Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Why I am Reviewing The Trayvon Generation in a “Bug Blog”

I have been accused of being “political” even in some of the entomology posts in this blog, but there is nothing political about human rights. It is my opinion that there will be no abatement of the “insect apocalypse,” no permanent success in the conservation of endangered species of any kind, until we save our own species from racism and other forms of bigotry afflicting people of color, women, agender persons, the LGBTQ population, the disabled, the neurodivergent…..

The list of persecuted Homo sapiens continues to grow thanks to colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, religious extremism, extreme capitalism, ableism, and the inertia of assumptions. Because of this, what is inappropriate is to exclude discussions on these urgent matters from any forum, no matter how “off topic” it might appear at first glance. It is relevant to every facet of our lives, every profession, and every pursuit.

Elizabeth Alexander is a critically-acclaimed author, poet, educator, and scholar. Her book, The Trayvon Generation (Grand Central Publishing, 2022), is a must read. It is short, at only 130 pages, so there is no excuse for even the slowest reader like me to not get through it in a timely manner. It is not a rehashing of the Black history that whites already think they know. It is deeply personal, and highly illuminating.

Alexander draws on the works of other Black scholars, writers, and artists to literally and figuratively illustrate her points throughout the three-part text. The images of these creators, and the images created by Alexander’s eloquent prose, are moving, haunting, and indelible.

One chapter is entitled “whether the negro sheds tears.” The question, asked of the Black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois in 1905 by a (presumably white) researcher, parallels another query I addressed here previously: “Do Insects Feel Pain?” The implication of the question is similar to what Alexander concludes about questions of Black emotional expression:

”Are Black people human? Do Black people do what people do. Are Black people people. If Black people are not people and do not cry, then they do not experience pain, or grief, or trauma, or shock, or sorrow. If Black people do not experience pain, or grief, or trauma, or shock , or sorrow, are they human? And if they are not human, can their continued violation be justified?”

The artifice of race cannot stand, but Alexander allows for you to come to that conclusion. She demonstrates how even she herself once experienced the “shock of delayed comprehension” at the normality of white supremacy and expectation of Black servitude in the form of a painting of Elihu Yale with this Servant, hung prominently in the Corporation Room at that Ivy League university where she worked. She had failed to previously notice the servant in the painting, or mentally censored the offensive nature of the portrait.

Many such examples abound in our daily lives but we have been conditioned to accept them as normal, as acceptable. Recognition of artworks depicting white supremacy, hostile government and business policies, mass incarceration, wage gaps, and other obscene transgressions against people of color is what is met with anger and outrage by people who stand to lose power.

I care not one whit if I lose “followers” as a result of urging you to pick up The Trayvon Generation and begin a journey toward true humanity that embraces all beings, and takes action to make it so. Imagine the heights to which our species could climb were we to extend white privilege to all ends of the human spectrum.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

It's National Moth Week Already?!

Yes, National Moth Week is once again upon us! This year it happens starting yesterday, July 23, and ends Sunday, July 31. NMW is an annual citizen science event that anyone can participate in. You might start by visiting the National Moth Week website for information about the history of the project, and how to contribute your observations.

Suzuki's Promalactis Moth, Promalactis suzukiella

Despite a breezy to gusty night last night, we hung a blacklight, with a white sheet backdrop, from our front porch in Leavenworth, Kansas, USA. Our neighborhood is more or less suburban, with modest yards around each home. It has been hot and humid, but with a prolonged dry spell, so I was not expecting much.

Yellow-striped Armyworm moth, Spodoptera ornithogalli, I think.

Still, we had many moths fly to our ultraviolet beacon. Many were small enough to be overlooked, or easily mistaken for leafhoppers, small caddisflies, or other insects. A few could be dismissed as bits of plant debris, so convincing is their camouflage, even on a white canvas.

Brown-shaded Gray, Iridoposis defectaria

Here is a small selection of some of the moths that appeared. I do not even know the identities of a few of them myself. Moths are that diverse, with little known about them unless they are of economic importance.

Skiff Moth, Prolimacodes badia

Walnut Caloptilia, Caloptilia blandella

Kermes Scale Moth, Euclemensia bassettella

Tubeworm moth, Acrolophus sp.

