Friday, March 13, 2020

What’s This Bug? The Crane Fly.

Adult Crane FlyHere in Tucson, we are in the middle of Crane Fly season and it's creeping people out all over the city. These gangly insects are everywhere – and I mean everywhere; I even found a dead one in my purse. This phenomenon happens every year, but the numbers are greater when the area experiences wet weather late in the previous year. This was the case for our city in late 2019 and into early 2020. Crane Fly larvae grows best in damp soil and the accumulated rain triggered growth in wildflowers and grasses, which provided a stable food source for the root-eating larvae. With all that organic matter to feast on, the larvae population grew and thrived. Which leads us to this moment, when large numbers of adults have grown from that larvae and are now out looking for mates.
Insects swarming a light

A side-by-side of a Mosquito (on the left) and a Crane Fly (on the right)People around here have to run a gauntlet of  these quivering critters to get through their front doors. Like many other insects, Crane Flies are attracted to light; so avoiding these clusters can be tricky. You can turn off the light by your door, but they will still see the light leaking out from inside. So, unless you turn all your lights off, you will probably just have to deal with them and wait them out - they will only be around a couple of weeks.

Crane Flies must be one of the most wrongly identified insects out there. They are most commonly mistaken for mosquitoes, and for many people they spark a sort of primal fear of that particular insect. But, Crane Flies are not mutant mosquitoes plotting to suck you dry of blood. They are not mosquitoes at all or even closely related –they are members of the fly family (Tipulidae spp.) and only share a passing resemblance to mosquitoes.

Crane Fly on a yellow flowerIt is not only misidentification that plagues Crane Flies, but widespread misunderstanding of their capabilities and motivations in life. Hence the Mosquito-eating monikers like “Mosquito Hawk”. Crane Flies do not, despite the deepest desires of some people, eat mosquitoes. In fact, they do not have the mouth parts to eat anything (or bite – more on that in a minute). Some have a visible proboscis, which some scientists say they use to suck up flower nectar. Other scientists dispute this feeding claim and believe they do not eat at all as adults and survive by living off the fat stores accumulated in their larval stage. Lending credence to the not-eating, energy-conserving hypothesis is their activity level; they don’t fly around endlessly. They sort of bump-jump-fly and then find a spot to cling to.

Because they do not have the proper mouth parts or stingers, Crane Flies are harmless to people. They cannot (so will not) bite, sting or suck on people. For all these reasons, they also do not carry diseases. Their Daddy-Long-Legs-combined-with-mosquito looks and their twitchy movements may give you the willies, but they pose no danger.

Life stages of a Crane Fly, from the 1st instar on the left through 2nd and 3rd. The adult stage is the last on the right.While adult Crane Flies are completely harmless, the same cannot necessarily be said for their voracious larval form (which is 95% of their lives). Crane Fly larvae are great decomposers; they consume all sorts of organic material in the soil. However, they will not discriminate between unwanted organic matter and desirable plant roots. So, for those in search of the perfect lawn, they can be seen as a problem. Keeping your lawn healthy will discourage excessive feeding (check out our lawn products here) and treating the area with beneficial nematodes (we recommend NemAttack™ Steinernema feltiaeshould keep their numbers down. For more on controlling Crane Fly larvae, read this article.

A hand holding a huge insect - the giant-sized Chinese Crane flyIf you are still convinced that the current Crane Fly situation in Tucson is horrific, consider what it must be like in the Sichuan province of China. Back in 2017, outside the city of Chengdu, a monster-sized Crane Fly was captured. It has since been confirmed to be the world’s largest. Read more here.

A woman in a white tank top brushing something off her.There are some people who see Crane Flies as deeply spiritual beings and their appearance as a blessing. This site gives more details on this unique vision of a unique creature.

Here's a video for more general information on Crane Flies.

