Plants and insects go hand-in-hand, and many gardeners enjoy learning about all the little critters that share their garden. In honor of the important connection between plants and insects, I’m launching a new monthly feature for The Bug Chronicles here on Savvy Gardening. It’s called “Look What I Found!”, and in order for it to be successful, we’re going to need your help. Here’s how it’s going to work.
Once a month, I’m going to head out into my garden with my iPhone in-hand and take pictures of the first five insects I can find. I’ll post the pictures here the next day and provide some information about each of my discoveries. Sometimes they’ll be very common bugs almost every gardener encounters on a regular basis, but other times they may be something I’ve never seen before. Either way, I promise you, the pictures will be of the first five bugs I can find that day.
So, what’s your job? Well… that’s where the fun really comes in! Your job is to head out into your own garden with a camera, snap a picture of the first bug you can find, and post your picture in the comment section of the most recent “Look What I Found!” post (starting with this one!). I’ll do my best to try and identify the insect, if you haven’t already. Now, if you live in Zimbabwe or somewhere else very far away, I’ll probably have to pass on the identification attempt, but if you’re from North America, I’ll do my best.
Tip: To take a clear picture on your smart phone, don’t try to get super close to the insect; just photograph it from eight to ten inches away and then use the photo editing feature on your phone to crop the picture. This will enlarge the insect without making it blurry. I usually take three or four images and pick the clearest one.
Sound like fun? Cool – then let’s get started!
Here are my five bug photos for this month’s “Look What I Found!” feature:
1. Clavate tortoise beetle: Plagiometriona clavata
This little guy is an adult clavate tortoise beetle. Last year was the first time I ever found this insect in my Pennsylvania garden, though it’s found all over eastern North America. I think their protective, tortoise shell-like wing covers are pretty cool. Don’t the brown markings look like a Teddy bear? The adult beetles primarily feed on members of the potato/tomato family (Solanaceae), chewing small holes in the leaves. I found this one on my potato plants. Their damage, though, is not significant, and they’re not generally considered a pest. The larvae are also really interesting – they cover themselves with their own dried fecal matter to shield themselves from predators (oh golly, sorry I couldn’t find a picture of THAT… ).
2. Banded net winged beetle: Calopteron reticulatum
The banded net winged beetle is a frequent find in my garden. I often find the adults drinking nectar from various flowers, especially goldenrods. This one was hanging out in the raspberry patch. Native to eastern North America, adult banded net winged beetles are about a half-inch long. Their predaceous larvae live under loose tree bark and feast on various small insects living there.
3. Woodland jumping spider: Thiodina sylvana
Spiders aren’t insects, but I couldn’t help but include this little critter in today’s post when I found him in the garden. Though the picture makes him (or her) look HUGE, in real life, this tiny guy wasn’t even a quarter of an inch long! Jumping spiders are really cute (just do a Google image search for “jumping spider” to see what I mean). This particular species is arboreal, meaning it spends most of its life in the trees (hence the species name sylvana, meaning “woods”). All spiders are very good for the garden because they are predators of many common pest insects.
4. Spined soldier bug nymph: Podisus maculiventris
Finding a spined soldier bug nymph in my garden yesterday morning was like striking gold! When I saw webbing on the tip of one of my blueberry branches, I thought I’d just get a cool picture of some young, web-spinning caterpillars. But when I uncurled the leaf, I discovered the distinctive red of a spined soldier bug nymph. This little guy is no bigger than this letter “O”, but he was using his spike-like mouth part to suck one of the caterpillars dry like a champ! Spined soldier bugs are incredibly beneficial to the garden. As both nymphs and adults, they eat dozens of different pests, including corn earworms, gypsy moth caterpillars, Mexican bean beetle larvae, potato beetle larvae, and many others. They’re found all across North America. This is a fairly young nymph, probably in the second of its five life stages (or instars). Each instar looks different from the one before, and once the insect reaches adulthood, it’s fingernail sized, brown, and has the distinctive shield-shape of the stink bug family (yes, the spined soldier bug is a member of the stink bug family, but no worries here – this species is predaceous and does NOT feed on your plants!).
5. Wasp mimic leghorn beetle: Clytus ruricola
And my last find for this month’s “Look What I Found!” post is the wasp mimic longhorn beetle. I’m sure you can see where this insect gets its common name – the yellow and black coloration looks very much like a wasp, but this beetle is as far from a wasp as you are from a warthog. I found this one-inch long adult scampering across our patio. A native of eastern North America, the wasp mimic longhorn beetle can be found in its adult stage only from May to July; at other times of the year, it’s only found as a grub, feeding on decaying hardwoods such as maple.
Now it’s your turn! What will you find in your garden today? Post your picture in the comments.