Archives For insect

Damselflies 101

Carol Freeman —  September 6, 2014 — 4 Comments

The Chicago Botanic Garden is a great place to find damselflies. You can find them in every location here, and different locations will often yield different species.

PHOTO: Rare form of male Eastern Forktail damselfly.

This is the rare form of the male eastern forktail damselfly. You can see what looks like an exclamation point on its back, similar to the fragile forktail damselfly. ©Carol Freeman

For example, you might find stream bluets along the river and orange bluets hanging out on the lily pads. Most species measure about an inch in length and can be easily overlooked, but when you take time to slow down and search for these tiny gems, you will be rewarded with finding some of nature’s most beautiful hunters. Indeed, these tiny insects are fierce hunters—but don’t worry, as they neither bite nor sting humans. Their preferred food choice is other, smaller insects (including mosquitoes).

The main differences between dragonflies and damselflies are their size and wing positions. Damselflies, in general, are smaller, and hold their wings over their abdomens. Dragonflies tend to be larger, with a heavier body, and hold their wings out to the side.

The most common species around here is the eastern forktail damselfly. Identifying them can be tricky, as they come in several different varieties! The males and females look very different from each other, and the females change color as they age.

PHOTO: Male Eastern Forktail damselfly.

This is the most common coloring for the adult male eastern forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis). Note the blue on the end of the abdomen. ©Carol Freeman

PHOTO: Immature female Eastern Forktail damselfly.

This is a young female eastern forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis). She will turn a light, powdery blue as she ages. ©Carol Freeman

PHOTO: Female Eastern Forktail damselfly.

This is the most common coloring of the adult female eastern forktail damselfly (Ischnura verticalis). ©Carol Freeman

 

PHOTO: Male Fragile Forktail damselfly.

This is an adult male fragile forktail (Ischnura posita) — similar to the rare form of the eastern forktail. Keep your eyes open for this one, as they often fly near the eastern forktails. ©Carol Freeman

I like to get out early in the morning. The light is low, there is often dew, and the insects move a bit more slowly until they warm up. One of my favorite places in the Garden to photograph damselflies is in the Dixon Prairie. They like to hang out on the grasses there. Walking slowly on the path next to the plants, you will see what look like tiny flying sticks. Damselflies will often congregate in one area and, if disturbed, sometimes land just a short distance away. I like to use my 105mm or 200mm macro lenses to photograph these beauties. They will fly until the first really hard frost. There are dozens of species native to this area—all of them beautiful and fierce hunters. 

PHOTO: An adult female Eastern Forktail damselfly eating another insect.

Here is an adult female eastern forktail damselfly with her catch of the day. ©Carol Freeman


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Kids Get Crafty

Amy Wells —  May 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

My 3-year-old son and I have enjoyed many seasons of Little Diggers. We have learned new things together and have had  a lot of fun with the projects—but our favorite project so far this year was with insects. We got up close and personal with ants, butterflies, grasshoppers, and ladybugs. The instructor set up habitats in mesh containers where we could look at each group of insects with magnifying glasses and two-way viewers—the same tools real scientists use every day!

A friend investigating grasshoppers.

A friend investigating grasshoppers.

After looking at all the insects up close, we talked about all the different body parts an insect has, and why that makes an insect an insect and not a spider or another bug (even though they have a lot of the same body parts). All insects have three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen), six legs, antennae, eyes—and sometimes wings! We remembered what the body parts were and where they go by building our own model insect. It was really easy—a fun and funny way to teach our little people about the different parts.

You can build your own model insect at home, too. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • An egg carton—Cut into strips of three eggs-worth. You can get four insect bodies out of one egg carton, so you can explore and make more than one kind of insect.
  • Coffee filters—Cut these each into six pieces for wings. You can see how to cut them from the photo of our completed insect below.
  • Pipe cleaners—Cut these into 3-inch pieces for legs.
  • Craft supplies to decorate and color your insect—Use feathers, googly eyes, crayons, gems, and tacky glue. Insects come in all shapes and sizes from simple black ants to very colorful, shimmery beetles. Have fun creating!
PHOTO: egg carton, crayons, googly eyes, coffee filters, feathers, pipe cleaners and glue.

