Into the Outdoors: Really Big Bugs


A couple of weeks ago, a neighbor and good friend was diagnosed with lyme disease. She had never been in the woods. She got the disease anyway, and suffered some severe symptoms. In fact, she wound up taking an ambulance ride to the hospital. She is now being treated with antibiotics, and should make a complete recovery.. A warning is definitely in order here. Anywhere you have deer, you have deer ticks. You don’t have to be out in the woods. If a deer has visited your garden, the ticks are there. They can be anywhere. While it is not a good idea to get paranoid about it, it is a good idea to tick check after any outdoor activity. Just do it.

Years ago, we looked at some really big bugs, or RBBs. I’ve encountered a couple of them recently, and I thought it might be fun to take a look at them once again.

One of the best known of the RBBs is, of course, the dragonfly. For a reason I’ll probably never know, my mother used to call these “snakefeeders.” As a kid, I was scared of them, but nowadays, I know how beneficial they are. Their larvae, known as nymphs, live in the water, and are excellent bait for a number of fish species, most notably trout. The adults are voracious predators, eating large quantities of mosquitoes and other insect pests. They get big, in fact big enough that a few of them could probably make a meal for Bizarre Foods guy Andrew Zimmern. Despite their somewhat fierce appearance, they pose no threat to humans.

Another well known RBB is the dobsonfly. They are perhaps best known for their larvae, known as hellgrammites, which live in the water and are considered a top notch bass bait. The adults live for only about a week, and are not believed to be capable of eating. Shortly after mating, they die. The female can inflict a painful, but not venomous bite. To make them even more lovable, they possess a scent gland capable of emitting a foul smelling substance. As far as I’m concerned, the dobsonfly is one of the ugliest and creepiest creatures around. While I certainly don’t wish extinction on any creature (with the possible exception of mosquitoes), if I never encounter another dobsonfly, that will be fine with me. I just find them gross.

No RBB discussion would be complete without mention of the praying mantis. People often mistakenly spell the name preying mantis, due to the fact that the critters are voracious predators. Actually, the name comes from the prayer like position in which they hold their forelegs. Organic gardeners, who don’t use pesticides to control insects, welcome mantises to their gardens with open arms. In fact, each year, huge number of mantis egg cases are sold for introduction into gardens. While they are great at eating insect pests, they prey with equal enthusiasm on beneficial ones.

Surprisingly enough, some of our RBBs are really very pretty. One of the largest of North American moths, the luna moth is the one that lands on the shoulders of the sleeping people in a sleeping pill commercial. They are actually rather common, although they are seldom seen, due to their very short adult lifespan. Although they are harmless to humans, their large size can sometimes be startling if one is taken by surprise.

Another pretty RBB is the cecropia moth, the largest of all North American moths. They are brightly colored, and truly striking in appearance. The adults have no mouth parts, and are unable to eat. This restricts them to a lifespan of only about a week or ten days.

These are by no means our only big bugs, but they are a good representative sample. You notice that I excluded the cicada, mistakenly referred to as seventeen year locust, although it is not a locust at all. Although some hatch each year, we’re not due for a big batch for a few years yet. We had our last batch in 2019.



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