Adult Crane Flies may be aesthetically challenged, but they serve a purpose beyond their own reproduction. They are a bounty to insect-loving animals in our environment. Birds, bats, lizards and other wildlife are currently having their own version of Thanksgiving over-eating. I can envision them in their homes, contentedly sleeping off their feast – just like Uncle Fred on the couch after too much turkey.                                                     

Submitted by Pam


Thursday, March 5, 2020

5 Cool Things about Praying Mantids

two praying mantids on a branch - they look like they are dancing but they are probably fighting.
It’s Mantid Season again here at ARBICO; a time when these fascinating creatures are on all of our minds. Back in 2018, I wrote a blog that gave an overview of these nifty killers (read it here) and last year, I focused on some of their more singular attributes (look here). For my contribution this year, I’ve found some interesting little tidbits that you may not know:

A big gray bat hovering over the top of a green plant with a mantis on it1. They monitor bats: Mantids are not only voracious predators, they are also prey for voracious predators, which means they have had to develop some effective survival tactics. This is especially true at night, when bats are on the hunt and mantids are on the menu. To combat this threat, mantids have developed the ability to “read” the echolocation that bats use to find prey. Mantids can tell where the bats are and which way they are heading. If they come too close, mantids execute a quick nose dive (often flipping and slashing on their way down). This sudden shift directly downward is the same maneuver that fighter pilots use in aerial combat and is, according to this article, effective 80% of the time.

12 million year old praying mantis in amber
12 million year old praying mantis in amber
2. They are ancient creatures: Ancient insect fossils are exceedingly rare (due to the delicacy of their bodies), but a primitive mantid fossil was found that dates from the Cretaceous Period (66-146 million years ago). Scientists believe that mantids have been around as long as 200 million years (which pre-dates the dinosaurs), but this fossil represents when they first began evolving into what we recognize as a mantid. See it here. When you consider that scorpions have remained virtually unchanged for 300 million years and have been around (in one form or another) for over 400 million years, it seems fair to say that mantids came late to the prehistoric insect/arthropod game.

A sepia-toned photo of an old gray-haired woman and a young girl. San woman and granddaughter.
San woman & granddaughter
3. They are abundant in folklore: From ancient cultures to modern times, mantids have been made notable by people around the world. They found their way into ancient Sumerian texts and into Greek literature (Their name itself comes from the Ancient Greek word mantikos for prophet or seer). They were on Roman coins and in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In China, they were matched up in fights like modern-day cockfights and Chinese proverbs are full of praise for their courage. Generally speaking, they have been portrayed as being wise and fearless, but sometimes they are seen as tricksters. In the tradition of the ancient San people of southern Africa, the mantis is seen as an embodiment of a mischievous, trickster god.

Master Mantis from Kng Fu Panda
Master Mantis from Kng Fu Panda
4. They inspired martial arts: If you think of Kung Fu when you see how a mantid moves, there is good reason for that. There are two distinct styles of Kung Fu (Northern and Southern) who have adopted the moves of the insect for their art. The Northern Style was created around 350 years ago and the Southern Style in 1800. These martial arts styles have been used widely in movies and television and are probably what most people recognize as Kung Fu.

Movie poster - The Deadly Mantis (1957)
5. They’re movie stars: Praying mantids have appeared in a bunch of movies. Usually they are large and fearsome; but, in the case of Kung Fu Panda, the role of the mantis
character is one of a courageous warrior (sound familiar?). Interestingly, there are two movies, Praying Mantis (1993) and Preying Mantis (2003), where there are no actual insects and the mantis referred to in each is a female serial killer (make of that what you will). In case you want to binge watch some mantis movies, I've made a list for you:
Praying Mantis (1993)
Monster Island (2004)
Goosebumps (2015)
The Deadly Mantis (1957)
The Preying Mantis (2016)
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Kung Fu Panada 2 (2011) 

A video of a little boy watching a mantis - then it jumps on his nose.

I have excited your interest in praying mantids, you may want to check out our flash sale. For today and tomorrow we are offering special deals on the oothecas. These praying mantid egg cases are only available for a few months, so you should buy sooner rather than later.

Happy Mantid Season, y’all!
Submitted by Pam

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