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Insect Reproduction

In farming it’s pretty important to understand you insect populations. I say this because there are many types on insects and each one has a specific set of rules and roles. There are also more beneficial insects than just lady bugs and butterflies. That isn’t saying that they aren’t beneficial, but it makes sense that there would be other insects that are both beneficial and general pests.

Photo credit to Larry Silsbee

Differences in reproduction

  1. Females are more selective when it comes to mating and often try to find the best suitor to lay their eggs with. They are often preoccupied with habitat selection and progeny development. These activities expend most of their energy after mating. Once they mate, females limit mating.
    1. Eggs fertilized as it leaves the ovarioles. (I know it’s too much information but it’s a scientific fact, so please understand that we’re discussing ovarioles for science.)
    2. By knowing a females mating patterns, after identifying our insect population, we have a better chance of preventing the spread of a pest or stopping further reproduction. There are many ways of doing this, but I’m not expert. Just make sure you’re reading the labels about application and the time between sprays. A lot of people don’t look at those and it could cause you to have ineffective treatment methods (I have been guilty of this myself).
  2. Males search out receptive females persistently and frequently. Locating mates and producing sperm expend more energy. After mating males frequently search for another mate.
    1. Sperm is stored in the spermatheca
    2. I know it’s gross but males are often doing mating dances and defending their territory in case any female comes along. They don’t seem to be as picky as the females.
  3. They find mates using:
    1. Vision
      1. Swarms
      2. Color
      3. Light
    2. Hearing
      1. Cicadas
      2. Grasshoppers
    3. Smell
    4. Touch
Lovely insect habitat right outside my own home

Many insects find each other through mating dances, light flashes or ‘sex-attractant’ pheromones which can be produced/performed by either males or females. Mating dances are specific to each type of insect and allow for their mate to find them or for them to find their mate. Dance patterns can be anything from flying in circles in an attempt to attract the females attention and she might possibly fly through his fancy dance to staying in a specific territory and zipping back and forth to assert dominance.

Pheromones -This is one of the way that pesticides are effective. It isn’t the pheromones that kill the insects but what is at the end of that tunnel. People put out bait that is coated in pheromones (which varies from insect to insect) and they either trap the insects inside a sticky trap or a net trap or they lure them to their deaths by poison or insectide.

I’m not advocating for any specific way but I am inserting that many people allow for a certain amount of pests inside their gardens, homesteads or whatever they are growing. They only spray when a population has grown out of control or once a season during a specific time before breeding is able to take place. Over spraying is a huge issue and can cause populations to grow out of control.

A nice green area with lots of spring growth (I really hope it doesn’t freeze again before April)

I’m just now learning about these things and I find that they are important to know and understand when I am attempting to start my own food forest. That being said there are a lot of homemade sprays that can kill or deter insect populations, just remember to know what insect you are spraying for. Guessing could kill many unnecessary insects in the process.

Without basic knowledge of insects in my area I might not notice when there is a problem or issue; also I might not notice when an invasive insect arrives. Also, having a diverse population of insects can help with the health of your plants.

More stuff to come… hopefully it’s interesting.

Photo credit to Larry Silsbee

The foraging birds

First, I love birds. They are a favorite of mine. I mentioned in a previous post that I did not like clipping my dead stuff until spring and I have a very good reason for it: birds.

But it’s not just for birds. The leaves and dead plant droppings cane be home to salamanders, butterflies, chipmunks, box turtles, toads and many other creatures. They provide a lovely ground cover for earthworms to turn all of that matter into compost. There are so many benefits to just leaving it alone and letting the animals forage through it.

Leaving it alone can also increase the survival of important and beneficial insects and other arthropods. They will be your helpers in keeping pest problems low and help in decomposition of earthly matter. All of this stuff combined will increase soil health and that benefits you in the long run.

So not only are you reducing your time and effort but you’re also the proud parent to an entire ecosystem. It warms my heart just to write that out. This will also save waste because a lot of people throw their trimmings out- which could be recycled and composted or just left to allow a little home for the bird food. It’s only temporary.

For more information on why you should leave your lawn alone you can go here Scientists Say or here National Wildlife Federation to find out more information. It isn’t hard to find out why I am such a big fan. Bring on the birds.

Arthopods and Insects

First, since we know that insects are inside the athropod phylum. Also, when we think of insects we’re bunching a lot of different species into the anthropod phylum. So first let’s determine what an anthropod actually is…

  • They have jointed legs, and when he says that I feel like he means more than one joint but I don’t know if that bit has truth. They do however, have jointed legs in common. All anthropods.
  • They have segmented, and usually cylindrical bodies. It shorts all of their vital organs and makes sense.
  • They also have bilateral symmetry. That just means their body- if cut in half- could be divided into equal halves. I thought that was pretty cool.
  • They have an exoskeleton made with chitin- which is that sugar shield we talked about last time.
  • They have a ventral nerve cord and a dorsal brain. Now, I know what you’re thinking: dolphins. But no, it has nothing to do with dolphins. Ventral is situated on the lower part of the body and the dorsal is on the upper part of the body. I didn’t know and now I do. The nerve cord is downstairs and the brain is on the top.
This is pretty cool. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of bugs yet but I am working on that. So here are some pictures from my intro to horticulture class

When we talk about insects we think of a general word like bugs, which turns out is kind of specific as well. I should inform you that arthropods have five classes. If you look online it’ll say four but that is because they push centipedes and milipedes together.

