Summer Bugs – The Good and the Bad

Sadly most bugs like it warm. So when the kids are out of school, and everyone has vacation plans, the summer bugs are plentiful. Now, not all of them are bad. In fact some of them are beautiful, and make the noises that everyone associates with summer nights. But some summer bugs are really nasty, and will suck the blood out of you like a vampire!!

Well that was a little dramatic. But it’s true.

When you think of bugs, hundreds of images could pop into your head. But scientists have cataloged and grouped them into different groups. I won’t get too technical (because I am not an expert in this field). But I will break this list up into groups and throw in some big scientific sounding words to appeal to bug people (entomologists). Well to be even more correct I should say “summer insects”. But “summer bugs” just sounds better.


True Bugs (Hemiptera)

True Bugs have a mouth that acts like a straw. Some suck plant sap, while others suck the body fluids of insects. They have four wings, the outer two wings extend only half way down their back.

Summer bugs Magicicada CicadaCicada (Cicadomorpha > Cicadoidea) – If you hear the buzzing sound in the trees on a summer night, there is a good chance that you’re hearing a male cicada trying to attract a female cicada. Summertime is mating season and these bugs are active at night.

The cicada life cycle is pretty interesting. The ones you see this year have actually spent between 2 to 17 YEARS underground. You see after the male finds the right mate, the female will lay her eggs in a tree, cutting a slit into a twig to lay the eggs inside. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs fall to the ground and start digging. The nymph will feed on the root sap of many species of trees–including oak, cypress, willow, ash, and maple–slowly digging and feeding until it reaches sexual maturity, which for most cicadas is between 2 and 5 years. The 17 year cicada mentioned above is the Magicicada variety of eastern North America.

Once it reaches sexual maturity, it will dig its way to the surface. Once there, it climbs a tree and molts (sheds its skin), leaving a alien-looking shell on the tree. Lastly, they fly away in search of a mate and the cycle starts over.

The cicada is mostly harmless. Their only defenses are camouflage and flight. Their natural predators are the cicada killer wasp and the praying mantis.

The cicada is also a common food around the world. Sound gross? Not according to Bon Appetit, NPR, National Geographic, Huffington Post and Cheaper than Dirt.

These are GOOD summer bugs!

 

Summer bugs brown marmorated stink bugBrown Marmorated Stink Bug (Pentatomidae > Halyomorpha halys) – This particular variety of stink bug was accidentally introduced to the United States in the late 1990s. With no significant natural predators, this summer bug has spread all the way across the country with alarming speed.

The brown marmorated stink bug feeds, beginning in late May or early June, on a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and other plants including peaches, apples, green beans, soybeans, cherries, raspberries, and pears.

The brown marmorated stink bug life cycle from stopbmsb.org:

Brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) overwinters as adults in a protective sleeplike state, emerges in the spring, and begins mating in about two weeks. BMSB commonly mates multiple times, and the female may deposit as many as 486 eggs in a lifetime. Development from egg to adult requires approximately 538 degree days, a measure of temperature and time for insect growth, with an additional 148 degree day period before eggs are laid. Its light-green eggs are often laid on the underside of leaves, deposited in masses of approximately 28 eggs.

Like all stink bugs the BMSB emits a pungent odor as a defense mechanism. This keeps birds and lizards away. But if you see this summer bug in your garden, it is certainly one that you want to kill.

These are BAD summer bugs!

 


Beetles (Coleoptera)

Beetles are the largest group of insects with over 400,000 species, constituting almost 40% of all insects and 25% of all known animal life on Earth. New species are discovered frequently. Beetles can be differentiated from other insects by the hard outer wings on their backs that run the entire length of their body.

Summer bugs LadyBugsLadybugs (Polyphaga > Cucujoidea > Coccinellidae) – In North America we call them ladybugs, but in Britain and other parts of the world they are called ladybirds. Ladybugs are highly prized by gardeners because they eat aphids and other plant-sucking insects that damage crops.

