Category Archives: insects

Bugs out — Wildfires, warm weather bring beetles calling

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. The white-spotted bettles sawyer are easily identified by antennae that double the length of their bodies.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. The white-spotted bettles sawyer are easily identified by antennae that double the length of their bodies.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

The typical response when seeing a raging forest fire is to run the opposite direction.

The white-spotted sawyer didn’t get that memo.

“They’re attracted to the smoke, and they bore into trees as soon as there’s no fire. They’re on it quick,” said Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician at the Soldotna office of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

The species of beetle shows up on the Kenai Peninsula in July and August. Their coloring is black, or black with white speckling, as the name would imply, and they can grow to about three-quarters of an inch in length with scimitar-shaped antennae that nearly double their body size. The antennae aid easy identification by novice entomologists.

“Since they fly, they’ll land on people or people will see them on their car or around the yard. They’re actually fairly common, but we see a lot more of them after a fire because partially damaged trees emit a pheromone that is a calling card for the sawyers,” Chumley said. Continue reading

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View from Out West: Now you see ‘um… Hatch of gnats enough to drive Alaskans buggy

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

On the Kenai Peninsula you can’t see no noseeums like the ones you can’t see here in Bristol Bay.

I spent more than half a century being inoculated by the peninsula’s flying insects, so when I was warned, prior to moving to Dillingham last year, that Bristol Bay bugs swarmed thick and fierce and that I’d better be prepared for the worst, I thought, “We’ll see. We’ll see.”

After all, some Junes on the Kenai unleashed a veritable contagion of wings, and no rousing bath in DEET could keep all of the needle-bearing invaders at bay.

Near Soldotna, I once received so many mosquito bites on my sweaty legs, neck and arms during a week of brush-cutting that I began imagining the crawling and stinging even after I was safe indoors. Driving on the flats outside of Sterling during a particularly notorious outbreak of Culex culicidae, I once considered simply peeing my pants rather than braving the bug-filled brush.

In the fall, I’d packed moose meat out of the boggy lowlands of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge with deer flies divebombing the back of my head and nipping at my wrists, and white sox crawling under the brim of my hat and flying into my eyes and ears, as I struggled sweatily under the weight of a bloody hindquarter.

I’d also been bank fishing along the Kenai River after sunset, when the day breeze had wheezed its last gasp down the valley and the last light had faded behind a ridge — and a sudden prickliness had seized each of my exposed extremities as the noseeums fled the grass and began burrowing into my flesh.

What greater torment could Bristol Bay offer?

Plenty, said my brother, a fisheries biologist with experiences in this area. He told me that although noseeums and white sox around King Salmon were the worst he’d ever seen, Dillingham’s could be bad enough.

The locals said the mosquitoes could be a plague — unless the wind was blowing. The wind almost always blows in Dillingham. Ergo, I figured I’d probably be just fine.

When summer arrived here, so did the mosquitoes. They were thick at times, particularly in the tall marsh grass along the Nushagak River. Overall, though, I found them tolerable. No worse, certainly, than anything I’d seen on the Kenai. The locals said, “Pshaw, ain’t bad this year. Too dry. Seen ’em a lot worse.”

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Red alert, seeing yellow — Summer abuzz with stinging bugs

Photo courtesy of Patrice Kohl. Wasps paper a nest hanging in a tree. Stinging insects are particularly active now as they search for food to feed their young.

Photo courtesy of Patrice Kohl. Wasps paper a nest hanging in a tree. Stinging insects are particularly active now as they search for food to feed their young.

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

For those of us on the Kenai Peninsula, July and August is the time of year to stock up on salmon. Most of us plan on eating our fresh, canned or smoked salmon immediately and throughout the coming year. However, whenever I am processing fish, a swarm of pesky interlopers seem to arrive for a portion of the catch — yellow rackets that appear out of seemingly nowhere to aggressively buzz around the filleting table.

Yellow jackets are predatory wasps that feed on sweet, sugary substances, as well as on meat. The adults most often feed on sugary things, like sap or flower nectar. But right about now is when they are actively feeding their growing larvae in the nest and are best fed on proteins.

This explains why they can be seen around your flower garden, as well as anywhere there might be fresh meat available. If we weren’t so obliging with our fish cleaning, yellow jacket workers would be scouring the vegetation for insect larvae and adults they can capture, chew up and feed the youngsters.

Because of their insect-hunting behavior, yellow jackets are actually a benefit to gardeners. (I know this is sometimes difficult to remember when they are buzzing all around your picnic table.) Later on in the summer, as the days turn colder and there are fewer larvae to feed in the nest, workers will predominately feed on sugary or carbohydrate foods.

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Fight the bite — Mild winter means big, bad mosquitoes season

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. An adult female mosquito is drawn to exposed flesh by warmth and carbon dioxide, seeking a blood meal with which to lay eggs and complete its life cycle.

Redoubt Reporter

Summer arrived with a vengeance last weekend, with the central Kenai Peninsula’s first memorable occurrence of sustained warmth and shade-worthy brightness so far this season. The sun’s siren call enticed people outdoors in droves to work, recreate or just laze about and enjoy the weather.

But Alaska rarely gives a carrot without some sort of caveat: Abundant run of sockeye salmon? Beware of bears. Midnight sun? You’ll have to create your own dark to sleep. Pleasantly warm weather? Watch out for bugs.

