Wildlife is more than mountain lions, elk and bald eagles. It includes all wild creatures great and small.
On the list of small creatures are many kinds of invertebrates. All animals without backbones are in this group. Invertebrates range from ocean creatures such as sea stars and anemones to honeybees, beetles and snails. Invertebrates are grouped according to their body form and function.
Insects are the most recognizable of all invertebrates. There are so many kinds of insects on our planet that although about 900,000 species have been discovered and named, there are still millions left to discover. The known species already make up about 75 percent of all named animals on the planet.
True insects have three body parts – head, thorax and abdomen – and six legs. Some also have one or two pairs of wings at some point in their life cycle. They also have an exoskeleton, the shell-like structure that supports their body.
One of the most popular groups of insects is butterflies and moths.
How can you tell if it is a butterfly or a moth that you are seeing? A few simple questions will help you decide. What time of day is it? Butterflies are usually day-time fliers, moths are night-time fliers. What color is it? Butterflies are often brightly colored and moths are generally less colorful, with a few exceptions. Finally, look closely and see what the antennae look like. Butterfly antennae are knobbed at the ends and are not feathery, moth antennae may be feathery but are not knobbed at the ends.
Both butterflies and moths feed using a tube-like structure called a proboscis. Think of it like a straw that retracts and curls up.
Most adult butterflies and moths feed on the nectar found in many species of flowers.
In fact, if you want to attract beautiful butterflies to your yard, you should have plants that provide nectar. Even better, provide plants that provide food for caterpillars, too.
Don’t forget water and mineral sources as well – a damp spot of mud works great. There is information on this topic for local gardeners at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/butterflies/#plants.
In this area, there are about 20 types of butterflies. You might recognize a few kinds such as the Western tiger swallowtail, painted lady and cabbage white.
Butterflies are not the only colorful insects around here.
One particular local beetle is brightly colored enough to really attract attention. It is the banded alder borer. Not only is the inch-long body boldly striped in black and white, but so are the long antennae. This beetle lives in the western United States and even into British Columbia and Alaska.
Impress your friends by pointing out the sex of any banded alder borers you find. Males have antennae that are longer than their body, females have antennae shorter than their body.
These wood-boring beetles are not harmful to the environment and are part of the local forest ecology with the larvae exclusively using deciduous trees.
Adults can be found mainly on deciduous trees as well but for some reason are also attracted to fresh paint and often show up in large numbers. That would make an interesting house color.
If you want to learn more about insects, visit the Tacoma Nature Center throughout the month of April and especially during the Earth Day Extravaganza on April 23 when it will be featuring “Beautiful Butterflies, Creepy Crawlies and Wiggly Worms.”
• The Pacific Northwest has about 25,000 species (kinds) of bugs.
• Scientists that study insects are called entomologists. Those that study arachnids (spiders) are called arachnologists.
• All bugs are insects, not all insects are bugs.