My brother and I have been swapping rat stories over the past few weeks. The rat that lives in our attic I’ve named Dora the Explorer. Perhaps you’ve seen me post photos of her previously. She comes and goes and I believe she was actually in our attic last winter. Well, Dora was making a lot of noise up in our attic the other night. We can hear her since she’s usually right above our couch. In fact, there’s a little circular hole in the ceiling that I’m not exactly certain has a reason for being there. It’s quite likely Dora is peeking through that hole watching us watch TV. She also probably doesn’t dare come into our house since she can probably SMELL Nimbus and Evie, our two, very bored, always looking for something to get into, indoor cats.
Dora is smart, but she should have known we would hear her making all that racket up above. Well, my husband decided Dora was having a party or something and might have invited her friends. We might be OK if it was just Dora living in the upstairs attic room, but her friends aren’t welcome. He got out the traps. Don’t ask. You really don’t want to know.
I had to toast a pecan. Just one for each trap. My husband says toasted pecans are irresistible to rats. How the heck he knows this is beyond me. I thought they liked peanut butter. Well, the traps (I believe there were two) went up into the attic. The next morning, he asked me if I heard anything. Nope. Not a thing. No rat racket and no SNAP. Next night, nothing. Not a sound. Hubby went up to check the trap. Pecans still there. No sign of anything. No more noise. Dora is smart. She did this exact same thing last year. We are on season two. Dora decided to move out. So, I suppose the traps do work – just not like we expected.
I’m sure you’re wondering about my brother’s rat saga. Well, he definitely has a BIGGER problem. His rat isn’t in the attic. It is LIVING INSIDE HIS HOUSE. That’s right. It is hiding in drawers, sleeping in coat sleeves, and running down the hall after being discovered by Sassy the dog. If you ask me, that’s part of his problem. He has a DOG. Everyone knows that cats are much better at guarding you from the things that count – like invading mice and rats! Cats are stealthy. They also don’t yap all night and keep you awake when a rat is raiding your cupboards.
My brother says he has live traps set all over the house. He also has those ultrasonic noise maker things that humans aren’t supposed to hear, but I SURE CAN hear them! My parents have one in their attic and whenever I go visit, I have to ask them to turn it off. They can’t hear it, but the noise it emits is worse than having a giant rat party going on if you ask me. Maybe this is why the rat in my brother’s house is afraid of going into the traps he has out. It’s afraid of being stuck inside that house forever – subjected to the never-ending din of the ultrasonic repellers.
I offered a few tips to my brother to help him catch the rat. Have you tried opening a window? “Nope, and the rat just runs out of the room under the interior door.” Hmmm, have you tried using the inside cardboard tube from a roll of wrapping paper with a sock over the end to catch it? “Nah, don’t got any of those around.” Have you got one of those lever lids that you put on a 5 -gallon bucket that work with a ramp and catch the rat? “Made a homemade version and the rat took the food and managed to climb down the ramp without going setting off the lever.”
Well, what about buying a very nice rat enclosure and setting up food, water, a hammock, and some sort of a hide, and inviting your rat to stay? He sure seems awfully smart. My brother agrees with this. He says anything as smart as this rat sure deserves to live. Maybe not in his house, but he isn’t going to put out the traps like we did.
I drew a photo to text to my brother today, and suggested a name for his rat buddy.
The End (or perhaps only the beginning)…
P.S. If you are living in the Austin/Georgetown/Round Rock area and are in need of automotive dentless paint repair (he does airplanes too), give my brother a ring. He can fix you up! https://www.stephenspdr.com/contact
Well, I am home on the couch, still sick and running fever. It was a miserable night. I don’t really feel much like reading or watching TV or anything. If I lie down to try and sleep, my nose gets so stuffy I can’t breathe. If you have a few minutes, I will share something fascinating about one of the cool spiders I’m reading about in Chapter 1 of my book, The Spider by John Crompton.
John admits in his book that taxonomy isn’t really his thing. His focus is on behaviors. The behaviors of invertebrates is truly intriguing to me. I will forever be curious about these creatures, how they live, what their lives are like, and such. I’m having to work a bit, googling as I read, as the scientific names of many of these spiders have changed over the years – with reclassifications and updates that will sort of make you crazy trying to figure out what they might be called NOW.
The spider I want to share about is an Australian Orb Weaver spider, formerly called Dicrostichus magnificus, now re-named Ordgarius magnificus. The common name for this spider is the Magnificent spider or Bolas spider, a very suitable common name indeed. Keep reading and you’ll see why!
During the daytime, this spider hangs out in cryptic retreats. Usually these are little tents constructed from silk-tied leaves of eucalyptus trees. At night, the spider will come out to hunt and this is where things become fascinating.
At dusk, the Bolas spider sits on a twig and gathers her tools or perhaps more appropriately, her tackle. She spins a short silk threat about 2 inches long and at the end of this “line” attaches a sticky globule. The name Bolas actually comes from a South American throwing weapon with a weight on the end.
