Monday, January 8, I went for a walk in one of our woods. We have a hunting program to keep deer populations in check. It’s a part of my due diligence to keep an eye on the land, check deer stands, look for anything out of place, etc.
I’m also learning that returning back to the land over and over is also key to the intuitive side of land management.
As a land steward, I try to be a stickler about scientific data driving my decision making process. Wishful thinking should be held to the piercing light of analysis. Easy assumptions and persistent cognitive biases should be challenged.
However, actionable data is so costly to come by because of the inherent complexity of ecological communities. So we have to fall back on broad principles that have stood the test of time, like “do no harm” and “diversity is good”.
Aldo Leopold wrote Ecology’s Golden Rule: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” You could do much worse than starting and ending with that.
Walking the land connects the body with the mind. It merges the statistical confidence intervals with the coyote tracks. The light, foliage, and soil feel different in each season. Communities change. Our stewardship has to be adaptive to these changes, but in order to observe them we need to be present, looking.
It also allows for serendipity, and the chance for new questions to arise.
Questions like, “Is that a MOSQUITO????!!!”
I quickly snapped a photo. Then I lifted up the chunk of snow and watched the insect fly away.
There are a few look-alikes. I know common Crane Fly species are much larger (and also harmless, so stop swatting them!). I needed a refresher on Midges, so I did some Googling. Based on the body vs. wing length, signs seem to be pointing towards mosquitoes.
January 8 was the first warm day in a long time, upper 30’s and 100% sunny. It felt almost hot. Looking at the weather records, the temperature had not been above freezing for over two weeks, and had dipped as low as -20 degree F. Open water sources had to have been scant, if any were available at all (although I do know that several farm animals were within a mile and of course were provided with fresh water).
Surely all the flying critters must have been frozen to death?!
Oh no, life has been here before. Life is resilient.
Mosquitoes and midges, like other insects, employ any and all manner of survival strategies, overwintering as eggs, larvae, or even adults. Many insects make antifreeze in their tissues, or just freeze solid and thaw out later. Winter strategies differ between mosquito species, and even sometimes between sex. The female Culex pipens mosquito stores up fat and overwinters in a quasi-hibernating state called diapause. Not fun, perhaps, but better than the male, which simply dies (see this NPR article for more, as well as a great piece about winter survival from The Prairie Ecologist).
Life will continue to adapt to the new world we are shaping. I heard recently at a conference that scientists are expecting that fire ants will start surviving winters in southern Indiana during my lifetime.
We would do good to continue walking the land, watching, waiting, and asking if our stewardship is indeed preserving “the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.”