Dear AH,
A couple of years ago I think Jerry Seinfeld did a monologue about baby pigeons. “Why don’t you ever see them?” Well I took it as a kind of challenge; similar to when I was a kid my grandfather said he’d give any of us 5 bucks if we spotted an Idaho license plate. Years later I finally saw an Idaho license plate, but my grandaddy had died by then. But I digress. I have seen baby pigeons. In fact, I now see them all the time. I also seem to see Idaho license plates all the time now too. Now I’m not sure if it’s because I know empirically that they exist that I see them all the time, or maybe I previously suffered from a blind spot; like when you’re looking for the orange juice in the fridge but you can’t fucking find it cause it’s right in front of your nose. But what I’ve been wondering for years and never verbalized until now (because you have this great forum about bugs) is: Where do those fully grown, huge flys come from? I woke up the other morning, I hadn’t opened the doors or windows, I had no trash in my garbage, no turds on the floor, but I had a dozen HUGE houseflys buzzing all around my windows trying to get out. Inga (my dog) and I went crazy–me with the New York Times, her with her deadly snapping jaws–hunting them down and squarshing them until they were dead. It took a while. We were both hot and panting. Now I’m thinking I have house hygene issues. Maybe a blind spot. I just thoroughly cleaned my house the day before the “hatching” because a writer was coming to interview me for the magazine Dwell so I’d better have a tight-assed, spotless abode. So my question is, am I missing something? I know maggots are small, so are tadpoles, but at some point they’re little frogs. So wouldn’t those fuckers be little flys before they were the huge, unhygenic, buzzing bastards? Can you explain?
—David M
Brooklyn, New York

Dear Sir,
Flies are generally thought of as one of the great scourges to afflict mankind. Though certain species deserve that reputation, many others are beneficial insects, like flower flies. I doubt that those buzzing around your windows belong to the latter group, but I am unable to make a positive I.D. on their actual species based on your description. Are they black, green or blue? My grandmother always claimed that cooking cabbage caused flies to enter the house. Have you been cooking cabbage? Not wanting to diverge from your immediate questions, I can safely tell you that all flies undergo complete metamorphosis. While they are maggots at one point in their lives, they pupate and emerge as fully grown flies, attaining whatever size is particular to their species. They often go undetected until they reach that adult buzzing phase. I once had an invasion, and a closer inspection of my rather messy cottage revealed some potatoes under the sink that had gone bad. The culprets in your house could also be carrion eating flies that as maggots had been feasting on a dead rat in the walls or perhaps your next door neighbor. When was the last time you saw your neighbor? Often after feasting on their food source, the maggots will migrate some distance to find a safe and dry refuge for pupation. The filth you seek might be a considerable distance from your infestation. The duration of the metamorphosis varies with the heat. If you didn’t succeed in dispatching all the buzzing Muscidae (hopefully they were not Sarcophagidae, the flesh flies) before a few mated and laid eggs, and the weather is warm, you can expect a reinfestation within a week or two. Be forewarned that Hogue writes in in groundbreaking book, Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, that “flies are known to accumulate around natural gas leaks. They are probably attracted by ethyl mercaptan, a smelly substance added to gas to make leaks detectable to the human nose. The odor of ethyl mercaptan is similar to that of volatile substances released during the decomposition of carrion, upon which many domestic flies oviposit and their larvae feed.” Don’t light any matches until you have sufficiently inspected your entire home.

