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2019 Spring Class

Insects Are (Mostly) Our Friends

Instructor: Judy Feinstein, Gaby Howard, Cathie Murray, Kit Pfeiffer, Karen Simpson

Tuesdays •  3/19-5/7 • 10:15 AM-12:15 PM

Location: Randall 250
Do you look for fireflies during summer evenings? Get excited when monarch caterpillars show up in your yard? Wonder what those almost invisible critters are dancing in a beam of sunlight? Enjoy phoebes “hawking” for moths in the air? Recent reports indicate a huge decline in insect populations all over the world. What will we be missing if this trend continues? Come join us as we explore the beautiful, complex world of insects and their relationships with the rest of the natural world, including us. Let’s look at insects through the lens of birds who eat them, and plants that need them for pollination. We’ll learn about insects’ communication abilities. We will share ideas for pollinator-friendly flyways, “hotels” for native bees, and more. As usual we will have fun, there will be hands-on activities, and you will have opportunities to share your own adventures with these fascinating fellow residents of our planet.  Text: Golden Guide to Insects.Classroom

See an overview of each weeks class topics.

INTRO TO INSECTS AND THEIR KIN, and hands-on use of insect collection to identify insects to Order.

Hello “Insects” students and naturalist-teachers,

Thank you all so much for the positive and energetic start you gave to our first Insect class Tuesday.  We are looking forward to the semester!

First Class: Sue Kistenmacher did a great job explaining what makes Insects different than other animal classes, and introducing us to many of the wondrous Orders of Insects in Maine.

Sue’s powerpoint: Entomology Insects and their kin

Homework (Never required, but usually fun!): You were given a small assignment for next Tuesday. It is attached here in case you missed it.

Gaby Howard will bring in some new combs if that is how you want to make your species’ sound. 
No fear, we will not ask you to give a talk about the species you are mimicking. Just tell us which species you chose and what it sounds like, before taking your seat in the orchestra. If you are inspired and you want to share a short word or two about your special musician, you may. 

Improvements: We hope to continually improve the class; please share your ideas.

Next week we will bring in some LED lamps to make it easier to see the insect specimens.

Sharing: Every week we will devote the first 10 minutes or so to small group sharing of recent insect encounters, so keep your eyes and ears open!  Ideas:

Check the snow for “snow fleas”
Check your wood pile for overwintering larvae, beetles or moths
Check the wood chips from pileated woodpecker activity for ant bodies.

Communication: All 5 of the co-teachers have our emails visible to you in the address portion of the emails we send our students. Feel free to contact any one of us about the class. For now all the students are in bcc. 


SINGING INSECTS: A Musical Communication. We will explore the different ways that the”singing” insects (Orthoptera) produce sound and we’ll learn to recognize different species’ “songs.” We’ll also investigate how these insects “hear.” And we’ll look at specimens up close to see these fascinating structures. Finally, we’ll create an Orthoptera orchestra!

Hello “Insects” students and fellow teachers,

Sorry! A different kind of “bug” kept me away from class last week, but I heard it was a hopping good time 🙂
If you want a good summary of what Kit shared with class about singing insects, particularly Orthoptera, these two sites will cover a lot of the territory:
Singing Insects: Nature’s Orchestra:
 A 15 minute presentation by the two Cornell scientists on the reasons and mechanisms of insect song.

Songs of Insects:

A Guide to the Voices of Crickets, Katydids & Cicadas

Ortho Orchestra:

This is the recording you all created (Thanks to Lisa Bailey who sent this to me after class. For me, it opened up in iTunes and played. If you can’t hear it, we’ll see if we can package it differently).

Homework (never required; usually fun): No homework this week except the usual, to notice insects in your life and/or remember past encounters for our small group share time at class.

Insects and their Kin: Fear, Love and Public Health


I hope you are all seeing signs of spring in your neighborhoods despite the recent snow.
Keep your eyes open for mourning cloak butterflies! They overwinter as adults under loose bark and will emerge any day now. Let us know when you see them!
During Week 3’s class Judy and Gaby helped us think about why we might not have warm and fuzzy feelings about insects and their allies (e.g. spiders, ticks, centipedes), but also why they are essential for life as we know it…and some of their usefulness to human enterprises in silks, dyes, medicines and more.
Judy opened her presentation with a wonderful quote from Rachel Carson:
One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

A few links to the information Judy and Gaby shared:

• Cochineal Bugs Create Red Dye: A Moment in Science
• A very partial list of helpful insects
• History of the Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, Alabama
Rainbow Scarab beetles
• How a 17th century entomologist/artist Maria Sibylla Merian laid the foundations of Modern Entomology (thanks to Karen Janus, Senior College Student 🙂 


• The BBC gents re: Why Beetles are Amazing!  
• National Geographic piece about how Ladybird Beetles fold their wings.
• Gaby also suggested this report on how termites have helped people improve architecture.

