Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Midges in November

The first snowfall of the season fell yesterday. Late November, before the snow flies, is a pretty dreary season and the insect photography opportunities are quite limited. The one bug I have been seeing lately are mosquito like insects hovering around small trees and bushes. As late as last Thursday I saw one hovering around this basswood. More often there are a whole bunch of them bobbing up and down in a little cloud. From what I've read on the internet what I was likely seeing were male midges trying to find a mate.

Midges are a new insect for me. I had always thought that midge was just a generic term for small annoying flying insects, now, thanks to the internet, I have learned they are a family of insects (Chironomidae) that resemble mosquitoes but don't bite. They are very common; large swarms of males are often seen hovering over or just to one side of a bush or tree limb. They spend most of their life as aquatic larvae; the adults don't eat but only live long enough to mate and lay eggs. Finding midges in November isn't surprising as many midges species are cold tolerant; some will even appear in winter to mate. That is an amazing strategy to avoid predators; just appear once the predators have all either died off or have gone into hibernation. It also probably makes it easier to find a mate in the brief time they have before they die.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Last fly of the year

Flesh Fly (Family Sarcophagidae)

It was a nice cool sunny November day today when I visited the roadside berm. This fly, here sunning himself on a buckthorn leaf, was the only bug I saw. I expect he'll be the last fly I'll see this year.

The leaves are mostly off all the trees revealing the under-story of european buckthorn that keep their leaves much later than most other trees or bushes. In the above picture you can see the modest little thorn bracketed by the two terminal buds of the buckthorn twig. Next year the buds will branch out leaving a small thorn at the crotch of the branch. In the picture to the right you can see the small thorn at the crotch plus a couple of the juicy black berries that are an easy way to identify the bush. Not every bush will have berries, so the thorns at the end of twigs are a better winter marker for this invasive bush. In the summer the upsweeping veins on the leaves are an easy identifying feature. The only other tree I know that has similar leaves is an apple tree. In the 2009 area there are a couple of volunteer seedlings that look a bit like european buckthorn. One is indeed european buckthorn (see below) but the other is an apple seedling.