20 August 1999
Volume 7: no. 8
Don't let the fall go by without spending some time collecting. Between now and frost is the best time of the whole year to collect insects. In fact, there are some species which are only available as adults at certain unique times of the year. Thus, collecting excursions need to be timed to take advantage of those which are more plentiful at each time. The dry weather has hurt some this year, but there are still many different kinds around. Collecting around lights is an adventure. There are some clubs planning fall overnighters in which they set up black lights and sheets to augment their collections for inclusion in the fall shows and fairs. A camp out and black light excursion make a great combination. Call me, I'll join you!
In July's letter there was discussion about preparing insect collections for fall shows. I wanted to continue with that line again this month because of some of the responses which we have received. YES, we have changed the dimensions for the insect collection/display boxes. The new standard coincides with the outside diameter for the Cornell Box. The new outside dimensions of our standard 4-H box are 19"X16.5"X3" with the glass slide opening to the wide side of the box. This will allow young 4-Hers to more easily handle the boxes and it will also allow storage of collections in standard museum cabinets. The boxes will have a to inch sheet of white foam glued to the bottom for a pinning surface. 4-Hers will be able to use the `old' larger boxes for the future, but we should not construct any more of them and hope to phase them out in the next 5 to 7 years. The Entomology Department at MSU will continue to maintain a supply of boxes for 4-Hers. Gravalee Lumber Company in Tupelo builds the boxes for us, therefore, they may also be purchased directly from the lumber company. The information sheets and 4-H literature are being modified to reflect the new standard.
We almost lost our lantana to the freeze last winter, but the `butterfly bush' (B. davidsonii) survived well and have flowered all summer. The zinnias also continue to do a great job of producing nectar sources for visiting insects. Probably the biggest surprise of the summer has been the `maypop' planting which we made. Last year in reviewing the butterflies which visited the garden, we discovered the fritillary was one of the most plentiful of our visitors. I discovered that its larval host was maypop (passion flower) so we collected a few from around fields in the fall and planted them this spring. The 5 maypop plants we planted have completely covered a lattice which we erected and fritillaries have covered the maypop. There are all stages of the critters to be seen on the plant and all stages are neat to observe. Anybody needing a supply of maypop seed for their butterfly garden for next year should send in a `bug story' and we'll send you some. We've also had some hornworms on the tomatoes and swallowtail caterpillars on the dill, so our diversity is beginning to reap some benefits.
In most areas of the south underneath stairwells or in places where rain cannot reach the soil we often find little `moon crater' pits. Before I learned better I thought water drops had caused the craters, but I later discovered that `antlions' (doodlebugs, to some) cause the craters. Look for them, don't disturb them, but watch. Antlions are part of the order Neuroptera from the family of insects Myrmeleontidae. The name antlion is really applies to the larvae, voracious predators that eat ants and any other insects which fall into their pit. Some species hide under bits of debris or wood and attack passing insects. In sandy regions, some species dig a shallow cone-shaped pit and wait at the bottom for an ant or other insect to slip on the loose sand and fall in, to be devoured. In the process of making their pits, antlion larvae create spiral-shaped trails in the sand, thus, the nickname "doodlebug." Adult antlions resemble dragonflies or damselflies. They are feeble flyers. Antlions have long, prominent, clubbed antennae. The adult is seldom seen in the wild because it is active only in the evening. Information was obtained from Arnett, Jr., Ross H. 1985. American Insects: A handbook of the insects of America north of Mexico. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. Pictures were copied from Mark Swanson, 1996 - http://www.enteract.com/~mswanson/antlionpit/what.html.
We've been working to get some things on the net, so if you are computer able, check http://www.ext.msstate.edu/anr/entpath/4-h/. I think you'll like what you see there. We will continue to add new pictures and text to these pages. We're also open to suggestions.
Dr. Michael R. Williams
Entomology & Plant Pathology
Mississippi State, MS 39762-9775
phone - 601-325-2085
home - 601-323-5699
FAX - 601-325-8837