New York State IPM Program

September 28, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Move Over, Medusa: Pretty? Poisonous! in the Caterpillar Clan

Move Over, Medusa: Pretty? Poisonous! in the Caterpillar Clan

Our gratitude to Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County, for letting us use this post. The IPM connection? ID those fuzzy beasts before you add them to your “warm and fuzzy” petting zoo. 

When I was a kid I was fascinated by caterpillars but had trouble with the word. To me, the sweet little woolly-bear traversing my hand was a “calipitter.” It was only years later I learned that a calipitter is an instrument used to measure the diameter of a caterpillar to the nearest micron.

Caterpillars continue to interest me, although I no longer find them universally cute. Imagine the letdown and loss of innocence following the discovery that some of these fuzzy, fascinating, gentle creatures that tickled their way across my hand were venomous. This revelation was akin to finding out Bambi was a dangerous carnivore, which in fact is a fear that haunts me to this day.

Stunning — and striking in a not-so-nice sort of way. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Stunning — and striking in a less-than-pleasant sort of way. White-marked tussock moth larvae, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

It seems a further injustice that many of the so-called “stinging-hair caterpillars” are among the cutest and most colorful out there. But at least they are not aggressive the way yellow jackets can be. They are strictly defensive, the defense being hollow hairs connected to poison glands that secrete toxins. The chemical cocktail is species-specific, and often involves serotonin, histamine, formic acid and various amino acids.

The hairs inject their charge only when the critter is roughly handled. Or falls down your shirt, or gets in your sleeping bag, or is pressed against your skin in some other way. Their stings cause a painful rash which could persist a week or more. Some people have more severe reactions requiring medical treatment.

You’d think poisonous caterpillars would be from exotic locales, but to my knowledge all in our region are natives. One large group is the tussock moth clan. These caterpillars look about as terrifying as teddy bears. Two examples are the hickory (Lophocampa caryae) and white-marked (Orgyia leucostigma) tussock moths, common locally. I’ve had many encounters with these and their kin over the years.

Hickory tussock caterpillars are mostly white, peppered with a smattering of longer black “whiskers.” White-marked tussock moth larvae look like they’re fresh out of clown school, with a yellow-and-black striped pattern, bright red head, a pair of super-long black appendages as a headdress, a row of lateral white hairs on each side, and four bright yellow (sometimes white) tufts behind their heads like a row of smoke stacks.

The stubby brown hag moth caterpillar (Phobetron pithecium) definitely does not look like a caterpillar. It could easily be mistaken for a dust-bunny or bit of lint. Sometimes known as the monkey slug, this oddity has eight furry, arm-like appendages and should get a prize for its resemblance to a plush toy. If you come across the monkey slug, do resist the impulse to cuddle it.

Much like the way poison-arrow frogs dress flamboyantly to advertise they’re a poor choice as prey, some toxic caterpillars have paint jobs even brighter than those of the tussock moths. For example, the brilliantly attired stinging rose (Parasa indetermina) and saddleback (Acharia stimulea) caterpillars might make you think some practical joker has set out miniature party piñatas. Eye-catching and bristling with barbs, no one is going to mistake them for a plush toy.

Fortunately, many poisonous caterpillars look the part. The Io moth (Automeris io), a huge moth bearing a striking eye-spot shape on each wing, starts out as a neon-green (red until its first molt) caterpillar crowded with serious-looking barbs. Going further afield, the giant silkworm moth caterpillar (Lonomia oblique) of southern South America has been responsible for as many as 500 human deaths — and it looks terrifying, too.

Keep in mind that just about every fuzzy caterpillar, venomous or not, can induce asthma. Those hairs are fragile and readily become airborne. Pests such as the eastern and forest tent caterpillars — and gypsy moths too — sometimes  occur in numbers so great enough to trigger asthma, especially in children. Even the beloved woolly bears (many species of the family Arctiinae) trigger attacks in some people.

What to do for a sting? Use Scotch or packing tape on your skin to pull out embedded caterpillar hairs (along with a few of your own). Wash the area and isolate clothing you think might harbor stray hairs. Monitor for several hours for signs of a serious reaction and otherwise treat the rash the way you would any sting with calamine lotion, antihistamines, or hydrocortisone lotion as directed by your doctor.

