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Extension advice: Don't judge an insect by its appearance
Richard Evans
Richard Evans is UGA Extension Service agent in Bryan County.

Life is full of examples of why we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Often it happens with foods we turn our nose up at time and time again, based mainly on appearance, only to finally try it and find that we like actually like it. Personally, this was turkey dressing for me, I just never thought it looked or smelled good. But boy was I wrong!

This happens in relationships and friendships more times than we likely care to admit. The first impression can sometimes set our minds a certain way.

The same applies to the outdoors – specifically things in our garden and yard. There are many interesting visitors that we quickly deem pests or problems that have the potential to provide more benefit than we know. Let’s look at a few of these.

You may have read my article on citrus pests and some possible issues to look out for. I visited a few sites and investigated some problems and found something interesting at a few places: bird droppings that seemed to move on the citrus trees. Before anybody is alarmed, no, bird droppings can’t actually move. But caterpillars that disguise themselves in such a manner can. The caterpillar uses its disguise to dissuade birds or other predators from having a nice meal.

The giant swallowtail is one of the largest butterflies in the United States. This caterpillar does feed on a wide variety of hosts, including citrus, prickly ash and herb rue. The damage caused from feeding caterpillars is not enough to cause significant damage to a mature tree, and most trees will simply push out new foliage as a response.

The next time you are out looking at your trees, look for bird poo and later the emergence of a beautiful swallowtail butterfly. Another ugly visitor we commonly have in our gardens looks a little more threatening, but the benefits it offers as an adult are invaluable to a sustainable garden, especially to homeowners not keen on insecticides.

Some of you may already have guessed – the insect I’m referring to is the ladybird beetle, or ladybug as we often refer to it. The larva has a threatening appearance also used to convince predators to move on to something a little easier to eat, and as a result we often think of them as a pest. However, both the larva and adult stage are predators that feed on aphids, a common pest of many plants on your property. Aphids can cause a variety of issues, but the primary problem I’ve observed over the past few weeks is sooty mold caused by the presence of honeydew on leaves.

Honeydew is the substance aphids excrete after feeding on plant juices. This sugary gel quickly molds in our hot and humid climate and entire plants can have a black coating over just a few nights. Aphid infestations require quick control with some type of insecticide, unless you have a healthy population of lady beetles to help keep the aphids on check.

Our yards are full of examples like this (I didn’t even get into spiders). If you have a question about a visitor on your property, give me a call at the Bryan County Extension Office at 912-653-2231 or email at Remember, don’t judge a book by its cover!

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