Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge and Massasaugas

Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (formerly Squaw Creek NWR) is located outside Mound City, MO on approximately 7300 acres. Habitat varies from prairie wetlands to loess soil hills. Wildlife from whitetail deer to snow geese call this refuge home. Of all the wild animals that live here the Massasauga rattlesnake is probably my favorite. There are only a few locations throughout the state that have the appropriate habitat for these little rattlesnakes. They are a prairie wetland species and use crayfish burrows to hibernate in. Each spring the refuge biologist searches for these snakes on the burned prairies, often with the help of volunteers. I always feel honored and a little bit excited to be included in the field research.

Sunday myself, my husband Joey as well as my good friend Cindy participated in the first field day of the spring season. Today Cindy and I made the trip back up to the refuge and helped again. I feel like we walked miles in burned fields stepping over patches of grass and through swampy ground. To say we got our exercise is an understatement, but all the legwork was worth it. We were able to see 7 Massasauga Rattlesnakes, 2 Graham's Crayfish Snakes, 3 Plains Garter Snakes, 2 Diamondback Watersnakes and numerous Red-sided Garter Snakes.

When Cindy and I arrived and headed out to catch up with the other volunteers I spotted a Graham's Crayfish Snake and pointed it out to Cindy. She was excited by the find as this was a first for her. We took a few minutes to take pictures with it before releasing it back where we found it. The frightened little snake musked Cindy as soon as she held it. Musk is substance that snakes release when alarmed. It is a mixture of musk and feces.....yes it stinks! BAD! We walked a few feet more and spotted a Massasauga and a couple of red-sided garter snakes. In less than 5 minutes, we had spotted 4 snakes!!
This was already proving to be a great day. The temperatures were in the mid 70's and looking to top out at 80 by mid-afternoon, so along with snakes, and exercise we were getting some much needed sunshine.

Male Massasauga part way out of a crayfish burrow.

 Gently removing the snake from the burrow. With patience the snake will eventually relax and can be safely removed from the burrow.

 Safely bagging the snake to weigh it.

 Placing the snake in "squeeze box" to safely get data on him.

 Darren and one of the volunteers "Sexing" the snake. It's a boy! They were excited to discover he was a recapture and had been previously PIT tagged. Now they will get new data on a previously captured snake.

 Measuring the tail length and counting rattles. 7 rattles and a button on this one. The green color on him is nail polish. It does not hurt the snake and is used to mark him so he isn't recaptured as we walk back and forth in the field looking for more snakes. 

 Snake fungal disease is an increasing problem for many species of snakes. This snake is showing some signs of having had had the disease in the past. There are some obvious nodules and scarring near the tail.

 Clipping a scale off the belly near the tail to send in for testing. Sending it in for testing will determine if the snake has been exposed to the fungal disease.

 Me getting a vial ready to put the scale clippings in to send for testing. 

 Me swabbing the area on the snake where the nodules are present. The swab will be sent in with the scale clipping for testing. 

Resting after his abduction and probing by aliens.

This prairie kingsnake was the first of the day and had a funky looking eye. At first we thought it could be the fungal disease, but after looking more closely we decided he had just shed his skin and did not shed one of his eye capsules. This gives him a goggle-eye appearance. He seemed healthy and showed no other signs of having any fungal infection.I handed the snake to Cindy so we could show it to the biologist and it musked it her good! This required a good washing with sanitary wipes. Poor Cindy...two muskings in one day!  

The Prairie Massasauga, formerly the Western Massasauga (pronounced mass-a-saw'-ga) Rattlesnake is one of the smallest rattlesnakes found in Missouri wetlands and marshes.  Loess Bluffs NWR has a strong population of these snakes in large part because the land is federally owned and the snakes are protected there. These ongoing studies help to determine population density and over all health of the snakes. Snakes are especially important in rodent control and as a vital part of the food chain and should be left alone. They are also indicators of the health of their environment.

