Nature Discovery with Renée! What’s the buzz?

Time for an adventure this week with Librarian Renée! Today’s Nature Discovery blog will feature an amazing animal that lives in our neighborhood!

School is out and the days are getting warmer and lasting longer. Summer is in the air and it’s not alone!

Can you guess what I am?

  • I “wear” a suit of armor
  • I am the most abundant animal on the planet, making up more than 80% of all known animal species
  • My name means “divided body” and it happens to be divided into three parts
  • I live everywhere, even Antarctica!

If you guessed an insect, you are correct!

What would summer be without gardening and running through the grass? Picnics and barbecues? Evening walks and majestic sunsets? Now throw in a scoop of ice cream and a slice of watermelon, and you have everything necessary for summer. Oh, and don’t forget the insects!! As soon as we are exposing skin, the insects make their appearance. Summer wouldn’t be summer without the buzz of bees, the flappling of the butterflies, the whir of a dragonfly, and yes, the whizzing of mosquitoes.

Insects are the most diverse, with close to a million identified species (scientists agree there are far more unidentified than identified), and abundant animals on our planet. They live on every continent, including Antarctica!

Belgica antarctica, the Antarctic midge

Insects are invertebrates, meaning they have no back bones. Instead of having bones on the inside like we do, insects have an exoskeleton, a rigid external covering that provides protection and support. Some insects molt, or shed their exoskeleton as they grow.

Cicada exoskeleton

Although they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, all insect bodies are made up of three body parts, the head, thorax, and abdomen. All insects have three pairs of legs, one pair of antennae and have specialized eyes made up of several independent photoreceptors, called compound eyes.

While a lot of insects have wings, not all do and though we often refer to insects as “bugs,” not all insects are bugs. Confused? You are not alone! Within the classification of insects, there is a special grouping, or order of insects, called true bugs. They have mouthparts that are different from any other insect. So, all true bugs are insects, but not all insects are true bugs! The cicada pictured above is a true bug.

Mouth of an aphid, a true bug (left), and butterfly, not a true bug

Most insects lay eggs, but very few, including the aphid above, give birth to live young. After birth or hatching, as insects approach adulthood, their bodies change form. This is called metamorphosis. Some insects will undergo simple or incomplete metamorphosis, where there is little difference in appearance between the young and adult insect, only a difference in size. Simple metamorphosis consists of an egg or birth stage, a nymph stage, and then an adult stage. Grasshoppers, dragonflies, and true bugs all undergo simple metamorphosis. Other insects undergo complete metamorphosis, where the young and adult insect looks nothing alike. The stages of complete metamorphosis are, egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Beetles, bees, butterflies, and mosquitos all undergo complete metamorphosis.

complete metamorphosis(left) Simple or incomplete metamorphosis (right)

Imagine starting life as a caterpillar to someday become a butterfly. Truly remarkable! Most of us enjoy the insects that flutter by leaving behind only the image of their beauty, while wishing nothing but death on those that land on us leaving behind itchy or painful welts. In my neighborhood the mosquitoes have yet to fully emerge, so I have been enjoying laying in my grass and observing all the activity.

Here are some of my favorite insects I have seen in my neighborhood this week:

More and more butterflies are emerging which is always a delight in summer. I am especially fond of the Cabbage White. It is often one of the first to emerge in the spring and is abundant through the foothills. Have you seen them in your neighborhood?

Sometimes called a hummingbird moth because of its size, the sphinx moth is a beauty! As I was sitting on my porch one evening this week, one came to eat from my vinca. If you’d like to catch sight of this giant moth, try early evening near flowers that have lots of nectar.

Fortunately just as the mosquitoes start emerging, so does its enemy. This week I saw my first dragon fly, a variegated meadowhawk. Dragonflies nymphs eat mosquito larvae and adult dragonflies eat adult mosquitoes. Yay dragonflies!

What insects can you find in your yard? Need help identifying what you see? iNaturalist is a handy website. Interested in attracting more helper insects to your garden? Here’s a great downloadable: A Mutually Beneficial relationship: Attracting Beneficial Insects To Your Garden. Looking for a fun picture book for all to enjoy? Check out Eric Carles’ ebook What’s your favorite bug?

Looking for a fun activity while learning about insect body parts? Check out my video:

 

Some insects we love, some we see as pests. Some make our adventures outdoors more enjoyable, some make them miserable. Insects can be many things: pollinators or pests. Food for many or destroyers of crops. A clean up crew of the world or disease carriers. But one thing they all are is fascinating!

Until next week, happy adventures!

-Renée

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