Nature Notes: Spring Emerging
It’s the time when flying insects emerge. Small, black male ants were flying around my patio on Friday. They ended up in a tote half filled with salt water for a brine shrimp culture I have going. Winged ants of different species are often found mostly drowned at the edge of the ocean along the South Fork’s shore, especially around Georgica Pond. That they ended up in salt water on my patio leads me to believe that the odor of saltiness strangely attracts ants, even though they are not at all aquatic, and why would they give themselves up so easily?
Swarms of small flies, fungus gnats, and the like have been emerging. It’s no wonder that swallows and martins come back at this time of year, they seem to know when there will be food on the table after a long migration northward. Bats are migrating now and as they pass through they are likely to find some of these insect swarms to keep them going as they move up to New England and beyond. The little brown bat is a resident. A few spend the winter here, but most arrive here from caves, say those in Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.
The species is in trouble because it has a fungus disease that gives the nose a white appearance, thus the new name “white nose disease.” Rabid bats don’t froth at the mouth like rabid dogs and raccoons. Thus if you see a local bat that looks like it’s frothing, it’s probably got the fungus disease. The little brown bat and several others hibernate close to each other in caves and crevices, allowing the disease to quickly spread from one bat to another.
Moths are the predominant night fliers. They also supply a goodly amount of food for bats. The advantage of flying at night if you’re an edible insect is that birds that feed on insects are mostly roosting at night, getting some shut-eye. Owls are an exception and small owls like the screech and saw-whet owls often take moths when they’re easy to get. Of course, bats came along and developed sonar for locating flying insects in the dark, so while night-flying moths generally don’t have to worry about hungry birds, evolution has put them in a position almost as dangerous as that faced by daytime flying moths. Both day and night fliers have developed erratic flight patterns which can save some of them from the beaks of birds and the jaws of bats.
Bats, on the other hand, have very few predators because of their nocturnal habits. The red bat flies through every spring and back the other way in the fall. It is one of the few day-flying bats and uses its eyes as much asits sonar to feed. One or two could be taken by a falcon of sharp-shinned hawk, but I have yet to see that happen in my neighborhood.
It is a little early for the more noxious night-flying insects, say the various mosquitoes and no-see-ums. Bumblebees have been out for a week. One flew into my house on Monday while I had the outside door open to let fresh air in. A horsefly also came in for a look around. The bumblebee made it out through a living room window that I opened, the horsefly buzzed around well into the night.
No mosquitoes, but ticks are aplenty. Two weeks ago while tagging trees for removal at an East Hampton nature preserve, I came out of the brush with a bunch. All three species were on me, dog (or wood) tick, deer tick, and Lone Star tick. The Lone Stars climb up higher on standing vegetation than the other two species. If you get a tick on your neck, shoulder, or scalp, 50 to 1, it’s a Lone Star. Deer are their favorite hosts and the softest parts of the deer, the eyes, ears, lips and nostrils are high up off the ground. For the female Lone Star with her telltale white spot on the back, why attach to the lower leg and crawl all the way to the head? It’s easier to leave your plant perch and go directly onto the head.
Yes, it’s a slow spring, but most everything is back from the South and the insects, ticks, and spiders are out to get us. It’s safer in the house or in the water. Bedbugs have yet to make a dramatic appearance so far away from the city and Nassau County. Ah, May.