The calendar says June, and so heat is here, but the thermometer isn’t the weather gauge I’m watching most these days.
It’s the radar, where you can see clouds and storms and, sometimes, swarms of bugs.
That’s what Southern California saw last week.
The radar showed a big something moving through the area, but the meteorologists said it wasn’t precipitation, it was a bloom of ladybugs.
Certain ladybug species will fly together in a big mass, sometimes 10 miles wide, as they move to higher elevation when they finish scouring an area for aphids.
It’s not every day you hear about a group of flying things so large that they show up on radar, but it’s not that uncommon, either.
In western Wisconsin, clouds of mayflies appear on screen a lot in the summer, just before they conclude their brief lives in large piles on the roadways.
In fact, there’s a growing field of study known as aeroecology, in which scientists use our super-accurate radar to track the movements of certain animal populations – insects, bats and birds, to name a few – and better understand where they go and why.
Most of us would guess it was rain moving through the radar to look at them, but scientists can tell the difference between a rain cloud and a cloud of butterflies.
The most notable shape seems to be the one big flocks of birds make as they take to the skies in the morning.
They make a circle shape with a hole in the middle, gradually expanding.
It looks like a giant donut exploding on radar.
Hopefully our radar technology will improve to the point that we can tell if it’s locusts, or even frogs.
It should be noted that not all ladybugs are ladies, and technically, they’re beetles, not insects, so they’re not really bugs, either.
This is a running theme with most of the common names for these creatures.
They’re also called lady birds; that’s in fact, where former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson got her nickname.
In years past they were called lady cows, in reference to their spots.
And while the “lady” part of these names is believed to be a reference to the Virgin Mary, it doesn’t quite explain why ladybugs in the 17th century called “bishops.”
Maybe old-timey radar picked up blooms of clergy on radar?
High-flying ladybug swarm shows up on National Weather Service radar (Los Angeles Times)
Ladybirds, ladybugs, and… cows? (Oxford Dictionaries)
Photo by rumolay via Flickr/Creative Commons