What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

A Better Picture and A Potato Bug Question
Hi Bugman,
I sent you a picture of a bug that we have been trying to identify a few days ago. I got a better picture today and thought I would pass it along. I have looked in grasshoppers, wasps, leaf hoppers, and a few other sections on your site to try to find it’s identity. I have another question for you that I have been searching for the answer to for a long time. Why do potato bugs exist? Do they have a purpose? They freak me out in a way that nothing else does. I am hoping if I can find their purpose, I can accept their existence. Thanks for your great website! I have spent lots of time here since I discovered it last week.

Laura’s Original Email
(04/25/2008) Can you tell me about this insect?
One of my hobbies is identifying bugs in my garden. This one has me stumped. I live in Sacramento, CA and I have only seen these guys cruising on our teepee made of crepe myrtle. They are reddish with yellow stripes. I have seen them range from 1/2 to 1 inch long. They first popped up about 1 month ago. I have lived in this area for 10 years and never seen them before. Can you give me any information about these guys? Thanks!
Laura Stillmunkes
p.s. The pictures are not great. I can try to get a better one if it would be helpful. They move fast!

Hi Laura,
This response has been on our back burner since your original email. Thanks for sending a more in focus photo. We believe this is a Red Headed Ash Borer, Neoclytus acuminatus, but the map of submissions on BugGuide doesn’t show any reports in California. There are reports in Washington State and Texas. There are other closely related species found in California, but your photo does appear to be the Red Headed Ash Borer. Our quick web research has been unable to determine if there are reports of the Red Headed Ash Borer in California. Perhaps one of our readers can be more definite. The Potato Bug is part of that mysterious web of connectivity known as the Balance of Nature.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

2 Responses to Ash Borer

  1. Cricket says:

    This is an old post, but I’ve been trying to figure these guys out for a while and stumbled across this, so thought I’d chime in. I’m also in Sacramento, and — though I have no good photo at the moment (I’ll try, but my cheap camera is terrible for anything small) — I’m pretty sure these match what I’m seeing better than anything else I’ve looked at. When I try to find a range, though, I can still only find a few anecdotal accounts in CA, nothing with much authority, and not even enough anecdote to feel comfortable calling it not-quite-data-but-good-enough-for-now.

    So was wondering whether there’s anything more solid about these in CA since the time of this post.

    We certainly have a terrific yard for borers, really — lots of aging trees. We lost two elderly, sick plum trees and a middle-aged, also sickly apple to borer damage after we moved here — those were basically opportunistic attacks, though, they were planted poorly years ago and were probably weak before the borers. We’ve also thinned a lot of privet over the last year. I clean up lots of fallen wood, but I do tend to leave some larger bits around, too, as long as they’re away from the house — I’m trying to let our mini-woods draw more diverse species over time and so we tend to let some detritus stay to rot out, draw various fungi and insects and their predators, or develop into duff. I only meddle much if something is a safety issue for us or our pets, involves invasives with no good predators here, or is really likely to cause major damage to the house. That means there are any number of places borers could have popped from.

    But I’d love to get an ID on these guys and figure out how seriously to take them, since I’m pretty sure their search for food in the thinned yard has them aiming for our huge, ~100-year old pecan, which is almost certainly stressed from the drought here (not a tree I would plant in CA these days, but it’s a bit of a heritage tree from a different era.) We’ve drawn some Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, a mating pair, and that likely helps, but the tree is very large and would be a serious hazard if it got too weakened, so I’m watching carefully — would prefer to consider it all with a positive ID.

    Thanks for all that you do with this site. I can wander it pretty endlessly, just looking at all the neat critters.


    • bugman says:

      Dear Cricket,
      Thanks so much for your extensive comment. According to BugGuide, the Red Headed Ash Borer has been reported from California. The habitat you have provided sounds wonderful and the woodpeckers should help to control the Red Headed Ash Borer population in your existing trees.

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