Black flies are also called turkey gnats and buffalo gnats, and people who live in black fly country have a whole bunch of other names for them that can’t be repeated here. Entomologists call them true flies (order Diptera) in the family Simuliidae. There are more than 1,800 species in the family worldwide (100 in North America; 30 in Wisconsin), and most of them belong in the huge genus Simulium. What do they look like? Their hump-backed thorax and down-tilted head makes buffalo gnat a good nickname. BFs are tiny (5 to 10 mm) and dark, with clear wings, many-segmented antennae, and big eyes (and teeth, just kidding).
Phantom midge larvae orient horizontally in the water, turning slowly, rising and sinking in the water column, reminding the BugLady of a young pickerel she once knew. One of the great rewards of scooping in the ephemeral pond is finding phantom midge larvae. Phantom midges (family Chaoboridae) are flies in the order Diptera. They are not mosquitoes, but they’re often lumped with mosquitoes (family Culicidae) and midges (family Chironomidae) in field guides.
In past years, the BugLady has taken off during the month of May or June to refresh her sadly depleted “BOTW Future” file with new images of emerging insects, and she plans to do that. BUT – she’s also in the process of moving out of a house that she’s lived in for 40 years (rule of thumb – if you haven’t seen it/thought about it/used it for 10 years or so, you probably don’t need it). St. Vinnies’ is thrilled. The BugLady is thrilled that she’ll go forward with about 1/3 of her present worldly possessions.
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 wonder of ephemeral pools is that they are populated by animals that take this annual disappearing act in stride—animals that are prepared to dry up with the pond or to get out of Dodge (timing is everything), and therein lie many tales. An astonishing array of animals use ephemeral ponds as a place to drink, hunt, and breed, but an ephemeral pond is a challenging place to call home. The still, shallow water warms quickly (which encourages speedy metamorphoses) but contains little oxygen.
Here’s the general formula for gall formation: Mom lays/injects her egg(s) onto/into plant tissue, and when the eggs hatch, the young insects (there are gall-making wasps, flies, beetles, moths, thrips, and aphids) or mites burrows inside, if it’s not there already. Specific gall-makers target specific host plants, resulting in galls that are predictable in location and appearance.
The Diamesa Midge Diamesa nivoriunda (snow-born midge—probably), one of the two species on the sumac, is in a subfamily called the snow midges, and they fly from September into April. Clouds of midges are an often misunderstood and distinctly non-vampire-ish assembly.
Black flies are tiny and dark, with clear wings, many-segmented antennae, and big eyes. Their larvae like lots of oxygen and are not tolerant of warmer waters or pollution. Adult BFs live for about three weeks, laying 150 to 500 eggs either individually on the water’s surface or in clumps. Like other biting flies, males are blameless nectar feeders. Females may also consume nectar, but they need that all-important blood meal in order to reproduce.
Phantom Midge larvae are found, sometimes very abundantly, in still, open waters around the globe, where their ability to live in low-oxygen conditions allows them to be tolerant of water pollution. One study in a Dutch lake found 1,400 to 1,800 individuals per square meter, with an annual biomass of more than 10 pounds of one species of PM alone. Here in the North Country, there’s a single generation per year, which overwinters as mature larvae.
Midges hold their wings out to the side a bit when at rest, and mosquitoes tuck theirs over their backs. While either may rest with only four feet on the ground, mosquitoes raise their back pair of feet and midges tend to lift the front pair. Midges can tolerate pretty cold weather, bouncing up and down in the air of early spring and late fall, especially near wetlands. Their larvae/maggots may live for up to three years in habitats that range from damp edges to depths of many fathoms in both salt and fresh water.