Insects and Pests


Venus looking glass II

Venus’ Looking glass

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

Al Bernstein

 

This spring took forever, it seemed, to warm up, but it did, and just in time. Rains provided a boost to plants that suffered during the drought of last year, and dogwoods, crabapples, azaleas and rhododendrons had fabulous flowers this spring. But now June is here, and yesterday marked the first day of summer, and so we move on to the warmer weather and all it brings with it.

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Elderberry flower head

Native elderberries are in full bloom right now and many bushes are covered with the large, white flower clusters. Later on, the dark purple fruits will provide food for many birds and mammals. While edible for humans, and high in vitamin C, most people do not care for the raw fruits, but may make jam or pies from them. And mountain laurels are still in bloom now as well. Some cultivars, such as ‘Kaleidoscope and ‘ Firecracker’ have striking red flowers. Dewberry, a native berry that forms mats sometimes as it creeps along the ground, is in bloom now, and its flowers are important food sources for many native bees and butterflies. Soon to come into flower are the native Canada lily, Indian pipe and native wood lilies. Venus’ Looking- glass, Triodanis perfoliata, is a native purple wildflower that has its flowers along the stem at the leaf axils. Poke milkweed, Asclepias exaltata, should be blooming now. This native milkweed grows well in wooded, shady areas. Flower heads dangle down, unlike those of most milkweeds. The white flowers are attractive to several moth pollinators.

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Several insect pests are making their presence known. The infamous 4-lined plant bug, a lime green adult with 4 black lines down its back, leaves behind diagnostic feeding damage that later on will look like black angular leaf spots. They are cosmopolitan in plants they will eat. This year they have been reported feeding on many herbs, dandelions (who cares?!), sunflowers, sedum, and the list goes on. Also, both the Colorado and false potato beetles are mating as we speak, and they seem to be heading for a banner year, population –wise. So crush the eggs as you may find them on any of your nightshade family plants like tomatoes and peppers. Be careful not to crush any lady beetle eggs, though, as the larva will feed on those of the potato beetles.

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mountain laurel cultivar

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Colorado Potato Beetle laying eggs

On a walk along a power line yesterday, I was delighted to see two visitors from the south- common buckeye butterflies. I have not seen these occasional visitors since Hurricane Sandy, so this a good butterfly to keep on the look-out for. Red- spotted purple, viceroys and American lady butterflies should be in the process of laying eggs now, if they haven’t already. I found several tiny spicebush swallowtail caterpillars also this week. Check out your dill, fennel or parsley, because the black swallowtail butterfly may have laid an egg or two on them, and the caterpillars may have hatched out.

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A visiting common buckeye butterfly

Swamp milkweed leaf beetles are easy to spot with their red and black elytra. Not pests, these chunky beetles are just a colorful splash on a green background. Pine sawyers, longhorn beetles commonly mistaken for the invasive Asian long-horned beetle, are active now. They will often visit newly stained decks until the stain dries out. Dogwood calligrapha beetles, striking in their spiffy black markings on a white background, are out and about on native dogwoods now.

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dogwood calligrapha beetle

There are many birds that are now fluttering around trying to keep up with newly fledged young.  Catbirds, robins, red-tailed hawks, Carolina and house wrens, Bob-o-links and some sparrows have a clutch early and some species, like the ubiquitous robins have a second brood. Fledglings are often very loud as they beg for food, and get louder still as mothers withhold food briefly, to teach them how to fend for themselves.

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Chipping sparrow nest

we recently had a visitor to our office. A green bullfrog somehow landed in our window well and could not escape. So we managed to catch it and Joan Allen walked it to a nearby pond. Another bit of excitement at work.

