There are bugs that fight fair and those that don’t

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 9, 2015

I divide insect pests into two groups; those that fight fair and those that don’t.  Fair-minded bugs give a person a chance to fight back.  They show themselves and do it in time for us to take action, be it evasive action or combat.  Even low life fire ants let you see where they live.

House flies are fair; bring your swatter and let’s get it on.  In the garden and yard, aphids, white flies, tomato hornworms and even stinkbugs present themselves out in the open.  If you check your plants regular enough you have time enough to run off or kill off these species before they uglify your plants or eat your harvest.

Dishonorable bugs are the ones you don’t know are there until the damage is done.  They rarely, if ever, are seen.  And when you realize what they have done, they are either long gone or there is no timely corrective action to take.  These are the insects that demand our attention ahead of time.  We either take preemptive measures assuming they will be a problem or we take our chances.  Nobody ever reattached a tomato plant after it was severed at the ground by a cutworm.  But a stem wrap of aluminum foil at planting would have prevented the loss and sent the worm on his way with a toothache.  The tiny phylloxera is the critter that makes the galls on the leaf stems of pecan trees.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Other than a few research entomologists, nobody ever sees the actual insect, but the damage caused by its egg galls is clear to the most amateur horticultural eye. Same thing with the plum curculio; you won’t see one but its big fat worm baby inside a ripe peach is easy to find.  In commercial pecan and peach orchards insecticide sprays are timed for the anticipated annual arrival of the adult insects and their spring egg-laying habits.

I got in this unfair bug mode because my roadside pumpkin vine wilted and croaked.  It was meant to be the summer and early fall mailbox foliage.  There was little doubt what killed it.  Yep, I found the unmistakable signs squash vine borers had chewed through the main stem near the ground.  While it was technically the fault of the vine borers and not mine, I’m the one who was supposed to remember the aluminum foil and/or preemptive insecticide.  Nearly every year that I forget to protect the young vines as they sprout and grow, I lose pumpkin vines to borers.

For most problem insects, we can check to see when they might need control.  I have sprayed an insecticide on roses only one time in the past six or seven years because they never otherwise needed it.  That one time aphids got really bad and wouldn’t leave after a blast of water or the organic insecticidal soap treatment.  It took stronger ammo and I eventually won, but at least the aphids were out in the open fighting honorably.

Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, 601-636-7679 ext. 3.