February 2, 2013

Dudley Wooten

PDT Contributor

I just know that with all the holiday season hustle and bustle, the main thing on your mind is, “Where are all the bugs?”

I just know you’ve started to really miss the ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes and spiders by now, haven’t you? It’s officially winter next week and I’m sitting in the woods on Greenbriar Road. Isn’t this the way everyone passes their time?

There are at least three other individuals out here wondering about locating insects. On my way to this spot, I found a hornet nest torn apart, probably by a skunk or raccoon looking for eggs for breakfast. Then I hear the pileated woodpecker searching for beetle grubs under the bark of a tree he’s chiseling on.

As I sit and listen to his efforts, I see yet another fellow searching for insects. The nuthatch is one bird that I find very interesting to watch as they seem to be as comfortable walking trees upside down as right side up, looking for food.

I have several bird feeders and suet hangers at home and I have a nuthatch that has become very tame. He sits and eats when I’m right there and stays when everyone else flies away. I wonder if he is that tame or just that fearless.

If I could walk upside down or fly away in an instant, I might be pretty froggy too. My mind wanders a little out here in the deer woods — let’s get back to bugs.

As you know, the insect world is probably as successful and enduring as any in the animal kingdom. One factor is their numbers and another is the stages or phases of metamorphosis they go through. We usually think of insects as the adult and sometimes caterpillar stage, but rarely the pupa or egg phase.

As the nuisance of mosquito, tick, and chigger types faded in the fall, other insects let us know that change was on the way. Two of my favorite insects of fall are the monarch butterfly and the gossamer spider.

The monarch travels the fields of late summer feeding on milkweed and golden rod as they migrate to their winter home in the Sierra Madre Mountains, just west of Mexico City. This was a well-kept secret spot until 1975.

The monarchs are in numbers of tens of millions there with an orange density of four million per acre. They are an example of an insect that is active all year but travel thousands of miles to have this limited active winter life.

The gossamer spider is the one that makes all the intricate webs to show in the dew in the mornings of Indian summer. As a matter of fact, gossamer refers to goose summer, as the early English called Indian summer. I find that particularly interesting.

I’m also quite impressed with how insects cope with seasons when they can’t migrate. Most insects go through dispause, which is a metabolism slow-down such as hibernation in rodents, amphibians or mammals.

This slowdown is in the winter season but different species dispause in various stages. E. Tent caterpillars, aphids, and walking sticks dispause as eggs; dragon flies and cicadas as nymphs; codling moths and fritillary butterflies as larvae; cecropia and tiger swallow tails as pupae; and squash bugs, chinch bugs and morning cloak butterflies as adults.

Some insects — such as snow fleas, snow scorpion flies and winter crane flies — are still pretty active in winter but they, like the monarch, are in a sexual dispause even though most other systems are active.

For some other insects, the winter is spent in the protection of a spun web. These silk spinners include: silverfish, beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, ants, bees and fleas. This is fairly complex because some of these bugs have their silk glands in the kidneys, some in their mouth and others in their front feet.

We will continue this bug talk soon.

Dudley Wooten can be reached at 740-820-8210 or by visiting wootenlandscaping.com.