Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

The brown marmorated stink bug Halyomorpha halys is an invasive species of stink bug native to East Asia. Their home range includes China, Japan, Korea and other Asian Countries. It was first discovered in an established population in Allentown, PA in 2001, although reports of it's presence began as early as 1996. It is believed it made its way into our country via shipping containers of cargo from one or more Asian countries where it is endemic. 

They are similar in appearance to other stink bugs native to our country, however the striped antennae is a distinct identifying characteristic. The term "marmorated" is descriptive of the veined or marbled markings unique to this species. They measure approximately 3/4 of an inch in length with nearly the same width. Body is shield-shaped, like nearly all stink bugs. Their color is generally dark brown with a lighter colored underside, but there may be shades of gray, light brown, copper, red, or purple with a slight iridescence depending upon how the light reflects off their body.

Current governmental regulations do not require that intervention be taken when dealing with stink bugs. Had this not been the case it is possible these bugs would not have taken such a stronghold within the Eastern United States. Had they been deemed a potential threat to crops within our country they could have been stopped or at the very least slowed down when first discovered. Since their first discovery in 2001 they have now been found in nearly all 50 states and are considered a serious pest in ten states and a nuisance in more than 20 states. Missouri is classified as a nuisance state, but Tennessee, a not too far away neighbor, is a considered a serious pest state for this insect. So how long before they become a serious threat here? Who knows. The key to their success is their ability to travel. They can tolerate extreme cold and heat fairly well, and they are known for hiding out in human structures, which includes cargo containers and vehicles. What better mobile transport than a car, RV or cargo container to get you from one place to another? Once moved to a new location their ability to adapt and thrive allows them to easily establish a new population. 

They are responsible for millions of dollars in damage to numerous crops, including nuts and fruits, agricultural crops like soybeans and corn as well as ornamental plants destined to be used for landscaping. Their piercing mouth part, called a proboscis is used to stab the plant and suck the juices out much like a straw. This damages the fruit meant for human consumption and must be thrown out. In corn crops they are a little sneakier. They access the cob though the husk and feed on the corn, hidden from site. Their presence is often not known until harvest time, when yield is drastically reduced and damage is discovered. In soybeans it is much the same, they enter the pod and feed on the bean seed. Damage is often not noticed, unless you are very observant. Look for beans that "stay-green," even after other nearby fields have turned brown and died back. This green appearance is indicative of the feeding damage done by this stink bug. Typically they feed within the first 40 or 50 feet of the fields edge, creating what is know as an edge-effect. If infestation is severe pesticide usage may be required. Experimentation is being done to find a biological control for these pests. The Samurai Wasp from Asia is known to parasitize these bugs, and in their native range may control anywhere from 50-80% of the population. So far in the United States we are not seeing this type of averages, it is closer to 10-20%. Other predators such as spiders and wheel bugs are known to feed on them. Pill bugs (rolly-pollies) eat the eggs.  Wheel bugs are showing a lot of promise as a bio-control predator as they feed on the eggs and the adults readily. However it will take a LOT of wheel bugs, pill bugs and wasps to tip the scale back into balance.

As a nuisance, they are much less devastating, but still annoying. They are prone to entering homes in fall when the night time temperatures drop below 45 degrees. They will begin aggregating on buildings, including our homes. Sometimes their numbers may be in the hundreds or even thousands. It is reported that in one home, over the course of 161 days over 26,000 of these bugs were removed. That's a lot of stink bugs to live with! They are not reported to bite, but if mishandled I am certain that piercing mouthpart could puncture skin. Their frass (feces) may stain surfaces and they stink! Although their smell is said to smell like cilantro, so if you like that smell it could be you won't find that part of their arsenal offensive. To help prevent them from entering your home in the first place, seal all cracks and crevices with silicone caulk, fix screens on windows and doors, use draft dodgers along the base of doors, use a vacuum to pick up any wayward individuals that make their way in. Be careful when considering the use of pesticides in your home. Remember they are chemicals and can cause their own set of problems, especially if not used correctly. If your infestation is terrible or more than you can deal with consider contacting a trusted pesticide company to help.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Maple Callus Borer

This odd looking bug that resembles something crossed between a scorpionfly and a wasp, believe it or not, is a moth. The Maple Callus Borer (Synanthedon acerni) is native to the Eastern United States and Canada. They are in a unique group of moths called the clearwings, as their wings are nearly scaleless. Acerni in Latin translates to "of maple wood." Definitely an apt species name for a maple muncher.

