run out of possible id’s.

Several months back, this column tried to identify a bug based on an inquiry from Deb. Here is her letter:
Hi,
I almost had a heart attack last week as I saw the biggest bug I have ever seen! I work as a therapist in an upstate New York School. My office is in the basement. As I rounded the corner to answer the phone, something huge
was slowly crawling across the doorway on the floor. It was blackish grey, about 4 inches long with a flattish body. The head looked as large as my thumbnail. It appeared to have short spikey hairs on its body, and 6 legs protruding from its middle segment. The abdomen was very large and trailed behind the legs. I didn’t notice any antennae, but it may have had pincers on the mouth. Thank God for a brave custodial worker!!! Later in the day, another co-worker said that he collected those bugs for trout bait, and that they sprout wings and fly around. Please! That was the stuff of nightmares!!!!!!!! I swear that I have seen miniscule versions of this bug in my own yard and want to know if they are the same. Could I have these prehistoric monsters flying in my back yard???!!!
—Deb

Embarassingly, I misidentified the culpret as a large roach. It turned out, in fact, to be a hellgrammite, the larval form of the dobsonfly, which you have photographed. Locally, the California Dobsonfly (Neohermes californicus) can be found near streams, generally at higher elevations, hence the frequent use of the larva as trout bait. The hellgrammites are aquatic and are found in swift streams where they prey on other insects, but they can pass dry spells under rocks and debris in the damp stream beds.
Dobsonflies are members of a primitive order of insects known as nerve-winged insects, which includes other oddities like the ant lion and lacewings. All adult nerve-winged insects, including the dobsonfly, are feeble fliers and are predaceous upon insect pests, so they are beneficial.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination