Dear Bug Man,
I received the following letter and thought it might make an interesting addition to your American Homebody column, “What’s That Bug?” It’s from my cousin Kaya Adams, who is currently residing in Kigali, Rwanda, acquainting herself with the local insect population.

Dear Lisa Anne,
I feel compelled to share my own critter tale in response to your disturbing mite write of July 4th Homebody. As you know, I too was a victim of tiny visitors a little over a year ago, while travelling to and from England. About two weeks after returning from a friend’s wedding in SC, I developed itchy little bumps in the webs between my fingers. Friends advised me this was probably eczema from the hard water in Britain, but moisturizers and hand creams did nothing. The over-the-counter pharmacist at Boots prescribed Cortisone, thinking it could be an allergic reaction. Instead of clearing up, it spread. Itching was bad enough during the day — wreaking havoc on my concentration at work — but it was utterly intolerable at night, when I would peel off every chafing layer and lie in bed trying to let mind overcome matter. After two weeks, I went to the doctor, who immediately told me I had been infested with scabies!

What, you might ask (as I did), are scabies? They are little burrowing parasites which cling to fabric fibers before puncturing your skin and crawling inside. They then lay their eggs into your bloodstream, enabling them to travel all through your body. The itching is worse at night in correspondence to their most active life cycle. The original animals eventually die and get sloughed off with your dead skin, but until they do, their bodies are visible as tiny grey dots in each bump. The bump is actually your body’s reaction to this foreign inhabitant. The only way to cure scabies is to coat your body

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

I recently moved to Los Angeles, and last night I found the biggest, scariest bug I’ve ever seen in my apt. It looked somewhat like an ant on steroids, but it looked a little like a beetle, too. I thought it might be one of the "wind scorpions" you mentioned elsewhere on the site, but the photos don’t seem to match up. The bug’s body and legs weren’t quite as long as the scorpions.
This bug was about 1 1/2 inches long, about 1 inch wide. It had six very thick legs (thicker than any legs I’ve ever seen on a bug, and so thick I wouldn’t find it difficult to believe it was a baby animal). The bug was mostly flesh-colored, except the abdomen was black, with rings around it. Can you help me identify it? I am so scared I’m going to see another one of these things in my place. I want to make sure that it won’t hurt me or my cat.
Thank you,
Michele

Dear Michele,
You found a potato bug or Jerusalem cricket ( Family Stenopelmatidae) and they do tend to startle people. They are burrowing relatives of true crickets, and sometimes go by the Spanish name Niños de la Tierra or Children of the Earth. They are nocturnal, and live in the soil. Though they can bite with considerable force, they are not harmful.

Dear What’s that Bug,
I live in Chicago in a two-flat. My husband and I are moving in two weeks and I’m worried because we have noticed some new bugs appearing in our bathroom. We have lived here for a year and have never seen these bugs prior to last week. Now they are showing up every other night in our bathtub, five at a time. They are little tiny black bugs (about 1/4") and they don’t move. I thought they were dead, but upon further inspection I realized that they were just still & when prodded they moved their legs a little. They didn’t look like roaches, but I can’t help but panic. The only other bugs we’ve ever seen here are silverfish. Could they be baby silverfish?? So far I’ve found about 20 of them over the past week, mostly in the bathtub, though one was in the sink, five on the floor and one made it to the kitchen floor (near the sink). Any words of advice? Anything we can do to keep them from coming with us when we move in 2 weeks?
Thanks, C&J

Dear C&J,
Sounds like pantry beetles which seem to be very plentiful everywhere right now. clean out the pantry.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination


Hi, y’all….I just got back from a trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas, where I saw a fox, deer, javalinas, hawks and other assorted wildlife…..including this bug in a rest stop bathroom somewhere near Ozona TX. What’s that bug, Daniel?
I also visited the Chinati Foundation…home of Donald Judd sculptures and other delights. I took a very short boat ride over to Mexico for some beer and tacos, and went to a "star party" at the McDonald Observatory too.
Now I’m back, but I’m still wondering….what’s that bug?
Peace, Jonathan