In the Chippewa language Massasauga translates into "great river mouth" which describes the lands where they are found. Like all Missouri venomous snakes they are "pit-vipers" , meaning they have an extra sensory organ in the form of pits located between the eyes and the nostrils. These pits are heat sensing organs that help them locate prey. They have excellent eye sight and a great sense of smell. All of these senses combined make for a formidable predator. They commonly prey on mice, frogs, insects. Juveniles are fond of other serpents with Midland Brown Snakes making up the bulk of their diet. These snakes are also an important part of the food chain and sometimes fall victim to eagles, herons, raccoons, foxes, and hawks. Not to mention the occasional motorist who would rather kill snakes as to look at them. This near-sighted viewpoint of snakes is what has led to the near extinction of many species. Humans should try to exercise tolerance for these misunderstood creatures and recognize their importance in the over all health of a given habitat. 

These are a slow moving snakes that rarely strike unless being provoked or handled. Although males tend to be rather testy! Their venom is less toxic than that of most venomous snakes, but should still be considered dangerous. If bitten; immediate medical attention should be sought.  During the spring they will be found in lowlands near marshes and wetlands. In the hotter summer months they are found in higher ground near grasslands, farmland and open fields. Like all snakes they are often found sunning themselves on rocks, and roadways. Massasauga rattlesnakes reach lengths up to thirty inches. Their ground color is gray or tan with numerous darker spots, there are even melanistic black varieties found occasionally.

Massasaugas are ovoviviparous (eggs develop in the body of the parent and hatch within or immediately after being expelled). The female produces large, yolk-filled eggs which are retained within her reproductive tract for a considerable period of development. The developing embryo receives no nourishment from the female, only from the yolk. Eggs of the Massasauga hatch inside the female and the young are born “alive.” A female snake that retains eggs in her body can bask in the sun, thus raising the temperature of the eggs and speeding their development, resulting in a variable gestation period of two to four months. The average litter size is 8 with anywhere from 3 to 12 being possible.

After birth, the young are on their own—no maternal care is known in snakes. As is the case for all cold-blooded vertebrates, the growth of the young is heavily dependent upon the amount of food available.

The knowledge I gain by participating in these field trips looking for massasauga rattlesnakes as well as other snakes is invaluable to me as a naturalist. I am able to take what I learn and apply it to programs and it better equips me to answer questions the public may have about our scaley wildlife. I am more than excited to return to the refuge this spring and offer my assistance in looking for these beautiful reptiles. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

House Centipede

While insects and spiders are often the subject of fear or loathing for many individuals, they can be tolerated for the most part by most people. There are exceptions and centipedes tend to be it!  They have the quintessential creepy factor going on with all those legs, not to mention they are FAST! They can make a trip downstairs a bit disconcerting to home owners who know these many-legged creatures are living in the dark recesses of their basement. While many would consider these creatures a living nightmare, I can assure you they are harmless. Although related, centipedes are not technically insects or spiders since they have more than 6 or even 8 legs. Centipedes have odd numbered pairs of legs, and in the case of the house centipede they have 15 pairs of legs. The female will lay from 35 to nearly a 100 eggs in the spring. Usually they are found under logs, stones or other hidden locations outside with adequate moisture. They will also readily reproduce in human structures in colder climates. The young are born looking very much like their adult counterparts, except with 4 sets of legs. They will gain a new set of legs with the first molt, and 2 pairs of legs with each molt thereafter until they reach adult age and size. This typically takes 5 or 6 molts in total. 
The legs are banded light and dark, the body is grayish yellow with three stripes running the length of the body. They are 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, but appear much longer at 3 to 4 inches when you factor in the legs and antennae. The last pair of legs on the female are twice as long as her body, making her appear much larger than males.

I've found several of these at work in our basement and working in a museum I must say I am glad they are there. Nothing worse that carpet beetles for the welfare of museum mounts and other displays. House centipedes routinely feed on a variety of arthropods, including silverfish, firebrats, cockroaches and the larvae of the carpet beetle (which wreck havoc on taxidermy and insect collections). They also readily feed on bedbugs, and with the resurgence of bedbugs in recent years all I can say is YAY! The one pictured here was found upstairs at work today not far from my office door. Not sure what caused it to venture up from the recesses of the basement, but climbing stairs would be exceedingly easy for them as they can scale walls with very little effort. Maybe it was seeking food or moisture. I was able to capture it and take a few pictures, and came to the conclusion this one is probably not long for the world as it was barely moving. Normally these creatures are insanely fast and quick to dart away to a safe hiding place. Because of their erratic, quick movements many a person have ran in terror from them. Several weeks ago at work I was standing in the kitchen with a co-worker when she shrieked and jumped, which startled me and made me jump, when I looked to see what caused her distress I noticed one of these little terrors crawling out from under the microwave....or should I say sprinting out from under it? I rescued the little troublemaker and released it somewhere safer than our kitchen.

