Last week was hot in Pittsburgh in both temperature and humidity. On mornings when it was only 71 degrees the dewpoint was also 71 so it felt oppressive. Under the circumstances birds are scarce but insects are not.
Above, a Zabulon skipper (Lon zabulon) butterfly that was sipping on ironweed flew over to land on my thumb. It was hard to take its picture without scaring it away.
Ironweed florets are shaped like tubes, perfect for the skipper’s probocis.
Hickory tussock moth caterpillars are easy to find this month.
And two kinds of insects are attacking the Japanese knotweed — aphids and Japanese beetles.
It is very fitting that an invasive Japanese beetle eats an invasive Japanese plant.
The birds stopped singing weeks ago but the air is filled with the sound of bugs. One of them is the red-headed bush cricket (Phyllopalpus pulchellus) otherwise known as the Handsome Trig.
If you find a handsome trig you can see the beauty that gave him his name. Unfortunately he’s so tiny that we rarely see him.
However, you can hear him. He sings very loudly at 7000 Hertz, often from a Japanese honeysuckle thicket.
I say “You can hear him” because I cannot. I’ve lost my hearing above 6,000 Hertz so I view his voice as a spectrogram on the Spectroid app. The very bright white-orange stripe at 7406 Hertz is the LOUD sound of the handsome trig in the video above. The fainter line at 4,000 hertz is quieter and the only part of his sound that I can hear.
Listen for this handsome bug.
Tell me if he’s loud. 🙂
(photo from Wikimedia Commons, videos embedded from YouTube; click on the captions or the YouTube logo to see the originals)
This week my husband and I have been visiting family in Tidewater Virginia, our first long trip since the COVID-19 shutdown. Everyone’s vaccinated (& some had COVID last winter) so at last we’re making the “Real Hugs Tour.”
It is hot. 92 degrees F near the water, 100 degrees on the roads in the interior. Every morning I take a walk before it gets too unpleasant.
At the ocean I was pleased to see saltwater birds and southern songbird species. Favorite birds on the bay side of First Landing State Park were least, royal and sandwich terns plus a blue grosbeak (eBird checklist here).
I also encountered a lot of bug sounds …
… and a dragonfly that repeatedly perched on a twig in the stiff wind. Its behavior reminded me of a kestrel.
The landscape is beautiful and welcoming until you stand in the sun.
Blackberries ripen in the heat.
House finches are prolific breeders in the hanging baskets on my sisters porch. This brood froze as we peeked under the fern in one basket while another house finch couple was building a new nest in the next basket.
In Pittsburgh it is 10-15 degrees cooler but we will miss the sea breeze when we get home tomorrow.
July is the month for bugs and field flowers and late nesting birds — for milkweed and scissor-grinder cicadas.
Among the milkweeds my favorite is swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) for its vibrant pink color and more delicate leaves. Insects like it, too.
July is also when the first scissor-grinder cicadas (Neotibicen pruinosus) appear (in my neighborhood, first heard on 3 July 2021). Their whirring drone is said to resemble the sound of scissors being ground or sharpened, but who among us has heard that manufacturing sound? Scissor-grinders are more common than the sound they were named for.
Just a reminder that with Bug Season in full swing you may encounter this dangerously invasive pest, the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) that sucks the sap out of grapes, fruit trees, oaks, black cherries and its favorite the invasive Ailanthus or Tree of heaven.
It’s turning out to be a big year in Pittsburgh for a small black bug with a long snout. Perhaps you’ve seen one on your window or lawn furniture. Perhaps one has landed on you. Don’t worry. It’s not a tick. It’s a yellow-poplar weevil.
Yellow-poplar weevils (Odontopus calceatus) are vegetarians that feed on the leaves of tuliptrees (i.e. yellow-poplars), sassafras and cucumber magnolias. The adults make small holes in the leaves. The larvae mine the midrib. They are harmless to humans and not even that bad for trees.
While these weevils do harm foliage they shouldn’t affect the overall health and longevity of established trees. They are often more of a nuisance than a serious problem and generally only create aesthetic harm.
Yellow-poplar weevils usually hang out on plants and are kept in check by predators but in a “big year” there are so many adults that we notice them in late June and early July during their mating flight.
One landed on me yesterday but I wasn’t worried. It’s not a tick. Ticks don’t fly and they have eight legs (like spiders) not six. More clues are described in this vintage article: Invasion of the Billbugs.
UPDATE, 28 June: The weevils can fly at night. At 4am I briefly opened a window without a screen and later found a couple of weevils nearby indoors.
