hill country creepers

cuban cockroach

Outside of town, the stick bugs can stretch from your elbow knob to your wrist wrinkles. Over-sized katydids howl from the treelines but only rarely find their way across the relative blankness and into apartmentlandia. Seems the best we attract are balcony-garden lady beetles, seasonal spiders, and wasps.

Recently, we were visited by a bullet-backed, lime-green critter — a complete novelty, I thought. Green, sleek, and elegant, I was stumped. Only slowly (and after captive observation) did I recover from the baffling luminescence to recognize little by little the broad, curved back and down-tilted head as belonging to that most familiar of apartment dwellers. A little research confirmed it: the gal I found scrabbling over my fossil collection at the window was a cockroach, but a cockroach with a pedigree. She was a Cuban cockroach and a welcome addition to my household for another good 20 minutes. Then she was winging the out-of-doors once more.

Down the road in Kerrville, strange buggish events are also transpiring…

variegated skipperOne butterfly, in particular, caught the eye of Collins while documenting species for a fauna census at the Riverside Nature Center last month.

He snapped several shots of the unique butterfly and later learned it was a Variegated Skipper — a butterfly that was far from home.

The Variegated Skipper is found in Argentina, throughout Central America and Mexico. It’s unknown how the butterfly made its way to Kerrville, Collins said.
“Perhaps it hitched its way in a cargo truck carrying goods from the Valley,” he said. “It would be difficult to believe this small, weak flight butterfly could have flown all the way up here. But we will never know.”

Full Story of Skipper.

So, what can we expect next as the insects, like tropical birds fleeing the Valley for Central Texas, increasingly inch their way northward as global warming trends continue? Is it important to pay attention?

Well, a few years before the current panic over colony collapse disorder and honey bees (potentially putting our agricultural system at grave risk), scientists were already warning about disappearing insects worldwide.

Here in S.A. we have a heckuva time convincing anyone to care about the blind spiders, fish, and salamanders inhabiting our many cave systems. Strange as it may seem to some, every creature matters. Xerces staffers write in the Encyclopedia of Insects:

A rare and endangered species of insect is unlikely to determine the fate of a large ecological system, but as a group they may have a large effect. Ecosystem functions, such as the recycling of nutrients, often are done by specialists like the American burying beetle (see right) rather than generalists.

Then, more specifically in an issue of Bioscience:

A new study in the April issue of the journal Bioscience shows that insects provide services worth more than $57 billion to Americans. Insects are food for wildlife that supports a $50 billion recreation industry. Native insects provide more than $4.5 billion in pest control, pollinate $3 billion in crops, and clean up grazing lands with a subsequent savings to ranchers of more than $380 million.

Almost make you rethink that indiscriminate spreading of weed- and pest-killing chemicals, don’t it?



Oh, and like that Green Cockroach image at top?

University of Maryland psychology professor David Yager studies the evolution of hearing in insects. He also sheds new light on his research subjects with some amazing photographs.

Yager’s photo of a Cuban cockroach was so good, it won second place for photography in the 2006 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the journal Science. Yager’s photo and the other winners are published in the September 22 issue of Science and on this NSF Website: http://nsf.gov/news/special_reports/scivis/index.jsp?id=win2006.

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