Not that anyone needs to put any particular effort into noticing bugs so far this summer, as mosquitoes are out in droves far thicker than the crowds at even the busiest campgrounds and fishing holes.

“Yeah, they’re thick. I’ve got bites all over me,” said Janice Chumley, integrated pest management specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Office on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

“They’re buzzing around me right now,” agreed Dr. David Wartinbee, a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College. “I would say that they’re pretty aggressive, and there’s lots of them.”

Large, aggressive mosquitoes have hatched in abundance on the Kenai Peninsula, thanks to favorable conditions during the winter.

“It’s because we had a lovely, mild winter,” Chumley said. “All that large amount of snow was the perfect insulating layer. It caused the ground not to freeze very deep, so all the bugs said, ‘Thank you,’ for the large quantities of snow that insulated the ground so well. If you have a deep-enough freeze — if the frost goes deep enough into the ground before it snows enough — it kills the insect larvae and knocks back (the bug population) for a couple of years. But when we have a large snow layer before it gets frozen, then you have a lot of insects.”

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Don’t spring to conclusions — Springtails not to blame for skin rashes

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photos courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. Collembola specimens are shown next to millimeter markings. Below, a “springtail” is enlarged at over 50 times magnification. They usually are around 4 millimeters long, or the size of the letter “i.”

During the past few months I have been sorting through samples I collected last year from a number of streams and lakes. While I am mostly interested in dipteran insects, I frequently come across other aquatic creatures that pique my interest.

The midges I am looking for are very small, but recently I came across a number of the smallest known aquatic insects, called collembola or springtails.

Springtails are wingless creatures that rarely get larger than a few millimeters in length. They are often only as long as the letter “i” in this paper. The one in the picture is only 4 millimeters long and is magnified more than 40 times.
Within the taxonomic arena, collembola have recently become somewhat of a football.

Dozens of my invertebrate books clearly place them within the class Insecta, since they look like insects and have six legs. Up until recently, that is all I have ever known them to be.

Now, DNA analysis indicates that they are not closely related to other insects and should be classified differently.

Currently they are being described as hexapods (six-legged arthropods) that belong within the class Entognatha. This new class consists of arthropods with an internal jaw, which differs from insects since they have external jaws. No matter what their proper names, they are quite interesting creatures.

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Don’t let the bedbugs bite — What to do with pesky bugs making peninsula inroads

By Naomi Klouda

Photo courtesy of Cooperative Extension. The pesky bedbug has been found on the Kenai Peninsula.

Homer Tribune

Bedbugs disappeared from America for the most part about 1940, but since 1990 they have made a comeback as itchy irritants hitchhiking their way from larger cities to smaller towns.

Including, apparently, Homer.

Nowadays, there are new weapons in the form of dogs trained for detection.

“Just like you have dogs that can sniff out drugs, or to sniff out bombs or cadavers, these are dogs that trained specifically to sniff out bedbugs and their eggs,” explained Randy Beuter, owner of Eagle Pest Control and Trees.

For professional verification on bedbugs, Beuter teams up with a beagle named Rudolph provided from the National Anthropology Scent Detection Canine Association, which certifies the dogs in a testing program. These are expensive teammates, not unlike a police dog.

All the better to help root out what appears to be a growing problem.

The Kenai Peninsula Cooperative Extension Service branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks has received calls and dispenses advice on what to do when people find themselves sharing beds with the bugs. Janice Chumley, integrated pest management technician, identifies the bugs for people.

“That’s my job. People bring me bugs, including bedbugs. Before DDT was done away with, bedbugs were just a part of life. Since heavy chemicals like that are no longer in use, there has been a resurgence of them worldwide,” Chumley said. “People shouldn’t be surprised to see them everywhere.”  Continue reading

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Science of the Seasons: Phantom bugs can barely be seen

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photos courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. These phantom midges are only three-quarters of an inch long. The dark spots are eyes, just behind the pointed mouth area, with two pairs of dark hydrostatic organs in the thorax and far end of the abdomen. These organs control the larval movements up and down in the water column.

Ever since August when I saw a huge mass of bright red larval mites drifting across part of East Mackey Lake, I have been wondering if the mites had been successful parasitizing any of the aquatic insects in the lake.

The experts I contacted indicated that this massive swarm might have been a way for them to find unfortunate hosts. Last week, I took my dip net and collected a number of insects and other invertebrates from the lake. After a lot of very careful looking under a microscope, I did find some parasitized insects, which I’ll discuss in a future article. There were also several creatures in my first sweep that caught my immediate attention — dozens of phantom midges darting about in my collection pan.

Phantom midges are relatives of the mosquito but do not bite. The particular ones I found were in the genus Chaoborus. Thinking back, these were the very first aquatic insects I saw when I was doing a senior project as an undergraduate biology major. I was sampling bottom sediments of a local reservoir and I remember seeing something moving in the collection pan, but was unable to tell what it was. The insects were crystal clear, about three-quarters of an inch long, and only a couple dark spots stood out in clear water. The name phantom midge was certainly appropriate.

These creatures are the larval form of a small dipteran insect found all over the world. Knowing how widely distributed they are, I should not have been surprised to see them here in Alaska. Maybe my surprise came because I have always found them in waters that were tens or hundreds of meters deep, instead of in a waist-deep section of lake. Depending on the species, they spend between six months and two years as a larval individual in a lake. They have a short pupal stage, then emerge as an aerial adult. The adults mate, lay eggs and die within a couple weeks and the cycle starts all over. Continue reading

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