Hug-A-Bug, This Saturday!

Spring is almost here (thank goodness!) and soon Houstonians will be working in their gardens like busy little bees. You can fill your garden with some wonderful plants from our annual spring plant sale, which will be held on April 10th. Before then, however, you can take the opportunity on Valentine’s Day weekend to learn about the world of beneficial insects at Hug-a-Bug! Put those pesticides down because your garden will love you, if you love bugs!

Stop And Smell The Flowers
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Pests can be a pain in your garden, but Mother Nature has a plan. This is where beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, come into play. Pesticides can harm creatures of all walks of life, not only targeting the pests, but beneficials such as butterflies and bees, not to mention defenseless animals such as frogs, toads, and lizards. They can also leave residue on your plants. Biological control is the most eco-friendly and effective method. Here are a few beneficial insects you’ll meet at Hug-a-Bug, and you can even purchase for your own garden.

LadybugsAhh ladybugs – beautiful, peaceful, and fierce predators! Most people are under the impression that these cuties of the bug world feed on nectar, but they are actually hungry for blood – aphid blood! Ladybug larvae and adults feed on plants pests, especially aphids. If aphids are in short supply, they will go after other soft-bodied pests such as whiteflies. At Hug-a-Bug, we will be giving away vials of ladybugs for you to release in the butterfly center or even in your garden at home!

Green Lacewing - Chrysoperla carnea
Creative Commons License photo credit: yaybiscuits123
Green Lacewing

Green Lacewings Not familiar with these guys? Well, pay attention to your front porch light at night and you might notice these dainty little bugs flying around. The adults have a green body with large, lacy looking wings – hence the name! The adults are harmless pollen and nectar feeders while the larvae, like ladybugs, munch on soft-bodied plant pests.

Parasitic Wasps When most people hear the word wasp they think of red wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets. These are of course not favorable to people because of their nasty stings. But the vast majority of wasps go completely unnoticed by people. They are tiny and parasitic on other arthropods. Each species has a specific host, whether it is a type of caterpillar, aphid, mealy bug, scale, or whitefly. These tiny wasps have no stinger and buzz about protecting our plants from pests.

Afican Praying Mantis
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Praying Mantis You know this is one of my favorite bugs! Highly intelligent, expressive and thoughtful, they are just fascinating! Most people know the praying mantis because of its distinct appearance. They may not be quite as beneficial as some of the more specialized predators, but they are a friend to your garden none-the-less. If you don’t like larger bugs such as caterpillars or grasshoppers munching on your foliage, these are for you!

Mother Nature is truly incredible! For every plant’s pest, there is a predator or parasite out there to keep them in check. If you let nature run its course in your yard, you will have a very healthy little ecosystem to observe and admire.

If you need any help, all of these bugs can be purchased in large quantities from many places including Rincon Vitova, a pioneer in biological control.

I hope you will come join us at  Hug-a-Bug this Saturday, February 13 in the Cockrell Butterfly Center from 11 to 2 to learn more about these fascinating beneficial insects and see them up close and personal. There will also be fun crafts and games for the kids and a chance to talk to the butterfly center’s very own staff of entomologists and horticulturalists. We hope to see you there!

Mantids and Me :)

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1 
Some of my Babies

 If you couldn’t tell from my previous post “Mantis Madness“, I am wild about mantids! They are quite possibly me very favorite insects, although, it’s hard to say – because I love all insects!

This past Saturday, Valentine’s Day, the Cockrell Butterfly Center put on a great event called Hug-A-Bug. This event celebrates insects that are beneficial to your garden and lots of people showed up to hug a bug of their own and take home ladybugs to release in their gardens.

I just happened to have about six different species of mantids that I wanted everyone to be able to see, since they are definitely considered beneficial. These mantids all came from a good friend of mine named Yen Saw. Yen is a hobbyist here in Houston who raises mantids from all around the world. He has been so generous and donated several of them to us.

Since meeting him, and with his help, I’ve been raising them like crazy. Maybe that’s why I like them so much. But what’s not to like? They are fascinating, unusual, beautiful, charismatic, and so photogenic. If you missed Hug-A-Bug, not to worry, you can see these amazing insects right here. Of course I took pictures of them all!

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The Devil Flower Mantis is found in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Since they are a desert-dwelling species, they love the heat here, but not the moisture – so we have to keep her very dry.

The name comes from their diabolical look, but they are very shy. These are so beautiful and the detail on their wings is amazing. Flower mantids are very specialized predators. They all have beautiful coloration, which helps them camouflage themselves within certain flowers. They sit on a flower and wait for an unsuspecting pollinator to arrive, and then they grab it! They catch things like bees, flies, butterflies and moths. It’s really amazing to see one of these mantids catch a fly in mid-air!

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Creative Commons License photo credit:
emills1 Asian Flower Mantis

This one is called the Asian Flower mantis and it comes from South and Southeast Asia. They are quite small, but have a very big appetite.

Their colorful wings and triangular eyes help them blend in with flowers. They are very shy and don’t enjoy being handled at all. Right now I’m raising nymphs of this species that are adorable!

My favorite of the flower mantids is the Spiny Flower Mantis from Africa.

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They are fabulous! They have a very distinctive pattern on their back to deter predators. If that doesn’t work, they flash their brilliant yellow hind-wings. Many insects flash bright colors like red and yellow. In nature, these colors serve as a warning saying, “stay away – I’m dangerous.”

It’s really quite an interesting display and luckily, this mantis did it while I photographing her. She stood there, beating her wings as if she were in flight for several minutes. You can see what it looked like in the photo below! They also have spines covering their body, which make them look even more menacing. No one wants to mess with these little mantids.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

Mantids are masters of camouflage. They have a lot riding on their ability to blend in with their environment. Not only do they need protection from a wide variety of predators, they must also remain hidden from their unsuspecting prey. If they are discovered, the prey will skedaddle and they’ll be left hungry.

Different mantids exhibit camouflage that tells you what kind of environment they live in. The orchid mantis, for example – I’ll bet you don’t need to scratch your head for too long to figure out where they hide! The Florida bark mantis has extraordinary camouflage as well.

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You can see for yourself here! It looks like nothing more than an old, lichen-covered piece of bark. It’s amazing to me that an insect this cool is native to the US. I would be so excited to see one of these in my backyard!

This Grass Mantis has got be, hands down, my very favorite! He is a cutie and we want him to stay around forever!

Unfortunately, males do not have as long of a lifespan. This is another native beauty and can be found in Florida and Georgia. We have some similar species here in Texas that are called stick mantids.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

These mantids not only blend in, they resemble a harmless walking-stick. So a small insect might feel a little too comfortable getting close to this guy – until they are face-to-face with those grasping front legs!

So there you have it, my mantis show!

I hope you will stumble upon some of these amazing creatures while venturing outside. Any time you are out in nature, it’s a good idea to bring your camera. There are so many beautiful things that can catch your eye.

Photographs are a cheap and easy way to personalize your home or office. My walls are covered with photos of bugs – including, of course, lots of praying mantids!

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How could you not love a face like that?!

Spring is almost here and I’m starting to see lots of bugs – pretty soon they’ll be all over the place. Until next time, happy bug watching!