Easy to Be Green

Fear the clinging dead… ants

Beware and be diligent. The undead or zombies may be lurking in your own back yard, but you are not yet aware of their presence. They are here; their desiccated lifeless bodies now cling to a tree branch.

Once walking and foraging with members of the colony, an ant has its brain invaded by a fungus which directs the ant to leave the colony. The ant climbs up a tree where the fungus directs the ant to attach itself to a branch. Once done, the fungus kills the ant. The fungus spores erupt from a stalk that has grown out of the back of the ant’s head, hoping to find a new victim.

From what I have read, we do not need to fear seeing walking zombie ants in our area, but southern areas of the country do.

GOING

‘ROUND AGAIN

There are some plants that make you love them, hate them or have no opinion about one way or the other. In the case of the mulberry, it can’t be all bad since there is an 1840s English nursery rhyme, “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush.”

There are three species of the mulberry, two Asian that produce white and black berries, and the North American native that produces red berries. The tree can eventually reach heights of over 50 feet and bear several hundred pounds of fruit yearly. The berries are sweet and can be eaten directly off the tree, used in pies, added to yogurt and made into wine. They can be frozen or dried for later use. The tree is excellent as a food source for wildlife.

The down-side to having a mulberry tree is that it can become invasive if not kept under control.

Seedlings can be easily removed.

This tree is not to be planted near the home since the berries can make a mess and the roots seek out water and can clog drain systems.

LYME DISEASE VACCINE

Often when I write this column, I have depressing information to give you. Invasive insects, invasive trees or shrubs, and on and on the list could go. But there are also the native problems that we run across. I don’t know how many times I have written about ticks and Lyme disease, a disease that, if left untreated, can wreak havoc with your body in later years.

Well, there is exciting news coming out of France, where the French drug manufacturer Valneva has successfully completed human trials on a vaccine to prevent the disease. When will it be available — hopefully soon? Another plus for this new vaccine is that there are apparently no significant side effects, unlike an earlier vaccine that was taken off the market.

WE MISS

THE SUN

I would not be surprised if the reporting of cases of late blight in tomatoes and potatoes along with reports of downing mildew in cucurbits does not increase. Sunlight is needed to kill the spores that cause the problems. I’m writing this on the 24th and rain has certainly been a major factor as has the lack of sunlight.

LARVA IN

DISGUISE

So delicate with its transparent veined green wings and green body, the lacewing gives off the aura of an innocent unassuming creature going about its daily routine, foraging for nectar, pollen and aphid honeydew. But as a “child,” the lacewing larva is to be feared. It is a predator of many soft-bodied pests, aphids being one of its many victims.

Aphids have been known to entice ants to be their protector from predators. The aphid’s byproduct is called honeydew which the ants feed upon, craving the sweet substance and willing to protect this source from harm.

A lacewing larva that tries to invade the aphids’ feeding ground, hoping to dine for hours on the soft-bodied pests, would immediately be removed from the area like an obnoxious drunk would be removed by a bouncer. Not to be denied a meal, the lacewing larvae have developed a method to bypass the ants’ defense system.

Several weeks ago a reader contacted me with an interesting picture. Afraid that the subject might be a mealybug, the reader wanted to make sure before any action was taken. It turned out to be a debris-laden lacewing larva. The larva attaches dead aphid bodies and other debris on its back as a disguise. Like the wolf who dressed in sheep’s clothing, the larvae now are able to enter the aphid colony, bypassing the ants’ defense system, with the ants not having recognized the larvae as a threat to their food source.

DO

SPIDERS FLY?

For those of you who have an intense fear of spiders, the following will not make you happy. Spiders can fly and you do not know where they will land.

I think I should clarify what I mean by fly. Spiders do not have wings, but how they become airborne is interesting.

There are several factors the spider takes into consideration before it takes flight. First a nice gentle breeze is needed and the presence of electrostatic forces that the spider can sense. The electrostatic forces help the spider become airborne. When conditions are favorable the spider will climb the highest location around, stand on tiptoe with its abdomen pointing up and release a long strand of silk to be caught by the air current, allowing the spider to become airborne. Amazing!

Now I wonder when I’m outside walking in the yard and I feel something on my face whether maybe I foiled a spider’s launch attempt.

A NEW HOPE

The Eastern Hemlock is our state tree, and you are well aware that the tree is fast disappearing from our forest due to the hemlock wooly adelgid.

Well, according to an article published April 20 2018, there may be hope to save the existing trees and allow new trees to be planted. At Bear Run Nature Reserve in the Laurel Highlands, an insectary has been created. This means it is a place to grow insects to study for potential use in combating other insects.

Since the hemlock wooly adelgid is a foreign predator, there are no native beneficial insects to combat its invasion, but there is a beetle native to the Pacific Northwest that may be the answer for the hemlocks here in the Northeast.

Time will tell if rearing these beetles at the insectary will save the trees.

Please feel free to ask me questions. It keeps me off the streets and out of the bars. Your questions give me material about which to write. Email me at qbstocum@gmail.com or if you see me out and about, stop and talk to me.

Remember, it is easy to be green. Happy gardening!

——

Quentin Stocum, “just your common ordinary gardener,” can be reached at qstocum@gmail.com.

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