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The Big Bug Hunt

The Big Bug Hunt is here!

Pests are an inevitable part of gardening. But what if you could predict when they were going to appear? You could set up defenses or be on alert for early infestations, ready to act promptly before they escalated.

This is the vision of a major citizen science project that is collecting observations of bugs to identify patterns in their behavior. The data is being used to develop a pest prediction service that will notify gardeners when pests are headed their way.

The Big Bug Hunt

The Big Bug Hunt invites gardeners across the country to report sightings of bugs as they see them. More than 20,000 individuals have already taken part, reporting bugs of all kinds – from pests such as squash bugs and aphids to beneficial bugs like bees – in what is believed to be the biggest project of its kind

Observations shared through the website BigBugHunt.com inform researchers what bug was seen, when it was seen and any plant it was on or near. The anonymously shared location of the sighting pinpoints it on a map. With thousands of reports like this, patterns begin to emerge, building up a picture of when and how bugs first appear and spread, and what influences this behavior.

The ambitious project is lead by garden app developer Growing Interactive, having worked in collaboration with specialists in data analysis to apply the very latest developments in machine learning to the collected data.

Now in its fifth year, researchers have made excellent progress predicting common garden pests like Japanese beetle. Accuracy is expected to improve still further as many more join The Big Bug Hunt over the coming months to share their observations.

Our increasingly hard-to-forecast weather doesn’t make predicting pests easy, as Project Coordinator Jeremy Dore explains: “Huge variations in the severity of winter and spring’s arrival leave gardeners second-guessing what pests to expect when.

“The Big Bug Hunt uses real-world observations across often contrasting seasons and years to identify the patterns behind the weather that predict when a pest will strike. The more reports we get the better. Reports received across multiple seasons help to refine the results so we can make predictions to an even higher degree of confidence.”

How to Get Involved in the Bug Hunt

Getting involved in The Big Bug Hunt is easy. Head to BigBugHunt.com to report a bug, which takes just seconds. The website includes detailed pest identification guides – with effective treatment and prevention ideas – and you have the option to sign up for updates, bug-busting emails and free downloadable charts.

Development of a pest prediction service is now at an advanced stage. The first emailed pest alerts are expected to go out to gardeners later this year. Anyone who contributed a report to The Big Bug Hunt over the past year will be first to benefit from the service, while participants making an accurate report in 2019 will be offered email alerts next year. The service will also become an integral part of the online Garden Planners available from GrowVeg.com, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Mother Earth News magazine and many gardening suppliers’ websites.

In Home Garden Tips

Japanese Beetle Grubs: Identify and Control

Japanese beetle grub identification

What do Japanese beetle grubs look like? And how do you control them?

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) about the plague of gardeners everywhere: Japanese beetles.

Japanese Beetle Grubs

Japanese beetle grubs emerge now from their winter sojourn under the lawn. They are part of the insect’s lifecycle.

Grubs are 1/8 to one inch long, depending on when you spot them. They are white. Entymologists can distinguish between Japanese beetle grubs and other types of grubs based on the type of spines on their back and other features. For our sake, look for white grubs in soil or lawn; that their favorite hangout.

Mine like the mulch pile.

Japanese beetle grubs slowly make their way up from their winter quarters here in Virginia starting in February and March. The beetle larva, or grub, spends the fall gnawing its way through plant material about two to four inches under the soil surface. When the cold weather arrives, it descends to a depth of around eight inches to keep warm.

During the spring, as the sun’s rays warm the soil, the beetle makes its way upward. It eats primarily plant roots: lawns and turf grasses are common areas but it isn’t fussy. We are finding dozens of grubs in the mulch pile. We toss the grubs onto the lawn, which sound strange, but we also have flocks of crows that gather in the morning near the farm.

Crows absolutely love Japanese beetle grubs and tear holes in the fields and lawns seeking the tender morsels. We’re generous; they can have their share of them at this time of year as we spread the mulch and find them!

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles must be controlled at all stages of their lifecycle. Let’s take a look at each and what to do in the garden.

  • Spring:  If you see a grub, kill it. (Yes, squish it. I know it’s gross. It’s the only way).  Organic treatments include nematodes and milky spore on grub-prone areas. Follow package directions.
  • Early Summer – Summer: Adults fly long distances to seek mates and feed. You CAN hang traps to catch the adults. These traps use scent to lure beetles into a chute that ends in a bag. They can’t climb out of the bag or pouch. You’ll need to change the pouch and throw it out frequently. The hot weather can make it smell bad.

It is a myth that using Japanese beetle traps lures more beetles into your yard. It can lure them, but temporarily. You won’t have every love-sick beetle for miles around seeking your property.

To treat plants, I like to use a neem-based spray on my roses. It helps somewhat and also prevents black spot.

I don’t treat our apple trees. Most mature plants, like the apple trees, survive just fine with some Japanese beetle damage. The leaves get chewed up, but we still get apples, so it’s a fair deal.

  • Fall: Fall is the time when the beetle eggs, which the adult lays in August, hatch into the grubs. Organic treatments include milky spore and nematodes.

A dry spell during peak egg-laying times (August) means fewer beetles. The grubs require moist organic material in order to survive. The drier it is, the fewer grubs survive. Of course, no one wants a drought. But nature does have a way of keeping its citizens in check.

On our farm, we do little to protect against Japanese beetles. We used to hang up traps near the roses, but I’ve long since given up on them. We have 17 acres, and Japanese beetles fly long distances, so no matter what we did, we always had them. I will spray my roses with neem organic spray, but we only have two large rose bushes, so it’s not an onerous task.

Good luck in your battle against these bugs. They are a pest, that’s for sure, and one that’s difficult to completely eradicate.