As one of the most common of the clearwings in the Midwest they are often encountered near their host tree the sweet, sugary maple trees. Most often red, silver and sugar maples are chosen as the host, with a special preference for silver maples.

Eggs are laid at the base of the host tree and tiny larvae bore their way into the sap-wood. They will remain there feeding for a year or perhaps two depending upon the temperatures. A heavy infestation will result in girdling or scarring of the tree. If the damage is severe enough the tree may be in danger of dying or fall victim to high winds and storms. Infestations seem to be more prevalent in large cities rather than in rural areas. Perhaps this is due to fewer options for hosts which wouldn't allow for the moth to disperse. I can envision the females all gathering on one or two available trees growing on the city block, whereas in rural areas there are larger populations of host trees, which gives more options for females to lay their eggs. Or perhaps the opposite is true and they find MORE hosts in the city, after all maples have long been a favored tree in urban areas. Whatever the reason, it seems city trees are far more likely to be infested.

They are one of the few clearwing moths attracted to lights at night. So it would not be unusual to encounter one at your porch light. Another similar-looking insect, the scorpionfly, is also attracted to porch lights. The resemblance between the two is uncanny. These moths are considered wasp-mimics, but perhaps a scorpionfly-mimic would be much more accurate. Then again maybe the scorpionfly is a wasp mimic. In which case, we have a moth that is mimicking a scorpionfly, that is mimicking a wasp. I'm confused!

Scorpionfly for comparison
An additional Scorpionfly for comparison
Expect them to emerge, early in the morning, often in significant numbers in May or early June. The first time you notice them might be as a fairly large swarm at the base of your tree. Controlling them is not always easy. Removal of any damaged or dead branches may help. Treating the tree with chemicals may discourage them or outwardly kill them, but I am not an advocate for using chemicals as they rarely kill the target insect alone. Other species are often a casualty as well. Woodpeckers, by virtue of their long beak and preference for drilling into trees in search of insect prey are excellent natural control of these borers. So maybe try encouraging more woodpeckers to your yard with suet cakes and birdbaths and by leaving large hollow trees (when feasible).

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Tawny Emperor and Hackberry Butterflies

Tawny Emperor
Nearly everyone loves butterflies, especially bright flashy ones like tiger swallowtails and monarchs. However sometimes beauty is found in being inconspicuous like in the case of the Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton).

They are medium-sized butterflies with wingspans up to 2 5/8 inches.  Orange-brown wings contain various pale yellow spots and two black or dark brown completely formed bars. Hindwings contain black spots surrounded by orange rings. Males are smaller than females. There is a similar species, the Hackberry Butterfly (Asterocampa celtis) or the Hackberry Emperor as it is also called. This species is various shades of light to dark brown and has forewings with numerous white spots, but lack the black bars the Tawny Emperor has.

They are found east of the Rockies as well as Arizona. Commonly found in woodland habitats  where the host trees, hackberries, are found. They also share this habitat with the similar Hackberry
Tawny Emperor
Emperor. To avoid competition for the same food host they utilize the trees at different stages. Hackberry butterflies use the trees with young foliage growth, whereas Tawny Emperors wait until the foliage is older and more developed.

Adults of both species feed on rotting fruit, tree sap, carrion, and dung. They rarely nectar at flowers and when they do, they do not do so like other butterflies. They don't land on flowers, collecting pollen on their feet and bodies which can be transmitted to other flowers. Instead they take nectar without landing on the flower effectively "stealing" the sugary substance without providing any pollination benefits to the plant.

Hackberry Emperor feeding on watermelon
Males typically perch in sunny locations waiting for passing females to mate with. Once a mate has been located the female will lay eggs singularly or in small clusters on the leaves of hackberry trees. The feeding behavior of the caterpillars will not cause any serious damage to the tree. Caterpillars will overwinter in rolled leaves on the ground at the base of host trees. In the spring, the caterpillars must climb the trees and begin feeding again until they are ready to complete their lifecycle.

The Hackberry emperor shares a similar mating strategy, males also perch for females, but are easily distracted by flashy objects. Anything shiny, or bright will often lure them away from their perch. Once a mate is located though, the female will lay eggs on the host in small clusters or singularly. If the caterpillars occur in large enough numbers their voracious appetites will defoliate a tree in short order, but this behavior is not known to kill the trees. Overwintering caterpillars will finish development in the spring.

