Ento-musings from the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bugs of Spring

Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomology

It's official: today is the first full day of spring! In Kentucky, that means mild, humid weather. And that also means bugs. This is bad news for some people, but for entomologists, it's a time for joy. It's also a good time for educators. Kids and teachers are typically trapped inside most of the school year, but spring is a time when some classrooms have an opportunity to get outside. And one of the easiest ways for a K-12 science class to take advantage of the outdoors is to study and observe insects. Insects are present in every kind of outdoor habitat, and they start appearing on mild days in early spring.

Recently, Scott Darst, (4-H Agent, Madison County Kentucky) called us and said that he was planning to take some kids outside this spring, and he wanted to know what kinds of insects you can expect to see on the earliest spring days. Here are some of them:

Butterflies. Some butterfly species overwinter as fully-grown adults (or spend the winter as pupa) and are ready to take advantage of wildflower-nectar on the first mild spring days. Some of the ones that I see in early spring in Kentucky are Commas, Question Marks, and some of the so-called Sulphurs and Whites. Yesterday, I saw one of the Whites (probably a Cabbage Butterfly).

Bees. Like butterflies, bees are pollinators, so they are ready for spring wildflowers, too. Honey Bees and several other types of bees are commonly seen on early spring days. Yesterday, I saw a large Carpenter Bee visiting daffodils in my yard.

Flies. Several types of flies are common in early spring. House Flies and their kin become active on mild winter days and early spring days to take advantage of carrion and other decaying materials that begin to thaw as winter comes to an end. Crane flies breed in cool wet areas, so spring is a time for them to thrive.

Spiders. While spiders are probably most-commonly noticed in late summer and early fall in Kentucky, there are several types that are active as soon as mild temperatures return in the spring. Furrow Spiders are one of the few types of orb-weavers that overwinter as adults, and they can be seen making webs in spring. I have also already seen a Bold Jumping Spider this spring. These large jumping spiders are also able to live through the winter as adults.

Others. Although the critters mentioned above are among the most noticeable early-spring insects, there are many more that you might encounter, too. Ants are already moving in Kentucky, and so are some of the wasp species. I have also seen a Boxelder Bug. Also, aquatic insects (like mayfly and stonefly naiads and caddisfly larvae) thrive in cool water, so spring is a great time to find them if you are willing to get a little bit wet!

So get out there and hunt for some bugs. If it's a sunny day and the temperature is above 50°F, I guarantee that you will find some, and it's also pretty likely that--even though bugs are involved--you'll have a better time than you would sitting inside!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Go Spiders!

The Richmond Spiders men's basketball team is currently playing in their conference championship game. They did well last year, too. I'll continue to cheer for them until they have to play UK!

The Spiders have a lame mascot:

But a very cool logo:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Zombie Fungi

Here's a link to a cool story, including a video, of fungi that parasitize insects and turn them into "zombies."


Although these fungi don't actually reanimate dead insects, they do have the ability to influence the behavior of their hosts. A fungi-infected ant, for instance, will engage in behaviors that will make it more likely to spread the fungus to other members of its colony. Imagine if--when you were sick with the flu--you had an uncontrollable urge to walk up to people and sneeze on them!

Although the specific fungi mentioned in the article are newly-discovered, this phenomenon has been known in insects for a long time. In addition to fungi, some viral diseases are also able to affect similar zombie-style behavior in their insect hosts. Luckily, none of these diseases are able to infect humans!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mazda Spyder

Mazda is having problems with spiders. As it turns out, the "evaporative canister vent line" in their Mazda 6 sedan is a perfect habitat for Yellow Sac Spiders. These spiders like to take up residence in tiny, tube-like spaces, so this isn't too surprising.

Here is the story from CNN:

Yellow Sac Spiders, by the way, are very common in the U.S. They are often found in homes, and are sometimes mistaken for Brown Recluse Spiders because they have a similar shape. Read more about Yellow Sac Spiders.

UPDATE: A journalist from L.A. just called us to ask some questions about this story. I told him that I'm not really an expert on Yellow Sac Spiders, but I gave him the best info that I could. Can't wait to see if my name shows up in a report!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Quoted in USA Today. Cool!