Nature Notes: A Magical Micro-Realm

As you look for ways to get outside this month to enjoy the last days of summer, I challenge you to take a closer look at a world we typically take for granted and tend to ignore.  It’s easy to admire a nest of baby birds, a fawn following its mother, a snake slithering through our garden, or any other larger animals that easily catch our eye. But this month, take a closer look at the micro-realm of insects and spiders.

Insect and spider abundance is at a high this month, as we reach peak temperature and vegetation abundance. There is  an overwhelming diversity of species filling every habitat in Minnesota! Giant swarms of moths, caddisflies, and a myriad of other small insects are attracted to our porch lights, facing the danger of lurking spiders, frogs, and toads eager to catch meal.  Mosquitoes, deer flies, ants, and orb weavers fill our forests. Our meadows are alive with butterflies, grasshoppers, grass spiders, crickets, bees, leafhoppers, cicadas, crab spiders, and beetles. Our ponds, lakes, and wetlands are spotted with dragonflies, damselflies, horse flies, whirligigs, water striders, and fishing spiders.

Many of us think of these “creepy crawlies” as the worst part of summer. Sure, we might enjoy a beautiful butterfly fluttering by, but wasps, mosquitoes, gnats, ants, and flies? No, thank you.  During our time spent despising their annoyance, we are missing out on an opportunity to appreciate an incredible diversity of life, an unimaginable array of adaptations, and most importantly, a fundamental source of energy for much of the Northwoods wildlife we love!

These “pests” provide food for many species of wildlife in Minnesota.  Insects feed an unbelievable array of birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and even mammals! They feed our song birds, shore birds, frogs, toads, turtles, snakes, small fish, bats, and shrews.  Insects make up a massive portion of the lower end of the food chain, providing plenty of food for our smaller animals, which in turn become food for our larger predators, like osprey, eagles, herons, raccoons, otters, and more. Even many of our seed-loving songbirds put their plant diet on hold in favor of a more protein-rich insect diet during nesting season. Raising young requires a lot of protein, and insects are a perfect source of this much-needed nutrient!

I recently took my niece and nephew on a bug hunt near our house. We quickly found well over 30 species of insects and spiders in under an hour.  I made a comment about a particularly beautiful butterfly and my wise-beyond-his-four -years nephew told me, “Auntie, all bugs are beautiful in their own way”.  And he was right. These tiny organisms are amazingly well adapted to their own tiny niches in our environment. It is easy to overlook them, but once you start to notice their remarkable diversity and innovative life strategies, it’s hard not to feel in awe of them.  So take a moment this month and instead of cursing this new wave of mosquitoes, immerse yourself in the micro-world of insects to see what beauty awaits you!  Here are some of the wonders I’ve found. Click on the images for more info and to enlarge them.

Dragonflies & Damselflies

 Beetles

 Grasshoppers, Crickets, & Cicadas

 Butterflies & Moths

Spiders

Miscellaneous

What better a way could you spend the last days of summer than taking your family outside to get close to nature? A fascination with bugs is innate in many children, so get outside and search for wonders of your own in the micro-realm of insects and spiders!

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