Let’s hope that having a few bad apples around will not keep you from appreciating caterpillars. Even the ugliest ones grow up to be moths and butterflies, many of which are beautiful. And they’re all important pollinators. Stay away from the ones described here but feel free to investigate all others.

Just be sure to take along your callipitter.

 

June 16, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26

Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26

Pollinator week — coming right up on June 20 — celebrates all pollinators. There’s honey bees, of course, but also native bees. In fact, NYS IPM-funded research has counted 104 known species alone in New York’s orchards. Of course, bees pollinate more than just orchards, and 450 species all told call New York home — including two on New York’s endangered species list. Collectively these bees contribute upward of $9 billion in pollination services to New York’s economy — and we’re not even talking the value of honey itself.

Gotta love bats, even if they don't pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.

Gotta love bats, even if they don’t pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.

For sure: we can’t leave out butterflies, moths, flies (think flower flies, hover flies, and more), wasps, beetles, and hummingbirds. If we lived in the Southwest, we’d be thanking bats as well.

Now, though, let’s focus on bees, since  entomologists have discovered so many cool things about how flowers attract bees  — and vice versa. Those scientists have found an array of captivating “who’d a thunk it” ways these symbiotic mutualists have evolved to do each other right.

Yet before we go down that track, a little detour — pointing you to info from NYS IPM’s “Protecting Pollinators” conference. Start with the first two: Emma Mullen’s fascinating talk and superb visuals, and Scott McArt’s tour of Cornell’s research, now in full swing.

OK, back to our symbiotic mutualists — the blossoms and the bees. Examples? Consider color. Bees don’t see red, but they do see ultraviolet. In fact, many flowers equip themselves with “come hither” ultraviolet landing platforms, landing strips, or both.

OK, bees don't see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.

OK, bees don’t see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.

And how about the electric fields wafting up from flower petals? “Everyone knows that bees buzz around flowers in their quest for nectar,” reports Marc Lallanilla at LiveScience. “But scientists have now learned that flowers are buzzing right back — with electricity.”

Gaillardia again ... with UV guidance to the goods.

Gaillardia again … with UV guidance to the goods.

Why? That electric charge advertises — you guessed it — a nectar source. On the other hand, a blossom just depleted of nectar needs to recharge its nectar reserves. So it emits a different signal, one that alerts the bees to just fly on by. After all, bees can learn. And they don’t have time to waste visiting pretty flowers if the nectar is gone. Bees might learn to ignore a flower with a reputation for false advertising (as it were) — even after the flower had topped off its tank.

And then … there’s also “buzz pollination” where flowers wait till a bee buzzes at the right frequency, then reward it with a cache of pollen. True, these flowers don’t offer free drinks (that would be nectar) as a reward. But the pollen they offer is, for some species of bees, reward enough. After all, it’s what they feed their young. Note that we said “for some species.” Bumble bees are great buzz pollinators, as are many native bees. But honey bees never learned that trick. (The science behind it ? Science Direct and Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society.)

Planting potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers (all relatives in the Solanaceae family) or pumpkins, zucchinis, and blueberries? Know that native bees are your go-to experts in buzz pollination. (If you live, say, in a high-rise with a window gardens and no access to rooftop beekeepers, you could buy a VegiBee pollinator and do it yourself.)

Of course, not every flower does any or all of the above. If you want to do right by bees, think before you plant and focus on these four things:

  • Plant for continuous bloom — pollinators don’t get down time; your garden shouldn’t either. Is your yard tiny? Try collaborating with your neighbors and think of it as yet another form of symbiotic mutualism.
  • Is this a bee-friendly flower? Example: if you love roses, plant those old-timey kinds with the simple “single” flowers. Densely clustered petals just get in the way. (While roses provide little in the way of nectar, they’ve got pollen to spare.)
  • Cluster your plants. Groups of long-blooming flowers, rather than single plants scattered here and there, offer bees a better use of their time and energy.
  • Nectar sounds juicy, but pollinators need straight-up water too. Just be sure to empty your bird feeder or plant saucer every few days. Yes, even mosquitoes pollinate flowers. But that’s not reason enough to invite them into your yard. (Float a piece of wood in the water to give bees a safe landing place.)

