The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Category Archives: Country life

Photo Friday – uncooperative but adorable Tenebrionid beetle (Neatus tenebrioides)

We heat our house primarily with our wood stove in the winter. Right now we’re in the middle of the difficult transitional period where it’s not cold enough to have a good, ripping fire going 24-7, but too cold to let the fire go out. It’s a delicate balancing act, I tell ya.

Anyways, this all requires some extra chores, namely, the hauling and stacking of logs. Earlier this week I was moving logs from our wood shed into the alcove at the front of our house (it’s much nicer to get wood from the alcove whilst in jammies on a chilly morning), when I found a little fellow who’d been all tucked up in a little nook of bark, ready to wait out the winter.

I was tremendously rude and brought him inside and asked him to pose for a picture or twenty.

He was not very obliging about sitting in my white box, and was quite determined to escape post-haste. This all made for lots of blurry and badly-framed and over/under-exposed photos and an exasperated photographer.

I even tried the TOTALLY CHEATING method of cooling him down with an ice pack…but the moment he warmed up…zoom, off he’d run!

Finally, I decided to try providing him with a more “normal” substrate: some bark and a leaf scavenged from the alcove. On the leaf he went…and you could practically hear the “Aaaaaahhhh, this is more like it!

teneb on leaf small

He settled down almost immediately.

Then, after discovering the wood chip, he became uncooperative again (he wanted only to be UNDER the chip, not on it), but stopped roaming long enough to peek at me for a final (rather adorable) picture:

Tenebrionid (rather adorable)

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(Totally cute darkling beetle: Neatus tenebrioides (Tenebrionidae)

O NOES! EVIL BEETLES OF GREAT EVILNESS!!!

Just minutes ago, I went out in the yard and was doing what my father-in-law used to call “a tour of the grounds”, checking out the progress in the gardens.

We have one garden that I usually call “The Lily Garden” because we have positively loaded it up with Asiatic lilies.  The plants in the Lily Garden are quite mature and yield dozens of robust blooms in a gorgeous variety of colours.

So, you can imagine my horror when I saw THIS:

Lilioceris lilii = Evil

AAAK!!  Lily beetles!  Lilioceris lilii!!! AAAAAK!!!  My poor, poor lilies!!!  LOOK, up there, just LOOK!  They’re EATING MY LILIES!!!

Now, you may be thinking, “Geez, take a pill, Geek, they’re just little beetles, and that’s really only a teensy nibble.  Plus they’re pretty.  What’s the big deal?”

The problem, my friends, is that I know too much about this evil invasive alien beast to be even REMOTELY comfortable with it being in my Lily Garden.  You see, according to at least one dood on the interwebz, I’m some kind of expert on it.  I’ve written a few things and given a few talks and have instilled fear in the very cockles of lily-lovers’ hearts right across the country (Did you know there are entire Lily Societies?  I didn’t until they started calling me to come talk at their meetings.  The sight of me now dredges up horrible memories and makes them weep and gnash their teeth in despair.) 

The lily beetle is a truly awful, persistent pest that will chew the crap out of a lily garden in a matter of weeks or days if the infestation is not controlled tout suite.

Until today, I’ve felt quite safe from them here in my little rural corner of the world.  I’ve watched our lily plants for years and have seen no signs.  And then tonight, I quickly spotted about 20 individuals, all in pairs.  It’s early still.  They’re mating (quite, um, friskily, apparently) which means I might have a few days’ leeway before the egg clusters start showing up in earnest. 

The only solution to this situation is to seek, and destroy.  I shall keep a few for my collection (for some reason, I didn’t keep any after staring at them every day for 2 years), and then I shall squish the rest.  And then I will have to inspect the underside of each frickin’ leaf and make sure none of the orange eggs are lurking there.  And THEN I’ll have to watch for the chunky, poop-toting larvae (oh, yes, these are just LOVELY creatures) and squish THOSE.

So yes, I know what to do.  Yet, I have a dilemma.  That pic up there was snapped with an awful flash just as the sun set…and, dangit, these little guys are awfully photogenic.   I should be out there squishing NOW…but I want some good pictures.  The weather forecast is “cloud and rain” until Saturday.  Do I dare wait that long?  Sigh.  I might be asking for trouble. 

Stupid #$!%* beetles.

I hate these bugs.

This morning I was moping because it’s warming up outside but there are still no bugs.  “Where are the bugs?”, I lamented. 

The thing is, there ARE bugs.  Gabillions of them.  They’re just not the kind I really care for. 

You see, every spring our house gets invaded.  Look at our laundry room window.  Just look at it.