The ladybug life cycle includes the egg stage, the larvae stage, the pupa stage, and the adult ladybug stage. Eggs are laid close to prey so that the ladybug larvae will have an immediate source of food. Ladybugs can live as long as two years, overwintering inside buildings or natural structures.

The main predators of ladybugs are birds, but they are also eaten by frogs, wasps, spiders, and dragonflies.

I remember as I child I sometimes would catch a ladybug and it would “pee” on me. But actually this defense mechanism is the ladybug bleeding from their knees when they feel threatened. The foul-smelling fluid seeps from their leg joints, often leaving yellow stains that look like urine.

These are GOOD summer bugs!

 

Summer bugs blister beetleBlister Beetle (Polyphaga > Cucujiformia > Tenebrionoidea > Meloidae) – Blister beetles get their names form their defense mechanism use of a blistering agent called cantharidin. Mild blistering occurs if a human handles a blister beetle. Ingesting a beetle can be fatal. This rarely occurs with humans, but happens occasionally with farm animals.

Alfalfa is a favorite food for blister beetles. Sometimes, during the baling process, blister beetles may be crushed or frightened. This results in the release of cantharidin into the hay, and consequently farm animals may eat it from there. Horses are especially susceptible to the cantharidin, and only a few beetles consumed in a single feeding could make the animal very sick.

The main predators of blister beetles are birds and robber flies.

These are BAD summer bugs!

 

Summer bugs fireflyFirefly (Polyphaga > Elateriformia > Elateroidea > Lampyridae) – The firefly (sometimes called lightning bug) isn’t actually a fly. It’s a beetle with a unique ability to light up at night. Light production is due to a chemical reaction called bioluminescence, usually on a firefly’s lower abdomen.

From firefly.org:

Firefly lights are the most efficient lights in the world—100% of the energy is emitted as light. Compare that to an incandescent bulb, which emits 10% of its energy as light and the rest as heat, or a fluorescent bulb, which emits 90% of its energy as light. Because it produces no heat, scientists refer to firefly lights as “cold lights.”

The firefly’s light show is used to attract a mate, and it is an important part of the firefly life cycle. The adult firefly only lives three to four weeks. A few days after mating, a female lays her fertilized eggs on, or just below, the surface of the ground. The eggs hatch three to four weeks later. The larvae may glow too, depending on the species, and are often called glowworms. The firefly larvae will overwinter underground, some species for several years. They emerge in the Spring, and feed on other insects, snails and slugs for a few weeks. Then they pupate for as long as three weeks before they emerge as adults.

The firefly is mostly harmless. They don’t bite, they have no pincers, they don’t attack, they carry no disease, they are not poisonous and they don’t even fly very fast. Children gather them in mason jars with little holes in the top.

Even scientists gather fireflies. The chemicals that the firefly produces to light up are luciferin and luciferase, two rare chemicals that are being used in research on cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and heart disease.

These are GOOD summer bugs!

 


Hymenoptera

Hymenoptera is the third-largest order of insects including: sawflies, wasps, bees and ants.

Summer bugs Fire Ants RIFAFire Ants (Formicidae > Myrmicinae > Solenopsidini > Solenopsis invicta) – Fire ants are another accidental import. Often known as the Red Imported Fire Ant or RIFA. They are a native of the tropical area of South America, and were first reported in the US on the Alabama and Florida coast in the 1930s. They have moved across the south very quickly.

Fire ants live in complex colonies where female winged ants called “reproductives” are raised and live until their mating flights, which commonly occur in Spring and Fall. Males die soon after mating, and the fertilized reproductives fly on until finding a suitable nesting site where she sheds her wings and begins digging a chamber in which to start a new colony where she will serve as queen.

