Like hobbits, sometimes the littlest creatures are the most significant.

Great Smoky Mountains synchronous firefly display is an annual event! Click photo to visit website.

Great Smoky Mountains synchronous firefly display is an annual event! Click photo to visit website.

Surely this post of all the summer naturalist series will receive the least Likes no matter what I write here.  Bugs!  Not very popular.  But it is sometimes nice to know that fewer people will be reading this and I can therefore write whatever I want to about insects!  It’s liberating, like fireflies just released from their jar held in the sweaty hands of a mystified young girl intent on capturing Tinkerbell.

My favorite fluttery, crawly things happen to be ladybugs, fireflies or lightning bugs, damselflies, pill bugs or roly polys, bumble bees, and Monarch butterflies. Of course, they’re all important.  Without the two species of midges (small flies) that pollinate the cacao trees, we’d never have chocolate!

Ladybugs aren’t true bugs, but I can’t help feeling rather attached to them.  Inquisitive ladybugs once fed off aphid eggs and dewdrops extended to them on my fingertips.  That’s one reason to be glad for aphids on my basil plants; I was excited to find the next patch of them so I could feed the ladybugs.  40% of all insects are beetles, and ladybugs are among these.  Even the word beetle is one of my favorite words to say.  National Geographic has a great article on ladybugs, or check out the Ladybug Lady.

Fireflies (or lightning bugs) are the ones that make my heart soar the most.  They are a spiritual annual event for me.  Every evening in summer, I take hill walks around the neighborhood and stop to watch wildlife.  In dark patches of forest or backyard, there are always fireflies in abundance.  But it wasn’t always this way.  As a child, there were hundreds of lightning bugs where I grew up.  By middle school and throughout my college years, we could hardly find a handful most months of the warm season.  Now, fireflies are again lighting their lamps on our street.  Firefly.org has a wealth of information on fireflies and their disappearance, as well as what we can do to help them. They also have a funny list of what fireflies are sometimes called: moon bugs, blinkies, and fire devils to name a few!

Sometimes, while laying in bed at night, I’ll see what looks like a tiny blinking green UFO dart past the window.  How are they doing that?!  According to National Geographic, “Fireflies have dedicated light organs that are located under their abdomens. The insects take in oxygen and, inside special cells, combine it with a substance called luciferin to produce light with almost no heat.  Firefly light is usually intermittent, and flashes in patterns that are unique to each species. Each blinking pattern is an optical signal that helps fireflies find potential mates. Scientists are not sure how the insects regulate this process to turn their lights on and off.”

This Hackberry Emperor butterfly (Asterocampa celtis celtis) was found dead on the ground in Fayetteville. It has many gorgeous eye spots and brown lines. They live in hackberry woods and feed on sap and decaying fruit, and are common throughout Arkansas.

This Hackberry Emperor butterfly (Asterocampa celtis celtis) was found dead on the ground in Fayetteville. It has many gorgeous eye spots and brown lines. They live in hackberry woods and feed on sap and decaying fruit, and are common throughout Arkansas May – October.

Insect Trivia

  1. Name four ways that spiders can catch their prey.
  2. How can we tell how old a chigger is?
  3. Butterflies taste with their ______.
  4. Which of these are true bugs: ladybugs, or stink bugs?
  5. Which of these has two sets of wings: dragonflies, or damselflies?

Organizations Working to Protect Pollinators

Perhaps the most common reason cited for valuing “bugs” is the role they play as pollinators.  According to Pollinator.org, in the U.S. pollination produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually.  Many pollinators aren’t insects at all – these include bats, birds and small mammals.  But most of them (about 200,000 species) are flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths and bees.  Organizations all over the world are protecting them in various ways to help support native ecosystems and secure the production of food plants.

Monarch Watch

Butterflies and Moths of North America

Help Our Pollinators!

Maybe you’d like to plant a Bee Smart School Garden or have fun learning with PBS in their Pick the Pollinator interactive online game.  Check out this 2-minute video by the USDA on more ways to help pollinators wherever you live:

Answers to Trivia Questions:

Orb weavers / Funnel weavers / Active hunters / Camouflage ambushers; by the number of scars on its back from schizeckenosy (this is the method chiggers use to poop: by bursting their gut walls and then flexing muscles to pinch off the extruded gut, healing the gut wall); feet; stink bugs; dragonflies

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