Hackberry Emperor

Hackberry emperors are much more common than their cousin the Tawny and are frequently encountered in large numbers in woodlands containing the host trees. They often land on humans, sometimes several at once, trying to lap up salty sweat from our skin. They don't seem to scare easily like most butterflies when humans approach.

Hackberry Emperor

While many of us prefer bright, flashy colors and brilliantly beautiful butterflies, I say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For the those of us who fall in the latter category, subtlety suits us just fine.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Fork-tailed Bush Katydid

If the sunshine and heat don't tell you its summer, the abundance of insects will. Especially the large, calling insects like cicadas, grasshoppers, crickets and the ever popular katydid. The incessant, buzzing call of "Katy-did, katy-didn't" just screams summer nights!

Can you tell I am wishing for the warmth of sunshine and the heat of summer? It's only January and after two major snow falls in the past 6 weeks, and one more on the way for this weekend, I am officially over winter!

Missouri is home to numerous specie of katydids, and the most common may be the Fork-tailed Bush Katydid (Scudderia furcata). They are bright green and reach about 2 inches in length. Late summer or early fall specimens are often highly variable in color and may be reddish-brown, brownish, pink or reddish. There are also dark, dull green varieties, but the most common color is bright green. Males have a split "tail" on the tip of the abdomen called a furcula that is key in identification. This appendage is where their species name of furcata came from and helps identify them from other similar species. Females have a long appendage extended from their abdomen as well, called an ovipositor, that is used in egg laying. They use this appendage to deposit their eggs at the edge of leaves between the layers, but may also lay eggs on twigs or leaf surfaces. Thousands of newly hatched nymphs begin appearing in late spring. They are born looking much like their adult counterparts, they lack wings and sexual appendages. After 5 or 6 instars (molts) they will reach adult size, sometime in August.
This species is widespread throughout the United States and may be the most commonly encountered katydid in their range. They are typically found in meadows, open fields and in brushy, weedy areas near woodlands.

They feed on a variety of weedy vegetation, but seem to love citrus. Their invasion of citrus groves can make growers cringe as they watch these munchers gnaw holes in their profits. They typically chew a single hole in the rind before moving onto the next piece of fruit. This ruins the fruit for human consumption rendering it unmarketable. Fortunately this is an extreme situation and would only be a serious problem if their numbers are excessive. Usually they are content to feed on grasses and weeds, and one could even argue their feeding habits control noxious weeds by preventing them from reaching the seed dispersal stage.

Their eyesight and camouflage is excellent and they are virtually impossible to see among the vegetation unless you happen to see them move. You are far more likely to hear one before you see it. They will spot you first, and disappear on the underside of a leaf. If you continue to pester them they will fly away on strong wings. Handling one is not advised. If too severely harassed they will bite to defend themselves. Their bite feels like a painful pinch, not likely to break the skin, but unpleasant just the same.

Katydids are important to the environment as a food source for numerous species of animals. Foxes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, rodents, birds, snakes and frogs all make use of katydids as a protein packed meal. 

Each species of katydid, just like other singing insects, has their own unique song. If you are patient and inclined to do so, you may learn each call and identify them based on sound without ever spotting them. Sound is produced by something called stridulation. Males use the rigid edge of the right wing and move it across the comb-like portion of the left wing. The rubbing of these two wing portions creates the unique call we are all familiar with.

Nothing speaks to summer quite like the call of the Katydid!


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Margined Shiny Leaf Chafer

This beautiful scarab beetle is the Margined Shiny Leaf Chafer (Callistethus marginatus). They are native to the Eastern United States and found as far south as Central America. I found this one in Fillmore, MO this past summer. It was moving around on the clover in the hay field. Even though I now know these are common, I had never seen one before.

Like most all scarabs their life begins underground as grubs where they feed on the roots of turf, plants and young trees. Some scarabs can cause excessive damage to lawns and ornamental plants if their numbers are large enough. This particular species is not known to be a pest.

They do however, resemble a beetle we have come to know as a major pest. The Japanese Beetle has been wrecking havoc from the Eastern seaboard westward for decades now. Their sheer numbers are approaching plague-like proportions. The invasive Japanese Beetle is smaller and has distinct white tufts along the margins of the elytra. 

Margined Shiny Leaf Chafer

  The Margined Leaf Chafer lacks these tufts, but has pale hairs visible along the elytra and at first glance may look like those distinctive tufts. 