A newly mated queen lays about a dozen eggs. When those eggs hatch, seven to ten days later, the larvae are fed by the queen. Later on the fire ant queen, now fed by workers, can lay as many as 800 eggs per day. Larvae develop six to ten days and then pupate. Adults emerge nine to fifteen days later. The average colony contains 100,000 to 500,000 workers and several hundred “reproductives” and can include multiple queens. Queen ants can live seven years or more, while worker ants generally live about five weeks.

Most species of ant bite and then spray acid on the wound. But a fire ant bites simply to get a grip. Once they have ahold of you, they sting from their abdomen and inject a toxic alkaloid venom called Solenopsin–a compound from the class of piperidines. If you are stung by fire ants you will know it quickly. They attack in swarms, racing up your leg when their nests are disturbed. They are aggressive, and determined. Each fire ant can sting several times. To identify fire ant stings, look for groups of swollen red spots that develop a blister on the top. Fire ant’s stings hurt, itch, and last up to a week. Some people have a dangerous allergic reaction to fire ant stings and will need to seek immediate medical help.

Treatment from heathline.com:

Treat mild sting reactions by washing the affected area with soap and water and covering with a bandage. Applying ice can reduce the pain. Topical treatments include over-the-counter steroid creams and antihistamines to reduce pain and itch.

Bites should go away in about a week. Scratching can cause the bites to become infected, which can prolong healing time.

Predators include spiders, birds and many insects including other ants, dragonflies, earwigs and beetles.

These are BAD summer bugs!

 


True Flies (Diptera)

True flies are insects that use only a single pair of wings to fly, the hindwings are used for balance during flight. Diptera is a large order containing an estimated 1,000,000 species including horse-flies, crane flies, and hoverflies.

MosquitoMosquito (Nematocera > Culicomorpha > Culicoidea > Culicidae) – The mosquito is a small fly that uses its straw-like mouth to pierce a host’s skin in order to consume blood. Their hosts are mainly vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and even some fish. A very small amount of blood is removed from the victim. The saliva of the mosquito will often cause an irritating rash, which is a nuisance, but the mosquito can also pass extremely harmful infections such as malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya, West Nile virus, dengue fever, filariasis, Zika virus, and other viruses (Arboviruses). Making the mosquito the deadliest animal in the world.

The mosquito life cycle includes four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult (or imago). Adult females lay their eggs in stagnant water. The egg, larva and pupa stage usually take place in water. Development time, from egg to adult mosquito, is only five to fourteen days depending on the species and the temperature.

There are many natural predators to mosquitos including birds, bats, several insects including the dragonfly, and fish. But because they reproduce so quickly, large scale mosquito control is attempted throughout the world.

Some interesting facts about the impact of mosquitoes from Mosquito.org:

  • Traps set in the outskirts of the Everglades and barrier islands have recorded nightly catches in POUNDS. One pound of mosquitos = approximately 1,095,440 mosquitos.
  • Canine heartworm is transmitted to dogs by Culex mosquitos
  • Over 25,000 horses died from Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalitis, and West Nile virus (WNV) 2000-2007
  • West Nile Virus has killed more than 300 alligators in zoos since 2000.

Mosquitos find hosts by sight (specifically movement), by detecting infra-red radiation emitted by warm bodies, and by chemical signals (mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide and lactic acid, among other chemicals). Why are some people bitten more than others?

  • Larger people are more attractive to mosquitos because they are bigger targets.
  • Smelly feet are attractive to certain species of mosquitos
  • Mosquitos are attracted to dark clothing moreso than lighter colored clothing.

These are BAD summer bugs!

 

Robber FlyRobber Fly (Brachycera > Asilomorpha > Asiloidea > Asilidae) – Robber Flies, sometimes called assassin flies, are powerfully built flies. The name comes from their aggressive predatory habits. Robber flies feed on other insects, often waiting in ambush, and will catch their prey in flight.

From Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History:

“aggressive, visual predators that perch on vegetation and rocks to look for insects flying by. Once an assassin fly spots its prey, it follows and attacks it in flight by grabbing the insect with its legs, biting it on its back or side, and injecting it with venomous saliva.”