They are native to the Mediterranean Region and were somehow introduced to Mexico and the Southern United States. They have spread exponentially throughout the United States and are common in most areas. They were first found as far north as Pennsylvania in 1849. I am sure it was believed they would not survive such extreme cold winters as they are native to a tropical/temperate climate, but they have managed to do just fine. In these northern climates they simply live in human structures and reproduce there, avoiding the outside altogether. They require moisture and darkness, so basements, crawl spaces, and cellars suit them just fine. Their overall elongated, flattened shape makes it easy for them to fit through cracks in foundation walls, around sump pumps, floor drains and old pipes. In basements they spend the day hiding under cardboard boxes, stacks of papers and other hidden places out of sight until night when they become active seeking spiders and insects to feed on, or unsuspecting humans to scare.

Typically people want to know if they are harmful to humans. They have venom which is delivered through modified legs, so they basically sting their prey to impair them. They possess eyes, but seem to rely on their antennae to "feel" their environment and to find food. Their jaws are considered too weak to do much damage to humans, but occasionally a bite will occur and it is no worse than a bee sting. Naturally if you are allergic to bee venom; the venom of any arthropod could be potentially problematic and you should seek medical care.

 If you are finding an excessive amount of them in your home, it could be you have a large pest problem. Getting rid of their food source will often result in them leaving on their own when food sources are not adequate enough to sustain them or their offspring. You may also try using a humidifier and drying up the area where they are found. They do not tolerate dry climates and need adequate moisture to survive. However a few of them is not a serious problem and should be considered beneficial for the free pest control they are providing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Carolina Grasshopper

One of the more common grasshoppers in Missouri is the Carolina Grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina). They are one of the largest grasshoppers in North America, with males averaging 1.5 inches in length and a wingspan up to 2.83 inches, females are larger and measure up to 2.29 inches and a wingspan up to 4 inches. You can find them in  wide variety of habitats including agricultural ground, roadsides, open weedy grasslands or anywhere there are open bare grounds. Nearly all 48 of the Continental United States are home to these Orthopteras. The exception is Southern Florida, Gulf Coastal Plains, Southwest Arizona, and the bottom 2/3rds of California.They are not particular in their diet and will feed on a wide variety of grasses, forbs, horsetails, and sedges. 

This is one of the most common grasshoppers found throughout the summer months here in Missouri. If you haven't ran across them, they are very flighty and fast. Photographing them can be a challenge in patience as you sneak up on them quietly, only to have them fly 15 feet away the second you are ready to snap a photo.

They are known by several names including Road Duster, Quaker, and Black-winged Grasshopper. I personally love the name Road Duster and it is a very apt name considering I generally find them along gravel roads in the countryside near where I live. They are often flying back and forth from ditch to ditch. The roadside weeds seem to be a favorite of these hungry little munchers. 

Color varies from tan to gray, and when not in flight they are perfectly camouflaged against the gravel road beds, open ground and old lots where they are found. 
When in flight their wings are brownish-black with yellow edges. Their flight is erratic, and often bobbing, much like a butterfly which they are often mistaken for. Mourning cloak butterflies are the most common butterfly that these grasshoppers are mistaken for, most likely due to the coloring. Mourning Cloaks have black wings edged in yellow, just like the flight wings of these grasshoppers. 

During warm, sunny days the adults frequently fly over bare ground interacting with one another. Males are known for their hovering flight. They rise almost vertically from the ground to heights of 3 to 6 feet, occasionally higher, and hover for 8 to 15 seconds. At the end they flutter down to the ground close to where they started. They may repeat this maneuver as many as five times. Females are attracted to this flight display and will come in to investigate potential mates. The display also attracts males so that a small aggregation of several males and a female may gather on the bare ground beneath the hovering male. 

