This time of year, I keep the windows cracked open on even marginally warm nights, savoring the sweet air that sifts through the screens. On that air comes the sound of others relishing the last bit of warmth before frost settles in: namely, crickets and katydids.
With trills and chirps, clicks and buzzing, these winged insects – all members of the order Orthoptera, along with grasshoppers – woo potential mates. This music is ancient – and has been a key to the insects’ survival for some 200 million years. » Continue Reading.
On a hike this spring, we walked through a clear-cut area with tall grass and brambles. Afterwards, our pant legs were crawling with black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), also known as deer ticks, the kind that carry Lyme disease. Scientists with the Vermont Department of Health recently examined over 2,000 ticks and found that 53% of black-legged ticks tested positive for Lyme disease. A small percentage of the ticks carried pathogens that cause anaplasmosis or babesiosis, two other tick-borne diseases that can make people gravely ill.
Understanding the two-year life cycle of the black-legged tick can help prevent Lyme disease. In the spring of the first year, tick larvae hatch from honey-colored eggs in the leaf litter. The six-legged larvae, about the size of a poppy seed, soon seek their first blood meal. The larvae may become infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease through this blood meal; it all depends on what kind of animal they find as a host. If it’s a white-footed mouse, they’re very likely to contract the Lyme spirochete. If it’s a chipmunk or shrew, they’re somewhat likely. If it’s a squirrel or a larger mammal, they probably won’t. » Continue Reading.
My students and I were conducting research in the Winooski River floodplain at Saint Michael’s College last week when the buzzing became particularly intense. A brisk walk is enough to outdistance mosquitoes, but deerflies combine fighter jet speed with helicopter maneuverability. And a slap that might incapacitate a mosquito seems to have little effect on these relentless pests. Deerfly season 2017 started slowly, but by late July there were enough to carry off small children. On trails between wetlands and farm fields, we were dive-bombed by countless, persistent, little winged vampires. Insect repellent did little to repel them. We slapped, feinted, grabbed at thin air, and usually came up empty. It was like Caddyshack, but with flies rather than gophers.
The horsefly family Tabanidae includes deerflies, along with larger Alaskan “mooseflies,” and the greenheads that ruin many a trip to New England’s beaches. Iridescent green eyes that make up most of the fly’s head give them their common name. Far more impressive is their bite: they truly hurt. Because greenheads emerge only from saltmarshes, we know they travel up to two miles in search of blood. » Continue Reading.
Earlier this summer, my daughter persuaded me to bring home a monarch egg. I had misgivings. This wasn’t my first butterfly rodeo, and previous experience was discouraging. Two summers past, a friend gave us several black swallowtail caterpillars. One lived to adulthood, but all the siblings wasted away, taking on the form of burnt bacon gristle.
On the plus side, this time we’d be starting with an egg, and a new one at that. We had found it minutes after watching the mother butterfly flutter down into a milkweed patch. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Pollinator Project (APP) is a new initiative of AdkAction in partnership with The Wild Center, The Lake Placid Land Conservancy, and Common Ground Gardens, that features an extensive program of educational activities and events throughout the summer. The program will kick off at area farmers’ markets and The Wild Center during National Pollinator Week, June 19-25th.
Film showings, hands-on beekeeping, gardening and citizen science workshops, and free public lectures by pollinator researchers are planned throughout the Adirondacks to help inspire individual and collective action to help pollinators thrive. Highlights of the programming are two free public lectures from Dr. Christina Grozinger, Director of the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State University, at The Wild Center on July 19th and at View Arts in Old Forge on July 20th. » Continue Reading.
The loathsome deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick, is defined more by the disease it spreads than by its own characteristics. Deer ticks, a name that came about due to its habit of parasitizing white-tailed deer, are transmitters or vectors for Lyme disease microbes that they acquire by feeding on infected mice and rodents. Lyme disease, if untreated can cause a variety of health issues including facial paralysis, heart palpitations, arthritis, severe headaches, and neurological disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is currently one of the fastest-growing and most commonly reported vector-borne diseases in the United States. More than 14,000 cases are reported annually, but because the symptoms so closely resemble the flu and usually go away without treatment, scientists estimate as many as nine out of every ten cases go unreported. » Continue Reading.
At some point in the last 20 years, ticks have moved up on the Most Feared Insect ladder, thanks to the spread, and the greater understanding, of lyme disease. Early on, lyme’s vagaries and a lack of medical advancement made for a tricky diagnosis; after standard blood work came up blank, doctors would tell men to suck it up, and women that they were hormonal.
