Monday, July 31, 2017

Beware of ticks!

We are right in the middle of the summer, which means ticks are very active! Here in Nebraska we have two species, the Lone Star tick and the American dog tick. Both spread a number of diseases, and I am one of the latest victims!

I discovered a tick bite about a week ago after being in a tick infested area about a week or so prior to that. The tick was no longer in the bite, which means it had had plenty of time to feed and spread infection. I found a red, expanding rash on the back of my neck, and had enlarged and sore lymph nodes and a headache. We do not have the black-legged tick, which is the vector for Lyme disease, here in Nebraska, but the Lone Star tick spreads a similar disease.

The treatment for any tick-borne illness is antibiotics (doxycycline or amoxicillin), and the sooner you notice symptoms and get the medication, the less complications you may experience. Many of you may be in Lyme country (such as Northern states like MN and WI), so it's very important that you keep an eye out for an expanding red rash (called a erythema migrans), especially if it shows a bulls-eye pattern, and see your doctor.

Also, use repellent (such as DEET) before entering tick-infested areas and be sure to do a thorough "tick check" afterwards. Ticks wander around the body a bit before they attach, so many times you can get rid of them before they bite you. If you see one attached, use a tweezers to remove it. Ticks usually need to be attached for at least 24 hours before they can spread a disease.

See the following good resources for more information about ticks and tick-borne disease:

Ticks (Nebraska Extension)  

Ticks and Tickborne Diseases (CDC) 

                      Lone star tick (female), which spreads a Lyme-like disease here in Nebraska called STARI.
In mid-July, UNL and Nebraska Extension held the second annual Bugmasters training camp. This training was geared towards preparing volunteers to teach youth and adult insect programs. It included presentations about basic insect biology and specific pests, and also a hands-on component where we visited the backyard farmer garden, pollinator garden, and beehives.

Read more about it, here:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Spring has sprung, although here in Nebraska we've had a lot of cold, wet weather. But temperatures are getting better and the insects are starting to emerge.

Last spring, I raised some Cecropia (Hylephora cecropia) caterpillars. One of my colleagues found a female and she laid eggs, so he took some to raise in his lab and I raised about 10 of them in my office. This is the largest moth in North America, but they start out as tiny black caterpillars:

Throughout the summer, I fed them (they eat a number of plants, including ash, box elder, lilac, cran- apple, and maple), and they progressed through several stages, or instars.

They become vibrant green with pretty yellow and orange/red "knobs." In their final instar, they are several inches long!

Once they are this big,  it's time to pupate! They spin a cocoon among the branches/leaves of their food source, then pupate within it.

Out of my 10 caterpillars, 4 of them lived to pupate. Their growth and development occurred from about May through July. This species only has one generation per year, so the moths will not emerge until the following Spring.

I put the cocoons in the refrigerator all through the winter, as this emulates the cold months when they are in diapause. This April, I removed them and 3 weeks later, the first of the four emerged. It was a male I named Titus.

Unfortunately, I could not release him as we've had a few cold, rainy days, and it would have been certain death. The adults do not feed and only live about a week, so their main purpose is to find mates and lay eggs. I was hoping a female would emerge, and one did a couple days later. Here is Athena. She is much larger than Titus, and he was large enough!

Sadly, when I got back from the weekend, Titus had banged his wings up all around the cage, and did not have a lot of time left. I am not sure that he and Athena actually mated. I released both of them yesterday when it was warmer. I wanted to give Titus some time outside before dying, but Athena I am hoping found a chance to mate.

I still have two cocoons left and hopefully these moths will emerge as well. It was an amazing experience being able raise this insect from caterpillar to moth!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Think twice before killing that little spider you see in your house!! He's eating a lot of pest insects you don't want around! (Photo: UNL)