Once mated the female will use her ovipositor to deposit egg pods within bare spots in the ground. The eggs remain underground all winter and hatch the following spring. The tiny nymphs will emerge from underground and begin feeding. They will reach their adult size by mid to late summer which is when breeding will once again take place. 

With hot summer temperatures these grasshoppers alter their behavior in contrast to ground temperature. When the ground temperature reaches or exceeds 110 degrees they will start climbing blades of grass or stems of plants in what is referred to as "stilting." This gets their body off the hot surface of the ground where it is blistering, and into cooler environs. They will also orient themselves so they face the sun, which reduces the amount of their body coming in contact with the direct rays of the sun, which also keeps them cooler. To say this eludes to intelligence on their part would be a stretch, but it certainly eludes to a protective instinctual behavior that protects them from injury. 

These grasshoppers are an important part of the food chain and are consumed by birds, snakes, frogs, toads, spiders, praying mantids, raccoons, skinks, skunks, mice, squirrels and other predators of insects. Even humans on occasion will consume grasshoppers for protein.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Labyrinth Orbweaver

This calico-colored spider is the labyrinth orbweaver (Metepeira labyrinthea)in the family Araneidae. There are 13 species within this genus occurring throughout North America. They are fairly small spiders with a legspan about the size of a nickel. The front legs are much longer than the other pairs of legs and are banded in two-tone brown and tan. Their abdomen is oval-shaped and bulbous and is a deep reddish brown in color with distinct white markings.
Their common name comes from the type of web they are known for weaving. They build an orb-shaped web running vertical of a maze-like "labyrinth" located above and behind the orb. These webs will be found 3 to 5 feet above the ground in shrubs. This messy labyrinth often contain bits of debris or leaves woven in such a way to give the spider a retreat for safety. The web of this species is so distinct that it is possible to ID the spider before even seeing it.

Females reach maturity in late August or early September and you may encounter males hanging out in the web with them. After mating the female will create eggs sacs as uniquely shaped as their web is. Each egg sac is lenticular or lentil-shaped. The biconvex eggs are guarded by the female, as seen here, and are located near the entrance of the retreat. She will weave them with silk attached to small twigs. The female dies by late fall or early winter, but the egg sacs will remain attached to the twigs until spring at which time they hatch. The spiderlings will cluster together for a few days before ballooning and dispersing themselves into the environment.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Japanese Burrowing Cricket

The Japanese Burrowing Cricket (Velarifictorus micado) is native to Asia and was first found in the United States in 1959 in the District of Columbia. It quickly established itself throughout much of the southeast. It is believed the spread of this insect was due in large part to the transport of ornamental plants. The cricket eggs or larvae would hitch a ride in the root ball of various plants to many parts of the southern United States. Over the past 50+ years it has spread its range to include Missouri. The one photographed here was found in Taney County, near Blue Eye, MO. We can assume as shipments of plants travel around the country this insect will continue to expand its range.
It's current distribution includes
more than a dozen states. Most likely their range is much larger than we know since sightings are likely to go unreported or specimens go unnoticed by the average person who only has a passing interest in insects.

Their song is reported to be unique and easy to recognize and differentiate from other crickets. Much like birders who spend time outside bird-watching and are often able to ID a bird just by song alone, this is also possible with singing insects like crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas, etc. This would take much practice to train your ear to identify species this way, but I dare say it would be rewarding....not to mention you would impress your friends.

This species measure 1/2 to 7/8 of inch in length with a yellowish-brown body, off white legs that have brown blotches. Their wings are short and do not cover their abdomen. These are a flightless crickets, although there are reports of specimens that exist with wings long enough to allow flight. This however would be rare for this species.

They are found in grassy areas along woodland edges, along shorelines of ponds, lakes and other water sources. You may also encounter them under stones, logs and other debris. They will not be found in trees or even in shrubbery. They are considered completely terrestrial. They will call from the entrance to burrows to attract mates. Once mated, females lay eggs in the soil. There will be one generation per year. Look for them from August-October.

