Friday, September 14, 2012

The Good Bugs, the Bad, and the Not as bad as you might think

Bumble Bee queen at Canada Thistle
Even after having been stung by bumble bee a few weeks ago in a misguided attempt to be a bumble bee lifeguard, I still view bumble bees as entirely good bugs. I think the picture above is of a new queen of Bombus (Subterraneobombus) borealis Kirby, 1837, the Northern Amber Bumble Bee, but I could be mistaken. I don't like killing 'good bugs' and especially don't like to kill bumble bee queens just to be sure the name is right. In any case, it is covered with pollen and undoubtedly is being an efficient pollinator. Unfortunately, it is pollinating a Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense) - a noxious weed that I have spent much time and money trying to control. So is this really a good bug or a bad bug? I think I'll stick to my original feelings and just keep in mind that life is complicated.
Bad, bad horse fly Hybomitra nuda (McDunnough, 1921)
Now here's a bad bug for sure - a horse fly Hybomitra (aka nitidifrons ssp.) nuda (McDunnough, 1921). I'm more sure of my identification here, because this sucker went to the microscope and and through a key. But then I'm not  a specialist on flies and a new key to the 40 species east of the Rockies was not available at the time, so don't take my word for it. Still, I had no problem killing this 'bad bug' even though it is rare that a Hybomitra has successfully bitten me. They do try, but are rather clumsy and easy to swat. At most, they are annoying when they bump into you or fly about (these are large flies with an angry buzz). But they are definitely a pest of livestock and wildlife and transmit a number of disease causing microbes such as anthrax.
Ankle-biting bad relative of the not-so-nice House Fly: the Stable Fly
Not that I haven't often been bitten by flies such as this very annoying, but rather small and drab, Stable Fly (Stomoxys calcitrans (Linnaeus, 1758)). Except for the long 'beak' (proboscis) that juts forward under the face when they are resting on the side of a barn, shed, or house, this fly looks rather like its cousin the House Fly or a dozen other irritating, but non-biting relatives. The Stable Fly has accumulated a lot of common names, but 'lawn mower fly' seems particularly appropriate. They seem to know when your hands are employed with power tools and if you are wearing shorts - they love your ankles.
Note the jutting proboscis of the Stable Fly
I really don't like this unfortunate addition to the North American fauna (first noticed sometime around 1700) and would happily spend any time available reducing their populations. This is a throughly nasty biting fly and vector of disease. Unfortunately, Stable Flies are fast and seem to know we don't like them. Also, they breed in rotting vegetation and dung, so they will always be with us.
More Ferdinand the Bull than bully: Male Aerial Yellowjacket at Snowberry
Late summer and pre-frost fall are also time for annoying visits from yellowjackets and hornets. This is the time when the nests are at their largest and the workers are busy feeding hordes of new queens and drones. However, not every yellowjacket is interested in what you are eating and drinking. While all yellowjackets will defend their nests, it's really only the members of the Vespula vulgaris group that like to feed on our sandwiches and drinks. In Edmonton that means three species: Common, Western, and German Yellowjackets (and the larger, black and white Bald-faced Hornet). That is certainly enough to be annoying, but there are a number of other social wasps that spend most of their time hunting insects (so, more or less good bugs) or gathering nectar at flowers. The yellowjackets that you see at flowers in the fall are almost entirely males of these more-good-than-bad wasps, e.g. the Northern Aerial Yellowkacket Dolichovespula arenaria (Fabricius, 1775). You can enjoy these wasps for their colourful patterns and flowery obsessions with no worries about being stung.
Male Dolichovespula arenaria (Fabricius, 1775)

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