Things that bug me

No cheese with this whine, please; I’m out of crackers. It’s HOT — we went from 24°C/75°F weather in the mountains to 40°C/104°F weather back home. It’s humid, too. Weeds grew outrageously in my absence, but I’ve no energy for tackling them when I get home from work. Nor do I have any energy to cook dinner, and no one has any ideas on what they want to eat, either. I need to buy groceries, but don’t know what to get beyond the inevitable milk & toilet paper. The heat saps our appetites. The heat has melted all of my blogging ideas from my brain, and staring at the snippits in my drafts folder doesn’t jog anything.

Boy starts classes tomorrow, and at my school, the students return. I have no idea why it is that we start school every year in this weather, except that once-upon-a-time it was related to the harvest schedule. Now it’s just related to bureaucratic inertia. I’m exhausted, because school is starting and we’ve been attending inservice meetings all day long. Several times I’ve nearly leapt from my chair in startled hyperacussis over-reaction because they have also been testing the fire alarms. The alarms also have strobe-like flashers that make me feel nauseus. I also have to schedule an appointment with my GP because I’m having intermittent dizzy moments, which may or may not be related to my tinnitus. (The good news is that my arthritis meds seem to have damped down the migraine issues.)

In other parts of my life, this is also the time of year for the Big Bad Bugs. Well, large insects, but that lacks the fun of playing with a little alliteration.

First up is the inevitable Bush Cicada (Homoptera: Cicadidae Tibicen dorsata), commonly referred to as a “locust”. Zwee-zwee-zwee they scream, the males’ evening serenades to sex and summer. If you want to hear what cicadas sound like, then turn up your speakers and click on the audio files (given in both Mackintosh AIFF and Windows WAV formats) at the University of Michigan’s cicada page. They don’t have the T. dorsata song on there, but the last one near the bottom of the page, the T. pruinosa, is fairly similar. Yeah, they’re loud — the males vibrate abdominal membranes called tymbals. Thankfully ours are not as loud as Australian cicadas. (My tinnitus is like having private reception to a cicada-radio channel; “All cicadas, all the time!”)

Females lay eggs in tree twigs, whereupon the nymphs drop down to the ground, dig in, and then suck sap off the tree’s roots for two or three years. Then the nymphs crawl out of the ground onto tree trunks, where they molt and crawl out of their old exoskeletons, leaving the split shells stuck to the bark. These husks are a favourite of small boys who like to gross out small girls by sticking them on their clothes or hair. Well, except for those odd girls who find insects fascinating! I took this picture in the morning when it was still napping; I think it was asleep — hard to tell when the critter has no eyelids. How big? These common cidadas grow about 2.25 inches/ 55 mm.

(Description: a great big hunchbacked insect perched on a tomato leaf, with two pairs of long clear wings, six brown legs, bulging pale eyes, and orange, black, white and brown markings geometrically patterned around the body.)

Well, cicadas are harmless, albeit noisy — especially if you trying to pick one up and it buzzes at you in agitation. The cicada killer (Hymenoptera: Sphecidae Sphecius speciosus, a redundant-sounding name if there ever was one) is another giant insect, a wasp that preys upon the annual abundance of super-sized sap-suckers. Although they look scary, you’re in no danger. (The males don’t even have stingers.)

Hymenoptera_Crabonidae_Sphecius_speciosus Cicada Killer
(Description: a large wasp perched on the end of a zinnia leaf, with a black abdomen splotched with yellow, a red and gold thorax (chest), two pairs of amber coloured wings, 6 gold legs, red eyes, and black atennae.)

These wasps dig tunnels in the ground, catch cicadas, stun them, then take them home and lay eggs on the comatose critters. Charming, eh what? Of course, a lot of interesting insect behaviour revolves around sex, and the males will form groups called “leks” where they hang around an area together in hopes of attracting the attentions of virgin females, like groups of guys hanging out at street corners or store fronts, calling out, “Hey ba-by!” There were a bunch of them swooping around a giant patch of zinnias, near some nice soft soil that was perfect for digging tunnels, as evidenced by numbers of tunnels. How big? Just about the same size as the bush cicada, if not a smidge bigger. It’s a real chore to drag dinner home when it’s as big as you are!

Hymenoptera_Crabonidae_Sphecius_speciosus Cicada Killer 2

(Description: a Cicada Killer in the grass, perched atop an upside-down cicada.)

Sex determination in these insects is interesting; if the mother fertilises the egg, it will be a female, and if not, then the offspring will be a male. Because female offspring are larger, they get provisioned with two cicadas; their smaller brothers only need one. Each of the offspring gets its own burrow, as these are not eusocial insects like honeybees.

Well, I’m going to bed. The cicadas have finally Shut! Up! for the night, and now the crickets and fireflies are on stage. Cricket song is a nice thing to listen to, as long as one isn’t sounding off right near your head …



  1. ninona said,

    13 July 2008 at 13:35

    I have liked the blog very much and have seemed to me to be very interesting.

    A greeting.

  2. 25 August 2007 at 4:07

    […] like having private reception to the cicada-radio channel: All cicadas, all the […]

  3. qw88nb88 said,

    17 August 2007 at 2:28

    Aw gee, Anne, the bees are not out to get you! Despite working around numbers of them out in the garden, I have only been stung twice in my life — once when I sat on one, and once when I stepped on one (barefoot). We both regretted it, she died, as the honeybee’s stinger gets ripped out of her abdomen.

    Sometimes I even pet the bumbles with a fingertip (-:

  4. Anne said,

    16 August 2007 at 18:58

    I love your photos and descriptions, which help me almost appreciate the lovely insects. If I saw that wasp in real life, I’d never see the red, gold, amber and black — I’d be running around saying “ahhhh. a bee!! ahhhhh. help!” (I can’t tell a bee from a wasp, even.)

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