Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quiz Answers: Dung Beetles

Here are the answers to yesterday's quiz on dung beetles. If you missed the quiz itself, you can find it here. A great video on the under-recognized dung beetle can be found here. Enjoy!

1. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the humble dung beetle (scarab) because (d) they believed the sun was rolled across the sky each day by a mythical dung beetle, and buried at the end of each day - only to be reborn the next.

2. Dung beetles are found on every continent except (b) Antarctica. Too cold. Enough said.

3. Female dung beetles lay eggs in (a) dung. In some species, the mom and dad dung beetle roll a perfectly spherical dung ball together, until they find a soft piece of soil in which to bury it. After mating under ground, they prepare the "brooding ball" and the female lays her eggs inside it. Hatching larvae then have plenty of easy access to food (dung).

4. Dung beetles are the farmers' friends. They (a) aerate and fertilize soil, and (b) recycle animal droppings which has the added benefit of (c) reducing the population of flies and other insects which would be attracted to animal waste. So the answer is (d) - all of the above.

5. Dried dung beetles are used by Chinese herbalists for (a) curing many different diseases.

6. Dung beetles have been literary characters in the works of (d) - all listed authors. With an explanation. Aesop wrote the fable, "The Dung Beetle and the Eagle," Aristophanes' play "Peace" features a hero who rides to Mt. Olympus on an over-sized dung beetle, Kafka's character in "The Metamorphisis" is called an "old dung beetle," Poe wrote "The Gold-Bug,"and  Wodehouse wrote of the theft of a prized scarab in "Something Fresh." But the Faulkner listed in the quiz is not William but Raymond, an English Egyptologist and philologist, the author of  "A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian." 

7. As mentioned in question 3 above, dung beetle larvae feed on (a) dung upon hatching from the brooding ball. It is a convenient system, which gives the larvae a storehouse of nutritious food.

8. Dung beetles have the ability to roll balls of dung weighing (c) 50 times their weight. If you have not seen this colorful activity, take a look at another great video here. After learning a bit more about the dung beetle, we hope you give thanks for this humble bug this weekend.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Dung Beetles

Because it is Thanksgiving week, our quiz is centered on one of the bugs for which we might be most thankful: the dung beetle. Perhaps you had not thought to give thanks for these lowly creatures. In a Newsweek article published earlier this year, it is noted that dung beetles, although nowhere near as photogenic as Polar Bears, deserve a place in our hearts. Without them, life would be much smellier. See how you do on this quiz, then find answers in tomorrow's blog.

1. Dung beetles, known to ancient Egyptians as "scarabs," were deified in that culture because:
a. Gold-plated, they became a jewelry item for pharaohs.
b. The shape of the dung beetle was found in astrological formations.
c. Dung beetles were an important part of the Egyptian diet.
d. The way dung beetles roll dung balls reminded Egyptians of the movements of the sun.

2. Dung beetles are found on every continent except
a. Africa
b. Antarctica
c. Australia
d. Asia

3. Female dung beetles lay eggs in
a. dung
b. loose soil
c. seed pods
d. nesting mounds

4. Dung beetles are important to agriculture because
a. They aerate and fertilize the soil.
b. They recycle animal droppings.
c. They keep other insects from overpopulating.
d. all of the above

5. Dried dung beetles (qianglang) are used by Chinese herbalists for
a. curing diseases
b. making poultices
c. an invigorating tea
d. an aphrodisiac

6. Dung beetles have been literary characters in which of the following authors' works?
a. Aesop and Aristophanes
b. Kafka and Poe
c. Wodehouse and Faulkener
d. all of the above

7. Dung beetle larvae feed on
a. dung
b. other dung beetles
c. soft plant matter
d. a special food created and stored by male dung beetles

8. Dung beetles have the ability to roll balls of dung weighing
a. 10 times their weight
b. 20 times their weight
c. 50 times their weight
d. 100 times their weight

Answers appear in tomorrow's blog, along with a link to a dung beetle video.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cockroach Research

