Do wasps have any benefits at all?

mason-wasp

Actually, yes! They may not make honey like pollinating bees do, but we still need them. Even though you might tend to think of wasps as pesky stinging insects, they do provide ecological benefits.

Similar to bees, some species are helpful with pollination. For instance, the fig wasp, Blastophaga psenes, has a mutual relationship with the common fig (Ficus carica). The wasp larvae develop within the figs’ ovaries, and the fig tree depends on the wasps for pollen transfer.

Several wasp species also help to eliminate pests. Adult mason wasps (Zethus spp.) (Figure 1) collect moth larvae for their nests in order for their wasp larvae to be fed. The moth larvae collected are generally considered pests, as some of them can defoliate trees.

Many wasps are parasitoids, meaning the eggs or larvae live on or within their host (“parasitizing” it) and will eventually kill the host. An example of a beneficial parasitoid wasp is Diachasmimorpha longicaudata, which lays its eggs in Caribbean fruit fly (Anastrepha suspensa) larvae—a major fruit fly pest of tropical fruits—and when the wasp larvae hatch, they feed on the fly pupae. Other parasitoid wasps acting as biological control insects include Anagyrus pseudococci (controls mealybugs), Cotesia congregata (controls tobacco hornworms) (Figure 2), and Utetes anastrephae (controls West Indian fruit fly).

 

mason-wasp

Figure 1. Adult mason wasps, Zethus slossonae. Photograph by Sean McCann, University of Florida.

cotesia

Figure 2. Parasitoid wasp, Cotesia congregate, pupae on its host, a tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta. Photograph by Justin Bredlau, Virginia Commonwealth University.

So, as you can see, some wasp species are not problematic to people at all!

This guest post authored by Shari Linn.

ants

It may feel as though ants, no matter what you seem to do, will never leave your house. There are several reasons why ants continue to find their way inside your home. Doing dishes every day and keeping food properly sealed may not be enough to keep ants at bay, because even a single crumb is enough to motivate ants. When one ant comes inside searching for food, it leaves a scent trail using pheromones for other ants to follow. Once another ant comes along the trail, they, too, add their own pheromones to keep the trail active. To inhibit ants from following scent trails, make sure to keep your countertops and floors clean.

Some ants, such as acrobat ants (Crematogaster ashmeadi) (Figure 1), prefer nesting in damp or rotting wood, which may be around windows and drain spouts, though they are rare indoors. Other ant species, such as Florida carpenter ants (Camponotus floridanus), nest in between wall space. In these cases it does not matter how clean your house is. You would need to have your walls inspected for nests and remove decaying wood if infestations persist.

 ants

Figure 1. Adult workers and brood acrobat ants, Crematogaster ashmeadi, in their nest. Photograph by James Castner, University of Florida.

In addition to food and habitat, ants need water to survive, so worker ants will travel great distances in search of water to carry back to the nest. A leaky faucet or dripping pipes are perfect sources of water, so make sure to be on the lookout for these problem areas.

To prevent ants from getting into your home, seal cracks by caulking. You can also use chemical controls as deterrents, which are available in the form of baits. These baits can be found in liquid or granular form. Baits can be taken back to the ant nest and spread poison around, and they can even kill off ant queens.

To learn more about pest ants and control, click here.

This guest post authored by Shari Linn.

 

Fresh spring leaves: A delectable treat

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Throughout early spring, leaf buds on deciduous trees open up into fresh, green leaves. Our recently bare and bland landscapes are green again. We aren’t the only ones who are excited about this, though. Leaf-eating insects are too. Early spring is when many herbivorous insects like caterpillars and beetles eat their hearts (more like their dorsal vessels) out. This is because those new leaves out there are more nutritious and easier to chew and digest than their aged counterparts.

New leaves are more nutritious. Nitrogen is a limiting nutrient for insects, which means the more they can get, the better off they are. Nitrogen content in leaves follows seasonal cycles, peaking in early spring and late fall. Many insects have synchronized their life cycles and feeding behavior to match nutrient cycles in plants. That way, they get the most out of what they eat.

New leaves are easier to chew and digest. Younger leaves are not as thick, have less cellulose and lignin (building blocks of plant tissue), and are generally not as tough as mature leaves. For chewing insects like caterpillars and beetles, tough leaves mean less eating, slower development, and more wear and tear on those mouthparts. Like cutting hair with dull scissors. Not only are new leaves less physically challenging, but they also contain fewer defensive compounds like tannins and resins. When insects eat tannins, they aren’t able to break them down and digest the leaf material. Oaks are a great example of a tree that produces high concentrations of tannins in their leaves.