What to plant? Variety is the spice of life.

Trees and shrubs: oak, cherry, willow, basswood, birch, tulip poplar, crabapple, blueberry, red maple, pine, hawthorn, linden, redbud, arrowwood viburnum, chokecherry, Rhododendron canadense, spicebush, gray dogwood, serviceberry, New Jersey tea, buttonbush, summersweet, Virginia sweetspire, American witchhazel.

Perennials for sun: aster, goldenrod, sunflower, Joe Pye weed, violet (also does well in shade), hardy geranium, black-eyed Susan, iris, milkweed, penstemon, phlox, threadleaf coreopsis, bee balm, cardinal flower, mountain mint, purple coneflower, columbine, liatris.

Perennials for shade: woodland phlox, blue lobelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, indian pink, wood aster, Dutchman’s breeches, violets (also does well in sun).

Weeds: OK, so you don’t need to plant dandelions; they plant themselves. They aren’t native and some people can’t stand them. But they’re here and they provide crucial early-season food for bees.

So there you have it. You too can protect pollinators.

March 24, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on pollination potpourri: wasps, moths, flies, beetles, and oh yes … bees

pollination potpourri: wasps, moths, flies, beetles, and oh yes … bees

Let’s start with a short pre-blog quiz: which of these native insects pollinate plants?

  1. bees
  2. moths
  3. beetles
  4. all of the above — plus flies, wasps, butterflies, moths

The answer? #4. If you left out flies and wasps because they freak you out … well, just know there’s scads of different wasps and flies — not to mention bees, moths, and beetles — that’ll pollinate your posies, not to mention your apples and pears, your melons and cukes.

carpenter bees aren't interested in us — in fact, the males don't even have stingers

Male carpenter bees seem to help protects nests. Get too close and they’ll act aggressive — even though they don’t have stingers. Females could sting but won’t unless you start handling them.

Let’s look at bees first — native bees! Because the natives outnumber honey bees (originally imported from Europe) in apple orchards. A NYS IPM-funded study from 2009 – 2011 found 102 species of native bees busily pollinating apple flowers — and Cornell’s Bryan Danforth, who led that study, estimates that the native bees outperform honeybees by 200 to 300 percent. Yes, honeybees have a value-added bonus: honey rang the registers in New York at over $10 million in 2015. But if apples or pears (or blueberries or strawberries) are your crop of concern, look to the natives.

Think fruit growers are the only ones to benefit? Dairy farmers take note — leaf-cutter bees pollinate your alfalfa, according to Cornell’s Emma Mullen at NYS IPM’s pollinator conference in 2015. And while many vegetable crops are wind- or gravity-pollinated, key crops like melons, squash, pumpkins and cukes need a pollinators’ help.

Syrphid flies? Harmless. This one's looking for a flower to pollinate.

Syrphid flies? Harmless. This one’s looking for a flower to pollinate.

So … what about flies? More than meets the eye. Finding New York-specific info is a struggle, so let’s just note that vast numbers of fly species all over the world make their living off nectar. Spreading pollen around is a sideline for them but critical for us. In fact, ecologist Alison Parker (University of Toronto) modeled how bees and flies visit flowers — and showed that lots of bees might not always benefit the flowers because bees take so much pollen. But in this computer model, pollination increased with each fly visit.

Not only that, but with some (perhaps many), their larvae serve as biocontrols for crop-damaging aphids. Most nectar-guzzling flies resemble bees or wasps — after all, if you’re harmless but you look like something that defends yourself with a stinger, you’re more likely to be left alone.

monarch on milkweedWhat about beetles, moths, butterflies? Beetles were the very first insect pollinators, with ancient evolutionary origins — and according to the US Forest Service, a global pollination rate of 88 percent. The butterflies and moths? Ranking their value is a tough call, but hey — they have a job; they show up. Actually, those second-shift moths way outnumber day-duty butterflies. But you don’t often see them at work, so we don’t know how much good they do, especially  since sometimes their larvae can be troublesome for certain plants.