Small Baileya, Baileya australis

Stripe-backed Moth, Arogalea cristifasciella

Orange-headed Epicallima, Callima argenticinctella

The Wedgling, Galgula partita

Unidentified crambid moth

What is on your sheet, or at your porch light? Share them with the world. All it takes is a phone or camera, and a connection to the iNaturalist projects for global National Moth Week and United States National Moth Week. It is all free, and before you know it you will be scrolling through the observations of other moth aficionados from elsewhere. Happy Mothing!

Sunday, July 17, 2022

What is, and is NOT, a Japanese Beetle

It is that time of year again in North America when everything is a Japanese Beetle. No matter whether you are a trusted and reliable expert, other people will insist that Green June Beetles, Fig Beetles, Dogbane Leaf Beetles, and various other beetles, are in fact Japanese Beetles. Why is this the case? There is much misinformation online and in the media. Family, friends, coworkers, and others present themselves as experts and make incorrect identifications. Mobile phone "apps" can also be misleading, given the relative infancy of image recognition software and deep learning, which frequently compounds errors instead of correcting them. Here is everything you need to know about how to recognize the Japanese Beetle, Popillia japonica, as well as lookalike species.

L-R: Japanese Beetle, Green June Beetle, Emerald Flower Scarab

The Japanese Beetle, as its name implies, occurs naturally in Japan and northern China. An accidental introduction of this species to New Jersey in 1916 is apparently what launched the beetle's domination of yards and gardens over most of the eastern United States and southeast Canada. It delivers a double whammy to urban and suburban areas by feeding on the roots of turf grasses in its subterranean larval (grub) stage, and on the foliage of more than three hundred (300) species of plants as an adult insect. The beetles are "skeletonizers," leaving a net-like pattern of leaf veins in the wake of their chewing. Grape and rose are among their favorites.

Typical "skeletonizing" damage by Japanese Beetle

Japanese beetles are classified as scarab beetles, in the family Scarabaeidae, subfamily Rutelinae, collectively known as the shining leaf chafers. The adults become suddenly abundant about mid-summer. They fly well, quickly dispersing themselves over the landscape. Their sheer numbers, the telltale pattern of damage they do to foliage, their size, and their behavior help to make them easy to identify with a little practice.

Japanese Beetles congregating and mating

These are smaller insects than you might expect, ranging from 8.9-11.8 millimeters in body length. That is less than half an inch. They vary in color by individual and age, but most are shining metallic green and red. The flanks of the abdomen are adorned with tufts of white hairs, a feature no other lookalike beetle has. The elytra (wing covers) are striated (have grooves), which also helps set them apart from similar beetles. The hind legs are long and stout, with sharp spurs coming from the tip of the tibial segment (think "shin"). When disturbed, Japanese beetles will flare their hind legs out and up, presenting their spiked weaponry. They can give you a good prick should you insist on seizing one.

Japanese Beetle in defensive pose

The antennae of adult Japanese Beetles are short, with a series of leaf-like plates at the tip, typical of all scarab beetles and their allies. The term for this style of antenna is "lamellate" for "plate-like." The plates are covered in receptors that are tuned to species-specific pheromones for locating others of their kind. Pheromone traps, sold commercially, work well if your goal is to draw even more Japanese Beetles to your yard or garden. Hand-picking the insects and drowning them in pails of water, with a dash of dish soap to break the surface tension, may be the best way to control them. Time consuming for certain, but highly specific to the target pest, and otherwise environmentally friendly.

