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Best of the Mess from June 2,1999: It’s a bug’s life! - MessAge Media: Features

Best of the Mess from June 2,1999: It’s a bug’s life!

Midges and tent caterpillars are hatching in the area

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Posted: Sunday, June 9, 2019 4:00 am

It’s that time of year again. If you live on or near the lake, you’ve started seeing them. The midges of Mille Lacs, known locally as “lake flies” or “fish flies,” have started hatching, marking the official beginning of summer.

Meanwhile, in the treetops, another hatch is happening. Forest tent caterpillars, commonly known as army worms or tent worms, have hatched by the zillions, and we can expect another banner year for the creepy-crawly menaces.

 While annoying, both bugs are harmless to humans. Although tent caterpillars can devour the leaves of entire forests, permanent damage to trees and shrubs is minimal. As for midges, they may look like mosquitoes, but they have no “stinger.”

Last year, around the middle of May, the midges were so thick that they created a cloud on the west side of Mille Lacs, smearing windshields and grills with bug juice and covering walls of cabins and other buildings.

This year, the invasion has not been as fierce, but swarms of bugs have been observed, mainly on the north, east and south sides of the lake.

The midge (chironomus plumosus) is a very common, mosquito-like insect with fuzzy little antenna. The larva is aquatic, living on aquatic vegetation at the bottom of lakes and streams. They are an important food source for fish.

There are different shapes and sizes of midges in the area, from tiny, gnat-sized ones to larger ones that are about a half-inch in length.

Cindy Lyback, a lifelong resident of the area, shares a little-known fact about midges: “They poop green,” Cindy said, pointing to the little green specks peppering her car.

By the end of May last year, forest tent caterpillars had eaten so many leaves at Father Hennepin State Park that it looked more like early April than late May. Many trees on the east side of Mille Lacs were also stripped of their leaves.

So far, the trees at Father Hennepin don’t look too bad, but the forest tent caterpillars are just beginning to grow. Many are still only a quarter of an inch long. By the time they grow to an inch or more in length, we’ll see a corresponding shrinking of the leaves of basswood and other hardwood trees.

According to the DNR plant health specialist Bob Tiplady, the south and east sides of Mille Lacs are in the third year of a major invasion. Other local invasions are happening in other areas around central Minnesota. Usually, invasions of this type last two or three years and occur on a ten-year cycle. More widespread outbreaks hit Minnesota in 1922, 1937, 1952, 1967, 1978 and 1989.

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