Question: In the soil under the eaves of my house and toolshed are little funnels my neighbor says are made by "doodlebugs." What exactly are doodlebugs, and are they harmful?
Answer: A doodlebug is the larval stage of an insect also known as an antlion. They are not harmful to you, your home or outbuildings or your pets. They are fascinating creatures, however.
The mother antlion usually lays her eggs in sandy or silty soil, often in sheltered areas like under an eave. When one hatches, the larva digs a conical pit and lives almost completely covered at the bottom of it. The pit serves as a trap to capture prey. When an ant or another small insect tumbles into the pit, the doodlebug grabs it with its sickle-like jaws and sucks it dry. The doodlebug can even toss up sand to knock the insect back to the bottom of the pit if it is trying to escape.
If the doodlebug moves to a different spot, it leaves a meandering, doodle-like trail, hence the name. "Antlion" comes from how it preys on ants.
When the doodlebug matures, it spins a cocoon in which it pupates. It emerges as an adult that resembles a damselfly but with short, knobbed antennae.
Children will sometimes take a thin stem, pine needle, thread or straw from a broom and move it around a doodlebug's pit to see if it will grab it. They then let the doodlebug go and watch it dig itself back into the sand. There are numerous rhymes or charms that are recited by children while they do this. A common one derives from an older ladybug/ladybird beetle rhyme:
Are you at home? (or Won't you come home?)
Your house is on fire,
And your children are gone.
All except one,
And her name is Ann.
She hid under the frying pan.
During the Apollo 16 trip to the moon, astronaut Charles "Charlie" Duke described a feature on the moon as looking "like a sink hole; a big doodlebug hole." He later explained that he had played a similar rhyming game with doodlebugs as a child. It goes to show that you are never too old, too educated or too far away from home to draw on the lessons of childhood and nature's school.
If you have a story about doodlebugs to share, relay it to Arty Schronce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: One of my office plants has a sour-milk smell coming out of it. What is wrong? Its leaves are wilting. I water it once or twice a week.
A. An unpleasant sour odor is probably a sign that the plant is too wet. Some pots have attached saucers at the bottom that prevent anyone from seeing water standing there for long periods and that the lower part of the soil in the pot is probably perpetually wet. Under these stagnant conditions, smells like the one you describe can occur.
Remove the saucer, empty it of any water and let it the soil drain and dry out. Better still, repot the plant in fresh soil. You may find that many of the roots have rotted, and it will be better to start with a new plant.
Wilting is not just a sign of lack of water; it is also a sign that the roots are drowning from too much water. Overwatering is the main cause of death for indoor plants.
If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (email@example.com) or visit the department's website at www.agr.georgia.gov.