Green June Beetle, Cotinis nitida

The number one victim of mistaken identity in the Japanese Beetle game is far and away the innocuous Green June Beetle, Cotinis nitida, another scarab beetle that is native to the United States. This insect is much larger, at 15-27 millimeters in size. It is mostly matte green with some degree of iridescence in the right light, especially on the insect's underside. It may or may not be marked with ochre trim, and lines on the wing covers. You may hear these beetles before you see them, as they fly loudly. Green June Beetles, and their relative, the Fig Beetle (Cotinis mutabilis), are classified as "flower chafers" in the subfamily Cetoniinae. They have a special hinge on each wing cover that allows the elytra to remain closed while the membranous hind wings are deployed for flight. Consequently, flower chafers bear a great resemblance to large bees while cruising around looking for food or mates. Green June Beetle feeds on flower nectar and pollen, but occasionally damages ripe fruit; and they also feed on fermenting sap from wounds on trees. This makes them a mild pest under circumstances of orchards and nurseries. As grubs, Green June Beetles feed on decomposing organic matter. You will often see females diving headlong into compost and manure heaps to lay their eggs. In nature they look for rich humus.

Emerald Flower Scarab

Another flower chafer sometimes mistaken for a Japanese Beetle is the Emerald Flower Scarab, Euphoria fulgida. This beautiful beetle measures 13.4-19.8 millimeters. It is often highly active and quicker to fly than the other beetles mentioned so far. It varies considerably in color according to both the individual and the geographic locality it lives in. Specimens from the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado, for example, are deep purple and brilliant turquoise.

Dogbane Leaf Beetle

Recently, I had a....disagreement with someone in social media about the identity of yet another beetle, the Dogbane Leaf Beetle, Chrysochus auratus. At 8-13 millimeters, it approximates the size of a Japanese Beetle. It is superficially colored the same, too, being brilliant metallic green, red, blue, bronze, or copper, depending on the angle of light hitting the creature. That is where the similarity ends. The Dogbane Leaf Beetle belongs to a completely different family, the Chrysomelidae. One look at the long, uniformly segmented antennae, tells you it is not a scarab. Its legs are not armed with spines or teeth, and it has cute, wide little feet for gripping plants. Most decisive, however, is the food preference for this species. Dogbane Leaf Beetle feeds only on....surprise....dogbane. You may occasionally encounter an individual that has alighted on some other plant in the course of trying to find a mate or another dogbane plant, but there will never be large numbers of them on anything but dogbane.

Female Tiphia wasp searching for buried scarab grubs

All manner of control strategies have been applied to the Japanese Beetle, yet here it is, still with us, in arguably greater numbers than ever, and steadily expanding its empire. We have imported the Spring Tiphia wasp, Tiphia vernalis, from China in 1925, a natural enemy. The female wasp digs up a beetle grub, stings it into temporary paralysis, lays an egg on it, and abandons it. The larval wasp that hatches feeds on the grub externally, eventually killing it. We also employ Bacillus popilliae, known better as "milky spore disease" to combat the grubs. The bacterium turns the beetle larvae a milky white color in the process of killing them, but it also affects native scarab grubs.

A large robber fly, Laphria lata, has skewered a Japanese Beetle on its proboscis

Be careful in how you control Japanese Beetles, lest you adversely impact garden allies. Assassin bugs, particularly the Wheel Bug, and robber flies, are among the chief predators of Japanese Beetles, but they need as natural a landscape as possible to proliferate and be effective controls. Invasive species are an artifact of global consumerism, and coveting thy (foreign) neighbor's flora. Resist the temptation and help prevent the next pest from gaining a foothold.

Nope, not a Japanese Beetle. Not even a beetle, but the nymph of a Green Stink Bug.

Sources: Evans, Arthur V. 2014. Beetles of Eastern North America. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 560 pp.
Ratcliffe, Brett C. 1991. The Scarab Beetles of Nebraska. Lincoln: University of Nebraska. Bulletin of the University of Nebraska State Museum, vol. 12. 333 pp.
Berenbaum, May R. 1995. Bugs in the System: Insects and Their Impact on Human Affairs. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc. 377 pp.
Fahmy, Omar. 2007. "Species Tiphia vernalis - Spring Tiphia," Bugguide.net
Eaton, Eric R. and Kenn Kaufman. 2007. Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 392 pp.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Still Unable to Reply to Comments

Friends, I am still unable to reply to comments, even using a different browser. I am so sorry. I can do so "anonymously," in M.S. Edge, but then I have to approve my own comment! If anyone knows how to resolve this and can explain in as non-technical a manner as possible, please let me know. No answers in online forums are terribly helpful, nor current. Thank you.