Crane Flies Caterpillars and June Bugs

Frances Bellard  |  4/6/2012 2:10:06 AM

Crane Flies

Crane flies are huge and they are everywhere. They are often misidentified as giant mosquitoes, but they are not in the mosquito family and do not even bite. These flies are large and vary from tan to brown with long delicate legs. They are very fragile, any effort to capture or swat at one usually results in them losing one or several legs. They are easily broken and very seldom are the entire flies intact when collected as specimens. Their flight is erratic and most end their lives in spider webs or within the light fixtures of incandescent lights. The only threat these flies pose is frustration. They fly around and sneak into your house as someone goes in or out. They are attracted to light and will settle on lamp shades. Once they are settled they like to “bounce” with their long legs and can create a strange tapping noise that often goes unidentified until someone checks the lamp shades. Changing outside lights to yellow lights can help lower the numbers of crane flies hanging around your outdoor porch or patio. Pyrethroids can be sprayed around doorways to help reduce them as well.

The larvae are large, grey-brown grubs that are cylindrical in shape. They live in the soil and feed on dead grass clippings at night. Their presence is not harmful to your yard because they are feeding on the dead and decomposing grass clippings. They are actually helping the decomposition and assisting in the return of nutrients back to the soil. The adults do not feed. They only emerge to mate and lay eggs in the turf and die shortly after.

Caterpillars

Forest tent caterpillars are starting to make their appearance. They hatch from black, shiny egg masses stuck to thin twigs. They begin to hatch in March and are black with a blue stripe down their sides, with white diamond shaped spots going down their backs. They usually travel in a line, one after the other, on a tree limb. They feed on the leaves of trees. Since they feed early in the spring, it gives the tree a chance to quickly put on new leaves. Their feeding on the leaves will reduce the overall vigor of the tree. Forest tent caterpillars do not have the ability to sting people. Soon they will spin their cocoons and later become adults.

Another common type of caterpillar that does not sting is the tussock moth caterpillar. They are common on live oaks and wax myrtles. They have a bright red head, three tufts of long black (hair-like) setae (two on the head end and one on the rear) and a series of yellow-tan tufts on their backs that look like a toothbrush. Many people believe that they can sting, but they cannot. The fluffy tan colored balls you find in the cracks of the bark of trees are the pupae.

The caterpillars that do have the ability to sting also feed on trees. Buck moth caterpillars, Io moth caterpillars and Puss moth caterpillars will cause painful stings. They are covered with spines that break off in your skin and release a protein that causes the pain. The Buck moth caterpillar is the most common type of stinging caterpillar. They are 2-3 inches long and are covered in black, thick, branching spines. The Io moth caterpillar is light green in color and is covered with branching spines. It has a red or reddish white stripe along the side of its body. This stinging caterpillar can be found on many shade trees and ornamentals. The Io moth can cause painful stings. Pressing tape down hard on the sting and ripping it off will help remove the spines. The Puss moth is a short, thick bodied caterpillar that is densely covered with yellow, gray, or brown hairs. It actually looks like a hair ball that a cat coughed up.

There are many ways to manage these nuisance creatures. Several different chemicals can be used on the caterpillars such as Malathion, Carbaryl, Orthene, any of the B.T. materials and several synthetic pyrethroids that are sold under various company names. Always read and follow the label directions when using any pesticide.

June Bugs

The June bugs have also made their arrival. I have been getting several calls about these critters. June bugs, also known as June beetles, have been causing problems for many residents lately. The larvae can be found in the soil in your gardens. The larvae are off-white grubs that have a C-shape. The adult form of these larvae is the June bug. June bugs eat the young, tender leaves on trees. They will not strip a tree entirely of its leaves, allowing it to recover and put on new leaves again. It is very hard to control this beetle. You can treat the soil or the plants but neither method is very effective. Liquid Sevin (Carbaryl) may help your situation, but you pretty much have to get the chemical directly onto the beetle itself. It is key to spray late in the afternoon as the June bugs are active during the night. If you spray early in the morning or during the day, the sun will shine on your chemical and start breaking it down and by nightfall (when the June bugs are active) the chemical is not as effective as when it was first sprayed. Your best bet is to just be patient and let it pass. Their population peaks in early spring and their numbers will be much lower throughout the summer.

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