Anyway they are…

  • Arachnida- these are spiders, scorpions, mites, and ticks. (I bet you didn’t know that ticks were arachnids because I didn’t)
  • Crustacea- lobsters, pill bugs or sow bugs, decapods and crayfish (crawdads).
  • Chilopoda- centipedes
  • Diplopoda- millipedes
  • Hexapoda- insecta or insects
We have peas. You should know that we have prematurely started them and are about to repot them into individual containers. Pretty fun stuff.

So, to help myself refresh I have to remember:

  • Kingdom- all life is separated into six kingdoms: animals, plants, fungi, protists, archaea and bacteria
  • Phyla- anthropods which branches from the animal kingdom
  • Class- how the phylum is divided narrowing down specific types of that phyla. Each class can have as many different species as necessary. In the instance of anthropods we have our five classes: Crustacea, chilopoda, diplopoda, arachnid, and hexapoda.
  • Order- further narrowing it down but isn’t as mentioned
  • Family- narrowing it down even further and isn’t as mentioned
  • Genus- the first word in their scientific name.
  • Species- the specific thing. For example homo sapien. Homo is the genus and sapien is the species. Sapien is the most specific place and the narrowed search.

This is all called Taxonomy and is identifying living things and shoving them into proper categories with similar creatures- both living and extinct- and then given a scientific name. Often times common names are misleading and you think because something is called a California Pepper it is from California but it is actually from Peru. Knowing their scientific name really helps narrow down the search to get more information.

Well one half of this tray seems to be doing well. I wish they were doing better. More on these will be announced later

They’re calling it binomial nomenclature. That’s what they are calling the taxonomy system we use. Seems a bit unnecessarily long but I am sure they had their reasons. Also, not everyone can agree on the taxonomy, some things seem up for debate.

Until next time, thank you Dr. Drake for the information. Hopefully I’ll be able to retain it for the test next week.

Insects: What We Should Know

That’s right, bugs. At least, that’s the slang term for these creepy crawlers and freaky fliers. They are the primary consumers of plants on this planet and also the greatest predator of plant eaters (if you don’t count how we poison them by existing and on purpose for crop improvement).

Insects are also major players in the decomposition of organic matter and materials. Not only are they major predators they are also food for many different animals and some humans. It’s good that they are edible because they out number us two hundred million to each individual human. That’s roughly forty million insects per acre and over thirty million species in all.

I am pretty sure it is some kind of cockroach but I can’t be sure. I should be able to identify them just by looking at them, but I am working on that.

Remember: those are just the bugs that we remember.

Fun fact: fewer than one percent of bugs are considered pests. Most insects are considered beneficial because they are pollinators and/or predators.

Just so we are all on the same page, insects have a few things in common:

  • They have their skeleton on the outside to protect their insides. This is called the exoskeleton and is made of chitin. Chitin is a tough, kind of transparent nitrogen containing polysaccharide (a carbohydrate which has molecules that contain a whole bunch of sugars bonded together)- which is related to cellulose and is used in the exoskeleton of arthropods.
  • Their heart, the most important part, is located on top of the insects body.
  • Their nerves are on the lower side of their body
  • They smell with their antennae
  • They taste with their feet
First moth for my insect collection that I have to turn in. When I know what it is I’ll share

All fun things to know about insects on a basic level. Now, a lot of individuals are going to say that there is more bad than good but that is no necessarily true. First we’ll go over some of the positives of insects:

  • They produce products for us such as honey, silk, wax, and assist in composting.
  • They are pollinators and assist in the development of crops.
  • They are food for wildlife and are usually scavengers.
  • They can be a food source, if you’re brave enough.
  • They are useful for research and experimental purposes. They can track quite a bit through insects from their development to their effects on crops. There are lots of things that bugs tells us.

The bad things, the ugly things, the things that concern us:

  • They’re weird looking: this is ninety percent of our fear.
  • They are generally annoying to humans and animals because they’re always flying around and just being where they don’t belong.
  • They destroy crops because they are hungry and they are trying to survive like the rest of us.
Another specimen I hope holds out until

Insects are in a larger group called arthropods. Now, arthropods are cold blooded creatures- they have an exoskeleton and no backbone. I was really surprised by that because they seem so brave when they fly head strong into my face on the porch. So, arthropods are above insects. Insects are inside the phylum -> arthropod.

If you are going to be doing any work on your land you, like me, should be aware of what the world we live in populates. Who knew that this was going to be so fascinating?

I must contribute all knowledge to Dr. Drake at TAMUC. I am taking classes in order to benefit my home. Why shouldn’t I make my love for plants a real thing? Regardless, I can’t wait to share what I am currently learning in class with you, because it’s fun to share.

This does not make up for being in a college class where things are better explained. Please do your own research about the bugs in your area.

Butterflies and Moths in North America is one of many resources that are available to the public. Check it out and find out what kind of lepidoptera (fancy official word for the order in which butterflies and moths come from) you are dealing with or are in your area. Enjoy the crappy moth pictures.