This particular species is highly prized in parts of Asia where cricket fighting is considered a time honored tradition. In late summer or early autumn thousands of crickets, including the Burrowing Cricket are captured from local fields. These crickets are sold in market places where they are inspected by potential buyers. The crickets with the strongest legs and jaws are highly sought after and much haggling takes place as fair prices are negotiated for the best, and strongest crickets.

Betting on crickets is illegal in China, but competitions still occur frequently during the autumn months. Participants meet at a predesignated location with their crickets and enter their competitor into the fights. Cricket are placed in an oval shaped arena with a small piece of plastic separating them. When the plastic is removed and the crickets can see each other, the territorial males will begin attacking each other. They will bite each other repeatedly, often severing a leg of their opponent. Fights are rarely fatal, as the loser concedes to the more dominant male before limping away to lick his wounds. The loser is often killed by the owner and considered useless for future fighting.
Once a cricket wins a number of fights he is considered a champion and these "champion crickets" can command high prices. It is not unheard of for these particular crickets to fetch hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The record amount paid for a champion cricket was $12,000.00 US dollars in 1999.

Rows of individual Cricket cages, By Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11028178
Many people in Asia keep crickets and breed them, housing them in separate containers and raising them from the "Stock" of champion crickets. The average market prices for most crickets is around $1.50 top $3.00. Making them much more affordable than champion crickets.

Most people in the United States would never dream of passing the time fighting crickets, so I doubt this activity will ever catch on here. Instead we much prefer to sit outside, sipping a favorite beverage, appreciating the cooler days and listening to the sound of the crickets heralding in autumn.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Velvet Ant

Velvet Ants in the family Mutillidae are commonly found in August and September as they erratically crawl around on bare spaces in pastures, fields, yards and other areas where grass is sparse or nonexistent. There are 3,000 known species found worldwide, and most are easily recognized by the ant-like female. She is covered in dense hairs, in either reddish-orange & black, gold, black & white or yellow. They get their common name from their resemblance to ants. They are not ants at all, but wasps. They do have a somewhat constricted waist like ants, but they lack the curved antennae of ants. These wasps also possess something that the majority of ants do not, a very powerful stinger. Many species of velvet ants have a stinger that is half the length of their body. It is tucked underneath out of sight and only brought out when mishandled or provoked. These wasps try to avoid confrontation, but if mishandled they will sting and it will be an experience you won't soon forget. This painful sting has earned the species pictured here, Dasymutilla occidentalis, the nick-name Cow Killer. The name comes from reports that the sting is so horrible it could kill a cow. Obviously this is an exaggeration, but still we should respect anything that is reportedly so foreboding that it carries the moniker of Cow Killer. Thankfully they're not super defensive or prone to aggressiveness                                                                                                                  
Males do not look anything like the females. They have black-brown wings that the females lack. They do not possess stingers, but that doesn't deter them from attempting to defend themselves with a stinger-like projection on their gentalia. I suppose a penis-poke that feels like being jabbed by a straight pin would cause a person to drop him in a hurry. 

The male and female pictured here were found in Branson, MO. I spotted the female first as she was walking in circles on a leaf next to a walking trail I was on. I stopped to watch her and take a few pictures and tried to figure out what her odd behavior meant. Then I spotted the male nearby. When the male would come closer to her she would bob her abdomen up and down as if to attract the males attention. He seemed quite interested in her. I am assuming she was somehow releasing pheromones which attracted this male that was in the vicinity. Not sure what the abdomen bobbing was all about, but apparently shaking your booty brings the boys. 

Every time in the past when I have tried to photograph these wasps it has proven impossible. They are quick and always on the move. This female sat still for seconds at a time which allowed for a few quick pictures. The male on the other hand never stopped long enough to manage a decent, clear image. 

Velvet Ants are not colony wasps and do not create hives, nests or burrows. After mating, the female will seek out the nest of solitary wasps or bees, like bumble bees, and enter the nest and lay an egg on larvae therein. The newly hatched velvet ant larvae will burrow into the larvae of the bumble bee (or other host) and feed on the innards of the unfortunate victim until they are ready to pupate. Pupation will take place inside the burrow of the bumble bee or other host. The larva that was fed on will not survive. 