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froggy in the window

As you venture out into the landscape, I hope curiosity will get the best of you, causing you to turn over leaves looking for insects, watching birds as you see and hear them, and bending over to see what is lurking on the ground by your feet. In such a way we become more interactive with the environment and thus, less frightened or at least dismayed by new discoveries. Look stuff up when you find it. Curiosity did not kill the cat, nor will it do likewise to people. Nor has asking questions ever done any harm, at least as far as I know…

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Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

Like many landscaped yards in Connecticut our property has boxwood adorning our front yard, planted more than 30 years ago. This shrub is usually a minimal maintenance woody ornamental plant. It requires a bit of shaping once a season even though its slow growth habit doesn’t send out the random foot-long shoots that its neighboring Japanese maple does. In fact, the amount that is trimmed off is more like a ‘shaving’ of its foliage and the easiest way to collect the clippings is to place a tarp beneath the shrub (the tiny pieces of leaf are almost impossible to rake it up). We tend to do the shaping of the shrubs in the landscape somewhere near the end of June and beginning of July. I remember one year (and I’m sure that my daughter will never forget) trimming them on a hot humid day where we ended up wearing bits of foliage that stuck to our damp skin!

Over Memorial Day weekend this year as I walked past the boxwood that borders our driveway I was surprised to see it covered in a white fuzz. I stopped in my tracks for a closer look. Up and down the stems and in the leaf axils was a fluffy white coating that dispersed like a powder into the breeze when I touched the shrub.

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Using a macro lens, I took successively closer images until what looked like just white fuzz became individual clumps and then minute insects. These are the nymphs of the boxwood psyllid and the white fuzz was waxy strands of their crystallized honeydew secretions that is also called ‘lerp’. Yes, that is a real word. Boxwood psyllid (Psylla buxi) are in the family Homoptera, a suborder that also includes aphids, scale insects, cicadas, and leafhoppers.

The tiny orange eggs of the boxwood psyllid overwinter in the bud scales of the boxwood and will hatch when the temperature reaches 80 degree days, around the same time that the buds open. Degree days are an accumulative measurement that allow the prediction of insect appearances and plant blooming. For more info on degree days, visit the Cornell University site: Network for Environment and Weather Applications.

Enfield, CT reached 80 degree days on May 18th this year and between then and mid-June when we accumulate 300 degree days the psyllid nymphs will go through 5 instar (nymph) stages. They mature into winged adults as they finish their incomplete metamorphosis. It was a bit slower this year due to the cooler temperatures. The adults will mate and lay their eggs under the bud scales, there is only one generation a year.

Most of the damage from the boxwood psyllid is in the leaf cupping that happens as the larvae feed. They have sucking mouthparts and the leaves curl around the nymphs as they feed, a rather tell-tale sign of their presence. The psyllid doesn’t do any substantial damage.

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Meanwhile, another pest also made its appearance. A beautiful Goldflame honeysuckle, Lonicera x heckrottii that adorns our deck was getting its yearly aphid visit.

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As a relative of the boxwood psyllid the feeding damage of this aphid (Hyadaphis tataricae) is very similar. They love the flower buds and can feed inside the bud before you can even know that they are there. Aphid damage will stunt the growth of the flower buds and prevent the honeysuckle flowers from blooming.

And that would keep us from one of the pleasures of outdoor dining on a summer evening: watching the hummingbirds visit the showy pink and yellow tubular flowers as they search for nectar. The hummingbirds dart in and out so quickly but they occasionally stop for a brief respite, barely bending the vining stem as they weigh so little, often less than 1/10th of an ounce.

Bees and other pollinators such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) also spend lots of time going from flower to flower on the honeysuckle. It’s important to keep these visitors in mind when dealing with pests such as the aphids. A systemic insecticide should never be used during the period when a plant is flowering. These pesticides will target all insects that feed on the plant’s sap, drink the nectar, or gather the pollen regardless of whether they are beneficial or not.

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A strong spray of water may dislodge aphids and psyllids or an insecticidal soap may be used. An insecticidal soap works as a contact pesticide and as such there is no residual insecticidal activity once the solution has dried. It must sprayed directly on the soft-bodied insects that it effectively controls. It also degrades quickly and will wash off leaf surfaces so that it won’t affect non-target insects, especially pollinators, or the lady beetles that consume the aphids in large quantities.

