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Berkshire Bioblitz 2017

 

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Its getting closer the 2017 Berkshire Bioblitz!

This year’s Berkshire Bioblitz will be held on on September 16-17, 2017 in Great Barrington, MA at Thomas & Palmer Brook as part of the 50 year celebration of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

Join us for 24 hours of biodiversity immersion! Starting at 12 noon on Saturday September 16th and running through until 12 noon Sunday September 17th.

There will be nature walks with over 20 specialist.

You can join us at any time for as long as you would like. Forest walks, meadow walks and pond exploration will be taking place throughout the day.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team will be setting up an invasive plant species exhibit. And ask to see one of the biggest oak tree in the Berkshires!!

There will be live animals to meet up close and personal. At dark there will be a moth light experience, bring your camera if you want. We will be going on an “Owl Prowl” in the dark, bring your flashlight.

Follow the signs for parking.

 

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Moth Night

Moth Week officially starts TODAY! Let the fun begin!

moth light 1.3Last night at dusk a group of us went hiking through the fields at Sheep Hill in Williamstown. We were led by the lovely and lively entomologist Brigette Zacharczenko who took a well deserved break from writing her dissertation, to tell us about caterpillars and moths–and all the other cool insects that were attracted to her lights. Thank you, thank you Brigette.

moth night 1.1At the night lights, we didn’t see too many moths, but we did see some very beautiful insects and many, too many for my comfort, giant horseflies (more about those later).

It was great to catch up with Leslie Ann Reed. Every year I invite her to Berkshire Bioblitz. But she has yet to come. As we stood looking at the view at sunset–I understand why she never wants to leave Sheep Hill. Its a magical place.

katydid

mothlight 1.4

 

 

 

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National Moth Week 2016, July 23-31

cecropita caterpillarThis Saturday starts National Moth Week!! And its also the week my bug loving niece (the girl that released earwigs in my bed that time because they were so cute) is coming to visit. Exciting, we are going to be doing some citizen science.

I’ll start the week off collecting caterpillars for her, since she doesn’t arrive until Sunday. She is from the west coast, she hasn’t seen the Eastern Tent caterpillar or the Forest Tent caterpillar. Beautiful creatures. Soft and wonderful to hold and let crawl up your arm. I’m also hoping to find some giant green spiky silk worm caterpillars.

photographing mothsMonday at dark we will be off to Mass Audubon Pleasant Valley to see the moth light demo set up by naturalist Jason Crockwell. This is a super fun time, I can’t tell you how much fun, so go for yourself and find out.

geometrid mothAfter that we will see what we can find on the screen doors. I know the mint green geometrids will be out since the inch worm caterpillars were abundant this spring.

We will record everything we see, either with pictures or just write the names down. Then we will upload the data to iNaturalist.

Its easy citizen science!
If you are thinking, yeah, but so what, what good is this data. It is important? Actually it is. There are several local moth collections from the mid 1900s in the Berkshire Museum database. Scientists could compare the abundance, species, lack of species, new species to this area. It can tell us if our environment is changing, is it cleaner? (I hope so) is it more conducive to wild life? I hope so.) Is the climate warmer? Colder? Hotter? and does this effect the lepidoptera species? All kinds of cool stuff can be figured out using these abundant little creatures. Just think of the classic Peppered Moth, so much was learned from that inconspicuous moth. And there is much more to be learned about liferight in our own backyards.

Do your part! Get out there and participate in Moth Week and make a difference!

 

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Field Entomology/Natural History of the Berkshires

The Field Entomology/Natural History of the Berkshires course starts Tuesday July 5th. Sign up is over BUT we will be night collecting at the Pittsfield State Forest on Wednesday July 6th. This is a free event and open to the public. Get there around dark and be ready to be WOWed! You can find us by following the light.moth collecting

night collecting

 

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The Infant

the infant mothThat early little orange and brown flier found last week has been identified. It is a moth. I first thought it was a butterfly for a few reasons, 1. It was out during the day 2. It flew zig-zag like a butterfly 3. It was orange, white and black and moved too fast to get a good look at it. Yesterday after noticing three flying in the forest, one landed on my hand! What luck. It is called “The Infant” species: Archiearis infans, its a geometer moth, AKA an inchworm moth. These little moths overwinter in the chrysalis and emerge late March to early May and fly during the day. So keep an eye out for these little beauties if you are near a stand of birch trees.