Thankfully, we have a better handle on it today, and while the disease is still terribly problematic, we at least know what we’re up against, and someone who contracts it has a far better chance of being properly diagnosed and treated.
But even though, rationally, I know this knowledge is all for the good, my emotional side pines for blissful ignorance, when ticks were of no more concern than congressional oversight committees. It’s kind of a Wile E. Coyote situation, in which he walks off a cliff, and as long as he doesn’t know he’s walked off a cliff he’s fine — he keeps walking on air, until he looks down and sees where he is, and which point he plummets to the bottom of the canyon. » Continue Reading.
Among the many groups of insects that exist on our planet, the most abundant, diverse and ecologically successful are the beetles. And while many of these hard-shelled bugs are viewed as ugly and unwanted by humans, the ladybug beetle is considered to be one of the most attractive and environmentally friendly creatures in nature.
With a conspicuous dome-shaped, orange shell marked with black spots, the ladybug is difficult to mistake for any other invertebrate. Like all insects, there are numerous species of ladybugs that reside in our region, and the subtle differences in the color and pattern of its markings is the common means of distinguishing among the members of this insect group. » Continue Reading.
With the blooming of the first spring flowers comes another rite of spring: black flies. Consider this a warning, since you may have a little time before they start biting, according to scientist Curt Stager, a professor at Paul Smith’s College.
“They’re out already,” he said, adding, “Often they don’t bite right away. They just swarm and see what’s on the buffet.”
Prior to the start of black fly season, and continuing for several weeks after the swarms of those tiny, biting demons have faded, there is another insect onslaught that impacts numerous people throughout the Adirondacks. Shortly after the soil has thawed in spring, ants begin to invade the living space of humans, especially kitchens and dining areas where bits of food are readily available.
Since there are so many types and species of ants in the North Country, it is impossible to say what kind of ant is appearing around countertops, near pantry closets, in garbage containers, and under tables where morsels of edibles lie undisturbed on the floor. However, it is easy to state that numerous ants readily welcome themselves indoors, as long as there is something worthwhile for them to collect and transport back to their colony. » Continue Reading.
Kermit the Frog may have lamented “It’s not easy bein’ green,” but these days, everyone wants to market themselves as “green.” It seems to make us feel good. You might recall how in the early ’90s, lawn-care giant ChemLawn became (unfairly, to be honest) a magnet for public criticism as risks related to pesticide use became more widely known. With the help of some green paint for their trucks, and a pile of trademark lawyers, ChemLawn morphed into TruGreen, and just like that people started to like them better.
If “green” is a hot brand, then “emerald” must be tops. Who doesn’t like the Emerald Isle or the Emerald City, and now the 750lb. Bahia Emerald is on sale for around $400mil if you’re looking for a bargain. So right out of the box, the emerald ash borer (EAB) is ahead in the PR department. Plus, it’s gorgeous: a tiny streamlined beetle sporting a metallic green paint job with copper highlights. This, coupled with the fact that they’re not at the moment raining from the sky like a plague of locusts, may be why it’s hard to take the EAB threat seriously. But I’m betting a little “tea” will let the air out of EAB’s greenwash balloon. » Continue Reading.
An email chirped in my inbox; “Check out the cute face on this insect we found.” I opened the attachment (yes, from a reliable source). My colleague Professor Peter Hope had taken a spectacular photograph through his microscope. The larva in question had fallen into a pit trap set by our first-year Saint Michael’s College students in Camp Johnson in Colchester.
The ‘face’ seemed to have two very circular black eyes, a downturned smile, and a wild cartoonish hairstyle sprouting from lobes radiating in five directions. My esteemed colleague, a gifted botanist, had photographed the rear end of a crane fly larva. In fairness, any reasonable person might have made this mistake, especially because the front of the insect doesn’t look like a front, its head pulled so far back into the body as to be invisible. » Continue Reading.
There, buzzing stupidly into the slats of your venetian blinds, is a house fly. Nearby, nestled in a crevice of the window-frame, a ladybug waits out the winter. In a corner overhead, a spindly house spider sits motionless in its haphazard web. Underfoot, bristly little carpet beetle larvae nibble at the fibers of an old rug. And that’s to say nothing of the dust mites, which are too small to see and too numerous to count. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
General inquiries about the Adirondack Almanack should be directed to Almanack founder and editor John Warren.
To advertise on the Adirondack Almanack, or to receive information on rates and design, please click here.