@#$%^ flies. They all suffered Death By Vacuum 30 seconds later.

Those black dots on the window pane  are ALL flies.  Cluster flies (Pollenia sp.; Calliphoridae) to be precise. 

I remember when we were house-hunting 6 years ago. One home (just the next road over from where we eventually settled) had a dozen or so flies in the bathroom, including – horror! – a couple of dead ones on the window sill.  At the time I thought, “What kind of unsanitary place IS this?  What unspeakable things must lurk in the walls, under the sink??” 

What can I say? I was a city girl. Now I know that, if you live in the country, all it takes to have cluster flies in your house is…a house.  With, like, walls and stuff.  That’s about it. 

These little buggers like to hibernate in large clusters (hence the name) in sheltered places, like in my attic and between my walls.  As spring approaches, they warm up enough to slither through any little crack or crevice around baseboards, windows, light fixtures etc.  Then they have big crazy parties on the windows. Then I take ferocious pleasure in vacuuming all the little #$%^s up.   The survivors spend all night noisily bashing their little brains out against the window in the bedroom, or on the reading lamps.  The cats sometimes catch and eat them.  That makes me happy.

Those flies which are either kind or clever enough to slither back outside instead have big crazy parties on the siding of the house.

Siding party.

"S'up, dude?" "Not much. Just, like, clustering." "Sweet, me too."

 About the only nice things I can say about these flies it that they are not germy nor do they harass us while we eat. They are only interested in what lies beneath the surface of the still-brown lawn: earthworms.

Fly on the lawn. I hope it gets entangled in those dog hairs and never escapes.

Unlike most Caliphorid flies (blow flies),which are attracted to dead and decaying organic material, cluster flies are strictly earthworm parasites.  It’s one of the reasons they’re so abundant in rural areas; the vast expanses of fields and other green space makes it easy to support large populations of flies.  The flies mate in the spring, and eggs are deposited in dense surface vegetation (our snow-squished lawn seems to work well for them). Larvae burrow into the soil after hatching, then attack their earthworm hosts, burrowing into their bodies.   Adults emerge from the soil after pupation; several generations can take place during one summer, depending on the region.

It's mocking me.

There’s really nothing to be done about cluster flies, other than try to seal all entry points (clearly I’m doin it rong), and vacuum them up when they get in.  

Break Time

So much work, so little time.  My desk chair has been permanently stamped with the imprint of my rear. 

Either that, or my rear has assumed the shape of my desk chair.  Not very flattering either way if you ask me.

My wife called me today from work and suggested I take a break and play outside. It was a balmy -12C today (yes, that’s quite balmy after the near -40C we’ve had for the past two days), the dogs were short-circuitng from lack of exercise, and my wife is usually right about stuff anyways (don’t tell her I said that), so I went and played outside.

Although it was dark and grey, fresh snow was on the ground, and I got to try out my new toys:

That’s an old, shrubbed-over agricultural field.  There are squat stonerows  running along either side of the open area, and lots of early ii trees around the edges (birch especially) along with thick tangles of invasive buckthorn  native hawthorn (thanks for the clarification, Seabrooke!)

Evil Hawthorn...thorns.

Speaking of trees, and of bucks (aw nuts, now my nice little segue doesn’t work as well *harumph*),  I found a pretty recent deer rub on a young tree.  Bucks will rub their antlers on trees for a few reasons: in the early summer/late fall, they do it to slough off any velvet remaining on the rack; during rut, they rub to mark their territory.  If done aggressively enough, this action can kill the tree by cutting the flow of water and nutrients.

The small mugsly dog found something too:

C'mere, you wascally wabbit...

The occupant had left tracks nearby, but wisely stayed out of sight…

Nature Photography Tips – Part 1

Listen up, kids.  Today’s Tip is a doozy.

Tip #1: If you don’t bring the camera you can’t take pictures of nature.

For example, let’s say you’re walking in the woods with the dogs, blissed out on all the white floofiness of everything, when you hear a cacophony of screaming blue jays.  You don’t think much about it; jays are pretty common-place.  But something causes you to look up, and you realize the jays are not screaming at YOU, they’re screaming at THIS:

*INSERT AWESOME PHOTO OF OMG AN AMAZING HUGE OWL IN PLAIN SIGHT STARING CALMLY RIGHT BACK AT YOU*

Ah, see how that works?  No camera = no awesome photo = very very sad you and no picture to accompany ranty self-pitying blog post.

So, kids, remember: ALWAYS BRING THE FRACKING CAMERA.

AUGH.
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