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Herbivory on oak leaves. Photo: A.G. Dale

Many insects have evolved adaptations to overcome these common plant defenses, but these spring insects choose one of the simplest ways to succeed: avoidance. Take a walk around your home this spring and see if there are signs of herbivore feeding on the newly expanded leaves. Many times you’ll find half-eaten leaves but you can’t find an insect anywhere. This is when your investigator skills come in handy.

You can figure out what is eating your leaves by looking for evidence of the pest. For example, caterpillars often leave a trail of frass (their poo) behind on leaf surfaces. In the photo below, you can see a few fras droppings beneath this tussock moth caterpillar that was feeding on my oak tree.

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Tussock moth caterpillar feeding on oak leaves with frass droppings below. Photo: A.G. Dale

If there are no droppings to be seen, perhaps the culprit is a leaf-feeding beetle. Last night I was walking through my back yard and found several leaf beetles eating leaves on an oak tree (image below). When I went out there this morning they were nowhere to be found. If you have mysterious herbivory, go out at night with a flashlight and take a look.

Leaf beetles feeding on oak leaves at night. Photo: A.G. Dale

Most often, these caterpillars and beetles are present in low enough numbers that they don’t warrant any kind of control measure. Trees are extremely resilient and usually produce another set of leaves if their first set are eaten. However, if these insects completely defoliate trees year after year, it will take its toll.

Go outside and see what diversity of insects are getting to work on your landscape plants. Who knows, you may see something you have never seen before. I did today. Then, take a walk around your yard in a few months and see if the dark green, older oak leaves are getting eaten as much. I bet not.

tick

Welcome to the new online habitat, er, home for the University of Florida’s Bug Week!

The UF/IFAS Web Team has designed this terrific new website, where you’ll find information about all the Bug Week 2016 activities, along with plenty of educational material.

To kick things off right, we’d like to invite all our users to visit the “What’s Bugging You” page, which answers Frequently Asked Questions about Florida bugs, and is an example of an “FAQ” feature. We’ve been adding material to it for several years now.

You can find the FAQ here and you can use the search function on the page to search the FAQ by keyword.

We’ll be adding new material in the weeks to come, so check the Bug Week website, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see the new FAQ items when they’re posted.

 

What are these tents?

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You may have noticed branches covered in these strange structures (Figure 1) during the spring, typically in March. These are tents constructed by eastern tent caterpillars, the larval stage of a Lasiocampid moth—a hairy and golden-brown colored moth with two white bands on the forewings. They spin their silk around tree trunks or branches to create a protective barrier against predators. The caterpillars congregate inside their tents to rest after feeding or to molt (Figure 2). They will emerge to feed on nearby leaves of their host tree. Usually the larvae will build their cocoon inside the tent.

The fall webworm larvae, caterpillars of some Erebid moth species (adults have hairy bodies and are all white or white with brown patches) also construct similar silk tents around host plants. These caterpillars typically form tents around the ends of tree branches, such as on oak, mulberry, and hickory, beginning in May to August.

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Figure 1. Silk tent made by the eastern tent caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum. Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.

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Figure 2. Eastern tent caterpillars, Malacosoma americanum, surrounding their silken tent. Photograph by James Castner, University of Florida.

Due to the eastern tent caterpillars’ feeding habits, they can be detrimental to the health of the tree. Since the caterpillars feed on leaves, during outbreaks they can defoliate their host tree: cherry, hawthorn, wild plum, and various other tree species. Luckily, the tree tends to survive, and might just experience less growth (with branch and leaf loss) than if it had not been the host of the caterpillars.

These caterpillars are not the only creatures capable of building webbed structures on trees in Florida. Webbing barklice can also make silken webs over branches and tree trunks in live oak hammocks and cabbage palm stands.

To learn more about eastern tent caterpillars, click here!

 

This guest post authored by Shari Linn, Fall 2015 Entomology Intern.

Are ladybugs all ladies?

lady bug

The ladybug (Figure 1), or ladybird, is the common name given to beetles in the Coccinellidae family. This is misleading because not all ladybugs are ladies; they can be either female or male. It is difficult to determine the sex of a ladybug, but females tend to be larger than males. People, mostly children, are confused by the name. Why else would the beetles all be called ladies? It is not unreasonable to think only females exist. There are various insects that are parthenogenetic, which means they do not require a male to mate. These insects only produce female offspring, but that is a topic for a different article altogether! The ladybugs’ favorite food sources can actually reproduce via parthenogenesis, such as some species of aphids and mealybugs.

lady bug

Figure 1. Spotted, orange multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis Pallas, on a leaf. Photograph by Russell F. Mizell, University of Florida.