First-Ever Look at the Intricate Way Ladybugs Fold Their Wings | National Geographic

Why Beetles Are Awesome!
Slo Mo #38
Earth Unplugged

First-Ever Look at the Intricate Way
Ladybugs Fold Their Wings

National Geographic

Homework…if you feel like it:
Read this article:

Here is a great intro to
creating and maintaining a bee hotel.

If you have a bee hotel already, bring it in to share with class. If it is inhabited, which you can tell by the tunnels being blocked off, you might leave it home as bees are starting to emerge.

Otherwise, bring in materials you might use to make a bee hotel, after reading the article above, and we’ll talk about how to use them for best results. I will bring in a few blocks of wood for people to bring home and make into your own bee hotels. I may or may not drill them ahead of time. I have decided not to bring drills to class 🙂

Synchronicity: Birds, Insects, and Plants 

Hello “Insect” class,

Last week we delved into two different topics.
First half of class we explored the intertwined lives of the Tree Swallow–the first swallow to migrate back to Maine in the spring–and the Mayfly, an aquatic insect in the Order Ephemeroptera that spends two years under water and about 2 days above.  We learned that aquatic insects like these are richer in nutrients that nestlings need than insects that spend no time in the water.  We also explored some of the ways humans are impacting swallows and mayflies.   The presentation will be up on the class website soon. Throughout it and at the end you’ll find links to the images, videos and resources I shared…in case you want to wow your friends with a radar shot of a mayfly hatch! 
In the second half of class we learned about the Order Hymenoptera and got into some details about Maine’s native bees, especially our solitary bees.  We focused particularly on the Blue Orchard bee and the Maine Blueberry bee, both of which are crucial pollinators of many of Maine’s commercial crops, our garden crops and native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. Human-made “bee hotels” can help both of these species thrive.  We had fun checking out organic materials that can be used for bee habitat and homemade bee hotels.  Most people took a bee hotel home and we’ll hope to see pictures later in the season of tunnels sealed up by the female bees after laying her eggs.
One of the best all-around reference we found is probably this one: University of Maine Cooperative Extension Bulletin # 7153, Understanding Native Bees, the Great Pollinators: Enhancing Their Habitat in Maine.
I have copies of this handout for you in class.

: Next week Roger Rittmaster, retired endocrinologist and now Maine Master Naturalist, will help us learn to use photographs of insects to ID the insects.  He will bring flash drives with Maine insect photos if you don’t have any.  You can practice using insects you already think you have identified.

Roger has 3 favorite websites for this purpose, and he thinks if you learn to use them in class you will enjoy them too:




  • You will also benefit from bookmarking GoBotany, so you can be more confident of host plants.  You do not need to establish an account at GoBotany to use it.

If you have any questions or concerns, just write back to me. Thanks! Cathie

PREPARATION: Please bring your laptop or iPad to class next week if you have one. If you don’t, you can buddy up with someone who does. You will get online using a guest password at UMA.  Bring a surge protector if you think you’ll need to power up.

  • If you have any photos of insects, find a way to make them easily accessible to you during class by creating a file, an album, or whatever works for you.
  • Before next Tuesday please create an account for yourself at at least one of the following. Roger would love it if you would create an account at all 3.

