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It’s in your nature: Helpful ‘bugs’

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    A female praying mantis in its characteristic pose waiting to grab a hapless insect.

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    This mantis egg case was photographed in early May just before the praying mantis nymphs emerged. It is a bit larger than 1¼ inches.

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    A yellow garden spider pauses on a milkweed leaf. Its legs span about 1½ inches. Female spiders, like mantises, are larger than the males.

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    A green clearwing (a dragonfly species) pauses on a Lehigh Canal shoreline twig resting between its mosquito-catching forays.

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    This widow dragonfly was photographed this week on a Queen Anne’s lace along the Beltzville Lake shore. Note the dragonfly’s very large compound eyes.

Published July 27. 2019 07:22AM

I purposely highlighted the word “bugs” to help introduce and to inform. Bugs are in actuality one group of insects. Class Insecta includes bugs, beetles, flies, butterflies, etc. All bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. Spiders, ticks and mites are not bugs or insects. They belong to the arachnids. The arachnids have eight legs; insects have six (as adults.) Insects have three body regions while the arachnids have two. Keeping that in mind, I’ll end my biology lesson … for now.

My intent in this week’s column is to highlight some insects (and spiders), which in their feeding to survive, actually help us. Ladybird beetles (ladybugs) are very important as feeders on aphids. Aphids of course feed on so many different plants by sucking vital fluids from their foliage. Praying mantises are considered beneficial to us by preying on large insects such as grasshoppers or stink bugs. However, as highly regarded as they are, remember that they do “take” a large number of bees and butterflies, too. (They have a propensity for hiding near or among flowers) I’m sure their benefits outweigh the negative impacts.

Praying mantises are rather common in the meadows and fence rows of the Times News region. They are seldom seen until late summer when the females get rather large and become more noticeable. The females are about double the size of males, and yes, after mating, the female often kills and eats the male. After mating, she lays a brownish, corklike egg case (about the size of a ping pong ball) placing it on a stiff goldenrod stem or other similar spot. The insect overwinters in the egg stage. An egg case can hold about 300 eggs.

The egg cases are most often found in winter or spring when many of the weeds are flattened by the snow and the leaves are gone. Tiny 1/3-inch miniature mantises hatch in spring, and they too are prey for spiders, birds, toads, etc. Do not make the mistake of collecting an egg case and bringing it indoors. The young will begin hatching and you will be collecting hundreds of these tiny mantises all around your home.

Spiders often get a “bad rap” but they certainly do play an important predatory role. There are many different species and they use a variety of methods to catch their food. Some spiders lay in ambush and jump on small insects, some pounce on their prey, while most build a variety of sticky webs to ensnare flying insects. Take a very early morning walk in a meadow covered with dew, and take note of hundreds of tiny webs seemingly everywhere.

One of the largest web builders (a type of orb weaver) is the yellow garden spider. Its web could be almost 2 feet across. A close look at its web will reveal sometimes a half dozen “mummy-like” insects already drained of their fluids or all wrapped up, waiting for the spider to dine again. One web I found had four grasshoppers entangled there, along with some unidentified flies.

Dragonflies are another type of helpful “bug.” There are many species, and most live on or by ponds or streams, however since they are such strong flyers, you can find them a considerable distance from a body of water, too. Dragonflies prey mostly on mosquitoes and midges, and they consume dozens a day. They are excellent flyers, snatching their prey out of the air. With a declining bat population we can use all the help we can get. So, get out there and look for some of our smaller allies around you.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: All of our local, breeding swallows migrate. The ____ swallows usually remain in southern area of the United States. A. tree, B. barn, C. cliff, D. all of these.

Last Week’s Answer: The house wren, house finch, Norway rat and mockingbird are not native to Pennsylvania.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

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