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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis
Mature bagworms
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Insect Update

Posted by John Fulton -

Insects are plentiful this year. I don't think we can blame it on the mild winter, but they have great systems of survival. One insect of note with the wet weather is the earwig. Earwigs tend to be in high organic areas, as they feed primarily on dead insects and plant material. However, they can and do eat live plant material such as marigolds, zinnias, strawberries, and others. They may be a prime suspect if you notice damage, but never see any insects during the day. Control can be obtained with insecticides such as bifenthrin or permethrin.

Leatherwing beetles, or soldier beetles, are now present where linden trees are pollinating. They look like pale lightning bugs, but don't have the light. These beetles are elongate, soft-bodied and about 1/2 inch long. Colors of soldier beetles vary from yellow to red with brown or black wings or trim. A common and easily-spotted species is the Pennsylvania leatherwing, which is yellow with one large black spot on each wing. Most larvae are carnivorous, feeding on insects in the soil. Larvae overwinter in damp soil and debris or under loose bark. The adults are also predators, eating caterpillars, eggs, aphids, and other soft-bodied insects. They will alternatively eat nectar and pollen if no insects are around. They do not damage plant foliage. Adults are often found on flowers such as goldenrod, where they lie in wait for prey, feed on pollen, and mate. Since soldier beetles are beneficial, it is inadvisable to kill them.

The last insect to discuss is the bagworm. Bagworms are notorious pests of evergreens such as spruce trees. June 15 is the traditional date for control. It has been recommended to wait an extra week this year to ensure egg hatch. The idea is to have all the eggs hatched before treatment, but not wait until the bagworms are almost mature. For control, the traditional standby has been Sevin, but the B.t. products such as Dipel and Thuricide have really taken their share of the market the past several years. The B.t. products have several good points including safety to mammals and toxicity to larger bagworms. Since they are bacteria that affect only the larvae of moths and butterflies, it does take a while for the bacteria to build up to the point where they can kill the bagworm. If you are in doubt about whether you have bagworms, check your trees and shrubs around June 15. You can actually see the small bags as the larvae build them. They become very noticeable at about 1/16 of an inch long. Treat bagworms early, since larger ones are more difficult to control. You can even mark your calendar for next year.

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