A good spring for insects | News, Sports, Jobs

A clearwing of the snowberry, one of four varieties of “hummingbird moths” in North America, hovers near lilacs at Six Mile Lake in northern Dickinson County. The insects probe for nectar in much the same way as hummingbirds, although they use a long, coiled proboscis like a straw to sip deep inside a flower. (Photos by Betsy Bloom/Daily News)

It finally gets warm enough during the day to bring the bugs out in force.

Some, like the tiger swallowtail butterflies and various dragonflies that started appearing in profusion last week, are welcome when they emerge from where they overwintered, mostly as nymphs or pupae.

Others, like black flies and mosquitoes, are the price paid to see the winter chill finally give way to daily high temperatures consistently in the 60s and 70s, or even a few 80s. I don’t know what others have endured so far due to parasites, but a black fly managed Memorial Day weekend to raise a welt under my right eye that looked like a punch.

If my vehicle’s windshield is any caliber, it looks like a good spring for bugs, although a bit slow to develop due to a cool April and early may. Pollinators finally seemed to kick in just as the chokecherries and then the crabapple and apple trees started to bloom. For bumblebees, the ones that are active now are the queens that mated last year and hibernated through the winter. When they emerge in the spring, they search for a suitable nesting site to establish a new colony, then collect nectar and pollen to feed the first batch of larvae until they develop into worker bees that can take care of load the role of foraging, according to the company Xerces. This is one of the reasons to promote No Mow May, as dandelions can be an important source of early flowering for bees.

When temperatures soared into the 80s on Monday and Tuesday, it seemed to trigger the Six Mile Lake lilacs into full bloom, attracting all sorts of nectar-loving insects.

One of the most unusual is the snowberry borer. Although it is a variety of hawkmoth, snowberry appears at first glance to be a hummingbird, hovering from flower to flower. But these are significantly smaller than even our smallest birds.

As with hummingbirds, they have adapted a body and feeding style suited to tapping for nectar, down to rapid wing and fan flapping. “tail” to maneuver. This allows them to probe nectar in much the same way as hummingbirds, although they use a long, coiled proboscis like a straw to sip deep inside a flower. Interestingly, researchers published a study in 2018 that found the fossil record showed that the proboscis of moths and butterflies predate the emergence of flowering plants.

Snowberry is one of four varieties of “hummingbird butterflies” in North America, although only two are thought to occur in the Upper Peninsula. The other is the pale-winged hummingbird. Although the color may vary somewhat, the snowberry clearwing can be distinguished from the hummingbird clearwing by the black band that crosses the eye along its side and the lack of red that the hummingbird clearwing has on the wings and abdomen. Snowberry also has black legs.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, snowberry clearwings are the most widespread of the hummingbird butterflies, although they are more abundant in the west than in the east, where the hummingbird clearwing is more common. But snowberry clearwings have been recorded in all of the lower 48 states, while hummingbird clearwings have only a few localized areas west of the eastern Great Plains, according to an FWS range map for the two species.

Host plants for their larvae include snowberry, honeysuckle, dogbane, and some members of the rose family, such as hawthorn, cherry, and plum. The caterpillars are green with a row of small black spots with white borders on each side of the body and a long black horn on the rear that appears to be for show rather than defense.

The snowberry borer can produce two broods in one summer, but caterpillars that persist until fall descend into leaf litter to pupate during the winter. So the ones we see now hatched last summer but didn’t emerge as adults until this spring.

They should be easy to see – and even photograph – as long as the lilacs last. So watch for these unique little hummingbird lookalikes as they make themselves available.


A few notes on what appears to be out there as June rolls around…

“It will be high season for females laying fawns. A reminder that will leave their new fawns hidden as the days pass, only returning a few times to let them nurse. Twins or triplets can even be left in different places. Fawns instinctively stay still when left alone. All this to avoid being detected by predators. So, if you come across a fawn pinned to the ground, leave it alone; it was not abandoned. The doe is probably not far away but obviously won’t come back as long as a human is hovering nearby.

— Painted and Snapping Turtles will soon begin landing on land to lay their eggs. So watch them on the roads. If you come across one that is in the middle of the road and you can safely step in, it can help carry or help a turtle cross. I saw someone on Memorial Day do just that with what appeared to be a snapping turtle on US 2 near the Bay College West campus in Iron Mountain. Again, emphasize safety – don’t get hit trying to save the turtle from this fate. And always bring the turtle in the direction it was heading, otherwise it will probably turn around and try to cross again.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or bloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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