14 Nov

Avast Ye Scurvy Dogs, Insect Ho!

piratebug

flickr image by gbohne

In the early 1700’s the Caribbean Sea was notorious for piracy. The last thing you wanted to see off your starboard bow was a flag bearing the dreaded skull and cross bones. Though the days of the pirate raiding ships and coastal town invasions are history, you can still find pirates throughout western America.

Pirates… are you serious?

Before you go looking for peg legs, eye patches, and hooks, you need to readjust your mental image. If you want to see a living pirate, you will need a magnifying glass, because you are looking for micro pirates. After you are armed with your trusty inspection tool, the next thing you need is a location. Think gold. Pirates love to be around gold…right? You may need to use the map on your phone. Locate the nearest field filled with golden ears of corn (alright, so it isn’t real gold) and start searching. If you are lucky, you will come across a tiny (1/8th of an inch long) insect. If one lands on your arm, you might mistake it for a freckle. The insect is black with whitish marks on the back and looks like a flattened, teeny triangle. Meet the Minute Pirate Bug.

Arr Mini Matey!

Before you smash that little bug, you might want to know that they are beneficial. Good Pirates? Pirate bugs come equipped with a needle like nose. They can use that sharp beak as a weapon and as a straw. When they find pest bugs that ruin corn, Pirate bugs stab them, inject digestive enzymes and after waiting just a bit, they drink the fluids. Minute Pirate Bugs are effective predators. They will kill and eat; thrips, spider mites, whitefly larvae, aphids, small caterpillars and insect eggs. A single Pirate bug can consume up to thirty spider mites in a day. Farmers will purchase pirate bugs by the box and sprinkle the little killers in their cropland and greenhouses. Most predatory insects need prey. If you are a praying mantis and you can’t find a grasshopper, you are going to die. If a pirate bug cannot find prey, they will eat pollen grains instead. This simple evolutionary advantage makes them perfect pest control predators.

This little bug packs a big bite

If you find a new bug, the first thing you want to know is if it bites. The answer is yes. Minute Pirate Bugs pack a painful bite. (Picture a pirate with a sword.) They will stab you with that sharp little beak. Feel free to now smash the pirate bug that you found walking across your arm. They don’t suck your blood, or transmit disease; however, that little piercing beak will hurt like hell. Maybe this fact alone would make a real pirate smile at the name. Their bite might make your language colorful, yet they are protecting the food you eat. Next time you go searching for pirates, you might want to wear a long sleeved shirt and pants.

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