Their color is somewhat similar. They both have shiny metallic bodies and wings. Each have a greenish tint to them. The Japanese Beetle has a predominantly green head, pronotum, legs and underside. The MSLC has an over all brownish or reddish-brown color with a metallic green sheen.There is usually a pale-yellowish or cream color margin along the pronotum. Legs are are light color with bands of reddish-brown.

The Japanese Beetle is diurnal whereas MSLC are nocturnal. Although you will find them resting among flowers or vegetation during the day, giving the impression that they are in fact diurnal. They frequently show up at lights at night.

This particular beetle seems to be a favorite of bats. The nocturnal habits of the beetles puts them in the path of night flying bats. Larger bats like Big Brown's are fond of beetles, and this particular species would be a manageable size for capture and consumption. The notion that bats consume large quantities of mosquitoes is a bit of a exaggeration. While they do eat mosquitoes, it just isn't at the amount we are told. If we look at it from the bats perspective....mosquitoes are tiny, lack much nutritional value and would have to consumed in extremely large quantities to benefit them. However, beetles, moths and other larger insects require nearly the same amount of energy to capture and pack a much larger nutritional punch. Compare it to humans at an all-you-can-eat-buffet. Most would not order the salad when that huge buffet beckons.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Bumble Bee Millipede

While not native to Missouri, the Bumble Bee Millipede (Anadenobolus monilicornis) is an interesting invertebrate I thought worth sharing. I have a friend who lives in south Florida, she shipped me a few of these, and another species, to use in the insect and spider programs I do with children at the Nature Center where I work.

Bumble Bee Millipedes, also called Yellow-Banded Millipedes are native to the Caribbean and parts of South America and made their way into South Florida via exotic plant shipments. They are well established in Florida, but cause no real issues for the environment. Homeowners may find them a bit of a nuisance when large numbers of them show up in their basements or other parts of their property. Heavy rains and the moisture left behind will often bring these millipedes out in large numbers. Once inside your home the millipede won't last long as it will dry out quickly from lack of proper moisture. It is not uncommon to find them outside around foundations and in your gardens or along walkways, walls and in your compost pile.

They are detritivores and feed on decaying plant and animals matter. They are estimated to consume as much as 10% of leaf litter in a given habitat, as well as fallen fruit, seeds, mushrooms, feces, and dead invertebrates. They rummage around in leaf litter, under logs and other woodland micro-habitats looking for food, once consumed they turn it into nutrient rich pellets they expel. These fecal pellets are absorbed into the earth creating organically rich soil perfect for plant life to thrive.

These little millipedes are easily recognized by their distinct dark brown or black, and yellow banded coloring, red antennae and red legs. They may reach lengths up to three inches. Like all millipedes they have two pairs of legs per body segment, which has earned millipedes the nick-name of "1,000-leggers."

Determining whether or not you have a male or female millipede in hand might not be as hard as you think. Even though they look alike, males have sexual organs located where the 7th body segment legs should be. If you count 7 body segments back from the head and the "legs" look shorter, or odd in someway compared to the other legs, chances are you are holding a male. These external reproductive organs help the male transfer sperm directly to the female as they face each other. They may remain locked together for long periods of time. Once the female is mated, she will create a small nest to deposit her eggs. She remains with the eggs to guard them from potential predators. Once hatched the newly born millipedes will appear similar to their adult counterparts, with the exception of leg count. Millipedes are born with one pair of legs per body segment. Through molting and growing they will eventually develop more legs.
Young millipedes are fed a diet of fecal pellets from their mother for a period of time before they begin foraging on their own.

Millipedes have a few defensive strategies up their proverbial sleeves, of which there would be many, if they had them. If harassed they will form a tight coil that protects their delicate underside and legs. They may secrete a substance that tastes bad to anything that might want to eat them. This substance will burn your eyes, so don't rub them after handling a millipede! They may also vomit the contents of their stomach which can stain skin and be very difficult to wash off and remain with you for several days. Birds and monkeys have learned to utilize the millipedes natural defenses to their advantage. They will grab a millipede and crush it, then rub the secretions all over their fur or feathers. This affords them protection from biting insects in a form of insect repellent.

