Friday, November 18, 2016

Last Hurrah or New Normal?

Dateline: Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA, November 16, 2016. The temperature today reached a high of 77° F, quite abnormal for this time of year. Walking for a couple of hours along the Rock Island Trail, a concrete bike path through the rural-suburban interface, produced a variety of insects that I might find, on average, no later than say early to mid-October, if that late.

Dainty Sulphur butterfly

Weather trends are not looking good. There might actually be something to the whole global warming, climate change thing. It last rained here twenty-one (21) days ago, and that was but a trace. Last year we had snow by now, and concurrent cold temperatures, obviously. What our local climate now lacks in predictability it makes up for in extremes.

Adult female Red-legged Grasshopper

We are not alone, of course. One of my colleagues, Mathew Brust, in Nebraska, recently posted to Facebook that he has been observing certain grasshopper species that are farther ahead in their metamorphosis than they should be at this time of year. He expressed fears that we might have lower insect diversity and abundance come next spring as a result of the extended summer/fall:

"Wait, latest update, I have seen 13 grasshopper species in two days (8 as adults, 5 as nymphs). What really scares me is that many of the nymphs are already 5th instars (last stage before adulthood), which I have never seen in fall, not even on warm days in January. I am seeing many late butterflies, and I suspect most will be dead-ends as their offspring will not survive. These are likely individuals that should have normally emerged next spring. I have to wonder how many butterfly species are going to see a serious drop in numbers next year because of the messed up weather this fall. Pretty screwed up stuff! Ah, but I guess global warming is just a hoax, so it must be due to something else entirely."

Mathew is obviously being tongue-in-cheek with his last comment, but it is important that each of us document what we are seeing. I, for one, am highly skeptical that the incoming federal administration is going to make major strides, if any at all, toward a better understanding of climate change, so it us up to citizen scientists to contribute what we can.

Velvet-striped Grasshopper nymph

I found three species of grasshoppers as adults (and heard another one species crepitating in a field), and one as a nymph, yesterday.

Western Yellowjacket worker

I even found a worker Western Yellowjacket on the trail that had probably collided with a cyclist a few minutes earlier. It spun around aimlessly on the concrete in a dizzy, disoriented kind of way, but eventually flew off. Vehicular traffic of all kinds takes its toll on insects and spiders, but that can be the subject of a future blog post. What is surprising is that there are any yellowjackets still present. Queens should have entered into hibernation by now, and workers and males should have perished back in October.

Western Pygmy Blue butterfly

I spotted a shockingly fresh-looking Western Pygmy Blue butterfly, too, and perhaps even more surprisingly discovered it was taking nectar from tiny, blooming flowers. What plant in its right mind is blooming now? There are still roadside sunflowers looking as bright and healthy as the majority looked at their peak in August. I even see a few asters still clinging to life, and wild alfalfa flowers, too.

Adult seed bug, Melacoryphus nigrinervis

The other part of this story is that I, myself, am usually hunkered down for the winter, devoting my time and energy to editing images from the spring, summer, and fall, plotting stories to approach editors with, and otherwise confining myself mostly to the indoors. My brain is telling me that is what I should be doing, but my eyes and temperature sensors are kicking me out the door to continue exploring. My own biological compass is spinning wildly out of control.

Elm Leaf Beetle

What are you observing and experiencing right now in your corner of the world? Anecdotal information is critical for a better understanding of trends in climate and weather, so I hope you will consider recording your observations on i-Naturalist, and your "spottings" to Project Noah, and any other relevant databases and resources. I'll be talking about another such resource soon, pertinent to personal and community gardens, and local agriculture. Changes in insect abundance and diversity will, obviously, have a profound impact on how we feed ourselves and each other. Stay tuned.

Wolf spider


  1. very well stated and very important, thanks

  2. I know what you mean about the lack of rain... I'm in the Carolinas and we have a state wide burn ban because of the fires on the east coast right now. Anyway, great post!

  3. Not the same insects, but similar sorts of things in Durham, NC. I don't recall the exact date when I noted cloudless sulphurs well into November.

  4. Thanks for writing about this. It's very disconcerting.

  5. One factor this season is that there is a powerful el Niño going on in the Pacific. This has sent a big bubble of warm air over the Americas, and it has spun northward, where is sits over a large area of Canada. That has held up the usual descent of Winter over much of the U.S.
    Global warming is real enough, though, and one effect of it is that cycles like this will more often stronger and last longer than usual.


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