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A Conversation About: Bugs!

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 4/12/24 | 4/12/24

By Jean Thomas

I have three favorite insect villains. They’re all predictable, persistent, and pesky. I’ve been nattering lately about climate change and how it can affect life cycles of just about everything. Insects are among the life forms that can take advantage of change, because their life cycles are abbreviated and they can adapt more quickly. Somehow, this always seems to favor the pesky ones.                                                      

I started on this whole subject because I have a dog who requires daily emptying. I have a track through some woods that is always an adventure for both of us. There are many small seasonal rivulets and  small ponds decorating the adjacent golf courses. When the temperature remains below, say, forty degrees Fahrenheit, it is wonderful. So this time of year I don’t need to slather myself in repellents to fight the villains. Except this year. We have already had several very warm days. Tuesday almost reached eighty degrees.                                              

Villains are opportunists. I’ve seen a few mosquitoes hovering in a confused fashion around the edges of ponds, having hatched without an available meal. Not a problem, yet. I’ve heard from neighbors about ticks hitchhiking inside from leaf raking expeditions. Not entirely uncommon, as they get transported around by nice warm mice and may show up year-round. Either of these can be dealt with pretty readily.  But then comes the dreaded and legendary black fly. I encountered a small population of them several times this past week. They’re not supposed to show up until May, according to the (voluminous) literature. The life cycle goes like this: eggs are laid on underwater rocks. When the larvae hatch, they attach to the rocks and gather food as it floats past. Once the water reaches the correct temperature, they hatch into little humpbacked flies about 1/8” long. Now all those tiny seasonal babbling brooks are very shallow and warm up fairly quickly. Some of them provide perfect conditions. So what happens next is very interesting if you’re not being attacked. The males passively fly around and look for pretty flowers with pollen and nectar to eat. The females head out in search of warm blooded animals. They want the blood to nurture their eggs. Preferences are dark colors and attractive aromas of CO2, sweat, perfumes and anything sweet. This can describe many animals native to the region, but they seem to have the most fun with humans. They bounce off your face or any other skin you haven’t covered up. They usually bite painlessly, but inject a substance to cause the most discomfort. The experts say their prime hunting time is around sunset and they don’t feed at night.                                                     So what’s a human to do? Well, with all three of these villains, there are many repellants available. Use any of them with caution, and read the labels thoroughly. If you’re still unsure, contact your local office of Cornell Cooperative Extension for advice. It’s early, so we don’t need to panic. Preparation can avoid a lot of itching, scratching and cussing. In addition to the repellant sprays, there are fashionable nets to wear over our heads when venturing into the danger zones on hiking trails. These are wonderful for the flying pests. At the other end, white socks pulled up OVER your pants legs can be a charming way to deter ticks. By the way, this can minimize poison ivy encounters as well.  If it’s any comfort, be aware that trout and frogs and bats and some birds eat the flying villains in both larval and insect stages, and opossums and turkeys and frogs and squirrels will eat ticks. Just remind yourself of that while you put a cold pack on your bites.

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