These small, yet colorful, millipedes make excellent program animals. They do not bite, or sting. They move slowly and just by their sheer nature are not intimidating or scary. They are great additions to a compost pile and help break down the organic matter within. Not to mention they are just plain cool to look at, watching all those legs moving in unison is mesmerizing.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) Butterflies are common in Missouri, but I only ever encounter a few each season. This year I did not see my first one until a couple of weeks ago when it was nectaring at the sedum in my yard. Late season blooming flowers like sedum, and goldenrod attract a lot of hungry butterflies and other insects late in the season. Food sources are beginning to die and good nectaring plants are hard to come by. If  you want to keep butterflies and other flower loving insects around in your garden longer be sure to plant flowers that bloom at various times of the growing season. Sedum, or Forever Plants as my grandma always called them, are super easy to grow. Find a friend that has some and ask to pick a shoot or two from theirs. Pluck them directly in the ground and water, viola', that's it! Cheap and easy and butterflies love them!

Variegated Fritillaries are related to fritillaries in the genus Speyeria, which includes the Regal Fritillary, and the Great-Spangled Fritillary, but there are distinct differences that separate them. First, the VF has numerous broods each season, whereas butterflies in the genus Speyeria only have one. VF use numerous plants as host plants, including Passionvine, which biologically connects them to the Heliconia Butterflies (longwing butterflies). Speyeria use plants in a single genus.... Viola (violets). This plant specific host preference is one reason some species of fritillaries in this genus are endangered, like the Regal Fritillary that lives in Missouri Prairies. Missouri has lost 98% of it's prairies to agriculture, urban development and habitat degradation. This loss of habitat makes it increasingly difficult for host specific species to hold on in what has essentially become island habitats.

Pearl Crescent

Silvery Checkerspot
The VF closely resembles two unrelated species, Pearl Crescent and Silvery Checkerspot (See pictures for comparison).
Variegated Fritillaries have orangish-tan forewings with black veins and checkered markings. There are black dots close the wing margins. The underwings resemble dead leaves which afford them protection from predation. Wingspan is approximately 1 3/4- 3 1/8 inches.

They are found all throughout North America and South America in meadows, along roadsides, in wastelands, flower gardens and forage fields like alfalfa and clover. 

Their genus name, Euptoieta, is derived from the Greek word euptoietos meaning "easily scared." Observations of this species by naturalists noted their swift, flighty reaction to being approached. I personally have never had a problem approaching or photographing this species. This particular one was especially tolerant of my presence. Could be it was tattered and worn and just plain tired and more focused on what sustenance it could get than by my bothersome proximity. In other words, it just didn't care.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Colorado Insects----Hedgehog Fly

The Spiny Tachina Fly (Paradejeania rutilioides) or as it is affectionately referred to by many entomologist, the hedgehog fly, is found throughout western North America and into Central America.

These large Bristle flies in the family Tachinidae measure up to 3/4 ( or a bit more) of an inch in length and are covered in bristly hairs giving them a superficial resemblance to hedgehogs, earning them their common name. Overall color is black and pumpkin orange, wings are smoky colored and bristles are black.

Our recent trip to Georgetown and Idaho Springs, CO took us well into the range for this fly, that up until spotting it near Clear Creek, I had no idea existed. I must admit I was shocked to see a tachinid fly this LARGE, it was giant in comparison to the tachinid flies I am used to seeing at home in NW Missouri. If you are an entomologists; professional or amateur, and love photography as well, and are faced with something this unusual you almost panic at the thought it will get away without getting a good look at it or preferably a picture of it! I hit PANIC mode as I did my best stealth movements in order to sneak a closer look, only to have it fly away to another plant. This went on for quite some time before it finally got tired or gave up and decided I meant no real threat. Then I noticed two more nearby on the same type of plants. Each fly was nectaring at the bright yellow flowers of groundsel. Locally I now know these flies are very common, but to an out-of-stater this was an exciting find!

This fly is a known parasitoid of the Edward's Glassy-wing moth (Hemihyalea edwardsii). Females will seek out the caterpillars of this species of moth and lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch they will feed on the caterpillar. Tachinid flies are excellent at controlling troublesome insects such as caterpillars, and stink bugs that feed on crops and other agricultural plants of economic importance. They are also secondary pollinators. Their habit of nectaring at flowers makes them excellent transporters of pollen.

My good friend Eric Eaton at Bug Eric
did an excellent write-up about this species as well as another spikey-bottomed fly. Be sure to check it out.

