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What’s Bugging You?

By Bud Gehnrich

After having gardened for almost fifty years, it is still a wonder to me how the various insects come and go. With us for several years to the point of destroying certain plants, then to have their population suddenly drop off almost to the point of extinction, only to be replaced by another insect that feasts on the same or different plants.

Of course there is always the expectation that the first will some day return, only to see the second gone.

Take caterpillars, for example. Only a few years ago caterpillars of all sorts infested the garden. Gypsy moths, inch worms, and loopers were there as soon as the new growth appeared on the rhododendrons, chewing it up and making an unsightly mess of every plant. The wrens and catbirds were eating them up (except the gypsy moth caterpillars, of course) and feeding them to their young. The past couple of years there have been very few caterpillars, certainly no gypsy moths. I wonder how the birds are faring? They are certainly in the garden, but do they raise fewer young because there is less food available? Or do they find some other source of food?

How about slugs? Last year they were all over the garden in the early spring, mowing down all of the gingers and other small plants as quickly as they poked their heads up. This year, hardly any slugs. I suppose that was understandable given the hot, dry summer we had, but where were they in the spring?

Not many Asiatic Garden Beetles to chew the new growth in June, there was very little damage from them. Not to worry though, to replace these bugs we have had others that filled our days with problems. Wooly maple scale (or wooly camellia scale whichever you prefer) was a big pest this year. The white, wooly egg sacks about 3/8" long covered the underside of the leaves of the viburnums, the kousa dogwoods, the azaleas, and the maple trees in the garden and in the woods. When they hatched out, the tiny crawlers were there to be seen, sucking the life out of the plants. A black coating covered the leaves and particularly the stems of many of these plants and it washed off of the taller trees and onto the leaves of the rhododendrons and other broad leaved plants below.

And now a new one, at least for me. Have you noticed the leaves on your elepidote rhododendrons having a long brown streak right down the length, sometimes on both sides of the center stern? How about the lepidotes that have have their leaves injured in a similar way, but many cases are skeletonized in the process?

I spoke to Dan Gilrein at the Cornell Univ. Extension in Riverhead, and he suggested that I go out at night with a flashlight and see what I could find. I went out at about 9:00 PM, and looked at the leaves of those plants that seem most affected. There was an insect that looked like a cricket, but was smaller and tan colored instead of black. I sent a sample to Dan and he identified it as a cricket, but since it was squashed a bit in the mail, he couldn’t be sure of the exact type.

If you go out as I did (don’t worry what the neighbors think, they probably have opinions about your gardening activities already) you will see the cricket move backward along the leaf, chaffing the top surface as it goes, and causing the damage that is green at first, but which will later turn brown.

Where have these things been all these years? What has happened that they suddenly appear and cause us grief?
I don’t know, that is for sure, but I do keep wondering. Now if I can only find out what causes those little yellow spots on the azaleas and even some of the lepidotes and elepidotes..... Bud G.

Cornell Cooperative Extension, Sept 17, 1999 Other specimens were received and have been tentatively identified as ‘larger brown bush crickets’, in the subfamily Eneopterinae. A common related species is Orocharis saltator (jumping bush cricket), but it tends to be somewhat smaller and with different coloration. I am trying to put a more specific name to your samples, but in the meantime thought you’d be interested to know the progress in identifying them.—Daniel Gilrein, Extension Entomologist