Thursday, July 25, 2013

Plum Curculio on my Plums!

This is the first year our plum tree was inclined to produce a decent amount of fruit. It is now four years old. About time!

Half the fruit have plum curculio damage ie the typical crescent shaped scar on the skin. Female adult curculios are responsible for these scars. They cut into the fruit just under the skin and insert an egg into each slit. The egg hatches into a larva that eats its way through the tasty plum flesh that was supposed to be feeding me. This larval feeding can cause the fruit to drop prematurely. On my tree, I'm seeing a lot of crescent shaped scarred fruit that seem to be growing with no intention of dropping. These could be the ones that grew so well they crush the larvae in them. Curculio-killing plums!

The plums are delicious and I don't mind sharing some with the curculios. But I'm still going to destroy all fallen fruit so the larvae can't finish their life cycle and infest next year's fruit or something. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

General House Pests

Introduction to Pests that are Problem 'Pets' 
This article explains why roaches, flieas, termites and other pests like living with us and gives the basics of pest control.

If you have a pest problem in your home, chances are high that it will be one of these three: Roaches, Ants or Termites (R.A.T.s). R.A.T.s are responsible for about two-thirds of pest control headaches home owners face every year. Mosquitoes, flies, rats and so forth make up the R.A.T.s & Co, which are always eager to share your living space.

Why do I have a pest problem? 
Like humans, pests have basic needs: food, water and shelter. We may be tempting the critters with five star digs and bountiful banquets without even realizing it. There’s probably a pest for every nook and cranny in an average home, and some sort of food suited to the pickiest pest palate. Fabric moths snack on your clothes, pantry pests such as flour beetles love flour, and silverfish munch on books. Mosquitoes, fleas and bedbugs have a taste for warm human blood. Roaches, ants and flies are the least fussy eaters and contentedly polish off your scraps.

Pests aren’t big eaters, individually, because they are small. A stale breadcrumb is a scrumptious supper for a cockroach and a grain of sugar is a delightful dessert for an ant. The problem arises when Mrs Roach makes 150 new baby mouths to feed, or when Missy Ant crawls back to her nest and recruits her 100,000 sisters to the dinner party.

What's bad about pests?
Roaches hang out in warm, wet digs such as sewers and therefore tend to spread lots of nasty germs on your countertop when they scavenge at night. Flies aren’t any better: they would enjoy your hamburger, rotting vegetables and manure – in no particular order. Worse still, these toothless beasties puke and poop all over whatever they are eating (their puke is a digestive aid). Ants are a little more hygienic because they keep house better than roaches and flies. Termites are wood-digesting-machines that will literally eat you out of your home if their sneaky snackings go unchecked.

How do I identify my pest?
While you should have no problems identifying a cockroach or a rat, it can be difficult to recognize smaller pests. Termites look a lot like ants, but close scrutiny will reveal key differences. For example, ants have a very narrow waist, which makes them look very curvaceous compared with the thick-waisted termites. Then there are the ‘shy’ pests that only come out at night and leave no trace: blood-sucking bedbugs, which bite painlessly so you end up covered with welts, and clueless. With a little detective work, you can figure out the identity of these and other pests. I will be updating this site with identification tips, but if you have a pressing question in the meantime, please email me.

How do I kill that pest? 
After you are 100% sure what your pest is, you can usually take matters into your own hands and avenge their transgressions (k-i-l-l--t-h-em). Common anti-pest offensives include sanitation to reduce feeding and breeding hotspots. Simply put, hygiene, hygiene, hygiene! Screens and taking other measures to block pests from entering the home are also effective. Some pesticide options are also available that you can use but if in doubt, your best bet would be to consult a reliable pest control operator.

Stay tuned for more tips on how to keep pests at bay!