These wasps rarely occur in large numbers and are usually encountered randomly. I've only found 5 or 6 of them in the last 10 years. I am fascinated by them, but careful to never try and handle one!



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Colorado Potato Beetle

Colorado Potato Beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) are endemic to Colorado as well as a few neighboring states where they feed on native plants in the genus Solanum. These include horse nettles and nightshade. With the expansion of potato, tomato, and eggplant crops these beetles made a natural jump from their native host to these cultivated, garden favorites in the same genus. With this expansion in the cultivation of food crops in the genus Solanum this beetle also expanded it's reach and now can be found throughout much of the United States and parts of Canada.

They are considered to be a serious pest of potato, tomato, eggplant and pepper crops and their feeding habits can drastically reduce yield or even kill the plants. Because of this potential harm to food crops people are often dependent on insecticides to control them. Unfortunately, this beetle shows an extraordinary ability to develop resistance to insecticides developed to control it. This falls in line with what I have been saying for years and have mentioned numerous times in various posts on this very blog. Insecticides only work for a short period of time, before the insect you are targeting develops resistance and passes that resistance onto their offspring. Within a few generations they will have nearly complete resistance to the chemical cocktail and your spray will have no ill effects on them. Then you have the added concern of the spray you are using causing the unintended death of beneficial bugs like bees, butterflies and ladybugs. Insecticides are not pest specific. They routinely kill all insects they come in contact with. Care should always be exercised when using insecticides, and always follow the directions to the letter. Using more than is necessary causes more harm than good and can actually cause the resistance to insecticides to be exacerbated exponentially.

Larva feeding on potato
CPB overwinter as adults and become active again in the spring when the temperatures warm up. They will feed on weeds, volunteer potatoes and other volunteer plants within the genus Solanum. About 3 or 4 days after feeding they will mate and within days of mating the female will begin laying clusters of up to 24 eggs on the underside of the leaves of the host plant. I've read differing accounts of how many eggs they can produce in their short window of 4 to 5 weeks of ovipositing. Some say 400-500 and still others claim they may lay up to 800 eggs. Whichever number is correct, they obviously lay a tremendous amount of eggs and are quite adept at populating an area where food sources meet their needs.  It takes up to 9 days for the eggs to hatch, depending on how warm the temperatures are. Within 3 weeks they will burrow into the ground to form a pupal chamber and remain there for up to 10 days before emerging as adults. These new females will feed for a few days and seek out mates and the cycle begins again. There may be up to 3 generations per year. With such prolific reproduction it is no wonder there are so many and they can quickly become pests.

Colorado Potato Beetles are also known by other names such as Potato Beetle, Ten-lined Potato Beetle, Ten-Striped Spearman, and Colorado Beetle. They measure up to 1/2 inch in length (or 30 mm)....and their wings are yellow-orange with 10 dark brown stripes. They are often confused with the False Potato Beetle. The false potato beetle has a distinctive brown stripe down the center of their wings. The false potato beetle and the Colorado potato beetle are not able to cross breed. The Colorado potato beetle is the only one considered a pest.

We are familiar with unwanted 6 legged invaders in the United States that have made their way here via cargo shipments from other countries. Think Mutlti-Colored Asian Lady Beetle, or the Japanese Beetle, and a whole host of other destructive little blighters. The Colorado Potato Beetle is native to the US, but has spread it's reach to include Asia, and Europe. It is spreading exponentially and could end up in northern Africa, as well as Japan and other nearby countries sooner rather than later. With so much travel and trade taking place across all borders and with so many different countries its no wonder the entire World experiences an onslaught of 6-legged menaces. Truthfully it's a wonder there isn't more of a problem than there is.