The saliva kills the insect and liquefies the insides of the victim. From there the robber fly will literally suck out the insides of the insect until it is an empty carcass.

Robber flies are not picky. They have an eclectic appetite. They will dine indiscriminately on beneficial insects and harmful pests with the same enthusiasm.

These are GOOD summer bugs!

 

Black Fly (Nematocera > Culicomorpha > Chironomoidea > Simuliidae) – The black fly is sometimes called a Blandford fly, buffalo gnat, turkey gnat, or white socks.

During the late Spring and early Summer, large swarms of black flies are active in the north. Some species are not biters but they are pests as they fly around your head and may crawl into the ears, eyes, nose, or mouth. The biting black flies are the real problem. It is actually the female black fly who bites since she requires a blood meal for the development of her eggs.

From the Entomology Department at Purdue University:

The bites of black flies cause different reactions in humans, ranging from a small puncture wound where the original blood meal was taken to a swelling that can be the size of a golf ball. Reactions to black fly bites that collectively are known as “black fly fever” include headache, nausea, fever, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Black fly bites could transfer diseases, including onchocerciasis (river blindness) and mansonellosis in humans, bovine onchocerciasis in cattle and horses, and leucocytozoonosis in wild birds.

The life cycle of the black fly is short, lasting only two to three weeks. The female deposit from 150 to 500 eggs in vegetation, preferably in clear running water, and the eggs hatch in only four to five days. The flies proceed through egg, larval, and pupal stages before becoming adults. There can be anywhere from one to six generations in a year, depending on the temperature and the species of black fly.

These are BAD summer bugs!

 


Odonata

Odonata is an order of carnivorous insects, encompassing the dragonflies (Anisoptera) and the damselflies (Zygoptera).

DragonflyDragonfly (Epiprocta > Anisoptera) – The dragonfly is characterized by large multifaceted eyes, two pair of strong transparent wings, with colored patches and an elongated body. Dragonflies are extremely fast fliers, and are some of the fastest insects in the world.

The Dragonfly eats small insects, including flies, mosquitoes, bees, ants and butterflies.

From Mother Nature News:

Dragonflies are flat out terrifying if you’re a gnat, mosquito or other small bug. They don’t simply chase down their prey. Instead, they snag them from the air with calculated aerial ambushes. Dragonflies can judge the speed and trajectory of a prey target and adjust their flight to intercept prey. They’re so skilled that they have up to a 95 percent success rate when hunting.

Dragonflies have two sets of wings with muscles in the thorax that can work each wing independently. This allows them to change the angle of each wing and practice superior agility in the air. Dragonflies can fly in any direction, including sideways and backward, and can hover in a single spot for a minute or more.

Dragonfly wings behave highly dynamically during flight, flexing and twisting during each beat. They have a cruising speed of 10 mph and can go much faster for short bursts.

Dragonfly life cycle starts when the female lays as many as 1500 eggs, and they take about a week to hatch into aquatic nymphs or naiads which molt between six and fifteen times as they grow. The dragonfly nymph lives beneath the water’s surface. In fact most of the dragon flies life is spent in this stage, eating aquatic life such as mosquito larvae, tadpoles, and small fish. This nymph stage lasts between two months and five years, depending on the species. When the nymph is ready to metamorphose into an adult, it stops feeding and makes its way to the surface. It remains stationary with its head out of the water, while its respiration system adapts to breathing air. Then climbs up a plant, and molts into an adult.

Predators of the dragonfly include birds, spiders, frogs and larger dragonflies. In the dragonfly larvae stage, they are preyed on by fish, frogs, toads, newts and other water invertebrates.

These are GOOD summer bugs!

