The Bugs of Summer . . . and Fall, Winter and Spring

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Weather affects everything.  Everything.  Even the tiniest among us.  The upper Texas Gulf Coast is a great place to grow up, especially if you like nature.  The variety is tremendous and there’s enough flora and fauna to spend a lifetime exploring.  In the space of one week, I can enjoy some freshwater fishing, deer hunt, bird-watch the dozens of different types that migrate through the area, go deep-sea fishing, add to my seashell (actually, in my case, sharks’ teeth) collection, harvest habanero peppers off my back porch . . . and at the moment, I’m watching two mockingbirds harass a red-tail hawk in a territorial dispute.

Not what you think. Click image to see why. Photo: Fred Rogers

But one of my favorite things is the bugs.  And I like bugs, especially the seasonal ones.  During the summer, the cicadas get a bit loud.  Like most cicadas, the ones in this region live for 17 years and nearly their entire lifespan is spent in nymph form underground before emerging to live just a few more weeks, singing all the while.  But the ones around here are overlapping and emerge each summer as opposed to the ones in the eastern U.S. which only appear every 17 years, all on the same schedule.  So they’re loud but you get used to it; I can’t imagine having to deal with an explosion of them all at once and so rarely.  Cicada is Latin for “buzzer” but as kids we called them ‘sizzle bugs’ because we knew their staccato call heralded the scorching days of summer.  They’re also referred to as dog-day cicadas for exactly the same reason.

Yellow jewel spider. Available in a large number of color combinations, we only get them in yellow, red, green and orange around here. Photo: Spiderzrule.com

Other seasonals in this area include the beautiful lacewings of early spring, loopy June bugs that usually show up as early as April and jewel spiders which announce that fall is right around the corner.

I know – spiders are arachnids and not insects but they warrant mention because they’re viciously beautiful and they spin a breathtakingly large web.  And they’re only around for about two months. [NOTE: After taking heat from the other editors for using the term “viciously beautiful,” I hereby rescind said use and replace it with “neato but really mean-looking.”]

The mosquitoes are a drag – they seem to prefer me even in a crowd of hundreds – and, unfortunately, they’re only mildly seasonal; I’ve been bitten on Christmas Day.  They really swarmed after hurricane Rita’s winds stripped dormant larva from tall blades of coastal salt grass and deposited them throughout the freshly-soaked Houston area 40 miles inland.  That was a particularly nasty crop of pests that punctuated the effects a particularly brutal cyclone.

Lacewing. Not shown well here is that their eyes reflect translucent orange. Photo: BBC

As for migratory passages, the reigning king of the weather-affected critters in southeast Texas is the monarch butterfly.  Their bi-annual migration takes them from Mexico throughout parts of the central and western U.S. on up into Canada each spring and right back to Mexico each fall.  Their incredible journey is even more remarkable when you consider that they only live for 5 or 6 months, which means every migration north- or southbound is made by monarchs who’ve never before made the trip.  And their brilliant markings are among the most stunning in the butterfly world.  No wonder the monarch is the state insect of Texas.

Read more about seasonal bugginess here.

The monarch. Photo: monarch-butterfly.info

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