Saturday, January 20, 2007

Insect Recollections

Saturday, January 20, 2007

7.7 degrees here at Vermont Flower Farm. The temperature is dropping as the afternoon progresses. The wind has been constant since daybreak but now there are stronger gusts which pick up the fluffy white snow and blow it into disorganized swirls. It's almost like looking at a National Geographic movie of the arctic.

I've been to the platform bird feeder with fresh seed twice since breakfast. As the sun peaked out this morning, the Juncos were here when darkness was just breaking. Then an abundance of blue jays arrived, 6-7-8 of them in noisy conversations I cannot understand. Chickadees flirted in and out and since then its only been Juncos. My guess is that the blue jays will be back by late afternoon to stock up on corn and sunflower seeds to provide caloric warmth through the night.

Yesterday I was looking at garden blogs and up came May Dreams Gardens. From there I checked out Carol's other blogs, stopped at her Hoe and Pictures page, and quite by accident started a circuitous, bunny-hopping search that took me past bed time.

There was a picture of an Imperial Moth, which I had never seen before. Now many of you know I'm very interested in hostas and as a result I found myself at a New England Hosta Society annual meeting one time in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Like all the flower societies, annual events usually include a fund raiser auction and this one was no different. One of the hostas on the block was a fine specimen of Mildred Seaver's Imperial Moth. What was better was that Mildred was there herself. What wasn't good was the thing raised a lot of money and my poverty became apparent somewhere around $50 with the bidding still going. Since that day I've probably added a couple hundred hostas to my collection but still don't have an Imperial Moth.

As I continued reading Hoe and Garden I was interested in a link named Whats That Bug.When you're out in the garden most every day, you unknowingly train yourself to recognize details that others might miss. New insects are always on my radar so a website that could help on the identification end of things was a welcomed find.

Years ago I found these metallic blue-black insects in the grass along the potato patch. They always seemed to be in 3's or 4's. I remember getting down in the grass one time to look them over and recall thinking that they would make a good model for one of those creatures in the Star Wars movies. The color is impressive but the antennas and body dimensions are really neat. I kept thinking some computer loving kid could use a name generator and come up with a 12 syllable name no one could pronounce but everyone would love. For me, I just wanted to know what this bug was and which of the flowers I admire that it ate. The website got me started.

The bugs in the top picture are the Shortwinged Blister Beetle. A common name is the oil beetle, no doubt because of the blue-black coloration. My search determined there are several blister beetles out there but I probably have this one right. If not, rest assured someone will remind me of my error.

Oil beetles are often hanging upside down and their size makes you want to right them but that's the wrong thing to do. As with anything in the wild, plant or animal, if you don't know it well, don't be messing with it until you do. Blister beetles get mad if they are touched and they excrete a caustic chemical from their leg joints. The outcome for the intruder guessed it....blisters, and not very nice ones at that. Not everyone is affected adversely but is makes no sense to try first.

As I continued on with Whats That Bug I was pleased to find another insect that I had been searching for. I have no aspirations of being an entomologist, and ever since Mrs. M. made everyone wear a toga and eat weird food in Latin IV, I've never had an interest in going that route to figure out what I'm looking at. What I need is easy descriptions and clear pictures. The end.

My second "mystery solved" turned out to be a Pelicinus polyturator. That would be a Mrs. Pelicinus because the Mr.s are apparently in hiding and difficult to find in the northeast. This is an unusual wasp, glossy black coloration with nice antennae and a long tail, specially evolved for sticking into the ground and directly into June beetle grubs. To keep its energy levels up while hunting for grubs, it drinks flower nectar. This particular one I found on a hosta leaf en route for some blooms but the previous one I located was on a Trillium undulatum in late August.

Finding a website to assist in identifying insects is not difficult to do but this one worked well for me. These two insects will have more interest to me in the future and I'll be able to share what I have learned with other gardeners. Some may get blisters from raking too much without good gloves but blisters from the blister beetle just won't happen if we remember what we've learned.

From the mountain above frozen Peacham Pond, where cold ice fisherman are driving home, wind burned, chilled and minnowless but if luck prevailed, with some fresh fish for supper.

With shivering garden thoughts,

George Africa

1 comment:

Carol said...

Thanks for stopping by my blogs and happy to see you found something of interest. I have one other insect picture you might find interesting...