Did You Know… Who’s Bugging You?

— Written By Nicole Sanchez and last updated by Pam Brylowe

Grow plants, and sooner or later you are inevitably going to encounter insect pests. While only about 5% of the known million species of insects are considered harmful to people, there seems to always be an abundance of pests ready to wreak havoc on our ornamental and food plants.

Did you know that those pests often leave behind clues that aid us in their identification? For instance, examination of the plant damage may help us distinguish between chewing and rasping or sucking insects, because the chewers leave ragged holes in leaves. Feeding by insects with piercing or sucking mouthparts result in distorted leaves, tiny pinpricks on the leaves, or distortion called “catfacing” on fruit. In the case of caterpillars, the size of the chewed holes often corresponds to the size or developmental stage of the offending insect.

Other damage types caused by insects include plant damage caused by egg laying or by habitat creation. Each of these damage types is recognizable if you know what to look for- and tuning into these clues can help professional growers and homeowners alike to determine the answer to an important garden pest question: “Who’s Bugging You?”

An army general would not hastily lead troops off to battle without identifying the enemy; nor should we, in our battle against bugs, hasten for a treatment without knowing what we are dealing with. Treatment without proper identification can lead to wasted dollars spent on applications and chemicals that can’t to the job because they are matched to the wrong pest; such inappropriate treatment can also lead to insecticide resistance and even pollinator toxicity.

With a million-plus insect species out there, and a few hundred thousand in North America alone, the idea of identifying pest insects might seem overly daunting to a grower, plant professional, or green-thumbed homeowner. Did you know that your local Cooperative Extension Service team includes an entomologist, as well as access to the talent and resources of the Entomology Department at North Carolina State University? We can help you figure out not only who’s bugging you, but what to do about it!

To help demystify the clues that damaging insects leave behind, your Cooperative Extension Service has prepared a program for you. Whodunit? Examining Insect Damage Clues is being offered at the Jones County Extension Center, 110 Market Street, on Tuesday, April 9 from 1-3 p.m., and should be of interest to both professionals and home gardeners alike. This program will have a heavy focus on ornamental plants, but many of the examples have counterparts in field crops, and the methods used to distinguish damage types will be useful to growers of many different kinds of plants.

To register for the class, call 252-448-9621. There is no charge to attend. Commercial Pesticide Operator recertification credits will be available for those who need L, N, O, D, or X credits. Take this opportunity to untangle the clues left behind by damaging insects and find out Whodunit in your garden!

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

This article will be published in the Jones Post newspaper on April 4, 2013 and was written by Nicole Sanchez, Area Agent – Commercial Horticulture.