Signed,
Daniel Marlos

Dear What’s That Bug (or should I say What’s That Maggot?!)
It’s true! The worst homebody kitchen nightmare is occurring in the UK. Maggot-y larvae-like creatures that sloth their way onto my kitchen floor late at night when no one is around. Seven the other night!
Before casting dispersions on the quality of home-maintenance at my flatshare, I must assert that despite my previous track record, cleanliness is next to both god and the queen mum here in my house now, and there are no bits on the floor or on any cabinet surfaces to attrack the offputting vermin. High standards have been maintained. And though I have visited the countryside in the last two weeks, there seems to be no sign of foot and mouth infection either. We have conducted a cursory sniff test and have no evidence of dead rotting flesh behind the cupboards, though they seem to gather in the floor corner and appear to be coming from behind the floor cabinets. What are the possible causes? and cures, short of yanking out all the cupboards and seeing what may lurk behind door number one. help!
Staying out of the kitchen at night in London,
Kate

Dear Kate,
Once again pestilence rears its ugly head. The house fly and its larval form, the maggot, is a truly domestic insect, so closely adapted to life in manmade environments that it is rarely found away from human habitations. The species, Musca domestica, is found throughout the world and is our worst pest among the flies. All kinds of decaying and fermenting organic material — commonly decomposing lawn clippings, gargage, and feces of dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, and poultry — provide breeding places for the larvae. The larvae migrate to drier places for pupation to occur, and it is possible that your clean flat is on their migration route. Maggots are also commonly found on dead and decaying animals. Due to the meat embargo, there are probably huge caches of decaying livestock scattered about the country. Is it possible that your flat is in close proximity to one of these toxic dumps? My other thought is that though you called the creepy-crawlies "maggot-y larvae-like creatures," you never gave me any other description regarding size and coloration. Most insect larvae are generic in form, hence the lumping of many species under the umbrella term. More specifics could be helpful. A caterpillar is a larva, but with true and pseudolegs to aid in locomotion. Beetle grubs are also "maggot-y" and many beetles bore into wood. Certain kinds of moths and beetles have larvae that are fond of flour products and often infest sacks of flour or oatmeal, or even spices that are stored away in dark cupboards. The last time I tried to use my imported Hungarian paprika, I discovered it to be ground zero for the meal moths that have been fluttering about my incandescent lamps at night, and promptly disposed of the tainted (and expensive) spice lest the infestation spread.
Good luck.

Daniel Marlos
What’s That Bug?

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

I’d love info on these delightful little visitors as we seem to have a family who lives/visits our yard every spring. I cannot leave the house.
—Annie

Hi Annie,
The Cicada Killers, Specius speciosus and Sphecius grandis, are large solitary wasps that often live in colonies, hence your comment about the family situation. They produce one generation a year, and you are being visited by the offspring of the previous year’s visitors. The wasps are large, nearly 1 2/3 inches in body length, with a much larger wingspan, and they feed on nectar and pollen. Mating males are sometimes aggressive, and females will deliver a nasty sting if provoked. It is the female who kills the cicadas. She hunts for them on tree trunks after digging a burrow. She stings the cicada, paralyzing it, then flies back to her burrow with the now immobile, yet living food source for her brood. Each burrow contains one or two cicadas, and when the solitary egg hatches, the larva has a fresh food supply.
Ckeck out the Cicada Killer Thriller Page at http://www.showmejoe.com /thriller/thriller.htm

Thank you so much!! My exterminator was totally clueless (so I had to capture one and look online to find out about it – that’s how I knew it’s name) but I’ve now that I’ve seen them in my yard I’ve seen them around a lot more – don’t know if it’s a case of knowing what I’m looking for or if they’re really settling in around South Orange, NJ, but I do appreciate your great information on them. Poor cicadas – darn that must hurt! I’d noticed how aggressive the males are – especially if you fill up their burrow and they can’t get back in ;)Best,
Annie Modesitt
Craft Writer / Knitting Designer
South Orange, NJ

