Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Dragonfly - my favourite!

All the best to you in 2011.

This first post of the New Year belongs to the Dragonfly.  It is one of the largest insects you'll see around Newfoundland.  Most people avoid them for fear of their biting or stinging abilities. Still, their helicopter-like flight makes us pause in amazement when they hover over ponds or in our gardens. We've dubbed them with names such as 'arse stinger, horse stinger and in some places, devil's darning needle.  My boyhood logic told me to avoid anything which could sting a horse! 

In reality, they are not harmful at all.  Dragonflies do not sting.  Also, despite having large jaws they are unlikely to bite - only when handled.  Even then the most a Dragonfly could muster is a good pinch.  Dragonflies are very beneficial to humans in that they feed on other insects - such as mosquitos and black flies, which they catch in flight. 

Adults tend to live near water but are very strong fliers and range several miles each day.  Eggs are laid in water or on aquatic vegetation.  In late June and early July look in still water or streams for nymphs (pre-adult). They are often visible walking along the bottom. 

Welcome Dragonflies to your garden. They are nature's awesome insect flier!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Pounding Waves at Twillingate

My recent visit to Twillingate, on Newfoundland's northeast coast, inspires this departure from my usual bug postings.  Just 2 days ago on December 26 I was in the community for a visit.  The province had experienced a few weeks of strong winds and high tides. Normally at this time of year the snow has arrived making hiking trails inaccessible. Not this year.  The trails are wet but there is no snow. I left Durrell and hiked towards the expansive and beautiful French Beach.  From there I followed the relatively new trail to French Head. The area marks kilometers of high cliffs, forming right angles with the Atlantic Ocean  The winds were howling but the trail is set safely back from the cliff edge.  The reward?  An amazing display of high, fast waves crashing in the cliffs, a sea of boiling white foam and the air filled with a salty mist.  The soundtrack was the incredible roar of the ocean.  I regret that I had no pics or video - left my camera home.  :(   It was a real treat going to bed that night in Durrell - falling asleep with the dull roar of the pounding seas in the background.

My most recent had been in July when Twillingate and French Head are the opposite of the above. Warm breezes, a jewel of a blue ocean, wild berries every where and the occasionally Humpback whale passing by.  The pic below is taken from French Head and shows Spiller's Rock. 

The area is well worth a visit - whether it be July or December!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

This Carpenter is a Sow Bug!

The Sow Bug is a small humble little guy.  They are common in gardens though tend to stay out of sight.  Sow Bugs seem skilled at getting into your house as well. This is especially true if you have an older home or one without a finished concrete basement.  In Newfoundland they are commonly called wood lice, carpenters and even boat builders. 

Sow Bugs can be found gathered at near rotting wood so are considered pests by some.  However most of the time they are content to remain in their natural environment where they feed on rotting plants.  In many damp outdoor spaces they will be present under rocks and other objects.  When they show up in your house it tends to be a solitary mission and they are very lost. Just a convenient oasis when the outside weather turns cold.

Sow Bugs are crustaceans and have lots of ocean-based cousins.  They are about the size of your fingernail and are black or dark brown in colour. Usually they are not much longer than your fingernail.  Sow Bugs have 7 pairs of legs and are quite safe to handle.  Kids are intrigued by their slow movement and safe appearance.  

Next time your see one inside - pause and pick it up by holding each side gently.  It's probably the least squirmy bug you'll encounter. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Green Lacewing - a delicate fellow.

There are numerous bugs which live among us each summer and go without notice.  This is especially true for those who mind their own business, don't bite or crawl through our houses. 

The Green Lacewing is such a fellow.  I first saw one on the west coast of Newfoundland in the 1980s.  Now they are spread throughout but are still easy to miss.  As the name implies, the wings are very fine works of lace. The eyes can be golden in colour.  If they are resting on plants they are near invisible - about an inch long.  Lacewings are rarely inside your house. Sometimes they give off an unpleasant odour when handled.  I tend to leave them alone - the wings are just too easily damaged. 

