Everyone had a blast at Zombie Survival camp! No matter what the weather, you can have a great time outside. Pictured are slingshot practice and shelter building. A fun time had by all!
Photo Caption: The two-spotted stink bug is quite different from the introduced brown marmorated stink bug currently plaguing the TriCities. Our two-spotted friend actually is a predator and should be welcomed to gardens throughout the area. Its favored prey is potato beetles.
Stink. It’s a word on everyone’s mind these days, given the influx of brown marmorated stink bugs we are all experiencing. But, sometimes, stink is just what a garden needs.
The other day my cell phone buzzed, signaling that I had received a text message. It was from my friend Tim, a.k.a. Park Safety Officer Tim Timberlake. Gifted with an eye for the out-of-the-ordinary, Tim frequently spots unusual characters-human and animal alike-in and around St. Charles. I’ve gotten texts from Tim about sandhill cranes, luna moths, flying squirrels and spiders-gone-wild. True to form, this text included a picture along with the words, “What is this?”
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure at first either, and briefly wondered if the critter in the photo was fake. Boldly colored red and black, the insect’s markings seemed anything but natural and in fact reminded me of some sort of medieval crest, or maybe a cryptic corporate logo. But its intricate antennae and realistic bug pose soon convinced me that it was time to hit the field guides.
Or maybe I should say virtual field guides. Over the past few years, the Internet has given rise to a number of wonderful web sites that, dare I say, are easier and faster to use than the cumbersome paperback guides I grew up with.
My favorite, BugGuide.net, lets you narrow down your list of potential identities with just a few clicks of the mouse.
In this case, I could tell the insect was some sort of shield bug. Typing the words “shield bug” in the BugGuide search box, it was only a matter of seconds before I had page after page of insect images. From there I narrowed my choices down to Pentatomidae, the stink bug family, and from there to the subfamily Asopinae, the predatory stink bugs.
Wow, talk about a neat discovery! I’ve met many stink bugs over the years; watched them lay eggs on my patio door; smelled their “stink;” and seen the sort of blister their powerful chemical defense can cause. But while I’ve observed them on plants, and know that many make their living by sucking up plant juices, I had no idea that some actually are predators.
Sure enough, what Tim had discovered was a two-spotted stink bug, Perillus bioculatus-an insect with a knack for knocking off not just other bugs, but specifically bugs that gardeners consider harmful.
It turns out, a preferred prey item of the two-spotted stink bug is Leptinotarsa decemlineata, the Colorado potato beetle. Despite its western name, this little bugger is present throughout North America and has spread into Europe and Asia. No matter where it’s found, though, the result is the same: widespread destruction, not only to potato plants but also tomatoes and eggplants.
A single beetle can consume about 15 sq. in. of plant material a day in its larval stage, and another 4 sq. in. per day as an adult. Add in the facts that a female Colorado potato beetle can produce as many as 800 eggs, and that the species has an amazing ability to become resistant to chemical controls, and it quickly becomes apparent just how big of a pest this insect can be.
Now, did I happen to mention that Tim found his two-spotted stink bug at Primrose Farm Park, just a stone’s throw away from 264 community garden plots, most of which have potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and/or eggplants growing in them?
That stink bug and its kin-and here’s hoping there are lots of them-are like kids in a multi-acre candy store. During its developmental stages, called instars, a single two-spotted stink bug can consume 200-400 potato beetle larvae-numbers that are especially impressive when you consider the stink bug nymphs measure less than a half-inch in length, a smidge or two larger than their prey.
Equally notable is the stink bug’s own defense, a chemical array of compounds known as aldehydes. Highly concentrated, these chemicals are used to repel birds and other predators and can account for up to 5% of the insect’s body weight-roughly the equivalent of an adult human lugging around a one-gallon jug of mace, all the time, and being able to spray it in self-defense and produce replenishments as needed.
With colder weather on its way, I’d imagine the two-spotted stink bugs in our area will soon be heading for cover, either under leaf litter or inside structures like houses.
