Friday, April 29, 2005

More Mantids

Another ootheca ( egg case ) of baby mantids hatched two days ago, but for some reason it only seemed to contain about 20 nymphs. Perhaps the egg case got clogged by one that could not get out thereby blocking the exit for the rest. I will have two examine the egg case later to find out. I put them in a different cage learning from experience not to place a wet cotton ball in the cage for moisture as the tiny hooks on their feet get caught in the cotton and they fall forward struggling to get away and suffocate. In this batch brother ate brother on the second day at an unlikely time. It occurred while I was exchanging them from a gallon jar to their larger mesh cage. Feeding them is no longer a problem as I was able to find a major aphid infestation along the banks of Lake Oroville, (near Paradise, Ca.), among the new spring wildflowers. They seem to be mainly infesting a certain, plant with pea-like pod attachments. I heard lots of turkeys gobbling while I was gathering samples.
The first hatch still do not seem to be growing very rapidly and I am somewhat concerned that they are not eating enough. I am also wondering what species these are. They will have to get much larger before I can identify them. Such a stage creature they are to sometimes eat each other even when food is plentiful. Here is a link to some great information on preying mantids. Link

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Kayak and canoe building

Here is a link to my cusom made kayaks and canoes if you are interested in seeing some picutures of how they are built and some of my local expeditions. Link

Preying Mantis Seven Days Old

The baby mantids are seven days old now, and growing much slower than I thought they would. The first cannibalism occurred on the fifth day, although there were plenty of aphids for them. It was possibly due to over crowded conditions. They are still learning how to catch there prey.
I also had a problem with a small spider who had stowed away in the cage and had captured several babes in it's web before I even found it in the cage. I had a hell of a time getting rid of that spider!
This is a link to my other blog (are-you-sleeping.blogspot).

If anyone has seen this blog, please leave a comment so I will know if it has gone public.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Not Just Beetle Juice

Please feel free to leave a comment or question

April 22, 2005
Not Just Beetle Juice

This year my yard will be aphid free, as I have a good supply of ladybugs, (aphid terminators), which I plan on letting loose in an organized schedule to eradicate the aphids in our maple trees and stop the constant sticking drippings they are leaving on my vehicles, not to mention the leaves curling up and falling while its still only springtime. I’m sure they will take care of the garden too, and the roses, although it will be my first experience using ladybugs as a biological pesticide.
From what I’ve read, ladybugs, ladybirds or ladybeetles, are one of the most voracious of the “beneficial insects” at least for aphid control. Another on the list of aphid eaters is the lacewing, but they are much more expensive and they only eat aphids while they are in their larvae stage, while ladybugs eat aphids while in their larvae and adult stages. They say the adult female will eat up to 75 aphids a day, while the adult male will eat 40 a day, and the larvae will eat 50 or 60.
Ladybugs have quite a history going back to medieval days in Europe when they seemed to have suddenly appeared in large numbers through-out the fields and vines, which were infested with parasitic bugs. They were appreciated so much that they were given the title “ lady bird,” in reference to the Virgin Mary, as it was thought that they were sent down from heaven to save the crops. From then on they were thought of as being a sign of good luck. It was in America the name ladybird was changed to ladybug by immigrants, while the name given them by the Cherokee meant “great beloved woman.” But don’t get the wrong idea, ladybugs are not all female. The males are a little bit smaller than the females as a general rule, and the reference to them being ladies couldn’t be more wrong, as they are very prolific and non-monogamous. In some urban areas of Europe, 90 to 95 percent of the ladybird population has been found to carry a sexually transmitted disease which fortunately is not fatal to the insect. In non-urban areas the disease only affects 2 percent of the population.