When everything is ready, Ms. Bolas sits with this line dangling from one of her front legs and waits. Amazingly, she also has coated the “lure” of her line with a pheromone mimicking her intended prey. The pheromone is said to replicate the scent of a certain female moth in the Noctuid group, attracting unsuspecting males of the species into range.
Ms. Bolas is triggered into action when she senses the wing beats of unwary moths nearing her line. According to Crompton, she actually lifts her weighted line and whirls it around her head. As the moth comes closer, into lassooing distance, she casts her line. If luck has it, the lure (globule) sticks to the target.
Even more incredible is the discovery of yet another spider species) Cladomelea akermaini, an African species of Orbweaver who also hunts using a bolas. Crompton states that this species is able to cut off her lure and replace it with a fresh one when, during a fishing expedition similar to the Australian Ordgarius magnificus, the lure dries out.
I will leave you to read more of Crompton’s account of these spiders on your own. It is truly fascinating – the idea of spiders creating and using tools. We underestimate what we cannot see. For in observing these creatures, our eyes are opened and we are amazed.
Here’s what I have compiled for anyone contemplating acquiring a bearded dragon. These are not inexpensive animals to own or keep and many are impulse purchases. My Drago came to us as a re-home, after another re-home. To the best of my knowledge, I am his 3rd owner, though I don’t really think of “owning” him, rather being his caregiver and advocate. Please do NOT buy your child a pet to teach responsibility or as a “REWARD” or “BRIBE.” If you have kids you need to bribe, get them a therapist and fix that problem when they are young. Animals should not be sold or traded to make a child happy. Children are not mature enough to care for a Bearded Dragon. Parents end up taking over and the animal suffers when families are too busy. Please don’t buy a bearded dragon to impress your friends. Before you walk out of the Pet Store with a 10 gallon tank, a lizard, and a bunch of stinking crickets, read through this! If you proceed with getting your bearded dragon, please adopt from a rescue group.
Supply List/Price List for Caring for Bearded Dragon
Enclosure/tank with screened top and front open doors (minimum size is 55 gallons, but for an adult bearded dragon, you will need a 4x2x2 (120 gallon) enclosure. My advice? Just get the 120 Gallon from the start!
UVB tube light – MOST IMPORTANT PIECE of equipment. Do not get a bearded dragon if you cannot afford to buy and replace these 4 times per year. Your animal will get metabolic bone disease and suffer greatly as its bones disintegrate.
Food – ALSO IMPORTANT. Don’t think your bearded dragon will survive its entire life on stinking pellet food, crickets, or mealworms.
Babies and juvenile dragons need 80% of their diet to be high quality feeder bugs. Dubia roaches and Black Soldier Fly larvae are good staples. Your little dragon will be hungry and EAT at least 25 roaches or fly larvae per day. You can buy 25 medium dubia roaches online for about $7.25, then add shipping to that. If you are feeding your pet 25 per day, get a lottery ticket and pray you win. Soldier fly larva are cheaper and you can get about 100 for $3, but again, add shipping. Also pray the weather cooperates and they arrive alive. Your animal is hungry and can starve if you don’t feed it. The secret remedy for all of this is to start your own colony of Dubia roaches. I can write a “how to” for that if you’re interested. My feeder bug price checks come from Dubia.com. I don’t care what Petco or Petland or any other stupid pet store tells you, you should not feed crickets as a staple. They are dirty. Don’t dump them into your reptile enclosure either. They will chew on your pet.
Substrate – this is what goes on the floor of your enclosure. If you have a baby dragon, use paper towels (NO FRAGRANCES). They are sensitive to fragrances and the chemicals in things like air fresheners, laundry detergents, dryer sheets are extremely toxic to their respiratory system. Use of paper towels will allow you to see their poo and urate and remind you to CLEAN UP after them so they don’t get a nasty respiratory infection when ammonia from their urate builds up in the tank. It’s gross. You also need to learn how to look at their poo and urate so you can tell if they are healthy or not. As you become more experienced, you can change to something else. If you use repticarpet, plan to change it daily, launder in hot water – NO FRAGRANCE OR DRYER SHEETS – and replace it DAILY.
Cleaners – Use white vinegar and hot water. $5 for a jug at Marketplace. No bleach. No alcohol. No scented cleaners.
Time and attention. Think about how YOU would feel stuck in an enclosure 24 hours a day where you are dependent on someone else to feed you, clean up after you, entertain you at least a bit, etc.). If you are working full time and/or you have children in school all day, this is NOT a good pet. In reality, they shouldn’t be pets at all. Please do not get your child one of these animals as a pet because they HAVE to have one or to teach them responsibility. Teach your child to be responsible about making their bed, folding cloths, sweeping the porch, doing homework. Don’t use an animal to teach responsibility. You will be doing the work and they have a normal lifespan of 15 years in captivity. If they live a shorter life, it may be from owner neglect and that will be on you. If you work from home or have a set up where you can take your dragon with you back and forth to work and home (think of all the expenses times 2), then maybe you can give an animal like this a decent quality of life.
