The BugLady hopes that you’ve been getting out on the trail and drinking in the lushness of the summer. Subjects of this summer’s survey include wasps, aphids, syrphids, and katydids.
The BugLady likes her wetlands wet, not solid, so she’s diving into her files of aquatic/semi-aquatic organisms in order to evoke the sights and sounds and feel of a summer day. As usual, this has resulted in a few scenic side trips.
As the leaves color and fall, some interesting galls are being revealed. Quick review – a gall is an abnormal and localized tissue growth on a plant. Plant galls can be caused by friction, fungi, bacteria, and even by viruses, but for BOTW purposes, we’ll stick to galls that are initiated by animals like insects and mites.
The goldenrods in the BugLady’s field are exuberant, with new, brilliant yellow flowers opening daily. Goldenrod blooms late, produces a bonanza of pollen (there’s not much nectar there), and is the embodiment of the insect enthusiast’s credo—“Looking for insects? Check the flowers.”
Tree aphids are so exquisite that it’s hard to remember that it’s an aphid. It’s the winged phase; non-winged individuals are, depending on the species, blob-shaped, sesame seed-shaped, or spidery-looking insects seen en masse, sucking juices from the tender parts of plants. Aphids are generally wingless until an overcrowded plant/deteriorating plant quality signals them to produce winged forms that can migrate to nearby vegetation.
Woolly aphids are spectacular when sitting on twigs in large assemblages, and startling as individuals, flying through the air like bits of fluff or feathers. A female aphid reproduces parthenogenetically, popping out live young (clones) all over her host plant without benefit of male companionship and without eggs. Decreasing day length signals the alder crowd to produce winged generation, and they make for the maples again. Eggs are laid (just one per female!) in crevices in the bark.
Oleander Aphids’ native haunts are the Mediterranean region, but now it enjoys warm locations everywhere. They are found everywhere that their host plants grow, and within certain constraints, they are generalist feeders. Oleander, a member of the dogbane family, is found throughout the southern U.S., but in this neck of the woods, they mainly grow on milkweeds.
The BugLady spent some very warm days among the Cup plants, those jumbo prairie plants whose opposite leaves join around the stem resulting in a small reservoir that often holds rain water or dew. The undersurface of the tender top leaves of many Cup plants were wall-to-wall with (insert creepy adjective here) red aphids—a cast of thousands—and there were some very cool supporting actors.
The BugLady has been stalking invertebrates that hang out on the east wall of the Field Station lab. The wall is painted cinderblock that warms up in the morning and probably keeps some heat as it gets shaded in the afternoon. Grass grows right up to the edge of the building. The BugLady hypothesizes that bugs can enjoy the residual warmth without getting fried by the sun, because she sees some small critters on the north wall but very few on the bright south wall. She found some familiar faces and some new ones—plant-eaters and an array of carnivores that come to collect the herbivores.
The BugLady was checking a young bur oak of her acquaintance recently, and she photographed these scenes. She keeps an eye on this tree because it always hosts a lot of ant activity (whether this says good things about the oak or bad, she doesn’t know). Ants, famously, farm aphids. They protect the aphids from predators like ladybugs and move them to greener pastures. In return, they get to “milk” the aphids by stroking the aphids’ abdomen.