Boxelder Bug Poetry

Boxelder Bugs
Courtesy Michigan Department of Agriculture

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Bill Holm, author, poet and essayist from Minnesota, died last week. He wrote and taught in the English department at Southwest Minnesota State University for 27 years. Why I do I mention this on a program about Utah nature? Because through his writing, he helped me come to terms with one aspect of Utah nature that I found troublesome at first —the ubiquitous and abundant boxelder bug.

“My boxelder bugs have odd preferences,” Holm wrote “They love radio dials, phonograph speakers, amplifiers, pianos, and harpsichords. Some would argue that this is because of the warmth and vibrations, but I prefer to think it is because of their taste for Bach and Vivaldi.”

The red and white bugs are essentially harmless. They might stain walls or carpets if you squish them. However, they are annoying primarily because they enter homes and other buildings in large numbers. Once in, they’ll find their way into your personal effects. Like your hair or your toothbrush or the glass of water you keep on the bedside table.

After hearing me go on a boxelder bug rant, a friend gave me Holm’s book Boxelder Bug Variations: A meditation of an idea in language and music. It changed my attitude toward with household invaders, as now I think of them as poetic. Maybe if I read a few verses, you will feel the same:
First, a boxelder bug prayer:

I want so little
For so little time
A south window,
A wall to climb,
The smell of coffee,
A radio knob,
Nothing to eat,
Nothing to rob,
Not love, not power,
Not even a penny,
Forgive me only
For being so many.

In this one, Holm describes a method for disposing boxelder bugs:

Take two bricks.
Creep deliberately up
Behind the boxelder bug,
Being careful not to sing—
This will alert him.
In a graceful flowing gesture,
Something like a golf swing
Or reaching for your lover in the dark,
Gather up the boxelder bug
On the surface of the left brick
Bringing the right brick
At the same time firmly down
Together with the left brick.
There will be a loud crashing,
Like broken cymbals,
Maybe a breaking of brick, and
If you are not careful,
Your own voice rising.
When the brick dust has settled
And you have examined your own hands,
Carefully,
You will not see the boxelder bug,
There is a small hole in the brick
And he is exploring it,
Calmly, like a millionaire
In an antique shop.

And finally, three boxelder bug haiku:

(1) Careful if you kill him!
There may be an afterlife
For both of you.
(2) Those black spots in your lamp?
Only bugs who didn’t make it
Into the next world.

And finally…

(3) The piano string stops trembling
But boxelder bugs
Keep dancing.

Thanks to Jen Levy for introducing me to boxelder bug poetry, and to Milkweed Editions for permission to reproduce Bill Holm’s work.

The Rocky Mountain Power Foundation supports research and development of Wild About Utah topics.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy Michigan Department of Agriculture

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Boxelder Bug Variations: A Meditation on an Idea in Language and Music, Holm, Bill, 1985, Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions http://www.milkweed.org/

Boxelder Bugs Fact Sheet, Erin Hodgson, Alan H. Roe, USU Cooperative Extension:
http://extension.usu.edu/files/factsheets/boxelder.pdf

Our Native Squash Bees

Our Native Squash Bees: Squash Bee, Peponapis_pruinosa, Courtesy and Copyright 2007 Jim Cane - All Rights Reserved
Squash Bee
Copyright 2007 Jim Cane
All Rights Reserved

Utah’s wintry weather seemed interminable this year, but at long last, full summer is upon us. Balmy days ripen the bounties of our orchards and gardens, including vast quantities of squashes: zucchini, crookneck, banana, butternut, and later, the pumpkins for Halloween. Squashes require pollinators. . Foraging bees inadvertently move the pollen from the male flowers to fertilize female flowers. Such pollination by a bee will result in the seeds you encounter when you slice open a squash. Without developing seeds, no squash will form, so pollination by bees is vital.

New research is showing that a specific group of unmanaged native bees is largely responsible for pollinating our squashes, gourds and pumpkins. From Maine to California, and all around Utah, these so-called squash bees are busily visiting flowers of all of our squashes, from acorn to zucchini. In fact, they are only visiting these flowers, as these bees are strict floral specialists. Beginning at dawn, male squash bees can be seen darting among squash flowers, seeking receptive mates and the odd sip of nectar to fuel their flight. Females load up on nectar and the bright orange pollen to cart back to their nests. Unlike honeybees, each female squash bee has her own nest, consisting of a simple underground burrow. She provisions each of her offspring with a cache of pure squash pollen and nectar. By 9AM, their frenetic morning of foraging complete, female squash bees head home to rest and work on their nests. Through their early morning foraging activities, they daily pollinate each day’s new flush of flowers.

Zucchini Squash with Flowers

If you grow squashes, you are likely to find their flowers being visited by squash bees. Look for these bees around breakfast time, between sunrise and 8:30. They fly more quickly and deliberately between flowers than the slightly larger, later-flying honeybees. Unlike honeybees, female squash bees carry their pollen dry in a brush of hairs on their hind legs. Later, you may discover sleeping male squash bees by pinching the wilted, closed flowers. A drowsy buzz reveals a defenseless male squash bee sleeping within. There he will snooze until dawn, which brings a new flush of flowers, and with it, another chance for every squash bee Romeo to find his buzzy Juliet. All this drama, and you thought you were just growing zucchini!

