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Bugs can be interesting to those not prone to fear

A tiger beetle. Shelly BauSamra/Submitted photo

The common insects found in Butler County yards, gardens and flower beds strike most people as creepy. They’ve got too many legs or waving antenna, or a tendency to spread their buzzing wings and fly.

But there are many extra creepy crawlers out there just waiting to give some unfortunate a fright when they catch sight of one.

Shelly BouSamra, a Master Gardener with the Butler County Penn State Extension who is working on her graduate degree in entomology, lists some of the stranger insects that are native to the state.

“So many fun insects out there,” she said. “Praying mantis are really interesting. In Pennsylvania we have four species, but only one is native: the Carolina mantis. It’s more common to see the invasive Chinese mantis, which is bigger than the Carolina mantis and usually green.”

“Dobsonflies are huge and impressive looking, often found at night under port lights. They can be three to four inches long. Males have huge chelicera (pincers) but cannot bite,” said BouSamra. “Actually females have the most painful bite with shorter chelicera (fangs). Hellgrammites are the aquatic larvae that fishermen like.”

Josh Radovich, the operations manager for Wain Landscaping on Bullcreek Road in Jefferson Township, said he’s come across ticks, Japanese beetles, various bees, hornets and wasps in the course of his work.

But, some of the more unusual insects he and his workers encounter include praying mantises, walking sticks and the spotted lanternfly.

Walking stick. National Wildlife Federation

“The spotted lanternflies are more common in Allegheny County, but are working their way into Butler County, said Radovich. “Due to the spread of this invasive species, they are becoming more common in Butler County.”

BouSamra said Pennsylvania is home to many colorful beetles. Red milkweed beetles are large and red with impressive black spots.

The six-spotted tiger beetle is a striking metallic green. It’s an active flier with big chelicera (again with the pincers.) The large black rhinoceros beetle prefers to live in the ground.

“Ichneumon wasps have very long ovipositors and are very distinctive, interesting (if scary looking) parasitoid wasps, as is the Pelecinid wasp, whose female has an elongated abdomen about 3 to 4 inches long,” she said. “They are very clumsy and not as aggressive as hornets and yellow jackets.”

She added smaller notable beetles include “click” beetles that click their bodies if you hold them or they feel threatened. Ladybug larvae, which looking like little armored gladiator alligators, are very interesting looking. Pupae make little buttons on foliage and then the adult ladybug emerges.

And in the dark of night, the hits keep coming.

“We have so many great moths in Pennsylvania, like the snowberry clear wing moth, also known as the ‘flying lobster,’” BouSamra said.

Sphinx moth. Shelly BauSamra/Submitted photo

“The Carolina sphinx moth, also known as the ‘hummingbird moth,’ is my favorite, an excellent nighttime pollinator. I plant extra tomatoes just for them,” she said.

The Carolina Sphinx moth is responsible for laying eggs on tomato plants that hatch into tomato horn worms. But the moth will lay its eggs on any nightshade plant including peppers or eggplants.

Other unusual moths that may be fluttering around include luna moths, giant leopard moths, Io moths, the large yellow underwing moths and the Prometheus silk moth, she said.

BouSamra said the order hemiptera has some interesting looking large bugs such as the wheel bug, the assassin bug, the Western conifer seed bug and the leaf-footed bug.

“They all have large rostrum (piercing, sucking mouthparts) they use either to suck out plant juices or stab, inject, kill and eat prey,” she said.

If insect horrors weren’t enough, there are many interesting arachnids such as the large, dark fishing spider that can actually catch small fish. Shiny orb weavers are very colorful and have spikes on their bodies.

“We do have at least one species of black widow,” she said. “Only the adult females bite. Males and juveniles cannot cause damage with their bite.”

“Black widows are very reclusive. They just want to be left alone,” she said. That shouldn’t be a problem for most people.

Ichneumon female
Snowy clearwing moth.

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