Cockroaches have survived for millions of years in various forms, with species of roaches today numbering around 4,000. It should not be surprising then that scientists continue to study the resilient cockroach - a pest that seems to be able to adapt and live through whatever nature or humans throw at it. In fact, throwing things at cockroaches is at the core of a new study on how cockroaches keep their predators guessing.
According to a report in Science Daily, when roaches flee from predators they seem to run randomly along one of several preferred escape routes. Their very unpredictability aids their escape from harm. This alone seems intuitive - but these bugs have been studied for many years as a model for understanding animal escape responses. Apparently, cockroaches most often choose an escape path directed at a 90 to 180 degree angle from the attack. Trying to stomp on a fleeing cockroach? This only gives you a slight advantage - they are among the fastest of insects.
In another study, 50 roaches were placed in a situation where they had a choice of three hiding places, each with a capacity for 40 cockroaches. When startled, the bugs ran to two of the hiding places, leaving the third empty. If given a choice that included a shelter that would house them all, they preferred the one shelter and left the other two empty. They seem to use two pieces of information to decide on where to hide: (1) How dark is it? and (2) How many friends are there? We use the term "friends" loosely, as there is no evidence that cockroaches live in social groups.
If you are interested in knowing more about cockroaches and studies about these small creatures, click here for a bibliography of cockroach books and articles.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mosquito Prevention Checklist

This checklist is taken from written materials provided by the County of San Diego Vector Control Program. It is a thorough list of things you can do to check your home for mosquito breeding sources. Mosquitos can transmit West Nile Virus and other diseases. Please help keep your neighborhood safe by following these simple directions.
1. Birdbaths: Clean weekly
2. Chain link fence: Cap uncapped fence pipes
3. Containers: Cover or turn upside down
4. Decorative ponds: Stock with mosquito eating fish that eat larvae
5. Drains: Keep outdoor drains flowing freely
6. Dumpsters: Keep covered and remove any water inside or underneath them
7. Faucets and hoses: Fix any leaks
8. Flat roofs: Inspect for puddles after it rains
9. Irrigation: Do not over water, and repair areas with standing water
10. Lawn ornaments: Check for areas that hold water
11. Machinery: Cover and clean any areas that may hold water
12. Playground: Drill drainage holes in tire swings and play ground equipment that holds water
13. Pools/spas: Drain, cover, or stock mosquito fish in unused pools and spas
14. Potted plants: Do not over water and empty saucers weekly
15. Rain gutters: Clean out debris so water flows freely
16. Tires: Dispose or drill holes for water drainage
17. Tool sheds: Eliminate water around foundation
18. Trash cans: Clean weekly and keep covered
19. Unused pipes: Store flat so no water collects
20. Water troughs for animals: Replace water weekly, stock with mosquito fish for larger animal troughs
21. Wheelbarrows: Store upright so water does not collect

See previous blogs for more information on mosquitos and West Nile Virus.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus Cycle - click on image to enlarge

Although the weather is cooling down, the threat of West Nile Virus is still with us. The blog today and tomorrow will largely be taken from a letter sent out by San Diego County's Vector Control Program, part of the Department of Environmental Health. Perhaps you've received a similar letter warning that West Nile Virus (WNV) has been detected in your neighborhood. Here are some notes from the letter, copied in an effort to better educate our readers and customers - and keep you safer.
West Nile Virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes. The symptoms of WNV include: headache, fever, nausea, fatigue, skin rash or swollen glands. About one in 150 people infected with WNV develop more severe symptoms, such as meningitis, encephalitis, or myelitis. If you think you have symptoms of WNV, contact your healthcare provider.
The best protection against WNV is to prevent mosquito bites and mosquito breeding. To prevent mosquito bites it is very important to use mosquito repellent, avoid going outdoors at dawn and dusk, wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors, and keep door and window screens closed and in good repair.
You can also protect the health of your family, friends and neighbors by controlling mosquitoes and eliminating the places where they breed. Mosquitoes can lay their eggs in as little as a quarter inch of standing water. Look for and remove standing water from your property.
Vector Control Technicians are constantly surveying and treating mosquito breeding sites in San Diego. See our previous blogs here for more information on the Vector Control Program, one of the finest in the country. If you know of any sources of standing water or mosquito breeding sites, including neglected "green" swimming pools, please call them at 858-694-2888. They will send a technician to investigate and treat the site. For more information on mosquitoes or WNV, visit the Vector Control website at or call 888-551-4636.
Tomorrow's blog will give Vector Control's checklist of things you can do to maintain your property and increase personal safety against West Nile Virus.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quiz Answers: Bees

Here are the answers to yesterday's Bee quiz. 