Veterinary care. We do not have any experienced reptile vets in the islands. You will have to travel off island to find an experienced and capable vet. I have names, but again, this is not cheap or easy given our reliance on ferries.
Pet sitting. Going rate is about $60 per day. You will have to train someone to care for your animal. Good luck.
Estimate – not including the animal = Approximately $763.45 start up and plan on at least $196 monthly for food (25 roaches per day for a growing baby or juvenile dragon) – not including shipping charges.
I’ve been home on San Juan Island, WA for 4 days now and clearly I picked up a bug traveling home. Not exactly the sort of bug I wanted, but it was inevitable given the crowded airplane and traveling stress. My husband came down with the BUG first. Then it hopped over to a new host – ME.
So, I’ve spent the afternoon on the couch labeling and sorting photos from one of our nature walks in Texas. This was the first of two hikes we took at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area Nature Preserve https://www.llela.org/about-llela/mission-and-vision. This area (approximately 2000 acres, I believe) has been conserved in conjunction with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the University of North Texas, the City of Lewisville, Lewisville ISD, the University of Texas in Arlington, and Texas A & M Agrilife Extension. It is a true jewel in the madness of the DFW metropolis where over 6.7 million people are displacing wildlife and native ecosystems are lost in the process. The BEST part of these hikes for me is the fact they do not allow dogs. NOT ANY! I am thrilled that the focus is on wildlife and habitat conservation and preservation instead of human recreation. I could actually be outdoors, enjoying nature AND viewing wildlife.
We’ve been to this preserve in prior trips to Texas. This year, we focused on hiking some trails we hadn’t been on before. Here is the gallery of some of the bugs I photographed, along with a few wonderful landscape scenes we viewed on the Redbud Trail – map here: https://www.llela.org/home/showdocument?id=9417
Please support environmental conservation wherever you are. This habitat may seem large at 2000 acres, but the former Blackland Prairie once covered 12 MILLION acres in the state of Texas. We need to set aside more if we are to weather the changes coming ahead.
Stay tuned for Bugging You From Texas, Part 3. I have more wonderful photos to share with you.
On October 26, 2022, hubby and I left the island to venture to Texas for ten days. I always leave the island with great trepidation because I do not like being separated from my fur and scale babies (two cats and one dragon). They always have a babysitter to care for them, but it’s not “momma,” and no one else I know is going to do things exactly like me. If I could clone myself, it would be easier to depart. Or, I could stay with them and send the clone with my husband. Seriously, I’m joking…or maybe not. Depends on how I’m feeling when you ask me.
The trip was in reality, an essential one. After waiting three years, I have not been able to get into a specialty neurology clinic here in the PNW area. I have some “wiring” issues that are complicated and need further evaluation. I’m sure my family and my husband will nod their heads about me having the “wiring” issues. Nonetheless, I have been suffering without answers, so maybe we will have some after seeing Dr. Ansari in Frisco, TX. The other part of our trip is an annual family visit. We stayed with my parents in the Dallas area and visited with them and some of my former friends and neighbors. It would have been nice to drive south and see my brother in the Austin area too, but scheduling just didn’t work out. Some of our trip overlapped with my daughter flying down to visit as well. She coordinated a nice evening outing to Cafe Madrid in Dallas to hear her former guitar instructor and his group play Flameno music while we also enjoyed a fantastic meal at the restaurant.
Check out the slideshow of our Cafe Madrid experience below.
Since it was pouring right after we arrived, we managed some fun outings in spite of the rain. Out of sheer boredom and needing some exercise, we spent part of the second day mall-walking. If you have absolutely no idea what that is, good. This means you’ve had other options for exercise. Mall-walking is one of the few exercise options (outside of going to a gym) that most people in these suburban-y-sprawl-y areas have. There are few outside nature preserve options like we have out here and even when it isn’t pouring rain, it can be difficult to get outdoors because it is either way too hot or way too cold. This happens when you change the climate – driving giant suburbans, escalades, or behemoth trucks and living in McMansion-style houses on zero lot lines with lawns. When I say that the DFW area is a “sea of roofs” or ‘rooves’ if you’re particular about your grammar, is frankly, an understatement. There are a few homes with stately live oaks, but more than half with ZERO trees in the front or back micro yard. Perhaps if there were trees, the need to cool these homes wouldn’t require 4-5 giant a/c units (per home). It’s no wonder there are power outages and rolling blackouts in summertime, and don’t even get me started on the “necessity” of fertilizing those golf course lawns and all the wasted water applied so homeowners satisfy the HOA’s regulations to keep things green. Hmmm. What if these people adopted another interpretation of “green?” Could we re-wild our urban landscapes? Would anyone be accepting of transforming their green lawn into a treasure of native vegetation?
