For reference, I am a plant pathologist by training. This means that the focus of a good chunk of my studies has been centred on organism or factors that cause disease, whether a bacterium, fungus or perhaps an abiotic (non-living) process. Despite my tendency towards all things rotting, in my work over the past decade I have developed a fascination for unusual insects. More often, it is the strange things that they do to plants to hide or protect themselves or as they feed that catches my eye.
What is really neat is that sometimes the insects (or insect-like pests) that cause the biggest, most obvious injury or damage symptoms are actually tiny immature insects. What follows is a rogues’ gallery of some of the interesting insects that I’ve come across over the past few years. I’ll try to break them into sections of similar actions or similar species. Since I am not an entomologist (a.k.a. Bug guy), my groupings may offend those with more training or education. Too bad, so sad. In this, I’m in it for the entertainment value. In some cases, some of the insects that I share with you could fit into several categories.
Maple Leafcutter (Paraclemensia acerifoliella)
Meadow Spittle Bug (Philaenus spumarius)
This little critter creates a froth of its own spit to hide within, feeding on the plant. The froth is pretty gross, but overall the damage created isn’t severe.
In some cases, insects create their own shelter from their own materials. In the case of the Pine Needle Scale, which affects spruce, pine and firs, the coverage is a bit of waxy armour that is excreted by the females as they sort of suction cup themselves to the needles, remaining there for the duration of their lives, as they lay eggs underneath them. The presence of scales resembles what I’ve seen described as “paint splatter”. The crawlers (the immature form) emerge to move briefly before settling in to feed on the needles (they pierce and suck).
|Pine needle scale - "paint splatter" symptom|
|Closer view of Pine Needle Scale insects on srpuce needles. The black specks are the emergence holes of the "crawlers" (immature stage)|
|Pine Needle Scales - white spots are the female scale insects that have attached themselves to the needle to feed, lay eggs and protect the eggs and young crawlers|