Use these materials to build your own insect.

As we built our insect and decided what it should look like, we talked about the different parts of our particular insect. We put antennae and one eye on the head, a feather and another eye on the thorax, and wings on the abdomen—and this was fine by me! While he was hesitant to put parts where they should go, he said “head,” “thorax,” and “abdomen” out loud as we built and talked about our insect. He was very proud of this final specimen.

Every class we go to uses different activities to explore a different theme. We’ve used play dough, enjoyed circle time with great books, gone on Garden walks, and let’s not forget our favorite activity, planting! (This time we planted some Mexican heather as part of the insect theme. Butterflies and bees love the nectar from the flowers of this plant.) We planted our heather at home and are waiting to see if we get visitors this summer.

PHOTO: a small boy potting up a plant.

A friend plants some Mexican heather to take home.

The finished egg carton insect.

Our finished project!

We can’t wait until the fall season of Little Diggers, but if you don’t want to wait, you can sign up for My First Camp for 3-year-olds, and enjoy more hands-on science, art, food, and gardening.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Signs of Emerald Ash Borer

Tom Tiddens —  January 4, 2013 — 3 Comments

It’s sad but true:

As I drive around the north suburbs, I am noticing many roadside trees with a spray-painted mark or a ribbon around the trunk. As an arborist, I know that these are ash trees marked for removal because of the emerald ash borer (EAB). The emerald ash borer is beginning to hit our area hard, and many municipalities are trying to stay one step ahead of this ash-tree-killing insect by proactively removing these doomed ashes.  

woodpecker_damage_3If you have an ash tree on your property you should be monitoring for this pest, as it is only a matter of time before the borer finds your tree. In winter, the easiest way to identify if your tree already has EAB is to look for woodpecker damage. From a distance, woodpecker damage looks like lighter colored patches on the trunk, as you can see in this picture.  Woodpeckers make these marks as they feed on the tasty (to them) borers that are just under the bark. Once you start seeing evidence of EAB activity, your tree will most likely suffer severe dieback within three years. There is an insecticide treatment that can save your tree, but treatments need to begin before your tree is infested.  

For more information on EAB and treatments, please contact the Garden’s Plant Information Service or check out these sources:


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

What Are Those Bugs?!

Kathy J. —  October 25, 2012 — 1 Comment

PHOTO: Three boxelder bugs sunning themselves on the wood siding of the Garden's Learning Center.They’re all over the Learning Center and maybe around your house, too. They are boxelder bugs, and although they are a nuisance, they are harmless.

So while they are bugging us, let’s find some things to admire about them.

First let’s answer the question: Why are they all here right now?

It’s all about their life cycle. These insects spend their youth in the woods during summer, growing up flightless. In late summer/early fall, their wings develop and they can take flight, seeking a nice, cozy place to spend the winter. Can you blame them for wanting to come into our comfortable homes? OK, don’t answer that.

They belong to a group of insects commonly called “True Bugs.” Insects in this order are distinguished by their straw-like sucking mouth part, which they use to feed on the juices of plants. You see – they don’t have teeth, so they can’t bite you!PHOTO: this closeup of a boxelder bug has an arrow pointed to the red "V" on the bug's back where the forewings meet.

These insects also have two pairs of wings that cross in the back. The forewing is thicker than the bottom of the wing and this gives true bugs a distinctive “X” or inverted “V” on its back.

PHOTO: a close up view of a boxelder bug from the rear with its wings lifted to expose its brilliant red abdomen.

Now let’s talk about that beautiful red color! Watch one fly away and it will flash its sassy red abdomen. In nature, red coloring usually warns predators that this creature will taste bad. I was not able to confirm whether boxelder bugs taste bad or just mimic other bitter tasting bugs. Either way, I don’t recommend trying them yourself. And I must warn you that if you smash this bug on your wall or any fabric, that red color can stain.

While these insects are related to stink bugs, boxelder bugs do not have a bad odor. The bug I was holding in this photo must have been regretting this fact.

Wikipedia lists some other names for boxelder bugs, including “zug.” So when you see these creatures congregating on a sunny spot don’t say, “Ugh!” Say, “Zug!”