Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What's bugging you? #phenology

No doubt some phenology reporters have noted that the arrival of Summer has been accompanied by the emergence of flying, biting insects. Within the past week or so, the numbers of mosquitoes and deer flies have skyrocketed. (yes, the pun was intentional). Each of the dogs has let us know they don't approve of the company that now joins us on our walks. I've noted that, if I let the dog walk on a long lead, the flies surround the dog and not the dog-walker as much. This isn't consistent with what I've read about deer flies being attracted to the tallest target available, but they probably don't read the same information I do.

common whitetail dragonfly female
common whitetail dragonfly female
Photo by J. Harrington

We know that "Frostbite Falls" was inspired in part by the Winter weather way up North in Minnesota. It seems only fair that someone should invent and promote "Mosquitoebite Fens," or somewhere like it, as a setting for Summer skullduggery for our stalwart, potentially bug-bitten heroes. Is it time to bring back Rocky and Bullwinkle? Would Boris and Natasha eventually learn to wear lighter-colored clothes so as to not attract as many of those dippy Diptera that would better serve as dragonfly meals?

This humorous speculation has actually started me wondering about the drivers of the phenology of insect hatches in trout streams. Is water temperature a driving factor? Different insects hatch at different time of year and there's also some variability in time of day, I think. A quick check through google didn't yield any clear answers. I'm sure water temperatures a a contributing factor but can't find much about what else, other than the number of nymphal stages etc. This is what happens when some of us can't resist trying to learn why as well as what's going on. If you're interested, this page about caddisflies is a decent place to start.

bluebird perched on common mullein
bluebird perched on common mullein
Photo by J. Harrington

Before we sign off today, I want to thank Molly for her comment a couple of days ago, suggesting that the mystery weed looked like common mullein. I agree and will watch carefully to confirm or revise. There are lots of mullein plants in our fields, all of them with the tall flower heads I associate with the species. I don't think I've ever noticed mullein when the plant had grown but the flower heads hadn't yet erupted. Without an actual flower as a key, I'm often stumped by what to search on at Minnesota Wildflowers.

[mosquito at my ear]

By Kobayashi Issa

Translated by Robert Hass

Mosquito at my ear—
does he think
      I’m deaf?

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