A Winter Wonderland of Bugs
Spring is a wonderful time for bug collectors. All the insects that overwinter as adults are waking up and mating. With all the spring flowers the pollinators are busy at work, collecting all the high octane gasoline of the insect world (nectar).
In summer the eggs laid in spring have hatched and there is a frenzy of eating in order to build bodies as fast as possible (as well as a frenzy of vertebrates eating insects). Come fall the insect adult population is at its highest diversity, with all the insects in a frenzy to finish their yearly life’s journey before the first hard frost. But as they say, “Winter is Coming”. For most bug collectors it is time to clean all their equipment, curate their collection, and prepare for spring.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. With a little extra work, winter can be a fascinating time to collect, observe, and take pictures of the denizens of the undergrowth. Here are some hints about what you can look for and where to find them:
Walking along the Sycamore trail, I saw this tree (shown below). What I was looking for was dead, peeling bark.
I broke off a small piece of bark and underneath I saw this little lady:
This is a good example of a spider you would be hard pressed to find at other times of the year, as it is camouflaged, small and fast. Under the same piece of bark I also found two metallic beetles (probably some sort of fungus beetles) and a gathering of what I initially thought were some beetle larva.
I took one of the beetle larva home and took a close up picture of it. Instead of a beetle it turned out to be a hairy colembola (a small close relative of insects), something I had never seen before.
Although I didn’t collect here, the dead branch hanging in this this tree could be a treasure trove of critters. Under the bark of a branch like this, you could find Bumble Bee queens, beetle grubs, founder ant colonies (a queen, and possibly a couple workers/eggs/larva). Keep an eye out for things like this, they will often have the most interesting finds of the day!
Another good place to look is under logs and stones. Although you are not likely to find interesting unique bugs here, they are slower and easy to catch or get good pictures of. In the picture you can also see a very useful tool for turning over rocks and logs and peeling bark:
Under this log I found quite the little ecosystem, with termites, colembola, and a couple beetle larva. I also got a couple good pictures of a centipede and a millipede.
By the way the difference between a millipede and a centipede is the number of legs per segment. Millipedes have four legs (two per side), and centipedes have two legs (one per side) per segment. Also centipedes are carnivorous and can have a poisonous bite. In this same spot I also found another pretty little spider:
A little further down the path I saw this attached on the edge of a log:
Inside were a bunch of moth caterpillars, probably some type of web caterpillar. Here is a good picture of one of their heads:
The last stop on my trip was this old stump…
…where I found this beetle larva:
And this very interesting dwarf isopod (pillbug) who was less than 1 mm long!
Other than the hairy colembola and small pillbug, I didn’t collect anything. If I had taken samples of the logs/bark and other detritus I found and processed them back at my home I would have likely found dozens of other insects and small arthropods overwintering in their hidden spots. If I had brought my regular collecting gear along I could have caught a very pretty red and gold butterfly (and I have no idea how it was still alive) some midges, and even some thrips (very small insects that almost swim, as opposed to fly, though the air).
So, for a winter day, and only taking 30 minutes of my time, I could have found dozens of bugs, including four I had never seen before (the pillbug, the hairy colembola, the butterfly and one of the spiders). That would be a good collecting day at the height of summer!
But as always, remember when you are out enjoying nature, don’t destroy the ecosystem by indiscriminately chopping up trees and logs and other things. Be careful. Replace what you move as much as possible and only disturb the minimum you have to in order to see something. Dress warmly, bring your camera, and have a good time! There’s a whole world of bugs out there in The Parklands just waiting to be discovered!
Disclaimer: I use the term “bug” here to represent any small arthropod. In reality “bugs” are only one type of insect and not all creepy crawlers.
Russell McIntyre is a recently retired army veteran with over 20 years of active duty time. Not being the type of person to relax he is working on his Masters in Entomology and committed to volunteering 520 hours of work over six months at The Parklands of Floyds Fork through a program called The Mission Continues (an organization of former military personal committed to helping their communities).