Biocontrols. Fighting Fire with Fire

June 27, 2015
Mile-a-minute vine choking trees © Beatriz Moisset

Mile-a-minute vine choking trees
© Beatriz Moisset

What to do when an introduced species, be it a plant or insect, gets so out of control that eradication seems impossible? Many species are so entrenched that all efforts seem futile, from the most ecologically benign, such as physically removing the offenders, to the least desirable ones, the use of pesticides.

When other methods of control fail conservationists resort to biological controls or biocontrols: bringing another introduced species to control the one that has become a pest.

Mile-a-minute weevils on mile-a-minute vine © Beatriz Moisset

Mile-a-minute weevils on mile-a-minute vine
© Beatriz Moisset

© 2015, Beatriz Moisset. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

Read more: Biocontrols, Fighting Fire with Fire

Goldenrod, a weed or a treasure?

May 28, 2015
Field with goldenrods. © Beatriz Moisset

Field with goldenrods.
© Beatriz Moisset

“Goldenrods are magnets for a wide variety of animal life. I am talking about the six-legged and eight-legged fauna, insects and spiders.”
“The blue-winged wasp has developed a taste for Japanese beetles and treats them the same way as June beetles.”

Blue-winged wasp on goldenrod. © Beatriz Moisset

Blue-winged wasp on goldenrod.
© Beatriz Moisset

Read the full article in Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens

Bring Back the Native Pollinators! We Need them More than Ever

May 20, 2015
A long-horned bee on sunflower © Beatriz Moisset

A long-horned bee on sunflower
© Beatriz Moisset

Excerpt from the USDA document prepared by the Division of Bee Culture in 1942: “The Dependence of Agriculture on the Beekeeping Industry—a Review.”

Wherever a proper balance exists between plants and pollinating insects, both flourish. Agricultural development, however, has seriously interfered with this balance. It has demanded the growing of certain plants in enormous acreages and has unwittingly destroyed native pollinating insects as well as their nesting places. As a result the burden of pollination has been increased to such an extent that wild bees are no longer adequate or dependable. . . In many places the depletion of wild pollinators is so acute that honeybees have to be brought in especially for pollination, and so in practically all agricultural areas honeybees are now the most numerous of the flower-visiting insects.

Read the full article in Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens 2014

Pumpkin patch teeming with bumble bees © Beatriz Moisset

Pumpkin patch teeming with bumble bees
© Beatriz Moisset

Moths in the Native Plants Garden

May 19, 2015
Hummingbird moth at Monarda flower © Beatriz Moisset

Hummingbird moth at Monarda flower
© Beatriz Moisset

” Most people think that moths are drab and plain and that they only fly at night. The attitude toward moths ranges from indifference to dislike. Aversion to moths can reach the point of irrationality; some see them as death messengers. Moths deserve better than that.”

Read more: Moths in the Native Plants Garden

Ailanthus webworm moth on snake root © Beatriz Moisset

Ailanthus webworm moth on snake root
© Beatriz Moisset

Night blooms and their pollinators

May 18, 2015
Manduca sexta feeding from Datura flower © Kiley Riffey. Flickr

Manduca sexta feeding from Datura flower
© Kiley Riffey. Flickr

“The primary nocturnal and crepuscular pollinators are creatures of the night like moths and bats. But, did you know that a few bees have become nocturnal as well? Mostly, they are species that live in hot and dry places.”

Read more: Night blooms and their pollinators

The Milkweed Community

May 13, 2015
Monarch butterfly on common milkweed © Beatriz Moisset

Monarch butterfly on common milkweed
© Beatriz Moisset

The monarch season is coming, and many gardeners throughout the country are getting ready to welcome the arriving butterflies with milkweeds lovingly cultivated in their gardens. They also brace themselves to battle whatever ills may affect the caterpillars. Milkweed bugs and milkweed beetles are seen with hostility. The “dreaded” tachinid flies, and “hated” stink bugs infuriate gardeners even more. Aphids are not welcome. Lady beetles and lacewings generate mixed feelings because they feed on aphids but they are not loath to snack on some monarch eggs or small caterpillars.

