May is American wetlands month, so we’ll end it in the swamp, in the company of Marsh Marigolds, the flowers that turn newly thawed wetlands a riotous yellow from the last days of April through much of May. Skunk cabbage and pussy willows may whisper the arrival of spring, but marsh marigolds crank up the volume. The BugLady should have started this project two weeks ago when the marsh marigold was at its peak, but the truth is that despite the masses of flowers it produces, she seldom sees many insects on it, and the ones she sees are as likely to be resting as dining.
Bugs without Bios celebrates the small-but-mighty insects that, mostly unsung, sneak below our radar daily. Today’s catch have three things in common – their identifications are all “probable;” they’re all carnivores; and on each of the three, the BugLady’s Google search ran out in fewer than ten pages.
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.
The BugLady’s #3 child nailed it years ago when she proclaimed her mother an “Essoterrorist”—someone with a fondness for squirreling away obscure facts. Here are some of the Bug Facts that she’s come across while looking for something else.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English carol that was probably borrowed from the French and that was originally an acapella chant/call-and-response/children’s memory game. It first appeared in writing in 1780, and there were (and still are) many variations of it, though the words were more-or-less standardized when an official melody was finally written for it in 1909.
Chiggers are said to live in dry or damp, forest or grassland, in dense or sparse vegetation, worldwide. Their love for shade and damp is debatable, and the BugLady has most often encountered them in dry, long grass. They don’t particularly like mountains or deserts, and in North America, they prefer the Midwest and the Southeast. They are happiest when the ambient temperature is 77 to 86 degrees F.
Dandelions produce both nectar and pollen and so are appreciated by wildlife, especially early bees and butterflies (100 species of pollinators have been tallied). The BugLady has been dawdling among dandelions to see who else appreciates them. She saw representatives of 8 kinds of hymenopterans (ants/bees/wasps), 4 kinds of flies, 3 of arachnids (spiders and spider relatives), and 1 beetle. Seen, but not photographed, were a few cabbage butterflies.
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 common name Red Velvet Mite is a somewhat generic term for a bunch of often-unrelated mites that happen to be red. Scientists suspect that some of those red hairs may act as sensors in the mite’s often, gloomy world. Because they consume some plant-eating insects and because they eat the animals that eat the organisms that carry out the important work of decomposition, RVMs are considered helpful to ecosystems.