OCTOBER
2002

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

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Check out these books by Tom Turpin:

Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?

 

 

 

10-11-02

Download the audio of On Six Legs: MP3, WMV.

Winter Gives New Meaning to Insect Hotel


October is a wonderful month! It is a time of harvest and of falling leaves and falling temperatures. It's a time when frost on the pumpkin glistens in the orange rays of the early morning sun. It 'tis the season when many birds bid their summer haunts adieu and head south to warmer climes.

October is also the time when insects move to overwintering sites. The famous monarch butterflies flap on leisurely wing southward. These wonderful butterflies are headed toward their winter homes in the mountains of Mexico. Other insects make a less-spectacular journey. They just crawl into some protected site in the fallen leaves or under the bark before the temperatures plunge during the winter months.

A few insects have discovered that hospitable humans provide wonderful locations for spending the winter months--in the structures that we call our homes. Yes, some insects seem to think that our homes are meant for them.

Each October, a number of insect species try to check in for the winter at our residences. All of these insects spend the winter in the adult stage, and all seek some shelter for their winter hibernation. Of course, most homeowners never intend to be proprietors of an insect hotel for the winter months!

Who are these uninvited winter houseguests anyway? One of the most common is a fly sometimes called an attic or cluster fly. Both names are appropriate. Many of these flies find their way into our attics where they accumulate in clusters in corners.

The cluster fly closely resembles the well-known housefly in size and color. But this house fly look-alike is a parasite. In the immature stage, it lives in the body of earthworms. Early each spring, the cluster fly comes out of hibernation and tries to get back outside where it will seek earthworms to parasitize. Unfortunately, their search for the great outdoors brings them into our living quarters.

Another of the great house-invading insects of winter is the ladybug. There are many species of ladybugs; all spend the winter in the adult stage, and most seek shelter during that time. They crawl under the bark of trees, under rocks or into crevices of rock cliffs. Our houses provide wonderful substitutes for these natural overwintering sites.

One of the most numerous of the ladybug houseguests is known as the Asian ladybug. This insect varies in color and number of spots, but it is a ladybug. The Asian ladybug can accumulate in great numbers in the wall voids and attic spaces of our homes. During warm spells in the winter, the temperature in these spaces can become warm enough that the ladybugs become active. They then find their way into living quarters of the house where they are nuisance pests.

Other winter insect-squatters include some female paper wasps. These brown, black and yellow wasps also find their way into our living quarters where their presence can create concern on the part of the human inhabitants.

Boxelder bugs also show up, sometimes in great numbers, seeking a warm place to spend the winter. So do some squash bugs, and those large fearsome bugs with a cogwheel on their back. These are called assassin bugs, and they, too, want to share our winter abode.

Most homeowners would just as soon not have these overwintering insects in their homes. But there is not much we can do about insects that are intent on sharing our living space. Except to use the vacuum cleaner as an insect extermination device!

 

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox