Here's an entomological quiz: Of the four insects seen above (and photographed on our property in The Brogue this month), which one will have the biggest impact on our vineyards this year?
We can review the candidates one by one:
Upper Left: Here, the surprisingly colorful metallic Fiery Searcher Caterpillar Hunter!
This ground beetle, relatively uncommon in our neck of the woods, was a startling find for our younger son, who unearthed it while working to build a new patio. Its metallic greens, golds, and purples were really quite mind-blowing, and we initially had absolutely no idea about an ID. It turns out that these beetles are usually considered friends to gardeners--while they can pinch, they aren't poisonous, and their main goal (clearly stated in their name) is to find and devour the kind of caterpillars which might prove to be threats to garden favorites such as tomato plants. Is this beetle worrisome to us in the vineyards? Negatory.
Lower Right: May I introduce: the Eastern Eyed Click Beetle!
This strange-looking beetle caught our younger son's eye while it climbed on the boat trailer he was getting ready to repaint. Again, we had to do some research in order to find out more about it. Its false "eyes" make sense to me; it's hoping to forecast to potential predators that it has its eyes peeled, ready to see all incoming threats. Despite its rather impressive appearance, it poses no threat to grapevines.
OK. Our next insect to discuss (from the Upper Right) is the one dominating the entomology news from our corner of the world this spring: Yup--it's the Brood X Cicada!
These periodical cicadas have emerged this year after a 17-year hiatus. At this point, in early June, we are in the middle of the adult cicada emergence, and our woods hum daily with their music. Just listen!
Carl has fielded many questions about how these so-very-present insects will affect our grape-growing and harvest this year. Interestingly, although these insects may dominate our current soundscape and inhabit all of the wooded areas around the vineyards, they will only have an indirect effect on the vines themselves. Yes--there is noise--and yes--their casings are basically everywhere at this point--but the main effect comes because the predators of a real insect pest to our vine leaves--Japanese beetles--will be snacking this year on cicadas rather than on those beetles, and that's not great. Japanese beetles turn grape leaves into skeletons every year, and so they actually are a major pest. We can spray insecticide to mitigate their damage, but would much rather rely on natural predators to take them out. This year, those predators may instead have bellies full of cicadas.
What wine do we recommend for Allegro customers adventurous enough to be pairing wine with cicada recipes? Um...seriously, any of them. We aren't going there.
So...it must be clear by now that the tiniest insect pictured above is the one we have the most trepidation about, and that's true. Here, in a picture taken in Block Seven (our varietal white block in the vineyards in The Brogue), we show the dreaded Spotted Lanternfly in its "first instar" phase:
I've referred earlier to our unhappy discovery last fall of a couple of adult Spotted Lanternflies in our vineyards. This invasive species of planthopper has proven to be incredibly devastating to grapevines. Their modus operandi is to hang around until the fall, when later stages of the insect bore into the trunks of grapevines and suck out vital sap (carbohydrates) which the vines need to survive the winter and make it through until new leaves become "solar panels" for the plant.
We. Hate. Spotted. Lanternflies. Their targeting of grapevines has led to devastation in our industry, and we know others who have lost whole vineyards to their destruction. There are lots of debates around, about when and how to best apply insecticides to mitigate the horrible effects of this insect, which seems to have first appeared in the U.S. through a landscaping operation in Pennsylvania's Berks County in 2014. We are part of the discussion. We want these things gone.
So, to recap: We see a lot of cool critters on our properties, including a wide range of insect life. Lots of the scurrying and flying insects we see are harbingers of the health of our region, where local species thrive, each finding its natural place in the web of life. Beetles crawl. Cicadas hum, even in huge symphonies.
When invasive insect species such as the Spotted Lanternfly show up, we realize anew that we're part of a whole web of researchers and industry insiders who share a common goal of saving healthy grapevines so that they can produce wine-worthy fruit in the fall. We're here and we're vigilant, and that, in the end, may end up meaning everything.