Have you ever seen something mysterious on the trail? Many of the peculiar, foreign things you encounter out there can be explained by six-legged creatures.
Insects may seem like they come from another world, but they are an important, fascinating part of ours. Bookmark this article to learn about the bugs we share nature with and to be able to inform your trail partners about some of the strange things you see while exploring.
Why do the leaves of aspens sometimes look silver from a distance? Take a closer look and you’ll see squiggly lines tracing the leaves. Leafminers are insect larvae (worm-like insect baby) which live inside leaves, eating the green tissue between the clear leaf skins and pooping a brown trail as they chew. Leafminers aren’t just one species of insect; the one found on aspens is a moth named Aspen Serpentine Leafminer. There are several insects that will spend ‘childhood’ inside leaves. The adult female lays eggs on the leaf and, after hatching, the larvae chews into the leaf and starts mining those strange, silvery trails.
While scrambling the sun-baked rocks through the clouds to the summit of Needle Peak in British Columbia, I noticed a splash of red-orange nestled in a crack. Litter? No, thousands of ladybugs! At 2,051 metres of elevation, a colony of lady beetles soaking up the mid-morning sun was the last thing I expected. If you do much mountain hiking in the spring, you will likely encounter this phenomenon known as Summit Ladybugs. They are a peak-bagging species of lady beetle called the convergent ladybug. Late in the spring these beetles migrate into the mountains, seeking elevations of around 2,000 metres where they will gather, mate and hibernate for nine months in massive clusters. The following year they head back to the valleys to lay eggs and provide aphid control for farmers.
Did someone just lob a gob of spit into the plants on the side of the trail? Maybe. But if there is more than one, the blob of tiny bubbles that seems to be dripping down plant stems may be hiding a tiny nymph (baby insect) called Spittlebugs. They sit upside down on stems, suck the plant juices, add air and blow this foamy ‘cuckoo spit’ or ‘frog spit’ out of their back end. The blob envelopes the nymph and provides protection, insulation and moisture. The adult form, Froghoppers, are named after their incredible high-jump ability. They’re better at hopping than fleas and are able to jump 100 times their own length!
It looks like a yummy berry but if it’s growing on a leaf, this gall is hiding something unappetizing. Galls are swollen areas of the leaf, produced when an insect like a sawfly, midge or mite (in this case a Willow Apple Gall Sawfly) lays eggs inside a leaf. The egg hatches into a tiny larvae and the leaf forms a gall in response. The larvae feeds inside the gall until it is ready to transition into adulthood, when it chews its way out of the gall and drops to the ground. In this photo you can see the hole where the larvae exited, but if you found a gall that didn’t have an escape hatch, splitting the gall open would reveal a tiny light-coloured larvae with a brown head.
There are so many extraordinary, bizarre things you can encounter when you spend time outside and on the trail. From aquatic stoneflies walking on the snow to solitary bees burrowed in the sand, insects and their sometimes alien ways are always worth a second look.
PS. Do you love learning about nature?
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