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Posted by: atowhee | June 30, 2019

END OF JUNE–GOING BUGGY

Today I saw a tiger swallowtail, and then picked up an earwig that had found its way into our house.  Yesterday a single large rust –colored dragonfly buzzed through our garden.  There are a few small spider webs on bushes around the house.  It is a relief to see that some invertebrates persevere.  Still, there seem to be so few.

Perhaps I am soiled or spoiled by a bug-ridden childhood.  I grew up on a farm in the Ozarks.  Sadly we ignorantly used DDT to keep houseflies off the cows while milking—of course, it didn’t work well. This was before we had Heard of Silent Spring.  Insects and other crawling creatures were legion.  Under every rock were slugs, millipedes, centipedes, beetles and spiders. Slow moving rivers and still ponds might cover you with leeches.  Antlions dug their conical pits in the driveway, ants themselves were all around from May through September. From half-inch long down to red dots or protoplasm. Fleas, ticks, lice abounding on the livestock and pets.  If you left a light on outside after dark the nearest wall or screen door would be covered with flying insects, from tiny flies up to the elegant luna moth. Purple eyes looked out from the sculpted pale wings.  The beetles ranged from pea-sized up two-inch diameter black ones who buzzed like small electric engine.  King of dark was the dobsonfly with its long pincher-like mandibles and a look of deadly earnest.  Most insects I could pick up and move, not that one. Turns out only the male had the long mandibles and didn’t bite effectively.  The female had short mandibles and would draw blood. Its larvae, known as hellgrammites, are the top invertebrate predators in rocky streams where they occur.  In America these guys are three inches long, in Asia some species top four inches.eastern_dobsonfly05

If you stood in the light at night one or more June bugs would barrel in from the dark and cling to your shirt or bare skin with their hard little claws. To be a real boy you had to learn to plunk them off, shrug nonchalantly and chuck them up into the air.  Most girls reacted rather more dramatically.  The June bug is a plant eater so its only real effect on humans were the tiny grabbers and the surprise.   In daytime there were a variety of wasps, bees and hornets, assassin bugs with their crenellated back armor, wolf spiders and black widows, and brown recluse and tarantula.  At all hours in wet grass the hungry, pregnant chiggers waited to get onto your skin, burrow in and lay their eggs.  Most abundant on a farm with sheep and cows and chickens: flies.  Every year sometime in April, some family member would come inside and announces: the flies are out.  They cavorted and circled and annoyed and covered walls or doors or windows with their bodies and the dark “specks” as we politely referred to their hard little fecal deposits.  There was beauty beyond the many butterflies and large moths.  Despite the acrid stench when you touched them, collecting a Mason jar full of lightning bugs (“fireflies” in some areas of the country) would give a glowing lantern on a warm night in July.  Often on the Fourth they were as good as home fireworks display and lasted long after the final rocket and sparklers had gone up in smoke.

I never thought I could get nostalgic for being bugged.
When trying to catch the Green Heron going over our house I shot wildly but was too slow.  The heron dropped behind the neighbor’s pine and wasn’t seen again.  Yet my photos came out with some life.  First one has dragonfly, wings near the head.  The second photo has a flying insect with wings at midriff–species undetermined.  Finally, a terrible shot of l8-inch wide spider web on one of our rhodies:

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