Spotted Lady Beetle larva (Coleomegilla maculata) © Beatriz Moisset

Spotted Lady Beetle larva (Coleomegilla maculata)
© Beatriz Moisset

It is important to take a look at entire ecosystems, not just single species as Carole says in “Saving the Monarch Butterfly

“The Monarch Butterfly is in deep trouble, and many passionate organizations have been created to save this single species. But a focus on protecting habitat instead of concentrating on a single species will provide lasting benefits for all species of wildlife and the native plant communities that support them, a far more worthy effort to many environmentalists and wildlife gardeners.”

So, let us take a quick look at some members of the milkweed community. Despite the formidable defenses these plants have, many species have coevolved with them and can use them as food. They incorporate the milkweed toxins and use them to deter their enemies. In turn, many predators have also coevolved and can eat the milkweed eaters. An entire food chain has developed this way.

Large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus on common milkweed © Beatriz Moisset

Large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus on common milkweed
© Beatriz Moisset

Milkweed longhorn beetles on common milkweed © Beatriz Moisset

Milkweed longhorn beetles on common milkweed
© Beatriz Moisset

Most monarch lovers are familiar with the brightly colored milkweed bugs and milkweed longhorn beetles. Bear in mind that these insects are represented by a fairly large number of species. That is, there are more than just one milkweed bug and one milkweed beetle. A few other beetles also feed on milkweeds, and several moths also do so, among them the tussock moth and the delicate cycnia.

Tussock moth caterpillar © Beatriz Moisset

Tussock moth caterpillar
© Beatriz Moisset

Sooner or later, those who raise monarch caterpillars are bound to meet two insects which will make them unhappy; one is a predator, the spined soldier bug, the other a parasite, the tachinid fly, Lespesia.

The spined soldier bug, Podisus maculiventris, is a good hunter of caterpillars and beetle grubs. It has a sharp beak with which it impales its victims. It injects some saliva which turns the inside of the prey into a smoothie and so it proceeds to drink this nutritious cocktail. The sight of a shriveled monarch caterpillar hanging from the beak of a stink bug causes great distress to the gardener.

Predatory stink bug, Podisus maculiventris on goldenrod. © Beatriz Moisset

Predatory stink bug, Podisus maculiventris on goldenrod.
© Beatriz Moisset

Podisus maculiventris juvenile (nymph) feeding on dogbane caterpillar © Beatriz Moisset

Podisus maculiventris juvenile (nymph) feeding on dogbane caterpillar
© Beatriz Moisset

The tachinid fly mentioned above goes by the name of Lespesia. It lays its eggs on caterpillars of a large number of species. The tiny fly larva digs inside and proceeds to eat its victim until it reaches full size. Then it comes out of the dying caterpillar and dribbles a sticky trail until it drops to the ground. Not a pretty sight.

Tachinid fly, Lespesia © Stephen Luk

Tachinid fly, Lespesia
© Stephen Luk

Tachind fly, Lespesia, Puparium and parasitized tent caterpillar's cocoon © Stephen Luk

Lespesia puparium and parasitized tent caterpillar’s cocoon
© Stephen Luk

Although these two insects on occasion kill some monarchs, we should not hate them. Actually, their diet is so diverse that it includes a number of pests. They are both used as pest controls for this reason and even sold for this purpose. Podisus is known to eat Mexican bean beetles, European corn borers, diamondback moths, corn earworms, beet armyworms, fall armyworms, cabbage loopers, imported cabbage worms, Colorado potato beetles, and velvetbean caterpillars. The tachinid fly is reported to feed on tent caterpillars, armyworms, cutworms and corn earworms.

Nature is far more complicated than it appears at first sight. It may seem paradoxical, but the spined soldier beetle and the Lespesia fly are indirectly the friends of monarchs, because they help cut down on pesticides. Moreover, we must remember that they have coexisted with monarchs for eons without driving them to extinction. The same can be said about the milkweed herbivores –beetles, bugs and moths. They haven’t driven milkweeds to extinction and they are not likely to do so. We are the ones that pose a threat to milkweeds and to monarch butterflies with our pesticides, habitat destruction and introduction of invasive species.

