You and I and the Winged Things

You and I and the Winged Things: Late Autumn Evening Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller
Late Autumn Evening
Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller
One of the greatest magics of these late autumn evenings is that of midges, gnats, flies, mosquitoes, and bugs which flitter about in the humble stratosphere of their world between the intermittent cold snaps. They loop and spiral, as if on spiritual roller coasters, gently refracting the setting sun through and upon their bodies so that they seem to glow and become prescient of the night’s stars soon to bloom. When the cool November sun begins to set low, I can look out amongst the naked shrubs and thinning trees, the tall shaggy grasses and dead kaleidoscopic leaves, and see those hidden creatures who only dance in unlovely places the splendid slow waltz of autumnal joy.

Through the cascading shadow, the dance of the waning wing-bearers becomes even more dramatic. As the sun continues to slide below the mountains, the insects increase their pace it seems, and then begins the cataclysm of the birds. Small gray and off-gray birds with different flecks, inflections, songs, and hearts, though unified as the kind that would easily build a good hardy nest in an old dilapidated mug, begin diving through the midges and gnats and flies and mosquitoes. The birds are trapeze artists. Starting from a perch in a nearby tree, they swoop with grace through the air in a dramatic arc. At the nadir of their swing, the snare roll abruptly halts, a sharp inhale of silence descends like thunder and is followed in quicktime by a cymbal crash as the acrobats catch their purse in midair. Then, gently arching back up to the adjacent branch across, a great applause raptures. Like this, the birds dive and breach, avian orcas earning their rich protein in preparation for the imminent changing of the season. The horizon of thin times drives the orchestra of life onwards.

As I watch the fading insects, bugs, winged things, and other wonders I ponder as to why many see them as pests. In the evening glow, it seems an impossible identity for these fellow inhabitants of our world. Do people fear them? Not understand them? Believe they belong in one place and not another? Watching them in that moment, the thought escapes my mind and I am glad. I am glad to forget their supposedly assigned state, and I instead reforge my memories anew in the present, watching them as sparks in the swiftly quenching day. The perpetual creation of the world continues along, with I and you and all we’ve ever known and will know wrapped within it.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
Images: Courtesy & © Friend Weller https://upr.org/
Audio: Courtesy & © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin https://upr.org/
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Top 20 Identified Insects, Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab, Extension, Utah State University, https://extension.usu.edu/pests/uppdl/top-20-insects

Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle

Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle: White-spotted sawyer Monochamus scutellatus Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
White-spotted sawyer
Monochamus scutellatus
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Longhorn Beetle Crossidius coralinus Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Longhorn Beetle Crossidius coralinus
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

A Childs Sawyer Beetle in Her Naturalist Journal Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer A Childs Sawyer Beetle in Her Naturalist Journal
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Before E. B. White set about crafting Charlotte’s Web in 1949, according to Melissa Sweet’s biography Some Writer, he was “bringing a pail of slops to the barn” that he loved in Maine and thinking about a time not long before when he observed a barn spider spinning her egg sac and depositing her eggs. Weeks later, when he had brought the egg sac in a candy box to New York City, he found hundreds of spiderlings emerging and realized a story emerging as well. Michael Sims, author of The Story of Charlotte’s Web, quotes from a letter White wrote to some schoolchildren: “I didn’t like spiders at first, but then I began watching one of them, and soon saw what a wonderful creature she was and what a skillful weaver. I named her Charlotte.” E. B. White went to Willis J. Gertsch, author of American Spiders and expert at the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Insects and Spiders, to learn. He spent a year studying spiders in order to get the story just right.
Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle
In northern Utah last week I made a friend who happened to be a white-spotted sawyer beetle named Monochamus scutellatus. My children and I have been fascinated by these insects for years. If you are the most apprehensive and skittish adventurer in your group, chances are that this relatively large forest insect will glide in, land on you, and courageously stay, as if it had something to say. Like E. B. White and the orb weaver Aranea cavatica, this longhorned beetle and I had a face-to-face chat. What you will notice immediately are his long horns. These antennae were twice as long as the rest of his body, and that’s how you would know he was a male. The antennae of the females, in contrast, are typically only half as long. Both male and female have a distinctive white dot at the base of the wings, an easy way to distinguish them from the invasive Asian longhorned or velvet longhorned varieties.