1. The ancient civilization which used honey as currency and later minted coins with the image of a bee on them was (c) the Roman Empire. Ancient Romans honored the honeybee for its industry. Egyptians and Greeks kept bees anciently, but did not use them as currency.

2. A single colony of honeybees can contain (c) 20,000-80,000 individuals. That's a lot of bees! Consider full capacity at Petco Park is less than 50,000.

3. Their first week on the job, adult worker honeybees (a) clean the hive. The second week they are promoted to feed the young. Third-week bees make and repair wax cells, and graduate their fourth week to guarding the hive.

4. The Australian "karbi" bee uses a form of torture on intruders which was borrowed years ago in the form of the "rack." The correct answer is (b): guard bees latch onto the intruder's limbs and pull - stretching them to their full extent for an hour. Does this make for taller bees? Or fewer intruders? Kind of explains Australian football, doesn't it?

5. Of the 15 states which have identified the European honey bee as the official state insect, (b) Nebraska and New Jersey are the two listed. Complete list: Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. To the best of our knowledge, Utah is the only one to have a minor league baseball team actually named "The Bees."

6. It would take (d) 9-10 bees to equal the weight of one M&M's plain candy. This factoid will not do much for bee control, but it may be a fascinating conversation starter. Or not.

7. A queen bee must eat (d) 80 times her weight each day to produce 2,000 eggs. To put this in perspective, this would be like a 12-year-old human eating 6400 pounds of food. That's a lot of M&M's!

8. Surprisingly, the average life span of a queen bee is (d) 2-8 years. Obviously, after all that food, they must work out.

For an interesting video on the life cycle of bees, click here. Another great video taking you inside the hive is found here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Bees

This week's quiz takes on your knowledge of bees. See how much you know about these industrious insects, then check your answers in tomorrow's blog.

1. What ancient civilization used honey as currency, then later used the image of the bee minted into coins?
a. Egyptian
b. Babylonian
c. Roman
d. Sumerian

2. A single colony of honey bees can contain how many individuals?
a. 5,00-6,000
b. 10,000-15,000
c. 20,000-80,000
d. 120,000-150,000

3. What do adult worker honeybees do their first week on the job?
a. clean the hive
b. feed the young
c. make and repair wax cells
d. guard the hive

4. An Australian bee, called a "karbi," has an unusual way of dealing with intruders. What do they do?
a. Intruders are stacked in cells where they wait to be eaten by young bees.
b. Guards cooperate to grasp the intruders' limbs and stretch them to their full extent for an hour.
c. Intruders are paralyzed and used like hockey pucks.
d. Guard bees take intruders to the nearest body of water and hold their heads under water.

5. Fifteen of our 50 states hail the European honey bee as the official state insect. Which of the following states are included in these fifteen?
a. California and Arizona
b. Nebraska and New Jersey
c. Oregon and Idaho
d. Hawaii and Alaska

6. How many bees would it take to equal the weight of one M&M's plain chocolate candy?
a. 3-4
b. 5-6
c. 7-8
d. 9-10

7. How much does a queen bee have to eat each day to produce 2,000 eggs?
a. 5 times her weight
b. 20 times her weight
c. 50 times her weight
d. 80 times her weight

