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.
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.
Tom Colarusso and I teamed up for an invasive insect forest survey on a sunny, warm January day. Tom is a Plant Protection and Quarantine Officer for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. We survey one campground a year for invasive insects, and his expertise has fueled my understanding of these hungry bugs.
We headed to Moffitt Beach Campground to check trees for hungry bugs like Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), emerald ash borer (EAB), and hemlock woolly Adelgid (HWA). » Continue Reading.
On Thursday, February 9th, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Warren County will host a seminar on the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid.
Mark Whitmore of Cornell University one of the foremost authorities on the wooly adelgid will give a one-and-a-half-hour presentation starting at 10 am at the Cooperative Extension Education Center. » 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.
Individuals that lived in the area during 1980 might recall that snow had to be trucked onto the Nordic ski trails because of a near total absence of snow during that January. And in February of 1981, the December and January snowpack completely melted, and the ground started to thaw because of a month long period of record-breaking mild weather.
Most of the invertebrates that populate this climatic zone are well suited to deal with such intense thaws by experiencing a type of dormancy known as diapause. » Continue Reading.
Holiday parties are great for mingling with friends, but also for meeting new folk. Once you loosen up a bit, you might even let a charming newcomer kiss you under the mistletoe before the night’s end. But perhaps not if the new arrival is uninvited. And no one wants to be kissed without permission. Especially by a bug.
Chances are better than usual you’ll run into uninvited house guests this winter, and you can blame it on the past summer. Hot dry conditions in 2016 helped boost the population of some habitual break-and-enter offenders known as boxelder bugs. These oval, beetle-like insects are black to dark brown with red cross-hatch markings. Other than being a darned nuisance, these native party-crashers are completely harmless. However, they look very similar to a potentially dangerous insect, to whom they are related. (Different families, but the same order; you might say they’re kissing cousins.) » Continue Reading.
Mention carpenter ants, and Declan McCabe, chair of the biology department at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, thinks about the time he got a lungful of formic acid. He had taken a class into the field to survey insects. He saw a huge ant and sucked it up into his aspirator. Yes, a straw-like aspirator is an important tool for entomologists, who clearly aren’t worried about getting too close to their work. He successfully captured the ant and then took a breath. His lungs burned. That big ant had used the classic ant defense of spraying formic acid.
Mention carpenter ants, and Rachel Maccini, of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Cooperative Extension, thinks of the calls that pour into the extension’s hotline each spring, each caller wondering if those ants suddenly crawling across the rug, the couch, and the kitchen counter are going to take the house down. » Continue Reading.
Recently, my daughter participated in Odyssey of the Mind, a creative problem solving competition devoted to ingenuity and team work. As an entomologist, I was thrilled to learn that the program calls its highest award the Ranatra fusca. Not only was the award named for an insect, but an aquatic insect, and a particularly fascinating one to boot.
Ranatra fusca is the Latin name for a water scorpion, a creature little known to the general public but familiar to those of us who wield nets in ponds. This insect bears only a passing resemblance to real scorpions (which are arachnids, not insects). It does sport what looks like a prominent tail (more about that later), but lacks any sort of stinger. It can, however, be quite lethal… if you happen to be an aquatic insect, tadpole, or even a small fish. » Continue Reading.
This photo of a spotted cucumber beetle was made on an early fall overnight at the SUNY-ESF Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb. Widely considered a pest, the spotted cucumber beetle is a striking presence despite its otherwise undesirable character.
When I was a kid I was fascinated by caterpillars, but had trouble with the word. To me, the sweet little woolly-bear traversing my hand was a “calipitter.” It was only years later I learned that a calipitter is an instrument used to measure the diameter of a caterpillar to the nearest micron.
Caterpillars continue to interest me, although I no longer find them universally cute. Imagine the letdown and loss of innocence following the discovery that some of these fuzzy, fascinating, gentle creatures that tickled their way across my hand were venomous. This revelation was akin to finding out Bambi was a dangerous carnivore, which in fact is a fear that haunts me to this day. » Continue Reading.
The big, meaty green caterpillars that many of us have been fighting to eradicate from our gardens this summer make plenty of people squirm. In part it’s because they are among the largest caterpillars in the region, sometimes reaching close to three inches in length, with reddish horns on their ends that look like stingers (but aren’t). They also have voracious appetites and a preference for consuming our tomato, potato, eggplant and pepper plants.
Despite their alien appearance, tobacco hornworms are native insects that contribute to local food chains and eventually transform into beautiful Carolina sphinx moths. These large-bodied moths have five-inch, coffee-colored wings that enable them to hover over flowers like hummingbirds. According to Sam Jaffe, founder of The Caterpillar Lab in Keene, New Hampshire, Carolina sphinx moths have the longest proboscis of any insect in New England, which allow them to probe the deepest flowers. » Continue Reading.
Clouds of tiny insects, rising and falling hypnotically along lake shores, contribute to the ambiance of warm summer evenings. My recent bike ride was interrupted by a lungful of this ambiance.
If you find yourself in a similar predicament, you might wonder what these miniscule flies were doing before being swallowed, where they came from, whether they bite, and whether we need these interrupters of peaceful lakeside jaunts. We’ll get to these questions, but first, let me say that as an ecologist, I find these insects to be among the most fascinating and important freshwater invertebrates. » Continue Reading.
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