As it turns out, the name was shortened from “beetle of our Lady,” which Europeans coined in the Middle Ages. Pest insects had been devouring crops, so farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help, and when ladybugs miraculously came to eat the pests, they believed it was a gift from their Lady.

Today, we still value the economic importance of these beetles. The red and black (and sometimes orange) coloration may be a deterrent to predators, like birds, but people recognize the familiar, usually-spotted insect as a garden and crop helper. To learn more about these beneficial organisms, watch this video here.

This guest post authored by Shari Linn, Fall 2015 Entomology Intern.

What is this mosquito with white feet?

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We are pleased to announce a new article on Featured Creatures that will answer that question!

Take a sneak peek with this excerpt from the article: Psorophora ferox, (Figure 1) known unofficially as the white-footed woods mosquito (King et al. 1942), is a mosquito species native to most of North and South America. It is a multivoltine species, having multiple generations each year. The mosquito is typical of woodland environments with pools that intermittently fill with rain or flood water. Several viruses have been isolated from the mosquito, but it is generally not thought to play a major role in pathogen transmission to humans. However, the mosquito is known to frequently and voraciously bite people.

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Figure 1. Adult female Psorophora ferox (Humboldt) taking a blood meal. Photograph by Chris Holderman, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

 

Available at: http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/AQUATIC/Psorophora_ferox.htm

Authors: Chris Holderman and C. Roxanne Connelly, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida

Real zombies are among us!

It seems like science fiction, but insects can have their brains reprogrammed by fungi and even other insects! These zombies are common and may even be in your garden.

cockroach zombie

Adult wasp emerging from a dead cockroach. Illustration by Souslik B. Schmidt

We are mesmerized by the many examples of tormentors and the tormented. For example the dementor wasp (Ampulex dementor) is not very different from the soul-sucking Azkaban guards in the H
arry Potter
series. The difference is that instead of targeting escaped prisoners from Azkaban, they target cockroaches (Periplaneta americana). First, the mother wasp finds and stings the nerve in the cockroach that is responsible for the escape reflex. Her children then eat the cockroach alive over several days as it lies there helpless.

Ant zombies give us the chills. For an example of this ghoulish situation, let’s go to Brazil. Carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.) in Brazil become infected by spores of the fungi Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. These spores release substances that leave the ants disoriented. These ants are used to staying on the ground, but those that are infected  are drawn upwards, into the trees. When they are high enough in a tree they clamp down with their jaws and hang there as they are consumed by the fungi. The fungal fruiting body grows out of the back or head of the ant, releasing spores into the rain. The process starts anew.

Zombie ladybugs can be alive for days while they are being eaten. The wasp (Dinocampus coccinellae) first lays an egg on the ladybug, then the offspring feed on the internal fat of the living ladybug body. When the larvae are mature, they chew a hole to get out of the ladybug’s body and form a cocoon. Amazingly, the injured ladybug will protect the cocoon from parasites using her own body, just like a mother protecting her kids. Both the ladybug and the wasp can be found in habitats around the world, including the gardens and parks of Florida.

ladybug protecting wasps

Disoriented ladybug protecting a wasp cocoon. Illustration by Souslik B. Schmidt.

Have you ever wondered where science fiction books and movies get their ideas? Now you know. Even though zombie insects can be found everywhere, do not worry, they will not target you.  Or, so we think.

 

For more fascinating facts on real zombies, check out these sites and papers:

Dell’Amore, C. (2011). Pictures: Wasps turn ladybugs into flailing “Zombies”. Retrieved from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/08/pictures/110802-zombie-ladybugs-parisitic-wasps-insects/

Evans, H.C., Elliot, S.L., and Hughes, D.V. (2011). Hidden diversity behind the zombie-ant fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis: four new species described from carpenter ants in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Plos One. 6(3), e17024.

Gal, R., Rosenberg, L.A., and Libersat, F. (2005). Parasitoid wasp uses a venom cocktail injected into the brain to manipulate the behavior and metabolism of its cockroach prey. Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology. 60, 198–208.

Milstein, M. (2007). “Zombie” roaches lose free will due to wasp venom. Retrieved from: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/12/071206-roach-zombie.html

Prade

My guest contributor today is Patricia Prade. Patricia is a graduate student in the UF/IFAS Entomology Program.