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If you see (or have seen) psyllids or aphids you may want to do as I do and make a note of it in your calendar or your garden journal so that you can keep an eye out for them next year. Knowing when the aphids may show up on the honeysuckle gives me a bit of an edge in controlling them and allows the most blooms to come to fruition much to the enjoyment of humans, animals, and insects alike!

Susan Pelton

(all images and videos ©Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center)

Large crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinal)

Crabgrass is the bane of many people seeking a ‘nice’ lawn. It is a weedy grass which will out-compete desirable grass species and take over in a short time. Crabgrass has a wider blade, is lighter in color and grows faster than the lawn making it obviously stand out as a weed. Its seed germinates earlier and at lower ground temperatures than other desirable turfgrasses giving it a jump in growing time.

The best defense against all weeds of lawns is to maintain a healthy stand of turfgrass by having soil pH and nutrients at the correct levels. Healthy soil supports healthy grass. Lawns mowed at a height of three inches or taller has less crabgrass and other weeds as the soil it shaded, excluding light from reaching the seeds which initiates germination. Crabgrass is an annual growing new plants from seed each year. None of last year’s crabgrass lived through the winter.

Low cut grass invaded by crabgrass.

 

 

Chemical control against crabgrass is applying a pre-emergent herbicide. They attack the newly produced tissue from the germinating seed up to young plants with a couple of leaves. Pre-emergent herbicides have no effect on seeds in the soil that do not break dormancy and start to grow, only the seeds which start to grow. Timing of application is before the crabgrass seeds start to germinate when to the soil temperatures are 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the same time the forsythia is just past its full bloom stage and starting to but out some green leaves.  The germination period ends when the lilacs begin to bloom. Just remember to apply after forsythia and before lilac flowers. Forsythia and lilac make a great plant indicator for applying the pre-emergent herbicide against crabgrass.

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Forsythia bush.

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Lilac, photo (psu.edu/lilac)

There are several different pre-emergent herbicide active ingredients with varying rates of how long they last in the soil. Products containing pendimethalin will last about four months out in the environment. Other active ingredients, dithiopyr, benefin+trifluralin, prodiamine, will last a shorter period of time. Read the labels for the residual rate for each formulation’s time it will last. Most pre-emergent herbicides will stop all seeds from continuing to grow after germinating. This means you will not be able to plant desirable grass seed after applying it. Products containing Siduron are the only pre-emergent herbicide that will allow cool season grass seeds to grow while eliminating crabgrass.

-Carol Quish

 

Spittlebugs are common and easily recognized by the white foamy ‘spittle’ produced by the nymph or immature stage of the insects as they feed. Adults are less often seen but are commonly known as froghoppers (close relatives of leafhoppers, etc).  Depending on the reference, there are anywhere from 30 to 60+ spittlebug species in the United States.  All feed on plants, including both woody and herbaceous types.  Some spittlebugs have broad host ranges and others narrow.

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‘Spittle’ produced by nymphs on a plant. Photo by: G. Lenard, LA State Univ.

 

There is usually only one generation per year and most overwinter in the egg stage inside overwintering plant tissue where they were deposited by the females in from mid to late summer to early fall, depending on species. Hatch occurs in the spring, probably in May in Connecticut.  Even though spittlebugs feed by extracting plant sap/juice through needle-like mouth parts, they seldom cause notable injury to the plant.  There are a few exceptions including the meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) and the pine spittlebug (Aphrophora cribata).

Color variations of the meadow spittlebug adult.  Photos: Cheryl Moorehead,     bugwood.org

The meadow spittlebug has a broad host range that includes both herbaceous and woody plants. It is reported to cause damage in clover, strawberry, mint, herbaceous ornamentals and both coniferous and broad-leaved woody plants when present in high numbers.  Other common names include the common froghopper and the cuckoo spit (most common name in the UK).  Eggs are laid in the stems or crevices of host plants in the fall.  When they hatch in the spring, nymphs usually feed on the plant the eggs were laid on but they will move to younger more tender tissues as the plant grows.  There are five nymph stages and all produce spittle as they feed.   Once the adult stage is reached, spittle is no longer produced and the adult is quite mobile, quickly jumping a long distance relative to its size when disturbed.

