Strangers in the woods: Keep an eye out for bugs


Most of our Wood County parks have woods for hiking and leisurely walks among their trails. This past week I explored William Henry Harrison Park in Pemberville. This park has trails in the wooded area that leads to the adjacent Portage River.

Before I headed out to the park, I read an article about strange insects in the woods written by Joe Boggs, Ohio State University Extension educator from Hamilton County. His article did not disappoint. As I headed off to the park, his article encouraged me to look for some strange insect creatures other than the fascinating rich fauna of trees, understory plants and mosses I normally look at.

Besides the plant life, with my newfound knowledge, I came across a scorpion fly. The name “scorpion fly” sounds like a dangerous combination — like some freakish creature buzzing out of the Upside Down in “Stranger Things” or something lurking in a “Jurassic Park” movie. Of course, scorpion flies are not flies with scorpion stingers, just like pineapples are not apples growing on pines.

Contractions of names tell a story; pineapples were so named because they resemble pinecones.

Flies belong to the insect order Diptera (di=two; ptera=wing). Flies have two wings, and their common names are written as two words: snipe fly, hover fly, house fly, horse fly, etc. Unfortunately, there are common names for insects that fly but are not Dipterans in that they have four wings. Common names often cause contractions such as butterfly, whitefly, sawfly and, of course, scorpion fly. I believe shoofly pie fits the definition, but I need to do more hands-on investigating.

Scorpion flies belong to the order Mecoptera (meco=long). They have four long wings. Male scorpion flies have external genitalia at the end of their abdomen that resembles the stingers of scorpions. Scorpion fly adults feed on nectar and dead organic matter such as dead insects; however, some will also behave as predators by chowing down on living insects. These unusual-looking insects commonly hang out on low-growing vegetation along the edges of woods often near streams.

In the same area as the Scorpion Fly, I came across a Golden-Backed Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus, family Rhagionidae). The name “snipe” invokes a mythical forest creature that’s only ever been seen by summer camp counselors and older siblings. The next time someone sends you out on a snipe hunt, make sure you look for the Golden-Backed Snipe Fly.

Little is known about the golden-backed snipe fly native life cycle and lifestyle. Most often observed in the forests of the eastern U.S. and appears to have one generation per season with peak numbers occurring in late May through June.

As you’re hiking on forest trails across Ohio, look down occasionally and you may spot an emerald-green Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexguttata, family Carabidae). The tigers have a curious affinity for zipping around on woodland trails; large numbers can certainly liven up a hike.

Tiger beetles behave exactly like their larger feline namesake. They hunt, kill and eat their arthropod prey. In the insect world, arthropod means jointed foot. If you can get close enough, you’ll see powerful sickle-shaped mandibles that are used to grab and dispatch their luckless arthropod victims. A word of caution: these carnivores can also use their impressive mandibles to deliver a painful bite to the hand of the overly curious.

Six-spotted tiger beetles appear as temperatures warm in early spring and they remain active until early-to-mid summer. After that, you’d need to dig into forest soils to find the larvae which are also predators. However, instead of actively hunting their prey, they conceal themselves in vertical burrows in the soil to await hapless victims. When a meat item such as insects or spiders walks past, the tiger larva springs forth like a jack-in-the-box to grab dinner with their powerful mandibles.

The bottom line is that six-spotted tiger beetles are highly effective and important predators throughout their life cycle. So, keep your eyes peeled for and hands away from these tiny tigers prowling our woodland trails.

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