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What is It, is It a Bug?
May 26, 2009

Welcome new readers and old friends.

Your letter is coming today (Tuesday) this week because of Memorial day and the holiday weekend.

A wonderful weekend it was in just about every way.

(Our fur kids, Ziggy the poodle and Akita)

I visited my parents at the cemetery, as I'm sure some of you did as well.

I also make sure we remember the true reason behind Memorial Day.

To honor our fallen heroes and for me, to honor and say Thank You to our living heroes as well.

As you know, May is my month, my time of year.

Days are longer as the sun sets well past 9:00 PM these days (the advantage of living on the west end of a time zone).

Weather on the most part is getting warmer......

So far we have had some key rains..........

Many bloomers are still about a week behind due to cooler weather this past April and early May.

That's okay though, because I can enjoy them more now as I am almost caught up with the to do lists for now.

Yes, May is my time of year.

Life is everywhere.

Not only is there wildlife, but now their offspring seems to be every where.

Baby bunnies, birds, butterflies and dragonflies are becoming more prevalent.

Canada geese are bringing their babies around.

Robins and other birds are fledging, and I mean in great numbers so far this spring.

If a fledgling is found hopping around on the ground, it should be left alone if it's in a safe area.

It can be placed up on a tree branch or in a shrub if in a dangerous situation, but it must remain in the same area so its parents can find it.

If the young bird is a baby robin, (like the picture to your right) beware.

Robins defend their nest and young with great ferocity.

I've been buzzed more than once and yes, the bird even has managed to peck me on occasion (I love robins).

Young birds often leave the nest or get pushed out before they are capable of flight.

Attempting to put this bird back in the nest can and will cause a mass exodus for the remaining babies.

You now have babies every where and parents making all sorts of noise drawing even more attention to your yard.

Take a deep breath............

They will spend a few pre-flight days hopping on the ground and flapping their wings.

Its parents are keeping an eye on it and feeding it when necessary.

During this time the fledgling is learning valuable survival lessons from its parents.

Pay Attention:

Taking a young bird into captivity at this stage of its development is kidnapping!

Try to avoid this if at all possible.

If placing a nestling back into its nest is impossible, or if your cat brought that fledgling home, then you will need to locate a wildlife rehabilitator to care for the bird.

This is not a job for amateurs–in the past 10 - 20 years there have been many advances in wild animal care, and the field is highly professional.

Your state fish and wildlife agency has a list of all licensed wildlife rehabilitators; contact them to locate a rehabber near you.

You may have seen the advertisiments for Scott's brand bird seed and feed.

How their products will increase your bird activity and how you will attract more desirable birds.

In the famous words of "Colonel Sherman T Potter".... Horse Hockey.

What you will get, is less cash in you wallet or purse.

You will pay more for less as far as feed goes.

True, you will have a clean seed and a clean blend.

True there may be a better mix of seed, but you can do that and save money.

Why pay for safflower seed and a few peanuts when you can add the nuts yourself.

I never waste money on safflower.

Premium blends are dressed nice a pretty for our eyes, birds don't care how they are packaged.

Who cares if the seed are nice and shinny as if washed and waxed.

It's not worth triple and more the money they want you to pay, mix your own blends if that is what you want to feed your birds.

I enjoy birds and Blooms magazine and have for years, but once in a while I have to take issue with them.

My issue with the most recent Birds and Blooms magazine is with their bird expert (I've emailed them already).

It seems one of the items on the summer checklist mention American goldfinches and why they are so late to nest because they are waiting for thistle down to line nests with.

While many goldfinches do indeed use thistle down for nests, not all do.

Now here is my issue.

A majority of thistle plants in North America are introduced species.

What did these birds use for nesting material before the 1700's when the weeds were first introduced and then in small locations to start?

The truth is this..................

American goldfinches are 99.9% a seed eating bird.

"Nature" made these birds so nesting will coincide with native seed crops, not plant fluff.

Native weeds and flower seeds.

Canada thistle for example is native to Eurasia, not Canada.

Here in my part of Michigan, that is late August through September.

This is when my yard is full of adult and juvenile goldies.

Because of seed (food sources) not plant down.

Okay, I've said enough for now.

Let's get to the frothy subject for this week.

What is that stuff?

Where does it come from?

Is something wrong with my plant?

Is that from an insect?

It's common now, or you may have seen it earlier this year.

That white foam on some of your plants.

Yes indeed it comes from an insect.

Spittlebugs, also called froghoppers and sometimes called leafhoppers.

Most people are at least mildly familiar with these curious bugs.

This is another pest that looks worse than it is, the aptly named Spittlebug.

Spittlebugs are in the order Homoptera, the same as cicadas and aphids, which is closely related to the true bugs, order Hemiptera (a.k.a. Heteroptera).

Close enough for us to call them "bugs" with heads held high.

There are some 23,000 species of spittlebugs worldwide, but we are more concerned about the few that mess with our plants.

Some common ones are Pine and Meadow Spittlebugs.

It is the immature bugs, or nymphs, that create the spittle while feeding on plant sap.

