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Sep. 19, 2012

Cool Characters

by The Bug Chicks

Click to enlarge images
One of the great things about living in Texas was the abundance of insects, all the time. Because it was hot for much of the year, we could find bugs to film and photograph just about any time we wanted. We admit it. We were totally spoiled. When we moved to Oregon, we were scared that we would only have three or four good bug months a year and that we’d have to cram all our filming expeditions into one short season.
 
Thank goodness we were wrong! Western Oregon is cooler and wetter than East Texas, sure, but there are plenty of familiar species. And Oregon has insects that we’d never find in Texas; insects that are adapted to living in snow and cold costal caves. 
 
Snow Scorpionflies
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Most people don’t think snow and insects go together. Snow scorpionflies, in the family Boreidae, are small – about a half centimeter or so – and dark. They look like flecks of debris on the snow’s surface. They're adapted to live on snowfields at high elevations. They jump around on the snow using their long back legs. 
 
These animals are so well adapted to the cold that higher temperatures easily kill them. Even the body heat of your hands is enough to bake these little guys if you were to pick them up. The best time to see snow scorpionflies is November to March in the Pacific Northwest. If snow is scarce, don’t worry.  They can also be found feeding on mosses and fungi. 
 
Camel (Cave) Crickets
 
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The square-legged camel cricket, Tropidischia xanthostoma, is another insect you can find in the colder months. The common name “camel cricket” (also called a cave cricket) comes from the humpbacked appearance of these animals.  But if you see one, you won't be looking at its back. With a length up to 8 inches, this huge insect is all legs.  These nocturnal insects thrive in cool, damp places like caves, from coastal California to British Columbia.  They’ve even been found under old bridges and in abandoned wells.  (Wanna spelunk an old well?  We do!)  Because they spend so much time in low-to-no light environments, they use their ultra-long antennae as super-sensors to feel their way around.  
 
We won’t be able to find them by listening for their chirp, though. Chirps are created by a movement called stridulation (basically rubbing one body part against another).  Crickets rub their wings together to create their signature sounds.  But camel crickets are wingless, so they lack chirp! We will just have to use headlamps and cunning to locate them instead.
 
A fun bit of trivia: In the Caverne des Troise Frères in Ariège, France, scientists found a 20,000 year old carving of a camel cricket (genus Troglophilus) on a bison bone!
 
The photos in this post were taken at the Oregon Department of Agriculture Insect Collection.  We recently made the trip there to take photos for a video project we were working on.  Jim LaBonte, entomologist and director of the collection, is an incredible resource for insect information.  He recently tipped us off on where we can find the snow scorpionflies and cave crickets in Oregon!  So naturally, we’ve planned an expedition to find and film these cold-weather animals.  We’ll be sure to document what we find!
About The Bug Chicks

Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker are The Bug Chicks. They each have Masters Degrees in Entomology and love to teach people about insects and spiders.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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