Like Tim, keep an eye out for these insects and, if you can, resist the urge to squish them-an action that would not only produce a cloud of stench but also also wipe out an important biological control agent for local gardens.
And that would really stink.
Pam Erickson Otto is the manager of nature programs and interpretive services at the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, a facility of the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at 630-513-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Good Natured, Insect
Photo Caption: Try a visit to Pure Kane! Illinois is known as the Prairie State and has as much to offer as the state of Michigan, which has benefitted from Pure Michigan, a long-running ad campaign championed by actor Tim Allen. (Photo credit: Jeanette Joy)
If you listen to the radio or watch TV much, you’ve probably noticed that tourism officials for the state of Michigan have picked 2017 as Another Year to Spend A Lot on Advertising. You may even have noticed that a famous resident makes the sales pitch-Tim Allen, of Last Man Standing, Home Improvement and Santa Clause fame. (I’ll admit, I didn’t make that connection until my friend Lisa pointed it out. But, boy, if they’d used a western chorus frog or eastern screech owl, I’d have been all over it…)
Anyway, for the last nine years or so, the ads have been touting all that Michigan has to offer-snowy winter wonderlands, endless sandy shorelines, challenging but breathtaking golf courses, lush vineyards, world-class wineries…and now, drop-dead gorgeous fall colors. Just this morning I heard Mr. Allen cooing about “when Mother Nature puts on a whole new wardrobe” and “life moves a little slower.” He encouraged us to “pull out that favorite sweater and grab yourself a piece of Pure Michigan.”
Allen’s voice is so soothing, and the ad copy so smooth, it was all I could do to not run to the computer and start my trip, as he suggests, at Michigan.org. Because I’m a big fan of Michigan. I spent part of every summer of my growing-up years at our family’s cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Tucked away from the tourist towns, nestled along the Menominee River, the cabin is indeed a place that “can flood our minds with memories of the greatest times we will ever know,” to quote another Michigan ad. It’s surrounded by woods and water, and wildlife so abundant we sometimes had to chase it out of the cabin with a broom (something you probably won’t hear in any ad campaign).
It’s also about a six hour drive from here. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that many hours to spend every time I get the urge to see Mother Nature’s new wardrobe while wearing my favorite sweater.
What I do have, though, are a lot of magnificent natural areas only a few minutes from my front door. And guess what? You do too.
For one, there’s Norris Woods in St. Charles. The red, white and bur oaks in this Illinois Nature Preserve are ready to burst forth with rich hues of russet and bronze, a palette of earth tones new and exciting, yet warm and familiar all at once. Peppered between them are shagbark hickories, whose glorious compound leaves soon will turn the sort of gold that positively glows when warmed by the autumn sun. Walk on a day when the wind is calm and boat traffic is minimal, and you’ll get a double feature-colors overhead and again down below as they reflect off the glassy surface of the Fox River.
A little farther west, at Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve in Elburn, sugar and black maples are the stars of the seasonal show. The bold yellows meld together to form a radiant saffron canopy that brightens the woods-and your mood-even on gloomy days.
Tim Allen says that Michigan’s fall color show has free admission, and great seats are available everywhere. We can say the same thing about our own dazzling displays, waiting nearby for you to come out and enjoy. Say yes to pure Michigan, if you’d like, but be sure to give a nod to pure Kane too.
Along with fall color comes cooler temperatures. What better way to stay warm than with a crackling fire? The St. Charles Park District Naturalist Department is selling mixed hardwood (oak, hickory, cherry) firewood for $110/face cord delivered. A face cord is a 4-ft. by 8-ft. stack consisting of approximately 220 pieces 14 to 18 inches in length. To place an order, call natural areas manager Denis Kania at 630-513-4367.
Pam Erickson Otto is the manager of nature programs and interpretive services at the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, a facility of the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at 630-513-4346 or email@example.com.Autumn, Insect, Natural Area