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 wrote and taught in the English department at Southwest Minnesota State University for 27 years. 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.”

According to Utah State University’s Cooperative Extension, the red and white bugs are essentially harmless. They 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 off 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.

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.

(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.

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

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

Boxelder Bugs Fact Sheet, Erin Hodgson, Alan H. Roe, USU Cooperative Extension:

Utah’s Recent Pinyon Migrations and the Prospects for Climate Change

Utah’s Recent Pinyon Migrations and the Prospects for Climate Change
Packrat Fossil Midden
City of Rocks
Copyright © 2009 Julio Betancourt

In the late 1970’s, springtime in the American West warmed abruptly by 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the valleys, double that higher up. Our average onset of Spring now comes a week earlier across the West. If these are the first signs of climate change, even longer growing seasons will trigger not just earlier blooms but also northward plant migrations.

The past provides us with lessons about plant migrations. A thousand years ago, one-needle pinyon hopped from the Raft River Mountains in Utah to City of Rocks, Idaho. Across Utah, two-needle pinyon leaped over the Uintas to Flaming Gorge. We know this from radiocarbon dates on pinyon pine needles taken from ancient nest heaps of packrats preserved in caves. According to Dr. Julio Betancourt of the U.S. Geological Survey, who uses these packrat middens and tree rings to reveal past plant migrations, these recent advances by Utah’s two pinyon pines followed the Medieval Climate Anomaly, a period from 900 to 1300 AD marked by warming in Europe and severe drought in Utah.

Utah’s Recent Pinyon Migrations and the Prospects for Climate Change
Packrat 7000 year old Midden
Joshua Tree Natl Park
Copyright © 2009 Julio Betancourt

Droughts figure prominently in Dr. Betancourt’s view of tree migrations. Droughts trigger bark beetle infestations, wildfires, and tree dieoffs, opening up niches for regeneration. When the drought abates, the resident tree species typically return. With long-term warming, however, other species can move in from lower elevations or further south. Dead trees now abound on Utah’s landscape, and Dr. Betancourt thinks that we are on the verge of a new spate of tree migrations.

This go around, which species retreat or advance will depend on new factors, including human fragmentation of the landscape and accelerated dispersal of native and non-native species that hitch rides with us. To conserve ecological goods and services associated with some species, Dr. Betancourt argues, we will have to manage for these plant migrations.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photo: Courtesy and © Copyright 2009 Julio Betancourt

Text: Julio Betancourt USGS NRP Tucson: Biotic Response to Climate Variability
Faculty and Staff > Julio Betancourt

Additional Reading:

USGS National Research Program: Tucson AZ

Climate Change and the Great Basin, Jeanne C. Chambers, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Reno, NV, 2008,

A Database of Paleoecological Records from Neotoma Middens in Western North America, USGS/NOAA North American Packrat Midden Database, (Accessed 27 August 2009)

Midges, gnats and no see ums

Male Chironomid midge
on Antelope Island
Courtesy & © 2008 Carol Davis
per Creative Commons Attribution
No Derivative Works 3.0
United States License

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

Summer has finally arrived, even in northern Utah. As the temperature rises, different locations around the state are experiencing the perfect conditions for no see ums.

Not long ago, a couple of no see ums got under my skin– so to speak. I asked some friends and colleagues, “What exactly is a no see um?” Is it the same thing as a gnat? A midge?” Only one person in 20 knew the difference, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to sort out what is what.

First of all, let’s talk about midges. Midges are small, mosquito lookalikes. They represent a very large group in the taxonomic order of flies or Diptera. There are at least 2000 species different species in North America alone. They often occur in huge swarms, usually in the evening. You might see them “dancing” in the air, in columns rising up from the ground. Sometimes they will rest in large numbers on walls, screens and buildings, particularly during the warmer part of the day. When present in large numbers, they can be annoying. Midges are why you should keep your mouth closed when riding your bike.

Most midge species don’t bite. The term no see ums refers to the ones that do bite. In southern Utah biting midges –aka no see ums –are often called cedar gnats. You may also hear them referred to as punkies or moose flies as well as some other names not mentionable on air.
No see ums can surprise you for their bite is completely out of proportion to their tiny size—which is less than 1/8 of an inch long. Like mosquitoes, only the female bites for she needs a blood meal to produce eggs.

Unlike mosquitoes, no see ums don’t puncture the skin. They cut it open with their scissor-like mandibles. Then they squirt a chemical on the open wound to prevent clotting. Finally they suck up the resulting pool of blood through their proboscis, a straw-like structure near their mouth. Think of no see ums as miniature blenders making a smoothie out of you!

