Winter’s Bugs & Tomorrow’s Wildlife Nuts

Over a too-brief Thanksgiving holiday, I took a run to Denver and all those grand-hucklings I just don’t see enough. Somewhere in there, I found some individual one-on-one time with the little bra.., uh, people. One of the boys – seven-year-old Kristian – and I took a long walk through rapidly developing portions of Aurora.

Kristian was pretty excited about the coyote that skulked away to the east. Then we spent a few minutes tracking a couple deer through the new home site construction dirt piles, but what really got him excited was a couple large wolf spiders and a beetle which had backed in under a clump of clay soil. His enthusiasm was so contagious I was having flashbacks as we observed, discussed and resisted harassing the tiny wildlife. As we walked away, the kid looked up at me. “What do they do when it snows?”

Genuine wildlife nuts, I think, will observe and question the life patterns of any wild critter.

In mid-December 1998, Wenatchee Homey Earl English and I were sitting above a draw near Hanford, waiting for a couple fat cow elk to wander by. It was nasty cold and breezy, and even the insects were hiding. At some point in our increasing chill, however, a lone darkling ground beetle (aka “stinkbug”) dragged itself across the fire-darkened soil at our feet. Stinkbugs can spray a foul secretion, and we opted to leave it be. “It’s too *&!% cold to bug the bug,” Earl said, “but wouldn=t you love to know where it=s headed? …And just where do bugs go in winter, anyhow?”

That curiosity starts early. That same fall, toward the end of the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club Christmas Party (the social event of the season), one toddler – chattering in a tongue I lost a generation ago – tracked a housefly toward the door. His dad, apparently fluent in Toddlerish, said “Well, it’s going outside to hide for winter…” Turning to his wife, he shrugged bemusedly, “I guess, anyway… What do flies do in winter?”

Then, as over the current Thanksgiving holiday, the gauntlet was thrown. As Tiny Wildlife Research Chief for the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association, I was duty-bound to answer the questions.

So, where are the bugs in winter?

Lady beetles (ladybugs) may overwinter under bark, house siding or in the woods, as do some others, but most of the “bugs” we see in summer and fall don’t go anywhere. Once they’ve made enough offspring to get through the winter and ensure our springtime entertainment, they die.

Among our most common insects are the moths, dragon‑flies, beetles and houseflies. Generally, their stages of development are 1) eggs, 2) nymphs or larvae, 3) pupae, and 4) adult.

Among our more common moths are silkworms, which pass the winter in dense, silken cocoons. After emerging, the silkworm (or larvae) will grow through much of the summer. As the mature larva enters its pupa stage, it may simply spin a protective silken case around itself for the few days it takes to become an adult moth. The moth will then seek a place for its eggs – mostly on a leaf of its favored food tree or other plant. The eggs, in turn, will hatch into tiny caterpillars, which will take in food for winter. Then, they=ll spin their own silken cocoons, likely attached to their favored food tree, and spend their winter growing into next spring’s silkworms.

The dragon‑fly may lay her eggs at the surface of a still pond, or attach clusters of them to a plant just under water. The nymphs (larvae) will breathe through gills, and feed on tiny underwater critters through the winter. Once they have matured enough to pass through the pupa stage, they=ll emerge as beautiful adults, ready to fly.

Beetles (like Earl’s stinkbug) follow a similar life cycle, but on soil. Eggs will be laid in or near favored food. The hatched larvae will burrow into the soil, or beneath a thatch layer. Here the larvae will spin their own cocoons of a fine material (though rarely as fine as the silkworm’s). In this cocoon, the larvae will develop into the worms we will see in spring. After a feeding and growing time, the mature worms (or larvae) may spin yet another cocoon to pass the pupa stage and emerge as adults, ready to mate and lay the eggs which will become next year’s beetles.

We have hundreds of types of flies, but we mostly think of houseflies. They will lay huge numbers of eggs on almost any decaying matter, though they seem to prefer flesh. Those eggs will quickly hatch into rapidly growing larvae (maggots), which quickly pupate into adults. In fall, the maggots enter a dormant stage, somewhere out of sight. As temperatures rise in spring, they=ll pupate into spring=s adult pests, and the cycle will begin anew.

I recognize that this is a pretty shallow response to the questions posed, but you may need this information over the Christmas holiday with friends and family. There are hundreds of books on insects, and most will coach you through the pleasures of observing the life cycles of bugs. (Check out the brochures of pesticide makers, too.) Look carefully, and you will find an amazing abundance of our tiniest wildlife.

I can bear witness to the entertainment value of tiny critters when deer, antelope, elk and other charismatic mega-fauna fail to show.

Go look.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

Trackback from your site.

Leave a comment