As the Dalai Lama once said, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” Really all it takes is one or two of the little whiners in your tent to spoil a night’s sleep. I’m convinced their ear-buzzing is an adaptation to raise a victim’s blood pressure so they fill up faster. Makes you wish you could return the favor somehow.
Well if mosquitoes actually slept, there is something that would likely keep them up at night: The Mosquito Monster! Or rather, the monster mosquito, Psorophoraciliata (sore AH fur uh silly AHT uh). In addition to terrorizing campers and picnickers, this hulking menace, which is two to three times the size of most species, regularly dines on its smaller kin.
Such inter-family cannibalism only goes on in the larval stage, but I like to imagine that when an adult Psorophoraciliata touches down, the average mosquito would back away slowly, saying “Hey, this arm’s all yours, buddy. I was just leaving anyway and please don’t eat me, heh,” or a pheromone message to that effect.
I’m not one to shed a tear when authoritarian rulers die, but once they’re gone, picnics become a lot more dangerous.
Toward the end of summer, just in time for Labor Day picnics and County Fairs, the original queen in every yellowjacket wasp colony dies. It’s not the stuff of Hamlet or some far-reaching conspiracy, it’s just that having a few thousand babies in the course of one season is enough to tire any Queen Mum to death.
The colony anticipates this loss, however, and raises a few additional queens as the old one starts to forget the names of her offspring and where she left her reading glasses. But when the feisty new regals emerge, the young queens are no good whatsoever to the nest which lovingly produced them. No, they run off with the nearest male wasps and after an orgy of mating, go hide in rotten logs or nearby attics for the winter.
Getting fresh air is more important than ever this coming summer during the public health crises, but it would be wise to remember that both ticks and people are going to be active and outside. Laura Harrington, a professor of entomology, vector biologist, and Director of the CDC Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases (NEVBD) has shared some tips on how to avoid ticks.
A bacterial infection that causes Lyme disease is the most important tick-borne human infection in the U.S., with around 200,000-300,000 reported cases per year. The blacklegged tick or ‘deer tick’ is the vector of Lyme disease in most of the U.S. It can also transmit other pathogens to people and pets, including the agents that cause babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan disease. Blacklegged ticks are most common in forested areas and shaded trail edges with abundant leaf litter and shrubby plants, Harrington says.
Harrington recommends a few personal protection measures to keep ticks from biting, such as tick repellent, first and foremost. She also recommends light-colored clothing, and to tuck your pantlegs into your socks. It also wouldn’t hurt to treat your clothing with permethrin, or to purchase permethrin-treated clothing. Remember to check yourself for ticks often as well, both while hiking and after you get home! It only takes 24-48 hours after the tick attaches before it can begin to transmit Lyme disease. For other pathogens like the Powassan virus, transmission can happen quickly, so it is good to check as often as possible.
Check for ticks all over your body, including your back, neck, and hairline. If you happen to find a tick, carefully remove it with sharp tweezers by grasping as close to the point of attachment as possible and pulling. Once you are back inside, place your clothes in the dryer for at least 20 minutes, and take a shower (a good place to perform a tick check). You can also place your clothes in a sealed garbage bag to dry later.
Have you seen a spotted lanternfly? If you live in New England, and answered “no,” that’s good. But we’ll have to check back with you next year.
The lanternfly is one of the latest foreign invasive insect pests to become established in North America. And it isn’t a picky eater. Dozens of crops and native trees are go-to foods for this destructive bug. » Continue Reading.
I was in southern Connecticut a few weeks back to pick my son up from college. While he took his last exam, I took myself up a local hiking trail. Connecticut black flies are as bad as their Vermont cousins, and I brushed several of the little beasts out from under my hairline. It can be hard to think of these biting flies with anything but disdain, but they do serve important ecological functions. And in at least one case, they also solved a murder. » Continue Reading.
The church service was about to begin when some breathless kids pulled me out of my seat to “come see this awesome, pretty, pink-and-yellow, fuzzy baby moth!” on the Sunday school door. It was a rosy maple moth, Dryocampa rubicunda, notable for its dipped-in-sherbet coloring.