UPDATE, 1 July: Today the weevils were flying and landing everywhere at Heinz Chapel steps.
TICK WARNING: 2021 is also a big year for black-legged ticks in the Pittsburgh area, the ticks that transmit Lyme disease.
Lyme disease has been an epidemic here since 2018 but many people don’t realize the dangers. Sometimes a Lyme test comes back negative so the symptoms of fatigue, aches, persistent fever and a body rash are mistreated for weeks until Lyme is finally diagnosed.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Spray your clothes and right after you spend time outdoors be sure to check yourself for ticks especially in your hair, behind your ears, etc. Here’s a very tiny tick Bob Mulvihill found on 18 June. They’re out there!
(photos by Kate St. John, embedded Facebook photo by Robert Mulvihill)
We are usually unaware of wild honeybee hives high in the forest and that was certainly true of this one near the Westinghouse Shelter in Schenley Park. The bee tree broke during last Sunday’s storm and just missed hitting the shelter. At noon on Tuesday I found the tree cordoned off by Public Works as they waited for the bees to be removed.
The massive hive was in a hollow 20+ feet up in a red oak. When a northwest gust hit the tree it broke at its weakest point and split the hive. Most of the hive remained in the upper section with a few empty honeycombs in the dangling piece.
Rather than step closer I zoomed my cellphone camera to show the bees covering the hive (center of photo) and more honeycombs at top right in the hollow.
When I passed through at 1:30pm, beekeeper and DPW Schenley Park worker Kevin Wilford was carefully moving the hive to a bee transport box. He attached the white box to the tree to encourage the bees to go in it after he moved the hive. However, the hive was so deep that he could not reach it without more tools. The process took longer than I had time to watch but Kevin gave me a taste of it, a small piece of honeycomb laden with honey. Mmmmmm good! and sticky!
By Friday the beehive will be on a scenic hill above Hazelwood, the damaged tree will be gone, and the Westinghouse Shelter will be ready for use.
UPDATE on 24 JUNE 2021: As I passed by the bee tree today I could see that most of the hive was still in place. The bees are very deep inside the hollow so the tree is still down.
UPDATE on 1 JULY 2021: The end of the bee tree. It is gone except for a very tall stump.
Spotted lanternflies (Lycorma delicatula) are invasive planthoppers native to China and Vietnam whose favorite food is the invasive Ailanthus, the Tree-of-Heaven. If they ate only Ailanthus it would be OK but their sharp mouth parts pierce the stems and suck the sap of grapevines, hops, apple trees, peaches and hardwoods including oaks and cherries. They’re bad news for agriculture and forests.
Lanternflies are making quick progress across Pennsylvania because they’re aided by human transportation. First discovered in North America in Berks County, PA in 2018 the bug spread through eastern PA for two years. In early 2020 it was found on rail cars at the Norfolk Southern railyard in Conway, Beaver County. Soon after in Allegheny County. Early this year it completed an unbroken path through the lower third of the state by adding Westmoreland and Cambria Counties. What’s on this path? The Norfolk-Southern Railroad.
The lanternfly travels easily from September to May as flat gray egg masses on rail cars, trucks and automobiles.
Adult near egg masses: New = mud in foreground, Exposed = lumpy in background (photo by Lawrence Barringer, PA Dept of Agriculture, Bugwood.org)
Egg masses on a rusty barrel (photo by Lawrence Barringer, PA Dept of Agriculture, Bugwood.org)
A few egg masses on a tree (PA Dept of Agriculture, Bugwood.org)
Egg masses on the back of a bench (Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University, Bugwood.org)
Egg masses on a birch in winter (Emelie Swackhamer, Penn State University, Bugwood.org)
Final instar under a car (Lawrence Barringer, PA Dept of Agriculture, Bugwood.org)
The eggs hatch from spring through summer so now’s the time to watch for black or red spotted nymphs, especially in the unmarked counties above.
Swarming is a honey bee colony’s natural means of reproduction. In the process of swarming, a single colony splits into two or more distinct colonies.
Swarms settle 20–30 m (65-100 ft) away from the natal nest for a few days and will then depart for a new nest site after getting information from scout bees. Scout bees search for suitable cavities in which to construct the swarm’s home. Successful scouts will then come back and report the location of suitable nesting sites to the other bees.
Honey bees are valuable pollinators and should not be killed. Beekeepers want the bees.
Most beekeepers will remove a honeybee swarm for a small fee or maybe even free if they are nearby. Bee swarms can almost always be collected alive and relocated by a competent beekeeper or bee removal company. Extermination of a bee swarm is rarely necessary and discouraged if bee removal is possible.