Have you ever been strolling through your garden and decide to rearrange or remove a log? You might be amazed or intimidated by the sight of a dark shiny creature with large mandibles (mouth parts). But don’t be alarmed- it is the Horned Passalus, Odontotaenius disjunctus. This beetle also is known by many other common names including the Betsy Beetle, Bess Bug, Patent Leather Beetle, Jerusalem Beetle, Horn Beetle, and Peg Beetle.
This beetle is a widely distributed from mid-Florida to Massachusetts, Southern Texas to Minnesota, and Nebraska. Beetles are easily recognized due to their large size, ranging between 30 and 40 mm (1.2 and 1.6 inches) in length. They are known to have pre-social activities, where both males and females perform the same duties of processing decaying wood and protecting larvae.
Friend or foe?
Horned Passalus Beetles are beneficial decomposers of decaying wood or logs, often found in large numbers to efficiently complete the task! However, they are medically harmless and not considered a pest of urban structures. Horned passalus beetles are considered to be beneficial insects as these beetles help decompose deadwood by chewing the pulp and then expelling the frass.
Musically inclined or just a talkative beetle?
The phrase “crazy as a Betsy Bug” may refer to the sounds that these insects make — The adults are able to produce at least 17 different calls (Stridulation) as they communicate with other beetles or when disturbed/agitated, which are audible to humans.
Life cycle/ Developmental stage.
Using its large mandibles, the horned passalus cuts into fallen logs and creates tunnels where the eggs are deposited and hatched into white grubs (larvae) that have up to three instars. They appear to only have two pairs of legs, but a third pair is present and reduced. Only the first two pairs are used for movement. These grubs usually retain a distinctive C-shaped position when not active.
As pupae begin to form they become pearly white with a rainbow sheen. As the pupae age, they lose their rainbow sheen and can range in color from off white to earth-toned. Adult beetles aggregate and compete for sections of fallen wood.
Nuptial flight or defense?
Newly mature adults will leave the parent log and participate in a nuptial flight, one of the only instances of their wing use. During observations of the nuptial flight, adults were found to be susceptible to light attractants such as light traps and street lights. At the end of the nuptial flight, adults will seek out a new log to start another aggregation.
October is an important month for butterflies. The monarchs are making their epic migration towards Mexico, gracing us with their presence as they stop to feed on saltbush or lantana plants along the coast. But our homegrown orange-and-black butterfly is showing up everywhere right now, too. The Gulf fritillary (Agrautis vanillae) is a smaller species, but also features bright orange wings with black stripes and spots. Their caterpillars come dressed for Halloween, too—they are a deep orange color with black legs and spikes. While the caterpillar is not venomous to any potential predators, the spikes are quite intimidating and serve a protective function.
Fritillary (name from the Latin “chessboard”) eggs are bright yellow and laid primarily on varieties of passionflower vines, which the caterpillars feed voraciously upon. Passion vine is an important host plant for the zebra longwing as well, which is Florida’s state butterfly.
Gulf fritillaries are found in all 67 Florida counties, and may live throughout the southeastern United States, Mexico, and central and south America. They are found in varied habitats but prefer open, sunny spots in fields, forests, and gardens. The butterfly’s wing shape puts them into the “longwing” category, as their elongated wings spread wider than other species.
In the fall, fritillaries migrate to the warmest ends of their range. By spring, they move slightly north into North Carolina or interior Alabama.
October is the premier wildflower month in the Panhandle. Nighttime temperatures drop, days shorten, pollinators emerge, and many native plants explode into flower. Of all the native fall-flowering Panhandle wildflowers, maybe the most striking is currently in full bloom, the Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)!
Mistflower is a low growing, spreading native perennial (1-2’ in height) found in sunny, moist areas of meadows and near rivers, ponds, and creeks throughout much of the United States from New York to Florida and even west as far as Texas and Nebraska. This common native wildflower is conspicuously one of the few native plants in our area that has blue flowers, making Mistflower easy to spot in a sea of yellow, orange, purple, pink, and white wildflowers. The flowers appear as little puffs of purply-blue due to the lack of ray florets (think the outer yellow “petals” of sunflowers), possessing only disk florets (think the inner part of sunflower heads) with long blue, fuzzy-appearing stamens. Mistflower is attractive to more than just wildflower watchers as well, it’s a magnet for nectar-seeking butterflies as well; Eastern Swallowtails, Great Purple and Juniper Hairstreaks, and others are often found feeding on the flowers.
As lovely as Mistflower is in the wild, it’s probably best left for folks enjoy there, especially those who prefer an orderly yard. Mistflower will indeed grow great in moist areas of pollinator gardens and landscapes, requiring only ample sunlight and rainfall, but it is very aggressive. Its spreading nature via its rhizomatous root system and prolific seed production often lead to it becoming a weedy nuisance in more manicured landscapes. But, if chaos and fall bursts of blue erupting at random throughout your garden don’t bother you, by all means, seek out Mistflower for purchase through seed catalogs and local native nurseries. For more information on Mistflower and other fall-blooming native wildflowers, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension office! Happy Gardening.
The days are getting shorter, the sun setting earlier each day, and the temperatures are beginning to dip. All the signs are there, we’ve reached autumn which means it’s time for many roadside wildflowers to begin their bloom cycle. Surely, you’ve seen them as you drive down the road, small colorful patches in the ditch or as almost blinding yellows across vast fields. The vibrant yellow in this latter example is that of goldenrod (Solidago spp.). A name attributed to many plants in Asteraceae better known as the Daisy family, they serve to feed pollinators when other plants begin to fade. Two of the most common in the panhandle are seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) and Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).
