Backyard Biology

Nature stories from my backyard and beyond

Nature Stories

Unwanted Visitors

Monday, February 1, 2010

People that have been reading my nature stories in Backyard Biology have probably figured out by now that I am particularly fond of insects. Where I work at the Museum of Science, I am commonly referred to as the bug man. Colleagues bring me bugs that their children find at home. Museum visitors mail them to me for identification. And in this age of computers and digital cameras, bug pictures are appearing in my emails. Now even the bugs themselves have started to bring themselves to me.

The Pine seed bug first started its journey to my house back in 1910. That was the year it set off from California across country heading my way. It was a long and dangerous journey for this less than one-inch bug. But by 1956, it had traveled more than half it's journey, arriving in Iowa.
Though small and not able to bite, the Pine Seed Bug is not without defenses. Its’ backside is a bright yellow/orange color. Normally, the wings hide this bright color. But when it lifts its wings in flight, this bright color may startle a hungry bird just long enough to allow the bug to escape.
Continuing on its way, the Pine Seed Bug showed up in Michigan by the mid 1980's. Perhaps it had survived because of its’ foul odor when roughly handled. The bad taste may persuade a mouse to find a more palatable meal elsewhere.
By 1994, the Pine Seed Bug had traveled clear across the country, arriving in Long Island. Quite a long journey for this small insect. It probably hitched a ride much of the way, finding a little out of the way resting spot in a car or truck heading east.
A few years ago, the Pine Seed Bug finally showed up at my house, much to my great delight. We became great friends, this bug and I. We observed each other closely. We followed each other around, learning each other ways. I even invited my new friend into my house, showing him where I live.
He seems to like my house very much indeed. In fact, he likes it so much, he invited his family to move in. And what a family he has. About one hundred of his closest relatives are now living in my porch, and they look like they are here to stay!

Being a member of the "true bugs", the Pine Seed Bug has a needle-like mouth that it uses to suck out the pulp from the seeds in the cones of white pine, red pine, scotch pine and hemlock trees. So far, this has not had any harmful effects on these trees.
As cold weather approaches, they may gather on the south side of homes to enjoy the warmth of the autumn sun. As the sun sets and the temperature drops, they will seek shelter in any crack or crevice they can find. And if the crack or crevice leads into a nice warm house... so much the better.
Once they get in the house, they do no harm other than frightening a few household members. They do not eat the establishment. They will not reproduce in the house, although it may seem they do, judging by the large quantities one may find in a house. And they will not bite the legal inhabitants of the house.
If you wish to evict you new friends, the simplest way is to gently knock them into a container and carry them outside. And please - don't bring them to me. I have more than enough to keep me happy.

Every few years, it seems there is another non-native insect that makes its way to our watershed. With no natural predators, these insects are able to accumulate in great numbers. Some of these, like the gypsy moth and wooly adelgid, cause great harm to our local environment. Others, like the Asian lady beetle and pine seed bug, are a nuisance when they invade our homes in large numbers, but otherwise appear fairly benign.

Well, it looks like my house was not their final destination after all. They have moved on and have even crossed the ocean. Recently, a Pine Seed Bug was seen exploring the countryside of Northern Italy. Anyone know how to say, "Welcome to my home" in Italian?