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OT: Entemology - large high-flying bug?

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Wirt Atmar

Aug 14, 2001, 12:30:08 PM8/14/01
David asks about a question that's been bugging him:

> What kind of bug weighs in somewhere between one and four ounces, and might
> be encountered at 2000 feet AGL (8000 feet) over the plains just east of
> Colorado Rockies?
> My friend ran into one flying his Piper Apache near Denver. I don't know
> what time of year this was, but could find out if it is important.

As it occurs, a lot of insects fly that high, and even higher. As a part of a
job I had in an earlier lifetime, agricultural entomology, in a galaxy far,
far away, I used to monitor storm-borne migrations of noctuid moths in the
hope that we would be able to predict cotton bollworm outbreaks from the
weeks' previous satellite photographs of the Gulf of Mexico/Sierra Madre
storm movements. Some of the best data we had at the time that our moths were
capable of moving on these storms were radar tracks of moth swarms taken by
US Navy facilities in San Diego at 10,000 to 12,000 feet. These swarms were
verified by sampling to be noctuids.

However, the strong-flying grasshoppers, such as Schistocerca gregaria, not
only fly extraordinary distances (the longest recorded, non-stop migration to
date is 2880 miles), but also fly at substantial altitude, generally in the
3000 to 5000 feet range. If you remember, in the movie, "Flight of the
Phoenix", which btw was filmed in my home town, Yuma, Arizona, it was a swarm
of Schistocerca that brought the plane down in the African desert. Similarly,
butterflies over the Rocky Mountains have been recorded at several thousand
feet about ground level.

But perhaps even more surprising perhaps is that some seeds and many spiders
"fly" at similar altitudes. Obviously these plants and animals are not flying
under their own power but are rafting on the winds, passively. Indeed, that's
how almost all small animals prior to the arrival of man on Hawaii got there.

Just as a note, the correct Greek form for insect is "ento-", not "ente-".
But that doesn't mean knowing that is going to do you all that much good.
Once, when we sat down in a restaurant in Alamogordo, NM, there was a dish on
the menu that was called "entomatadas", which could be literally translated
as "dead insects". Of course, I parsed the word wrongly. What it really meant
was "tortillas en-tomato-ated."

Wirt Atmar

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