Mall-walking photos here.
After walking the mall for a few hours that afternoon, we met up with some long time friends of ours (Marlin and Chanel). These are two of my dearest friends in the world. We all met around 22 years ago at the local 24 Hour Fitness gym in Lewisville, TX. Every year, we’ve made a point of trying to get together to catch up and enjoy a meal. I think having Amanda around makes it all the more fun. They have enjoyed teasing her since she was about 7.
Here’s a few of the bugs that I found around my parents’ home. I think I saw more spiders than insects, but that works for me. Even though there weren’t many, we hit the jackpot over the next few days at the two local nature areas we visited.
I also viewed an amazing aggregation of colonial solitary bees in my parents backyard. These were swarming by the hundreds, low to the ground and going in and out of little ant-like sand castles. As best as I am able to tell, these are Blood bees (Sphecodes sp.). In the 2nd video below, you can see I got so excited, I was down on the ground filming the action as one little bee worked to pack the walls of the entrance and played peek-a-boo with me.
The one thing that made me sad when I visited Texas was meeting some folks who literally asked me to explain to them what a nature preserve was. I kid you not. The phlebotomist was one. She had an 18 year career drawing blood for Quest Diagnostics and she was awesome at her job. I gave about 8 vials of blood and I didn’t faint or even feel a prick. She said she had never been to a nature preserve. Not once. Not ever. When I explained what we have on San Juan, she said, ” she imagined that would be wonderful.” I left pondering how many more people are out there like her. I also contemplated why some people in the San Juan Islands are so against nature preserves. Do we take these places for granted? We shouldn’t. If we don’t care and value them, and protect them from the greed of developers, we will lose them forever. Also, development drives up taxes for residents. If you don’t believe me, look it up. My parents’ 1200 square foot home has a tax bill of about 7K per year for Denton County, TX. They have a senior exemption that cuts this in half. The take away message is more people and more homes = more services needed, more upgrades and maintenance to utility infrastructures, roads, etc. On the other hand, when you include many nature preserves, trails, and wildlife corridors throughout neighborhoods, people are generally more inclined to get outdoors, exercise, and physical and mental health improves. Nature reduces healthcare costs. Think about that.
Keep reading and you’ll see some of the cool bugs I found at the nature areas we visited.
My husband and I visited the two nature areas within a 20 min. driving distance from my parents’ home. The first, Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano, TX, is about 200 acres. It is overused and that has driven away most of the wildlife. Once, you could see road runners, bobcats, coyotes, and many more species. While I am happy it hasn’t been bulldozed for apartments and McMansions (there is actually a giant subdivision nearby called CASTLE HILLS), it is a mostly a giant urban dog park. Don’t get me wrong. Dogs can be wonderful companion animals. I’m not a dog hater at all, but when I see the slog of dog poo along trails or discarded poo bags in a creek, I want to cry. It would be one thing if you saw a dog on occasion, but since everyone seems to have a dog now, it displaces almost anything else that is trying to survive in the wild. So do outdoor cats. If I ruled the world, folks would keep their cats indoors or in catios. They would also be responsible about picking up and appropriately discarding pet waste! Don’t be too critical of my opinion. Companion animals are a huge part of climate change for the simple reason they eat meat. A lot of it. Ranching, and the demand for beef is one reason we will likely lose the Amazon rainforest – and every wild thing in it. It’s also the reason for wolf packs being culled in the West. Ranchers want the land for their cows – even Federal lands. Don’t believe me though. Look it up. If we are going to own pets, we need to make sure we save spaces for wildlife to live too. We need more nature preserves!
While most of the wildlife has gone missing in Arbor Hills “nature preserve turned dog park,” I did find some pretty cool bugs, including the sweetest jumping spider. I also saw a snake and my husband spotted a turtle swimming in the creek. I’m going to feature the jumping spider first here, then that sweet little turtle swimming in the creek, but all the rest of our sightings and my photos of the preserve can be viewed in the slideshow below.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more in Bugging You From Texas (Part deux). YEE HAW! 🤠
Here’s my “Bug of the day” (for Saturday, October 15, 2022). I spied it on our wood table outside. It’s a Diurnal Firefly in the genus Ellychnia. The Latin name, Ellychnia, comes from Greek, lychnos, translating into ‘lamp’ or ‘lamp wick.’ Obviously, lamps are something associated with the nighttime or darkness. However, the common name of this genus, diurnal, means “day.” It’s only a bit confusing, right? Also, this is a beetle in the family Lampyridae and not a fly at all. The adults of this genus don’t light up at night or in the day either. However, they are closely related to the fireflies that DO light up, or luminesce, at night found on the East Coast. Since this genus, the Ellychnia, don’t have nighttime blinkers, they find their mates by detecting each other’s pheromones. Lloyd (2002), notes however that all species of Lampyrid beetle larvae have an organ at the end of their abdominal segment 8 that bioluminesces. I’ve never found an Ellychnia larva myself, but these are referred to colloquially as “glow worms.”
