Seed collection is my favorite day of the week. It is when we go driving around the island with Rebecca from the Catalina Island Conservancy Nursery, looking for ripe seeds to take back to the nursery. This particular day a few weeks ago was a lot of fun; we walked through fields of different grasses, ate lunch in Shark Harbor on the beach, and successfully filled the truck bed with bags upon bags of mature seeds.
Bladderpods were the most fun to collect: they are oval-shaped cases filled with seeds that rattle, and give off the smell of red peppers when picked1. They have bright yellow flowers and are often found alongside the road, which is where we picked them. The pods are abundant on most bushes, with many pods littering the ground below the bush. Upon a closer look, these bunches of pods were home to a vibrant species of bug that I had never seen before.
Murgantia histrionica: the harlequin, calico, fire, or cabbage bug, depending on your source. This species of stinkbug can be found throughout most of the Americas, destroying many crops of cabbage (mainly in tropical areas).
Despite the colorful stripes and markings of orange, yellow, and red, these insects are not harmful and generally non-toxic. They are considered a pest in most areas, and can be killed by dropping them into soapy water. They lay eggs in groups of twelve: also striped black and white2.
When I discovered their destructive nature in other areas of the world, I wondered – why are they not being actively eradicated from Catalina Island? Their chosen home of bladderpods, a native species to California and very prevalent on Catalina Island, must be enough of a reason to try and get rid of these stinkbugs. Unfortunately, there seems to be no initiative for removing these insects from the island – possibly because they don’t destroy plants here, or they are simply not an invasive species. Bladderpods are a unique plant to this island and while the harlequin bug seems to be doing little harm, perhaps it will develop a taste for native plants rather than plants in the cabbage family in years to come.
These bladderpods were found about 0.5 miles from the entrance to the Little Harbor campgrounds, as well as on the USC Wrigley Institute Campus next to the cottages.
1 Wilson, C. (2013, July 13). Bladderpod. Retrieved from http://www.laspilitas.com/nature-of-california/plants/isomeris-arborea
2 Marie , K. (1998, February). Featured creatures: harlequin bug. Retrieved from http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/leaf/harlequin_bug.htm