An insect I am currently seeing out in force around the office and at home is the praying mantis. Most consider this a good insect. This is a great predator insect with large front or forelegs used to catch or capture its prey. When stationary and upright they often hold their front legs folded, which led to them being called the praying mantis. They live for about a year, with the females laying eggs, often in the hundreds, in the fall. This is done in a distinctive way that some say is in a braided mass. These egg cases are about 1 inch long, ½-inch wide, somewhat rectangular and can be attached to all manner of items, including twigs, metal posts, under the eaves of houses, etc.
Now, when I say they are most often thought of as good insects that’s because the praying mantis doesn’t care what it eats. It eats bad insects, good insects, small lizards and other praying mantises indiscriminately. As such, I would be careful about trying to pick one up!
An insect that people know is bad and one that is currently causing problems is the spider mite. They love hot and dry weather, which we have had plenty of! Spider mites are in the arachnid class, which includes spiders and ticks, but they aren’t spiders, although they can construct very delicate webbing. In Utah we see the two-spotted spider mite and the McDaniel spider mite. Due to the two-spotted mite having a higher reproductive rate, we likely see those more often. Locally, we’ve seen them on apples, roses, and tomatoes, among other plants.
Due to their really small size — females are less than 1/20th of an inch long — the first indication of damage is usually the browning or bronzing of plant foliage and perhaps the presence of webbing where leaf petioles attach to stems. To check to see if you have spider mites take a piece of white paper out to the plant and slap a stem of the plant against it — you don’t need to cut it off. If you see specks moving, yes, specks, (that’s how small they are) then you likely have spider mites.
To control these insects, rely on biological and cultural measures, because chemical controls, especially broad-spectrum pesticides, can often make the problem worse by killing the predatory mites that feed on spider mites. Also, some sprays such as carbaryl (Sevin) appear to increase reproduction. Since spider mites like it hot, dry and dusty, home gardeners who have this problem, or do not want it to develop, should consider periodically spraying their plants, including the underside of the leaves, with water and/or a soap solution so plants don’t experience long periods of hot and dry conditions.
Recently, I had a call concerning one of those annoying insects with both good and bad characteristics — the carpenter bee. Carpenter bees resemble bumblebees, with the female’s abdomens or rear body segment being a shiny black or metallic blue color while bumblebees usually have some yellow on their abdomens. The good part of these bees is that they pollinate plants. The bad part is they bore into wooden structures, especially soft woods, and can seriously weaken them over time. I’ve seen them on more than one occasion try to bore holes in wooden handles of garden tools, which luckily are mostly made of hard woods so they don’t usually get far.
To control them, prevention is the key. Use hardwoods on the outside of wooden structures as often as possible. Also, to limit the bee’s interest, fill holes or depressions in the wood with steel wool and/or chalk, and paint or varnish all wood surfaces.
As gardeners, enjoy your beneficial insects, consider a light management approach to bad insects and learn patience and easy fixes for aggravating insects.
Thought for the day: “You must first have a lot of patience to learn to have patience.” —Stanislaw Jerzy Lec.
Previous articles are available at The Times-Independent website, www.moabtimes.com. Have an idea you’d like Mike to consider writing about? Want more information about these topics? Call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 435-259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.>/i>