May 11, 2014

Don't bug out, but we owe many insects our thanks

The North Country has a love-hate thing about insects.

We love the butterflies and caddis flies, but we hate the black flies, mosquitoes and ash borers. And we really hate the ticks.

But during a brief window we get to enjoy a few days, maybe weeks, when the insects haven’t emerged or arrived from wherever they’ve been all winter and it feels great.

Since the lake and most ponds are still at temperatures in the high 40s, I am still in the woods more than on the water.

I am not attuned to the hatches of flies from the water the way anglers are. Instead I notice insect signs in woody and dirty places where they have learned the secrets of tucking themselves — or laying their eggs — into the bark of trees for winter cover, and burying themselves in the duff on the forest floor.

A good, close inspection of bark in spring, before trees and shrubs leaf out, provides a lot of evidence of insects. 

This week as I looked closely at a paper birch where the bark was beginning to peel, I noticed a few dozen tiny white balls that looked like tapioca. 

Ezra Schwartzberg, a forest entomologist from Saranac Lake, suspected “eggs from the Order Hemiptera. eg. stink bugs and the like.”

Schwartzberg’s business, Adirondack Research, provides services to landowners and organizations trying to understand the effects of insect dynamics on forest health. They work on invasive species management, biological inventories and the effects of climate change on insect-plant relationships.

It’s not necessary to cut into trees to see insect sign.

One of the most common signs is the egg mass of gypsy moths. These light brown patches look like a soft, flat fungus against the bark.

Another sign of insect life is the tiny holes from which boring insects emerge, after the larvae chew twisting tunnels, called galleries, in the wood. 

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