Insects: A Delectable Wonder

Have you ever crave something crunchy, spicy, and savory? You are probably thinking of potato chips or chicken wings. You will be interested to know that there is another crunchy, spicy, and savory food that is also healthy and high in protein. Do you know what it is? I’ll give you a hint. This appetizing food can be found crawling or jumping on your front lawn. They are everywhere! You guessed it, bugs! Edible insects could be the new craze.

So many insect options and so delicious!

Fried-insects food stand at Train Night Market Ratchada, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo credit: Ploy Kurdmongkoltham

Entomophagy is the practice of consuming insects as food. It may sound a bit unorthodox, but in certain countries insects are a major protein source. In southern Africa, mopane worms (Imbrasia belina) are a great protein source for rural population. National Geographic reports that two billion people eat insects regularly. Why do people choose bugs as food? Imagine you live in a place where beef and fish are hard to come by. Maybe you are a college student who is tired of eating Ramen noodles.  Insects are readily available! The resource is plentiful and the nutritional value is comparable to other meats. According to Food and Agricultural Organization (FOA), adult locusts (Locusta migratoria) have similar protein content as raw beef and catfish. When compared to the Florida’s own arthropod yellow mealworm larvae (Tenebrio molitor), beef has a higher fat content. If you are looking to lose a few pounds, yellow mealworm larvae stir-fry may be in your next meal!

 

If you are still not convinced that eating insects can be appetizing, how about a recipe that will make your mouth

water! For other delicious recipes, go to www.insectsarefood.com/recipes

Cricket Pad Thai

Eating insects in Thailand

An appetizing meal at Train Night Market Ratchada, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo credit: Ploy Kurdmongkoltham

Ingredients:

1 cup prepared crickets*

8-10 oz rice stick noodles (dried)

2 tbsp. soy sauce

6 tbsp. fish sauce

6 tbsp. lime juice

4 tbsp peanut oil

4 tsp. sugar

3-4 cloves of garlic

3 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup fresh cilantro

¼ cup crushed peanuts

½ cup chopped scallions

1 lime (cut into wedges for garnish)

 

*Cricket Preparation: Crickets should be placed in plastic bags and put in the freezer for 1 to2 hours prior to cooking to ensure no survival. Once you are ready to cook; you will boil the crickets, add few pinches of salt and boil for additional 2 minutes. Then, you will remove the water and let them cool. Now, you are ready to add them to your favorite recipes. You can also place crickets in storage bags and keep them in the freezer for later use.

Directions: Combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar in a small bowl and blend well. Pour oil into a wok, and cook the crickets over medium-high heat. Put cooked crickets in a small bowl, and use the wok to scramble the eggs. Put the eggs aside on a plate. Fry garlic and scallions until soft. Place the sauce mixture, crickets and eggs back into the wok, and warm thoroughly. While waiting for the mixture to warm, you can cook rice noodles for about 10 minutes in boiling water. Remove and drain the rice noodles, and add to wok. Toss everything thoroughly. Top it with peanuts, cilantro, and lime wedge for garnish.

Insects can be a great substitute for conventional meat. Not only are they healthy, but this resource is available for you when you walk outside. Your backyard can become your grocery store! Besides, you can deep-fry insects or covered them in Nutella. Delicious! Why not add insects into your diet?

 

Ploy sm

My guest collaborator today is Ploy Kurdmongkoltham. Ploy is a student in our Doctor of Plant Medicine program.

References

Florida State Collection of Arthropods. A distributional checklist of the beetles (Coleoptera) of Florida.

Holland, J. 2013. U.N. urges eating insects; 8 popular bugs to try. National Geographic.

(IAF) Insects Are Food. 2009. Cricket pad Thai. 

Van Huis, A., J. V. Itterbeeck, H. Klunder, E. Mertens, A. Halloran, G. Muir, and P. Vantomme.  2013. Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, Italy.

 

Morpho_peleides01

We have a new article on Featured Creatures that will answer that question!

Take a sneak peek with this excerpt from the article: Morpho peleides Kollar, the blue morpho butterfly, also known as the peleides blue morpho or common blue morpho, is a brightly colored butterfly abundant in tropical environments in Central and South America (Figure 1). It can be seen flying in open areas such as paths, trails, forest edges, and rivers, and avoiding dense forest (Young 1973).

This butterfly is often featured in museums and zoos having butterfly houses or butterfly rainforests in the United States.

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Figure 1. Captive adult female Morpho peleides Kollar. Photograph by Andrei Sourakov, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida.

 Available at: http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/blue_morpho.htm

Authors: Haleigh A. Ray, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida, Jacqueline Y. Miller, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, University of Florida