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Bug Crazy

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I've always loved bugs. Everyone claims they were a lonely, nerdy child who spent hours alone. But not many people can claim they spent hours as a child nudging an assortment of small insects down the sloping sides of ant lion pits to see what would happen; digging them up to find the crazy little ice-tong faced critter that could only crawl backward in circles; playing with tiger beetle larvae deep in their burrows, figuring out how to get them to clamp onto a grass stem so she could pull them out to have a look. Nope, most people don't say that in their memoirs. 

This is an unadulterated look at the right side of my "drawing board." I put that in quotes because I'm spending all my time there writing lately. That's OK. I write in big spurts and chunks, and then I draw the same way. It feels sooo good to be writing again, unblocked. Getting up in the morning looking forward to writing. It's a thing.

The Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and my pal! Seabrooke Leckie is what you'll find me reading a lot lately. What a treat it is to page through and find the moths I've photographed without knowing what they were. 

The Beautiful Wood Nymph is technically a bird dropping mimic, but it's oh so much more when you have a close look. Yep, it's supposed to look like feces to fool predatory birds (who'd wanna eat that?), but gaaah what a beautiful dropping. That bronzy edge to the chestnut border; the olive spots of corruption, and the furry forelegs which are designed to look like squiggly softserve drips...ahhhhh.

When something like this blunders through the dog door and into the kitchen, I get all ate up.

All right. Out the door you go.

So on August 1 when I saw a spectacularly colorful beetle clinging by one good leg to the bird-proof netting on the outside of my studio window, it was the most natural thing in the world to haul a kitchen chair out to the hummingbird garden so I could climb up and get it down. 
 I knew it was a metallic wood borer, but didn't know which one. It was a beautiful one.  Holy smokes  what a living jewel.

The Kaufman field guides are the ones I grab first. Small, compact, illustrated with immaculate photos (many retouched for accuracy), these guides are the bomb. My sentimental favorite is the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. I love it because it's given me so many thrills. Ounce for ounce, the insect guide is the one that thrills the most. That's just because there is so darn much to know about bugs, and no naturalist can know everything. I started to write "amateur naturalist" then stopped. Ehh. I think I safely qualify as a pro at this point. 

 I turned the unfortunate beetle over in my hand, noting that it had somehow lost all but one of its feet. Perhaps through aging? An accident? It was hanging in there. I was so grateful to see it, to hold it in my hand.

I looked it up, posted photos on Instagram and Facebook, and was quickly and cheerfully corrected by a career entomologist named Ted MacRae. It wasn't Cypriacis fasciata, but Buprestes rufipes. Thus we discovered that there'd been a caption switch in the Kaufman guide. These things happen. They've happened to me. Imagine putting together a book like this with hundreds upon hundreds of photos to match to their names. This small error does not diminish my love for Eric Eaton's book in the slightest. It is incredible and I'm grateful to have it. You should have it too. 

The underside was particularly ridiculous. 

Buprestes rufipes is a wood borer, with a grublike larva that chews through already dead maple, oak and elm trees. Do not hate it. It doesn't kill your favorite trees. Just hope that you get to see one some- day, too. It is a spectacular insect.

Another thrilling ID from the Eaton/Kaufman guide: the Mydas fly! I knew I'd never seen anything like this gigantic fly. At first I thought it was a tarantula hawk, and that's what the Mydas fly wants you to think it is. But the head and antennae were all fly. The abdomen had a blunt end, no stinger. Good ruse!

The closer I got the more fly-like it became. The sweet thing was placidly sponging up nectar from the milkweed blossoms with a tongue that was standard-issue housefly--tipped with a spiny sponge. 

Will ya look at the honeybees on this milkweed?? This photo begins to capture the riot of activity in my favorite Monarch Meadow. 

It also begins to capture my joy at its conservation. This is the single best stand of common milkweed I've ever seen. Acres of it. And it was getting mown twice a summer, once just before bloom peak, and once again just before the cut plants struggled back with another attempt at blossoms. I will never forget the day I came back from the bus stop to find it being mowed. Late instar monarch caterpillars were being thrown through the air. We got out of the car and flagged my neighbor down.