In our area, the genus Ellychnia are also known as winter fireflies. This is because they spend the winter as adults, and are equipped to tolerate cold temperatures. You might even see them on days when we have snow. Larvae of this beetle genus hatch in early summer and live in leaf litter or under bark in decaying trees. They are carnivorous predators of organisms like snails, slugs, earthworms, and soft-bodied insects.
Do we have any blinking species of fireflies in the PNW? That’s an interesting question. I found some literature that says we do, but I’m not certain this applies to the San Juan Islands, although a few sparse (and unsubstantiated) records from Vancouver Island, BC exist. However, western records for flashing fireflies are known from interior B.C. (Cannings et al., 2010) and throughout the western U.S. as reported by Larry Buschman (2016).
While fireflies that flash or bioluminesce are well known on the eastern side of the U.S. and North America, it is not exactly known how they moved all the way over to the western side. There is an interesting commentary in the paper by Cannings et al. 2010, with the thought that perhaps at least one of the species of flashing fireflies reported in B.C., (Photinus obscurellus), may have arrived via the railways.
Because luminescing fireflies are associated with wetlands, it would have been difficult for them to have crossed over the dry Rocky Mountain system without help. Cannings et al. (2010) report sightings across B.C. in association with railways, in fact, with most of these sightings falling within a 30 km distance from a railway. The thought is that even going across the mountains in drier areas, most railways wound through low lying valleys where the topography is more likely to cross through wetlands. Even the presence of railroad berms can create areas of new wetland habitat which may also have attributed to the westward distribution of these fireflies.
Sadly, we have, and continue to degrade, pollute, drain, and lose wetlands in our continued (horrific) adherence to the destructive and entitled ideology of Manifest Destiny. Development, ranching, hobby farms, and suburban sprawl have eliminated more than 50% of wetlands that previously existed in North America (Fallon et al., 2021). The remainder have been seriously impacted by chemical pollutants, light pollution, and overall climate change, contributing to further declines to remaining populations. We may lose all of the species of these iconic and charismatic summertime blinking lanterns without taking special steps to conserve and protect their habitat. We will have no one to blame but ourselves either.
Please support environmental conservation and protection in your community – wherever you live. It is important to reduce our human footprint in order to preserve the natural world, its beauty, and our life support system to perpetuate for future generations.
How can you help? Live minimally. Turn off outdoor lights at night. Plant native vegetation. Switch to use of non-toxic household products. Don’t use lawn fertilizers or chemicals. Better yet, get rid of your lawn and landscape with native plants. Eat less meat. It all adds up. 💡
Cannings, Robert & Branham, Marc & McVickar, R.H. 2010. The fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) of British Columbia, with special emphasis on the light-flashing species and their distribution, status and biology. Journal of the Entomological Society of British Columbia. 107. 33-41.
Fallon CE, Walker AC, Lewis S, Cicero J, Faust L, Heckscher CM, et al. 2021. Evaluating firefly extinction risk: Initial red list assessments for North America. PLoS ONE 16(11): e0259379. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0259379
Fender, K.M. 1970. Ellychnia of western North America. (Coleoptera-Lampyridae). Northwest Science 44: 31-43.
Lloyd, J.E. 2002. Lampyridae Latreille 1817. Pp 187-196 in R.H. Arnett, Jr., M.C. Thomas, P.E. Skelly and. J.H. Frank (Eds.). American Beetles. Volume 2.
So, this was not without a LOT of frustration on my end – due to lack of practice converting Powerpoint presentations to YouTube. The audio just wouldn’t sync. Finally…figured…it…out. 🤦♀️ Here’s my presentation from this past Sunday’s Garry Oak Symposium at the Grange. Feel free to watch and ask questions if you weren’t able to attend. For anyone interested, I’ve included references and literature at the end. Sorry in advance if there are some audio issues. They are minor and I just decided to go with it. 🙂 I’d like to add a special thanks to April Randall for her amazing artwork. She drew “Garry,” as in Garry the Oak Tree. Enjoy!
I was eating my lunch outdoors yesterday (October 6, 2022), and considering the end of season, depauperate community of bugs. There are fewer and fewer buzzing about the lingering tiny blossoms on my mint plants, which have been well-visited this season. Many of the winged flyers die out on their own accord. Lives spent – an ending synchronized with leaves falling from the trees. They’ve lived a season, maybe longer depending on the species. As adults, they’ve mated and sewn seeds for a new generation to emerge in spring. Some though, are captured and eaten by other organisms that are fueling stores for their own reproductive event – like these Long-jawed orb weaver spiders (Metallina segmentata) I witnessed, working together to wrap up their “lunch,” a Thick-legged Hoverfly (Syritta pipiens).
