Wednesday, January 2, 2013

01 January 2013 I was out searching for galls ( will be discussed in many other posts) when I happened across this little creature. This is a Hemipteran which is the true order of bugs. This one happens to be a Milk Weed Bug. If you have seen a Stink Bug, than you have seen a Hemipteran.

People have this odd habit of calling nearly every insect, they run into, a bug. One of the most popular insects to earn the name bug is the Lady Bug, but she is not a bug at all. She is a beetle, and her correct name is the Lady Bird Beetle. Epic fail people!

When we start talking about insects, two of the key things that must be considered is what they eat and how they eat. Hemipteran all are distinguished by a piercing sucking mouth part. This makes them either a plant eater as in the case of the Beautiful Milk Weed Bug above, or a predator such as the Assassin Bug Below. Insects in general are important, even the ones that damage crops, bite, or even sting.

Insects offer one of the greatest hopes that we have for curing certain disease. There is a firefly that manufacturers a chemical that is used to treat heart conditions. We use insects to help solve crimes. The deal with insects is that we really only know a fraction of what there is to know about them. We have maybe discovered about 1/3 of what the world holds in terms of insect species. We also are killing them off faster than we can identify them.

The Milk Weed Bug is a pest as far as crops are concerned. So what makes this bug important? With all plant feeders there are several things that make them important. One, they  help to put usable energy into the food web. Because plants are primary produces, plants and a few other organisms like cynobacteria are the only creatures that can take incoming solar radiation and make it into a usable food source. When plant eaters ( second level consumers) eat the plants a fraction of that energy is transfered to the plant eater. That plant eater in in-tern eaten and a fraction of their energy is transfered to the organism that ate the consumer... this works the same all the way the food chain.  Between one consumer and the next is called a trophic level. only 10% of the energy that is consumed is transfered between trophic levels. A predator that eats a Milk Weed Bug is only going to receive 10% of the energy in the Milk Weed Bug... considering that the Milk Weed Bug is only 3/4 of an inch long it would take a lot of them to make a decent meal, or to receive a lot of energy. So they are important because there are a lot of them. They are also important because they are one of the insect populations that drive the food web. What eats them? Birds, lizards, rodents, snakes, maybe even fish, and certainly other insects make a meal out of these bugs. In this way they are very important. The next trophic level might eat the birds, lizards, rodents, snakes, and other insects that prey upon the Milk Weed Bug. This is why using pesticides has to stop. We are weakening the food web and that means that for most humans food is going to get really expensive and fairly soon. The thing about toxics like herbicides and pesticides is that they build up in the food web because unlike energy the whole does of toxin is absorbed by the next tropic level. This means that when humans eat something they are going to get all of the toxins that were consumed along the entire food web.

Here is how it works. If a Milk Weed Bug comes into contact with some pesticide and is then eaten by a lizard. The lizard now become toxic from the pesticide that the Milk Weed Bug ate. So if that lizard ate ten Milk Weed bugs all of which were toxic, then the lizard will contain all of that pesticide. So when the lizard gets eaten by a Blue Jay, the Blue Jay receives all of the Toxins that were in the Lizard. If the Blue Jay ate ten lizards that had all eaten ten Toxic Milk Weed bugs, then the Blue Jay has all of the toxins that were initially in the Milk Weed Bugs. Unlike energy, all of the toxin transfers between trophic levels. This continues all the way up the food chain until it reaches the humans who then eat something from the grocery store that contains all of the toxins from the organisms before the product was made. Not very healthy.

When I am out in the field looking for bugs I will often find bugs that are dead. In fact, as I walk along the side walks of suburbia I will find a lot of dead insects. Most of them are bees. The bees are in such trouble that it really makes me quite sad... but I will save that for another blog...

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Black Widow Spider:

This lovely lady was found several summers ago on the side of my building. She has made her den in a drain pipe next to some pepper plants, and would dash out to investigate what I was up to each time I would harvest a pepper. Most people are freaked just a wee bit over spiders and especially spiders such as the Black Widow.

Not all creatures that roam the earth are harmless, and certainly this spider fits into that category. Her bite can be deadly to the weak, or it can leave massive wounds that can be life threatening to the strong. She is not to be toyed with, or her vengeance shall be a mark you wear forever. Putting all of that aside, spiders server their purpose and the purpose that they server is very important and beneficial to man.

Without spiders, even those that are potentially lethal, we humans would be overrun by insects such as flies, mosquitos, and even cockroach. We may not appreciate the presence of spiders, but we should.

As an entomologist, I accept spiders. They are not insects, but they fall into the category of entomology through forensics. Forensic Entomology includes almost anything that can be lethal to man. A forensic entomologist uses a broader set of skills to do their job. That includes understanding and working with spiders if needed.

If you have had an encounter with a spider, I'd like to hear about it.