Hi Jonathan,
This appears to be an adult Antlion

To whom it may concern:
I am in desperate need of assistance in identifying mosquitoes. I am doing a Science Fair Project and have created a new trap to capture mosquitoes. But I would like to know what I cought. I cannot tell for sure if they are all mosquitoes, or also midges, possibly Punkies/ "no-see-ums".
I have done a lot of research and am unable to find how to identify them and would greatly appreciate some expert advice. I went to the International Science Fair last year and know that good research and information is critical.
Also, if you know of, or how I could find what kind of mosquitoes are in my area please let me know. I live in Louisville (northern) Kentucky. From my research I know that the 2 main types of mosquitoes around here are Aedes and Culex, but I don’t know specifically if it is Aedes Aegypti or Culex molestus, etc.
Please respond quickly so that I can continue my research. I would sincerely appreciate any help offered.
Thank you,
Margaret Ann Stewart

Dear Margaret,
I am going to quote directly from Field Book of Insects by Frank E. Lutz. pp 239-240 since he is the real expert.
Culicidae
Everyone knows a Mosquito, or thinks that he does. The proboscis of the female is fitted for sucking but the male’s mouthparts are so rudimentary that he cannot "bite." His antennae are very plumose. The larvae are aquatic. They are the "Wrigglers" such as most of us have seen in standing water. Owing to the medical interest in mosquitoes they have been extensively studied. The following, among other, subfamilies ( or families) have been recognized.

1.–Proboscis, even of females, short, not fitted for piercing. Wings hairy, scaled only at margin. Mesosternum without ridge. Sternopleura divided by transverse suture. Corethrinae. The transparent, predacious larvae use their antennae in capturing prey. They get their oxygen by absorption from the water. The eyes of these Phantom Larvae are dark. The two other pairs of dark spots are "air sacs." I do not know how the air, if it be real air, gets into them. The pupae float upright and have respiratory trumpets on their heads.
Proboscis much longer than head; the female’s fitted for piercing. Wings fully scaled. Mesosternum ridged.

2.–Palpi of female at least a third longer than the proboscis. Abdomen sometimes without scales. Scutellum crescent shaped, with marginal bristles evenly distributed. –Anophelinae.
Not so.

3.–Scutellum evenly rounded. Clypeua much broader than long. Calypteres not ciliated. Day-flying, not biting Megarhininae.

Scutellum trilobed, with marginal bristles only on the lobes.

4.–Base of hind coxae in line with upper margin of lateral metastenal sclerite, a small triangular piece between bases of middle and hind coxae. Day-fliers.–Sabethinae. The larvae of Wyeomiyis smithii live in the water in pitcher plant leaves.
Not so.–Chiefly Culicinae (anal vein extending well beyond fork of cubitus) but also Uranotaeniinae.
The eggs of Anopheles are laid singly, each having a lateral "float." The larvae are rarely found in foul or brackish water. Unlike Culicinae, the breathing siphon on the end of the abdomen is very short and a resting larva floats horizontally. Adults usually have spotted wings. They are to be feared because they may be carrying malarial "germs" which they sucked in along with the blood of a former victim. If so and if the malarial organism had worked its way from the mosquito’s stomach to its salivary glands, the mosquito biting us is likely to infect us with malaria.
The many species of Culicinae have been divided into genera on technical characters. Most of what we called Culex are now Aedes. The tropical A. aegypti (also called Stegomyia fasciata) carries yellow fever and dengue. Such Tropical diseases as dengue and filariasis are carried also by other Culicine females. The eggs of Culex are laid in a floating, raft-like mass; those of Aedes singly. The salt-marsh mosquitoes with banded legs are Aedes. The larva of Taeniorhynchus (=Mansonia) perturbans sticks its breathing siphon into the air-chambers of aquatic plants instead of coming to the surface to breathe.
So Margaret, as you can see, taxonomy is rather complicated, and I didn’t even get into midges and punkies. Good luck with your science project.

Dear Mr. Marlos,
Having recently moved from an apartment on the mean sidewalks of Beverly Hills to a guest house in the rural splendor of Van Nuys, I have had plenty of opportunities to observe the local wildlife: Specifically in my new home. Just the other night, my cat (The Princess of Piss) directed my attention to my kitchen floor. Imagine my surprise when I found the object of her fascination crawling sluggishly across it: a long, black bug with multiple tiny legs. It looked like a cross between a cockroach and a caterpillar. Any idea what it could have been?