I didn’t realize it at the time, but depauperate was not to be the theme of my day!
Shortly after observing and filming the spiders, I noted some buzzing around our fruitless cherry tree. I walked over, thinking to myself, “You’re getting too close to that Yellowjacket!” Well, it wasn’t a yellowjacket at all. It was a Robberfly (Laphria ventralis), I believe – and SHE was ovipositing into our tree.
Later this evening when I was showing my husband the photos, he asked what the eggs would eat when they hatch. I had to look it up. Well, Robber Fly larvae are known to prey on the eggs, larvae, and pupae of other insects, especially beetle larvae living in decaying trees. Read more about this linked here: https://www.geller-grimm.de/genera07.htm
This Robber fly was an incredible mimic of a Yellowjacket – not only in appearance, but also in the way she flew about the tree. Fascinated, I watched her find a niche under some old bark and begin to oviposit. She did not like my camera or my presence, but tolerated me to a degree. Then she buzzed right into my face with complete confidence her mimicry would chase me away. Guess what? It worked. At least temporarily.
The next fun finds in Bug-landia were two caterpillars. I found an Eyed Sphinx Moth caterpillar (Smerinthus opthalmica) making headway down our driveway, undoubtedly wandering off to find a suitable location to pupate.
The second caterpillar I found is my absolute favorite moth species, the Rosy Aemilia moth (Lophocampa roseata). Since it was navigating down the middle of the road, I did gently relocate it to a safer spot so it wouldn’t get smooshed by the giant gravel trucks that fly up and down our once quiet country road.
Last, but not least is my new “pet.” I found her on my walk and she needed some help, so she’s come home to stay with us for some R&R, and a bit of end of life care. I’ve named her Wanda… One-Eyed Wanda. Wanda had evidently become an assault victim sometime just before I found her. The thought is that she was attacked and bitten by another female mantis – who evidently fled the scene before I got there. Poor wounded Wanda was not in great shape when I picked her up. She is missing an eye. It was not a pretty sight, but I couldn’t just leave her in the road.
She’s hanging out in the dining room tonight in a bug habitat/safe room so my indoor cats don’t batter her. I think she’s had enough battering in this life. I’m hoping she will still be able to lay an egg sack for me before she expires. Definitely plan to try and feed her tomorrow. I doctored her eye as best as I could. She can still see with the other one. Poor Wanda. 😦
Next up – Look for my post and forthcoming PowerPoint slide show about What’s Bugging Gary! Even better, check out the event (Garry Oak Conservation Symposium) in person if you’re on San Juan Island. It’s this Sunday at the Grange.
Scared of Spiders? Here’s a go-to info-sheet (that I plan to update as time allows) with links to verifiable, research-backed Spider Information/Literature. Let’s end all the misinformation and our arachnophobia. Too often people buy into false reports. Don’t listen to someone’s tall tale of horror. These stories are sensationalized and inaccurate. Know the facts. Dispel the rumors. Spiders are not out to kill you. It’s just not true.
YOU have to do the reading! These are scientifically based, accurate studies with information related to spider bites.
*Melissa M. Gaver-Wainwright, Richard S. Zack, Matthew J. Foradori, Laura Corley Lavine, Misdiagnosis of Spider Bites: Bacterial Associates, Mechanical Pathogen Transfer, and Hemolytic Potential of Venom From the Hobo Spider, Tegenaria agrestis (Araneae: Agelenidae), Journal of Medical Entomology, Volume 48, Issue 2, 1 March 2011, Pages 382–388, https://doi.org/10.1603/ME09224
Brown Recluse Spiders (Loxoceles sp) – NO! I repeat “NO, none, nada!” established populations in our area.
In the attached links below, you will find links to information about the Brown Recluse Spider. Information that comes from a verified, reputable source – from an actual expert. Brown Recluse spiders do not live in the San Juan Islands. Caveat: this is not to say that if you move here from an area where there ARE established populations, one might be found hitching on your moving boxes. It’s possible, BUT – they have not been able to survive and breed here. If you see a large brown spider in your house – especially on the ceiling, it is most likely (99.99%) going to be a Giant House Spider (Eratigena duellica). They are very common and harmless. If you don’t like them, just catch in a cup and take it to a sheltered area outside – preferably another structure where it might have a chance to survive. They won’t hurt you.
Where else can I find reliable information on Spiders?
There are a few sources I’ll list here. The first two are the ones you should look at first. They are valuable resources with information from highly credentialed experts in all things arachnid-related. If you read something written by either Rod Crawford (Seattle Burke Museum curator of the arachnid collection) or by Rick Vetter (UC Riverside Department of Entomology), you can be assured it is correct.
