Fred McMechan shows off an original Ken Farris painting, gifted to McMechan for his 40 years of service to the Nature Centre and the Williams Lake Field Naturalists.

Buzz about bugs at Scout Island Banquet

Fred McMechan honoured for 40 years of service

Bugs.

It’s not exactly a subject many are passionate about – aside to get rid of perhaps.

At this year’s Scout Island Banquet, former lakecity resident, entomologist and professor Rob Higgins gave attendees an entirely different perspective on the creepy-crawlies that live throughout British Columbia during his presentation on April 20.

“Normally, when we think of ecosystems we think of our large furry vertebrates,” he said, starting off the presentation.

Then, he launched into describing a series of fascinating bugs found throughout B.C. and some even found in our own backyards.

Higgins started off by describing the best ways of finding bugs, including the Homer Simpson technique: “Do nothing. If you quit breathing these bugs will come to you;” the one-in-a-thousand-route: “if you want to find that one-in-a-thousand bug you need to turn over 1,000 rocks and logs;” the postal technique: “find their address;” and the Dr. Seuss method: “if you want to catch beasts you don’t see everyday, you need to go places quite out of the way.”

Fortunately, said Higgins, some of those out of the way places aren’t too far from Williams Lake, describing a northernmost latitude record for termites in the world for a colony he had located in the Churn Creek Protected Area.

Higgins named a number of different tidbits about different insects – as well as how to look out for them.

One he encourages locals to keep an eye out for are zombie ants.

Zombie ants are ants that have been taken over by a fungi, that latches into the nervous system. The ants are compelled to climb to the top of a branch, or blade of long grass where they latch on with their pinchers and die, releasing the fungi spores to flow elsewhere.

While found all over the world, one located near Williams Lake was only the second found in Canada, according to Higgins, who asks that people give him a shout, collect them or report it if they see one

“We’d like to do a DNA test to get a sense of what it is,” he told the Tribune.

Other fascinating tales of the bugs to be found in the area also included slave-taking ants, a red ant who will take over black ant nests and kill the queen, installing their own. The queen ants will lay their own eggs, and are accepted as the new queen by the black worker ants, who take care of the larvae. As the black ant population decreases, and thus the slave population drops, the ants will take part in raids, where they swarm other nests and carry away larvae to use as new slaves.

They can be found by brushing something over the top of a nest of ants. If you see both red and black ants, that’s likely what you are looking at, Higgins said, adding they are common in the area.

He also described ladybug gender disparity (there are approximately six females to one male ladybug, as seemingly male larvae are sacrificed as a first food source to their brothers and sisters) and mating rituals (if male ladybugs can hold on for an hour and a half, then, and only then will the female bug be ready to mate), and the fascinating facts about other B.C. insects.

Then, Higgins turned his presentation to the ‘new and terrible’ invasive inspects of B.C.

Many, he said, arrive in B.C. in shipping containers or wood products from other countries.

The multicoloured Asian ladybug is becoming more visible in B.C., he said. Initially introduced to North America for aphid control (identified by the “m” or “w” on their neck), they often swarm in warm areas in the fall or spring and quite easily stain things – if they are in your house Higgins recommends vacuuming them up using a netting or hose, instead of filling the vacuum and letting it sit).

Other dangerous bugs (at least to free vegetables) include the brown marmorated stink bug, identified by the white bands on its antenna. The sting of the bug will discolour fruits and vegetables, reducing their quality substantially, but not only that, if just a couple of the creatures are crushed amid grapes during a harvest, they’ll disflavour wine.

Higgins, who himself specializes in ants, also talked about European fire ants, who have made life difficult for many residents in the Lower Mainland. Higgins is conducting ongoing studies in the ant species.

“The vast majority of insects are essential to our lives,” Higgins told the Tribune.

“It’s only when they act unusually when you need to contact someone to ask for help.”

Higgins specified during his presentation that one of the major issues when it comes to talking about invasive species is teaching people how to identify the native species from the non-native ones.

He said the most important thing when it comes to preventing more invasive species is to be care what soil and products people bring into their property.

“Make sure it is clear of insects, especially ants,” he said.

It’s clear though, from Higgin’s presentation, that there’s almost invisible fascinating world of creatures living all around us.

Banquet honours Fred McMechan

The Scout Island Banquet on Friday, April 20 was marked by the fact, for the first time in 40 years, the Williams Lake Field Naturalists Society who run the nature centre will be led by someone other than Fred McMechan.

The former president of the field faturalists retired from the position at this year’s AGM, and currently, the board is being lead by three other members of the group.

At the banquet, members took time to honour McMechan, for his work throughout the past 40 years.

“It’s time for us to say thank you to Fred for a job well done,” said Ordell Steen, one of the three directors set to fill McMechan’s shoes, pointing to McMechans’s leadership and ability to get things started and organized through the years.

“Scout Island has gone from a place of potential to a place that is the focus of our community.”

McMechan was gifted an original painting by Ken Farris as a thank you for his work.

Not a single member in the dining hall sat, as McMechan was thanked by a standing ovation from everyone in the room.

 

Professor Rob Higgins begins his presentation about the “The Old and the Awesome Versus the New and the Terrible: Stories of the Insects of British Columbia” at the Scout Island Nature Centre banquet on April 20. Tara Sprickerhoff photo.

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