Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spotted Cucumber Beetle eating a Common Pokeweed berry...

"Green bug with black spots on its wings" is all it took to find this little bug in a Google search. It's a Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata), and it's really common. I've seen it a lot in the past, but never knew its name. I found out it's a native species but can be quite a pest. Wikipedia says,

"...it looks very much like a green ladybug. However, unlike the ladybug, cucumber beetles are not considered beneficial insects. They are sucking invaders which harm crops and ornamental plants."
"Sucking invaders?" Did I read that right? It's not the usual language you see on Wikipedia, and it made me laugh, but after reading more about them, I found out they are no laughing matter and can cause extensive crop damage on anything from cucumbers, melons, and squash (all members of the cucurbits family) to corn and beans. Adults favor stems, leaves and buds of all members of the cucurbits family. They attack and overwinter in corn and bean fields, and the larva, known as the "corn rootworm," eats the roots of corn, peanuts, small grains, and wild grasses (source: The Center for Integrated Pest Management, North Carolina State University, here).

...all that...and the only reason I started photograph him was because I thought his yellowish-green and chartreuse wings looked cool against the dark purple of the Common Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) berry...


Hey, Spotted Cucumber Beetle, what are you doing on a Pokeweed berry? You should be on a cucumber...or a pumpkin, a gourd maybe, or a watermelon...or any other type of squash!


I watched this guy for quite a while, and he was definitely eating this berry. Every now and then he would wander away to another part of the plant, but he would always return to this berry. It was the only berry with a hole in it. I don't know if he created the hole, or if our resident Catbird poked a hole in the berry and the Spotted Cucumber Beetle was taking advantage of a good thing...


You can't really tell, but after he lifted his head out of the hole, he was covered in purple Pokeweed berry juice and had to take time out to clean his antenna and face.


I tried to find out if the Spotted Cucumber Beetle had a predisposition for Pokeweed berries, but I found nothing. I did however, learn how just how poisonous a Pokeweed berry is to a humans. According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (click here), eating just 10 berries can cause headache, abdominal pain, and severe diarrhea...so don't eat Pokeweed berries any time soon! The roots are the most poisonous part of the plant, followed by the leaves and stems. The berries are the least toxic. Eating large quantities of the plant can result in death from respiratory failure (source: Ohio Perennial & Biennial Weed Guide, here).


...yum! Going in for more!


The Spotted Cucumber Beetle isn't the only creature that likes Pokeweed berries, Cedar Waxwings and Gray Catbirds love them too. Pokeweed started popping up around our yard about 3 or 4 years ago...and the Cedar Waxwings and Gray Catbirds soon followed. Last year and this year a pair of catbirds visited our yard daily, sitting in the tall pokeweed plants singing and plucking off the berries one at a time. Maybe the catbird punctured the berry and the cucumber beetle benefited, or maybe this little bug really digs the fruit and created his own hole. I'll watch next year and see if any more show up and chomp away at the pokeweed berries...

19 comments:

Betsy from Tennessee said...

That beetle was very busy.... Love your macros of him and that berry...
Hugs,
Betsy

Elaine said...

Well, now I know to avoid the Pokeweed berry, but that shouldn't be hard since they don't grow in Alaska. Nice set of photos of the spotted cucumber beetle enjoying his feast.

forgetmenot said...

I have a picture of a cucumber beetle I am going to post(I always thought it was a variety of a ladybug until I looked it up the other day). My photo is not anywhere close to being as good as yours (you are on a totally different level than just about anybody that blogs). Amazing photography and always great info on your posts. Mickie :)

Tammy@Simple Southern Happiness said...

Great close up shots, it is a pretty bug but wow...can it do damage. Wonder if it gets a headache and the runs?

Roy said...

Great macros, Kelly! Oh yeah, and every kid knows you don't eat pokeberries, you make ink with them.

TexWisGirl said...

little beetle was looking for a squash, couldn't find one, so decided to love the one he was with. :)

Montanagirl said...

Fabulous shots as always! I posted some pictures of one of these a year ago maybe. I had to look him up as well.

KAT said...

love the photos of this pokey guy. Maybe he thinks he is imbibing in poke-berry wine.

- KAT -

Grizz………… said...

Great shots of a common garden pest, as a kid whose mother made him pluck them from her "pickle patch" can tell you. (BTW, I'd have been drawn to and taken shots of such a neat green bug against the magenta and dark purple of the pokeweed and berry, too.)

Re. poke berries, they are indeed poisonous, as is all parts of the plant WHEN MATURE. Keep in mind that cooked poke leaves are one of the most widely eaten spring greens in the Southern U.S. Remember Tony Joe White's song, "Poke Salad Annie?" These are YOUNG leaves, but Lord knows literally hundreds of thousands of folks—young, old, firm and infirm—gather bags of 'em, and prepare and eat them regularly, me included. They are served in many restaurants, too.

Something I haven't done (and wouldn't do!) is eat poke berry pies, though one of my best friends ate them all his long (96 yrs) life, as did everyone else in his family. I've since read that such pies (prepared like a blackberry or blueberry pie) were rather regularly consumed by a few families, apparently without problems. In correspondance with a fellow who runs the largest poisonous native plant research center in Europe, who knows way more about poke chemistry than me, I've concluded that while young leaves in a salad are obviously safe, the pie/berry eaters are taking a serious risk…in spite of the fact they continue to get away with it for years on end.

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

Great photographs and great information. I am not sure if we have them here I will have to look it up.

All the best.
Guy

Kelly said...

...thanks, Betsy!

...thanks, Elaine!

Thanks, Mickie...I'll keep a watch for your cucumber beetle post!!

Tammy...hehe...thanks!

Roy.....oh yeah!! I grew up closer to the city, so we didn't get to do that, but I knew about it...

Tex...haha! You could turn that into a song ;-)

Mona...I'll have to go back and look him up on your blog!

Kat....haha! He's wishing! I read that they used to color light wines with pokeberry juice...

Grizz...thanks for the info! Yes...I read about that and listened to the song. I saw lots of cans of cooked pokeweed greens too on different sites. I don't know if I'd eat a pokeberry pie either!!! :-)

Guy...thanks, guy. I don't know either. I'll have to look it up too!

Gillian Olson said...

Great pictures, I have never seen one of these insects before. He sure is making quick work of devouring that berry!

Kelly said...

...thanks, Gillian! It was interesting how he'd eat a bit and then go work it off...and then come back to the berry. He never tried to eat any other part of the plant, just the berry with the hold in it!

KaHolly said...

It may be a garden pest, but it sure is pretty!! It's amazing how interesting so many species of bugs are. I found a bug-ologist who makes large bug pillows from felt on Etsy and they are truly beautiful. And they are just bugs!

Julie G. said...

Fantastic macro images of the cucumber beetle feasting on the pokeweed berry! Sounds like that little beetle was getting drunk on berry juice. I've seen these beetles on our property before but did not know they were so destructive. Yikes! Wonderful post! A joy to visit your blog.

Tammie Lee said...

wow, that is so amazing to see through your photographs. fun fun!

Kelly said...

KaHolly...thanks! I'm going to have to look up the pillows. They sound cool.

Julie...thank you! Maybe that's why he would stumble around on the rest of the plant but would always come back to the berry with the hole! hehe...

...thank you, Tammie!! :-)

Debbie Miller @HooootOwl said...

Busy little beetle! Bet that face full of juicy berry was something to see! Great eye, fun post.

AndysLens said...

Excellent series!