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Posts Tagged ‘insects’

Bug Week Offers Programs For Whole Family

monarch butterflyUConn Extension’s Bug Week is right around the corner, and we have programs for the whole family.

Bugs are the unsung heroes of our ecosystem, providing services such as pollination and natural pest control. However, bugs don’t stop at environmental benefits. They have also impacted our culture through the manufacturing of silk, sources of dyes, wax and honey production, food sources, and the improvement of building materials and structures. There are also problem bugs, like the Emerald Ash Borer and Brown Marmorated Stink Bug that are a concern in Connecticut. Visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu for featured insects and resources.

All ages are welcome to attend and explore the activities and events dedicated to insects and their relatives. Bug Week programs include:

  • Pests and Guests will be held at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon on Monday, July 25th at 5:30 PM. Activities include: cooking with bugs, games and demos for the whole family, and learning about bugs in the garden. We have a few spots available, please RSVP to bugweek@uconn.edu or call 860-486-9228.
  • Insect Wonders at the Farm: Join UConn Extension faculty and Spring Valley Student Farm staff and students for an interactive, fun-filled ‘buggy’ event. Learn about our amazing and important insect friends by collecting and observing them. Activities for the whole family will include insect collecting, insect-inspired crafts, Bug-Bingo and a scavenger hunt. This event will be held on Tuesday, July 26th from 9-10:30 am and 5:30-7 pm. The rain date is July 27th. Both sessions will be offered in English and Spanish.
  • Jane O’Donnell, Manager of Scientific Collections, Invertebrates will offer tours of the Insect Collections in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology on Thursday, July 28th. Times available are 12 PM and 4 PM. Please RSVP to bugweek@uconn.edu or 860-486-9228.
  • Find out all about insects and where to look for them at Bug Walks and Talks at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon on Saturday, July 30th from 10-1 PM. We will have guided bug hunts every hour, at 10, 11, noon. Two talks will be offered: “Gardening for Native Pollinators and Butterflies” by Pamm Cooper at 10:15 and “Insect Pests of the Vegetable Garden” by Joan Allen at 11:15. We have part of the UConn Natural History museum’s insect collection with Dave Colberg, plus live specimens including native walking sticks, caterpillars and other insects found in Connecticut. We also have on-site vegetable and butterfly gardens.
  • A photo contest is being offered, with three categories: junior, senior and professional. More details can be found at: http://bugs.uconn.edu/photo-contest/

UConn Extension offices are spread across the state and offer an array of services dedicated to educating and informing the public on innovative technology and scientific improvements. Bug Week is one example of UConn Extension’s mission in tying research to real life, by addressing insects and some of their relatives.

For more information on Bug Week, please visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu or email bugweek@uconn.edu or call 860-486-9228.

Wild and Wonderful Insects of New England

Written by Pamm Cooper

elderberry borer

Elderberry Borer. Photo: Pamm Cooper

Toward the end of spring and the beginning of summer, I find that the most interesting insects are to be found. While spring offers some really good forester caterpillars and their attractive moths, among other things, nature seems to me to save the best for last, it seems to me. From beetles to butterflies, moths and their caterpillars, from June on there are some fabulous finds out there.

I have to admit to being a caterpillar enthusiast, and am partial to the sphinx, dagger, slug and prominent caterpillars and then the butterfly cats as well. Last year the swallowtail butterflies were few and far between, but this year our three main species- black, spicebush and tiger- are clearly more numerous. If you know where to look, you can find them.

I like to turn over elm leaves and search for two really spectacular caterpillars. The first is the double-toothed prominent, whose projections along its back resemble those of a stegosaurus. Along with its striking coloration and patterns, this is a truly remarkable find for anyone who takes the time to look and see. The second one is the elm sphinx, sometimes called the four- horned sphinx. This caterpillar has both a brown and a green form, and has little ridges running along its back. It is a behemoth, as well, like many sphinx caterpillars- robust and heavy.