Hi,
I’ve wasted at least an hour on the web trying to identify the bugs on my tomato plants. I had hoped I could simply locate them without having to ask, but apparently not.The only thing that it almost looks like is the nymph squash bug, but that’s definitely not what I’ve got. The body is orange with little black dots on the abdomen, and it has six black legs and it has a sucker that it sticks into the plant like a mosquito in your skin. I originally thought they were harmless as they appeared all of a sudden one day but didn’t seem to be doing any damage.I shook them off, but they keep coming back–now I squish them if I can find them. They are less than a centimeter long and leave my leaves with a million little pinprick-looking holes–I’m not sure if they’re eating the fruit. Also, I haven’t been able to locate any eggs, or a younger or older version. Please, hopefully you can tell me what these things are!
Thanks,
Tracy in Louisiana

Dear Tracy,
It sounds like you may have the nymph stage of the Keelbacked Treehopper (Antianthe expansa) which feeds on solanaceous garden plants, mainly peppers and tomatoes, though I have also found them on eggplant. The adults are green and winged, and sometimes appear along with large colonies of nymphs. They move quickly, trying to avoid danger. They have sucking mouthparts, and drain the life giving sap from their host plants, so though they do not eat the tomatoes proper, they can do considerable damage to the plants. This is compounded by the secretion of honeydew, which attracts ants as well as increasing the chances for secondary infections to the plants. Eradicate them.

Hello again,
Sorry to report, but that’s not what I’ve got. The bodies are much skinnier and they really are distinctly orange with just the few little black dots on the abdomen. I’ve captured one and noticed that they molt and right afterwards, their whole bodies (including legs and antennae and sucker) are orange temporarily, then the legs antennae and sucker go back to black.If you can’t identify them, it isn’t the end of the world. But do you think that if I water the plants with soapy water it will kill them? (This was my mom’s suggestion.) And does the type of soap matter? (I used Palmolive)
Thanks again,
Tracy Morton

Hi again Tracy,
Let’s try this again.;Sometimes the nymph stage of an insect is radically different from the adult, at least in color. Most katydids are green, but the nymph of the Fork-Tailed Bush Katydid (Scudderia mexicana), as well as other members of the genus Scudderia, is orange with blue and black markings. Try looking at the photo of Scudderia furnica on this website to see it that is what you have. Remember, there are slight color variations between individuals. http://kaweahoaks.com/html/katydid.html
Regarding the soapy water question: make sure that the soap is very dilute, or it might do more damage to your plants than the bugs you are trying to eradicate. I like Ivory, but Palmolive is also mild.

October 1. 2002 it looked like a grasshopper with way long legs like if a spider and a grasshopper mated or something and i think it might have been able to fly, im in the midwest, please tell me what this evil creature was that scared me nearly to death? jenny

Dear Jenny,
Was it green? It might be a species of katydid. Check out other letters on our site that go into details about the habits and life cycles of these relatives of the grasshoppers. It isn’t really evil, and though they eat the leaves of plants, they are not known to occur in such large numbers to really be considered a pest. There are many romantic stories associated with katydids.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination


Dear Editors,

Greetings, I can’t stand any kind of bugs or reptiles, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn about them. Would you kindly help me identify this “iguana,” so when I’m working in my gardens I know what’s coming towards me, and call it by its name and ask it to leave? By the way, the one in the picture, we found it dead. That’s why it posed so well on my helper’s hand.
Thank you for your effort on this matter.
Kindly, F. Sevillano

Dear Kindly Sr. Sevillano:

Though lizards are not my forte, it appears to me as though you have found a very young specimen of alligator lizard, one which met with an untimely, unnatural death. Not being in possession of a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, I tempted fate by trying to locate information for you on the internet. My search led me to the San Diego Natural History Museum Field Guide. There I learned that the Southern Alligator Lizard goes by the scientific name Elgaria multicarinata. The Southern Alligator Lizard has a slender body up to seven inches long, and relatively small legs. An individual that has never suffered the traumas of a caudal autonomy (loss of its tail) may have a tail twice the length of its body, making for a 21 inch long lizard. If the tail is lost, it can regenerate, though it is usually shorter and differently colored. The lizards tend to be brown to yellow ochre and adults are marked with dark cross bands. The species is common in the Los Angeles Basin( and is often found in yards and gardens. Alligator Lizards aren’t easily intimidated by humans, and, while not poisonous, can inflict a painful bite. They have an ornery disposition and if you decide to catch one, expect to get nipped. They eat mainly insects and snails, which make them the gardener’s friends, but they have also been known to eat small birds and mice, frogs and other lizards. Perhaps your helper would like to bring his lizard by my place some time so I can verify my identification through a thorough first-hand investigation.