The froghoppers or adult stage are so-called because their bodies are somewhat wider at the rear like a frog. The name cuckoo spit may have come about because the spittle tends to be first seen in the spring around the same time that the first calls of the cuckoo bird are heard.  Most adults are brown to green in color with only subtle markings but some species have striking coloration or patterns.  The meadow spittlebug adult is quite variable in coloration.

So, about the spittle. The spittle offers some clear benefits to the nymph(s) hiding within.  First, it helps prevent the soft-bodied little guys from drying out.  In addition, it protects them from detection by potential parasites and predators.  A single mass of spittle may be inhabited by multiple nymphs feeding in the same area on the plant.  How is the spittle produced?  First, the spittlebug ingests more plant sap than it needs for its nutrition/sustenance.  The excess is expelled through the anus as a watery waste product.  It mixes with a mucilaginous fluid produced by glands on the abdomen and air bubbles are introduced from a special canal by abdominal contractions.  This is pretty interesting stuff going on in gardens, forests and meadows all around us each spring and early summer!

spittlebugnymph-bugwood Spittlebug nymph.  Photo: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

If you would like to get a closer look at a nymph, don’t be afraid to brush the foam carefully away from a plant and look for them inside. They will be up to ¼” long depending on their stage of development and may be yellowish, greenish or brown in color.  They are elongated and generally are positioned head down. This facilitates the movement of the spittle downward to cover them.  Nymphs are shy and will not be happy to be exposed.  They will attempt to walk away but cannot run or fly.

The biggest problem with spittlebugs in the garden, whether it’s an ornamental or food garden, is the unsightliness of the spittle masses. Spittle and nymphs can both be washed off the plants with a steady stream of water.  On a small scale, they can be hand-removed and disposed of.  Normally, no chemical controls are recommended and the spittle protects nymphs from contact insecticides.  Not sure if there are enough spittlebugs to cause plants to be weakened?  Look for distorted or stunted new growth, and of course numerous spittle masses on the same plant.

In a few cases, additional injury to the host plant can occur if toxic substances are introduced into the plant while feeding or if the froghopper/spittlebug is vectoring a plant pathogen (could be a virus or phytoplasma).  Feeding wounds can create entry points for some pathogens.

By J. Allen

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Cedar waxwings in a Hawthorn tree, an important food source for birds in the winter

I love the outdoors and have spent a lot of time off the beaten track exploring since I was a young adult growing up in the Chenango River valley in New York. The way to get acquainted with nature is to get out in it. And I have done so all my life. This year was a good one for me personally as far as observing nature in all its glory. Even though the weather was colder in the spring and hotter and drier in the summer, and perhaps was the hottest year on record, there was a lot going on, both on a typical and uncommon level.

The first surprise was a pleasant one- a larger than average number of foxes spotted in all kinds of places. Innumerable times I saw foxes in the wee hours of morning returning with prey for their young. Whether in rural or residential areas, these animals were having a great year. The ones I saw had healthy skin and fur, and certainly had no trouble finding food. On the golf course where I work, there was a pair of foxes that had a den of kits just inside the woods by a tee. Every day like clockwork, they had a specific route they traveled going from the den to hunt, and they had a specific, different, route returning to the den with their quarry. The good news was they killed a lot of troublesome landscape troublers- mice, voles and even several woodchucks.  Later on, the parents would be accompanied by the kits as they learned to hunt.

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Cooper’s hawk patrolling near a bird feeder

Although a dry year, the two or three thunderstorms we had brought out a few creatures the next day. One of my favorites is the eft form of the red- spotted newt. These tiny, bright orange amphibians sometimes  venture out of the woods after a rainy night and sometimes can’t seem to find their way back. Several fairways tend to have these guys on them in the mornings, so I am on the alert for them as I mow. Box turtles are also known to put in a similar appearance on days after summer rains. This year I was able to help a granddaddy of a box turtle get across a very busy road safely. This particular turtle  was one of the most ornately marked ones I have ever seen.