Read more…

What’s All The Buzz?

monarch butterflyCome join UConn Extension this summer for our annual Bug Week from July 20th -25th. All ages are welcome to attend and explore the activities and events dedicated to insects and their relatives. Bug Week programs include:

For a full schedule of events, please visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu

Bugs are the unsung heroes of our ecosystem, providing services such as pollination and natural pest control. However, bugs don’t stop at environmental benefits. They have also impacted our culture through the manufacturing of silk, sources of dyes, wax and honey production, food sources, and the improvement of building materials and structures. There are also problem bugs, like the Emerald Ash Borer and Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, who are a concern in Connecticut. Visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu for featured insects and resources.

UConn Extension offices are spread across the state and offer an array of services dedicated to educating and informing the public on innovative technology and scientific improvements. Bug Week is one example of UConn Extension’s mission in tying research to real life by addressing insects and some of their relatives.

For more information on Bug Week, please visit our website at www.bugs.uconn.edu or email donna.ellis@uconn.edu or call 860-486-9228.

Winter Survival of Insects – the Right Stuff

Photo and article by Pamm Cooper for UConn Extension

 

snow covered branchDuring the cold New England winter months, we are blissfully ignorant of all the survival drama going on in the natural environment, at least as far as insects are concerned. Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak. While we have heated homes, running water and warm winter clothing, insects have only the bare necessities required to survive temperature extremes. Those that do not, such as the Monarch butterflies and some dragonflies, may migrate to more insect- friendly climates.

Those insects that remain have special survival mode states or processes that will see them through even the toughest icebox conditions nature may throw at them.

While many butterflies can overwinter in the chrysalis form, there is one that ecloses as an adult in the fall and remains a butterfly for the winter. That champion of the deep freeze is the Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopa). This butterfly find shelter under loose tree bark, in open sheds or tucks away in woodpiles. Freeze tolerance is accomplished by small ice crystals that form outside the cells of vital organs. The small size of the crystals keeps them from damaging chemicals in the insect’s blood as well. Thus, the Mourning Cloak can survive freezing and thawing episodes and can even be seen flying about open woods during warm winter days.

Some insects produce chemicals resembling anti-freeze, like glycerol, that lowers the freezing point of the insect’s blood. Somewhat like cold- hardening that plants undergo, insects subjected to rapid freezes may die, but those that are physiologically prepared will tolerate the same conditions. When fully hardened to the cold, insects can survive in bark crevices or under mulch. Some, like lightning bugs, may come out from inside bark cracks if the winter temperatures rise above 40 degrees, especially on the south- facing sides of tree trunks. A few years ago, the winter was especially mild. On sunny days you could find many lightning bugs on trees, barely able to move, but still making a brief appearance.

Some insects survive by retreating in the soil below the frost line. Bumblebee queens, ants, beetle grubs and termites do not even have to go that deep in soils if there is as little as six inches of insulating snow cover. This is how scarab beetle grubs are able to return in the spring and resume feeding on lawn grass roots.

The social honeybees profit by their cooperative efforts to keep the queen war. The worker bees do this by crowding together around the queen and shivering so that their muscles generate heat. As the periphery cools, the worker bees constantly shift positions so each has a timely turn in the warm inner parts, the ultimate example of the “ gung ho” principle in action.

The life cycle of insects may include a phase known as diapause where dormancy, similar to the hibernation period of some animals, keeps the insect in a state where it can survive adverse environmental conditions for long periods of time. This may include surviving as an egg or inside a puparium. Aphid eggs are often laid in twig or bark crevices or underneath growth buds. Moths often survive by pupating in leaf litter, under the soil or in leaf shelters. Woolly bear and other tiger moth caterpillars survive winters under leaf litter and snow.

A final look at insect survival in our cold winters involves aggregation, which may also cause aggravation, if they do so in our homes. Lady beetles and Box elder bugs are two such insects that utilize this strategy, which is really more like a hop, skip and jump migration into a warmer place. A short flight to enjoy the  “Florida” of our homes until survivable outdoor conditions return.  While in a torpor, they may be well hidden, needing no food for the entire winter. Occasionally they venture out of hiding, but often fade away back into the shadows. It could just be a little spot check to see what is happening, with a quick retreat as they discover that nothing is.’

