SCOTT SHALAWAY Summer belongs to the bugs



Just a few days ago I was reminded that, for better or worse, summer belongs to insects. A bumble bee somehow got inside my t-shirt and stung my back, and a few hours later, a paper wasp stung my hand as I checked a nest box. These are close encounters none of us enjoys. Here's a brief introduction to a few of summer's common insects.
Mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus, which killed 284 people last summer. More than 70 species of birds, including crows and blue jays, serve as reservoir hosts and often die from the infection. Symptoms of West Nile include fever, headache, confusion, body aches, and sometimes rashes and swollen lymph glands. If you've been bitten by mosquitoes and have symptoms, see your physician. The disease's incubation period (time from infection to onset of symptoms) is three to 15 days.
Protect yourself
The best protection against West Nile virus is to reduce contact with mosquitos. When outdoors, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts as much as possible. Apply insect repellent to exposed skin. (The concentration of DEET should not exceed 10 percent for children.) Eliminate standing and stagnant water around the house. This is where mosquito larvae develop. Tires, buckets, empty beer cans, flower pots, and rain barrels are mosquito heaven.
Crane flies look like giant mosquitoes. Many people fear them because they think that's exactly what they are. But crane flies are harmless. Though some species even have long, tubular mouthparts like a mosquito, they use them to drink nectar, not blood. And when they fly, they lack the mosquito's tell-tale whine. You'll find them under porch lights early in the morning.
Watch night fall across the backyard, and you may see a terrific display of natural fireworks -- fireflies flashing Morse code-like dots and dashes of bioluminescent light. The darker the night, the more impressive the show. Long after holiday fireworks fade, fireflies continue to entertain.
Actually they're beetles
Fireflies or lightning bugs are actually beetles, not flies or bugs, and their nightly light shows last much of the summer. Fireflies flash to communicate. Specifically, they flash to find mates. Each species uses a distinctive flash pattern that only members of the same species recognize.
Deer flies and horse flies are vicious, blood-sucking insects. Unlike mosquitoes, which insert hypodermic needle-like mouthparts through the skin to draw blood, deer and horse flies aren't so tidy. Their mouthparts include razor sharp mandibles that slice the skin. As the blood flows, they add a bit of saliva to prevent the blood from clotting. Then they lap up the blood with a tongue-like structure. It's as terrible as it sounds, and these bites hurt! Prevent bites by wearing long sleeves, long pants, and insects repellents when these nasties are around.
If you find small piles of sawdust under the porch or deck, look up. Perfectly round 3/8-inch holes in the joists mean you've got carpenter bees. They look like bumble bees, but the abdomen is mostly black and shiny. Inside the hole in the wood is a tunnel that extends for several inches to the brood chamber. These tunnels can cause serious structural damage. Rather than spray the bees, which are valuable pollinators, fill the holes with plastic wood, then paint or polyurethane all exposed lumber. Fortunately carpenter bees are docile and rarely sting.
Peculiar insect
Earwigs are peculiar, primitive insects. Thanks to a pair of nasty-looking pincers on the tip of the abdomen, earwigs are easy to recognize. This structure is not a stinger. It can pinch, but earwigs are essentially harmless.
Due to this year's relatively cool wet weather, earwigs may flourish. They prefer cool, damp, dark places. Look for them in garden mulch, in basements, and even in nest boxes.
Though the vast majority of insects are beneficial or harmless, the few that bite or sting are the ones we notice. But remember this -- insects pollinate many plants, and they feed everything from spiders and fish to toads, birds, mice, and shrews. Without insects, most life on the planet would come to a grinding halt.
sshalaway@aol.com

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