MARCH
2003

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

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Check out these books by Tom Turpin:

Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?

 

 

 

3-17-03

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I Heard a Fly Buzz -- It Must Be Spring


Harbingers of spring come in all shapes and sizes. Robins hopping on the lawn. Sandhill cranes winging northward. Cardinals singing from the highest tree branches. Young lambs frolicking in the barnyard. Baseball scores from spring training games.

Singing birds, baby lambs and preseason baseball scores warm the cockles of the hearts of many winter-weary folks. But some of us have seen birds cheep and lambs leap in the snow. And those spring training baseball games? They are held in Florida and Arizona for a very good reason.

In temperate regions around the world, the true indicator of spring is the appearance of insects. When bugs buzz in the great outdoors, can spring be far behind? What are the first insects to abandon their winter hideaways during the early spring?

One of the most interesting is appropriately named the winter stonefly. Stoneflies are aquatic insects and spend their immature lives living in streams. Those known as winter stoneflies emerge as adults early in the year. So early, in fact, that at times the stream is still ice-covered. These hardy insects live in the air pockets between the ice and water. When the ice breaks, they move away from the water and show up on trees, porches and fenceposts, even when snow is still on the ground.

In general, air temperatures must be above 50 F for insects to be active. The first 50-degree days in February and March are almost always punctuated by the buzz of flies. Many flies, including the common house fly, spend the winter in the pupal stage, just waiting for the arrival of spring. When the weather warms up, so do the flies.

A common house pest called the attic fly spends the winter as an adult in hibernation. The fly sometimes goes into hiding in the attics of our homes, hence the name. It also crawls into barns or under trash in the field for its winter rest. Regardless of the wintering site, warm temperatures wake the slumbering flies and they take to wing. They are on a mission. These flies are searching for earthworms on which to lay eggs. They are earthworm parasites. In this case, it can be said that the early fly gets the worm!

Butterflies have long been associated with springtime. In fact, the name butterfly even suggests it. Spring is when many cows and goats give birth and, consequently, milk is available for making butter. So spring has been known as the butter season. Hence, these insects became known as flies of the butter season or butterflies. The fact that some of the earliest butterflies seen are yellow in color also supported the name.

However, the first spring butterflies seen in the Midwest are not yellow ones. They are brown- and orange-colored and are species of what is either called thistle butterflies or tortoise shell butterflies. Both of these groups of butterflies spend the winter in the adult stage. So when spring comes, they are ready to flutter around the landscape. Two common species include the Red Admiral and the Painted Lady.

Any day that the air temperature exceeds 50 F brings flights of honey bees. Since the bees spend the winter in their hives, a warm day gives them a chance to flex their wings. So during the first warm spring days, honey bees can be seen buzzing around. They might be looking for flower, but more likely they are on a cleansing flight. In common terms, that means that the bee is making a bathroom stop. That bee behavior gives new meaning to the old tradition of spring cleaning!

 

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox