Posts Tagged ‘insects’

Monday, October 19, 2015

Asian Lady Bugs: Unwelcome Halloween Decorations

Asian lady bettleWhat’s round to oval-shaped, mostly orange, and is a common sight leading up to Halloween? Everyone knows the answer to that: Harmonia axyridis, obviously. Better known as the multicolored Asian lady beetle, this insect, while beneficial to gardens, is no treat when it masses by the hundreds on, and inside, homes in the fall.

Lady beetles, or lady bugs, are the darlings of small children everywhere. There are a number of native lady beetle species, which tend to be more reddish than orange, and they aren’t known to be nuisances in homes. Multicolored Asian lady beetles, however, are not as polite. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Black Swallowtails Have Many Disguises

TOS_Black_SwallowtailIt was the dotted, orangey-yellow and black stripes that stood out, drawing my son’s gaze to the edge of the sandbox. A small caterpillar clung to the goutweed, munching away on the green leaves. At first we thought it was a monarch caterpillar, but the stripes weren’t quite right. Out came the field guide, where we discovered our caterpillar to be a future black swallowtail butterfly. After that first discovery, we suddenly noticed more caterpillars, both in that patch of goutweed and on the greens of the carrots in our late-summer garden.

The black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) is one of more than 500 swallowtails flitting about throughout the world. » Continue Reading.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Snakes and Toads Provide Garden Pest Control

TOS_Toad_houseEncountering a snake in the garden causes many people to shriek or even panic. Yet snakes and another often unloved creature, the American toad, are among the most effective forms of pest control.

If you tolerate these herpetological visitors – or better yet, encourage their presence – you’ll be less likely to share your garden with ravenous bugs, or bottles of pesticide. » Continue Reading.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Afflictions Of Late Summer Tree Leaves Only Skin Deep

330px-RhytismaAcerinumDetailUBeing an arborist, I’m of course very mindful of complexion. Things like bruises and blemishes catch my eye, in addition to scabs, cuts, and even those out-of-place whiskers that appear out of nowhere. It sounds like a description of my aging skin, but I’m talking about blotches, warts and cuts that accumulate on tree leaves over the summer.

I suppose if we had to stand outside day and night all season, our skin would develop issues too. Those who work or play much outdoors need to be concerned about skin spots that suddenly show up. With tree leaves, that’s not the case – even the ugliest “skin” condition is generally no cause for concern. » Continue Reading.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Electroreception: The Buzz of Bees

TOS_Honey_beesImagine you had a power that allowed you to pick up nearby objects without actually touching them. Imagine this power could help you find and choose the best foods while shopping. Imagine you could use this power to communicate with your family. Bees have just such a power. It’s called electroreception, and it gives them the ability to perceive and respond to electrical fields.

Scientists have known since at least the 1970s that flying bees can pick up electrostatic charges as they move, but they didn’t know whether these charges had any practical value. Today, some suspect that electrostatic charge may be very useful to bees. » Continue Reading.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Jewelweed: Definitely Not A Weed

JewelweedBy definition, a weed is any plant growing where you don’t want it. To clarify, this holds true only in the garden beds or acreage under your cultivation. “Weeding” flowers in a park planter because they offend your sense of aesthetics is frowned upon.

To a plant, having “weed” embedded right in its name is probably akin to having a “Kick Me” sign on your back. Right out of the box there is bound to be a bit of prejudice against you, fair or unfair. Spotted knapweed, goutweed and Japanese knotweed are all pernicious invasive species, and deserve all the bad press they get. But occasionally an innocent bystander suffers from this name game. » Continue Reading.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Understanding Spider Silk and Spider Webs

TOS_Spider_SilkThere is an all-natural material, produced at room temperature, that can be used to build homes, to make protective coverings, to hunt and trap, and even to swing through the air. It’s hypoallergenic, antimicrobial, and waterproof. On a per-weight basis it’s stronger than steel and more elastic than nylon or kevlar.

What is this remarkable material? Spider silk.

If it sounds impossible that a single material can be used for so many purposes, well, in a way it is. Depending on how you want to count them, there are seven or eight kinds of spider silk in the world, and any given spider species may make as many as six different kinds. » Continue Reading.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Climate Change is Altering Nature’s Clock

Salamander-Stager-600x383Scientist Curt Stager walks along the edge of the woods, his flashlight shining into the shallow water of a leafy, roadside pool on a dark night in Paul Smiths. It’s late April, and he’s out looking for spotted salamanders, wood frogs, and spring peepers that have migrated to shallow vernal pools to breed. After poking around for a minute, he lets out an excited shout: “There’s a salamander! There he is! He’s early!”

In the water is a dark, four-inch-long creature with bright yellow spots. In the same pool not far away, wood frogs float on the surface. In another week, pools like this will be a filled with breeding frogs and salamanders, which will leave behind egg sacks that hatch into larvae.

Spotted salamanders spend most of the year underground, so seeing them is rare except during these annual breeding migrations. Their journeys are triggered by the first rains of spring. » Continue Reading.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Are American Elm Trees On The Rebound?

TOS_American_ElmOn a recent damp May morning I walked around Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, with arborist Brian Beaty. While he is responsible for all of the trees in the center of the campus, our visit focused on a small number of trees that require an inordinate amount of his attention. These were the college’s mature American elms – tall, elegant, and, most importantly, healthy.

Beaty wants to keep them that way, which is why he checks on the elms almost daily from early spring to late summer, and has his crew look them over every time they drive by one. “We don’t have a lot big elms left,” he explained. Of the hundreds of mature elms that once adorned the college, only twenty remain. » Continue Reading.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Flat Stanley and the Dangerous Centipede

TOS_centipedeBiologists sometimes field questions about a “huge scary bug” that appeared in someone’s home or worse yet on their person. Most turn out to be benign organisms that ended up in the wrong place.

For me, the most common questions come in July, when male dobsonflies emerge. The males have impressive mandibles that look scary but are harmless to people. Recently however, one of these questions did actually involve something dangerous. » Continue Reading.

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