Monday, May 2, 2016

HumBug: Gardeners' Woes

Posted By on Mon, May 2, 2016 at 3:31 PM

click to enlarge Checkered beetle haulin' down a branch. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Checkered beetle haulin' down a branch.
Standing up to work the kinks out of my back brought on by bowing in submission to the dandelions, oxalis, and the nameless red-stemmed running weed among my strawberry plants, a tiny flash of orange caught my eye. When it landed in a nearby pear tree, I saw how its red and black elytra covered the neon orange abdomen. It immediately started running along a small branch with all the agility of a squirrel. After a few missed shots I decided to focus on the branch directly in its path and shoot when it crossed the focal plane. Getting this right is trickier than it sounds but for once it worked. I got one good identifiable shot. Then, in a flash of orange, it took wing and disappeared. A little research in some of my books revealed that it was Enoclerus eximis, one of the predatory checkered beetles.
click to enlarge Larvae feeding on my pear tree.
  • Larvae feeding on my pear tree.
Standing back to check the photo, I noticed some leaves on the tree had holes and great scallops cut out of them. At first I couldn't make out what had caused the damage. On close inspection, there were some tiny green caterpillars. These aren't moth or butterfly young, but sawfly larvae. The sub-order Symphyta is considered the most ancient member of the order Hymenoptera (membrane wing) which includes ants, bees and wasps. There are fossilized specimens dating back 200 million years.
click to enlarge An adult sawfly, which may or may not be the species bedeviling my plants. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • An adult sawfly, which may or may not be the species bedeviling my plants.
While the adults may look like wasps, they lack the characteristic “wasp waist” and often have knobs at the ends of their antennae. Many are considered crop pests. Every year something I've yet to actually see gives my rhododendrons a working over. Although the two different plants may be plagued by different species, the damage to both plants is characteristic of this group. This year I'm watching the new green leaves as they emerge to see who's eating them. When I find some, I'll tie a little net bag over the end of the branch and collect adults when they emerge so I can identify them.
If only that little beetle's instincts had programmed him to eat these weeds, we'd both be a lot happier. 
click to enlarge Tying a jelly net over rhododendron as a trap. - ANTHONY WESTKAPER
  • Anthony Westkaper
  • Tying a jelly net over rhododendron as a trap.

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