Paula Cochran is an award-winning writer and photographer. In her free time she shoots bugs – with a camera, of course. She can be reached at paulashootsbugs@gmail.com.

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Do Not Touch These Backyard Bugs
by Paula Cochran    

While you are in your garden, you will come across a great variety of bugs and insects. Some look so soft and furry you just want to cuddle them. Others appear downright scary and dangerous and send some running in fear. Yet, when it comes to backyard bugs, looks can be deceiving.


These cute caterpillars have bristles that are poisonous and can cause an allergic reaction
ranging from itching to a serious rash.

Take the adorable hickory tussock moth caterpillar, for example. Rarely will you find a cuter caterpillar with its furry white hair and black markings that make it resemble a smiling cow. Many an admirer has picked up this adorable little creature and let it crawl upon their skin. What they likely didn’t realize before holding this caterpillar is that the hickory tussock moth caterpillar has a few black bristles mixed in with its downy white. These bristles are poisonous, and can cause an allergic reaction ranging from itching to a serious rash. Despite the fact that they will nibble some plants, I let them be — they will eventually turn into beautiful tiger moths.

Another quite beautiful “bug” tends to cause unmerited fear in many — the black and yellow Argiope spider. Its appearance can indeed be intimidating to someone not familiar with this garden friend. They are large spiders; the female’s body is 1 1/2 inches long. Add to their size their large web with a telltale zigzag down the center and eight long legs, six of which are clawed, and they can indeed be intimidating. Like most spiders, they can bite, but it’s unlikely they will do so unless provoked and even then their bite is not considered serious. Like all spiders, they are beneficial in your garden. the black and yellow Argiope spider’s main detriment is their large web — which can just be a nuisance.


LEFT: The main detriment of the black and yellow Argiope spider in your backyard garden
is their large web — which can just be a nuisance. RIGHT: The myth that daddy long legs
have deadly venom is just that – a myth. Even if they did, they cannot bite humans because
their fangs are too short to penetrate skin.

Daddy long legs are found almost everywhere and often times in groups. Though often referred to as spiders they are not. Simply put, spiders spin webs, have a distinct waist and more eyes. A common myth about these harmless bugs is that they are venomous and dangerous, but, the fact is, their fangs and mouth are so small they couldn’t bite a human if they wanted to. What they actually do is eat spiders, aphids, other insects and even bird droppings.

 
Being pierced by a wheelbug can be described as excruciating.

The wheelbug, a member of the assassin bug family, can stir a different reaction. They are neither scary nor cute in appearance. Rather, they are quite impressive and regal, being up to 2 inches in length, and sporting an armor-like spiny wheel on their back. They also sport a large fang that they use to stab and kill their prey. More than one handler has been stabbed by this fang and its pierce has been described as excruciating. And when they say excruciating, they don’t say for a moment, they say excruciating for days. The wheelbug is, however, considered a beneficial insect, so enjoy viewing your wheelbug, then let it go back to eating stink bugs, caterpillars and aphids.

 
When threatened, American oil beetles emit a chemical called cantharidin;
the chemical gives them their name as it is oily and causes a nasty blister on human skin.

Another “bug” found browsing about the garden is a beautiful black and bluish fluorescent beetle named the American oil beetle. These beetles hang around the garden munching on leaves and flowers waiting for a bee to land. When the right moment appears, they hitch a ride on the unsuspecting bee and hitchhike back to the hive where they dine on bee larvae. A member of the blister beetle family, these beetles share a unique, and unpleasant, defense mechanism. When threatened they emit a chemical called cantharidin; the chemical gives them their name as it is oily and causes a nasty blister on human skin.

There are literally thousands more bugs, insects and spiders running and flying about. Most serve a purpose, whether considered by humans to be good or bad. With their never-ending array of colors and patterns, they can be tempting to pick up and examine more carefully. There’s nothing wrong with that: Just be sure you know who you should handle and who you should not.

 

Posted: 02/17/15   RSS | Print

 

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