Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Where are all the Japanese beetles this summer?

The number of Japanese beetles has been observed to be lower this year than in past years. One possibility is last winter's deep frost.

Q. I have been meaning to write and ask if you have noticed there have been few, if any, Japanese beetles this summer. Usually, they are covering my grape vine and making lace out of the leaves. I have only seen a few this year. After doing some research online, the only explanation I could find was something to the effect that if it was a dry, hot summer the year before, the grubs or eggs of the beetle would not survive and hatch the following year. Any thoughts?

— Carol Ann, Hinsdale

A. As for the precipitation total in Pittsfield through Sept. 1 in 2019, we had 28.07 inches compared to 22.77 inches Sept.1, 2020. And it has been warmer this past summer than the previous summer. To be honest, I have no explanation, except the possibility of a deeper frost last winter.

In 2019, we had an exceptionally bad Japanese beetle summer, and I had to replace the catching bags for our two traps. This summer, I was ready with an additional trap, and none barely filled. And my wife Susan's soapy water catching excursions were far from necessary. Her comment was, "There were not many to catch, and the traps caught most of them."

Q. Did the hummingbirds leave early this summer or did the yellow jackets frighten them all away?

— Maryanne

A. Large numbers of yellow jackets intimidated our hummingbirds that had been feeding throughout much of the summer. And I was angered when even the new feeder with an impressive "bee guard" sugar water feeder was of no use.

For the most part, Ruby-throated hummingbirds have left by now, although, you can expect stragglers through September. When asked, I suggest that, if possible, and not intimidated by the yellow jackets, keep refreshing the feeder until October. There have been late dates with individuals seen the first week of October. And you never know when a late hummingbird will show up, although, I am not suggesting keeping a feeder ready through November, as one showed up in Lanesborough on Nov. 6 and stayed through Nov. 20 in 2006.

While we had fewer Japanese beetles this summer, I have never seen as many of these nuisance yellow jackets. They have been a problem from mid-August thus far in September. I have found them reluctant stingers, but curious visitors as I try to rest on our deck, and my feeling is that they won't sting unless you really antagonize them as I did back in the late 1960s while pulling a flat-bottom boat into a bog in Stockbridge. I slipped on a muddy spot and fell forward onto a nest. I do not recall how many stung me in the stomach and chest, but it was proof that I was not (at that time, anyway) allergic to their sting! And it was painful with a capital P.

Q. Since your comments on bittersweet, I think I see it all "over." Do you have pictures of it climbing a tree or something?

— Edwin, Springfield

A. Yes, keep an eye out for my next column. And there are more climbers, not necessarily as dangerous to trees as the bittersweet that I will include.

Q. I was fishing at Onota Lake the other day and saw some ducks I never saw before. I have seen woodies and mallards, but they are the only ones I know. Any idea what has been there recently, so I can look it up?

— Reader in Lanesborough

A. It is hard to say what you saw, although, I will say it is still a little early for waterfowl migration. Some of the summer ducks beside the two you mention is the black. Probably the last week in October into November is the best time to see a variety of waterfowl at our lakes, especially at Pontoosuc and Onota lakes, or at least those are the ones I would see the most at that season.


Regarding my cutting open a goldenrod gall for last Sunday's Naturewatch column — "Take a closer look at goldenrod galls":

I found your article in today's Eagle to be confusing ... in the first part, you advocate cutting open three or four galls to find goldenrod fly larvae and then go on in the article as to how the endangered species act can be strengthened, to me that's a disconnect.

Well, the endangered species act is to protect species. That goldenrod fly is near the bottom of the food chain, like collecting butterflies or any species, encouraging people to open (and thus kill) organisms ultimately will threaten the food chain. Maybe a small complaint, but as history can attest, it all adds up.

— Sarah