 




Arachnid (Arachnida)

Arachnids are eight-legged insects that include spiders, scorpions, ticks, mites, harvestmen, and solifuges.

chiggerChiggers (Acari > Trombidiformes > Parasitengona > Trombidioidea > Trombiculidae) – Chiggers are also known as berry bugs, harvest mites, red bugs, scrub-itch mites, aoutas. But these little insects are actually a mites.

The chigger life cycle includes egg, larva, nymph, and adult. The larval mites are the state that actually feed on the skin cells of animals. Large groups of the larvae will cling to the end of vegetation and wait for a host to brush against it. The group will rush to find exposed skin, which is why you often get more than one chigger bite. After feeding, the larvae will drop off the host and become a nymph. Usually this happens long before the bite location starts to itch.

Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not burrow into a host’s skin or suck blood. They pierce the skin with their sharp mouthparts and inject a digestive enzyme, disintegrating skin cells for food. Itching usually begins within three to six hours after an initial bite, followed by reddish areas and sometimes clear pustules or bumps. As the skin becomes red and swollen, it may swell over the feeding chigger, making it appear that the chigger has burrowed into the skin.

Chigger bite treatment information from Texas AgriLife Extension Service:

Chigger dermatitis can be extremely irritating and uncomfortable. A hot shower or bath can provide some relief if done early in the itching phase. Once a pustule (bump) has formed, do not scratch it, to avoid opening the bite to possible infection.

Antihistamines such as oral Benadryl®, anti-itch creams (camphor and menthol, calamine or pramoxine), or hydrocortisone ointments give the best relief from the intense itching associated with chigger bites. It’s also a good idea to apply an antiseptic ointment to prevent infection.

These are BAD summer bugs!

 


Mantodea

Praying mantisPraying Mantis (Tenodera Aridifolia Sinensis) – Praying Mantis have triangular shaped heads, with large eyes, on flexible necks. They have long bodies and some have wings. All Mantis have forelegs that are enlarged and very quick for catching and gripping prey. Their upright posture, while remaining stationary with forearms folded, has led to the common name praying mantis. The praying mantis has nothing to do with praying. Quite the opposite: mantids specialize in preying!

From Galveston County Master Gardener Association, Inc.:

Mother Nature has gifted the mature praying mantis with a number of adaptations that make it a fearsome hunter. Very unusual in the insect world, the mantid’s elongated thorax functions like a neck, enabling the triangular head to turn almost 360 degrees. This feature combined with its two huge compound eyes and three single eyes, give the praying mantis a real advantage in spotting its next dinner. Each foreleg is modified to fold back like a pocket knife, with serrated, spiny edges that end with sharp hooks: all the better to catch and hold a squirmy lunch desperate to get away.

Praying mantis consume pests such as flies, crickets, moths and mosquitoes, as well as many beneficial insects. Larger species (especially those in tropical areas) will chow down on lizards, small mammals and even hummingbirds. During the day the mantis eats non-stop. Capturing the normal praying mantis to keep as a pet is cruel. You really couldn’t feed it adequately.

The praying mantis life cycle starts in the Fall, with mating. Sometimes, during or after mating, the females will practice sexual cannibalism–eating their mates after copulation. Soon after, the female will lay as many as three hundred eggs. The praying mantis egg is flat and seed shaped. Then the female will coat the eggs in a foaming secretion that hardens to protect them while keeping them moist. When the egg hatches in the Spring, a nymph, which looks like a wingless version of its parents, emerges. Nymphs immediately begin to hunt and eat.

Mantises are preyed on by vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, and birds, and by invertebrates such as spiders and ants

These are GOOD summer bugs!

 

Conclusion

I was really surprised at how interesting this post was to research and write. Bugs are awesome. They influence the world around them. They create the background music of nature. Each is perfectly adapted to its purpose on Earth. Most summer bugs are a lot of fun to watch. Except the mosquito…. they just need to all die! 🙂

The lady bug and the praying mantis images link to products on Amazon where you can purchase live bugs (or eggs) for your gardens. All other images link to other sites for additional information about that particular bug.

Additional Summer Resources


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