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MARTHA SEZ: Summer: it really bugs me

July 19, 2013
MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

Summer is here: I just saw my first earwig of the season. How adorable! It was on my kitchen sink. The earwigs are swarming up out of their underground lairs.

They needn't bother on my account. Like all evil things, earwigs love the dark, and I would be perfectly happy to have them stay underground forever. There, the females protect their little wiglings until after their first molt, an uncharacteristically maternal practice in the insect world.

So Mrs. Earwig is a good mother. Even so, I can't find it in my heart to forgive her and her offspring the way they look, or their wiggly slither. True, they probably don't crawl into your ears while you sleep-although I don't rule it out-but they do pinch people sometimes, and they eat your flowers while you sleep. I also hate that they crawl into the sleeves and pant legs of clothes that are out on the line.

Another bad bug that has made its entrance into our summer gardens is the Japanese beetle. While not as creepy as the earwig, the Japanese beetle is a serious pest, and shameless as well.

These are the beetles you see incessantly coupling in your roses. How they manage to eat so many leaves and flowers is beyond me, since they never seem to take a break from rolling lasciviously around among the petals, not unlike Miley Cyrus in her new video, "We Can't Stop." They can't stop, they won't stop.

Japanese beetles were first discovered in the United States in a nursery near Riverton, New Jersey, just across the river from Philadelphia. Now they are a problem all across the country.

One year I tried dusting insecticidal powder on my roses, but it spoiled the appearance of the flowers.

"No, that's not powdery mildew, that's insect repellant, and you can't see it, but underneath the powder is the most exquisite Graham Thomas rose."

Then, the following year, I made a trip to the garden supply store before the beetles had even morphed out of their disgusting baby cutworm stage. As larvae, Japanese beetles damage lawns and golf courses. In cold climates like ours, their life cycle takes two years instead of one, but they can't stop, they won't stop. I came away with a sex lure bait trap.

The trap contains a floral perfume lure (geraniol) for the girls and a synthetic sex pheromone to lure the guys. In nature, the girl Japanese beetles fly to the roses and then the boy beetles go to the roses because the girls are there.

While I was hanging the trap in a small tree, a neighbor strolled by. I explained the principle of the thing.

"I've seen them in flagrante delicto," she allowed. "Or fragrante delicto."

The beetles congregate on a perfumed pad, where they blunder about in a stupor and then tumble down into a plastic bag. The directions on the box advise setting up the trap at least 50 feet upwind from the garden, as otherwise it may attract beetles who might otherwise have stayed home to your plants.

I was feeling a little guilty about my part in this entrapment scheme, thinking about the false glitziness of television reality shows and those rude videos featuring people who keep sticking out their tongues. Why involve bugs?

I need not have worried about corrupting the innocent Japanese beetles in my neighborhood, or those I lured in from outlying areas, some perhaps from as far away as Tupper Lake. I collected beetles in the trap, yes, but multitudes more were rolling around together in my roses. We can't stop, we won't stop, and so on.

I have since read that attractant traps have proven more useful in delineating Japanese beetle populations than in preventing damage to roses, although I do know one person who has successfully kept the beetles out of his yard by putting up sex lure bait traps on his neighbors' property.

A question that comes up a lot is, if I use this sex lure bait, will I be more attractive?

The answer is yes and no.

Yes, you will attract more Japanese beetles, but probably not humans, especially if you have a lot of beetles rolling around on you. A plus is that, while the geraniol smells pleasant to Japanese beetles and humans, it repels mosquitoes.

Scientists need to get busy on a human pheromone perfume. I'm sure it would sell.

In the meantime, have a good week.



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