How about wasps? If you’ve done enough noodling around online to see that wasps do little in the way of pollination because their bodies are hairless, unable to capture and carry much pollen, keep looking. No, they’re not as competent as bees. But many do have hairy bodies, and they do help. Plus they’re great garden predators, tackling all sorts of pests.

Bringing it all together, a NYS IPM-funded project now underway at the State University of New York at Cobleskill will evaluate the efficacy of different native plant combinations in attracting native pollinators of every stripe and color — and invite visitors to view the farm and orchard demonstration plots to learn more.

What to worry about? Well, yes, the big bruisers in the pollination game often have stingers, and we don’t like being stung — but that’s for another post. And of course there’s the issue of bee health and bee declines — again, for another post. No, there’s a couple of somethings that over time could take a toll on any number of critters and plants, and we’re just beginning to wrap our arms around them. One: the impact that changing climates could have on pollinators. Not that we understand the dynamics well. The other: lost and fragmented habitats.

If you go back to Emma Mullen’s slides, you’ll see that bumble bees, for one, are unable to track climate change. And they are not alone. You’ll also find references for habitat loss and fragmentation and if you’re so inclined, you can watch the video of her talk.

More than enough info for now, no? Stay tuned — this is a perennial topic.

June 19, 2015
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Pest-Strips: A Kitchen No-No!

Pest-Strips: A Kitchen No-No!

Beginning in about the year 2000, nearly all organophosphate pesticides became unavailable for use in homes. This was done primarily to limit exposure of children to active ingredients that negatively affect their health and development. Despite this extensive cancellation of organophosphates for structural pest management, one holdover active ingredient from that era remains today: dichlorvos (2,2-dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate, or DDVP).

The most common use of this product is as a slow-release vapor from impregnated resin plastic blocks. Pest-strips, as they are called, are used to treat a variety of pests including flies, gnats, mosquitoes, moths, silverfish, cockroaches, spiders, beetles, and earwigs. Like all pesticides, the label instructions are the law, and pest-strips have very strict requirements for use. The guidelines for these products are not intended to make the life of pest professionals difficult, but to reduce human exposure to active ingredients that can cause nausea, headaches, twitching, trembling, excessive salivation and tearing, inability to breathe from a paralyzed diagram, convulsions, and if concentrations are exceedingly high — death.

Legal Uses.

In general, products containing dichlorvos are intended for use in confined spaces where people will not be present for more than four hours at a time. Depending on the size of the product (16 or 65 grams), each pest-strip can treat an area of 100 to 1,200 cubic feet for up to four months (1,200 cubic feet is a room that measures 10 by 15 by 8 feet). Some areas where these products can be used include garages, sheds, attics, crawl spaces, storage units, trash bins, and for the small sizes (16 g): pantries, cupboards, and closets. Many other commercial applications are listed on the label.

Illegal Uses.

DSCN1196

Pest-strips in restaurants are often illegally placed near drains.

Unfortunately, these products are sometimes used in violation of the label directions to treat pests in spaces where people are present for more than four hours, or where food is present. A common example that makes me cringe is the use of pest-strips in food establishments. Especially cringe-worthy is when numerous strips are used in a kitchen where food is prepared and workers are present for a full day. Yes, I’m talking about your average restaurant.

DSCN0618

Do you see the pest-strip? Yes, right next to the Spanish and red onions!

Address the Problem.

It is critical to understand that the use of pest strips for fly control at a drain or cockroach control by a grill line are not treating the problem, only the symptom. The real problem in these scenarios is the presence of food and shelter: accumulated organic debris in drains, food spillage behind and under equipment, and cracks or crevices in structures that provide harborage. If you remove these conditions you treat the problem and eliminate the symptoms.

Remember, for all pesticides and pesticide products, the label is the law. As an applicator, you are responsible and legally obligated to follow the instructions that are intended to reduce health risks for you and your clients.

For more information on pest-strips in structural pest management:

CDC Warning on Misuse of Pest Strips by Gwen Pearson

Careful Use of Nuvan Strips by Mike Merchant

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