Many surprises await participants on the Center's Bug Walk. If the marine layer is heavy many of the bugs will be relatively inactive because it is cool. If it is breezy, the bugs will be found most easily in sheltered areas (e.g. near trees, in the vegetation close to the ground). If the sun is shining but it is still cool (as it usually is in the early morning or late afternoon), many of them will find spots where they can position themselves to take maximum advantage of the available sunlight. If it is hot they will tend to be more active. They will also tend to be more alert and move more readily and quickly away from prying eyes. Some bugs are late risers preferring to rest in the morning becoming more active during the hotter parts of the day or perhaps in the evening. Others, active in the morning and evening, rest throughout the midday period. Many bugs have several arenas of activity, varying these depending on the time of day or the weather conditions. For instance, they might prefer to stay near the ground or among the leaves of a plant when it is cool and come up to the flower heads when the sun is shining or it is warmer. Some bugs spend their entire lives within restricted habitats like the head of a certain flower, or a small patch of sandy soil. Others roam over wide areas. Some bugs live in one type of habitat when they are larvae and another type when they become adults. Different life stages will be present. Some bugs may be mating, others laying eggs, others provisioning larvae, others entering the stage when they will transform from larvae to adults, others completing that stage. The populations of different species peak (rather abruptly in some cases) and decline as the season progresses. Each day is different, each moment of the day, each small piece of habitat - all of them contain their own surprises.
In all cases you find individuals - each has its own chemistry, its own range of behavior, its own preferences. Each one makes its own unique choices. Range of behavior?? Preferences?? Choices?? Of course. Insects may not (or maybe they do) organize information the way we do and their ranges of behavior may be more limited than ours are but insects are faced with the same life challenges. They need food, shelter, space, air and water. They need to regulate their temperature so they are not too cold or too hot. They need to interpret environmental stimuli. They search for mates so they can reproduce. For them each choice involves life and death. They go through the same stages we do - birth, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Each has its own special problems. If their response to the current conditions is inappropriate they may die or be injured. Conditions change, responses must be flexible, a certain amount of learning is necessary, some degree of choice results. Accidents happen, so do catastrophes and each must be dealt with either by the individual or by the species.
So any bug walk one takes is a discovery walk - an opportunity to see how genetics, environment and experience have created uniqueness in everything from the bug who allows you to examine it nose to nose to the identical-looking one who won't let you within 10 feet. For the bugs the walk is also one of discovery - an opportunity to see how genetics, environment and experience have created uniqueness in their observers too (some of them won't let the bugs within 10 feet either).
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Ron Lyons (volunteer 1990-1999)
Chula Vista Nature Center, 1000 Gunpowder Point Drive, Chula Vista, CA 91910-1201