Insect Collecting 101

This series of blog posts will contain all the information you need to know about how to properly collect insects, label and preserve them. You will be able to make an awesome bug collection that will not only wow friends and family, but be your very own contribution to science and nature preservation.  I'll start with 'Insect collecting basics' :)

  1. Insect collecting basics (see below)
  2. Advanced insect collecting (coming soon) 
  3. Insect pinning basics (coming soon) 
  4. Insect preservation basics (coming soon) 
  5. Insect identification basics (coming soon)

You will need:

  • Insect net. Make your own easily and cheaply with pvc pipe, stiff aluminium wire and nylon netting. (full downloadable instructions to follow). 
  • Containers of various sizes to keep individual insects. 
  • Forceps to pick up insects. 
  • Paper envelopes to keep butterflies and moths 
  • Paper labels and a pencil. 
  • Notebook 

What to do:

  1. A great place to start your bug hunt is in your back yard. Use the net to sweep and catch butterflies, dragonflies and flying insects. Hold your collection container under beetles - they play dead when startled and will fall right into your container. 
  2. Keep each insect in its own container. For butterflies, hold the wings folded together, and squeeze the thorax hard to immobilize it then store flat in paper envelopes. This will preserve their wings. 
  3. Write the following information down on your paper labels: date, location (e.g. Scout's Trail,Harrison Hills Park, Natrona Hts PA), your name, host plant or substrate (e.g. hickory leaf). Any other interesting observations can also be noted. Put the label in with the insect in its container. 
  4. Fill in your collector's notebook with the date, location and a summary of your bug hunt. You can be as detailed as you like! 
  5. When you get home, place the insects (in their containers) in the freezer for 1 hour or until you are ready to pin them. 

That's it for the basics of insect collecting! Check back soon for my insect pinning guide!

Pet Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches


This male hisser is the most outgoing chap on my roach ranch.You can tell he is a male by the two big horns he has on his pronotum, which is a sort of shield that covers his thorax (upper body). His head (a pair of feelers or antennae are attached to it) is tucked under the pronotum. Barbaro probably exhibits normal male hisser traits such as head-butting, but I have yet to catch any of my male hissers head-butting each other. In the pic to the right, Barbaro is intently examining something very interesting on my finger.


Formerly known as Missy Roach, Big Mama is now a proud mommy of about 20 baby hissers. Unlike Barbaro, Big Mama doesn't have two big bumps on her pronotum. Big Mama doesn't engage in head-butting and other such violent pastimes.


Madagascar hissing roaches, back in their homeland, live on the forest floor in warm, humid hisser paradise - plenty of rotting logs to hide out it, and lots of fallen fruit to snack on. My hissers are managing okay in their 10 gallon tank although they probably miss paradise. They hang out under the cardboard egg cartons placed in the warmest part of the tank. It's warm because the heating pad is situated beneath. I've snuck out at night and caught them roaming around the tank, eating and drinking. I don't put any bedding, peat moss or soil or leaf litter in there though. It makes the weekly clean up much easier, and doesn't seem to get in the way of them breeding like mad (see pic to the right). It doesn't take long for a colony to get big. A female hisser is ready to reproduce at 6 months, and gives birth to 20-60 live young every so often. Hissers live several years.

I feed my hissers cat food and fish flakes, and throw in apple slices, banana peels, cucumbers and assorted salads every week. There's a bottle capful of fresh water that I stuck a piece of sponge in so the baby hissers have a personal flotation device if they accidentally take a swim. I change that out every two to three days. Also every time I clean out the bottom of the tank, wiping with paper towels, I leave a little bit of roach poop in there. Baby roaches (nymphs) need to nibble on the grown ups' droppings to get roach-friendly bacteria in their own digestive systems. Think of how we eat Lactobacillus-laden yogurt to boost our friendly gut bacteria population.

If you have any questions, or have suggestions on what you would like to see added here, I welcome you to email me!

Giant Millipedes as Bug Pets

Here you will learn about giant millipedes, sexing male and females, and how to care for these gentle veggie-loving giants. To know them is to love them.

My pedes Archie and Millie are sweetly affectionate and a bit shy with strangers but will warm up given time.


Allow me to introduce you to Archie. The pic above shows a very inquisitive Archie the male millipede. If you look closely at his legs, counting to where the 7th pair of legs should be, there is instead a pair of short knobby gonopods (gonopods are what make male millipedes male millipedes). Archie is an extrovert as far as millipedes go. He loves munching on cucumber slices and the occasional banana peel. He gets quite a lot of exercise moseying around his 10 gallon apartment. He's a little smaller than Millie whom we are getting to next.


