Bugs of Summer

By Ciara Utech

As the end of summer is near, you may be thinking all of you outdoor fun coming to a close as well. You can take a sigh of relief because there is still plenty of fun to be had with insects.

This summer has been a very hot and dry in most states and while this may mean we are seeing a bit less insects, there are always a few we can always count in seeing, even in the blazing heat and droughts. I’m talking about very common insects such as grasshoppers, cicadas, and fireflies.

Have you ever been part of the old locust/cicada argument? You know, the one where many people thinking they are the same thing, then someone else swearing they are completely different? You may be interested to know they are, in fact, a whole different species. So how do you really know which one is which?

Grasshoppers are related to crickets, and katydids. Although many locusts, or grasshoppers, will have nice colorful markings they are typically brown, black and tan. When you find one, it is easy to identify. They have 6 legs and long bodies. Their two hind legs are considerably larger than the others. These are the hopper legs, which they use to hop at great distances. They also have large eyes, which have an alien head shape and tend to be glossy. Colors of eyes ranging from black, tan, and even blue! Many people often sigh when they think of grasshoppers. It’s no wonder why, as these insects have been known to swarm fields of crops and any other vegetation in their path. They have been documented in their swarms to consume an amount of 1.5 million people’s intake. So although they are admittedly not the coolest insects, they still are a bit interesting. Most of the beautiful “creek- creek” we here outdoors belongs to the crickets. They also a wonderful food source for all the wildlife.

Cicadas are completely different from grasshoppers. They reach sizes a bit over 2 inches. They have long, clear, scaly wings. They do not jump like grasshopper/locusts however they do fly very well. There are a few species of Cicadas in N. America, the Dogday Cicada and the Periodical Cicada are the most interesting. The Periodical Cicada can take 13-17 years to develop and become and adult. After emerging, this species will be best identified by its large red eyes, with its underside having some sort of yellow to red coloring on it. The Dogday cicada takes 3-7 years to mature. When it rises from the ground it has its final molt and leaves the brown shed on a piece of bark. The sound of the cicada has many ways to be described. Some would say its like a small saw and others would say it’s a screaming of different pitches. As awful as it sounds, it’s actually very beautiful and relaxing.

Now for the most interesting of all in this group, the Firefly. Fireflies are great fun for kids. Fireflies are flat and skinny. They tend to have a dull coloring with an orange or yellow stripe going down their back. At night, the end of their abdomens light up, making a beautiful and exciting sight. The light they create is similar to what happens with squid. A mix of chemicals is sent creating a light in the body. This light serves a few purposes. It is used to identify species. Every species has a specific light pattern. Once they find their species the females can signal to a male she is ready to mate. However, these females can be deceiving. They have the ability to change their light pattern in order to attract a male of another species to her. When he arrives she eats him then switches back to her normal light to attract a real mate. Ever see an insect glowing in the water? It may have been a glowworm. Which is the larval stage of a Firefly. For food they kill slugs and snails by injecting them with venom. No need to be concerned, in the adult stage these fireflies are non-venomous.

Make a Firefly Lantern!

Get a mason jar, be sure to poke tiny holes in it for oxygen. Grab the jar at night and have your hand cupped right next to the opening the jar. When the chance arises scoop the insects in it. I suggest putting grass and a stick inside. I suggest putting 5-10 insects in the jar. Now you can use it to go find more insects!
As you seen even our common every day insects are interesting and effect us in different ways that we may have never guessed. Remember anything you catch, you must release. Have a great time exploring the outdoors at all hours, and good luck with your lanterns!

Read Ciara's blog post: Spring and the Great Insect Reveal

About Ciara Utech:
Ciara Utech is an expert on insects, reptiles and other wildlife. She has experience at both a zoo and an aquarium and worked with everything from elephants to sea cucumbers. Ciara now works to educate about conservation of wildlife, in part by writing about the adventures of discovering the world around us.

You can read more great articles at her blog: Wildlife-N-Critters