Our Native Squash Bees-Credits:

Photos: Courtesy and © Copyright 2007 Jim Cane
Squash Bee Video © Copyright 2008 Lyle Bingham

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society: Jim Cane

Our Native Squash Bees-Additional Reading:

Squash Pollinators of the Americas Survey (SPAS), James Cane, USDA Pollinating Insect Research Unit, Utah State University
http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=12041

Celebrating Wildflowers, Pollinator of the Month, Squash Bees, Jim Cane, USDA ARS, Bee Biology & Systematics Lab, Logan, Utah
http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/squash_bees.shtml

Videos:

Squash Bee Peponapis & Sunflower Bee Melissodes agilis in Ontario 2, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXMmLjTYp3k
Squash Bee Peponapis & Sunflower Bee Melissodes agilis in Ontario 1, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0Hvfz1o3Iw

Bee Pollinators of Southwest Virginia Crops (revised 6 June 2010), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_etyEdu9fQ

Crop domestication facilitated rapid geographical expansion of a specialist pollinator, the squash bee Peponapis pruinosa, Margarita M. López-Uribe, James H. Cane, Robert L. Minckley, Bryan N. Danforth
Proc. R. Soc. B 2016 283 20160443; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0443. Published 22 June 2016
http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/283/1833/20160443.abstract

One of the World’s Largest Shrimp Buffets

One of the world's largest shrimp buffets: Brine Shrimp Naupli (Artemia) from the Great Salt Lake, Courtesy USGS
Brine Shrimp Naupli
from the Great Salt Lake
Courtesy USGS

One of the most unique and important habitats in Utah is the Great Salt Lake. It’s the largest U.S. lake west of the Mississippi River and it’s the 4th largest terminal lake (meaning it has no outlet) in the world. The waters of the Great Salt Lake are typically 3 to 5 times saltier than the ocean . For that reason, you won’t find any fish; in fact, the largest aquatic animals are brine shrimp which are little crustaceans that are found worldwide in saline lakes and seas. You may know the brine shrimp as “sea monkeys” as they are called when packaged and sold as novelty gifts.

Brine shrimp like their water to be between 2 and 25 percent salt. The Great Salt Lake species is especially well adapted to cold . If the temperature is moderate and there is plenty of algae to eat, the females will produce more live young. As temperatures lower, food supply decreases, or other stress factors appear, females will switch to producing cysts which are tiny hard-shelled egg-like spheres. Cysts are metabolically inactive, and can survive without food, without oxygen, even at below freezing temperatures. During winter, the adult brine shrimp typically die from lack of food or low temperature, but the cysts are able to survive the winter and form a large population base for the next generation of brine shrimp.

Brine shrimp practically fill the Great Salt Lake. At times, they become so numerous that you can see them as large reddish-brown streaks on the surface of the lake. Because birds like to eat them, the Great Salt Lake supports one of the largest migratory bird concentrations in Western North America. Birds like the Eared Grebe and Wilson’s Phalarope reach their largest concentrations anywhere as they load up at one of the world’s largest shrimp buffets. In all, during peak migration you’ll find 2 to 5 million birds using the Great Salt Lake to obtain the nourishment required for their long and strenuous trip. It’s fascinating that these tiny prehistoric crustaceans play such an important role in sustaining the large number and wide variety of birds that travel through or live in our State.

Credits:

Audio: Sound for this recording was generously provided by the Western Soundscape Archive at the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library. http://westernsoundscape.org/

Photo: Courtesy USGS, http://ut.water.usgs.gov/greatsaltlake/shrimp/

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Anna Paul, Holly Strand logannature.org

Sources & Additional Reading

USGS, Utah Water Science Center, Brine Shrimp and Ecology of Great Salt Lake. (Courtesy Internet Archive Wayback Machine, Apr 15, 2008) https://wildaboututah.org/wp-content/uploads/080415-Wayback-USGS-Brine-Shrimp-and-Ecology-of-Great-Salt-Lake.pdf Formerly: http://ut.water.usgs.gov/greatsaltlake/shrimp/

US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bear River Migratory Refuge. http://www.fws.gov/bearriver/

Westminster College GSL Project –
http://people.westminstercollege.edu/faculty/tharrison/gslfood/studentpages/brine.html

Great Salt Lake, Utah, USGS, https://pubs.usgs.gov/wri/wri994189/PDF/WRI99-4189.pdf

Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlife.utah.gov/gsl/

Larese-Casanova, Mark, The Brine Shrimp of Great Salt Lake, Wild About Utah, Jan 6, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/the-brine-shrimp-of-great-salt-lake/

Brine Shrimp, Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah, http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/gsl/foodweb/brine_shrimp/