Miss Millie (pic right) is quite a bit larger than Archie. She is also more timid and spends a lot of her day curled up under the leafy litter in the 10 gallon apartment she shares with Archie. If you look closely at her legs, counting down to where the 7th pair of legs should be, there is in fact a 7th pair of legs and no gonopods. Except in Millie's case, her left 7th leg is a little stump from an old injury. Fortunately she has plenty of other legs she can use to get around with! Female millipedes have their reproductive parts tucked away neatly inside their bodies.

Sexing Male and Female Millipedes 
As you would have guessed from reading about Archie and Millie above, it isn't all that complicated telling a male from a female millipede, especially if you're looking at a Giant Millipede! Males have a pair of knobby gonopods instead of legs on their 7th segment, while females have legs. It takes a little patience to wait for your millipede to get into just the right position for you to take a peek at his/her underside. Perhaps you could put your millipede into a glass fish bowl and examine it while it is crawling about inside (this stretches out its underside a bit better).

Millipede Home Sweet Home 
Millipedes love dark, damp and warm digs in leaf litter. Their home needs to be twice as long as their body length so they have plenty of space to explore and exercise. Mine seem happy in their 10 gallon glass aquarium. I placed a heating pad under one half of the tank and also covered that half of the tank with black plastic to keep it dark. They love hiding out there! I mist the tank daily with a spray bottle filled with water, and I cover the top of the tank with a piece of saran/cling wrap to keep humidity high inside the tank. High humidity helps the leaf litter to rot, which is great for my 'pedes as you will see next.

Feed Your 'Pedes 
Millipedes are detritivores, and munch on rotting leaves and well-rotted wood of most trees (except cedar). Get plenty of oak leaves and bark/wood the next time you take a walk in the park. Place these in a ziploc bag, freeze for a day to kill any other bugs, thaw out, then let your 'pedes have at it. The freeze step is important because the leaves and bark/wood may also harbor millipede enemies such as centipedes (which snack on millipedes). My 'pedes also love eating cucumber slices. They have surprisingly weak jaws and need soft food.

Breed Your 'Pedes! 
Obviously you will need a male and female millipede for this. They also need to be the exact same species of 'pede. It helps if you order your pair from the same supplier. I got mine from Wards Natural Science. You will need to give your 'pedes some privacy, and comfy conditions (see Millipede Home Sweet Home above). I can't help but sneak peeks every so often. They are so affectionate! In the photo below, Archie is whispering sweet nothings to Millie as they cuddle.

If you have any questions, or have suggestions on what you would like to see added here, I welcome you to email me!

Bugs as Pets

Bugs make such fun pets! In my blog you will find information on some bugs that make great pets for kids (and grown ups too!). These are Madagascar Hissing Roaches, millipedes and crickets. They are harmless, extremely easy to care for, and will provide hours of interesting observations for the owner.

Pet bugs take up very little space, are cheap to feed, and can be pretty affectionate little buggers. Giant millipedes are gentle, slow-moving vegetarians. Hissing roaches are actually fastidious groomers and neat-freaks. Crickets make sweet pets that chirp you to sleep at night (for me at least!), and are a key ingredient in many edible Bug Recipes.

Get ready to embark on an exciting and rewarding adventure as a proud bug owner!

Choc Chirpie Chip Cookies Recipe: Cricket Flour Cookies

A tasty twist to the beloved old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie, these tastebud-tickling treats will bring out your inner chirpie! The cricket flour adds lot of protein and minerals, and an extra dimension in flavor.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cricket flour*
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 pkg 12 oz choc chips

*To make cricket flour, you will need about 50 adult crickets. Follow steps 1-3 & 5 as for the choc chirpie recipe above. Then whizz the dry-roasted crickets in the blender for cricket flour. 


