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Insect swarms have been in the news this summer.

This week it was pallid-winged grasshoppers in Las Vegas (see for example, this story in LiveScience) or check out this AP video

The grasshoppers aren't the only ones.  Last week there was an article about flying ants in Britain being picked up by weather satellites (Guardian article) and in June it was supposedly ladybugs in Southern California (LA Times article) spotted on weather radar, although later reports say no one could verify which insects were actually detected.

Although these swarms can be alarming or exciting depending on your perspective, they are completely natural. Because insects may reproduce rapidly when food supplies are high and enemies are sparse, many species have the potential to build up to high numbers.

In fact, it is probably not amazing that insect blizzards happen, but that that don't happen even more often.

In a matter of days the insects either migrate away, are eaten, or come to the end of their life cycles. As quickly as they appear, they are gone again.

So for now, grasshoppers are simply having their 15 minutes of fame (or is it infamy?)

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Some plants and pollinators have unique relationships. Take the rush milkweed.

Most years our rush milkweed plants only produce one or two seed pods each.

This year, however, the plants are covered with seed pods.

Why?

To figure out, we need to go back a few weeks. At that time the plants were covered with flowers.

We also saw a lot of tarantula hawk wasps visiting the flowers.

Although they are clumsy giants, tarantula hawks are especially good at pollinating milkweeds.  Their long legs slide into the grooves in the flowers, where they collect the sticky sacs of pollen called pollinia (for more information, see BugGuide). When the wasps visit the next flower, the process is reversed, leaving the pollinia behind to pollinate the plant.

This year the tarantula hawk wasps were abundant and now the seed pods are, too, which hopefully means

soon we'll see more milkweed seeds,

which will glide away on their silky parachutes to make more rush milkweed plants, which are

good for the monarch caterpillars that eat them, and

which turn into monarch butterflies, important pollinators for many other wildflowers.

All thanks to tarantula hawks!

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It's time to get ready for National Moth Week, which is coming up July 20-28, 2019.

Moths’ vital role as nature’s often unheralded nighttime pollinators will be spotlighted during the 8th Annual National Moth Week, July 20-28, 2019.

National Moth Week (NMW) invites moth enthusiasts – a.k.a. “moth-ers” – of all ages and abilities to participate in this worldwide citizen science project that literally shines a light on moths, their beauty, ecological diversity and critical role in the natural world.

Free online registration is open to individuals, groups, schools, parks, museums, nature centers and other organizations. Events are posted on the NMW events map. This year’s registration form enables events before and after NMW to be included.

Participants are invited to contribute their moth photos and observations to NMW partner websites, as well as the NMW Flickr group. This year, iNaturalist.org, a site for sharing observations and identifications in the natural world, will feature a page for NMW.

To learn more about National Moth Week, visit nationalmothweek.org, or write to info@nationalmothweek.org.

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