There are several species of ladybugs in California. The Vedalia beetle species was imported to save the failing citrus industry from cottony cushion scale. The mealy bug destroyer, ( red-yellow-black) was imported in 1928 from Australia. The Convergent ladybug, (Hippodamia Convergens,) or “Classic California” ladybug is native to California and the pacific coast and have been shipped nationally for the last 100 years. These are the type I plan on releasing, but there are many other native and non-native species in California.
One of the main complaints I have read about using ladybugs for pest management is that a large portion of them have the habit of wandering down to the neighbors yard instead of staying to finish the job before leaving, so releasing them must be well thought out and prepared, for the best results.
First you need them to establish themselves by creating an environment that will make them want to stay, called a farmscape. A farmscape can be easy or complex, depending on which and how diverse the beneficial insects are that you are trying to attract. It is basically providing certain plants that give food, “pollen and nectar,” year round by placing them in strategic locations for the selected predator . They are usually placed around the perimeter of the area you are working to provide nutrients after the aphids are gone while they are waiting for more aphids to show up. While ladybugs are feeding, they will travel no more than 50 feet after their prey, and the farmscape plants could be planted in pots so they could be moved around. The particular farmscape plants that attract the classic California ladybug are, wild carrot, fennel, cilantro, and dill. It is also a good idea to leave some of those weeds in the ground, which add to the farmscape environment. You should also know what and when your good bugs like to eat. The Classic California ladybug is mainly a carnivore, enjoying soft bodied insects pests. Aphids, mites, moth eggs, etc…. but they will also eat nectar, pollen, and if there are no pest to be found, they will eat some fruits, if the outer skin is damaged and the inner juices of the fruit is exposed. They will even turn to cannibalism, eating their own eggs when hungry. They do most of their feeding in the spring and summer months after the temperature stabilizes to between 65 and 85 degrees. They will eat less during the higher temperatures. In the late fall most will fly to the mountains and cluster together in large groups preparing for winter hibernation, when they can go for months without eating, living on their stored body fat.
I’ve gathered a list from many sources concerning the releasing of ladybugs to get optimal results, in case you would like to try this in your own yard or garden.
(1) Do not use any pesticides before releasing.
(2) Release a few before planting garden.
(3) Cool them down to between 33 and 40 degrees by leaving them in the refrigerator for a few minutes. (Do not freeze.)
(4) Spray them with a light mist of sugar/water mixture, 10% sugar to make their wings sticky so they can not fly without cleaning their wings, which should help keep them from flying till they get established.
(5) If you can, release them when the temperature is below 50 degrees.
(6) You may release a few before the aphids appear as a preventative measure. In that case you might want to feed them before release with a product called wheast. (A ladybug food, available where you purchase the ladybugs.)
(7) Study the garden and find shady areas that do not get any direct sunlight during the day. You do not want them to fly when released.
(8) Do not release in direct sunlight!
(9) Water down the area first and try to keep the humidity high after that.
(10) Do not release them all at once, but several times a week to maintain a biological balance. “They can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.”
(11) Wait until late evening when the sun is down.
(12) On some trees you may want to apply “Tanglefoot”, to keep ants from protecting the aphids. (Some ants will fight to protect the aphids for the honeydew they produce.)
(13) The idea is to get the ladybugs to reproduce and lay eggs. As soon as you see the little alligator shaped larvae crawling around, “start looking after about 10 days after release,” you should have ladybugs for the rest of the season.
(14) Supplement garden with wheast if needed when aphids are gone to help keep your bugs happy.
Classic California ladybugs, (Hippodamia Convergens,) are available at some nurseries, biological pest suppliers, or Email me at for info on finding ladybugs or to see how my bug adventure is progressing.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