If you find your garden being invaded by this hungry little bug it can be very frustrating. There are options available for organically controlling it, or you can manually remove them from the leaves. Rotating the area where you grow your crops each year can also help control them. Just keep in mind any chemicals you use may not work long term as they are notorious for building up resistance to most all chemicals designed to kill.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Spined Soldier Bug

The spined soldier bug (Podisus maculiventris) are a type of predaceous stink bug found all across the United States and in parts of Canada. They can be identified by the distinct "spiny shoulders" on the pronotum. Body is shield-shape and may be brown, or tan, with yellow legs, and a black streak on the wing membrane. They are about 2/3 of an inch long. You will also notice white spots ringed in black along the wing edges. Their common name is derived from the spines on the legs rather than the spiny shoulders. Although I've read a few reports that say otherwise, so I guess it is anyone's guess where the origin of the name really came from.

They are reported to feed on over 50 different species of insects, many of them injurious to crops, garden plants and ornamentals. Their preference for insects such as corn ear-worm, beet army-worm, fall army-worm, cabbage looper, imported cabbage-worm, Colorado potato beetle, velvet-bean caterpillar, Mexican bean beetle,and

eating a green dock beetle
flea beetles makes them a favorite among gardeners and farmers alike. You will often encounter them in a wide range of crops including alfalfa, apples, asparagus, beans, celery, cotton, crucifers, cucurbits, eggplant, potatoes, onions, soybeans, sweet corn and tomatoes. This species is so good at controlling pest insects that it is commonly used as a biological control species within greenhouses.  The use of them in biological programs in colder climates is not met with much success as they do not overwinter and cannot survive freezing temperatures. The use of them in open field biological control programs is met with mixed results. In some cases they remain in the field where they are placed and feed, but there is some indication they are not able to meet the demand and are often outnumbered by pest-prey. In other cases releasing them in your field only results in them taking flight and going to your neighbors field. At this time it is not cost effective to use them on a large scale and unfortunately chemical control seems to be the most cost effective method of meeting the demands of pest control in large operations.

I've often mentioned in other posts that my husband and I quit using insecticides over 20 years ago. Anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of insects that have been sprayed will survive the chemical onslaught. Those individuals will pass a certain amount of resistance onto their offspring. Each subsequent generation passes more and more resistance onto their offspring until you have a "Super-Bug" that is no longer destroyed by the insecticide designed to kill it. Chemical companies are constantly creating new cocktails of chemicals to try and keep one step ahead of the bugs and their resistance. Not to mention that these insecticides do not JUST target harmful insects, they also kill beneficial insects...think honey bees! We've had no problems with pests. We have great success relying on bats, birds, mammals and insect predators in controlling pest insects. We farm over 500 acres without insecticides and I am very proud of this. I wish more farmers would change their use of massive amounts of these harmful chemicals. The stark reality is that the more chemicals they use the more they HAVE to use. They will continue to be held prisoner to the high cost of chemicals until they make that hard decision to stop. At first they will have a complete imbalance of bad insects compared to good insects. Eventually though the ratio will straighten itself out and the good bugs will outnumber the bad ones...not to mention other predators which will also feed on the pest insects. We are proof it works.

These stink bugs have piercing/sucking mouthparts that they use to jab their insect prey and then inject an enzyme which helps dissolve their prey. They use their mouthparts somewhat like a straw and suck out the bodily fluids of their prey. They may also occasionally pierce nearby plants to drink fluids. This does not appear to hurt the plants in anyway, and may actually help keep them around to feed on the insects which do hurt your fruits and vegetables. If all their dietary needs are being met from moisture to meat----there is no need to go anywhere!

These stink bugs overwinter as adults in leaf litter and emerge in the spring when they will mate. After mating, females will begin depositing eggs on the underside of leaves on the plants where they hang out looking for food. A single female is capable of laying up to 500 eggs, depending upon how plentiful food is, as well as how nutritious her food choices were.
Apparently some insects are better choices than others. Mexican Bean Beetles seem to be on the good side of the nutritional scale, whereas Colorado Potato Beetles are on the bad side. In comparison it would be like humans choosing a Big Mac over a salad. It seems there is some indication that if they overeat their lifespan is greatly reduced, compared to those who ate more moderately which seem to live longer. Again....I can see a definite comparison to humans.

I find these stink bug frequently around out farm and can appreciate the beneficial service they are providing in controlling the harmful insects in our garden and our crop fields.