8. What is the average life span of a queen bee?
a. 7-8 weeks
b. 3-4 months
c. 10-12 months
d. 2-8 years

Monday, November 17, 2008

Buzzing Off: Bee News

According to an article in National Geographic' online news section, scientists are hard at work studying bees in order to solve the mystery of why the world's honeybee population is in serious decline. Perhaps you've wished unwanted bee's nests in an attic or shed would buzz off - and of course if they are Africanized, the bees are dangerous and need to go. But U.S. beekeepers began noticing a few years ago that huge numbers of bees are dying off for no apparent reason. These are bees that contribute around $15 billion to the U.S. economy every year, and are necessary for pollinating 90 major crops. So studying the problem and finding a solution are critical to farmers and humankind in general. As zoologist Martin Wikelski puts it, "Everything depends on pollinators."
The key to understanding what's causing the honeybees' decline could be creating tracking tags that are small enough to fit on their backs. Scientists have already created electronic tags that are easily carried by two of the larger bee species. These tiny trackers are about the size of three of four grains of rice, and weigh in at 0.006 ounces (170 milligrams). They are attached to the backs of orchid bees and carpenter bees with just a bit of eyelash glue and superglue.  Still smaller tracking devices need to be created to study honeybees, but the team of scientists is hopeful engineers can shrink them by another 40 percent. In the meantime, native wild bees are picking up the slack, helping pollinate crops that were previously pollinated by the vanishing domesticated bees.
We suggest homeowners call in a professional to help with bees nesting in any structures. If Africanized, the bees can be dangerous - especially to children, the elderly, and pets. If it is determined that bees on your property are not Africanized, a bee removal service may be able to keep the nest intact and simply relocate the bees.
Click here for a video on "Disappearing Honey Bees: Beekeepers on What's Happening."

Friday, November 14, 2008


drain fly

fruit fly

Unidentified Flying Insects: Do you have little flying bugs bugging you? Often when we see a swarm of small flying insects in the house, we think swat first and ask questions later. But recognizing the type of tiny fly helps us eliminate the problem. Flying bugs in the house usually don't bite, but they can be a nuisance. This week we highlighted Pharaoh ants - a bug that can have wings and invade homes. Termites also swarm this time of year - looking like flying ants. These bugs require professional help. Here are a few other tiny invaders you might see around the house that don't necessitate a professional, and some hints on how to avoid or eliminate them.
First up: fruit flies. You may have seen them hovering over a bowl of fruit or a bunch of bananas on the kitchen counter. They are about an eighth of an inch long and have red eyes with tan bodies (see the illustration above). Although usually found around ripe fruit, they can reproduce in anything that has a moist film of decaying particles, like drains, garbage disposals, cleaning rags, mops, or garbage cans. As with all flying insects, the best way to eliminate them is to find the source of breeding and remove it. Put that fruit in the fridge - or if overripe, dispose of it in an outdoor bin. Launder mops and cleaning rags, and clean out garbage cans. If some adult flies persist, use a household spray or set up a homemade trap by placing a paper funnel (a rolled piece of notebook paper will do) in a jar baited with a few ounces of cider vinegar. This simple trap will clean up residual fruit flies in a kitchen.
Second UFI: fungus gnats. In appearance, they are very similar to fruit flies, and are often lumped into the same category. They are about the same size, slightly smaller, but are usually gray to black in color. You will most often find them around house plants. Often they fly up from the soil when watering. To control these pests, simply avoid over-watering house plants. Let them dry out between waterings, and clean any dishes under the pots. Do not let water stand in drain dish areas. Usually fungus gnat larvae live in the top layer of the soil. Let this dry out, and the problem is solved.
The third UFI is the drain fly. Larger than fruit flies or fungus gnats, these flying insects look almost like tiny black moths (see picture above). They are fuzzy and have larger wings than the other two bugs. You may find them hanging around the bathroom, perhaps on the shower wall or near the toilet area. Control of these pests is a bit more difficult. The most effective method is to clean the interior of drain pipes with a stiff brush, removing the slime they breed in. An over-the-counter drain cleaner will help, especially if used with very hot water. But these bugs are hard to drown, as they can trap air bubbles and live under water for a day or two.
With proper identification and application of control methods, all these pesky bugs can be controlled. Take a closer look, and rid your home of UFI's.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quiz Answers: Pharaoh Ants

Here are the answers to yesterday's quiz on Pharaoh ants. The hope is that in learning more about these difficult pests, we can work together to control infestations and secure homes against invasion.

