Update on insects

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They’re baaack! Insect pests I thought had been virtually extirpated from our area have re-appeared. The pests are German cockroaches.

Recently I wrote that small roaches I couldn’t identify were showing up in my house, more often than elsewhere in my dishwasher between washes. For lack of a better designation, I said I’d call them ‘dishwasher roaches.’ Auburn’s leading authority on roaches, Dr. Art Appel, was in China and thus unavailable for consultation. I showed some to Dr. Charles Ray, a household insect pest specialist, and he identified them as German cockroaches.

A second opinion was rendered by Dr. Ed Snoddy, another expert, and he confirmed Ray’s identification.

The roaches did not resemble those I was accustomed to dealing with when I was an entomologist in the Army during the 1950s. Most recently Dr. Appel informed me that the roaches can vary in color from yellow to black and that some adults lack the light stripe on the pronotum (back).

Both Drs. Appel and Snoddy suggested some measures I could take to solve my problem. Snoddy informed me that he had to deal with an infestation similar to mine in his house.

In my column I asked readers to inform me if any had experienced a problem similar to mine. Thus far, no one has responded, leading me to believe that infestations by German cockroaches must be fairly uncommon. In the event I receive one or more complaints, I shall suggest to Dr. Appel that he write a guest column on recommendations for control or eradication.

In my column I also mentioned a problem I was having with large smoky brown cockroaches. I would see them occasionally at night scurrying across the floor, usually in the kitchen. I began using Harris Famous Roach Tablets and haven’t seen one since. The tablets are more effective than boric acid powder.

A few years ago Asian kudzu bugs appeared in our area. The cold weather we experienced this past winter apparently reduced the numbers of the bugs, but any surviving females can lay up to 500 eggs each, so the numbers of the bugs will probably increase as the warm season progresses.

Another invasive Asian insect that is now infesting some hay fields in Lee County is one I had never heard of until I was informed of its presence by a friend, Mike Ward. It’s the Bermuda grass stem maggot. The adults are tiny flies that lay eggs on the nodes of Bermuda grass stems. Upon hatching, the larvae penetrate the stems and feed on the interiors. Infested patches of grass are said to take on a ‘frosted appearance.’ A website on this insect produced by Auburn University researchers is available on the Internet. Interestingly, fields on which cattle graze are unaffected by the maggots.

As every observer is aware, honeybees have declined severely during recent decades. Parasites, other diseases and insecticide applications are believed to be responsible. A fairly new class of insecticides, neonicotinoids, are thought by many to be particularly harmful to bees. Foliar applications and seed treatment with these chemicals result in their being incorporated into the plant tissues, including nectar and pollen. Bees visiting flowers of the treated plants or seeds of the plants become disoriented and ultimately perish. Efforts are underway to force the Environmental Protection Agency to severely restrict usage of neonicotinoids to treat plants or the seeds of plants that produce flowering parts visited by bees.

Widespread use of broad-spectrum, indiscriminate insecticides, whether sprayed or dusted on crops, lawns, or applied using ‘fogging machines,’ are detrimental to a wide variety of beneficial or desirable insects other than honeybees. Butterflies and their larvae are killed, as are dragonflies, damselflies, lady beetles, and green lacewings, just to mention a few. On crops, use of ground equipment to apply insecticides is far less likely to cause harm than aerial applications. The latter often result in inadvertent drift of the chemicals, contaminating water and non-agricultural habitats, including lawns and gardens in the vicinity of the treated fields.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house.

He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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