This white-spotted sawyer said he is often misunderstood because of his appearance. He can’t help looking a bit creepy. He also sometimes gets blamed for damaging forests and wanted to set the record straight. He said that as a grub, he fed on the sapwood of evergreen trees that are already dead or nearing it. In fact, sawyer beetles invade trees following forest fires and in the months following mountain pine beetle attacks. They do not, however, kill healthy thriving trees. Sawyer beetles are, though, responsible for the familiar teeth-grinding sounds one hears in a wooded area as the fleshy larvae scrape with their mandibles.

At the other end of Utah perched in Monticello’s rabbitbrush a few days ago, I met a colony of striking Crossidius coralinus. Instead of mostly black bodies, these longhorn beetles boast vibrant reds and many more stories to tell. Thanks to beetle entomologist Ted MacRae, I am able to understand those stories better. I must admit that I will probably still jump when a longhorned beetle initiates a conversation from my forearm, but I now appreciate its point of view. After all, Charles Darwin suggested that “a taste for collecting beetles is some indication of future success in life,” and I will take all the help I can get.

For Wild About Utah, I am Shannon Rhodes.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Cohen, Joel I. Exploring the nature of science through courage and purpose: a case study of Charles Darwin’s way of knowing. SpringerPlus. 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5020019/pdf/40064_2016_Article_3053.pdf ​​

Corrigan, Maureen. How E. B. White Spun Charlotte’s Web. Published July 5, 2011, accessed August 5, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2011/07/05/137452030/how-e-b-white-spun-charlottes-web

MacRae, Ted C. “Big, Black (and Red), and Beautiful: Mini-review of the Cicindelidia abdominalis species-group.” Published July 18, 2014, accessed August 13, 2022. Beetles in the Bush, https://beetlesinthebush.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/mini-review-of-the-cicindelidia-abdominalis-species-group/.

Rodman, Taryn M. et al. Velvet Longhorned Beetle. Utah Pests Fact Sheet. July 2020. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/research/velvet-longhorned-beetle#:~:text=Quick%20Facts,%2C%20%20Davis%2C%20and%20%20Tooele%20%20counties

Spears, Lori et al. Invasive Insect Lookalikes: mistaken insect identity. Utah Pests Fact Sheet. October 2015. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/research/invasive-insect-lookalikes

Strand, Holly. Bark Beetle Mania! Published June 25, 2009. https://wildaboututah.org/bark-beetle-mania/

Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. https://www.melissasweet.net/somewriter

United States Forest Service. Mountain Pine Beetle. 2011. https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5299324.pdf

Utah Pests Quarterly Newsletter. Winter 2021. Vol. XV. Asian Longhorned Beetle: not yet in Utah. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/files/up-newsletter/2021/UtahPestsNews-winter21.pdf

Our Mormon Crickets

Mormon Cricket female Anabrus-simplex Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Mormon Cricket female
Anabrus-simplex
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Children’s author George Selden described the impact of a cricket’s chirping in the bustle of a subway station in his book “The Cricket in Times Square” like this: “Like ripples around a stone dropped into still water, the circles of silence spread out. …Eyes that looked worried grew soft and peaceful; tongues left off chattering; and ears full of the city’s rustling were rested by the cricket’s melody.” Combine this musical talent with Jiminy Cricket’s gentle reminder to always listen to my conscience, and it is no wonder that I would drift to sleep on summer evenings enamored with cricket songs. How, I thought, could such a beautifully-sounding insect be the villain in Utah’s legend we know as the Miracle of the Gulls, memorialized in Minerva Teichert paintings and Temple Square monuments?