One Bird and Bug Story

Maine’s Native Bees

Hello UMA Insect Lovers,

Well, Week 5 was pretty different than other weeks! We spent most of our time sharing laptops with each other and following Maine Master Naturalist Roger Rittmaster through cool sites on the web.  
Just as a reminder, here are the 3 sites he introduced us to:
Each of these sites can be used to identify insects using your own pictures, or you can learn from the postings of others.  The “iNaturalist” site can be used to ID many other life forms as well.
You can use your PC at home, your laptop, and/or you can download apps for your iPad or phone.
I was glad to hear folks saying they’d be sharing these sites with grandchildren, friends and other nature lovers. That’s the spirit!
I’m sure none of us caught all of the options with each website but we can help each other as we explore and experiment. Also Roger kindly agreed to help folks with questions, so I have included him on this email. Thanks again Roger!
NEXT WEEK (April 23th – Week 6)
This coming Tuesday we will meet at 10:15 in the lobby of the retail store at Longfellow’s Greenhouse. The address is 81 Puddledock Road, Manchester, Maine.
We will hear about Longfellow’s approach to Integrated Pest Management as we walk through the greenhouses.  We will also hear about their approach to providing pollinator friendly and native plants, chosen to provide continuous bloom across the seasons.  Unfortunately it will be a little early to see their pollinator-friendly plants grouped together outside (they will be later in the season), and most of the native wildflowers will arrive from their growing nursery a bit later, but we will see some of them and get a copy of their plant list which has all kinds of useful info about each plant in it.
There will be time to roam on your own amidst the plantings 🙂
Preparation: Bring your questions and ideas about IPM and gardening. Dave and Sue, who will be helping us, love to hear your questions!  
Plan to be standing and walking most of the time. If you need to sit at times, let me know. I can arrange for some folding seating.
Bring any new insect stories. We may have some time to share.
I suggested we have lunch together at a place like the Old Post Office Cafe in Mount Vernon. Then I found out I may have to go to the Legislature for a hearing on 4 Browntail Moth bills at 1:00.  But you can still go out to lunch!  I encourage folks to work out carpooling from Longfellow’s if you’ll be coming back that way. If I can come too, I definitely will!
See you Tuesday,



Chemical Ecology of Insects

This Tuesday’s class (April 23) we meet at 10:15 in the lobby of the retail store at Longfellow’s Greenhouse (81 Puddledock Road, Manchester, Maine).
We will hear about Longfellow’s approach to Integrated Pest Management as we walk through the greenhouses.  We will also hear about their approach to providing pollinator friendly and native plants, chosen to provide continuous bloom across the seasons.  Unfortunately it will be a little early to see their pollinator-friendly plants grouped together outside (they will be later in the season), and most of the native wildflowers will arrive from their growing nursery a bit later, but we will see some of them and get a copy of their plant list which has all kinds of useful info about each plant in it.
There will be time to roam on your own amidst the plantings 🙂

After Longfellow’s, we will have lunch together (possibly at The Old Post Office Cafe in Mount Vernon). We can carpool from Longfellow’s.


Hello fellow Insect appreciators,

The field trip to Longfellow’s Greenhouse blew the teacher team away…how are the rest of you feeling? 

Integrated Pest Management
: Dave LeBlanc’s jam-packed session on how Longfellow’s uses various biological controls to prevent pest outbreaks was so fascinating! Who knew you could plant grass in a box, seed it with aphids that only eat grass, then seed it with a wasp that eats all kinds of aphids, then…if any other aphids are out on the greenhouse that generalist wasp would go out and parasitize them?  Dave’s extensive experience with greenhouse plant pests (aphids, thrips, spider mites, etc.), his understanding of their life cycles and vulnerabilities combined with his avid learning about European methods of biological control (bacteria, wasps, nematodes and more) has radically changed their pest management practices to be more preventative and sustainable. And beneficial insects play a huge role.

Native and pollinator-friendly plants
: Sue McIntire has been growing and nurturing plants for customers to take home for over 35 years. She shared as much of her wisdom as she could pack into the 45 minutes we had.  As Kit said at the end, “can I take you home with me?”. Sue segued from Dave’s talk about greenhouse pests to discuss pest control on the outdoor plants. Important message: know your pests and know what your beneficial insects look like at the stage they are eating your pests. For instance, it’s not the adult stage of a lady bug beetle that does the hard work, it’s an earlier instar. Did you know they look like this
Then Sue dove into pollinator-friendly plants including familiar flowers, native and otherwise, and less familiar sources: shrubs and trees. She shared some wonderful printed resources with us (and I picked up extras for those who didn’t make the field trip).  One message she really wanted us to take home was two-fold: a healthy plant will have significantly less problems with pests and your plant will be healthy only if you plant it where it wants to live! Know your yard/garden well (soil, sun, moisture) and learn what plants will be happy there. Then the pollinators will have healthy plants to pollinate! Sue will help you if you visit, and she gave us some great print resources. I have extra for those who missed the field trip.
Enjoy spring!!



