Insect Encounters

While out for my morning walk recently, I happened on an insect that I know well but have never seen before. Sitting on the sidewalk, was a cicada warming itself. Fortunately, he was polite enough to pose for his picture. This little fellow is most likely Neotibicen canicularis, the Dog-Day cicada.  He was just over an inch in length, large enough to catch my eye. I have often heard these insects on hot summer afternoons, their high-pitched whine coming from somewhere up in the treetops. But this was the first time I actually set eyes on one. They are an annual insect rather than a periodic species like the seventeen year cicada, so their calls are a yearly occurrence here in New Hampshire. I was often told as a child that you could determine air temperature by the length of time they would call, the longer their whine, the hotter it was, but I haven’t found much online info to really collaborate that.

However I did find information indicating that the chirping of crickets is related to air temperature. The male cricket rubs part of his wing, which has a special structure called a scraper, against the other wing to make his distinctive sound. How frequently he makes it depends on how warm the air is. There are a variety of species in New Hampshire but the one I mainly see is the field cricket.

When crickets hatch out, they already resemble the adults but lack wings and are referred to as nymphs. They go through a number of moults before they achieve full size. One summer when an addition was being built for the place where I work, the construction activity stirred up a large number of these nymphs who because they were so small, were able to work their way into the building and the next thing we knew, we had tiny crickets running or hopping all about. One of the workers got upset at the sight of people trying to stomp them as she thought they were cute (which they are kind of). So she spared no efforts capturing the little guys and releasing them outdoors unharmed, where presumably they went on to live a long fruitful life, doing whatever it is crickets do besides chirping. I’m not sure she really endeared herself to her coworkers but she did generate a lot of good karma for herself.

Along with the usual bugs one sees during the summer, occasionally an odd one will pop up. Several years ago, I was washing up in the bathroom. I had the window open but the screen up (ThankGodThankGod….) when I heard what sounded like the Mother of all Bumblebees. An enormous beetle came and landed on the screen (outside..ThankGodThankGod!). This behemoth was easily over an inch and a half long, maybe two inches, like a June bug on steroids. Since I could only see the underside of it, I was not able to identify it and for obvious reasons felt no inclination to open the screen to get a closer look at him (yeah, yeah, I’m a wuss…). I gave the screen a twang with my thumb and forefinger which usually makes any unwanted insect visitor vanish like a ghost. Not this fellow. He was so big I was able to follow his progress as he pitched down into the back yard.

I wonder if that silly bug will remember he can fly?


No, guess not.

It’s hard to be sure what species this was as I only saw his underside. But there are some possible candidates. One is the rhinoceros beetle, Xyloryctes jamaicensis.

This distinctive looking bug grows to about 38 millimeters, and is found in southern New England southwest to Arizona. Given global warming, it’s possible a few have made it up here to Northern New Hampshire. Another possibility is the Eastern Hercules Beetle Dynastes tityus.

This species is found from New York state south to the Gulf states, so it’s not too far away from New Hampshire. Another is the Giant Stag Beetle of similar proportions, the male boasting huge antler-like mandibles. The bug I saw had no such mandibles so if it was a Stag Beetle, it would have been a female. These insects are said to be harmless, though they might give you a good pinch with their mouth parts.

Many years ago, my mother told me she had seen a bee cut out a piece of leaf and fly off with it when she was in the backyard. Curious, I went out and watched for a while. Sure enough, a small dark colored bee came visiting the jewelweed blooming beside the house.

She neatly cut out a small semi-circle of leaf and flew away clutching it in her legs. It helped explain the mysterious chunks cut out of various leaves I had seen. Leaf cutters bees are native bees, solitary, who do not make honey like honeybees but collect pollen to make into little pollen balls as food for their young. They use the cut-out leaves to line their burrows where they lay their eggs.

Sadly I haven’t spotted any in action recently.  Native bees here as elsewhere in the country are in distress. I have seen fewer and fewer bumblebees in recent years. Even the little sweat bees seem to be lacking this year.

I hope this alarms you as much as it does me. These valuable little pollinators are the canaries in the coal mine. What is happening to them will also be happening to us. Much can be done to reverse this trend; the planting of native flowers, reducing or eliminating pesticide use are two important things we can do. We won’t be just saving their lives, we’ll also be saving our own.

“Not a single bee has ever sent you an invoice. And that is part of the problem – because most of what comes to us from nature is free, because it is not invoiced, because it is not priced, because it is not traded in markets, we tend to ignore it.”
– Pavan Sukhdev, United Nations report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.

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Footnote: I’m happy to announce my second story The Doctor Who Went Over The Mountain has been published in the latest issue of “Into The Ruins.” Many thank to Mr. Joel Caris!