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Eft form of the red- spotted newt happily returns to the woods

Another creature that had an exceptional year was the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. The previous year, they were few and far between, but in 2016 they had a banner year. The host plants of the caterpillars are spicebush and sassafras and careful examination inside leaves  folded lengthwise reveal the larvae of this butterfly. It seemed like whenever you came across  a host plant, at least one of these caterpillars was somewhere on it. On one small spicebush in a butterfly garden there were six caterpillars from eggs laid by six different females.

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Two spicebush swallowtail caterpillars found on the same sassafras sapling

Fall leaf color wasn’t great at first- perhaps because of the drought- and some red maples that turned early were actually yellow or brown in color. But there was a snap of cold in early October and a day later the leaves were at peak color, a sudden surprise after a drab start. Oaks were also beautiful this year- not dominated by the browns of last year. Red and white oaks had striking reds, and some red oaks produced yellow or tan. Acorns were not particularly abundant, but enough were around to keep deer, turkeys, squirrels and chipmunks in good supply. This was actually good for the squirrels and chipmunks because in late September and early October they were not able to find many maple seeds to eat because of the sudden freeze in April that caused many maple flowers to drop early.

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Willow leafing out in the snow on April 3, 2016

While insect populations, especially caterpillars, seemed low this year, bumblebees and other native bees abounded. Late season bloomers like mums, asters and goldenrods provided many insects with a good source of pollen and nectar. I found a small goldenrod in full bloom after Thanksgiving, which was very unusual. Bumblebees, some small native bees and honeybees were active up until Thanksgiving week, at least here on the UConn campus and in my backyard garden because alyssum, some hydrangeas and a few obedient plants were still in flower. And the caterpillars of the imported cabbage worm butterfly abounded late this season- even into December- especially on certain ornamental cabbages. A good find this year was a scarlet malachite beetle- on a blade of grass near my front step. This was only the second one I have ever seen, so it was a noteworthy event. The excitement never ends…

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scarlet malachite beetle

This year there was a pair of barred owls that had a nest inside a standing dead tree trunk on the side of a country road I travel on every day. In the pre-dawn when I passed by on my way to work, the parent owls would often be bringing the last protein nuggets of the night’s hunts back to their young. In the afternoon, both parents would be guarding the nest from perches nearby. In the pre-dusk twilight, the young owls would appear at the entrance of the nest hole and let it be known that they were hungry. And so the hunts would begin, to continue until the following dawn. I missed them all when they fledged and went off into the wild blue to learn to be on their own.

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Barred owl guarding her nest during the day

Wild blueberries were especially abundant this year, as were huckleberries. Noticeably fewer were dewberries, which are produced by plants that creep along the ground. Late in the season, migrating birds had few cedar berries to eat (unlike the bumper crop of last year), but at least black gum, poison ivy and Virginia creeper were loaded with fruit. Migrating warblers such as the yellow- rumped warblers are especially fond of these fruits. And if you have a bird feeder and some woods nearby, keep on the lookout for small raptors like the Cooper’s or the sharp-shinned hawks which prey on other birds. If birds around the feeder scatter suddenly, there may be a good reason, apart from a cat. During the winter, check out any hawthorn or crabapple trees that still have fruit. Robins and cedar waxwings are common winter visitors to these trees.

And as a final note, enjoy what is left of the year. And have a Merry Christmas! Or whatever you may celebrate at this time of year…

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Highland Park Springs Manchester, Ct.

 

 

 

 

Oak wilt is an important disease to be on the lookout for in New England. This is especially true for Connecticut because it has been confirmed in three locations in our neighbor to the west and south, New York.  The disease is important because it kills trees in the most susceptible red oak group (northern red, black and pin oaks in our area) within weeks or months of infection.  White oaks are more moderately susceptible and are generally not killed for a few to several years.  Early detection of this disease in any new location is critical to attempting to eradicate the problem before it becomes widespread.  The causal fungus is Ceratocystis fagacearum.