Prep #1: Try to notice some pollinators–any kind– before next Tuesday’s class. They may be in your crocuses, or the red maple flowers, or your anemones or blood root. If you do see a solitary bumblebee flying low over the ground it will be last year’s queen, out of her winter slumber, looking for a suitable nest for her new brood. Be kind 🙂
Prep #2: We will spend some time at the end of class answering questions about the brown tail moth, an invasive insect that has recently expanded its range from the mid-coast inland to central Maine, Downeast to Penobscot Bay and even north to southern Aroostook County. If you do want to know more about this critter, please review this powerpoint, below, before class. We will not be watching it in class. A few of us have learned a lot about the BTM this year, first hand, and we are willing to share what we’ve learned. 

Bumble Bees

Bumblebees are not the solitary bees we talked about a couple weeks ago. They live in small colonies with a division of labor. But they are great pollinators and they are in trouble.

Kalyn Bickerman-Martens, PhD candidate in etymology at UMO will share what she has learned about Bumble Bee Health; Impact of Pesticides; Maine Bumble Bee Atlas (citizen science).  This may be the week we make “bee hotels” for native bees.


Since we last met, I hope you’ve caught glimpses of queen bumble bees foraging for food and searching out new nest sites. Have you seen some of the smaller solitary native bees as well? I’ve seen some on our crocuses, Scilla and red maples. I think I’ve been seeing the Andrena species, aka mining bees.  These are among the earliest to emerge in spring in Maine. You may be seeing the males, as they come out first from the tunnel/burrow where they’ve been since last summer…amazing isn’t it? Soon the females will emerge and the cycle will start over again :).
We had a fascinating guest speaker for week 7. Kalyn Bickerman-Martens is a PhD candidate at UMO doing research on bumble bees. She broadened her talk to cover Maine’s native bees, their range of social behavior, and their importance. Then she got into the specifics of bumble bee life cycles, their special skill at “buzz pollination” and their status in Maine.
Kalyn also covered the threats our native bees face, related citizen science efforts, and what else we can do to help.  
Main threats known: commercially reared bumblebees transmit disease, habitat loss or fragmentation, widespread use of pesticides that remove flowering plants and poison/weaken pollinators, and climate change impacts.
Kalyn is on the staff of the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas, a five year effort to survey the diversity and abundance of bumble bee species in Maine. She shared the findings so far.
Kalyn shared specifics on insecticides that impact beneficial insects, including bees. 
She also shared a link to her presentation.

Please see the notes emailed to you for more details and the link.

Wild Seed Project and Pollinator-friendly Neighborhoods and Flyways

May 7, our last class: Karen Simpson will share stories with us of the insects that share her multi-season garden with her. I’ve seen a preview and I think you will enjoy and be inspired 🙂

How are you all feeling about the insect world?

I hope you are a bit more fascinated by it than when we first met back in March.

I am grateful to all of you for taking or co-teaching this class. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and I have learned so much along the way … Thank you!

Dear Insect Class: 

Karen Simpson did a grand job of pulling it all together for our last class!
What a great reminder she gave us that we do have the opportunity to support the diversity of nature, even if all we have is a bit of garden, pots on a porch, or the strip between the sidewalk and the street.
And what a great reminder of the beauty and diversity of the insect world in our own backyards!
And by the way…
Karen had pictures of the many insects on her milkweed and other plants in her files, but she didn’t know what they all were.
She used iNaturalist, as Roger Rittmaster taught us, to ID them. Congrats Karen!
We hope you are all a bit more inclined to be amazed and fascinated by insects after the time we’ve spent with them this spring. Feel free to send me news of your insect adventures this summer and I’ll share them with the group.
And we may send you some of our favorite blogs, books or other resources too.  Don’t worry, we won’t stuff your inboxes. Just a few notes, here and there.
Thanks to all of you, students and co-teachers, for going on this adventure together.  As usual, I learned a lot preparing for the class, but I also learned a lot from each of you.  I’m grateful for the opportunity UMA Senior College gives us to revive our curiosity and explore.
Happy adventures this summer, and may you all be well,

Here is a link to Karen’s presentation,
Gardening for Pollinators_KSimpson2019.pdf.
The file was too big (65 MB) to send via email. If you have any difficulty, please let me know and I’ll find a way to get it to you.


Hello Insect lovers,
I hope you are all enjoying summer, on the days the temperature goes over 70!

Please feel free to send me any interesting insect finds or news this summer and I’ll share them, only through the end of summer. Then I promise I’ll stop 🙂



There is some GOOD NEWS

  • The cool rainy spring has led to fungal infections in the brown tail moth caterpillars, so they may not reproduce as robustly as feared. That would be ok 🙂
  • The same conditions have been great for perennials and some garden crops. The mosquitos, ticks and black flies seem happy, it’s true, but more enjoyable insects are showing up as well. 