As a local resource, you can also check out the Facebook Bug Group (Bugs of the San Juan Islands). There are several group “experts” with experience identifying spiders. These folks generously volunteer their time and knowledge, so keep that in mind and please refrain if you feel inclined to INSIST they are wrong and there are INDEED Brown Recluse Spiders living in your house in San Juan County. If you have a spider you’d like identified, it helps to have a couple of clear photos to submit. Try and get a shot of the dorsal (top) of the spider, and if you’re able, one of its face – showing eye pattern. You may contact me, Cynthia Brast-Bormann at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit live or deceased specimens for identification. I will help you coordinate a drop off point for collection. Please don’t indiscriminately KILL a spider though and ask me to ID it. It will likely make reliable identification more difficult. Just get a cup and a lid with some air holes punched in the top. I appreciate your showing kindness to the helpless creature you’ve caught. I will ID and humanely release.
I have an observation I was fortunate enough to see in person last September (2021) that I’d like to share, including a short video or two I filmed, and a wonderful animation slide made for me by one of our local San Juan Island artists, April Randall, who I asked to illustrate what I witnessed, but did not have an opportunity to record on camera.
We are entering the season – late summer/early fall, when some species of ants and termites send out their winged reproductives, also known in scientific lingo as “alates.” These flying individuals have reached reproductive maturity and their purpose is utilitarian: to fly away from home, mate, and establish a new colony…IF they are lucky enough not to be eaten or fall to some other random fate in nature.
Over the past seven years, I’ve been able to watch as one particular colony of Western Subterranean Termites (Reticulitermes hesperus) sends out their offspring to do exactly this. The event happens annually during the first 12 days of September without fail. They swarm to the surface, exiting en-masse out of the little hole in the ground, to launch out into the great, wide world. The air is filled with their tiny black bodies and translucent wings – wings that last just long enough for them to disperse far enough away from home, so as to not compete with the parent colony.
Many, or probably it would be fair to say “most” of these winged reproductives or alates, aren’t successful, if by defining success, your measure is for them to begin a new colony. However, if you measure success from another perspective – that of Mother Nature, this event is indeed a success – for Mother Nature hasn’t forgotten the food web and the myriad of other species who must forage for food in order to survive.
In the videos below, you will see a close up of these Western Subterranean Termite alates emerging from their underground colony which lies below our driveway in a network of old Douglas fir roots that were cut down long ago by the former homeowner. As “momma” to a bearded dragon, I included some video of my pet, Drago, feasting on these termites as they emerged. Bearded Dragons are known to dine on termites in their native range in Australia, so I thought, “Why not?” Yes, he loves them! What I unfortunately don’t have video footage of is what we saw after we came back into the house. There was a little flock of Yellow-Rumped Warblers waiting for us (mostly for Drago) to leave that spot. As soon as the coast was clear, those little birds were down on the ground, eating the termites as fast as they emerged.
So here’s where I brought April into the picture. April made the animation and I think it’s important because it gives you something to share with your friends about how the food web works – or how it’s supposed to work. It’s also important because many, many people automatically see termites as something bad, a PEST. While that may be true if they are eating your home, it isn’t true in this case.
These termites have never bothered our home (not once in 7 years). We border a wooded area and there is plenty of habitat that termites need for survival. Some pest control operators will tell you right off though, that you have to be proactive. Get rid of the colony. Well, they also want you to PAY them, so don’t believe everything you hear. What I’d like you to consider is how Mother Nature is providing for these little birds – and other species of wildlife. The Warblers (and other wildlife) don’t have a grocery store to pop into whenever they are hungry. They rely on seasonal (often temporary surges) where food is abundant, so they can eat enough, storing energy to survive whenever they can’t find food. Feast or famine is a common theme for wildlife. They may even have to travel for long distances to take advantage of a resource. Because Yellow-Rumped Warblers can live for 6-7 years, they may well remember how to find this exact spot on our property each year.
Please feel free to share with you friends and family. I hope you enjoy the animation. This year, I’m going to be waiting with my camera in hopes of capturing this special moment.
About Reticulitermes hesperus:
Lifespan of a Queen – up to 30 years
Geographic Distribution: along the Pacific Coast (BC-CA-Mexico) east to ID & w. NV
References, Further Reading, and Artist Information
Our native pollinators were slow to emerge this year in the San Juans because of the cool weather. Usually, we can rely on flies, solitary bees and wasps, and even moths, ants, and others to pollinate our fruit trees. I did see some species of flies out this spring, but again, weather conditions were poor.
We have PLENTY of “pollinators” out in our yard right now. So, in trying to explain to people when they ask me about a decline in native pollinators, I have a few points I like to throw out for consideration.
1) honey bees are poor pollinators to keep on the island. It has to be above 50 degrees for them to come out of the hive.