Decades later, near Fremont Indian State Park, I met a Mormon cricket for the first time. I cringed as I watched thousands of these creatures hopping across the mountain path that afternoon, and I understood how merciful those California gulls must have seemed, swooping in to gobble up the insects, as the Mormon pioneers struggled to develop a defensive, crop-saving plan as newcomers to this land.

Mormon Cricket female Anabrus-simplex Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Mormon Cricket female
Anabrus-simplex
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Utah settler Mrs. Lorenzo Dow Young captures a bit of the incident in her 1848 journal entry: “May 27: …today to our utter astonishment, the crickets came by millions, sweeping everything before them. They first attacked a patch of beans…, and in twenty minutes there was not a vestige to be seen. They next swept over peas…; took everything clean.” These hordes of insects were not new to the area, however, as we know that explorer Peter Skene Ogden noted “crickets by millions” in his 1825 journal account over 20 years earlier.

Did you know that Mormon crickets are not crickets, grasshoppers, or cicadas, but large shield-backed katydids that walk or hop rather than fly? Their smooth, shiny exoskeleton can be a variety of colors and patterns, like the reddish-brown female I chased and studied this summer in Fishlake National Forest. They have long antennae, and each female has what looks like a long curving stinger extending from her abdomen. This ovipositor allows her to deposit 100 eggs or more that look like gray or purple rice grains just below the soil surface. The males, on the other hand, lack this structure, but they “sing” as a way to attract females, and reward their mates with protein-packed spermatophore prizes.

Katydid or bush cricket Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Katydid or bush cricket
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
These insects can be solitary mountain-dwellers but make headlines when they swarm in huge bands, marching in one direction as omnivores, in search of anything to eat: cultivated crops, succulent forbs, sagebrush and other shrubs, other insects, and even their own kind. Researchers tracking migrations determined they can travel more than 50 miles in a summer, perhaps a mile a day, and for many, including those early Utah settlers and others hoping to shield crops from Mormon cricket devastation, it is a sign of relief to see the last one for the season. They do make for a great story, though.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Shannon Rhodes.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Anderson, Rebecca. Miracle of the Crickets. Utah Humanities. 2011.
https://www.utahhumanities.org/stories/items/show/223

Capinera, John and Charles MacVean. Ecology and Management of Mormon Cricket. Department of Entomology Colorado State University. 1987.
http://www.nativefishlab.net/library/textpdf/17378.pdf

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Crickets and Seagulls. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/crickets-and-seagulls?lang=eng

Cowan, Frank. Life History, Habits, and Control of the Mormon Cricket. United States Department of Agriculture. 1929. https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/CAT86200155/PDF

Hartley, William. Mormons, Crickets, and Gulls: A New Look at an Old Story. 1970. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume38_1970_number3/s/107089

Kent State University. Study Reveals Mass Migration Of Mormon Crickets Driven By Hunger, Fear. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily.com, 2 March 2006. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060302174524.htm

National Geographic. Giant Swarm of Mormon Crickets. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy3dQJYquoY

Palmer, Matt. Get a Jump on Mormon Cricket and Grasshopper Management. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/slideshows/ppt/03sh-insects-mc.pdf

Selden, George, and Garth Williams. The Cricket in Times Square. New York: Ariel Books, 1960. https://www.amazon.com/Cricket-Times-Square-Chester-Friends/dp/0312380038

University of Wyoming. Mormon Cricket Biology and Management poster. https://owyheecounty.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/MormonCricketbiologymgmtposteruofWYB1191.pdf

The Wild Episode. Mormon Cricket: The Cannibal Swarm.
​​https://thewildepisode.com/2020/12/11/mormon-cricket-the-cannibal-swarm/