As spring arrives with warmer temperatures, the little world of insects will slowly make its appearance, whether for good or bad. So enjoy their absence, or look forward for their return, as you see fit.

Plant Defenses Against Insects

By Pamm Cooper for UConn Extension

caterpillarHistorically, insects have been the most important bane of the plant kingdom. The fatal attraction that exists between plants and insects has woven an intricate balance between good and evil, survival and devastation, and benefits versus harm. While insects play a significant role in pollination, and while over 90% of insects are not a problem, the few that are plant pests can wreak destruction.

Some insects are vectors of disease, especially those that feed by piercing plant tissue. Aphids, plant hoppers and the familiar cucumber beetle may pass along viruses even though feeding damage is not significant. Introduced insects seem to have a field day and may prove to be more damaging than native insects in the long run.

But in all the dramas that occurs in nature, the ones that may be overlooked are the strategies plants can use to defend themselves against insects. Whether it is simply structural impediments such as thorns, prickles, thick bark, waxy cuticles and objectionable chemical compounds, plants are not helpless against attacks. While some defenses are always present, like the above physical qualities, there are other means by which plants can release substances as needed that either repel the feeding insects, or attract predators of the same.

One plant of interest is the geranium that produces a chemical in its petals that can temporarily paralyze the Japanese beetle while it is feeding. This may provide a window for any predator that happens by. Native wild tobacco plants change the time of day that flower buds open in response to caterpillar feeding. This discourages certain sphinx moths that pollinate by night as they are attracted to the scent and color of the flowers, and lay eggs on the plant, which doubles as both an adult and larval food plant. Pollinators such as butterflies and hummingbirds will visit by day and the plant loses no ground in reproduction and survival. Other caterpillars like the tobacco budworm have no problem feeding on geraniums, petunias, snapdragons and other tobacco relatives. Their saliva counteracts the production of induced defenses in the plants.

Some plants release hormones or other substances upon feeding injury that attract predatory insects or even birds. It is like a silent alarm calling in the troops. Many caterpillars may be parasitized because their feeding releases chemicals in the plants that attract predatory insects such as brachonid wasps. Grass releases a strong aroma when cut, either when cut when insects are feeding on it. Perhaps this is why starlings and other birds flock into a yard or pasture that is under attack from cutworms or other grass pests.

Milkweeds contain strong chemical defenses that are passed along to insects that feed on leaves but are unaffected by them themselves. The monarch caterpillar and others avoid much predation because of the absorption of these chemicals, which make them bitter to the taste of hungry birds. The latex released by milkweed as insects begin chewing hardens quickly when exposed to the air and may cause mouthparts to stick together so the insect starves. Monarch cats avoid this by clipping off the base of the midrib first, which reduces sap flow to the leaf.=

Some plants have high lignin or tannin content that makes them unattractive to insects later in the season. Window feeding is a way some caterpillars avoid higher concentrations of toxins in leaves or high lignin content that is difficult to ingest, such as leaf veins and midribs. Many beetles avoid ingesting high concentrations of toxins by feeding in large groups, thereby “sharing in the load”.

Pyrethrins are ester compounds produced by chrysanthemum plants, which act as insect neurotoxins. Some commercially available insecticides are actually synthetic copies of pyrethrins, called pyrethroids. Tansy is a non-native escapee that has toxins repelling many insects. It has been used with some success as a companion plant with cucurbits, squash, roses and other plants to repel cucumber beetles, ants, Japanese beetles and other insect pests. Sprigs were used at windowsills to repel flies.

Trillium actually reproduces effectively by myrmecochory- using ants to carry away its seeds and thus protecting them from becoming consumed by various animals. Ants are attracted to eliaosomes attached to the seeds and bring them back to their nests. After consuming the eliaosomes, the ants discard the seeds and they are still viable. The little ant helps survival of the species along.

While we may be blissfully ignorant of all the events taking place among the plants surrounding us, at least where fending off insects is involved, there is at least as much drama as any to be found in the entertainment industry.