Mosquitoes, bees, beetles and termites

Published 12:20 pm Monday, May 7, 2018

Mosquitoes don’t want your blood when they are hungry; they eat plant nectar.  But it surely hurts when they stick that needle-snout into human hide and hypodermic blood up and swallow it. 

And horse fly bites hurt even worse because that creature-for-no-good-reason with razor blades for lips quickly slices skin and tongue-laps blood as it oozes. 

Horse flies also aren’t after food when they bite you or a horse. Ditto for blood-devouring gnat species.

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These blood sucker insects use blood in their reproductive process, not for nutrition. Protein from blood is necessary for eggs to mature within the bodies of females of those species. That’s how you know when you are bitten, the biter was female. Males don’t go for blood. 

Many nuisance insects bother us with their reproduction, not their appetite. 

Neither carpenter bees nor carpenter ants digest wood. They use wood for nests and nurseries as they chew tunnels and “rooms” for places to lay eggs and raise young, spitting out the wood as they go. Carpenter bees infest dry softwood such as pine while the ants build their nests in damp wood and are not so choosy; softwood, hardwood, any wood. 

A steady stream of carpenter ants going up and down a tree trunk is an indication there’s a decayed spot up there somewhere. The ants didn’t cause it; they found it.

There are insects that do indeed consume and digest wood, either in total or in part.

The larva stage of several of the beetles that lay eggs in wood feed on starch and sugar extracted as they await emergence as adults. They cannot do anything with the actual wood fiber, so that is left behind as frass, which I refer to as “caterpillar manure.”  Powderpost beetles and old house borers are two such species.

And the larva of bark beetles such as the dreaded Southern Pine Bark Beetle get their nutrition from the inner bark layer of trees. 

There are also species that evolved in a partnership with certain species of fungi. The insects bore holes in wood and the fungi grows within the holes and then the insects eat the fungi. It’s fungi farming, I suppose. The tradeoff for the fungus species is it gets introduced to new wood-food sites by the bugs. The ambrosia beetle is one of these.

And, of course, there can be no mention of wood-eating insects without the Eastern Subterranean Termite. Now termites do eat and breakdown and digest all of the wood, including the fibrous cellulose. And it’s not just the larva; adult termites digest wood their whole lives. The way termites accomplish this is with a gut full of bacteria that do the actual conversion of wood to digestible food using enzymes, acids and fermentation.

By the way, that’s more or less the same way the rumen of a cow works; with bacteria breaking down fiber. If mankind could ever get the termite bacteria to work in cow rumens we’d be on to something. Pulpwood is a lot cheaper than corn.

Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.