Finally, let’s consider gnats. The word gnat is a very loose term that seems to refer to either midges or biting midges or both, depending on the speaker.

Whatever you choose to call them, midges/gnats/no see ums are guaranteed to season the air and to decorate your windshield this summer.
For pictures of swarming midges and a scary close-up of a no see um see

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

Images: Courtesy Wikimedia and Carol Davis, Photographer
Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Borror, Donald J., Charles A. Triplehorn (Author), Norman F. Johnson Introduction to the Study of Insects, 6th Edition. 1989. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

Hovenweep National Monument. Biting Gnats fact sheet.

Utah County Online. Health: Mosquito Abatement. Insects Resembling Mosquitoes.
[Accessed June 25, 2010]

Tarantula Tales

Harietta the Tarantula
at Stokes Nature Center
Courtesy & Copyright 2010
Andrea Liberatore

Aphonopelma iodius
Courtesy & Copyright 2003
James Pitts

Aphonopelma iodius
Courtesy & Copyright 2003
James Pitts

Burrow of Aphonopelma iodius
Courtesy & Copyright 2004
James Pitts

Burrow of Aphonopelma iodius
Courtesy & Copyright 2004
James Pitts

Tarantula crossing the road, Eagle Mountain, UT, click to view larger image, Photo Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Shawna Olsen

Tarantula on a parking lot
University of Utah
20 August 2013
Salt Lake City, UT
Click to view larger image,
Courtesy & Copyright 2013
Lily Marsden

Tarantula on the East Bench, Ogden, UT, click to view larger image, Photo Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Lauren Fowler

Tarantula on the East Bench, Ogden, UT, click to view larger image, Photo Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Lauren Fowler

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

Here at the Nature Center, we have an 8 legged staff member named Harrietta. She is a beautiful Chilean Rose Tarantula. Visitors to the Nature Center often exclaim. “Wow! I’m glad those things don’t live around here!” But they are wrong. Tarantulas DO live here as well as in most areas of Utah.

Depending on your source of information Utah is home to either three or four different tarantula species. They’ve been found in the Mojave region in southwestern Utah as well as in the Great Basin.

For a number of reasons few people actually see the tarantulas in the Utah wilds. First of all, Utah is in the far northern part of the tarantula’s distribution range. This means environmental conditions here are less optimal for the spiders than in locations to the south. Secondly, both males and females spend most of their life in and around their burrows, which are dug into the ground in sparsely vegetated areas. As ambush predators, tarantulas lie motionless at the burrow entrance, waiting for an unsuspecting cricket, centipede or even a mouse to wander by. Only then will they dash out of their burrow to bite their victim and pull it back to the safety of their home for feeding. Lastly, tarantulas are nocturnal creatures, venturing out only after most humans have gone inside for the night.

Your best chance to see a tarantula is in the fall. During the months of September and October, mature males roam away from their burrows in search of a female counterpart. In SW Utah large numbers of males can sometimes be seen wandering in search of tarantula love.

In spite of their fearsome appearance, tarantulas are harmless to humans and large pets (e.g., dogs and cats). Their venom is of no medical significance, and, nobody has ever died from such a bite. Most people compare the bite to that of a bee sting and experience no lasting ill-effects other than mild to moderate pain and slight swelling at the site of the bite.

Special thanks to Andrea Liberatore of Stokes Nature Center and Dr. James Pitts of Utah State University’s Dept of Biology for their help with this Wild About Utah topic.

For sources and pictures go to

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Images:     Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Andrea Liberatore Stokes Nature Center
Courtesy & Copyright 2010 Shawna Olsen
Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Lily Marsden
Courtesy & Copyright 2013 Lauren Fowler
Text:         Andrea Liberatore & Holly Strand,
Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Allred, Dorald M., B. J. Kaston. 1983. A list of Utah spiders, with their localities. Western North American Naturalist, Vol 43, No 3

Hendrixson, Brett. “So You Found A Tarantula” . American Tarantula Society Headquarters. [Accessed July 22, 2010]

Prentice, Thomas R. 1997. Theraphosidae of the Mojave Desert West and North of the Colorado River (Araneae, Mygalomorphae, Theraphosideae) The Journal of Arachnology 25:137–176
[Accessed July 22, 2010]

Sharp, Jay. “About Tarantulas” Desert USA [Accessed July 22, 2010]