Adult bugs feed on plant sap too, but with better manners and no spit.

Hence, most people cease to notice spittlebugs when they mature.

Most gardeners have never seen a nymph.

That’s because spittlebugs are very good at hiding.

That sticky stuff or froth you see on your plant isn’t there to do your plant harm.

It’s a very clever cover for the spittlebug.

You don’t think so?

Just try and find one.

Spittlebug nymphs can turn a liquid secretion into bubbles by moving or pumping their bodies.

Once the bubbles have formed, spittlebugs use their hind legs to cover themselves with the froth. The ‘spittle’ serves multiple purposes.

It shields the spittlebugs from predators.

It insulates them from temperature extremes.

It prevents the spittlebugs from dehydrating.

(Picture of a nymph to your right).

Spittlebug eggs are laid in late summer and are left to over winter on plant debris.

Eggs that weren't food for something else, will hatch in early spring and go through five Instars, or stages, before becoming adults.

When the nymphs originally hatch in early spring, they will attach themselves to a plant and begin feeding.

They are a wingless, green creature at this point and are almost invisible inside the spittle.

When they feed, spittlebugs puncture the plant stem facing head downward. (Don't take my word for it! Blot away the foam and see for yourself!)

Spittlebugs are a bit life-style eccentric among insects that suck plant sap.

This is because they feed on the xylem, the tissue that transports water from the roots to the shoots.

Most sap feeders choose the phloem, the tissue that transports food from the leaves.

Now as you might suspect, the xylem is not nearly as rich in food as the phloem, since it is the leaves that manufacture the sugars for the plant .

The spittlebug must therefore process large quantities of sap to meet its nutritional needs, getting its sustenance almost solely from amino acids.

(Adult Meadow Spittlebug to your right).

Now, here's the interesting part.

According to research, The more amino acids in the xylem, the better the spittlebugs survive.

Spittlebugs are related to leafhoppers, but have a broader body.

Leafhoppers also have to brightly colored lines running across their back, they also reproduce twice a year and can be a problem insect.

Adults are often called froghoppers. They exhibit the astounding ability to leap great distances in a single bound.

The adult Spittlebugs are dull colored tan, brown or black and about 1/8 - 1/4 (3 to 27 mm ) inch long, with wings.

They also have faces that resemble frogs so they are sometimes call Froghoppers.

Can you imagine?

Entomologists, that all thay do is study these insects.

Damage and Control:

Although spittlebug nymphs do feed on plant sap, the damage is minimal and populations are usually small, so no pesticide is necessary.

Insecticides kill off many species of bugs and can harm not onlt birds, but toads, lizards and other insect feeding creatures.

(Pine Spittlebug to your right).

Go back to the archives and read about insects and birds.

You may see some leaf distortion, where the little critter is feeding, but it wont harm the plant.

A strong blast with a hose should be enough to dislodge a spittlebug nymph.

If you have several, put on your garden gloves oyr some surgical gloves and run your hands along the stem or pinch away.

Not to worry, they’ll be gone in a few week.

In extreme cases, they can cause stunting and weaken plants or reduce yields.

If you should have a severe infestation, remove plant debris in the fall and till the soil to reduce egg population.

(2 lined leafhopper spittlebug).

Infestations of any insect is a sign that nature is off whack and needs attention, not more problems added on.

Junipers and pine trees are spittlebug favorites.

You will see them on a wide variety of plants including: strawberries, legumes and various flowers, like the goldenrod.

The meadows and fields are spotted with foam right now and goldenrod is a favorite.

One last thought.

It’s not really spittle.

The liquid is actually secreted from the other end.

What a comforting thought that is.

Well, It's time to fly for now.

But not before the positive thought for the week.

What a man is, contributes much more to his happiness than what he has, or how he is regarded by others.

Arthur Schopenhauer

This lines up with last week's thought.

What a man/woman is, contributes more.

Last week I talked about changing what you are or letting go and becoming what you might be.

You you aren't happy, change your self.

If you love your self and who you are, than you must be a happy person most of the time.

Happiness is more important than having.

Happiness is more important than what others may think of you.

I'm thankful to our Creator for me having some things in life and I can still get out of bed in the morning.

I can still smile.

Sure, it would be nice to have, but sometimes dreaming is cool.

I've always been considered a bit different (Maybe it is my left handed brain).

But I have never let that bother me.

Today I consider it a compliment :-)

Yes, what you are is more important than what you may have or what others may think of you.

I can be filthy rich and have people say how wonderful Ron is, but if I'm not happy.......................

Than what am I really?

Happiness starts from within.

You can feel it.

If you aren't happy,

Change your mind set and your thoughts.

It's your choice alone.

You can do it.

With God's help and support from others, I am changing almost everyday.

Share your smiles,

It is an easy step.

It begins when that smiles is shared and it picks up another person.

Helping others helps you,

It is a universal law.

God wants you to be the you he intended you to be, not what society or others think you should be.

Look Deep.

Dig Deep.

Laugh and Love.

Until next time,

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

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Gardening For Wildlife.

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