Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bad but foolish: the colorado potato beetle

I have fond memories of hand picking potato beetles off of my mother's large potato patch when my sister and I were wee tots. We'd tap them into an old yogurt container already filled with slugs we'd scavenged from elsewhere in the garden. Add a little salt and toss the container around a bit, and presto, beetle- slug pesto. I keep trying to convince my chef-farmer employer that beetle pesto is going to be the new rage in sustainable value-added culinary agriculture. Yep.

Name: Colorado potato beetle

Occupation: Chowing down on french-fry fodder, among other plants mainly in the nigh
tshade family (eggplant, tomatoes...oddly). They lay easy to spot clusters of orange eggs on the underside of leaves, which hatch within 4 to 10 days into disgusting reddish larvae which balloon into massive(respectively), juicy jelly-bean-like feeding machines. Like many beetles, the larvae do as much or more damage than the adults. The beetles may produce several generations per season.

Management: Scouting for eggs and smushing them is an excellent preventative measure...and it's heaps o' fun too! My co-worker and I established a points system for scoring our beetle-larvae-egg fatalities. Egg clusters are worth 3 points, larvae are worth 2, adult beetles are 1 point, and mating pairs are worth 4. Diane is totally in the lead because she found a huge mass of newly hatched larvae, and I got distracted for a few minutes trying to identify a possible BMSB.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacterial insecticide that is effective for CPB control, it is nontoxic to humans and does not affect beneficial insects. Adult beetles can be knocked to the ground off of plants and subsequently smashed by hand or between two rocks. The adult beetles are fantastically dumb, as they "play dead" when startled, making it quite easy to capture/kill them.

Color they turn your fingers when you squish them: Decidedly orange; eggs, larvae and adults alike.

Good beetle or bad beetle: Bad, but conveniently stupid.

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