Wild critters of summer

By Tom Seymour | Jun 30, 2020
Photo by: Tom Seymour

No matter if you live on an in-town lot or in a more rural setting, summer brings out a host of insects and critters that you don’t see at other times of year.

While many of summer’s insects present threats to our gardens, others are benign and serve as signs of the season. High on my list of favorites, June bugs, more properly termed, “May beetles,” signal their presence by banging into window screens and buzzing around outside lighting. Something about a warm, humid summer night, with June bugs bouncing off the widow screens, has a salutary, soothing effect on my spirit.

June bugs have spiny legs, and these tend to cause the beetle to become entangled in wool clothing and sweaters. For that reason, many people fear them, but not to worry, since June bugs don’t bite.

The younger stage of June bugs does some damage to plant roots. These are the large, white grubs that we dig up in our gardens. In the long run, the damage inflicted by these grubs is relatively insignificant.

Light Show

My other favorite insect of summer, fireflies, or as most of us call them, “lightning bugs,” came out for the first time June 18. I keep records in my Forager’s Notebook and see that lightning bugs usually come out any time from the last week of May through the first week of June.

Coincidentally, this season’s first lightning bug sighting coincided with the first June bug sighting. Both sightings were the latest of all, according to my records.

But no matter. Lightning bugs are here now and few natural spectacles can rival a field or lawn with thousands of flashing, pulsating lightning bugs hovering and floating above. I have noticed that the most intense lightning bug displays occur over patches of spreading dogbane, a fragrant, though toxic, shrub-like plant with pink flowers that depend, or dangle, from curved stalks.

Why lightning bugs favor spreading dogbane remains a mystery. Perhaps it’s the fragrant aroma of the flowers. Maybe not. Suffice it to say, if you have a field that contains a large stand of dogbane, be sure to catch the natural light show put on by thousands of lightning bugs.

Another thing about these harmless insects is that their larvae, called, “glow worms,” shine too. These are most in evidence on rainy nights in spring. Look around lawn edges and patches of tall grass and other weeds.

I can’t help but remember the words to the Mills Brothers famous song, “Glow Worm.” I’m old enough to recall hearing it on the radio in its day.

Magnificent Lunas

Luna moths rank among the most beautiful of moths and also among the largest. At from 3 to 4.5 inches long, it is immense. The pale green wings, with their long, slender, “tails,” and false “eyes,” give this denizen of summer nights an eye-catching appearance.

The spots are designed to fool would-be predators into thinking they are really eyes. Most flying predators would shrink from anything with eyes that large.

Luna moths are most active around midnight. This is when the moths release pheromones, the scent of which helps attract mates. For all of this, individual moths only live about two weeks, a short but magnificent life.

Sadly, sightings of Luna moths decrease each year. Pesticide use, even a small amount, can wipe out large populations of Luna moths. That fact should act as an incentive to gardeners to refrain from using pesticides as far as possible. Yes, it is the larger agricultural endeavors that do the most damage to Lunas, but as per individual gardeners, every little bit helps and the fewer people who use pesticides, the better for these ethereal monarchs of the night.

The next time a Luna moth clings to the siding by your outside light, make sure to take time to view it thoroughly and if possible, take a photo of it. These moths are wonders of nature that you don’t see every day, or night, as it turns out.

Garden Chompers

Rabbits – hares, really – remain active all summer, and they like nothing better than to chomp on young lettuce, chard or green beans. A hare has showed up around my place this spring and just the other day I noticed not one, but two, bunnies contentedly grazing on my newly mown grass.

I watched for some time, just waiting for them to begin nibbling on my still-young crops. But while they hopped along in and through my gardens, neither animal bothered my veggies. As soon as that changes, though, I’ll need to treat the perimeter with Rabbit-Off, one of the more effective controls on the market.

Potential crop damage aside, hare-watching has much to recommend it. The animals are always on the alert, twinned, large ears turning first one way and then the other, like radar antennae.

Also, a hare will freeze in place at the first indication of danger. This often happens out in the middle of the lawn, in which case their frozen posture would do little toward thwarting an attack from an avian predator.

Insects, hares and other wild beings make summer in our Maine gardens enjoyable and interesting. Why not take time to examine our wild visitors and see if I’m not right?

Tom Seymour of Waldo is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Kal Winer | Jun 30, 2020 15:55

Tom, I can't find the "Rabbit-Off" product you recommend  listed anywhere online. Can you give more details?

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