Late Season Pollinators 2016

We’ve had a few cool days in Raleigh so far this fall, but it’s been quite warm overall. This means that a lot of insects have been out later than usual, in some cases quite a bit later than usual. A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch at a nearby arboretum, just to get outside in a pretty place for a while, and I came across this field of cosmos:

flower-field

That photo was taken on November 10th, so I was very surprised to come across so many blooming flowers! Several other flowers were also in bloom, so there were quite a few different insect species making use of the nectar. There were, of course, many bees, including honey bees:

honey bee with cucumber beetle

There were also at least three different species of bumble bee, though I’ll admit that I am terrible at figuring out which species is which:

bumble bee

Most of the bumble bees I come across in my area are the common eastern bumble bee, and I suspect this one is as well, but I couldn’t say for sure.

On the same flowers, I came across a few butterflies. I hardly ever see cabbage whites, so I was excited to see this one:

cabbage white

I know they’re a pest species and a lot of people really dislike them. And yes, they did once eat all of the broccoli I planted in my garden. However, they’re really beautiful and they’re just doing what they do when they eat my broccoli, so I like them anyway.  :)

There were tons of these checkered skippers in the field of flowers:

checkered skipper

I don’t know why, but I rarely see these at the museum field station where I work, even though it’s just a mile or so away from the arboretum where I took these photos. There are tons of them at the arboretum though, almost every time I go! I spotted at least two other skippers the same day, but only got a photo of this one:

fiery skipper

I believe this is a fiery skipper, but I’m not 100% sure about my ID. What can I say? Butterflies are not my best group as I just took a real interest in them recently, but I’m working on getting better. Skippers are harder to ID than a lot of other groups, so they’re my weakest group and probably will remain so for a while.

You might have noticed the cucumber beetle in the photo with the honey bee. Once I saw one, I started looking for them and found dozens more, about one per 2-3 flowers:

cucumber beetle

Apparently they really like these flowers. They’re an agricultural crop pest, so it made me wonder if all the holes in the petals I was seeing were caused by the beetles. A lot of the most heavily damaged flowers had the beetles on them, but that could just be coincidence. There were a lot of beetles on a lot of flowers!

I spent a long time watching the insects in this field of flowers, but I saw several more as I walked back to my car. There were more butterflies out, including this common buckeye (one of my favorite butterflies!):

common buckeye

… and this American lady:

American lady

I didn’t manage to get a photo of the swallowtail that was flying around as it wouldn’t sit still long enough, but there was one eastern tiger swallowtail floating around the area. There were also a ton of hover flies, of multiple species. This one:

hover fly

… and this one:

hover fly

… seemed like particularly good bee mimics, about the same size and had rather similar behavioral patterns as honey bees. In fact, a pair of women came up to this planting while I was there and said, “Wow! Look at all those bees!” I, being the annoying person that I am sure I sometimes am, couldn’t let that pass, so I told them that a lot of what they thought were bees were actually flies and pointed out the differences. Not sure they really wanted the entomological lesson right then, but I just can’t help myself sometimes.

Fall has been coming on a lot more slowly in my area than normal this year, so I’ve been surprised more than once by the things that are still visible that are usually gone by now. I found a monarch caterpillar a few days ago and there are still a few milkweed plants alive! A few years ago, I remember seeing a monarch adult on November 2 and thinking it was terribly late, but this year I’m still seeing caterpillars.  Strange, and a little disturbing that it’s so warm so late, but I’m going to enjoy seeing insects out as long as they last – and welcome winter with open arms when it finally arrives.

flower in bloom

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

Dewy (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I love a foggy, wet fall morning.  If you’re in the right kind of place, the dew will helps you see hundreds and hundreds of these:

Dewey spiderweb

Dewy mornings are a great reminder of just how very many spiders there are out there in the world.  All those webs represent a great – and essential – service that spiders perform: helping keep insect populations in check.  Regardless of whether you like spiders or not, you need them, so thank a spider next time you see a dewy web!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

Making a Kick Net by Hand

Kick nets are great tools for collecting insects in streams.  They consist of a rectangular sheet of netting that’s supported on either side with poles.  They typically require two people to operate, one person who holds the net upright in the water with the bottom edge of the net laying against the streambed and a second person who “kicks” by stirring up all of the substrate with his/her feet.   The insects that are dislodged drift downstream into the net.  Kick nets of varying quality are available commercially and if you want to use a kick net to do research, you’ll be better off buying a well made one that you can use for a long time.  However, if you are collecting for fun, doing educational programs, or simply want to explore a stream, a handmade kick net will do just fine.

There are several ways to make kick nets, including simply stapling screen to a pair of dowels with a staple gun, but I like one that’s just a little more complicated to make.  I find they come apart less easily and don’t require quite such frequent repairs.  To make it, you’ll need the following:

  • Window screen. The kick nets pictured in this tutorial were made from a roll of 36” x 25 foot screen, which you can purchase at a hardware store and will make several nets.  I recommend the 48” screen if your water is more than a foot deep.
  • Two wooden dowels – I use 1/2″ x 36” dowels. If you are working in deeper water, get 48” dowels instead. Any diameter dowel will work, but I recommend something between about 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch.  Anything smaller is easy to break and anything wider is needlessly heavy.
  • Two thumbtacks (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine or needle for hand sewing
  • Thread – I recommend nylon thread for longevity

Kick net supplies

Sewing machin

I have been sewing since I was about 8 years old, so I use a sewing machine to make my nets.  You can do the exact same thing I describe here stitching by hand – it just won’t be as quick to make.

Step 1.  Cut a rectangle of screen.  I cut 2 foot sections from my roll, so my pieces were 36” (the width of the roll) by 24”.  I use the width of the roll of screen as the width of my net, so the length I cut from the roll is the final height of my net.  The nets I make are 34 inches across and 24 inches high when complete.

Screen rectangle

Step 2.  Fold over about 1” along one of the shorter edges (make it closer to 1 1/2  inches if you’ve got a 3/4 inch dowel).  Pin if needed.  Stitch in place about 1/4 inch from the raw edge.  If using a sewing machine, backstitch at both ends.

Stitching a dowel pocket

Step 3.  Stitch across the tube you made about 1/4 inch from one end.  Stitch back and forth a few times for a strong seam.

Stitching along the bottom

Step 4.  Repeat on the other end of the netting, folding over about 1 inch, sewing 1/4 inch from the raw edge, and stitching across the bottom of the tube.  Make sure the “bottom” on both ends of the net are the same!  The final product should look like this:

Stitched rectangle

Step 5.  Insert dowels into the pockets you made.

Inserting dowel

Inserted dowel

Step 6.  If you want to be able to remove the dowels easily when not in use, you’re done.  This makes it easier to fold up and put away.  However, it makes the kick net harder to use as you have to hold the net in place in the stream and also hold the dowels in place in the pockets.  I like to add a couple of thumbtacks to hold the net in place during use.  Press them part way in with your thumb and then hammer them in the rest of the way.

thumbtack in place

The final net should look like this:

Final net

To make your kick net easy to carry, roll the net along one of the dowels and secure in place with a twist tie or other fastener:

rolled net

It takes me about 15 minutes to make one of these nets with a sewing machine and they cost about $4 altogether.  Considering how much the professional kick nets cost, I much prefer making a new one of these when one breaks than laying out the cash for a new pro net.

Good luck and here’s hoping you find many interesting things with your net!

pile of kick nets

You can download a printable version of this tutorial on my Educational Materials page.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.