Tag Archives: Dr. Augies

Hot Bugs

Cicada photo by Tom Murray

Cicada photo by Tom Murray

My cousin asked me the other day what real name of the insect that makes the loud buzzing sound in the summer. She told me her husband calls them “hot bugs’ because they make the sound during the hot days. They have to have a real name. They do: Cicadas.

And they are hot bugs, they don’t start buzzing around here until the summer heat hits around 4th of July. They like the hot weather. The buzzing is the sound the males make to attract mates.

There are only 170 species of cicadas in North America and Mexico. And only 10 species in Mass according to current research.*

Cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) are true bugs. They spend much of their lives under the ground where they suck sap out of roots of plants. Some live under the ground for 17 years–hence the 17 year cicada. I was going to write about the cyclical cicadas, but its complicated. I thought I’d simplify it, but there is no simplifying it, its a complicated cycle and that’s that. If you want to try and make some sense of it you can find more information and anything you ever wanted to know about cicadas here:

*Biogeography of the Cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) of North America. Allen Sanborn and Holly Philips

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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in backyard science, insects


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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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Baby its cold outside!

bunny tracks 3It is cold outside, so cold that even the squirrels are staying in their nests. The upside is the sun is out and the light covering of white stuff is sparkling. There are some brave souls out there, the 4 crows that have made our property their territory. (One that was born last year and three that have been here for years.) But the bravest I think are the Lagamorphs hopping around on the snow. More specifically the Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), a member of the family Leporidae. They are hardy. They are small rabbits that live in both the front and back of the property, they have their territories too. Although they are seen everywhere, and last year was an especially good year for these little bunnies, they are not native, but an introduced species that are creating a competition for the native New England cottontail. They are almost identical to the rarer native cottontail rabbits. The only way I know of telling them apart is by examining their skulls, not a good idea for the lesser of the two. You can recognize rabbit tracks by their patter, three paws in the front and one in the back.

Eastern cottontail rabbit tracks in the snow.

Eastern cottontail rabbit tracks in the snow.

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Posted by on January 15, 2015 in backyard science, Science, science in the parks


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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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