Addendum to Insects chapter 7 of CMGH:

Words and concepts to know, in order of appearance:
Invertebrates; ecto and endothermic; ptera; beneficial insects; butterfly host plants; parthenogenesis; integrated pest management; proper pest identification.

This for me is one of the best chapters. The chapter is well written, so I will simply add a few details and stories. We could go on for infinite pages with regards to the study of bugs. A more broad term that covers all of the creatures in this chapter is invertebrates – creatures without backbones. This includes the insects, the arthropods with the hard shell and jointed legs like spiders centipedes and pill bugs, as well as the slimy things like snails and slugs. That would actually be a better title for this chapter – Invertebrates.

In the olden times we were taught cold blooded and warm blooded. The warm blooded was all the good cute noble animals like dogs and people and lions. Whereas the cold blooded was the creepy snakes and salamanders and bugs and stinky fishes. So if a person behaved in a real clandestine non emotional and despicable manner, we would call them ‘cold blooded’. We associate this trait with the ‘lower’ animals called reptilians and crawly things.

The whole idea is that warm blooded creatures can regulate their own body temperature so that it is above the ambient outside temperature; it is 50 degrees outside but your internal temperature is around 98 degrees. Whereas cold blooded creatures are dependent on the sun to heat things up and get them moving. When it is cold they just sit still. They crave the heat. That is why we find the rattlesnake sun bathing on the asphalt roadway, and the blue belly lizard doing pushups on the rocks.

Well nature is of course a bit more complicated than our boxy dichotomies. Tunas and white sharks have heat exchangers that make them warmer than the surrounding water and so they are extra speedy. That is good for chasing down anchovies and salmon and leaping out of the water in pursuit of seals. Bumble bees can also buzz themselves warm on a cold morning so that they can go harvest nectar for their babies, grasshoppers warm up their throats before singing. If you are a snake or a turtle that lives in the tropics, it is likely that you are warm blooded all year round, cause it is hot outside. The more proper terms we use these days for creatures with regards to regulating their metabolism and temperature is ecto and endo thermic, poikilotherm and homeotherm.

In addition to chewing and sucking mouth parts there is also the sponging mouth parts common to flies.

There are so many bugs in the world that we will make some generalizations as we discuss their structures and characteristics. Know that there are numerous exceptions as well as millions of bugs we have not yet named and probably know very little about. To start with, the names of the insect orders is indicative of their wings. ptera meaning wing in ancient Greek.

So Coleo ptera (the beetles) means sheath wing. Many have a cool shield of a pair of harder wings on top we call elytra, with the clear membranous flying wings below. If you have ever held a lady bird beetle and watched it open the upper flaps and fly away then you know what I am talking about. Like a car with doors that open up ‘scissor’ or ‘butterfly’ style.

Lepido ptera (butterflies and moths) means scale wing. If you have caught a butterfly and had it leave little pieces of its wing scales on you that is the ticket. Scales that rub and flake off.

Di ptera is the flies. Di is two winged so they have two wings, one pair. But actually they do have four wings, but two are reduced to a funny weird structure that resembles a pair of dumbbells or small clubs called halteres. Used for balance. They fly with amazing agility so that when you are about to swat them they angle away super fast. Well, all those eyes help too.

Hymeno ptera is membrane wing. In this group are the bees and wasps with four wings, all membranous but often with hooks that clip them together for extra flight control. In this group are also ants, which most of the time do not have wings except for when they are breeding, swarming, and dispersing.

Hemi ptera is half wing. For the most part the hemipterans have half a wing looking solid, the other half looking membranous. The backs of them have a distinct criss cross X. If you have bedbugs I am sorry, they are a Hemipteran parasite that feeds with a pierce and suck stylet of a beak of a mouth part. A little confusing is that there is a group tucked within the Hemiptera called the Homoptera. Homo ptera meaning same wing. They used to be their own Order but are now subsumed within the half wings. This is a huge group full of plant feeders that you as a gardener will get to know well as time passes. And not in a good way.

Silver fish and firebrats are the order Thysanura. Thysan ura is tassel tail. For those funny looking appendages that stick out at the tail end. Every I am sitting at the computer writing they always scurry across my paper notes and I get distracted to squash them.

And so on with regards to names and ancient Greek and Latin… A little bit more local color:

Scary looking bugs that you want around the garden:
One is the devil’s coach horse beetle you often come across in the compost pile. They are really scary looking and your first reaction will probably be ‘kill it’. But they are ’good’ in that they feed on baby slugs. So let them be. Another one is the larvae of the syrphid fly that loves to eat aphids. Aphids are not your friends in the garden, the larvae of the syrphid fly is your friend. Again, just cause something looks like a sluggy wormy inching-along-thing does not make it ‘bad’. Lastly check out the larvae of the lady bug beetle. Yes we know the ladybugs are good, but its juvenile stages are good as well. But they look nothing like the adult, and some people even call them ugly. All the bugs in the garden that help the gardener with their duties we call beneficials. They are the ones we inadvertently kill if we spray a broad spectrum non selective insecticide.

Bugs that saved an entire ecosystem:
A little south of San Francisco is a large and wild park called San Bruno Mountain State and County Park. It is pretty nondescript and most of the time it looks like a dried out hunk o rock smack in the way of a bustling and hustling urban metropolis we call the Bay Area. Most people have driven by it thousands of times as they cruise on highway 101 up and down the peninsula without ever wanting to go up there. At one point at the base of the mountain was the dump where all the garbage went. At another point folks who owned it wanted to scalp off the whole top of the mountain to use the rock as fill – to fill in the bay for development and real estate. These days it is protected thanks to the efforts of local peoples like David Schooley and also because of the endangered species like the San Bruno Elfin butterfly and the Mission Blue butterfly who make their home there. Both butterflies have specific host plants the caterpillars feed on in order to complete their life cycle. The Elfin larvae eat stonecrop Sedum, and the Mission Blue larvae eat lupines Lupinus.

If you have never been to this park it is worth a walkabout to the summit or any of its trails. Hopefully on a clear day with no fog so that you can see the surrounding areas from a high ground. It is a neat reminder of how things have looked for the past three five or maybe even ten thousand years. It is the oldest part of the tip of this peninsula that remains relatively unchanged. Not paved, not built on, not dredged, not dug up. Just still plants, rocks, bugs, and some animals. Same as it always ever was. Back in the day fellow from UC Davis Dr Ward recorded about thirty species of ants from the mountain. 30 species! In the city, probably just the one species of ant – the little black ant that comes a wandering in your house, the argentine ant.

Bugs with noteworthy reproductive habits:
There are numerous kinds of aphids – little round soft bodied bugs that suck plant juices. As they feed they often act as vectors for plant diseases. They are known for this trait called parthenogenesis whereby they reproduce asexually at an extremely rapid rate. Did you read the stat from the book? 1,560,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 aphids per female for the April to October season. All clones of the mother. Except that the mom makes both male as well as female clones of herself. One heptillion, 560 hexillion. Nuts. Parthenogenesis is also used by some bees, flies, ants…So you either find a mate or go at it alone. Total dominance.

Bug control:
Like we have discussed all along. Integrated Pest Management is the key. The first step is always proper identification of the pest, as well as the host plant it is feeding on. Then, you can start to monitor regularly, and consider your options to keep the pests’ population levels under control.