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worst bug story ever
Just found your site – great work!! Read "Worst Bug Story Ever" and was wondering, did you ever identify the culprit bug? Sounds like bed bugs to me – am I close? They are reported to be real problems in the East esp. hotels and motels. Can you dish any dirt on these little devils? Thanks,

Dear Ron,
There is no true way you can identify a bug by its itch. While bedbugs, Cimex lectularius, are a possibility, we believe our victims of the worst bug story ever were plagued by some type of bird mite.
Hogue writes: "When indoors, the Common Bedbug feeds exclusively on human blood, invading the bed at night for its meals. although the bite may cause immediate pain in some individuals, the first indication of its presence is often only dark stains on the bed sheets from the bug’s excrement or the itching of bites the next day. Heavy infestations of bedbugs also are accompanied by a characteristic disagreeable musky odor that comes from the bugs’ scent glands, which are similar to those possessed by stink bugs. Some people assume that the source of infestations is dirt or old clothing, and these mistaken ideas probably stem from the bug’s ability to withstand long periods without food. Infestation always begins, of course, by introduction from other preexisting infestations. and the bug easily finds transportation on clothing, bedding, or overstuffed furniture. During the day bedbugs hide in crevices in walls and floors, behind wall decorations, and in furniture.

Thanks! I really enjoyed that … your site was featured in Cool Tricks &
Trinkets Email newsletter today … and although I find bugs creepy, I was
irrationally drawn to check out your site … is that kind of like slowing
down for an accident? Maybe. Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I think
your design is great, your writing excellent, and all around, a great site!
What the Internet is all about!
M.-J. Taylor

Dear M.-J.,
Thanks so much for the glowing compliments. We’re just two college teachers with too much time on our hands and an interest in putting information out into the world. Have a great day.
Daniel & Lisa Anne

I’ve grown tomatoes for years, and recently moved. When I go out to my garden, EVERYTIME a tomato starts to turn red, something eats a hole in it. I thought it was worms, but I have sprayed for them twice, with no results. Today when I went out, one of the tomatoes had split at the top (due to the weather), and there were little bugs with wings inside them, they had red heads. Is that what keeps eating my red tomatoes?? Please help me, I’m loosing my mind. Whatever it is, it only eats a hole the size of a half dollar, then moves on to the next, and doesn’t seem to be bothering anything else in my garden. Thank you soooo very much, hopefully you have an answer for me.

Hi Kristi,
I suspect birds. I have mockingbirds that frequently nibble my ripe tomatoes. Also squirrels. I have taken to draping the plants with tulle, or netting, when the tomatoes begin to ripen. Tomato bugs, or tomato horn worms, occasionally nibble the tomatoes, but usually the green ones. They also defoliate the plants, and you should be able to find them because of their droppings. Good luck.

OMG,,,,,,, i never thought of that!! We do have mocking birds living next door. We watch them attack the neighborhood cats. Funny that the tomato’s usually only have holes toward the bottom of the plant. Maybe because the birds are short?? What can i cover them with so they can’t get through? I’m afraid they can get their beady little beaks through the netting??? Thank you soooooo much for your advice. You have no idea how much this helps me!!

Hi Kristi,
Some garden shops sell a black or green netting that is more durable than tulle. I got it at Home Depot. I haven’t had a problem with the tulle. The netting at the garden shop has a stronger weave with larger holes, and it can be reused from year to year. Remember, everyone loves tomatoes, even birds and small mammals. The position of the holes probably has something to do with where the birds perch while eating.

You are awesome,,, Thank you so very much for taking time out of your busy day to help others. I think that is wonderful!!! May God bless you richly. 🙂

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.

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 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?

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:

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.

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

I am new to growing tomatoes, and am currently having mixed results. I live in the DFW area and planted the young plants about 4 weeks ago (middle of April). They have been growing well, but there is a slight mystery. One of the plants (an heirloom variety) has leaves that are looking scrunched up. Almost as if they have been lightly squashed in hand. Another plant is having trouble keeping its flowers. Flowers show in nice little yellow clumps, and then all of a sudden they are broken off – almost like they are cut or bitten through leaving a kind of stumpy growth. I would love to know what is doing that and what to do about it.
Thanks in advance
Christopher Bird
PS Please don’t publicize the email address, I have been spam free for 3 years! Thanks

Dear Christopher,
Heirloom varieties often have potato type leaves. This is no indication that the plants are unhealthy. Blossoms will not set fruit until the nighttime temperatures are warm. Don’t fret.