Buggin’ out: Tahoe swells with all sorts of winged insects, mammals
Life in Tahoe is not reserved to the two- or four-legged variety. There are small creatures that have a certain place in the environment – with some living off others and a few becoming more plentiful with the different seasons.
Take yellow jackets. The bees are social insects that have a colony division of labor. In late summer and fall, the normal food sources are in short supply, so the bees scavenge for alternatives. This behavior often involves humans.
Brooke Laine ran into a swarm last week while out jogging on Powerline Trail.
“Thank God I was running. I probably had to knock off 20,” she said.
This year, county officials say the bees are more prominent.
Also last week, professional volleyball player Michelle More was stung by a bee, in of all places in the behind, during the AVP Best of the Beach volleyball championship.
And a dog on Tahoe Mountain was stung multiple times in the eardrum, causing a seizure.
“We’re seeing a lot of activity. It’s become a banner year. We haven’t had calls for this many (nest) removals since 1999,” said Ginger Huber, who works in El Dorado County’s Environmental Management Department.
The county is averaging 30 requests a day to remove nests. Huber cited the worst year in recent memory in 1989, when “you couldn’t even sit outside.”
Beyond a diet rich in sugars and carbohydrates, the common notion is the foraging adults search for meat to take protein back to their nests. This may involve insects and fish and perhaps a backyard barbecue, a popular activity behind Tahoe homes.
Yellow jackets aren’t the only ones known to feast off a picnic. Ants have made a living and occupation out of foraging for their colonies. Deemed one of the most successful groups of insects in the animal kingdom, they provide an ideal social study of highly evolved colonies.
Colonies of invasive ant species will sometimes work together and form super colonies, spanning a wide area of land. They are so plentiful and ambitious that it’s been estimated their collective weight in the world exceeds mankind’s.
Ants are also useful for clearing out insect pests and aerating the soil, but the welcome is limited when they invade homes and yards.
To be a bat
Clinging to the low rung on the species totem pole, insects don’t seem to stand a chance with all that can feed off of them.
About 70 percent of one mammal in the group of feeders eats insects. Poorly-understood, bats are associated with rabies, but less than 1 percent in their 1,100 types carry the disease. On the contrary, bats eat mosquitos – which can carry the West Nile virus. They’re known to swoop to collect the biting insects. Backpackers welcome them to their camping areas.
The eyes of a predator
Dragonflies may be considered high on the food chain in terms of their predator status. They’re valued because of how they control the population of harmful insects such as mosquitos. But they also survive on small insects like flies, bees and butterflies.
They are usually found around lakes, ponds, streams and wetlands because their larvae, known as “nymphs,” are aquatic. That makes them easily spotted in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The many faces of butterflies
Butterflies, categorized by 20,000 kinds, are notable for their usual life cycle. They advance from the larval stage as caterpillars through a metamorphosis into their winged adult form.
Beyond their interesting pattern of flight, there are things to watch for in the behavior of butterflies, which are sometimes confused with moths. When they mate, the top butterfly is larger and usually the female.
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