I was fortunate enough to capture several images of this species before it became too dark to allow for decent images. I never tire of finding new-to-me unique insects to observe, photograph and learn about.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Hide Beetle

Hide beetles in the family Trogidae are unusual looking beetles with warty bodies covered in dried mud. They are brown, black or grayish-brown in color with a flat abdomen. They are related to scarabs and are often mistaken for one. There seems to be much debate among scientists as to whether they should be classified in their own family or as a subfamily of Scarabaediae. Apparently the confusion has something to do with the eye structure. Ommatidium of the eye are the structures that act like lenses and are made up of photoreceptor cells. The more ommatidium an insect or arthropod has, the more advanced it is considered to be. For instance isopods may only have a half dozen ommatidium, whereas dragonflies have  30,000 or more. Hide beetles differ enough in their eye structure from Scarabaeidae that many feel they warrant their own family.

More than 300 species make up the Trogidae family and they are found Worldwide with more living in drier or temperate climates than in moist or wet climates. They are a relatively small family of beetles and very little is known about them. Many species live solely in mammal burrows or birds nests and have not been studied adequately. These nest dwellers feed on feathers, fur, skin and feces. Typically they will be the last beetles to show up at a carcass to feed on feathers, fur and skin....the things other carrion feeders tend to ignore. The only exception seems to be if the dead body has been burned, then these beetles are the first to arrive. They will eat the charred outside of the unfortunate victim, leaving the softer, fleshy parts for other carrion feeders to consume.

Mating takes place near a piece of carrion, the female will dig a burrow underneath the carcass to act as a nursery. After laying eggs within the burrow she moves on and the newly hatched larvae will have a ready food supply in the form of bits and pieces of dried skin, feathers, fur or other tidbits they can scavenge. Typically it takes them 4 or 5 molts (instars) to reach adulthood, and will measure up to 20 mm (1 inch) when fully grown.

Sometimes these beetles are referred to as Skin Beetles, but this description is usually used for Dermestid beetles. Although, just like dermestid beetles, many museums will use hide beetles to clean specimens of fur, feathers and skin to ready them for displays or education props.

The one pictured here was found in late spring at a mercury vapor light I had out to attract insects. Over the course of several nights I found numerous hide beetles, their dirt covered bodies hiding among the vegetation. They are relatively difficult to see and when they've been disturbed, or discovered they will sit completely motionless, feigning death. Pretty good ruse if you have a hungry predator after you. Don't move and don't be seen.

Monday, September 17, 2018


Eleven years ago, as a volunteer for the Conservation Department, I suggested to the Naturalist we should create an event that celebrates insects and spiders. I felt there was a serious need for education on the importance of insects and spiders. I pitched her my ideas and she loved it. After much planning, and organizing our very first Insect-o-rama was launched. It was so successful that for next 10 years we continued with the tradition. A lot has changed in my life in those subsequent years. After 7 years as a volunteer I was employed by MDC as a naturalist. I continued in that position for 6 years before being offered a position at the local Nature Center. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to work for Remington Nature Center, and became their naturalist nearly 3 years ago. The NC embraced Insect-o-rama and allowed me to continue the event.

Every second Saturday in September we invite experts in their fields to share with our visiting guests their various interests. Paul Landkamer, a entomophagy (a big fancy word for someone who enjoys eating bugs) enthusiast brings LOTS, and LOTS of bugs that he has lovingly sauteed, fried, baked, and otherwise prepared for those brave enough to sample some. Over the years I've tried many insects, including June bugs, grasshoppers, cicadas, wheel bugs, mealworms, and even a hornworm. My all time favorite, believe it or not, are the stink bugs! They are crunchy, tasty, little treats that surprised even me with their yummyness!

The worst, by far, was the hornworm. This rubbery, abomination was about as palatable as an old shoe and equally as chewy. I could not drink enough water to wash that thing down and must say most of it ended up in the trash!!! That aside, everything else I've tried was quite good, and certainly healthy. This is a great way to teach people that protein comes in all forms, not just steak and eggs.

Several people I know from the Kansas City area, including Betsy Betros (who wrote an amazing Butterfly book, for the link to order, see the side bar on my blog), Linda Williams, Joyce Bollman, Patty Schulenberg, Lyn & Tom Fry and their daughter Tammy have shared their love of butterflies and moths. Each of these individuals collect eggs, or capture caterpillars and adults to rear in their homes. They use these butterflies and moths, in their various stages of development to set up at events like ours, and also Butterfly festivals at Powell Gardens.
This is one of the most popular exhibits at our event and the tables are always surrounded by individuals in awe of the diversity of these winged creatures. Even in the caterpillar stage they generate a lot of ooooohs and awes, maybe more so!

