Sunday, May 30, 2010

Creepy Crawlies of Starved Rock

I am not normally creeped out by creepy crawlie things in nature. (I make that last distinction because I am, I admit, less tolerant when they are inside my house.) But in general, there are bugs* I love... you all know of my odonate obsession (jewelwing, at right)... and who doesn't love a butterfly?...There are bugs I need, like the bees that pollinate my garden...

And there are bugs I am fascinated by, such as this millipede, measuring in at over three inches...

There are plenty of other bugs that I like just fine -- leafhoppers and grasshoppers, true bugs and beetles. There are bugs I respect but choose to keep at a distance if possible (most spiders). There are, of course, bugs I wish would leave my yard, like the wasps that build nests in everything and the ants that swarm out and bite when I try to weed around rocks. But they don't creep me out so much as annoy me. But there are a few bugs that creep me out. Ticks are one. I just don't like the idea of something latching on to me and feeding without my realizing it. If you're going to take my blood, at least have the decency to announce your presence with an itch or a pinch (so that I have the chance to slap). I'm not the biggest fan of mosquitoes, but you have to give them that. They're honest, not at all sneaky. But I digress. The point here is, I met another bug that gave me the willies, a little bit.

This wasp was part of a swarm that we found hanging out lazily on a dead log at Starved Rock. I can't identify it for certain -- I know its a hymenoptera but that's all I'll stake my life on -- but I think it's in the family Ichneumonidae, and it's possibly a Dolichomitus... and from all I've gleaned, they're perfectly harmless to humans. They don't sting, although they may try if you pick one up. Actually, they are credited with population control of harmful insects. Their size, well over an inch, maybe as long as 2 inches, and their shiny black and yellow coloring, make them look a little intimidating. Their ovipositors, some several inches long, which
hung down if they flew (they rarely did), made them look downright scary. Of course, an ovipositor is for laying eggs and not stinging, so in reality, the only things that should be scared are the larvae inside the dead logs. The moms sense the presence of larval insects inside a log with their antennae, and in they drill, laying eggs by the larvae. This process can take upwards of an hour. The baby wasps, then, are parasitic, feeding on the larvae when they hatch. But the adult wasps eat plant material, not flesh of any sort. I think our fear reaction to something like that is just instinctual, though. Oh, and most of th wasps did not have that flat, yellow disc seen in the one above. I don't have a clue what that is.
(photo by fearless Mike F.)

Another creeping, crawling discovery -- this swimming snake was less than 18 inches long, probably a baby, and I think a young northern water snake, if I have to make an ID.

*We are using the term "bug" here not in the technical, hemiptera sense, but in the unscientific sense, referring to all arthropods and possibly some gastropods, like slugs. Oh, and maybe to worms, too.

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