Spring season normally starts at this time of year on what is known as the Vernal Equinox, (or near March 21 in the northern hemisphere). This is when night and day are both nearly the same length. Astronomically this is due to the crossing moving northward, marking the first day of spring. As this season approaches, we wait in anticipation of warmer weather when new plants start appearing, we watch for the arrivals of many of our spring migrating birds, as well as observe the emergence of insects and changes in many animal behaviors. Also, for the most part, temperatures are beginning to show a gradual departure from winter's hold, and in warmer regions, we see a gradual appearance of nature's spring flowers and plants.
In this article I would like to discuss some of the insects we can anticipate at this time of the year as forerunners to the expected emergence of the summer wildlife. In commencing this discussion, why I chose these little creatures as the topic for the week is significant in the fact that they are actually one of the most abundant groups of animals we know. They are so numerous and varied that identification is a very complex task. As an old science teacher, and college instructor, I find it hard to depart from a little lecturing about my topic. I am sure my former students will bear with me. When we look for distinctive characteristics of this group of animals, we find it is difficult to distinguish this group from all others.
One question to pose is: "How many different kinds of insects are there in the world? Entomologists, or scientists who study this group of animals, vary in their estimates that range from around one million to over ten million species with still even more yet to be discovered. Obviously, there is no way I, or anyone, could write a comprehensive article on this group of animals. Here in North America, entomologists have identified approximately one hundred thousand species that have been named that exist north of Mexico. Being a very successful group of animals, they adapt to almost any type of land or aquatic habitat. Sometimes we think of this group of animals as adapting to everything everywhere. That may not be necessarily true, as these little creatures are susceptible to many predatory organisms as well as human reactions to their presence.
A common skimmer
Generally speaking about this small group of animals, we know that insects belong to a group of animals called Arthropods. The word Arthropod comes from the Greek derivation words Arthros (Joint) and Pod (foot) that means Joint footed Animal. Insects are successful as a group due to their ability to adapt to many different habitats. Being a very successful animal, they are readily available to utilize every possible source of food as well as the habitat adaptation previously mentioned. I would like to discuss how insects impact on plants as well as other animals such as humans. Probably one of the best examples many of us are familiar with is the Mosquito, a small animal that I don't need to elaborate too much on. Some sources believe that the insects virtually affect the lives of almost every other plant and animal on our planet. Plant eating insects serve as food for thousands of species of animals. I have read that a few scientists believed that if all insects were suddenly exterminated, many other species and plants and animals would too follow them into extinction, and those that survived would have to adapt to disrupted conditions. While we have discussed this group citing several negatives, I feel that is doing an injustice to a group of animals that have provided for man such as silk, shellac, honey, beeswax, and many other useful products. The next time you see an insect, use your judgment in your reaction to it. Granted it may be a nuisance, but it also may be a friend. The photographs and drawings included in today's article are: Springtails on surface of snow, a drawing of a close-up look at a springtail (a minute wingless insect that is almost microscopic), a Cabbage-white Butterfly, and a Common Skimmer Dragonfly. Suggestions for nature topics, photographs and ideas may be sent to me by U.S, mail to 38 Elm St. Fredonia N.Y. 14063, or by e-mail at email@example.com.