The moth’s coloring can vary from pink to purple and from yellow to white. “Our” moth had purplish-pink forewings with a creamy-yellow band across the middle. The hindwings were pale yellow with a touch of pink along the edges. Its woolly body was bright yellow above and raspberry pink below. The same pink spilled onto the legs, much to the surprise and delight of the kids. The head looked like a yellow craft pompom. With wings spread wide, the moth was just over an inch across and just under an inch long. » Continue Reading.
The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has encouraged New York pool owners to participate in DEC’s annual Asian Longhorned Beetle Swimming Pool Survey during the month of August.
This is the time of year when Asian longhorned beetles (ALB) emerge as adults and are most active outside of their host tree. The goal of the survey is to look for and find these exotic, invasive beetles before these pests cause serious damage to our forests and street trees. » Continue Reading.
If freshwater insects did senior superlatives before graduating from aquatic life, what would yearbook entries say about dobsonflies? Largest? Most ferocious? Most likely to change names? Most likely to bite a human? Or to be used as fish bait? Or to be confused with a centipede?
All of these superlatives apply to larval hellgrammites – insects that, upon emerging from the water, promptly change names to become dobsonflies. These fascinating predators spend their larval stage eating other invertebrates, including other hellgrammites. They’re equipped with impressive mandibles that can open wider than the width of their own heads and can handily crunch through the tough exoskeletons of most insects. An occasional angler has learned the hard way that the mandibles of larger hellgrammites are quite capable of penetrating human skin. » Continue Reading.
Toothaches, difficult break-ups, and traffic accidents. With some things in life, if you have one, you have one too many. This applies to deer flies, those hard-biting pests with a knack for moving in at the instant your hands are full. And the same goes for their beefier cousin the horse fly.
Deer and horse flies are in the family Tabanidae, a group of aquatic insects comprising over 4,000 species worldwide. Fortunately, we “only” have around 100 species of deer flies and 200 of horse flies in our region. It is the female deer and horse flies which slash you with their scissors-like mouthparts and sop up your life-blood to mature their ovaries. After a nice bloody Mary, or Tom or whoever, they will lay 100 to 800 eggs at the edge of a pond, marsh, or temporary mud hole. The larvae are easily found (should you want to) in ponds and marshes in the near-shore ooze. Mind the leeches. » Continue Reading.
Over the past few decades, black-legged tick populations have grown relentlessly. These are the ticks that carry Lyme disease, and so what was once a novelty illness has become a rite of passage for many. It’s probably safe to say that by now everyone reading this knows someone who’s had the disease, if they haven’t had it themselves.
But some years are worse than others when it comes to Lyme disease infection rates, so the obvious question is: what causes this? Part of the answer involves the number of deer and small mammals around. There’s been elegant science done that establishes a neat connection between Lyme disease rates and good acorn years. The oaks produce a good crop, which causes a spike in the mouse and chipmunk populations the next year, and then a surge in human Lyme disease cases a year after that. » Continue Reading.
They hang around on finely spun strands of silky string; blue-black caterpillars parachuting ever-so-slowly to earth, landing in yards, crawling around on decks and porches; even finding their way into homes. Over the past few weeks, several people have asked me about them. Some have been coping with large numbers of them. And one person asked if they were the same worms that make their webs in apple trees.
They are not. They are similar, though. Both are hairy. Both are dark colored. Both grow from less than one-eighth of an inch to two inches or larger over a six to eight week period. And both are tent caterpillars. Beyond that, they’re clearly different. » Continue Reading.
The woolly bear caterpillar is the larval stage of the Isabella tiger moth, Pyrrharctia Isabella. The Isabella tiger moth overwinters in the larval stage. In the fall, caterpillars seek shelter under leaf litter or other protected places. They eat mostly weeds, including dandelion, clover, and grasses. Woolly bears are relative speedsters in the caterpillar world, crawling at a neck-snapping .05 miles an hour, or about a mile a day.
The woolly bear caterpillar — with its distinct segments of black and reddish-brown — has the reputation of being able to forecast the coming winter weather. According to legend, the wider that middle brown section is, the milder the coming winter will be. Conversely, a narrow brown band is said to predict a colder, snowier winter. Among a group of woolly bears, the stripes can vary greatly, making their forecast difficult to confirm; the same group of eggs can even hatch into caterpillars of varying dark and light bands. » Continue Reading.
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.
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