(01/19/2004) Iguana
FYI: The lizard shown on your "Iguana" page is a fence lizard also commonly known as a "Blue Belly" in Southern California. They are common, non aggressive and tend to bask in the sun on walls wood piles etc. Boys frequently catch them, I spent a majority of my childhood doing so. They have a blue throat and sometimes blue sides hence- blue belly (we aren’t very accurate with our use of English here in CA). I hope this helps you and the site. I originally found your excellent site by looking up wind scorpions to try to discover the name of the awful monstrosity that attacked me in Death Valley one night. I hope they aren’t endangered because I ended up shooting it after it repeatedly advanced on me in an aggressive pose. Thanks for the help and the cool site.

Thanks Chad, for the info and compliments. That is a very old letter and I totally forgot we had that page, which was a quirky question with an equally quirky answer. Wind Scorpions are not endangered. How about that one from the Desert Storm veteran which he calls a Camel Cricket. Glad our Southern California specimens arent that big.

Hello, I have found 3 of these things in my apartment. I live on the third floor, in Dallas, TX. These things are freaking me out to tears! They look to be about an inch long, have a snake-like scaly appearance, and fish-like eyes and triangle-shaped head. They look like a cross between a little lizard and fish. The three I have found have all been dead, in various stages of decomposition. This is the weirdest creature I have ever seen and I have to know what it is or I may never walk in my apartment without shoes again! HELP!
Thanks,
Melissa

Hi Melissa,
Do you have a cat? It looks like you have dead lizards that have been chewed on by a cat. I say this because my cat frequently brings small lizards in the house and leaves their carcasses behind furniture and various other places.

Dear Bugman:
I live in the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California, and for the last week or two we have had a new kind of bug flying in large numbers around our house. I’ve included some pictures of them so that you know what they look like (I apologize if the size of the e-mail causes any problems for you.) At first we thought they were just mosquito hawks, but on further examination they are much uglier. They are nocturnal and attracted to light, and we have perhaps a dozen a night or more swarming around our outside lights, and usually a few that get inside the house. They are about an inch to an inch and a half in length, and are one of the more disturbing bugs I’ve seen. They don’t seem to match up with any of the pictures I found of termites or flying ants, but I really want to know if they are since that would be a big problem for the house! At about the same time these bugs appeared, there also have cropped up a couple of spots on the lawn where the dirt looks almost bubbly – I have no idea if that’s related, but I thought it may be some kind of nest. Please let me know what kind of bug this is so I can stop worrying or get rid of them, whichever is appropriate.
Thank you very much.
Helga

Dear Helga,
Seldom do we get such a concise description accompanied by such wonderful documentation. There is no speculation regarding my identification. You have a species of Ichneumon wasp, Family Ichneumonidae. These are small solitary wasps which have smaller and slenderer bodies and legs than social and semi-social types. The abdomen is compressed from side to side. Some species are as small as gnats, and the larger ones are up to an inch in length. The specimen you photographed belongs to the genus Ophion. All Ichneumons are parasitic on other insects, and many feed on caterpillars. According to Hogue, "The eggs are inserted into the body of the host by means of the females short sharp ovipositor (which incidentally can penetrate human skin). The larvae feed on the internal tissues and, when mature, pupate within the host." They are important biological controls for many agricultural pests. Your possible nest is obviously something else. The adults are often attracted to lights at night.

Thank you very much. Now I can stop worrying. 🙂
Helga