Summer and insects – they just seem to go together. And even though it isn’t technically summer yet, the recent warm (dare I say hot) days have been very summer-like.
With all the recent sunshine, lots of insects have hatched and emerged. Many folks may associate summer and insects with things like mosquitoes, deerflies, and fleas, but there are so many other kinds of insects around, many of which are not only harmless, but are also beneficial.
I grew up disliking insects for many reasons, but during the last few years I’ve become quite fond of them. They can be spectacularly colorful, infinitely variable in shape and style, and downright fascinating in behavior. Being armed with a macro lens makes discovering insects even more delightful.
Here are just a few I encountered Thursday afternoon while walking the trails at Dahlem.
Out over the ponds and the prairie, dragonflies are now on patrol. At one of our small ponds I found quite a number of these dot-tailed whiteface dragonflies.
This very handsome Six-spotted Green Tiger Beetle was busy flying and landing on the boardwalk, making it very difficult to sneak up on to photograph. The brilliant metallic green of its exoskeleton is a real eye-catcher, even at a distance.
We don’t often appreciate flies, usually considering them to be dirty, disease-carrying vermin. However, many flies perform very valuable services, like consuming dead animals. I’ve discovered these last few years that flies can come in some lovely colors, like this Golden-backed Snipe Fly. The black lacy wings contrasted so sharply with the gold spot on its back that my eye was immediately drawn to it. This one is a male, as can be deduced by the large eyes that meet in the middle of the head. The females have much smaller eyes that are limited to the sides of the head.
Bees are a particular type of insect that I grew up fearing. Mortal terror is perhaps a better term. But after studying bees in all their diversity, I have come to appreciate them, and, in some cases, even admire them. Not all bees live in large colonies like the honey bee (which is not a native bee). In fact, it seems that most bees are solitary insects. The lovely red bee in this photograph is a member of the genus Nomada, which are the cuckoo bees. These bees are solitary, and they are kleptoparasites. This means that the female lays her eggs in the nest hole of another solitary bee. That other female stocked the nest with plenty of food to feed her offspring when it hatched. Now, however, the Nomada‘s larva will eat this food and grow to adulthood, leaving the original tenant to starve. This is why they are called cuckoo bees, for cuckoos (the birds) have a similar strategy: they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving the other bird’s to raise the cuckoo’s young (this is referred to as brood parasitism). Well, in all fairness, not all cuckoos do this, but enough do that the trait stuck in the minds of early observers and writers.
So, this is the time to indulge your inner-entomologist, or to bring out a child you know who has suddenly decided “bugs” are the coolest things out there. Insects can be watched up close with little danger, and for those who are really interested in studying insects, a good insect net and a bug jar are just the ticket – as well as a good field guide. Stop by the Dahlem Center for help in all your buggy endeavors.