Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University


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Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?





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The 2003 Insect Achievement Awards

There is something about the approach of a new year that causes people and organizations to produce lists. Lists that highlight achievements of the past year. There are lists for every imaginable subject -- fashions to finances, high school sports to world affairs, TV programs to singers. There are good-things lists and not-so-good things lists. There are so many lists that now we even have lists of the best and worst lists.

So here is my list of the outstanding insect achievements for 2003. May I have the envelope, please? 

In the "New Pest Insect of the Year" category, the winner is the emerald ash borer. This metallic green beetle could also be a nominee in the prettiest insect category. The name suggests that this insect bores in the wood of ash trees, and it does so in the immature stage. As a result, the trees die.  The emerald ash borer isn't brand new this year. It was first discovered a few years ago in the Detroit area where it had arrived from Asia in wood used in packing crates aboard ships. From there, it has been expanding its range as the beetles seek trees on which to lay eggs.

The next category is the "Biggest Nuisance Insect in Homes." The nominees include house fly, boxelder bug, ladybird beetle and a couple of arthropods that are not insects -- spiders and millipedes. The winner in this category is the ladybird beetle, not all ladybird beetles, but the multicolored Asian ladybird beetle. It is called multicolored because it ranges in color from tan to red, although it is commonly orange-colored. It also varies in the number of spots, sometimes having none. This beetle arrives at our homes in the late fall, seeking a place to spend the winter. And, all winter long, the beetles find their way into our living quarters and make a nuisance of themselves.

The "Most Common Butterfly" category has a clear winner this year. The winner is the painted lady. Painted lady butterflies are also called thistle butterflies or cosmopolitan butterflies. Painted lady refers to their orange-and-black markings; thistle is a reference to the fact that they feed on thistle in the immature stage; and cosmopolitan is because of their worldwide distribution. Painted lady butterflies were everywhere in August and September, sipping nectar from flowers, resting on roadways and committing suicide on our car grills. As a species, the painted lady occasionally has outbreak years -- 2003 was one of those years.

The Most Unexpected Insect Pest award for 2003 goes to the soybean aphid. The soybean aphid is another new pest in this country that has been causing trouble for soybean growers in Wisconsin and Michigan for the last three years. But, this year, the aphid population reached very high numbers in soybean fields in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Because of the high numbers of this insect, we also saw high populations of predatory insects that feed on aphids. That includes the multicolored lady beetle and syrphid flies, which are also called sweat bees by some people.

The biggest insect bust of the year, no doubt, was the severity of the West Nile virus. Even though there were high populations of the mosquito vector of the virus, the incidence of the disease was lower than had been predicted. I'm sure that few people are disappointed that this disease turned out to be lower than expected.

The final award for 2003 goes to the insect that garnered the most complaints. The winner is the Japanese beetle. Yes, once again, this year the Japanese beetle is the runaway winner for this award. Not only does the Japanese beetle defoliate a number of our ornamental trees and feed on our fruits and vegetables, but its grubs also destroy our lawns. That also leads to moles in the lawns. So, for most homeowners, the Japanese beetle is insect pest No. 1. And, if history is any indication, it will probably be the winner again next year but not by public demand!



Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox