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Beetles swarm beaches but find no fans!

Ladies and gentlemen, the beetles!

It's not 1964, but beach lovers up and down the Lake Michigan shoreline are being introduced to a new group of beetles.

Swarms of the adult western corn rootworm beetle are ending up floating among the whitecaps of the Big Lake. The arrival of the Beatles on American soil in 1964 was met with fun and frenzy. The rootworm beetle poses no threat and is at worst only a nuisance, but the reception for the insects has been decidedly less enthusiastic -- especially since many of them are ending up dead in clumps on local beaches. It's almost everywhere ... up and down the shoreline," said Chuck Pistis, director of the Ottawa County Michigan State University Extension Office. This summer's debut of the small flying insects is the result of a combination of weather fronts and seasonal habits. According to Tom Ellis, specialist at MSU's Department of Entomology, during the first few weeks of August western corn rootworm beetles ascend from farm fields in great numbers. The beetles come from corn-growing states like Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.

These swarms then disperse to lay eggs primarily in corn and soybean fields.Occasionally, the insects encounter sudden downdrafts in West Michigan."When this happens over Lake Michigan, the beetles go for a swim," said Thomas A. Dudek, horticulture agent with the local extension office.While most humans aren't raving about the beetles' arrival, the fish in Lake Michigan are acting like screaming teen-agers.Fishery biologists said the mass of bugs that splash down during storms provide a bounty to Great Lakes fish like steelhead, who feast on the dunked bugs. Fishermen key in on what they call the scum lines on the lake, usually accumulations of debris marking a change in water temperature, said Pistis. "With this incident, those same sites will be loaded with bugs," he said of the downdrafts.

The beetles sent ker-plooshing into Lake Michigan accumulate in fairly thick masses, and the fish race to the surface to begin consumption, he said. If some of the beetles make landfall before they encountered the downdraft they may show up in local gardens -- a "skittish invasion" of sorts. They will feed on the leaves of many vegetables commonly grown in Michigan. The surviving beetles can be easily controlled by shaking them off into a pail of soapy water or sprayed with an appropriate insecticide.

In August 2001, the beetles invaded the Chicago area and caused quite a stir, according to Dudek. A severe downdraft on Aug. 15 grounded the rootworm beetles. The event was of sufficient magnitude to make the TV news that night in the Windy City, said Dudek. "They were even reported to be crawling around on the 50th floor of the Prudential Building," he said.

* Sun, 8/11/2002

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