 

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Earwigs

earwigsMy 4 year old niece wanted to know why earwigs have to pinch. I told her they have those big ‘pinchers’ so they HAVE to use them. Right? But really evolution gave them those pincers, which are modified cerci, for catching prey and for fighting over females thus the males have bigger pincers. They are also used by the insects to fold their wings back under the elytra. Yes, wings. Earwigs are their own order made up of over 2,000 species, called Dermaptera. Loosely translated that means “skin-wings”. Their wings are not often seen, but are thin and resemble skin thus the name. These thin wings allow them to fly similar to a rove beetle or June bug. They are night fliers, so most people don’t see them flying. I remember when I was younger I saw a male earwig using its cerci to fold its wings under the hard fore-wings, it was a sight to see. Captivated me for the whole 60 minutes, all the tucking and folding, twisting and turning using those forcep-like cerci at the end of its abdomen.

earwig nestWhat makes earwigs one of my favorite insects, though, is how the mother takes care of the young. She makes a nest in a damp spot such as under a log or rock, and rolls and licks the eggs keeping them free from fungus. She also keeps them safe from predation by moving them if a predator is near. After the young are born they stay with the mother through the first 2 instars (first two molts) when she feeds them regurgitated food. It has been recorded that after these two molts, the mother dies or not, either way the offspring eat her*. This is called Matriphagy and is rare in the insect world. All in all, though, Agatha Christi was right, earwigs make good mothers. (If you don’t know what that means, read Agatha Christi’s books until you do. Then finish reading all the rest if you haven’t yet, then read them again in 10 years. I will do your brain good.)

As an added note, earwigs rarely pinch. You have to put your hand down on them or threaten them in a manner that they will retaliate with a small pinch, but overall they won’t go out of their way to pinch you. Nor do they have any venom or poison in that pinch, so the pain won’t last.

 

*Suzuki, S. Kitamura, M. Matsubayashi, K. (2005). “Matriphagy in the hump earwig, Anechura harmandi (Dermaptera: Forficulidae), increases the survival rates of the offspring”. Journal of Ethology 23 (2): 211–213.

 

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Yellow Jackets

yellow jacketYellow Jackets. Just those two words together evoke a visceral reaction to swat the air and sweat.

Around here everyone has had a close encounter of the third kind: actual contact. It is never pleasant.

Yellow Jackets are wasps in the genera Vespula and Dolichovespula. They are black and yellow and mean. Okay, that is anthropomorphic, what they are is protective of their hive. I know this first hand. Once I was gardening and was pulling goldenrod when I unfortunately ripped the top off of a nest. A cloud of wasps flew out of the ground and around my head, so thick my vision was blurred. I ran. I swatted. I yelled. This attracted the neighbor’s dog. He was an Irish Wolfhound. He chased me being chased by a swarm of angry wasps. It was like a cartoon.

Once I was out of range I stopped and brushed hundreds of the yellow and black ladies off my body. Amazingly they bit me only 23 times. It felt like 23 matches being touched to my skin. These ladies meant business. The signal was clear–stay away from our hive.

So of course, I crept back around to the nest to see what damage was done. A 4 foot ring 2 feet thick of wasps was circling the nest.Their wing beats could be felt like electricity in the air. Fascinating.

The life cycle of these animals is a little know secret. It goes like this: colony initiation, growth and expansion, production of reproductives, reproductive dispersal, and colony decline.

Everyone seems to know that the “queens” over-winter, but where do the rest of the wasps go here in New England. Its not a nice story if you are wasp. The queens do overwinter. They hide out in the ground, old logs, tree bark, your house. In the spring she starts a new colony since she held the sperm over the winter so she can fertilize her eggs. But she doesn’t have to. Wasps are haplodiploid. That means males develop from unfertilized eggs and are haploid (have half a genome), and females develop from fertilized eggs and are diploid (like you and me, they have half a genome from their mother and half from their father). At first though she does fertilize the eggs and gets females. She starts the nest building but then leaves it to the first offspring to finish.

Most all the members of the colony are females. They are all sisters. They all have modified ovipositers (egg layers) that are stingers. They are the builders, hunters, hive protectors (the Yellow Jack venom is only for protection they do not use it to stun their prey). There may be multiple queens in Yellow Jacket colonies. More power! These yellow and black bullet bugs might seem to be a nuisance to us, but on the flip side they are hunters. They hunt caterpillars, flies (house flies being their main prey), they also drive down fly populations by competing for garbage, dead animal wastes and rotten fruit.

Once the colony is established energy goes into producing ‘reproductive’ female and male wasps. These offspring are sent off to find mates from other colonies and start new colonies.

yellow jackets on appleAs the autumn approaches the colony no longer has a purpose. No more offspring are produced, and the ties that bind no longer feel so tight. So the individual wasps are forging for themselves.This is why you see more wasps in the fall. They seem a little more aggressive, because they are looking at that juicy food you are eating and not thinking about bringing it home to mama and the babies. And she has more time to sit on that apple and suck out the juices. Its the twilight of her life let her enjoy it, soon she will slow down and die. All but the queens, those royal ladies will hole up somewhere and start the whole thing again in 6 or 7 months. Such is the life of the Yellow Jacket.

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2015 in backyard bugs, backyard science, insects, Science

 

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