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bugs

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The Surprise On the Hearth

One of the reasons I fell for this house when we were looking was the fireplace. I love the cozy feel of a fire on a cold, damp evening. Especially when it’s a real fire, with real logs. I feel we lucked out with this place. The house also came with a big lot, and a number of mature trees. Over the years some of those trees have come down in storms, and so we’ve had a pretty steady supply of firewood. We keep a wood pile next to the shed and bring in a supply as needed.
pile of firewood on the hearth

About a month ago I brought in an armload of mulberry wood and stacked it on the hearth. But we never actually built the fire, so the wood just sat there. After a couple of weeks I started to hear weird little clicking noises, and I assumed it was from the wind coming down the open fireplace flue. The sounds became more frequent, and Hubs commented. I closed the flue.

The sounds didn’t stop though. They became louder. And we came to realise they were coming from the wood.

Something was trying to get out.

Let me allow that to sink in. Something was in those logs and had started chewing its way out. I should have been concerned I am sure. Hubs wanted me to put the wood back outside or burn it or something, but I’m a bit of a freak. I had to know what was in there! So I left it on the hearth and waited and watched as the sounds grew louder over the days.

Then one day there were holes in the wood. That’s right, more than one hole, in more than one piece of wood. And there was sawdust.

What came out? Beetles.

For the record, the beetles were super lazy and were just laying around on the logs, collecting energy I guess. Once I got a few pictures I was able to gingerly pick up the wood, place it in a plastic bin and bring it all outside. Beetles did not overrun my home. Thank goodness!

I did a bit of research online and managed to identify these critters as Longhorn Beetles of some type. I’m thinking Spondylidinae. The larvae bore their way into wood and bore back out again when they mature. I also confirmed these are not Asian Longhorn Beetles (no spots), so that’s good news for the trees around here.

I’ve always been careful around the wood pile, mostly because of a fear of various big and possibly venomous spiders that like to make their homes in such areas. Like black widows. But I never thought about what I might be bringing in to my living room when I carried in logs. I expect I’ll be a little more careful from now on, and only bring in wood when I intend to burn it right away!

Good call, you think?

Oh! And if you have a more precise name for this guy, please let me know in the comments.

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Bugs! Summer Fun

There’s a lot of nature right in our own back yards. That nature provides lots of opportunities for fun and learning on these long summer days.

Growing up one of my favourite activities was catching bugs. All kinds of bugs. And snails, and butterflies. My brother and I would place them carefully in jars. We’d puncture holes in the metal lids so our new friends could breathe. And we’d be sure to place in some dirt and grass in the bottom, thinking we were feeding them.  My grandmother was careful to remind us not to keep our friends captured for long. These bugs and butterflies needed to be free.

But for the brief time we had them under glass we would study them, peering at them from all angles to see how they were built and to learn the difference between insects with 6 legs, and spiders with 8. To see the beetles spread their hidden wings. It was fascinating!

These days I have special mesh cages and butterfly nets for Little Boo. But the concept is still the same. Catch, brief capture, study, release. What little boy doesn’t love bugs?!! (Lots of girls too, including me.)

Our bug hunt equipment

You really don’t need much special equipment for your own back yard bug hunt. An empty jar with holes poked in the lid works great. You do want something you can see through and you can close. Bugs move quickly, and if you want some time to get a good look you’ll need to keep them contained. Dollar stores are great places to pick up nets and mesh homes like the ones pictured above. I paid a dollar for the pink and orange bug house. The blue and green one is a sturdy metal from Avon (yep, that Avon), and was about $15, which was crazy for me to spend, but I thought it was cute, and I loved the little perch built inside.

It’s best to hunt for bugs in the early morning or in the evening, when it’s cooler. Look under rocks, or on the leaves in your garden. Earwigs can usually be found in my cherry tree or eating the kale in my vegetable garden. Also, keep an eye out for spider webs and watch to see what they’ve caught and how they trap and eat their food.
Needless to say, you and your kids need to be careful and gentle with these wee creatures. Both for the sake of the creatures and for your own safety. Earwigs will pinch and some spiders will bite, so those aren’t great ones to touch with bare hands. Use gloves or try to scoop with your container’s lid. And for goodness sake be sure to stay clear of bees and wasps! I like to just study those while they’re busy in our flowers.
Not the clearest picture I know, but you can see all the pollen collected on this bee’s legs. Great opportunity to talk about the work of bees and their importance in pollination and growing our food crops.
A big difference with today’s bug adventures is the ready availability of information on the internet. There are so many sites that can help you identify and learn more about the life you find in your backyard. Here is just a sampling from my quick Google search:
http://www.whatsthatbug.com/ (submit your images for answers)
http://www.pestworld.org/pest-guide/ (geared towards pest control, but you can still use the images for your purposes)
So, what are you waiting for? Why not head out on your own backyard safari and see what you can find? Take pictures before you let the bugs go. And encourage your kids to keep a journal detailing what they find, and where they found them. They’ll have so much fun they won’t realise they’re in the middle of a science lesson!