Monday, July 25, 2011

Backyard Bug ID Winner & Answers

In honor of our new book Secret Life of Backyard Bugs we posted a Bug ID Giveaway on Friday. Melody was the first and only one to correctly identify the bugs below.

Melody, please email with your full name and mailing address — we will send you a copy of The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs

Here are the answers and a few extra details from the book about these interesting insects and aphids.

01. Leafhopper (adult). Order: Hemiptera
Melody answered: candy stripe leaf hopper

Tiny but potentially destructive, leafhoppers insert their eggs into plant stems. The wingless nymphs emerge and begin feeding on the sap of the host plant, developing into mature winged adults in a few weeks. Some are very selective about the plants they’ll eat; others are not quite so picky. Leafhoppers can overwinter as eggs or adults, depending on the species.

▶ More than 20,000 species of leafhoppers have been identified.

02. Katydid (adult). Order: Orthoptera
Melody answered: katydid

Katydids are really just large nocturnal versions of grasshoppers, although they look a little different. Adult katydids can fly and jump just like grasshoppers, and their excellent camouflage makes it hard to tell them from the leaves they’re eating.

Unlike grasshoppers, both males and females can sing the unmistakable
Katy-did-Katy-didn’t song during the warm summer months. On very rare -occasions, they are pink rather than that bright, dazzling green.

▶ Adults’ wings extend the whole length of their body, and beyond.

03. Monarch (Chrysalis). Danaus plexippus
Melody answered: monarch

The Monarch, the most familiar North American butterfly, also has the best press
agent: we’d bet that anyone over five knows what a Monarch butterfly looks like. They can be found in much of the central and southern parts of the continent, and we’ve raised hundreds of them over the years. They’re easy to attract by growing their host plants, which comprise all types of milkweed.

Every fall Monarchs make an amazing journey, flying from as far away as Canada to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. During migration, they travel in such large groups that the branches of the trees they roost in sag beneath their weight. In the spring, the pregnant females start the long journey back from Mexico to the United States and Canada to begin their life cycle all over again.

▶ The Monarch’s beautiful green and gold chrysalis may be found hanging in some very interesting places, such as on a garden statue or a swimming pool edge. It becomes transparent after about ten days.

04. Cecropia Moth (adult). Hyalophora cecropia
Melody answered: cercropia moth

This gorgeous creature, the largest moth in North America, has a wingspan equal to that of a small bird. Startled to find a mating pair of these moths while out for her morning walk, a friend of ours carefully broke off the small tree branch they were clinging to and gave them to us. This was our first encounter with Cecropias, and we could hardly believe how big they were!

After the pair separated, that evening we released the male in the woods. The female laid more than 100 eggs during the next couple of days and died shortly thereafter. Giant silk moths such as the Cecropia live for just a week or two and fly only at night, so most people have never seen one. You’re more likely to see the Cecropias’ large, colorful caterpillars chewing on their host trees’ leaves.

▶ Giant silk moths do not have a mouth or tongue, so they do not eat.

05. Orb-weaver Spider (this one is an Argiope Orb-weaver)
Melody answered: black and yellow garden spider

Orb-weavers make flat, spiral webs and let their prey come to them. These spiders can spin different kinds of silk for different tasks: one for building webs, another for wrapping prey, and a third for making egg sacs. They eat their webs if they become damaged, and may create a new one every day if necessary.

▶ Garden spiders, also known as “writing spiders,” are our favorite spiders. They make big round webs on taller plants in sunny areas. Their webs are easy to recognize: they’re large, with an obvious zigzag design in the center.

More About Spiders

Love them or hate them, spiders can be found almost everywhere, creeping, crawling, and often evoking terror. During the warm summer months, some spin their webs across our gardens, giving us a sticky morning greeting. Others hide, waiting to jump on unsuspecting prey. But we’re not what the spiders are hoping to catch — it’s insects they’re after.

Unlike insects, spiders — arachnids — do not have antennae. They use the sensitive hairs on their legs to pick up scents, sounds, vibrations, and air currents. They’re excellent garden predators, devouring many types of harmful insects.

A word of caution, however: It’s a good idea to treat spiders with respect.
They are all venomous to some degree, and they’ll bite when they feel threatened. Learn the right way to handle spiders, and play it safe to prevent injury.

To simplify identification of some common spiders, we separate them into three very basic categories: orb-weavers, lie-in-waits, and jumpers.

All text and photographs © Wayne Richards and Judy Burris

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