Beneficial praying mantises eat insects that damage garden plants.
The azalea looked healthy and happy last week. The shrub was full of leafy new growth and loaded with flower buds. This morning, all that remains are the flower buds—every leaf has been stripped. What did this? The power of the internet makes my sleuth work easier than ever before.
University extension services offer some of the most extensive, thorough, and well-organized pest and disease identification guides. Their additional advantage is that most of them focus on the most common problems within their state.
If I lived in Florida, for example, I’d want to use a site about Florida pests. It so happens that the University of Florida and Florida Department of Agriculture teamed up to present an excellent site that features pests common to that state. It allows users to search for pests by affected plant or crop and common or scientific name.
A little further north, Clemson University is your site. The school offers homeowners an excellent and easy-to-navigate site called Home & Garden Information Center. Clicking on Insects, Diseases & Other Problems brings you a logically organized page that helps get answers and solutions quickly.
The Texas A&M University site also contains excellent photos, and pests are grouped by feeding method. In California, the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program maintains an extensive and thorough site.
Northerners, like me, might want to head over to the University of Wisconsin site. It’s sorted into categories, such as Beetle, Indoor Worms, Shrubs, and Fabric-Eating Insects. Each page features photographs of the insects and their damage, plus links to more detailed information.
In the Mid-Atlantic states, the web site at Virginia Tech is a good choice. The organization and photos make it easy to narrow the list of suspects. They also have a large, downloadable collection of excellent insect illustrations drawn by artist Kathy Borne.
Although not exhaustive by any means, these extension service and university web sites will help identify most insect pests. If not, Pest Control Canada has a terrific forum in which people can load photos of mystery insects and other users will identify them and add comments.
Some web sites focus on particular types of pests. For vegetable pests, Gardener’s Supply has a very helpful Pest & Disease Identifier with photos and earth-friendly control solutions, as does the National Gardening Association.
So what ate my azalea? The University of Minnesota had my answer—Azalea Sawfly larvae. Case closed.