Lacewings, both as larvae and adults, are very beneficial in the garden - they feed on aphids.  They pose no threat to people.  Next summer enjoy these little pieces of lace, and let them go their way untouched!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Ideal Bug For Kids.

In my last post I touched on fear of bugs and how most kids are intrigued by things that crawl.  The question is - which bugs are so harmless that kids (or yourself) might be very comfortable touching them?  One option is the Stink Bug. I know, not exactly the best name for a 'touching' recommendation. 

Stink Bugs are common in Newfoundland throughout the summer.  If you are clothesline person no doubt one has made its way into the house. They are about the size of your fingernail.  Stink Bugs have sucking mouth parts so pose no threat to you.  The best thing about these six-legged beauties is that they will mostly hang around. Place them on a child's hand and they will walk all around.  Though they are able to fly most times they simply stay put. 

Oh - the stink.  Fortunately, Stink Bugs only use their defense system when threatened.  If you happen to hold it too sight or sqeeze it accidentially - stink!  Even then it's distinct but not all that bad. 

Next summer introduce your child to a Stink Bug.  It will be a huge leap in reducing fear of bugs!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Got a Bug Phobia?

It's an amazing thing - something in the back of ancient brain tells us to avoid bugs; to jump, scream and squish any that come near. Of course there is a good arguement for learned behaviour.  A kid who is left alone will most likely pick up a carpenter (sow bug) and examine it.  Many of our behaviours come from observing the norms of those around us.  In a future posting I will introduce some really cool and safe bugs which young kids embrace with facination...you might too!

So, are you scared of bugs - is it a phobia?  You may recall a movie called Arachnophobia?   It highlighted one of the primary bug phobias - the fear of spiders (the phobia includes insects like scorpions).  Most people do not like spiders and other insects.  Choosing not to brush up against a spider's web or allowing some insect to scurry by at a safe distance is a normal, socially-driven discomfort with bugs.  They are creepy and crawly; how are we supposed to know which ones are safe?  Scan through this blog - when I highlight an insect I will discuss its ability to cause harm. 

When is it a phobia?   A phobia is a irrational, intense and persistent fear.  There is an excessive and unreasonable desire to avoid the object/situation.  It's important to note that it is irrational - people say/think 'I should know better'.  For example, a person with a wasp phobia might react by letting go of a steering wheel and loosing all control of  car simply to get the thing off.   A key question is 'is it interfering with my life?'.  If so, and you wish to change this, check out a psychologist.  They do systematic desensitization - the thing of fear is gradually introduced over time and eventually you are able to move past it.  

This is a heavy topic.  Most bugs weigh less than your fingernail and most will not cause harm.  By the way, none of the hundreds of spiders which have walked across my hands have ever bitten me.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010


It does seem like a rather odd time of year to write about bugs.  I'll re-post the bunch next summer. With those final pre-winter chores outside you might encounter things like - centipedes. 

Even to folks who are bug-friendly or even bug-tolerant, the centipede seems to be one nasty fellow.  They appear out of nowhere, love to hang under things in your garden and look gruesome!  All those 30 legs flailing away and something in the back of our brain says 'this thing is dangerous'. 

Centipedes are swift and self-reliant.  They make their own way in the world and aren't going to hang around waiting to be picked up.  Centipedes are quite flat so will certainly make their way into your house at times under the door or while on something else.  Your house is not really welcoming to them, however. They need soil and debris, rotting plants and insect prey. 

Centipedes will not damage your house.  Even better, they will not seek to crawl into your ears.  In some parts of the province centipedes are mistakenly referred to as earwigs.  They do have a high squirm factor! 

These predators have poison jaws which they use to paralyze their prey.  They rarely bite people and are most apt to seek escape if you pick one up.  A bite would be painful.  There are about 8000 species of centipedes in the world, including the Amazonian Giant Centipede which is 12 inches long.  Ugh!

They'll be in your garden - might as well leave them to their work!