Tiger Beetles, Take 2

Green Claybank Tiger Beetle_LakePuebloSP-CO_LAH_1514

We may not live in the deepest, darkest jungle, but that doesn’t stop me from hunting tigers—tiger beetles, that is. Last year, I wrote about my first tiger beetle hunt. Earlier this month we repeated the adventure.

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Yet More Bugs…

Popillia japonica_Japanese Beetle_HudsonGardens-CO_LAH_5585It’s the end of the summer, and what’s a nature photographer to do? Most flowers are languishing in the sultry heat, their leaves brown and crispy as the summer monsoon turns to dry autumn. Gardens look battered from a season of hail storms, insects, and the ravages of sun and wind. The birds have had their families, so the males no longer need to impress the ladies, at least for a while. In many cases, they’ve shed their fancy duds in favor of muted colors that predators won’t notice. This year’s crop of youngsters is also hoping to be overlooked, with tan stripes that blend with the fading grass. Some of the most photogenic birds—tanagers and warblers, for instance, are already wending their way southward.

As I learned on Monday, however, this is a great time of year for bugs.

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Bugwatching!

Cuckoo WaspIt’s 4:30, still dark, and the alarm clock rouses me from a deep sleep. Wha…?? Oh, right, I’m going birding. There’s lots of talk about the “early bird” for a good reason. Birds get up early. Even as I’m fumbling around trying to find some jeans and a t-shirt, I can hear a robin singing outside my bedroom window.

Last week, I went on a field trip that didn’t start until 9 am. Nine! No setting the alarm clock. No downing cup after cup of caffeine (and then realizing all the bushes are much too small to hide behind). I could have a leisurely breakfast and drive off in the daylight—and we still saw plenty of wildlife. How did we manage to see so much so late in the day? Easy. We were bugwatching.

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Tiny Black, Jumping Leaf-chompers

Flea beetle damage on bok choy_BlkForest-CO_LAH_3411 Our family loves bok choy, so I always plant at least one block of the baby variety. And every year I harvest bok choy that looks as if it’s been peppered with buckshot. I can explain that I washed the leaves and they’re perfectly safe to eat, but really—who wants to eat leaves that were eaten by something else first? Ewww.

The culprit behind all those holes is an aggravating insect called a Flea Beetle. No, they aren’t really fleas, and they only bite plants, not people. If you look closely, you’ll see they’re shaped like beetles (fleas are vertically flattened). Still, they are very small, dark brown to black, and they can jump—just like fleas. And just like fleas, they can drive you crazy.

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Ladybug, Ladybug

ladybug-on-fernleaf-dbg-19sept05-lah-193The quintessential “good bug,” ladybugs (aka ladybird beetles) are the poster child of the beetle world. Everyone knows that ladybugs eat aphids and other “bad bugs” (especially scale insects) and should be welcomed in the garden.

Actually, not all ladybug species are red. Some species are orange, yellow, white, black, brown, or gray. And not all ladybug species eat aphids, although most do. Some are even agricultural pests, such as the infamous Mexican Bean Beetle. Still, most ladybugs are red, and they eat vast numbers of aphids, as well as scales, mealy bugs, leaf hoppers, mites and other soft-bodied insects and their eggs.

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Mountain Pine Beetles

monarch-lake_6588rLast summer we took a drive to Granby, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. While I had heard about the Mountain Pine Beetle for years, I was unprepared for the extent of the devastation. Entire mountainsides were covered in dead and dying pines, eerily resembling New England’s beautiful red fall foliage. But rather than deciduous maples and other hardwoods, these were conifers, largely ponderosas. They wouldn’t be turning green again come spring.

Many of us who live along the Front Range of the Rockies have ponderosa or other pines on our property. They’re well adapted to our climate and soils, and very resilient. But in spite of their suitability for our area, there are two major problems that pines can encounter. I discussed mistletoe last December. The other major cause of mortality is the mountain pine beetle (MPB).

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