To the editor

I am so glad I found What a cool way to reach the world. I no longer have to be angry at small time newspaper editors for not returning phone calls, e-mails and not responding to articles sent thru the mail, in short, I don't care if they are not doing their jobs and at least hiring a public relations person to respond to public inquries. I don't know how some of these small newspapers have been able to stay in business whith the policies they operate on and it's probably time for them two start counting backwards if they continue to try and dominate our thought processes in the editing room. Please alow me to start the countdown, 99, 98, 97....(Sorry, as you can see, I am still a little angry.) It will pass, I'm fairly certain that there will alway be a place for bird cage liners and kitty litter catchers.

Cannibals on the Porch

August 14, 2005
Cannibals on the Porch
By Jim Burnell

No, ghosts of the Donner Party have not started haunting my porch, nor have others of the human type I may have reference to. I am speaking of cannibals in the insect world of which there are many, but two in particuIar that make me stop and wonder. The first is waxy black with a small red hourglass on her abdomen. She dangles on a thin thread late on warm summer nights in doorways or dark corners waiting for the what ever comes her way. I am sure you guessed, it is the female black widow spider, (Latrodectus Mactans) that I am referring to, and she is no stranger to many porches and gardens around the world . Her potent neurotoxic venom is more deadly than a rattle snake, although the actual bite is less noticeable. But she is only one of the many cannibals waiting outside.
If you are lucky, your porch may attract a less deadly, human friendly cannibal, with lightning strike reflexes and human like characteristics. The adult praying mantis, of whom its been said, is the only insect able to swivel its head around 180 degrees. Mantis is the Greek word for prophet, and if you see one of these on your porch you are immediately impressed by its show of awareness and seeming lack of fear as it turns its head and watches you walk by. The praying mantis, also commonly called mantids, like the black widow, have a reputation of sexual cannibalism, in that the females are known for eating the males head after and sometimes during mating, which in truth only happens some of the time, however in the case of the mantids, the young nymphs emerging from their egg cases will begin to eat each other if another food source is not found within one or two days and they are kept caged together with no means of escape. They emerge from their eggs as tiny strings, one attached to the next, through a row of pin-sized holes in the egg. As the string grows longer they individually begin to unfold into tiny little creatures looking just like their parents, only wingless, stringy and weak, but able to walk or run to high ground, or I should say elevated branches and leaves as they seem to have an instinct to climb, like tiny infantry soldiers searching for a safe place to lie in wait for any soft bodied insect they can over-power while avoiding any large ants or meat bees which can easily carry them of at this age.
As a gardener and amateur entomologist I am naturally drawn to these two insects. In the case of the black widow, it is the possibility of a nasty bite, and a trip to the emergency room, which has always concerned me. In the case of the praying mantis, besides its mysterious fascination and pre-historic looks, it is its reputation as a beneficial insect for pest control that got my attention. Then I got a crazy idea about using the talents of the mantis to control the black-widow population by setting them out as sentinels on the porch and in the yard and so I went about gathering mantid egg cases from neighboring areas, “oothecas”, as they are called, and began waiting for them to hatch, while I designed several cages which I thought appropriate. The first ootheca hatched in mid-April and I somehow missed it. I turned to look in the glass container as usual and there were over one-hundred little guys about five sixteenths of an inch long, running and jumping from branch to branch exploring the gallon container. They had all come from one egg case! Little did I know at that time what I was getting into as I tried to figure out how to get the other egg cases out of the container without half of the little guys escaping in the process. The first thing I realized was that I was going to need a good pair of glasses, and a lot of time and patience to journey into this insects world.
Since then four months have passed and since this is not the place for a novel, I will only share information, as it would relate to gardening and pest control. As for the black widow, we will just have to wait and see, but for once I would say that the “little prophet”, lives up to the hype of its reputation as a good beneficial, provided certain procedures are taken.
Most beneficial insect companies recommend releasing your mantids immediately or just placing the egg cases out in the garden to hatch on their own. I would not recommend this as most of them will fall prey to other predatory insects at this age, as they do not get their wings till the end of their third month and their only defenses are camouflage and stealth during the first few days. If a colony of large ants track them down, the whole population from an egg case can become ant food in a few hours. It is better to wait three to four weeks before releasing them, letting them grow to between five eighths and three quarters of an inch, during this time they have learned a little self-defense from practicing with each other. This can be done very easily with a self-feeding ant proof cage that can be kept outdoors with very little maintenance and reused year after year. If this is done the survival rate will increase dramatically and many more mantids will be found protecting the garden later in the season. At this point you can release them strategically or randomly. If you want to target specific plants with a pest problem, you can release them every four inches apart or so and after they find a spot they like they will most likely stay in or near to that spot ranging no more than twelve inches or so contrary to popular belief. They will usually stay in that general area for several weeks until they can no longer find food, or until they become prey for meat bees, which constantly hover in search of a meal, and crafty spiders that sneak up from underneath and in a surprise attack inject their poison. Many times it may seem that they are gone and then several days later they are back again when all the time they were hiding right in front of you. Some of my outside mantids have stayed in the same place for two months. Do not expect miracles. If a pest infestation has already occurred it is most likely too late for these beneficials to be of much help. At this age they may eat only four or five aphids or small flies a day but they can survive on less and they will not eat if they are not hungry. They will also help control the mosquito population as I found out when I introduced a few mosquitoes into their cages. In fact there is the possibility of them being very effective for mosquito control if released in marshlands or around stagnant water.
As time goes by they will begin eating larger and more difficult prey. At about ninety days, give or take a day or two, after they have shed their last exoskeleton they will show their wings. It usually happens at night and in the morning, there they are, a beautiful set of wings. It seems like a small miracle the first time you see this happen. This is the easiest time to differentiate between the sexes and when the females start their domination although if you have the eyes of a child, or a good magnifying glass, the sexes can be determined by counting body segments at a very early age. This is also the point at which they start traveling about the yard, or flying over to the yard next door to look for a mate and search for larger prey like grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches, moths, etc. They have now grown to between two and a half to three inches, and can no longer catch the smaller prey. Their hunting skills have developed into a form of art and they have reached their full potential The female now looks like a miniature version from the Jurassic period, with strong hooked arms and columns of sharp, tapered spikes. She can flare up her wings in defiance vibrating delicate webbing which extends to her body causing her to appear large and ferocious to any approaching threat. Most humans would step back upon seeing this display for the first time, kind of like hearing a rattlesnake when you are not expecting it. This is also the time when you might expect me to place them on the porch as sentinels to complete this experiment. Well I said in the beginning it was a crazy idea and I cannot find one black widow on the porch anyway, or in the yard. Besides, raising these wonderful creatures in captivity they have become like family pets some of which I have given names to and praise or scold according to their behavior. To subject one of my pets to a life or death battle with a black widow is no longer an option. I am sure they would not stay on the porch for more than a couple of days anyway, just long enough to say good bye and maybe scare off a few solicitors before flying off in the night to safely deposit their eggs and then face their deadliest of prey, the futile first frost.