Oak wilt was first confirmed in the U.S. in Wisconsin in 1944. Since that time it has become widespread in the upper Midwest and Texas.  In the northeast, it has been confirmed in NY and western PA.  Just this year, 2016, two new locations were confirmed in NY by the Cornell University Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic:  Central Islip on Long Island and Canandaigua in the Finger Lakes region.  The origin of this pathogen is not known.

So what does oak wilt look like? In the most susceptible red oaks, symptoms include wilt, browning of the tips and edges of the leaves beginning in the upper part of the tree, twig and branch dieback, and browning of the outer sapwood.  The fungus kills the tree by growing in the xylem vessels where water and nutrients are translocated from the roots to the crown. The fungal invasion results in the production of gummy blockages that prevent translocation.

oakwilt-leaf-michstate Photo credit: Michigan State University

The disease is spread from one tree to another in two ways, via root grafts and sap beetles. A root graft is a ‘fusing’ of roots of neighboring trees that allows for movement between them of water, nutrients, and, unfortunately, the fungus.  So trees growing in close proximity in forests, landscapes or along streets can share this disease readily.  Sap beetles are attracted to fungal mats that form under the bark of dead and dying trees. Bark cracks form as the fungal mats enlarge. Spores of the fungus and an odor attractive to the beetles are both produced on the mats.  Beetles come to feed there and sticky spores adhere to their bodies.  The beetles are strongly attracted to fresh wounds on trees (ie pruning or other wounds) and when they move to those sites after picking up spores, the disease is spread to a new tree.  The spore can only invade a tree via a wound.  Long distance spread can occur when infected logs are moved to new areas.

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Oak wilt fungal mat under bark. Michigan State photo.

 

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Sap beetles are often black with orange markings.  University of Wisconsin photo.

 

If you’re not sure how to tell red oaks from white oaks, here’s the most visible difference: Oaks in the red oak group have leaves with pointed lobe tips and those in the white oak group have rounded tips as shown below.

 

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Photo credit: University of Minnesota Extension

 

Browning and wilt can also be caused by drought stress.  If it’s oak wilt, remember that the browning will begin in the top of the canopy.  Red oaks will die within months; not usually the case with drought stress or even other pest and disease problems.

What should be done if you suspect oak wilt on trees in CT? Contact your state’s diagnostic lab as soon as possible for information on sample collection and submission.  You may send images via email for a quick look and to see if other causes of the symptoms can be ruled out.  The UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab can be reached at 860-486-6740 or by sending an email to joan.allen@uconn.edu.  The diagnostic lab website is www.plant.lab.uconn.edu. Your vigilance will help protect oak trees in CT and throughout New England!

J. Allen

 

 

It’s that time of year again when the Asian Lady Beetles are seeking a place to spend the winter. They are congregating on the sun-warmed sides of buildings and homes looking for a protected site or tiny opening to crawl inside to a warm and dry place, out of the coming cold. They overwinter as adults in a dormant state, not eating, drinking, mating or laying eggs. They are not doing any damage to the house, just using it like a bear uses a cave for the winter.  Once they are inside, some are fooled by the artificial environment we create by lighting our home during the night hours and heating when it is cold outside, to come out of their winter rest early, becoming a nuisance inside.

Their spots and coloring will vary, but they will also have the same ‘M’ mark in black on their head.

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A gathering of Asian Lady Beetles.

They are annoying to share living space with them. Keep them out of your house by keeping screens in screen doors in good repair. Caulk or seal up any cracks or crevices allowing access for them to crawl inside. Screen attic vents and fan covers to exclude lady beetles from attics and air inlets. Pesticides are not warranted for them as they are considered beneficial. Vacuum up any that do make their way into the home.

Other insects that have the same habit of trying to get enter buildings to overwinter in their adult stage are stinkbugs, boxelder bugs and leaf-footed bugs. Control measures are the same as for the lady beetles.

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Boxelder bug

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Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

 

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Leaf-footed Bug

-Carol Quish

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