In years past our local Health Department has set up a wonderful, educational booth on insects that can impact human health. In recent years we've seen a surge in bedbug infestations, and many people have questions about them. Their display includes information on those pesky night time, bloodsucking visitors that have plagued mankind since we first appeared. Do they pose serious health risks to humans? Or are they just a nuisance? They also provided valuable information on mosquitoes and ticks.....all the bugs we love to hate.

  In conjunction with the health department, a local pest control company, Preferred Pest Control, sets up a booth to guide homeowners on the options available for household pests that none of us wants to deal with. This includes, bedbugs, termites and cockroaches, among others. Their booth is always interesting, interactive, and educational and often geared towards children. No fear tactics here! They recognize that not all bugs are bad and enjoy celebrating the good side of insects without spreading "all bugs are bad" misinformation. We love the Cooperiders!They even have a cute termite mascot!!! It doesn't get any better!

The local university, MWSU, gets in on all the fun when their professor of biology/entomology brings numerous students. These awesome young people assist our guests with aquatic dip netting in the pond or lagoon, with microscopes and even an exciting game of cockroach races.

Many of our insects begin life in the water, and later emerge in their adult form, this includes dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, as well as others. This is a great way to introduce children to the diversity of insect life around them and how important it is to keep our water sources pollution free.

Microscopes offer guests the opportunity to experience minuscule life forms in all their weirdness and awesomeness. They learn how many insects are truly living around them that they will never see with the naked eye. It has been said that every square inch of soil holds some sort of insect life....most we just never see. Cockroach races, face it, are just plain fun! Giant hissing cockroaches are placed in PVC racing troughs and coached and encouraged by our guests to see who will reach the finish line. We've only had a few roaches make a break for it!

For decades insects have invaded our country from other nations. They make their way to U.S. soil in various ways. Some accidentally and others are purposely brought here with the idea they will control other insects we view as noxious or injurious. Often what happens is these insects wreck havoc on our environment. Several such bugs are destroying trees by the millions all across the Eastern United States. Emerald Ash Borers, Asian Longhorn Beetles, and Gypsy Moths are running amok and taking their toll on ash trees and various other species of trees and plant life. Each year we try to educate our public about the importance of being responsible and not moving firewood. If you cut wood at home, don't transport it too your camping destination in another county or state. Buy your firewood locally. This helps tremendously to cut back  on the level of infestation these insects are capable of.
We borrow a Emerald Ash Borer costume from the USFS and coerce one of our university students with free pizza to dress up and spread the message "Don't move FIREWOOD!"

The Honey Bee is Missouri's state insect and no insect event would be complete without beekeepers. Our local "Swarm Chasers" bee group set up every year and answer the many questions people have about bees. "How do we become beekeepers?" "How much does it cost?" "How difficult is it?" "Where have all the bee gone?" Without bees our ecosystem would collapse and we would have to get used to not having many of the foods we enjoy or depend on. Beekeeping as a hobby has surged in recent years and our local keepers are fantastic at sharing their passion for these important pollinators.

Spiders, Spiders, Spiders.....not everyone's favorite to be sure, but love em' or hate em' they are important members of the ecosystem. They provide free pest control  and gobble up hundreds of tons of insects each year. I had arachnophobia for most of my life. A little over a decade ago I became determined to conquer that fear. I spent four years overcoming my phobia and now I am in love with these 8-legged creatures and own 5 tarantulas! Fears can be managed or even conquered with the right motivation and determination. We've had numerous individuals over the years come into our event with the express purpose of facing a spider and moving one inch closer to getting over a lifelong fear! These are some of my favorite moments, to watch someone go from frozen in fear, to fascination!

Exploration, discovery and education are key to teaching our young people to love and respect nature. Hands-on activities are necessary to make lifelong connections. We can talk, and preach until we are blue in the face, but nothing breaks down barriers faster or more thoroughly than actually holding a tarantula for the first time, or sticking your fingers in pond muck and finding an alien-looking creature that turns out to be a dragonfly baby.
Laughter, as they race cockroaches or, sample some insect fare will stay with them for a lifetime as they look back and say "remember when....?"

Let me encourage you to make your own discoveries. Get outside and explore, get dirty and make memories to last a lifetime.