Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The bugs of summer

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar

The most famous bug in Minnesota might be the mosquito, but there are lots of other cool bugs living here, too. And they don't all bite. Here's a peek at all the buggy fun the kids and I have been having this summer.

Our bug adventures started with a bug show hosted by our school's community education program. Bruce the Bug Guy entertained Dan and a bunch of other kids (and their parents) for over an hour with an assortment of live insects and arachnids, including cecropia moth caterpillars and adult cecropia moths, giant cockroaches and millipedes, and tarantulas.

cecropia moth caterpillars
Cecropia moth caterpillars

cecropia moth
Adult female cecropia moth

cecropia moth
Adult female cecropia moth

giant cockroach, giant millipede
Giant cockroach from Madagascar, giant millipede from South America

Dan holding tarantula
Dan holding Rosie the tarantula

I bought Bruce's new book – Minnesota Bug Hunt – for Dan at the bug show, both because it's a very well done book and because I'm doing everything I can to encourage summer reading. It's hard to sit down and read when the sun is shining outside.

Bruce told the kids to keep their eyes open for bugs. He also said he'd be happy to help with bug identification – all we had to do was snap a picture of the bug in question and email it to him.

We were home from the bug show no more than 15 minutes when Dan yelled from outside: "Mom, bring your phone and take a picture of this bug!"

I went outside to see what bug Dan had found. It was a woodtick. I took a picture for him anyway.

Common woodtick

Interestingly, I didn't sign Monika up for the bug show because she had a bad encounter with a woodtick this spring. Bad, at least, from her perspective.

I had sent Dan and Monika down to the pond to count the ducks. A few minutes later, Monika was pounding on the front door, screaming hysterically. (I have to lock the front screen door to keep Daphne from going out.) I got to the door – and, honestly, from the horrified look on Monika's face, I thought something had happened to Dan. She could barely breathe enough to answer me when I asked her what was wrong.

"THERE'S A WOODTICK ON MY SHORTS!" she finally cried.

Without laughing, I plucked the woodtick from her shorts and got rid of it, but Monika refused to go back outside. And for several weeks after that, she refused to walk any place where the grass was taller than her ankles.

Since we couldn't go to the bugs because Monika refused to go anywhere with grass, we started paying more attention to the bugs that come to us, like these damselflies that we found in the milk house.

blue dragonfly
Adult male damselfly, one of the Bluet species

black dragonfly
Black damselfly

I found these White-marked Tussock moth caterpillars while I was picking raspberries. I put them in an extra bucket and brought them home to show Dan and Monika. We have a 24-hour rule for most bugs which states that bugs can stay in the house (in the Bug Jar or another container) for 24 hours and then they must be released. We released the little tussock moth caterpillar the next day. But the bigger tussock moth caterpillar had pushed the lid off the bucket during the night, escaped into the kitchen and was nowhere to be found. I figured he would show up again as a moth, but I found him crawling on my dish drainer three days later and sent him outside.

White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillars
White-marked Tussock moth caterpillars

I identified them as tussock moth caterpillars by sending a picture of them to Bruce the Bug Guy. I also sent Bruce a picture of the pale green caterpillar below. The kids found this caterpillar a couple summers ago on our front lawn and came running to the barn, yelling something about a poisonous thing in the grass. I had never seen a caterpillar like her before, so I took a couple pictures and we let her go on her way. Bruce emailed me back right away and said she's a type of sphinx moth caterpillar.

Sphinx moth caterpillar
Sphinx moth caterpillar

Monika finally got over her woodtick scare about a week ago – just in time to start searching for Monarch caterpillars. We have several milkweed stands out in the pasture along the fenceline. I found one Monarch caterpillar last summer while bringing the cows in, but when I brought the kids back to see it, it was gone. So I was really excited when Dan found this one on our first caterpillar search of this year. I was busy trying to take a picture of the blossoms on another milkweed plant when Dan noticed this caterpillar.

Monarch caterpillar on Milkweed blossoms
Monarch caterpillar on milkweed flower buds

We have another stand of milkweed out by our silage bags, so we decided to check those plants for Monarch caterpillars, too. We didn't find any caterpillars, but we did find these Red Milkweed Beetles.

Red Milkweed Beetles
Adult male and female Red Milkweed Beetles

We still have lots of summer bug hunting left to do. We haven't spotted a Monarch butterfly yet – the picture below is from a couple summers ago – but they must be out there if we found their babies.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

We found a sphinx moth, but I couldn't tell for sure which kind it was, because it was floating in a pail of milk in the milk house. I'd like to find one that's not soaked. I'd also love to find another sphinx moth caterpillar.

We've also got our eyes open for another Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

And I know there are many more Minnesota bugs for us to discover.

What's your favorite bug?


  1. These are great pictures, Sadie! I've never been one to like bugs (I probably would have reacted the same way as Monica screaming about the wood tick) but you make them look so beautiful in the photos. Maybe you've changed my perspective about bugs. We'll see! :)

    1. Thanks, Krista! I hope you do look at bugs differently now. They're pretty cool creatures.


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