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.

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. 🙂

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

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.

It’s official.
There are flying cockroaches in New York City. One flew from the floor of my apartment to a table top before my eyes. If only it had been a hallucination. Once it was dead, I felt like I’d slayed a dragon.
What’s the best way to kill a flying cockroach? I’ve heard they have armor.

Dear Becky,
Squashing works fine since they do not have armor.
Thanks for the horrifying news.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Dear Bugman,
While working late one night in a soundstage in Long Beach area, my collegues and I were startled to find this creature crawling across the floor (and right thriugh our shot, no less!). Most of us had never seen such a thing, although I’ve come across them from time to time. I had always thought they were Silverfish, but the others disagreed. the body was about 4 to 5 centimeters long, and it moved remarkebly fast when provoked.

Please help us!

thank you,

Tomas Arceo

Dear Tomas Arceo,

This is one of our commonest What’s That Bug? identifications. It is a house centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata. Thanks for the great photo. They are active, fast, and eat other intruders, hence they are beneficial and should not be harmed. Silverfish are another matter, and should be

Here is a letter we just love, and the original exchange can be found on the Hellgrammite page.

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?

Dear What’s That 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.