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Nature Came to Me

Glovers Silk Moth Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Glovers Silk Moth
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Glovers Silk Moth Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Glovers Silk Moth
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

This week I couldn’t make time to get out into nature, so nature came to me. I suppose people think that once students stack chairs and say goodbye as they carry their yearbooks, portfolios, and report cards out the door, their teacher lounges all summer in a hammock with a just-for-fun book and a lemonade. Perhaps a few teachers do. This teacher was scurrying off to afternoon meetings about math tutoring and curriculum planning after spending mornings discussing hundreds of scholarly journal pages she’d read the night before about effective writing instruction. No, I wouldn’t make time this week for nature, so nature came to me, begging me to slow down, take notice, pause, breathe.

First, it was a bird with a yellow head perched just outside my bedroom window as I hit the alarm. I didn’t take the time to get the details or even listen to its song as I rushed off to the car. Was it a warbler or a meadowlark? I’m not sharp enough on my bird identifying yet to instantly know, and there was no time anyway. Not even to take a picture.

Rushing from my office to the adjacent building for class, I did stop to stare at the largest moth I’d ever seen that was perched on the similarly-colored rusty-brown brick. This time I pulled out my phone to get some shots, certain that the iNaturalist app would reveal how uncommon it is to see a moth bigger than the size of my fist leisurely greeting me on the summer camp-bustling university campus. Patiently it sat as I zoomed in closer to get all the angles of its head, wooly abdomen, and wing patterns. 7:58–time to go find my seat.

Later, my iNaturalist app provided a suggestion: Glover’s Silk Moth, a rather common find this time of year in my part of the world. Then, as I sat on a dining patio overlooking the river telling my friends about the moth, a garter snake skirted the rock wall just feet away from me until it found a comfortable spot to watch and listen.

Suddenly, I realized that nature was hosting a BioBlitz for me if I wanted to join in. A BioBlitz, according to the partnership of National Geographic and iNaturalist, is “a celebration of biodiversity….focused on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time.” Children’s book author Loree Griffin Burns cleverly guides her young readers in similarly throwing a Moth Ball.

Last June I learned that my tangerine-colored moth find in Logan Canyon was a Nuttall’s Sheep Moth, and that I could join citizen scientists all over in pinning observations on the map and logging wild encounters like this new-to-me species, especially during National Moth Week. It was William Wordsworth who wisely wrote, “Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher.” This week she was trying to teach me to be more aware, that my day’s list could allow time to appreciate a yellow bird, a curious snake, and a marvelous giant silk moth, and suddenly I was also spotting ladybug larva and ring-necked pheasants. I had time. As Richard Louv states in his book titled Last Child in the Woods, “Nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.”

For Wild About Utah, I’m Shannon Rhodes.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Burns, Loree Griffin. You’re Invited to a Moth Ball: A Nighttime Insect Celebration. 2020. https://loreeburns.com/

Greene, Jack. Join a BioBlitz This Year. Wild About Utah, May 30, 2016. https://wildaboututah.org/bioblitz/

Insect Identification.org. Glover’s Silkmoth. January 3, 2022. https://www.insectidentification.org/insect-description.php?identification=Glovers-Silkmoth

Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. 2008. http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child

National Geographic. BioBlitz. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/bioblitz/

National Moth Week, Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission, https://nationalmothweek.org/

Rhodes, Shannon. Malacomosa Dance. Wild About Utah, June 21, 2021. https://wildaboututah.org/malacomosa-dance/

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Field Station. Giant Silk Moths. November 26, 2014. https://uwm.edu/field-station/giant-silk-moths-family-saturnidae/

Winter, William D. Jr. Basic Techniques for Observing and Studying Moths & Butterflies. The Lepidopterists’ Society. 2000. https://www.lepsoc.org/sites/all/themes/nevia/lepsoc/Memoir_5_Basic_techniques_manual.pdf

Wordsworth, William. The Tables Turned. 1798. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45557/the-tables-turned