Let saving the pretty butterfly be the portal to saving the entire community, all the creatures that creep and crawl, the ones that jump or fly and even the ones that kill or get killed. Let us embrace the web of life in its totality, with all its beauty and ugliness.

Delicate cycnia © Beatriz Moisset

Delicate cycnia
© Beatriz Moisset

Additional readings
You may find this Flickr album interesting: Milkweed Visitors
More members of the milkweed community
The monarch butterfly as part of the food web: Monarchs and their Enemies

This article first appeared in Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens

Beginners Guide to Pollinators

January 13, 2014

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Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors. Beatriz Moisset

An illustrated beginner’s field guide to insect flower visitors, including pollinators. The guide provides concise descriptions, photos and life history information of the most common insects found visiting flowers. It includes time of year, geographic area and favorite flowers. Also mentioned are those that act as pollinators and whether they may sting.

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Lulu.com

Available at no cost during Pollinator Week, June 20-26, 2016

The night shift

October 5, 2013
globe.w

© Beatriz Moisset

When the sun goes down and flowers fold their petals for the day pollinators pack their bags and go to sleep. A new set of flowers steps in after sunset and a new array of customers takes to the air in search of nectar and pollen: the night shift.

The flowers that attract nocturnal pollinators don’t need flashy colors. They are white or pale colored instead, easier to be seen in the dark. They produce strong aromas that appeal to their visitors’ keen sense of smell. Nocturnal creatures such as moths and bats and a few exceptional bees are among the night flower visitors.

Sphinx moth

Hawk moth

Very few flowers bloom in the dead of night. More often they open at dawn or dusk, when twilight makes the job of their pollinators a little easier. Think of morning glories, moon flowers, 5 o’clock blossoms or evening primroses. If you have some of these in your garden you may be fortunate enough to see their guests.

A very striking visitor of many evening blooms is a large moth, the pink-spotted hawk moth. It bears an elegant muted pattern of cream and dark brown, highlighted by pink spots along its sides and on its wings. It arrives silently at its goal after sunset, unfolds its long tongue and sips nectar while suspended in air like a hummingbird. The next evening it will appear once again at the appointed time and collect its reward from the open blossoms. You can observe it almost daily as long as the flowers keep blooming.

Some people fear and hate moths even more than they hate other insects. There are even those who consider them messengers of death. This is unfortunate. I wish that they could overcome their unfounded fears enough to appreciate these moths’ graceful beauty and their role in the garden as the partners of evening bloomers.

© Beatriz Moisset, 2013

Partners and Robbers

September 27, 2013

Image

A jewelweed blossom is worth examining carefully; it is a little marvel of engineering, with a shape perfectly adapted to its pollinator, a plump bumblebee with a very long tongue and a thirst for nectar.

The shape of the little sac fits the body of the bumblebee like a glove; the side petals open like a pair of curtains to allow its entrance; the length of its spur, full of nectar is just right for the tongue of the bumblebee. And, finally and most important to the plant, the anthers (that carry the pollen) and the stigma (which receives the pollen) are placed so that the hairy back of the bumblebee rubs against them when entering the flower. The pollen is deposited on the bee and later on it is transported to other flowers.

For pollination to take place the bee has to enter the front of the flower otherwise it would fail to touch the parts of the flower that matter.

 Image

Despite this marvelous system, some very nice pollinators can turn into robbers and cheat the flowers that they usually serve diligently. This happens when the pollinator chooses to take a shortcut and bypass the well planned scheme of the flower. Such is the case of this bumblebee. When it takes nectar by slashing the spur from the outside it doesn’t come near the pollen carrying organs and doesn’t perform pollination.

Image

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

An Easy Guide to the Most Frequent Flower Visitors

April 3, 2013

Cover_edited-2.web

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors. Beatriz Moisset

An illustrated beginner’s field guide to insect flower visitors, including pollinators. The guide provides concise descriptions, photos and life history information of the most common insects found visiting flowers. It includes time of year, geographic area and favorite flowers. Also mentioned are those that act as pollinators and whether they may sting.

Available at Amazon Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Lulu.com,


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