Thanksgiving. That quintessential American holiday of eating too much food. But it’s not just us eating, insects eat too.
There are numerous insects that prey on cranberries, particularly Lepidoptera, but my favorite is the cranberry weevil (Anthonomus musculus), probably because I have a fondness for weevils and their little snouts. Adult beetles will feed on new growth and buds. More damaging is the fact that they will lay their eggs inside the buds. The emerging larvae feed and develop inside the buds. This means the bud will never flower, never get pollinated, therefore no cranberry sauce. Oh the horror! I really like this old (1998) publication out of UMass particularly for the quote right at the beginning “Spray for a purpose, Do not spray ‘on general principle’ only, but when there is a good reason to believe the bog really needs it. Do not be one of the ninety-nine out of every hundred who will look at this bulletin and then make no use of it. Be the hundredth man.”
I love sweet potatoes. Mashed, baked with apple slices and maple syrup, cut into fries, in pancakes. But these glorious gobs of deliciousness are also susceptible to insect attack. I present to you the sweet potato flea beetle (Chaetocnema confinis). These tiny destructors feed on the foliage as adults, causing some damage. More disastrous are the larvae feeding on the roots. In high numbers, they can cause significant injury.
Green beans with cream of mushroom soup and those fabulous French fried onions that I wind up putting just a few on the casserole because I have eaten half the can by itself, could anything be yummier? But alas, those green beans are not immune to the phytophagous phenom: the bean aphid (Aphis fabae). Aphids have always impressed me. These minuscule monsters can inflict huge damage between their direct feeding, the sap and resulting sooty mold produced, and the diseases they can vector. It’s pretty extraordinary. Then throw in the fact that they can reproduce sexually and asexually! But woe to the beans they damage!
What have I forgotten? Ah, dessert! Pies are pretty traditional thanksgiving fare: pumpkin, apple, pecan, etc. While it would be easy to talk about the insects that partake of apples or pumpkins, I am going to go a bit farther out on this one. I like to cook and I use a lot of spices. Desserts just aren’t the same without cinnamon and nutmeg and maybe some cardamom to really make those flavors pop. These flavorful embellishments are not immune to insect infestation either (say it ain’t so!). Cigarette beetles (Lasioderma serricorne) are hardy little buggers that can be found feasting on many types of dried food products including spices like cinnamon. I have even found them in cayenne powder! These tiny terrors can also chew through some types of food packaging, leaving tiny round holes where they have tunneled in or out. To add even more entomological awesomeness: they have been around for millennia and have been found in Egyptian tombs.
So there’s a bit of thanksgiving entomological awesomeness for you. Instead of talking about politics and other potentially fight-causing topics, bring up some of this over the dinner table. If that’s not enough, bring up entomophagy when Aunt June is asking why you aren’t married yet. Or how about bird lice on turkeys when Uncle Fred starts in on getting a “real job” instead of playing with “bugs”. Or do what I do: sit at the kid’s table. It’s way more fun and they all like talking about insects.