All I did, back when the kids were still riding a big yellow school bus and Liam was about half as tall as Phoebe, was to speak with my neighbor, show him the displaced caterpillars, and suggest that he not do that second mow. That we leave the milkweed for the butterflies and bees. 

We took all the caterpillars, some 70 of them, home to our meadow to grow up. Sweet SuperLiam just happened to be wearing his cape when he was pressed into service to pick monarchs and transfer them to uncut plants in our yard.
please forgive your mother Liam, for posting this photo. You were and are the sweetest boy.

The meadow has never been mowed in late summer again.

This is the result.

The magic here is that the milkweed, having been mown in June, is bursting into bloom at precisely the time that bees, butterflies, and monarchs especially need it most. Ovipositing female monarchs are presumably ecstatic to find young, tender shoots to lay their eggs on, and a big drink of sticky nectar to boot. 

This, by the little black scent glands on his hindwings, is a male, but you get the picture.

There will be more posts from Monarch Meadow. I cannot stay away. Perfection is a real draw for me.


No, I cannot claim that. I was too busy making curious interactions between Ken dolls. But adore your wonderment at the bugs! Can we even get tarantula hawks in Ohio?! Shudder. Cannot wait for more from the fertile milkweed field! Stunning! My writing vibe has been coming back too. Though I might need to just delete my most recent post as I'm now questioning if it is the bit of cathartic confession I needed or just airing of dirty laundry. Fine line I supoose!

Also the blue and green with a bit of orange in the last picture is just so beautiful. The colors I dream about

I'm so delighted you're getting such great use from the guide, Julie! You would have an incredible diversity of moths at your property. Look for the new southeastern guide, landing in March, too! Lots of southern stuff just edges into southern Ohio, so we didn't include in the first book, but you may find at your place. I hope HMH sends you a copy; I asked them to.

Thanks for sharing your bug delights! This is how I spend my summers lately, too. Birds are great and all that, but bugs are where the amazing discoveries are these days. :)

Yes, bugs are amazing… every time I get too enamored of some human creation, the Mars Rover, the Tesla, computers, etc. I stop and think about the precision artful complexity squeezed into a bug, an ant, beetle, butterfly, even a cockroach, and feel humanity is humbled again.

I love this post that encourages adults to wonder and appreciate the bug world.

*must get more field guides*

That monarch meadows is swoon worthy! Here in Texas green and antelope horn milkweed reigns on the roadsides, though I have rarely seen a lot of monarchs feasting on them. I'm glad you were able to convince your neighbor to not mow. I get sad by the late summer mowing, especially when they shear it so close to the ground that the green is all now brown. Whyyyyyyy?!!!

hee hee, cannot stop chuckling - "I AM THE NIGHT! " and I agree that is one gorgeous dropping, uh, moth. Thanks for sharing your bugservations - I also find them more fascinating every day. And down here in south Texas, we DO have tarantula hawks, they are gorgeous and not unfriendly to people, thank goodness. But I give them a respectful distance anyway.

Julie, Came across your blog searching for information about the Dawn Redwood trees I saw today at the Mt. Auburn Cemetery. I was actually admiring the stone monuments that are in the small grove of Dawn Redwoods with strikingly similar reds and ochres in the bark to the stone obelisk colors. No engravings, plaques or signs, so I don't know yet who they memorialize. So, thanks for your information. Looking forward to their color change in the fall. Walking the Cemetery, climbing the Washington Tower has become an almost daily routine. As one observant person noted when I stopped to take her picture with her boyfriend, she apologized for interrupting my cardio routine.

We have left two big patches of milkweed for years now, one on the lawn and one in the old horse pasture. Never, until this summer, have there been monarchs, but now there are. So delighted! And even without the butterflies they smell so good!

This brought back memories of my best friend from high school who had a china tea cup filled with sand and one ant lion larvae named Doodle. That was about 45 yrs ago. Loved your photos and video!

That milkweed field is so awesome and for just informing someone about the good a small change would make and seeing it come to fruition๐Ÿค—.
P.S.Capes will ALWAYS BE COOL, Ian ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ’ช

This is my first look at your blog. Holy mackerel! That is a lot to take in. Pretty inspiring too. I'll definitely read more! Thanks!!

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