If there ever was an under-appreciated life form, it would have to be the insect. You may not be feeling very appreciative as you scratch your latest mosquito or chigger bite, but you can be sure that some creature is.
The one with the open mouth may be the oldest and will likely get the largest share of insects. When the camera shutter clicked, it gaped wide in anticipation of another mouthful.
In our forest, as all over the Northern Hemisphere, astounding numbers of insects are emerging daily from diapause, stoking the fires of the food web with their gazillions of tiny bodies. These short lives are filled with incredible purpose – eat, mate, die. In addition to being food for all meat eating animals directly or indirectly, they pollinate the flowers of every fruit, berry, or seed containing vegetable. This week’s post is a gallery of a few of the undoubtedly thousands of species that inhabit our little urban forest. All pics (except for the swallowtail larva) were taken this past week.
Back to our featured insect, the Snipe Fly, about which remarkably little is known. I could not even make an ID at the species level. This should not be surprising, considering that the family Diptera, or true flies, has 120,000 named species – and entomologists estimate it may contain up to a million. It is known that both larvae and adults are predatory on other insects, as well as being prey for larger creatures.
Another group of predatory insects becoming more abundant in our forest are the dragonflies and damselflies. This female Ebony Jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata, is considerably less bright than the male, with it’s intense blue-green metallic sheen.
The Click Beetle (genus Melanactes) in the pic below is slightly enlarged, but still nearly an inch long. You may have been startled by the maneuver they perform when disturbed – snapping a joint between the head and thorax launches them into the air with a “click” sound. Many species feed on nectar and flowers, their larvae on plant roots.
And if you’re a pollinator, what is there to drink nectar from at this in-between-flowers season? The maroon colored flowers of Eastern Wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus, (pic below) advertise for flies that are attracted to carrion. Pawpaw flowers share this strategy, so neither have an aroma that’s pleasing to the human nose. This mostly little- noticed native shrub has vivid lipstick-pink seed capsules, making it a fall standout. As a highly preferred deer browse, it’s relatively uncommon in our forest, but increasing with protection from the eaters.
A sometimes taken-for-granted plant (but not in our forest) is the Common Elderberry, Sambucus nigra, which provides a pollen meal to many bee species. Though also a deer browse favorite, it’s very fast growing, and several large ones can be seen blooming near the trail after several years of protection from deer.
The last insect in the gallery is a true forest butterfly and my all-time favorite, the Spicebush Swallowtail, Papilio troilus. Seeing this beauty flitting low through dappled forest light is something that makes all the revival effort worthwhile. As Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, continues to increase, this butterfly is becoming a common summertime sight at BCSNP.
Later in summer, watch for rolled-up leaves on young Spicebush, pulled together by the protective webbing of this swallowtail’s fake-snake-eyed larva. Hopefully, the sight will help compensate for the hordes of Tiger Mosquitos that will be following you through the forest!