Insect Awe

I never intended to like insects. They weren’t really my thing. At all. And if I encountered one in the house, I’d either ask someone to smoosh it or do the dirty work myself, though sometimes that meant my hands clenched together until I got up the nerve.

But one day I began to look. I’m not even sure when that day was, but for quite a while now, it has become a daily habit.

What I am about to share with you are some finds from this past week. Some were new acquaintances while others were old friends I was meeting all over again.

For starters, I discovered this tiny, cylindrical structure on an oak leaf. Notice how it was right beside the main vein. I had to wonder, was the top rim also a vein, for so thick it appeared.

It’s my understanding that after creating the third role of the leaf, a single egg is laid. What triggers the insect to lay the egg then? Why not on the second role? And how many roles are there before the nest is completed?

What is this? A Leaf Roller Weevil nest, which is called a nidus.

In another place I spotted the first of what I suspect I’ll see repeatedly as spring gives way to summer. The wasp who built this global structure also used an oak leaf.

I’d love to see one of these being created and I am humbled not only by the perfectly round orb, but also the interior. This one happened to be split open so I could peek inside. The wasp used the leaf tissue to surround a single larva located at the center. Fibers radiating from that central larval capsule supported the exterior. How could it be that an insect could create such?

What is this? An Oak Apple Wasp Gall.

Standing with others beside water as we listened for and spotted birds, I noticed the largest insect remaining in one place for minutes on end as if suspended midair.

It’s rather scary looking, but that’s all an act for this impersonator likes to look like a wasp or bee in order to avoid becoming prey (think Batesian mimicry where something looks dangerous but is actually good).

In reality, despite its “fierce” presentation, it’s actually harmless. And beneficial. While it consumes nectar, honeydew and pollen, but doesn’t actually collect the latter like a bee, in the process of visiting a flower may get some pollen on its body and transfer the goods from that plant to the next.

But that controlled flying? You can see by the photo that the wings were moving, but with the naked eye it appeared motionless.

What is this? A Hover Fly.

I was standing about ten feet above a pond when I spied and first thought that these two insects were one. In fact, I was sure I was looking at the largest example of this species. And then I saw all the legs and realized something more was going on.

Indeed, a lot more was going on. She was on the bottom and as you can see, he had a tight clasp. Theirs is a mating habit that’s quite unique and if she doesn’t give in, it can go on for a couple of days. And might mean doom for her.

You see, she has a genital shield to guard against him if she doesn’t think he’s the man she wants. But, he has a counter behavior–he taps the water in a pattern that might lure predators such as fish. And since she’s beneath and closest to the fish’s mouth, it behooves her to submit quickly to his endearment.

What are these? Water Striders.

This next one was discovered when some young naturalists I was hanging out with lifted a rock upon a rock beside a brook. Burrowed in to the humus was a segmented insect.

In its larval form it would have had protective filaments, as well as gills to help it absorb dissolved oxygen. And a set of mean-looking mandibles. Ten to twelve times it would have molted before leaving the water and finding this moist environment under the rock upon a rock where it dug a cell within which it spent up to fourteen days before pupating. Under the same rock was the exoskeleton it had shed. In this next stage of life, it develops wings, legs, antennae and mouth parts. We covered it back up and I suspect that by now or very soon it will dig its way out of the cell and emerge as a winged adult.

What is it? A Dobsonfly Pupa.

One of my favorite finds was beside a river–and though I didn’t get to see it emerge from its exoskeleton, I did watch it pump some blood into its body and grow bigger and longer over the course of an hour or more.

Its cloudy wings needed time to dry out and lengthen, as did its abdomen. And eventually, its colors would help in a determination of its specific name, though I wasn’t there that long.

Just across a small inlet, another had also emerged and while it had almost reached maturity, it was still waiting for its wings to dry. Notice how in the previous photo, the wings are held upright over its back, but as demonstrated here, when they dry they extend outward. That’s actually a great way to differentiate these from their Odonata cousins who wear their wings straight over their abdomens.

Meet the cousin–the damselflies.

And now back to the others, who also begin life as aquatic insects that molt a bunch of times before becoming adults. When the time is right, they climb up vegetation and undergo an incredible metamorphosis as you saw above. Left behind as skeletons of their earlier life are the delicate structures that remain on the vegetation for quite a long time.

I’m always amazed when I discover one atop another, and as far as I know it’s all just a matter of this being a good spot to go through the change of life.

What are these? Cruiser Dragonfly Exuvia above a Darner.

Also recently emerged as indicated by the still cloudy wings (and fact that I saw the exoskeleton a few inches away) was another that wasn’t a damsel or a dragon. Instead, it has the longest and thinnest legs that look like they can hardly support the abdomen, but they do. In flight, people often mistake them for Mosquitoes, but if such, they’d have to be considered giant Mosquitoes.

As it turns out, however, they are not, nor do they bite. In fact, in their adult stage, which only lasts for ten to fifteen days, they do not eat. Anything. Their sole purpose at this stage of life is to mate.

What is this? A Crane Fly.

I have saved my favorite for last. Oh, I think they are all fascinating, but this one . . . oh my. Notice that needle-thin abdomen and the zebra-like appearance of those long, skinny legs. I think they have at least three joints which give each leg a zigzaggy appearance.

The legs become important as it flies through the air–or rather drifts. Or maybe swims would be a better verb to describe its movement. You see, each leg is hollow. And each foot (a teeny, tiny tarsomere) is filled with air. Crazy? Yes. As it lifts off, it spreads its legs, but barely moves its wings, and disappears into the vegetation beside the brook in a ghostly fashion.

I’m really not sure how I spotted it, but I’d never seen one before and then this past week twice it made its presence known and I felt honored for the meeting.

What is this? A Phantom Crane Fly. (And if you hear me say Phantom Midge while we’re walking together–feel free to correct me. It’s like birch and beech, and so many others–my mouth jumps before my brain kicks into gear.)

Insect Awe. Who knew I would ever experience such. I can only hope our paths cross again soon.

4 thoughts on “Insect Awe

  1. Oh Leigh what a wonder…full post! A joy to read last thing before I go to sleep. Isn’t the insect world exquisitely beautiful? We call water striders pond skaters! And often call crane flies are daddy long legs! Either way they are all stunning and make humans seem even less significant in the world. The phantom crane fly…wow! x

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    1. Exactly Jo. Who knew they could be so beautiful? And exotic? I love the differences in common names from both sides of the pond. For us, Daddy Long Legs are spiders–of the Harvestman variety. Looking forward to your next post. Hope your dreams were sweet.

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