This weekend while we performed the morning weeding ritual, we encountered huge quantities of a new bug we hadn’t seen before.  About ½” long and slightly green, this elongated and skinny little guy was a fast mover.   He seemed to be only on certain weeds stayed hidden in the shade.  Any weed that had them though had 30-50 of them on it!  This was definitely in the “invasion” category but we were unable to discern any damage caused by them. 

An email sent to Lisa Dennisson  with the USDA NRCS  gave us lots of info.  Lisa is the “Glenn Haege” of Estancia Valley agriculture.  For those of you who do not know who Glenn Haege is,  he is America’s Master Handyman.  He has a nationally syndicated radio show in which people call in with all kinds of questions about home repair, from painting to plumbing to siding and he always knows the best way to fix it, the best product to use and the store where you can get it that is closest to your house! 

But if it has to do with agriculture or  farming in our valley Lisa knows the answers.

To quote what she told us : Those are Blister Beetles, called that because of the caustic substance they secrete when they are crushed.  They are cyclic, and it appears that this is going to be a bad year for them as I have had several people complaining about them already.  They are drawn to Pigweed and Kochia, but will also decimate tomatoes, peppers and many species in the nightshade family.  They can do damage to fruit/vegetables also, but I tend to find defoliation is the biggest problem.  Try Diatomaceous Earth on areas that you absolutely want to protect, but that will take out the good critters too.  Blister Beetles have no natural enemies, and the birds don’t eat them because they taste bad. 

I don’t doubt anything she said but I do want to know how they know if they taste bad?  Who was the first person to test this out and why?   Are there people whose job it is to taste bugs? and how bad does it have to be to taste bad to a bird?  C’mon birds will eat worms all day long and I don’t particularly think much of the flavor of those.

As she said they will decimate Pigweed and as far as I am concerned that is a major benefit to us as they seem to grow anywhere you water. 

What about the blisters?  Here is a photo from the internet.  Can’t you just picture this fellow feeling something on the back of his neck and swatting it.  It then releases its stuff and blisters him. Ouch!!

We also spoke with Dr. Tessa Grasswitz,  the Urban/Small farms IPM Specialist (505) 865-5163.  Her job is to help citizens with insect pest issues and is always quick to respond to our inquiries.  She has a doctorate in Entomology and certainly knows her bugs.  She had this to say on the subject:

“As adults, these particular blister beetles tend to be attracted to flowering legumes – mainly alfalfa; but they will also aggregate on weeds such as sliver nightshade. Again, however, it is usually the flowers that attract them the most. They are beneficial in that the larval stages parasitize grasshopper eggs, but they become a problem as adults when they aggregate in alfalfa fields because they contain a toxin (cantharadin) that is poisonous to livestock; the beetles can get caught in the crimper when the hay is cut, and even the dead remains can be fatal to livestock – particularly horses. They are not usually pests of fruits or vegetables. Both grasshoppers and flowering alfalfa fields are attractants for them.  The other thing to bear in mind about blister beetles is that their name arises from the fact that if you handle them roughly, their defensive secretion can cause nasty burn-like blisters on the skin. Do be careful with them!

From Wikipedia about cantharadin (the chemical they can secrete):  “Horses are highly sensitive to cantharidin: the LD50 for horses is approximately 1 mg/kg of the horse’s body weight. Horses may be accidentally poisoned when fed bales of fodder with blister beetles in them”

We felt this article was important not because of the detriment to our plants, but the fact that if they are here this might be an issue for those of you who are horse owners.  If these pests are in large numbers in the valley and you feed local alfalfa this could be problem.  I do not know if this is a problem for other animals or just horses. 

 Maybe in the crowd of blog subscribers we have a livestock vet that can help us out to learn more?