Category Archives: Interesting insects

Posts on insects that are not necessarily pests, but worthwhile knowing more about.

Revenge of the (cricket) nerds






One of the great mysteries of my career as a Texas urban entomologist has been understanding the clouds of crickets that descend on lights and businesses nearly every year.  So I was intrigued last summer when I got an email from a PhD student at Cornell University interested in coming down to study our swarming crickets. Jay Falk is actually a native Texan, who grew up in the Austin area and got his undergraduate degree at the University of Texas.  That’s where he got his first introduction to… Read More →




Not all presents under the Christmas tree are welcome






The last week in November and first three weeks in December are Christmas tree season in the U.S.  All over the country, excited families take to the nearest tree lot to pick a recently cut tree for home.  Some of these trees, however, come with more than just needles and flocking. Giant conifer aphids in the genus Cinara, are among the most commonly encountered insects on fresh Christmas trees.  These aphids form colonies on trees outdoors.  Smaller colonies and lighter infestations are often missed by the tree farm,… Read More →




Simple experiments, like art, sometimes the most delightful






Have you ever been to a modern art exhibit and wondered how an artist could become famous for such a simple work as a colorful abstract, or a painting of Campbell Soup cans?  I could have done that, we’re tempted to say.  The point, however, is that we didn’t.  The artist did, however; and now is laughing all his way to the bank. The same could be said about some of the most elegant scientific experiments.  Once you hear of them, you think: “That idea was so simple; I could have… Read More →




Caterpillars in fall not so bad






Finding a caterpillar on a plant or tree in your backyard can be cause for excitement. But they should be little cause for concern, especially during the fall months. To most human eyes caterpillars are alien creatures. With their squishy, worm-like bodies, and accordion gait, they are weirdly unique among other insects. Some are large and fantastically showy.  Others have ominous-looking barbs and hairs. And some are skillfully camouflaged, nearly invisible among the leaves and shadows. When gardeners do encounter a caterpillar, reactions range from “cool!” to “yuck!!!” Caterpillars, of course, are the larval stage of moths and… Read More →




Turning the tide against ash borer?






On one hand, we’ve learned a lot about how to fight emerald ash borer with pesticides in the past 14 years since it was first discovered devouring ash forests in Michigan.  But we’re still learning how nature keeps EAB in its place in its native Asian home.  Insect parasites and predators are almost certainly the reason EAB is not a major pest on the other side of the globe. If only we could put some of those same beneficial insects to work for us!  Then maybe we could… Read More →




Closer than you’ve ever been






Photographer Levon Biss started out with portrait and sports photography, but got hooked on insects.  Now his extreme photographic skills have landed him a gig at the Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History. Biss shoots his images through a microscope to create scenes that no human eye has seen before. That’s because, even for an entomologist with a very good microscope, it’s impossible to see a full insect, like the mantis fly image shown here, in complete focus all at once. Biss achieves this by piecing together around 30… Read More →




Crane flies, not mosquitoes






While concern about mosquitoes floats over the digital airwaves this month, annual flying hosts of crane flies quietly fill the real air over cities and fields throughout Texas.  Crane flies are most apparent each year in our state during the late winter/early spring.  I think of them as one of the first signs that spring is nearly upon us. The common name “mosquito hawk” is sometimes given to these flies; however the name usually comes with the belief that these clumsy, long-legged insects are predators, perhaps on mosquitoes.  Nothing… Read More →




Spiders Gone Wild in Rowlett






Rowlett, Texas is a relatively quiet suburb of big neighbor, Dallas.  Driving along the city’s CA Roan Drive, a quiet stretch of road running through Lakeside Park South, you can feel a long way from the big city.  But cyclists and drivers along that route this week may have noticed the trees looking a little shiny, and maybe just a little creepy. Along a football field length stretch of the drive, the spiders are taking over.  Glistening webs are draping the trees like shrouds at Lakeside Park, a stone’s throw away from the… Read More →




Your chance to hear REAL cicadas






Texans are no strangers to cicadas.  One writer in 1933 proclaimed east Texas “a veritable cicada paradise,” before going on to list all the different species he had encountered here. Indeed, you would have to be hard of hearing, or very unobservant, not to notice the buzzing sounds of annual cicadas coming from nearly every summertime tree between June and August. Even if the annual singing of cicadas is not your cup of tea, you have to marvel at the once every seventeen year emergence of the periodical cicadas.  Sometimes deafening, the periodic… Read More →




Flag waving for Americans






The ensign wasp is one of the odder insects found occasionally in homes.  A small insect, only 5-7 mm long, it does not sting or bite.  In fact, it does no harm; but it is a beneficial parasite of at least three household cockroaches, the American cockroach being the most common. Ensign wasps are experts at locating not the cockroaches themselves, but the egg cases (oothecae) that cockroaches deposit.  According to one account, when the female ensign wasp encounters a cockroach egg case, she first taps it with her antennae, presumably… Read More →