A collage of four different insect species. A firefly alight on a blade of grass, an ant on a leaf and bumble bee hovering, and a mosquito perched under a leaf.

It’s summertime.  And here in Wisconsin, that means sunshine, blooming flowers, and…insects. This month we’re revisiting some of our favorite Nature Net News posts about animals in the class Insecta. Did you know bumble bees make honey? And that firefly larvae are desirable garden predators? Find the full length articles linked below or use these quick synopses to pick up some fun facts for your next insect encounter.  


From August 2015

Cicadas are not in the locust family as some believe, but are in the insect Order of Hemiptera (which means half wing). This family of insects, which includes aphids, leafhoppers, and boxelder bugs, is also known as “true bugs.” They are distinct from other insect families because of their half wings (the front wings are half hard shell like a beetle’s, and half membranous like a dragonfly’s). They are also known for their non-retractable, straw-like mouth parts, and for going through incomplete metamorphosis. Find more info on true bugs from Arizona State University.

While most Wisconsin cicadas are diurnal (active in the daytime), a debate in our neighborhood regarding nighttime sounds, spurred a further bit of research.
Here is the sound of the Common True Katydid:

And here is the sound of the Eastern Gray Tree Frog:

Both are nocturnal and vary from the sound of the diurnal Dogday Cicada:

Bees vs Wasps

From August 2016


Click to enlarge.

The insects on the left side of this image are bees. They have hairy bodies and while they can sting (females only), they do so mainly as a way of protecting themselves or their hives or nests. They are both pollen and nectar feeders and thus, have pollen baskets on their hind legs.

While both live in eusocial societies made up of a queen, female workers, and a few males, their population numbers differ. A honey bee hive can house up to 60,000 bees, compared to the bumble’s nest which is often only 50-400 bees. Interestingly, bumble bees do create honey – but only enough to feed their young. It is stored in a wax “honey pot” in their underground burrow.

The insects on the right are wasps. Their bodies are smooth and armored, and the thorax and abdomen are separated by a marked waistline – called a petiole. They are both predatory scavengers who will eat other insects, and yellow jackets will scavenge for meat, fruit, and other human foods – which explains why they often visit trash cans and picnics.

Because of their predatory nature, they are more inclined to be aggressive and likely to sting (although some claim paper wasps are more docile). Yellow jackets tend to nest underground or under logs or brush piles, while paper wasps build aerial, paper pulp tubes on eaves and other structures.

By the way, it’s the bald-face hornet who makes the grey, papery nest balls that hang from tree branches. One further note of distinction between these wasps – if you dare to get close enough – the paper wasp is the only one in its family (Vespidae) with orange antenna.


From July 2017

There are about 50 mosquito species found in Wisconsin, all of which (if female) require a blood meal to nourish their developing eggs. In general, these members of the Order Diptera (flies), feed on nectar and plant juices. Depending on the species, females deposit their eggs in small pools of water or on low ground to await flooding. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae (or “wrigglers”) live underwater, then pupate and emerge several days later as adults. The entire egg-to-adult process takes 10-14 days.

The species known to transmit West Nile Virus (the Northern House Mosquito – Culex pipiens) lives and breeds while staying within a 1-3 mile radius so, your best defense against it and other mosquito species is eliminating backyard breeding grounds (i.e. any pool of standing water as small as a bootprint that remains wet for a week or more).


From October 2017

Ants can communicate by touching/smelling one another with their antenna. With a simple touch, they can determine if they have met a nest mate, and what task that ant had recently undertaken. Deborah Gordon, a biology professor at Stanford, has studied ants for many years and likens their systematic means of communication and organization to those of internet algorithms. She believes that many of nature’s solutions, particularly those without central control (like an ant colony), can and do inspire human solutions. Take a listen to this segment of Ted Talk Radio Hour:


From June 2021

Neither flies nor bugs, lightning “bugs” are beetles with a semi-soft outer shell. While their light display is beguiling to humans, it’s actually designed to signal and attract a mate. The males flash in the fields while the females signal back from a perch in the surrounding shrubs or ground cover. There are about a dozen known firefly species in Wisconsin, each with their own unique flash- and flight-pattern. Their “glow worm” larvae are desirable in backyard gardens given their appetite for slugs, snails, and cutworms.



In Case You Missed It…

News from Nature Net Members​​

New Bison To the Rescue New Dinosaur – Indigenous Name
Two female bison have joined Wilma, the Zoo’s sole American bison, in the North American Prairie exhibit. The year-old bison came from Wichita, Kansas in June and have already bonded with Wilma, according to Zoo staff. A statue honoring Wilma’s former Zoo-mate, Beefcake, will be erected. Find out more more from NBC15.com. ICF staff were called for consult on an injured crane in Alaska! The Homer, Alaska group, Crane Watch, called for advice on a male Sandhill crane who was seen foraging with an arrow through its body. In the end, Crane Watch staff and a local veterinarian captured the bird and removed the arrow. Read more from Alaska Public Media. Staff at the UW Geology Museum worked with tribal representatives in Wyoming, where the fossil remains of a herbivorous animal from 250 million years ago were found, to name the new discovery. They chose Beesiiwo cooowuse which translates from the language of the Arapahoe people to “big lizard from the Alcova area.” Learn more from UW-News.

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