[Annual feature. This is the fourth time I've noted it here. Aphid Day in 2010 was the first of Oct; in 2011 it was the end of Oct; in 2012 the first of Oct; now in 2013 it's the last part of Oct. More or less periodic in those four years. Makes me wonder if we're seeing alternate populations of a critter with a two-year life cycle. Looked it up; probably not. Aphids are poorly understood. They do all sorts of complicated and strange things, including two-layer birthing and cloning a male from a female in order to mate! But this particular aphid doesn't wait two years between matings.]
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Every year in Spokane the end of summer is marked by the swarming of tiny white-winged flies.
Insects don't waste much time in adulthood; lots of bugs live several years as larvae and only a few days as adults.
These flies take it to an extreme. Adults are minimally equipped to get in the air and reproduce. They don't have as much brain power as other flies, nor do they have hard shells. Instead of flying purposefully, they drift with the wind like seeds, and die as soon as they bump into anything even at near-zero drifting speed. Result: for a couple of days, your face and clothes are covered with semi-liquid insects.
Despite their lack of navigation, they must have some kind of superior instinct or 'community intelligence', because picking the last warm day
is much harder than picking the first warm day
of spring. Termites and ants don't need to calculate their swarming day; they only need a simple neuron to detect when temperature rises past a certain threshold, plus an emitted pheromone to trigger the avalanche.
But how do these flies determine that today is not just warm, but the last warmth
for their generation? They must be sensing something besides temperature.
At any rate, they serve as a reliable sign for us, even if our supercomputers can't match their calculations.
Polistra has put it into folk-wisdom
format:White flies swarming, no more warming.
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[Artistic note: the swarm in the animation turned out nicely, but Polistra's head looks steroid-swollen and South-Park-ish for unknown reasons. Maybe she's allergic to the bugs.]
[Technical note: According to some sources
, these bugs are smoky-winged ash aphids, Prociphilus americanus