Kit saw a monarch butterfly this month!
We’ve had more Tiger Swallowtails in our neighborhood than I have ever noticed before. I just learned that there are two species that look very similar: the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  I am not sure which we had, but when I checked iNaturalist for June sightings, most were Canadian. I’ll learn more about them!

Main reason for writing:
I forgot to include a link to that Hope for the Wild 2019 – Doug Tallamy, explaining the importance of plants that support caterpillars, not just pollinators. So fascinating! Who knew it takes >6000 caterpillars to fledge one nest of chickadees? And then the parents have to keep feeding them!
Also, here are links to Herb Wilson’s recent article on bumblebees and Tom Atwell’s article on beneficial insects.

Check out what we found while walking through a field at the KLT’s Hutchinson Pond preserve (see photo at bottom right).

Hint: it is not bird poop.
I was quite surprised to learn…
and if you want to know,
just email me back and I’ll share.
From: Dace Weiss
On Mon, Jul 1, 2019 at 9:39 PM
Sorry not to respond earlier, Cathy!  I love Doug Tallamy and have been trying to follow his recommendations for going native.  Is the picture one of those exotic looking caterpillars in his video?  And is that the head end or the rear?  I’m thinking the head. But as to what is going on I can’t even guess.  Please write!
From: Cathie Murray 
Date: Mon, Jul 1, 2019 at 10:12 PM
Subject: Re: final class notes on Insects as summer truly begins…maybe!
To: Dace Weiss

Hi Dace, and since you wrote to all of us teachers, I will reply all,

I don’t think this critter was in his video, but he has so many that it may show up in one.
I took this picture while on a Maine Entomological Society field trip to Hutchinson Pond, a KLT site.
I was told by the experienced entomologists I was with that it is a spring instar (caterpillar stage) of the Viceroy butterfly!
Apparently the first couple of instars occur in the late summer/fall, then it overwinters rolled up in a leaf.
By the time I saw it it was moving on, eating willows and poplars, and was going to pupate soon and become the butterfly.
It looked even more like bird poop in person than it does in the picture!
Re: head, I believe the head is the section on the left side of the picture. You can see one of the antennae, and those raised yellow bumps are near the head.
Have fun observing the critters in your world this summer 🙂


Thursday, May 9 • 5-6:30 pm

Kennebec Land Trust event

Reynolds Forest, SidneyThe Kennebec Land Trust is holding its first Lyceum Field Trip. David Courtemanch and Tom Danielson, biologists, will lead a walk to explore aquatic insects at the Reynolds Forest in Sidney. Streams provide an important microhabitat in the landscape. Our trip along Goff Brook will focus on life in and around the water. Bring binoculars and boots. No registration necessary, please call KLT with any questions, 207- 377-2848.

Saturday, June 1 • 10 am

Maine Entomological Society
FIELD DAY and other MES activities

Hutchinson Pond, Manchester

Newcomers and experienced entomologists alike are invited to come and learn about insect identification in this ecologically diverse conservation area. RSVP to Dana Michaud (872-7683)


A New York Times report on the evidence and implications of the decline of insects all around us.

Both Bob O’Halloran and Judy Feinstein forwarded recent stories about a small business in Maine going big with edible insects. Crickets that taste like cotton candy?
Find out more here and here.

HOPE FOR THE WILD 2019 – Doug Tallamy
This video explains the importance of plants that support caterpillars, not just pollinators. So fascinating! Who knew it takes >6000 caterpillars to fledge one nest of chickadees? And then the parents have to keep feeding them!
By Herb Wilson 
Like some birds, bumblebees live in colonies. Unlike these birds, the bees are all related, but not all reproduce.
Encourage the good insects to get on the job
By Tom Atwell

Plenty of bugs can help in your fight against aphids and their ilk. Step one: Attract the beneficials to your garden.
Class size 10-20 students
3 seats remaining


This team of Maine Master Naturalists, along with guest speakers, has offered numerous Senior College classes in the past, from survey courses to deep dives into trees and birds. Everyone on the team has completed the rigorous year-long Maine Master Naturalist program. We offer these courses to share our excitement about the natural world. And yes, we know some of you have clamored for a Birds II class, but bear with us. We realized many bird species in Maine rely on insects for their existence, either directly as food, or indirectly through plant seeds and fruits arising from insect pollination, or from relying on food animals that ate insects. We are excited to explore the amazing world of insects with you!

Photo: Caterpillar of Black Swallowtail butterfly by Judith Feinstein