1. In the human world, polygynous means more than one wife. In the ant world, it indicates (b) colonies have more than one queen. Mature colonies of Pharaoh ants contain several queens, winged males, workers, eggs, larvae, prepupae and pupae. 

2. Pharaoh ants are usually very small (approximately 1/16 of an inch long), and yellow to light brown in color. One distinguishing characteristic is the (c) three-segmented club at the end of their antennae. 

3. Although Pharaoh ants can be found in apartments, hotels and grocery stores, they are often associated with (a) hospitals. They can be especially troubling in health care areas, as they infest small spaces are are very difficult to eradicate. Unfortunately, they are capable of mechanically transmitting diseases and contaminating sterile materials - making them an especial nuisance in the health care industry.

4. The best way to treat Pharaoh ants is to (c) bait only. For this reason, we recommend you (d) call a pest professional. A successful Pharaoh ant control program will involve intensive baiting using baits that contain insect growth regulators. Unlike the more common Argentine ants, spraying can be counterproductive with a Pharaoh ant infestation. Chemical sprays tend to induce colonies to spread and divide, making control much more difficult.

5. Part of the reason baiting is more successful is that the percentage of Pharaoh ants typically out foraging at any given time is around (a) 5%. That means the best shot we have at control is to use the foraging ants to take poison bait back to the nest.

6. In severe infestations of larger buildings, like warehouses and hospitals, it could take (c) up to a year before total elimination is achieved. 

7. A mature Pharaoh ant colony can house (d) up to 300,000 ants. That's a lot of ants. A single queen can produce many hundreds of workers in just a few months. And remember, the colonies of Pharaoh ants often house multiple queens. Unlike many other ants, they breed continuously throughout the year in heated buildings.

Now that you know more about these difficult pests, be aware of the ants around you and be sure to report any suspected infestations of Pharaoh ants before they take over!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Pharaoh Ants

Today's quiz takes a closer look at a rare but difficult variety of ant: the Pharaoh ant. Although most ants infesting San Diego neighborhoods are Argentine ants, we recently identified a colony of Pharaoh ants living in an apartment complex. Here are a few questions to test your knowledge of these tiny invaders.

1. Pharaoh ants are polygynous. What does this mean in the ant world?
a. Worker ants carry both reproductive parts.
b. Colonies have many queens.
c. Queens lay many eggs and then die.
d. Only queens have wings.

2. Pharaoh ants can be identified by
a. their dark, black color.
b. their distinctive odor when squashed.
c. a distinct club at the end of their antennae.
d. a turban-like appendage from which they get their name.

3. Pharaoh ants are often associated with infestations in
a. hospitals
b. apartments
c. hotels
d. grocery stores

4. The best way to treat Pharaoh ants is to
a. spray and bait
b. spray only
c. bait only

5. What percentage of a Pharaoh ant's nest is typically out foraging at one time?
a. 5%
b. 20%
c. 50%
d. 75%

6. In severe infestations of larger buildings, how long might total elimination take?
a. 2-4 weeks
b. 2-4 months
c. up to a year
d. 2-4 years

7. Pharaoh ant colonies are large and very mobile. How many ants might one colony contain?
a. up to 1,000 ants
b. 2,000-5,000 ants
c. 50,000-80,000 ants
d. up to 300,000 ants

For answers to today's quiz, click here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Good Bug/ Bad Bug