Seaside goldenrod will be most prevalent in the coastal counties along the panhandle. It thrives on beach dunes in tidal marshes and disturbed coastal areas. Tolerance to saline soils and sea spray allow growth in these environments. A clumping perennial, it grows to 6.6 feet clumping with a 1.6 foot spread. The flowers of this plant bloom in autumn on a spiked inflorescence as tubular disk florets. They are pollinated by several types of insects and birds. This plant was used as far back as the Roman times to treat several medical conditions.
Canada goldenrod is found in Florida almost exclusively in the panhandle with a few pockets as holdouts in the peninsula. Not as common along the coast, this plant prefers to take hold in ditches and open meadows. At 1-7 feet tall with it spreads via underground stems known as rhizomes. Rhizomatous plants such as these are traditionally difficult to control and may become weedy in some situations. Yellow ray style flowers present in clusters at the end of stems on drooping panicles. Pollen form this plant is often blamed for fall allergies, but does not tend to travel far on the wind making this an unlikely source. As with the seaside goldenrod, this plant was used traditionally as a medicine in ancient times.
Summing it up
Goldenrod along with many autumn blooming wild flowers may be something you’ve put very little thought into. They are proven winners in terms of late season pollinator support. Often overlooked in the home landscape, plants like goldenrod may bring a new twist to your home gardens. They require little water and fertilizer and grow well in our area. For more information on Florida wildflowers, see these Ask IFAS documents, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
There are numerous insects and insect relatives that can produce webbing, and webbing can be a sign that something unwanted is near. Arachnophobes might grow uneasy at the sight of a spiderweb, and gardeners might frown to see the tiny filaments that spider mites spin. Tree lovers might assume that webs on a tree are a sign that caterpillars such as the eastern tent caterpillar have taken up residence. But what about webs on a tree trunk?
If you come across a tree trunk coated in silk, chances are you’re looking at the work of a bark louse. Also known as psocids or tree cattle, these little insects eat all the stuff that sticks to a tree’s bark. Lichen, moss, algae, and dead bark can all end up as meals for a hungry bark louse. The good news is that while lichens don’t hurt trees, neither do bark lice!
Bark lice spin their webbing as protection from predators. They often produce large quantities of webbing, because there are often large quantities of bark lice present. The name ‘tree cattle’ comes from the fact that they form these large colonies, and move in a manner similar to cattle in groups. While swirling swarms of creepy-crawlies rarely make people feel at ease, don’t worry about these. Acting as a sort of clean-up crew, they will do their work, grow and mature, and move elsewhere by themselves.
There are often several generations of bark lice each year in Florida, so they may reoccur. No control is needed for these insects, though if leftover webbing is considered aesthetically unpleasing it can be removed by spraying with a sharp jet of water. For more information about bark lice, see our EDIS publication at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN553.
It is late summer and many of us enjoy being outdoors in the landscape and taking early morning walks before the temperature rises for the day. There are precautions to take while being outdoors and the activities as many insects are very active, including the yellow jacket. Late summer and many of us being outdoor brings us increases the change of being stung by this insect. The Yellow Jacket sting can be painful and potential dangerous to certain individuals with strong reactions to stings.
In the State of Florida there are two species of this Yellow Jacket Wasp, the Eastern Yellow Jacket and the Southern Yellow Jacket. It is difficult to distinguish between them and for this article I will refer to them as Yellow Jackets. Yellow Jackets most often colonize in the ground and are often found in lawns that tend to stay dry, landscape beds and edge of woodlands. Colonies of this flying insect can grow into hundreds or even larger numbers. Often by observation in morning or evening light the entry and exit point of the nest can be see with some luck. It looks like an extremely busy airport with lots of landings and departures. The unfortunate way to find the nest can occur by mowing the lawn disturbing the nest with many yellow jackets emerging from the nest to protect it. The colony quickly goes into defense mode with vibrations occurring nearby. This has occurred with me on more than one occasion. All modesty can be lost while run away from the nesting area with several yellow jackets stinging you move quickly move away. Clothing has been known to be shed to hopefully remove the yellow jackets busily stinging either under or on the outside of clothing.
During the early part of the spring and summer season yellow jackets are busy foraging for protein sources to feed to queen and young larvae. During the consuming of the insects, with many of those harvested being harmful insects to plants. The yellow jackets derive their sugar sources from the larvae secretions as they consume the proteins provided. This is part of the reason we do not often see Yellow Jackets in late spring and early summer. As the queen begins to reduce the amount of egg laying, hence the less numbers of larvae to feed and harvest the sugar for a wasp population at its peak creates a more aggressive need to find alternate sources of sugar. This is part of the reason why yellow jackets show up in greater numbers at outdoor sporting events and other places to look for additional sugar sources. Sugar water for hummingbirds is another backyard site for yellow jackets to work hard for the sugar. Even the birds are careful about approaching the feeders.
I do not advocate the destruction of yellow jacket nesting sites unless they are in proximity to human activity as this can set the situation of stings and potential health challenges for people. If you identify a nest location do not approach and call a company that specializes in addressing these types of stinging insects. Keep in mind that this insect provides a benefit in harvest of many harmful pests to plants yet do pose a potential threat. Be observant as you garden situations that seemed fine last month may have changed quickly.