Category Archives: insects

Blast at the BioBlitz

A big thank you goes out to everyone who participated in the Berkshire BioBlitz 2015! Tallies are still coming in and Scott LaGreca is compiling them as you read this. Meanwhile you can check out Tom Murray’s 2015 Berkshire BioBlitz insect collecting frogslist and identifications.

One weird find were these mushrooms called “Dead Man’s Fingers”, but these were clumped together forming “paws”.

dead mans fingers paws

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Posted by on June 24, 2015 in Berkshire BioBlitz, events, insects, Science


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Should we let sleeping flies lie?

sleeping flyDo flies sleep?

The quick answer is yes. The long answer can be found here.

I have dealt with sleeping flies in the the past. Not as an entomologist, but as a pet owner. When I was young my brother had a small rainbow skink. It loved to eat flies. But the flies had to be alive and moving. So I became a fly catcher. My prey: Muscid flies, aka house flies. I figured out how to sneak up on them. Early in the morning they could be found on flowers on the sunny side of the house. I remember waving my hand in front of them and they didn’t move. They just stood there with those big eyes, not seeing me. Asleep. I’d scoop them up in paper cups and release them in the skink tank. Easy.

Recently a cluster fly decided the kitchen was a good place to spend the winter. It found a crack between the sill and the wall. This fly was looking for a sleeping spot for the whole winter. This type of long dormant sleeping in insects is called “diapause”. During this time they don’t move much, they will drink if water is available. They don’t feed, no mating, not much in the way of flying, unless it gets unseasonably warm and they think it is spring.

Not just flies fall into this overwintering stage, squash bugs, lady bugs, bees, wasps and even mosquitoes do it.

I get countless calls during the fall and early winter about bugs in peoples homes. They come in with the wood, or they fly in looking for a dry, warmer than outside spot to curl up for the winter. Not a bad strategy. I kind of wish I could do it too as long as I had a pile of good books.

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Posted by on November 21, 2014 in insects, Nature Curios, Science


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Woolly Bear Caterpillars–What do they change into?

baby woolly bear caterpillar

Baby woolly bear caterpillar

I get asked this question often. What happens to the woolly bear caterpillar? We see them all the time in the late summer and throughout the fall. Then we forget about it until next fall. To answer the first question: The adult moth isn’t much to look at. Kind of drab beige to yellow, a few black markings. The scientific name is Pyrrharctia isabella, common name, Isabella Tiger Moth.

The caterpillar is the interesting part. No you cannot tell if the winter is going to be longer if the stripes are wider, or shorter. That is a myth. But this caterpillar can do something very interesting. It can freeze. It has to freeze. Freeze solid over the winter. And not just one winter, it can go through up to three winters suspended in a state of cryogenic suspended animation. We should send it into space I say!

The reason it is believed they freeze is to bulk up on more food in the spring before pupation. It is in the spring after overwintering as a caterpillar, not something many caterpillars do, that they spin their cocoons. What emerges, the drab moth you see here. It then lays tiny pearl-like eggs in the grass to start the cycle over again.

Photo by Tom Murray

Photo by Tom Murray

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Posted by on September 14, 2014 in insects, Nature Curios, Science


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Bug walk and Nature Concert at Field Farm Williamstown

mantis on flowerThe Trustees of Reservations at Field Farm is hosting a music series this summer to heighten the experience of land, nature and architecture.

At 3:00 today, September 14th, prior to the concert, piano and cello duo Dan Kennedy and Stephen Katz, I will be giving a bug walk. Join us!

Bring lawn chairs, blanket, picnic dinner.

The Trustees of Reservations
Field Farm
554 Sloan Road
Williamstown, MA 01267

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Posted by on September 14, 2014 in insects, Nature Curios, Science, science in the parks


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Japanese Knotweed

japanese knotweedFallopia japonica, common name Japanese knotweed, is a tall, glorious, herbaceous perennial native to Eastern Asia. Here in North America it is very successful growing anywhere there is the least bit of water. It has been classified as an invasive species, and hated by many since it is very hard to remove once it becomes established. It has naturalized here and the question remains, when is it considered non-invasive?

I have to say I love Japanese Knotweed. We have lots of it on our property and it is well managed. We mow and pull it out manually. It is a abundant source of pollen in the late summer for bees, flies and small butterflies when other plants are starting to go to seed. Right now our yard is “buzzing”. Its an amazing sight and sound. One of my favorite parts of the summer.

This plant is incredible. It grows so fast you can hear it. Yes you read that correct. In the spring it pushed up the dead leaves on the ground as it grows and you can hear the shoots moving the leaves aside. One spring I am going to measure the growth daily. I’m guessing 2-3 inches in 48 hours. It grows fast. And its good eating. I prefer it over asparagus. The shoots have a lemony taste.

The leaves are broad and create shade and privacy. Managed right it will create a jungle in your yard that supplies wildlife such as birds, rabbits and mice with a place to forge, hide from predators such as fox and house cats.

And don’t forget the insects. Paper wasps such as Polisties use it for nest making, scraping the fibers off the old canes to make a paste for their nests. Then in the late summer early fall the thick crown of flowers provides pollen for many insects, mostly honey bees. The biodiversity in my yard is 10 fold because of these plants. I love them.

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Posted by on September 2, 2014 in insects, Nature Curios


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Dr. Augie’s Nature & Writing Camp

pH testing stream waterAre your kids or grandkids getting bored this summer? Well sign them up for Dr. Augie’s Nature and Writing Camp! It will be loads of smart fun, silly fun and just plain fun!

August 4-8, 2014
9am to 1:30pm Cost $175 or $35/day

You can print and mail the application or you can pick up an application at St. Mark’s Church office.

​Students are taken on daily guided nature hikes, where we’ll explore the terrain and examine different kinds of local plant and animal life. Afterwards, everyone adjourns to the classroom to write a fictional story based on some of the flora and fauna we encountered that day.

Additionally will meet Mr. Horace Franklin Turtle and other live animals as we learn about invasive and native species. Ages 7-12.


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Posted by on July 26, 2014 in Art, Camps, Children's Art & Science Classes, insects, Science, science in the parks


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Science in the Park

beetle catching kidThis month I have been having fun with some kids at Pitt Park, doing science. Fun stuff like catching bugs and isopods.catching isopods

sun screen experimentMarcus read to us about the suns UV rays and why we should protect ourselves from too much sun. To test this we did a simple sunscreen experiment using Sunprint paper pdf here to see what strength of sunscreen works best, but our results were: the spray kind doesn’t work very well.

setting up sun printpressing sunprintsetting up sun printFor fun we made some sun prints using nature findings from the park!

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Posted by on July 26, 2014 in Art, Camps, Children's Art & Science Classes, insects, Science, science in the parks


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