Bugs, potatoes and more bugs raise questions

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 1, 2014

Working with the public often causes Cooperative Extension agents to encounter the weird and strange. Right now, since there are so many new vegetables, strange insects hatching and people outdoors, we are being asked, “What is this, and is it safe?”
Question: What on earth is this large insect?
Answer: This is a Dobsonfly. It is male, and his large pinchers will not harm you. If a female is picked up, they will bite you, and their bites can be quite painful. Dobsonflies are only around for a week or so to mate. Then, they continue on their life cycle. They are also primarily nocturnal, so you do not see them often unless you are night fishing or close to creeks and river banks. I had one fly at my face when I was night fishing because I had left my head lamp on too long. Thankfully, I was not bitten. Most fishermen know this insect by its larval form, which is called a hellgrammite. Hellgrammites are aquatic larvae that are also large and have pinchers. They will eat other aquatic life and stay in this form for a few years. Be careful when picking them up in the larval stage because here, it doesn’t matter what sex they are, they will all bite.
Question: I saw some purple potatoes at the Farmers’ Market. Do they taste the same as regular potatoes?
Answer: I wouldn’t classify any potato as regular since there are so many varieties (reds, Yukon gold, purple, fingerling, etc.). But I did get the luxury of trying some of the purple potatoes from the market, and they were simply delicious. They were beautiful as I cut into them; their color goes beyond the skin and into the flesh of the potato. I made homemade mashed potatoes with chives, milk and yes, real butter. My husband was surprised at the color of the mashed potatoes and thought I had dyed them to give them a purple hue. Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to try new things, and purple potatoes are one of those things I will have again.
Question: I have bats in my attic, and I think they have been bringing insects into my home. What is this insect, and what can I do?
Answer: I debated about entering this into the article because of the possibility of creating a firestorm. But since we have been receiving numerous calls and visits about this insect, I felt it was important to give some information on what to do if you have this pest. What I received from this client was one of two things — it was either a bat bug or a bed bug. It is very difficult to tell the difference between the two because they are very similar and require a microscope to determine the differences. Our best recommendation is to seek professional assistance and identification. Once identified, if it is truly bed bugs, this is not an easy task for a homeowner to handle. We do not recommend dealing with them without professional help. Bed bugs hide in cracks, crevices, furniture, clothing, carpet, etc. and can be very difficult to locate because of their small size. Dogs are even being trained to sniff out bed bugs because of the difficulty in finding them. There are very few effective controls offered over-the-counter to treat the problem.
For more information on pests, weird insects and produce coming in season, please call the Extension office at 704-216-8970.
For more information on the topics discussed, visit these links:
Dobsonfly: http://umaine.edu/home-and-garden-ipm/common-name-listing/dobsonflies/
Potatoes: http://pender.ces.ncsu.edu/2009/02/time-to-plant-potatoes/
Bed bugs: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/Urban/bedbugs.htm