DECEMBER
1991

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

12-13-91

CHRISTMAS FEASTING

Christmas comes but once a year.  The good cheer of the season often involves lots of food and goodies!  Turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, yeast rolls and fruit salad for starters.  Then come the desserts.  Fruit cakes, sugar cookies, cheesecakes and pies.  Mincemeat pies, pumpkin pies, cherry pies, cream pies and even lemon meringue pies.  Mincemeat pies, pumpkin pies, cherry pies, cream pies and even lemon meringue pies. 

We humans are what ecologists call “omnivores.”  We eat a variety of food, especially during the holiday season.

Most insects, on the other hand, are food specialists.  Even during a special holiday, their meals are of the one course variety.

Some insects, ecologically called “herbivores,” prefer salads for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Larval silkworms make a real feast of mulberry leaves.  They like mulberry leaves so well that they won't feed on anything else.  Monarch butterflies feed on milkweeds during their worm stage.  Because of the close association of Monarch butterflies with these plants, the milkweed is sometimes called the butterfly weed.

The names of some insects indicate their favorite food.  There is little doubt about the eating habits of corn borers, cabbage worms, alfalfa weevils, potato beetles or cucumber beetles.

Other insects prefer fruits over leaves.  Consider the apple and cherry maggots, the corn earworm and the acorn weevil.  Some insects aren't real specific about the fruit they eat.  The ubiquitous fruit fly will find apples, oranges and our Christmas fruit salad equally attractive.

Like humans some insects prefer animal food to the leafy, green stuff.  Examples are cattle grubs, cat fleas and human lice.  Mosquitoes prefer their animal food in liquid form, blood.  Some insect meat eaters like their entree well done –- in this case dead.  Scavenger beetles feed on any dead animals they can find.  A road kill, an opossum or a skunk, also would make a great holiday feast for a brood of blowfly maggots.

Like humans a few insects are omnivorous.  Chief among these creatures is the cockroach.  That's probably the reason why so many cockroaches enjoy living in our homes.  It's certain that after our Christmas feast this year, cockroaches will be happy to eat the leftovers.  That may explain the success of cockroaches – they aren't picky eaters.  Was that a piece of fruit cake that fell behind the kitchen cabinet?

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox