LOVE IS IN THE AIR. Are you seeing swarms of gnat-like insects hovering over streams, drainage ditches, or poorly drained soils? These are mating swarms of Chornomid midge flies (Family Chironomidae). The cloud-like clusters of these small insects can be hauntingly beautiful as thousands of gossamer wings reflect the early morning or evening sunlight. However, the swarms are notoriously difficult to capture with a camera. The image I've posted this week illustrates the point; the tiny white "smudges" are the midge flies.
Of course, the observer's enchantment with the beauty of the swarms may change once they learn the sordid details of the inner workings within the swarms. A midge fly mating swarm is composed of a throng of lovesick male midge flies. Swarms may be massive numbering in the thousands. Every now and then, an adventurous female midge will try to fly through the aerial mass of zooming, swooping amorous males. The males fly with their legs outstretched in the hope they will snag the female … to get acquainted. Love is in the air!
Chironomid midge flies are not "biting midges"; they lack the necessary biting equipment. In fact, they are considered "beneficial" owing to their status as "decomposers" in aquatic ecosystems and because they serve as an important food item at the base of aquatic food chains. While their swarms may re-appear in the same locations for several days, they are usually just a nuisance to joggers and bicyclists passing through. However, large numbers of mating swarms have been known to present a traffic hazard because of smashed midge bodies on windshields. Of course, some probably died with a smile on their midge faces!
FROM THE MINUTE TO THE MASSIVE. Crane flies (Tipula spp.) are another type of fly that's currently on-the-wing; however, these massive flies are much easier to spot (and photograph!) compared to midge flies. Crane flies look like giant, mutant mosquitoes; a startling image outside of a sci-fi movie. Fortunately, these flies also do not possess mosquito-like piercing-sucking mouthparts, so they do not bite. However, large numbers of crane flies flittering above lawns can be a real nuisance, particularly when they find their way into homes.
The larvae of most species of crane flies feed on decaying organic matter in the soil, and they especially appreciate areas that are continuously moist. The larvae of crane flies that feed beneath turfgrass are called "leatherjackets" because of their tough, leathery exoskeleton. Like the adults, these legless maggots occasionally appear en masse spilling onto driveways or sidewalks. Such a dramatic appearance may signal that the lawn has a thatch problem since the larvae are particularly fond of decaying thatch. However, the species found in
The same cannot be said for two non-native species that have been found in the northeastern states and eastern
HOME SPACE INVADERS. This is the time of the year when a number of insects are poised to make their way into homes. In fact, some are already knocking at the door! Common home-crashers include: hackberry psyllids (Pachypsylla spp.); the boxelder bug (Boisea trivittatus); the western conifer seed leaffooted bug (Leptoglassus occidentalis); the attic fly (a.k.a. cluster fly) (Pollenia rudis); the notorious multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis); and the soon-to-be most notorious brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys).
With the exception of the psyllids, Asian lady beetles, and occasionally boxelder bugs, most of these home space invaders are too large to squeeze through all but the largest of the openings into our homes. Leaffooted bugs and marmorated stink bugs are good examples. Although they may loiter on window screens, no doubt planning a little breaking-and-entering, they're too large to fit through the screens. However, the large opening created by a worn-out exterior door sweep may as well have a flashing neon "Enter Here" sign hanging above it. Leave the garage door up? Say hello to my little friends! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of bugs.