Yours in Insectia,
Susan Ehrlich


Hi Susie,
Just how long is long? In bug identification, size does matter. I am guessing that the long, black bug with multiple tiny legs was a millipede, which translates as “thousand feet” from Latin. Though a thousand is something of an exaggeration, they are in possession of many appendages, nevertheless, they move remarkably slowly, and sluggish is a very appropriate description. Several small species live in the Los Angeles basin, but two closely related species, Hiltonius pulchrus and Tylobolus claremontus, sometimes exceed three inches in length. A third species, Atopetholus californicus is slightly smaller. Millepedes are arthropods. Local species have shiny, cylindrical, segmented bodies that are black, dark grey or brown in color. When disturbed, millepedes will curl up like a watch spring. They often exude foul smelling fluids as a repelling defense mechanism. Some can even produce cyanide fumes. They prefer moist conditions and are prone to nocturnal wandering. They eat humus, rotting leaves and rotting wood, and are not a threat to life, limb nor property.

Dear What’s that Bug?
My house is being overrun by millipedes… they are 1 to 3 inches long and red to reddish brown in color. There are hundreds of them which I find crawling all over my counters, up and down my walls, and covering my floors. I was assuming that they were coming in through the cracks around windows and doors but I think they may be getting into my home through my A/C vents. I’ve been finding them in small rooms and closets that are nowhere near a door or window. Please help me rid my home of these and prevent further infestation!!!
—Amy

Dear Amy,
Where is your house? Do you live stateside, Southern California in particular, or in some faraway exotic place?
Millipedes belong to the class Diplopoda which means double footed, referring to the two close-set pairs of legs on each apparent segment (each segment actually consists of two coalesced true segments) of these worm-like arthropods. Millipedes prefer moist conditions, and they abound in damp litter and under rocks, logs, and loose bark, however, in their nocturnal wandering, they may wander into your cool, dark home, especially if the conditions outdoors are dry and hot. They are common after rains. Though they are harmless and nonaggressive, they have the ability to exude noxious fumes and fluids as a defense mechanism. The odor has been compared to iodine, quinine and chlorine, and some species are reputed to produce cyanide fumes. I would suggest a dehumifier for your home and shutting off the air conditioner, both of which will make your home less hospitable for the unwanted guests. One final thought: Certain years see a preponderance of certain species, whose life cycle peaks and then declines. This will go down in your diary as "the year of the millipedes," and can perhaps fuel your literary endeavors. Make the most of a bad situation.
signed,
Daniel Marlos
What’s That Bug?

Amy replies:
I live in central South Carolina. Very humid weather. My apartment is a bright dry place as opposed to the humid warm weather outside. That is the reason I was confused. Seems to me that these little guys would much prefer the weather outside to that of my home. I did notice a strange smell when I returned from my short vacation last week but It wasn’t all that horrible so I just chalked it up to the place being closed up for a few days. Hope my ‘year of the millipedes’ ends soon…
—Amy

Dear Amy,
Thank you for the further clarification. The fact that you live in humid South Carolina, a temperate rain forest, would help to explain why you have vast quantities of millipedes in your immediate vicinity to begin with. Sadly, not much is known about the biology of these interesting creatures. There is a tropical species, Oxidus gracilis, which goes by the common name Greenhouse Millipede. During the warm months, enormous swarms of them may develop in beds filled with potting soil, and it is possible that your infestation could be multiplying in your potted plants. The smell you noted could also have some bearing. As the critters eat decaying organic material, namely humus, rotting leaves, wood and bark, it is possible that wood used in the construction of your building could be providing them with a food source. Encyclopaedia Britannica states that "for some unexplained reason millipedes occasionally move in large numbers, sometimes even in broad daylight. On one occasion in Alsace a train was stopped because the dead and crushed bodies of migrating diplopods made the rails slippery." On a humorous final note, the encyclopaedia also states that "no credence should be given to the occasional reports that millipedes have been found living parasitically in the human bowel." Keep us posted as to the final outcome of your Year of the Millipede.
signed
Daniel Marlos
What’s That Bug