While researching last week's blogs on "good bugs," the kind that eat destructive bugs in our yards and communities, I was struck by the claim on one website that "If all the good bugs were taken from the earth, mankind could only live for a few weeks." Of course, we depend on good bugs for pollination and balance in the insect world. But in light of this claim, I was interested to read in our Sunday newspaper supplement that the world would be no worse off without mosquitos. They do not fall into the "good bug" category.  According to Parade Magazine's Marilyn Vos Savant, if all the mosquitos on earth disappeared other bugs would take their place in the food chain and we would be safer from the diseases spread by these noxious insects. As mentioned previously here, mosquitos are carriers of malaria, encephalitis, yellow fever, dengue fever, meningitis, and - more significantly here in Southern California, West Nile virus.
So how do we maintain a healthy yard, keeping bad bugs at bay while encouraging the good ones? Several approaches can be helpful. First, take precautions in your yard to diminish the favorable habitats of bad bugs like mosquitos. Empty any containers that may have filled with water from the recent rains. Keep pools chemically balanced and keep water off pool covers. Consider obtaining Gambusia fish, for decorative ponds. These "mosquitofish" are often available at no cost through the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health: 858-694-2888. Other ways to safeguard your home against mosquitos: change water in bird baths at least once a week; keep litter and garden debris out of rain gutters; do not over water your yard; fill holes in landscaping left by tree removal; make an inspection of your yard to assure that you do not have standing water anywhere. 
Another aspect of maintaining a healthy balance between good bugs and bad bugs is to avoid broadcast spraying, or trying to kill every bug in sight. Customers occasionally call who do not want to see bugs of any kind. Rather than specify an insect which is causing concern, such as cockroaches or fleas, they want us to just "kill everything!" Hopefully last week's series on good bugs will cause homeowners to think twice about those hard-working bugs that keep the planet buzzing. We are not sure about the idea that mankind would only survive a few weeks without good bugs, but we would rather not find out. Help us maintain a good balance by identifying targeting only the harmful bugs. For a list of good bugs in California, click here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Local Bug News

Today's edition of the Union-Tribune features an article on Michael Wall, a former entomology curator at the San Diego Natural History Museum who was recently appointed director of the museum's Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias. What makes this interesting bug news is not just Mr. Wall's extensive education and experience in the field of entomology, but the enthusiasm he will bring to the area of biodiversity in San Diego. In the article, he is quoted as saying that bugs "have a special place in my heart." We won't take him too literally, but welcome the focus he brings to the insect populations in the county and the increased awareness the museum hopes to achieve.
Last May, Mr. Wall generated public interest with a BioBlitz in Balboa Park. Experienced scientists and volunteers conducted a 24-hour inventory of species found in the park, with nature hikes, science talks and museum exhibits as part of the day's activities. Another BioBlitz is planned for May 1 & 2, 2009. To visit the BioBlitz website, click here. Also available online is a site specific to the Entomology collection at the Museum of Natural History, which holds over 900,000 labeled specimens. The collection is especially strong in beetles and butterflies, and represents well the bugs of San Diego, Southern California, and northwestern Mexico. To see lists of specific insects in San Diego County, click here for butterflies, or here for spiders. There is also a checklist here that shows spiders of Baja California. If you are interested in California beetles, click here
From the FAQ section of this terrific website, we have the last word on San Diego's three resident tarantulas. They are not only shy and docile, their venom is considered non-toxic to humans. Local tarantulas are beneficial predators who feed on sowbugs, pillbugs, insects and even other spiders - making these big, scary-looking arachnids actually good bugs! We are grateful to the museum and its staff for supporting such a helpful and informative website.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Quiz Answers: Good Bugs

This week we have been featuring some of the good bugs that inhabit our yards and neighborhoods. What constitutes a good bug? One that helps pollinate plants or eats the destructive bugs that eat your garden. Monday's blog gave information on ground beetles, one of the unsung heros of the bug world. Today we have answers to yesterday's quiz on good bugs. How did you do?

1. (a) The praying mantis is one of the classic good bugs that works to kill bad bugs in your yard. In fact, they are so good for plantings that you can buy praying mantis egg cases online as a natural garden helper. Known as the "dragons of the insect world," praying mantis have excellent eyesight, heads that can rotate 180 degrees, and quick reflexes - making them formidable predators. They eat moths, crickets, flies, and in the case of females, their own mates. 

2. As you may have learned in Monday's blog, ground beetles are good bugs because they (c) eat slugs, among other pests. 

3. An average ladybug eats around (c) 5,000 harmful bugs in its lifetime. Technically called lady beetles or ladybird beetles, these colorful garden helpers can also be purchased for release in the yard, either at a local garden center or online. And they are among the cutest of bugs. Definitely good guys!

4. Beneficial nematodes are (a) microscopic parasites. They live in the soil and prey onground-dwelling insects like fleas, ants, termites, and grubs. If you choose to buy beneficial nematodes for your yard, be sure you buy from a reputable supplier. Ask your local garden center what kind of nematode might be most beneficial in your area.

