13 August 2000
Volume 8: no. 4
Fair season has begun! Is YOUR insect collection ready? You have only a few days left to get it prepared for the fair circuit. Collections are always welcomed at county fairs and show days, they make a big hit with folks who like to see what young people are doing. We have reviewed in the Gloworm a number of times requirements for good collections, so I'll only mention here that 1st year collections MUST have a minimum of 50 insects with at least 10 Orders, succeeding years should have more than 100 insects with increasing numbers of Orders. Complete directions and help in getting collections shipshape are as close as your county extension office - "you bug them, and they'll bug me - we'll all be happy as bugs in a rug!" Opportunities for displaying your collection include the Midsouth Fair in Memphis, a regional event, the State Fair in Jackson and other regional fairs across Mississippi. Speciality collections are also accepted at both of these fairs.
Some of our late summer insects are beginning to show up in larger numbers. I have seen a number of leaf footed bugs as well as 3 or 4 different kinds of stink bugs in light traps lately. We are also seeing some of the larger sphinx moths come to lights at night. If you are really observant you can see the tomato hornworm (sphinx) visit tomatoes and lay eggs around dusk at this time of the year. They look like a hummingbird hovering over tomato plants. It's also time to look for the giant water bugs around lights. These insects are not as plentiful as many others, so when a 4-Her is lucky enough to have one in their collection, I know they have been industrious. This is the time of year that Rhinoceros beetles also show up around lights, so be alert for these larger critters, as well. Fireflies are still plentiful at night but you must get away from lights to see them. Don't overlook some of the smaller insects - i.e. mosquitoes or fleas. Both are easily caught though often difficult to pin. Each should be pointed though the fleas are often preserved in alcohol vials. Dogs usually yield a different kind of flea than cats, so collect some off of both animals and look at them under a microscope. Mosquitoes are also neat to observe under microscopes. Look for the halteres on mosquitoes. The larvae (wigglers) can be collected in standing water and placed in small alcohol vials for display.
Insects have their favorite hang-outs and certain kinds can be found around particular spots year after year. It is important to look in different areas and to vary times as well as space for collecting. Baits, pitfall traps, lights (various kinds of lights often attract different species) and quiet observation can all yield a variety of insects. Many insects ride the winds of storm fronts, so after rains we can see different critters than we had in an area before. Monarch butterflies should soon begin to reappear - this time headed south. They usually don't linger long in one place, as a single butterfly makes the entire trip south but will visit flowers for an energy pick-me-up and then move on.
Remember pins and boxes are available through the MSU Entomology Department. Ask your agent to call Sherry at 662-325-2085 and request what you need. We'll bill you when we send the materials out. Boxes are $24 each and pins are $5 per 100.
Toad Bugs - Family Gelastocoridae
These Hemiptera resemble small toads in appearance, habitat and hopping habits. They are short and broad and have large projecting eyes. They are usually found along moist margins of streams or ponds. They are predators feeding on other insects by pouncing on their prey and grasping them in their front legs. Their eggs are laid in moist sand and nymphs resemble the adults. Careful observation along most sandy creek banks which gently slope to the water will reveal these small critters hopping around. Be careful - you may catch a real-live 4 legged toad.
These critters, also Hemiptera, actually swim upside down, hence their name - backswimmers. They frequently rest at the surface of the water with their head down and long hind legs extended. The hind legs are adapted like oars for swimming. They are predaceous on other insects, tadpoles, and even small fish. They quite frequently attack animals much larger than themselves and feed by sucking the body juices from their prey. These insects will bite people and the bite is much like a bee sting.
Males of the backswimmers stridulate during courtship by rubbing their front legs against their beak. Eggs are deposited in the tissues of aquatic plants or some species glue them to the surface of a plant. There are about 34 species of backswimmers in North America. They range in size from as small as 5 mm in length to as long as 17 mm. Antenna are usually 3 or 4 segmented depending on the Genus. They are very similar to the water boatmen in shape but are usually lighter colored.
Collect these two insects between now and cool weather. You might also be surprised what other 6-legged creatures you will find lurking around the water's edge.
Dr. Michael R. Williams
Entomology & Plant Pathology
Mississippi State, MS 39762-9775
phone - 601-325-2085
home - 601-323-5699
FAX - 601-325-8837