Posts Tagged 'invertebrates'


They get no respect, the two-winged insects known as flies. The biters, bloodsuckers, shit-eaters, in-flesh laying parasites, maggot-spawners.

Ooooog, you say, why are you doing this to me on a Sunday morning?

Well, at least they’re not Republicans.

There are an estimated 17 million flies for each and every human. We’d be drowning in excrement and corpses if not for all these flies, or at least the types that do the dirty work. But as Erica McAlister, a curator of diptera at London’s Natural History Museum, tells us, they do a lot more besides. There are also, for instance, vegetarian flies and pollinators. Indeed, chocolate depends on Forcipomyia genus midges for pollination. Paradoxically — or humanly, if you prefer — the expansion of cacao tree cultivation has meant clearing the forests in which chocolate midges live. Uh-oh. McAlister notes that cultivated cacao trees already have a very low pollination rate….

Obviously in love with her life’s work, McAlister’s enthusiasm is infectious.

And speaking of infection (this is a book review by Borscht Belt routine, evidently…) it’s not the mosquitoes — yes, they’re types of flies — who cause trouble; it’s the disease they carry. And they carry those because of the blood they need to produce their young. As vampires know, blood is very rich food; there are even tiny little midges who tap the blood mosquitos fill themselves with.

Cue up Jonathan Swift:

The vermin only teaze and pinch
Their foes superior by an inch.
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Thus every poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him that comes behind.

Pulp Nonfiction

All right, then, I will admit an obsession with these Bald-faced Hornet nests.

The scraps of paper blown down from one that I bought home recently revealed at least two tiny invertebrate species making their home there after the wasps were undone by the year.

At 10x magnification, you really begin to see the tiny fibers of wood pulp, so painstakingly gathered.


Paper can be strong stuff, but it’s all relative. The exterior coating of wood-pulp paper made by Dolichovespula maculata hornets, who scrape dead trees (or fence posts!) with their mighty jaws, has been stripped off by the weather. Horizontal layers of comb are revealed within. And still-capped larvae probably all killed by the freeze.

The Bald-faced Hornet does not over-winter in the nest and won’t re-use it again next year. Instead, the sole survivor of the colony, a fertilized queen, takes her genetic treasures into hiding, under bark, in attics, holes in trees, etc., to await the spring.

With the fall of the leaves, these large nests clumping in trees mark the presence of creatures that were around us all summer long. Yet  I, for one, don’t often see the actual wasps themselves.

Spider Update

On Wednesday, Araneus diadematus ate brunch.

Judging from the size and shape of the mummified-in-silk prey, I’d say it was a fly. The temperature was already near 50 that morning and would rise up to 60 in the afternoon. Diptera weather! There were also two gnats stuck to the web, but these were so small they hardly seemed worth the effort to eat after all the juices sucked out of the big fly.Which was reduced over a few hours to a gnarly ball of gristle.

In three months of sporadic observation, we’ve only seen this spider eat once.

The Spider Who Stayed Out in the Cold

This large Araneus diadematus orb-weaver has been living outside a Bronx living room window for nearly three months now. That included the last of summer, when a large window fan blew out towards her, making the web bounce like a trampoline.

The web spans the breadth of the window. When she isn’t in its center, hanging face down, she-spider is tucked up into the top right of the storm window frame, with two legs on the web to keep in touch. She prefers the night, which of course is never that dark here in the city. We only once saw her wrapping some prey… or was it an egg case?

Bits of leaf and plumed seeds, however, were often seen stuck in the usually rather tatty web. The first big, but brief, freeze, didn’t seem to faze her. On the 16th, when the video below was shot, she was devouring the lower right quarter of the web, having taken out the lower left earlier that day. The silk proteins, crazy strong material as you probably know, can be recycled this way.

Then she disappeared. The web too. But then, last Tuesday, there she was again! A Thanksgiving miracle!

The Cross Orb-weaver, so named because some to them have a cross-shape on their abdomen, is a cosmopolitan species. They were evidently imported from across the Atlantic some time past.

Lifespan doesn’t jump out in online material about this species: six to twelve months, evidently, for orb-weavers. The male, by the way, is much smaller, and, when attempting to mate, approaches gingerly so he doesn’t get eaten.

Hmm, perhaps, given the times (well, all times) women should take a lesson from that.

And here’s another moving view on my Instagram.

Update: the spider is still going strong today, Tuesday 11/28/17.

Yesterday, there were half a dozen mantids in the asters on Pier 6. It was short-sleeve weather, but Honeybees were the only obvious prey. There were, however, a pair of Monarch wings tucked away in the folds of the flower stems, suggesting someone snagged a butterfly. (Sighted about ten living Monarchs yesterday fluttering and gliding in what increasingly seems like a Sisyphean task.)

Last night a cold front plowed through, dropping down 25 degrees from yesterday’s high. I wonder what the mantids did? The Monarchs?

I submitted this image to iNaturalist, which has an automatic ID function. For this very picture, the machine gave me one option: American asters. Um, ok, but…

By the time the robots are as good as us, there won’t be any more bugs.

Small Kites on the Loose

Surely the last butterflies of the year, these pics from last week? No, I saw two Monarchs heading south yesterday. This is so weird, the weird that is the new normal in the global disruptions of radical climate change. All the Monarchs we’ve seen so late into this fall? Probably not a good thing: they should be in Mexico by now; they’re trapped up here by the weather.


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