  1. Mix flour, cricket flour, baking soda and salt 
  2. Cream butter and sugar (10 minutes) then mix in egg and vanilla essence till just blended 
  3. Stir in dry ingredients to form stiff cookie dough. 
  4. Stir in choc chips 
  5. Drop rounded measuring teaspoonfuls onto baking sheet 
  6. Bake at 350 deg F for 15 minutes 


Choco Chirpies Recipe: Chocolate Covered Crickets

These chocolate covered crickets are scrumptious! The sweet chocolate 'cocoon' encases a surprisingly crisp, nutty and flavorsome filling.You will need 20 live adult crickets, toothpicks and dipping chocolate.

  1. Feed the crickets some fresh apple slices for a day or two. This helps clear out their gut and imparts an awesome apple flavor to your choco chirpies. 
  2. Put the crickets to 'sleep' in freezer for 10 minutes. 
  3. Rinse and drain. 
  4. Bake 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour. Skewer with toothpick through bottom towards head. Legs should break off easily at this point. 
  5. Bake a further 1 hr at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Test for doneness by squishing one - it should be crisp and kinda crumble when crushed. 
  6. Dip crickets into melted chocolate. The pic to the right shows milk-choc, dark-choc and straight (hardcore!) crickets. 
  7. Lay on wax paper to harden. 


Bug recipes

Insects are a great source of protein and most of the ones I have enjoyed had a sweet, nutty flavor. I have stir-fried cicadas in the Borneo jungle, savored sago grubs at a bustling market in Sarawak, and sampled some truly tasty chestnut weevils in Virginia, USA.

Here you will find links to my favorite edible insect recipes, and links to my bug-eating adventures. For now I have listed two of the most popular with kids and grown-ups alike: 'Choco Chirpies' and 'Choc Chirpie Chip Cookies''.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What do Cockroaches Taste Like? : BLECH

One of the questions I ask myself is, would I ever dare to eat a cockroach? After all, I've dined on crickets and chowed down on sago grubs and chestnut weevils with relish. Perhaps a roach, stir fried with extra virgin olive oil and dressed with a sprinkling of sea salt and black peppercorns, would go down easy? Nuh-uh. I remember watching a movie  - Papillon - where a starving prisoner eats a cockroach that wanders into his cell. I think about that particular scene quite a bit. If I were starving, would I eat a roach? ...

Actually, wait... YES I have accidentally eaten a cockroach before. In fact, I have also eaten cockroach poop (droppings / frass) before too.

How - you may wonder - the heck did I know it was roach and poop? Well, it's the taste. While the texture or 'bite' as you crunch down on a roach is not much different from that of a cricket (both have leathery tegmina or wings), a roach tastes AWFUL. Just AWFUL. Crickets taste like whatever they ate last. I know this because when making choc covered crickets, I would feed them organic apple a few days before 'processing', to clean out their guts. With their guts full of apple, they tasted sweet. Flavorful.

Not so for roaches. A roach tastes AWFUL. (I know I just said that.)

By the way, I absolutely must clarify here that those 'fried cockroaches' people brag about chomping down on in Thailand are NOT cockroaches. They are the Giant Water Bugs (Belostomatidae) and although they look similiar, do not taste half bad. Trust me, a taste of cockroach is one that is not ever forgotten. Why is this? It is because cockroaches have glands on their abdomen that ooze the super stinkiest pheromone ever known to mankind. These pheromones are powerful attractants to other cockroaches. Combine this with the fecal pellets, which are in themselves malodorous, and folks, you have a 'Winner'.

NOT a cockroach! These are Giant Water Bugs, a popular street-food snack in Thailand and neighboring countries

"Cockroaches taste the way they smell. That's the first time I ever came close to losing it" (Entomology professor Lynn Kimsey, UCLA Davis). Lynn, my sentiments exactly.

The American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) wins hands down for worst smelling cockroach species. The Madagascar hissing cockroaches smell musty, and I imagine that's how they would taste. According to Entomophagy on Youtube, they taste musty. Cockroach species have varying degrees of stinkiness.

Sigh! I think I have just about creeped out myself for the day. I will have to tell y'all about my accidental cockroach ingestion another time.

Would you dare to eat a cockroach?