By Steven Piper
What should local residents do if one day they find what appears to be a green lantern-looking plastic device hanging from a silver pole on their property? Perhaps it is a new Homeland Security defense mechanism that detects harmful biochemical agents in the air. Or is it something much less intriguing?
Signal Hill resident Dolly Langan was picking up her mail when she encountered such an unknown object. “One day, it was on my property,” she said. “It looks like a lantern on a silver pole.” Except the pole was knocked down and the plastic lantern-esque object was on the ground.
Curious what it was for, and who put it on her property, Langan conducted further investigations. “Well, I know they have them to find out if there are any bad bugs in the area,” she said. After phone calls to the various Los Angeles, Long Beach and Signal Hill government agencies, Langan was not able to gather any more information. So she called Signal Tribune publisher Neena Strichart.
After taking photographic evidence of the unknown device on Langan’s property, Strichart realized that its purpose is to capture and hold insects– a sticker on the green container specifies that it is specifically aimed at gathering Japanese beetles. Furthermore, Strichart found another bug-collection box, of a different variety, hanging on a tree near the newsroom, but that box is triangular with writing that identifies it as government property. The box reads: “for information contact your county or state or federal plant protection program’s office.” The Signal Tribune was unsuccessful in gaining more information, after contacting representatives from all three levels of government.
According to a study conducted by the University of Kentucky (UK) called, “Japanese Beetles in the Urban Landscape,” the insect is not a threat in Japan where its population is mediated by natural predators. However, in the U.S., the beetle has no natural predator and causes immense damage by skeletizing the plants on which it feeds. Japanese beetles typically feed in groups and prefer the green tissue between a leaf’s veins. Their feeding patterns leave behind the skeletal structure of whichever plant they are eating, which could be any of about 300 plant species.
Two types of bait are typically used to attract the half-inch-long beetles. Some traps imitate the scent of virgin female beetles, which only attracts male beetles. The second type employs a food scent that attracts both sexes. The UK study reports that the combination of ingredients “is such a powerful attractant that traps can draw in thousands of beetles a day.” It is not known what type of trap is used on Langan’s property or, for that matter, who is placing them in other locations around town.
Kathy Alford, owner of Alford’s English Gardens, a local landscaping business, said the bug catchers are probably there to monitor and control certain species of insects that could potentially be destructive if their numbers are left unmonitored or uncontrolled. Alford, who wrote a thesis on the glassy-winged sharpshooter (which had been destroying grape vines in northern California), said that the program is probably state run but implemented county by county.
She added that recent efforts to control harmful insect populations do not use spraying tactics, which could devastate a species. “They’re doing monitoring,” Alford said. “It’s not about spraying– it’s about monitoring and controlling.” In the past, people have felt free to use any pesticide there is. According to Alford, a different philosophy of bug control is emerging. “It is kind of like the Rodney King thing. Can’t we all just get along?”