I love the poem Summer by Walter Dean Myers.
The line “Bugs buzzin’ from cousin to cousin” puts a smile on my overheated face. Hot summer days and nights are perfect for studying all kinds of insects.
Since I take steps to make myself inedible to insects (see my article How to Enjoy a Tick-Free Nature Experience) it’s much easier to observe and get to know the ones that crawl or fly across my path.
Here is a list of insects you’re likely to see in northeast North America and some interesting facts about each as spring turns into summer:
Ant Lion: The larval stage of the lacewing fly, this million-year-old insect distinguishes itself by digging conical pits in sandy soil. When an ant crosses the rim of this pit, the soil caves in like a funnel, sending the ant to the waiting ant lion.
Ant: This insect uses a chemical scent (pheromone) to mark the trail from a food source to its nest. The ant’s nest-mates will follow this trail to the food source. That is why the ants travel in a line.
Bees: Bees also use pheromones to alert hive members to a food source. Honeybees have an internal “clock” attuned to the 24-hour solar day, so they can maximize nectar collecting while flowers are in bloom. Bee hives are typically located in the rotten core of a living deciduous tree, like an oak or maple.
Butterflies: These winged beauties are active during the day, typically keep their wings folded when at rest and have long slender antennae with knobbed ends. Beyond that, each species is distinct. The deep purple Mourning Cloak winters over in northeast North America. The non-poisonous Viceroy Butterfly looks so much like the poisonous Monarch Butterfly that it fools predators.
Daddy Longlegs: This harmless insect has a one-piece body; a spider’s body has two segments. I love the delicate feel of a Daddy Longlegs walking along my arm. The longer legs are this insect’s sense organs. If I tap my hand launching Daddy Longlegs into the air, its body turns into a parachute, guiding this sky diver to earth. This is one of my favorite summertime memories.
Earthworms: These worms plow the soil, leaving behind castings rich in nitrogen, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. A good place to see earthworms is any moisture-rich soil, like open woods, a grassy lawn, a garden – especially after it rains. Watch how they move their muscled, segmented bodies. If you watch a Robin pull a worm from the ground, you’ll see the worm hang on sometimes until breaks. The bristles that it holds on with are called setae. Scientists say that if the worm breaks, new segments will grow.
Fireflies: The higher the temperature, the shorter the period between the flashes this insect makes. When attracting fireflies, notice that each different species of firefly has a distinct pattern of flashing light.
Hornets/Wasps: There are more of these stinging insects flying around late summer, once the workers are no longer needed to forage for food to feed the larvae. Unlike Yellow Jackets, which build their nests underground, Hornets and Wasps build hanging paper-like nests.
Mosquitoes: Entomologists say that larval mosquitoes live harmlessly in water, adult mosquitoes feast on nectar from flowers and when the egg-laying female mosquito does bite, it usually is species-specific. Most mosquitoes prefer the blood of other species to humans, but thanks to habitat destruction, we are often all that’s on the menu.
Moths: These winged insects are typically nocturnal, rest with their wings spread and have short, feathery antennae. They typically have subdued colors and will flock to a source of light, making them another fun species to study at night. Bats eat moths and so moths have evolved ways to “hear” the bat sonar and avoid capture by either fancy flying or folding their wings and dropping to the ground.
Spiders: This is another group with a range of distinct members. Wolf Spiders don’t weave webs at all, but roam for prey. Certain spiders weave distinct web patterns, others weave distinct shapes. Orb Spiders typically live outdoors, while Brown Recluse Spiders may live indoors or outdoors. In addition to making spider web art, it’s fascinating to watch a spider spin a web. Could you weave as efficiently with thread?
Water Striders: These insects use their short front legs to grasp their prey, their middle legs as oars and their hind legs as rudders. They can balance on the water surface without making ripples. Other insects, including moths, that touch the surface of the water, make ripples. Those ripples tell the water strider just where its meal is located. Water striders move by giving a backward push with its middle legs, which do create small ripples, but do not break the surface tension of the water.