Mistaken Identity causes Friendly Fire casualty

By Pete Lane

General Phil Sheridan supposedly once said, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Today we generally agree that such statements are factually as well as politically incorrect. However, I’ve seen some of the most ardent advocates of political correctness whose actions prove that they would agree that the only good bug is a dead bug.

There are more insects than there are people, and they tend to be small and shy. Most change appearance greatly from their immature stages to adulthood, and they may be pests at one stage but harmless or beneficial at another. Very few people have the inclination or education to identify more than a handful of insect types, and to make matters worse, completely different insects may have a similar appearance.

In my role as Extension Agent, it was my job to know about insects and pass along that knowledge. However, more than a decade has passed since I had that role, and almost five decades have passed since my college entomology courses. This spring I’ve had two opportunities to prove that I was still on top of my game, and I aced one and flunked the other.

Fortunately, both of these occurred at my home. In the first instance, we were cleaning up the deck and setting out the summer plants and furniture when my wife complained about the bumble bee that was hovering around her. I walked to her and the bee came buzzing up at me, at which point I told her not to worry about it because it couldn’t sting.

This was a carpenter bee, and I could tell it was a male by the white eyebrows on its face.  Like all male bees, it lacks the equipment to sting.  Carpenter bees look just like bumble bees, and the females can sting. They rarely do because they are too busy boring nest galleries into untreated and unpainted softwood, then laying eggs and stocking the gallery with food for the larvae. I turned over a homemade plant stand and discovered three “bullet holes” made by the female carpenter.

In this instance, I had no reason to bother the male, but unfortunately, the females had to be stopped. I sprayed a bit of residual insecticide into each hole, which will kill the female, her larvae, or both. Unless those males figure out how to reproduce by themselves, I suppose I’ve deprived them of passing along their genes. But my next move was even worse.

We preemptively cut down all five ash trees on my lot several years ago, and our remaining wood pile is probably too dry to support emerald ash borers.  The expense of that removal and the cost of treating the one remaining ash at my lake house makes me pretty vigilant for any sign of the bright green borders.

Maybe vindictive is a better term than vigilant. When I saw a small, shiny metallic green beetle on a walkway I shot first and identified it later. I should have known it was a bit early for adult emerald ash borers to be out, and that there was no reason for one to be at my place anyway.

When I examined the body I realized that it wasn’t quite right for an emerald ash borer. They have a body about the size and shape of a lightning bug, while this one had three distinct sections like a bead chain. It also had tiny white spots on the edges of its wing covers, which along with its shape convinced me I’d had a case of mistaken identity.

It turns out I killed a good guy, a six-spotted green tiger beetle. They are predators on ants, which are constantly making anthills from the sand below my pavers. With carpenter bees, you “don’t shoot if you see the whites of their eyes.”  And I’ll try to remember that with beetles, “all that glitters green is not emerald”.

If you’re having trouble with pesky bees or other pests, contact us! We can take care of them.