5. Earthworms thrive in (c) moist soil. As for their importance, Charles Darwin noted, "... it may be doubted if there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized creatures." They not only aerate the soil by plowing tunnels through which air and water can more easily flow, but leave nitrogen-rich "castings" in their wake, enriching the soil.

6. Of the plants listed, (a) parsley and sage are the most attractive to good bugs. Other attractive plants include clover, foxglove, cosmos, marigolds, and sunflowers.

7. Wasps are helpful because they (b) lay eggs on caterpillars, which hatch to larvae that then eat their host. This colorful process is the featured photo in yesterday's blog. The Braconid wasp is especially good to have in your tomato patch - they are a major predator of tomato horn worms.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tuesday's Quiz: Good Bugs

Today's quiz tests your knowledge of insects that can be beneficial around the garden. Some are more familiar than others. The hope is that we'll all take a second look at some of the "good bugs" out there and give them a chance to help the ecological balance in our yards.

1. Which of these is considered a "good bug" - they kind that eats more destructive bugs?
a. Gypsy moth
b. praying mantis
c. aphids
d. mosquitos

2. Ground beetles are "good bugs" because they:
a. aerate the soil
b. pollinate flowers and fruit trees
c. eat slugs
d. help clean stagnant water

3. How many unhelpful bugs does an average ladybug eat in its lifetime?
a. 1,000
b. 3,000
c. 5,000
d. 10,000

4. Beneficial nematodes are what kind of bug?
a. microscopic parasites
b. tiny larvae that eat harmful insects
c. small flying insects that cross-pollinate
d. aquatic insects that filter water

5. Earthworms are some of nature's most efficient composters. In what kind of soil do they thrive?
a. Sandy soil
b. Heavy clay
c. Moist soil
d. Alkaline soil

6. Which of the following are plants that attract good bugs?
a. parsley and sage
b. rosemary and thyme
c. hostas and agapanthas
d. roses and gardenias

7. How do wasps help destroy destructive bugs?
a. They sting grasshoppers and locust.
b. They lay eggs on caterpillars, and the larvae then eat the caterpillars.
c. They build nests near water, then feed on mosquito larvae.
d. They emit an odor that is offensive to slugs.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Good Bugs

As a follow-up to last week's focus on spiders, this week we'll look at other "good bugs" - those beneficial to gardens. The term "good bug" may seem like an oxymoron until we mention a few by name: lady bug, praying mantis, honey bee, ground beetle. These are bugs you WANT in your yard - bugs that either help plants or eat the bugs that eat plants. Let's start with the most unlikely on the list: Ground beetles.
Ground beetles are from the family Carabidae. Although sometimes confused with cockroaches at first sight, these common beetles seldom invade homes and can be useful in the garden. There are about 2,500 known species of ground beetles in North America. Adults, referred to as "Carabids," can be anywhere from 1/16 to 1-3/8 inches long, flat and elongated with a narrow head and hard wing covers. They are generally nocturnal, running quickly at night and feeing on potentially harmful insects. Usually found under rocks, logs or boards, they love to chow down on slugs, snails, cutworms and root maggots, and the larvae of many harmful insects. The worst thing we can say about ground beetles is that some varieties can produce an offensive odor - garnering them the moniker "stink bug" or "stink beetle."
Pictured above is the ground beetle and larva of the genus Calosoma in the family Carabidae. These beetles are often called "caterpillar hunters." During April of 2005, when there was an abundance of painted lady butterflies in the Anza-Borrego Desert, these beetles were very abundant - feeding off the pupae. For more information and some great pictures of other types of local beetles, see the website here.
If you have an over-abundance of ground beetles, eliminate any debris or rubbish outside where they may hide. Weather strip or seal off openings and crevices in outer walls in order to exclude them from the home. Also, it may be helpful to reduce exposed night lights, as these night-active bugs are often attracted to lights. Try to remember, even though they may not be the most attractive bugs around, they are not harmful. If you find you have more than you can handle, call a pest professional.