Posted on December 16, 2015
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.
Figure 1. Silk tent made by the eastern tent caterpillar, Malacosoma americanum. Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.
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.
Posted on November 18, 2015
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.
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.
Posted on November 1, 2015
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.
Figure 1. Adult female Psorophora ferox (Humboldt) taking a blood meal. Photograph by Chris Holderman, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.
Posted on October 26, 2015
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.
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.
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
Posted on October 15, 2015
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.
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
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?
My guest collaborator today is Ploy Kurdmongkoltham. Ploy is a student in our Doctor of Plant Medicine program.
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.
Posted on October 10, 2015
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.
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.
Posted on September 19, 2015
This leaf is not really a leaf at all. You are actually seeing an insect: a katydid (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae) (Figure 1). On closer inspection, what you may have referred to as a grasshopper is, in fact, related to grasshoppers but is not one itself. Similar to grasshoppers, katydids can jump long distances due to their enlarged hind femurs, and these same hind legs can produce sound. Unlike most grasshoppers though, katydids possess long, thin antennae as long as their body, though sometimes longer, and, as you have noticed, many species highly resemble leaves.
Figure 1. A true katydid, Paracyrtophyllus robustus, standing on a leaf. Notice the intricate pattern resembling leaf venation on the wings. Photograph by Tom Walker, University of Florida.
So what exactly are those leafy structures on the katydid? No, the katydid does not carry leaves on its back. Those are its wings. Each leaf is a forewing that covers the hindwings. By appearing as a leaf, the katydid camouflages into its surroundings, avoiding predators like hungry birds. Many katydids also have a green head and abdomen to give it better chances of blending in. It is important to note that not all katydids look this way. Some species are found in yellow, pink, orange, brown, and tan. And what’s more, the immature nymphs and some adult species are wingless.
This guest post authored by Shari Linn, Fall 2015 Entomology Intern.
Posted on July 10, 2015
The pillbug, Armadillidium vulgare (Latreille), is an isopod, a type of non-insect arthropod also known as a terrestrial crustacean. It is sometimes called a roly-poly due to its ability to roll into ball when threatened or bothered. This defense behavior makes it look round like a pill, which is why it is sometimes known as a pillbug. The common name woodlice is a term used for both pillbugs and sowbugs in Europe. The name woodlice gives reference to where they can be found, such as under logs. These nocturnal creatures are mainly beneficial in the garden or landscape, but can become pests if they wander indoors.
Figure 1. Pillbug, Armadillidium vulgare (Latreille), adult and immatures. Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.
The pillbug is often mistakenly referred to as a sowbug, which is the common name used for other species of woodlice in the genera Oniscus and Porcellio. Both sowbugs and pillbugs are isopods, but they differ in that a pillbug can roll into a ball and a sowbug cannot. Sowbugs are more flattened and have a uropod (last segment of the abdomen) with exopods (lateral tail-like appendages that extend out beyond the pleotelson-the last segment), which makes rolling difficult.
Learn more in this full article on Featured Creatures!
Authors: Julie A. Franklin, Morgan A. Byron, and Jennifer Gillett-Kaufma
Posted on June 12, 2015
If you see sap coming out of a tree it could be caused by many different things. Damage to a tree trunk or limb can cause sap to leak out. This is natural wound protection for the tree. The sap comes out and covers up a wound to prevent plant pathogens and insects from getting in the tree. However, when you have multiple wounds on a tree (like in figure 1) you most likely have several insects that are boring into (or out of) your tree. Some trees can survive having a few insects damaging their trunks and bark so your tree is not always doomed.
Figure 1. Pitch tubes of the black turpentine beetle, Dendroctonus terebrans (Olivier), occur on the lower trunk and may be as large as a half dollar. Photograph by Wayne Dixon, FDACS-DPI, www.forestryimages.org.
If you would like to determine what is causing the problem you can search for the name of your tree (pin oak, loblolly pine) with the damage (1/4 inch holes with wet sap, with dry sap, with sawdust) on the Featured Creatures website and hopefully come up with a match for your problem. The Featured Creatures website has almost 50 publications that showcase insects that cause damage to trees.
If you do not find an answer on the Featured Creatures website please visit your local County Extension Office for assistance.
Posted on May 20, 2014
That depends on your definition of ‘here.’ No breeding populations of any species of recluse spiders (Loxosceles laeta, Loxosceles reclusa, and Loxosceles rufescens have all been found in the state), has been found in any Florida county in a native habitat. A few verified samples (about 20) have turned up in Florida, but all records are from buildings or vehicles. These typically are brought in by travelers from Midwestern or Mideastern states (the brown recluse, Loxosceles reclusa), cargo shipped to warehouses that was brought in from other states or Europe (the Mediterranean recluse, Loxosceles rufescens), or international shipments from tropical America (the Chilean recluse, L. laeta). By the way, this is a good time to point out that it’s unwise to transport firewood, live plants and other plant materials from one state to another, because you may accidentally transport brown recluse spiders and various pest arthropods.
Here’s our take on the question “why do so many people in Florida THINK they see brown recluse spiders?” The brown recluse is a rather plain-looking spider, especially to the casual observer. It’s brown or yellowish brown with dark brown marks, adults have a leg span about the size of a quarter to a half-dollar, and isn’t usually seen in a web.
Figure 1. Detail of the carapace of the brown recluse spider, Loxosceles reclusa Gertsch and Mulaik, showing the dark fiddle-shaped marking often used to identify this spider. Photograph by James L. Castner, University of Florida.
There are other spiders found in Florida that share some characteristics with the brown recluse – the same approximate size and color, similar habits. Here’s one example — Kukulcania hibernalis, the southern house spider, aka crevice spider, aka that brown, hairless-looking spider that comes charging out of your car’s doorframe or windshield wipers when you try to drive to work in the morning. The lighter colored males are especially superficially similar to a recluse spider in appearance.
So it is not unreasonable for a person to err on the side of caution and assume that any medium-sized brown spider in a dark, quiet place could be a brown recluse and leave it alone. The first thing to do once you get a good look at it is to compare what you saw to an online information source. Remember that it is unlikely that you will find a recluse spider in Florida. However, if you have compared your spider to the online pictures, anyone who still truly believes that he or she has found a genuine brown recluse in Florida should contact Dr. G.B. Edwards with FDACS-DPI. Please attach a good digital image of the top of the spider for identification.
Also, you can read more about venomous spiders in this Pest Alert from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
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