For the last few weeks, as DD and I walk around the neighbourhood, she’s been finding these little bugs on trees. She thinks they are adorable and tries to carry them around for as long as possible before they make a leap for freedom (or perish in the grip of her overenthusiastic fingers). We tried to search the Internet for its identity, but it’s not as easy as one might think to narrow descriptors down to a set that will produce a reasonable number of hits.
Today, we received a much anticipated Amazon.ca order containing Insects of the Pacific Northwest. Within about 10 minutes of perusing the pages we were able to identify our mystery bug. It was, as I suspected, the larval stage of an insect – turns out to be the Asian Lady Beetle. We see these around here all the time; they are a favorite of both kids. DD was very excited to find out that her favorite little black tree insect was actually a baby ladybug!
But there was more to be learned from leafing through this book. We also found the identity of a mysterious “leaf pimple” we’d been noticing. On regular green, maple-shaped leaves we’d see these raised, egg-shaped red bumps that seemed to be formed out of the leaf’s very own tissue. I thought it might be some parasite, except that it didn’t appear to be a separate entity. Well now we know that these are maple bladder galls, made by the maple bladder mite. They are abnormal growths of the leaf tissue itself, but inside these hollow protuberances are nurseries filled with baby mites. Next time we find a leaf with galls on it, we’re going to try and dissect it (these ones in particular are about the size of a small grain of rice).
Finally, we were able to identify the species of snail that DD keeps finding and wanting to bring home (yes, it’s an insect book but they did have a few snails in it). A few weeks ago we went so far as to buy a container in which to keep a snail she managed to hang on to all the way home, but it eventually died; we didn’t know what to feed it and the cage wasn’t cleaned (it was out on the balcony) so eventually the food scraps we threw in there rotted. Again a search of the Internet returned far too many hits with far too few photos, making identification difficult. But it only took a few seconds to find the snail in our book: it’s a pacific sidebanded snail, and it eats herbaceous plants. Maybe the next one will fare better with a steady supply of fresh leaves (turns out they don’t eat mushy fruit!).
All in all it was a rather exciting and informative day. We’ll certainly be carrying our “bug book” around with us for future insect identification. This is one of the wonderful benefits of homeschooling – we get to learn along with our children. I probably never would have taken the time to figure out what the leaf galls were if not for DD’s interest (in fact, I may never have noticed them in the first place). She not only stimulates me to stop and smell the flowers, she gives me an excuse to go find out what we can about each one.