From palm-reading to watching Fox News, humans throughout the ages have sought knowledge through some decidedly irrational means. But every now and then, superstition pays off. For example, studying the pattern of coffee grounds in the bottom of one’s cup, a practice known as tasseomancy, will nearly always reveal that someone forgot to put a filter in the coffeemaker basket. And haruspicy, the study of the fresh entrails of a gutted animal, is consistently right in concluding the animal is dead.
Posts Tagged ‘insects’
Part 1: Insects and People
Are insects in decline? I am 74 years old and have lived up here in the High Peaks for the last 20 years, after spending a good chunk of every Summer up here as a kid. Starting in the fifties, when our dad drove us up to the Adirondacks, one of the rituals while stopping for gas, was cleaning the smashed bugs off the windshield. Today… not so much. If you are less than 40 or 50 years old, you may find this confusing, as you tend to compare the present to a much shorter past.
Speaking of subjective observations, I believe there are far fewer skeeters and black flies today than when I was a kid. Granted, the BTI program to go after black fly larva dates back only about 35 years, but still, it seems to me that when you are out there fishing, hunting, or hiking, there are fewer bugs in the Adirondacks than there used to be.
There are also personal factors at play, starting with the fact that skeeters and no-see-ums are initially attracted to the carbon dioxide exhalation of mammals, the relative strength of the odor of lactic acid emitted by your skin pores, your blood type (mosquitoes are more likely to target the odor of type O blood than type A), what colors you wear (avoid darker colors) and how you personally smell to these critters. I’ve been hiking with my late wife Wendy and observed that she was much more heavily targeted by skeeters and black fly than I was, a frustrating situation for which she would provide less scientific explanations, often related to speculation as to how long ago my ancestors came down from the trees.
No offense, but Franklin D. Roosevelt should maybe bug off with his assertion that “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” because fear is good for gardeners and farmers.
According to entomologists Nicholas Aflitto and Jennifer Thaler of the Cornell University-based New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYSPIM), it can be harnessed as a weapon against destructive pests. Turns out it’s possible to scare harmful insects out of gardens and crop fields.
Ascribing human feelings to bugs may be a stretch, but if something makes the critters run away and hide, it seems fair, not to mention simple, to call that fear instead of “a consistent generalized avoidance response in reaction to certain stimuli” or some such thing. After all, it took biologists a few hundred years to establish that various animals from elephants to birds and turtles really and truly play, and for no other reason than to have fun. Perhaps one day we’ll figure out that invertebrates have emotional lives, too. I suppose that might raise ethical issues around pest control, but let’s not go there just yet.
I have always admired nature’s mutineers: animals and plants that thwart the recognized system and do their own thing. As a child I was the sole member of my own duck-billed platypus club, endeared to this creature with the bird-like bill, beaver-style tail, and shocking ability to lay eggs.
Other charming eccentrics: the tamarack, a conifer that loses its needles every winter; male seahorses that give birth to thousands of live babies; and the short-tailed shrew, a tiny mammal that uses a lizard-like venom to paralyze its prey. » Continue Reading.
It was small. Black … with a reddish band across the middle. It scuttled across the kitchen counter on six short legs. I had to swat at it more than once to kill it. It was… a larder beetle.
Larder beetles (Dermestes lardarius) are also known as bacon beetles, and, as you may have guessed, they are frequently found in our kitchens. A member of the scientific family Dermestidae, these insects, while at once creepy and revolting, serve an important function in the world: they clean up messes. That’s right. » Continue Reading.
Woolly bear caterpillars seem to be everywhere these days – creeping across the lawn, along the road when I’m walking the dog, hidden in the wilted cut-back of the perennial garden. Last week I found a woolly bear curled up in a shoe I’d left on the front porch.
These fuzzy, black-and- brown-banded caterpillars seem intent these days to get somewhere. Where that is – and how they know – is a mystery. » Continue Reading.
Growing up in a rural town, I was exposed to a lot of the wonders in nature through hunting. Specifically squirrel hunting, which is how many kids get their start.
I don’t do much anymore, but I try to get out a few times each autumn on those first cool days. With luck, I can put up enough squirrels for a deer camp stew in November, over which the people in camp can reminisce about being young. » Continue Reading.
A study published in the journal Science reveals that since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds, signaling what has been considered a widespread ecological crisis.
The results show tremendous losses across diverse groups of birds and habitats — from iconic songbirds such as meadowlarks to long-distance migrants such as swallows, and backyard birds such as sparrows. More research is needed to pinpoint primary causes for declines in individual species. » Continue Reading.
Imagine for a moment that you travel on all fours like other self-respecting quadrupeds. Extend your imagination yet a little more, and with it your body, so that a large dome-shaped shell-like structure extends out to cover you in all directions.
From above, a predator would see only a disk with a snug fit to the ground on all sides. Now shrink dramatically and move into the nearest fast-flowing stream: you are well on your way to becoming a water penny beetle larva. » Continue Reading.
“Huge global extinction risk.” “Plummeting insect numbers threaten collapse of nature.” “Insects are dying off at a scary rate.” And those were just the headlines on online articles from New Scientist, The Guardian, and Fortune.
Whew. » Continue Reading.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is encouraging New York pool owners to participate in the Division of Lands and Forests’ 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 they can cause serious damage to our forests and street trees. » Continue Reading.
A regular chore of mine is to dispose of the mice and moles trapped in our home. I place them on a 4 x 5-foot patch of dirt and rock – which I have named the grave site – beside my woodshed. There, they typically disappear overnight, taken, I had assumed, by our resident barred owl, or perhaps a skunk, raccoon, or bobcat.
Then one day last July, as I was stacking my wood for the coming winter, I noticed a small black and orange beetle around one of the disposed mice. Fascinated, I watched for over an hour as a tomentose beetle (Nicrophorus tomentosus) dug a trench alongside the mouse and ever so slowly rolled the mouse into it. » Continue Reading.
The lily, native around the world in the temperate parts of the northern hemisphere, has been an important cultural icon for millennia. Depending where you stand on the globe, it can represent humility, purity, unbridled sexuality, the Province of Québec, wealth, or a thriving garden, to name but a few possibilities.
The flower is mentioned in The New Testament, such as in Matthew 6:26: “Behold the lilies of the field: They toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” The message, as I understand it, is that one should not waste energy worrying how to clothe oneself, because even wild lilies are garbed well. » Continue Reading.
A good friend was in touch; her son was enduring allergic reactions to mosquitos and, like any good parent, she sought solutions. I told her that the most practical, non-toxic way to deal with the problem was to consider a mosquitos’ lifecycle, and interrupt it where it starts.
Mosquitoes begin their lives in eggs laid singly or in rafts, in most cases on the surface of water. We purchase mosquito egg rafts at Saint Michael’s College to run student experiments with the hatching larvae. » Continue Reading.
Lupine is one of the most spectacular flowers of early summer, painting long stretches of roadside with shades of purple and blue. Thanks to this tall, showy plant, even a stop-and-go drive to Boston’s Logan Airport has its moments of beauty (as I recently had occasion to observe). Full sun and dry, sandy soil are just right for lupine.
Although many people don’t know it, the lupine we typically see in the Northeast is “not from around here.” It’s a non-native plant that was imported to eastern gardens from parts of the western U.S. and escaped cultivation. Our native lupine is similar, but it is seen far less often and is, unfortunately, in regional decline. » Continue Reading.
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