Yesterday I saw an unfamiliar flower blooming outside my window atop the moss covered rocky ledge and I went outside to see what it was. It looked a little like soaproot (Chlorogalum spp.) flowers, but those do not grow in Vermont. As it turned out the “flowers” were the unfurled, pubescent new leaves of a young striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), a very common plant in New England, and not as interesting as the other thing I found outside my window.
You see crane flies (Tipulidae spp.) often, they look like large mosquitoes and often go by the common name “mosquito hawk”. Unfortunately, they only look like mosquitoes and do not hunt them. Fortunately, they only look like mosquitoes and do not act like them.
I didn’t know much about crane flies, so I did a little reading about them and now know minimally more than I did. Not enough to identify this species unfortunately. When I first found the pupating insect it was holding its wings wide, but when I returned with a camera it had folded them back along its body.
The larvae of some species live under water, much like caddis fly larvae, other species have terrestrial larvae. In either case the larvae eat dead vegetation. The larvae of terrestrial species have tough skin, leading to the common name “leather jack”, which I think is pretty cool. Skunks and moles eat the grubs, as, I expect, do birds when they can get them. The adults of most species do not eat, and in some species only the males have wings.
I turned my back for a minute to take a photo of a leaf-hopper sitting nearby, and when I turned back, the crane fly had gone.
Hunting around with the half-formed though that if I had seen one, there might be others (always worth checking, sometimes it pays off). I did not find any others hatching, but there was evidence that others had hatched recently.
Insects are one of the most mysterious and magical things. They transform themselves in ways that seem impossible, ones that pupate completely breaking down their bodies and reconfiguring them in radically different configurations. Tests on butterfly caterpillars indicate that, despite pretty much liquifying themselves, they retain memories and lessons learned through the process. Insects are so successful that nearly every ecosystem and terrestrial living thing is now dependent on them, if not directly, then removed from direct dependence by only a step or two.
We don’t know how many species exist, and often fail to grasp their importance. We try to kill the insects we dislike with poisons and within a few generations they develop immunities. They are mind bogglingly tough and adaptable, despite their individual fragility.
They are ubiquitous, fundamental, and wondrous.