Beginning to look — sound — like summer
A long weekend of temperatures in the 80s and even 90s across much of the Upper Peninsula definitely brought out the insects, some good, some not so much.
Black flies have been vicious and the run of thunderstorms seems to have let the mosquitoes break out in force after a relatively long, dry spell.
But the beneficial pollinators are out as well: native bees, especially bumble bees, and butterflies are easy to see as they forage on the flowering apple, chokecherry and other fruit trees and shrubs.
Tiger swallowtails, in particular, have emerged in numbers that have the lilac bushes looking decorated like a Christmas tree with these large, pale yellow and black butterflies. I’ve come across several monarchs, too, a welcome sight, though the tiger swallowtails definitely have replaced the monarchs as the most common butterfly in this region.
But I didn’t expect to see a caterpillar already munching its way through the tall grass dockside at Six Mile Lake. This one appears to be from an interesting species: a Virginia ctenucha, a type colored to mimic a wasp, with metallic blue body and orange face topped by feathery antennae. They are the largest of these “wasp moths” and fairly common in the area.
I saw the first of the hummingbird clear wing moths for the year as well, also attracted to the lilacs. It is as the name implies — a moth with wings that have clear panels, like dragonflies, that hovers to sip nectar from flowers like a hummingbird. Like sphinx moths, they can be mistaken at first glance for a hummingbird, though smaller than even that diminutive bird.
Also back in a big way are the dragonflies and damselflies: whole squadrons patrolling the lakefront and yards, with at least a dozen species readily identifiable by sight. Nice to know something has shown up to go after those mosquitoes and black flies.
The calls at night are shifting from the shrill spring peepers to the bubbling trill of the gray tree frogs and the thumping burp of green frogs, the largest of the ones seen here in the U.P. The American toads have quieted as well and might be done breeding.
One type I used to see but now seems scarce is the leopard frog. James Harding, an instructor and herpetology specialist with the Department of Integrative Biology at Michigan State University, told me last year that leopard frogs — so called because they have large black spots, while the green frog sports fairly minor freckles — seem to have population fluctuations, sometimes common, sometimes hard to find.
The absence could be an indication they’re having problems as a species, or it could simply mean they’re being muscled out by the larger green frogs that usually share the same habitat.
Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or firstname.lastname@example.org.