2) native flies and other insects like moths (which fly at night and we don’t typically see) are better at pollinating in cooler temperatures. While they also won’t be out if it’s rainy and super cold, they can fly in temperature ranges lower than 50 degrees F.
3) the critical importance of native pollinators may not be in their “pollination” services – but their role as pest predators and/or role in the food cycle for other organisms, and for creating biodiversity in our ecosystem, which helps keep everything healthier. I think this part is important. If you look at some of the plants we put in our gardens (native perennials), they actually do not require pollination to survive and reproduce, but do offer pollen and nectar to many insects, spiders, and hummingbirds. Looking further at the food web, we need a variety of native insects for more than pollination. Tachinid flies, syrphid flies, solitary wasps, ants, and even spiders can be pollinators, but also help regulate populations of orchard, garden, and forest pests.
My take on all of this is as humans, our focus has largely been on how to grow food over environmental conservation and maintaining balanced, functioning ecosystems. With climate change, many of our food growing operations may fail. Our fruit trees (at least none that I know of) are not native. In spite of the best intentions, conditions may decline to a point where we can’t produce great fruit here. Weather is only one limiting factor. We have poor soils or no soil in many locations, limited water resources, and the pressures of continuing development resulting in loss of natural habitats. I don’t have the answers for you when it comes to fruit production or any way to personally mitigate climate change, so we may have to figure out a substitute for growing apples, plums, and such.
Let’s go back to the importance of native pollinators though. If you think of our island as a living organism with many different functions, it is important to have all the essential pieces to keep the “body” healthy. These native pollinators (and the native plants they visit), and all the other myriad species of invertebrates, fungi, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, soil, water, etc. are all part of the “body,” a body that has to fight off occasional or repeated assaults from being thrown off balance by exposures to external forces. Just like we need a variety of foods and minerals and other things to keep our body healthy, so does an ecosystem. We need all of these pieces (and that includes our native pollinators and all the other diverse species) to keep our island home healthy.
As to the fruit trees and other food crops requiring pollination, for now, some of these issues can be mediated by planting around your orchard and garden with plenty of diverse native species and providing habitat for all of these native species to develop. Some of our practices of cleaning and sanitizing our orchards and gardens, burning yard clippings, and applying fertilizers and pesticides can adversely affect the biodiversity needed to help our food production thrive.
I imagine it can be frustrating to see an orchard fail to produce fruit. My grandparents were tenant farmers and wholly dependent on growing cotton and corn and the bit of garden and livestock they had around the home on the property they did not own. When it was a drought year, and crops failed, things were utterly miserable. Destitute would be a better adjective. I believe we may have an inherent desire to be “part of the land,” and grow our own food, but sometimes, despite our best efforts, conditions aren’t favorable. Crops fail. Historically, we have tried (and failed) to control some of these external forces – like applying pesticides in amounts that probably will poison us forever.
I’ve gone way beyond the “pollinator” topic here, but it is next to impossible for me to see a one-dimensional issue. We have a much larger and more complex picture before us. How do we either re-create or maintain a healthy functioning system, navigate the perils of climate change, and feed ourselves? I like to believe that protecting diversity in our ecosystems is an important facet of this complex, multi-layered crisis we face.
I found this little green beetle (and another sad little black and yellow beetle missing its antennae) in the pool yesterday. The black and yellow beetle is alive and… well, sort of living in a special habitat right now because of those missing antennae.
The green one was completely waterlogged and lifeless. I had left it on the table next to Drago’s enclosure last night, thinking I’d pin it and keep it in my collection. I am SO GLAD I DIDN’T stick it with a pin! This morning, I found it moving those little legs around at me. It was alive! RIP woke up.
This is a Golden Buprestid Beetle (Buprestis aurulenta). They are a native species in the Pacific Northwest. I have referred to them often as the Rip Van Winkle beetle because they take such a long time to develop from egg to adult. In fact, the record is 51 years!
Why so long? Well, the developmental time depends a lot on the quality of what they’re eating (they develop in dead or dying trees) and miscellaneous environmental factors. When they come out as an adult, they leave behind a little oval hole. I think it adds character to your wood trim if you have them “sleeping” in timber used to build your house.
We had one in our door trim that didn’t make it all the way out and probably had been stuck for awhile before I noticed. It became a fascinating object to show anyone who came to visit our home.
I’m not sure what gives them this beautiful iridescence, but they are undeniably one of nature’s jewels, thus the name “Jewel” Beetle.
I’m wondering if anyone is following the grasshopper outbreak in Oregon? If you don’t know about this, I’ll fill you in and include some links. Perhaps we need to round up our “mean-ole, hummingbird murdering mantids” (EXTREME SARCASM HERE!) and send them south to help out. Just kidding. If you read through the attached list of sources, you’ll see in one where they’ve now determined the mantids don’t have much of an impact on controlling grasshoppers (Fries, 2021).
If they are so bad (and from historical reports, they can indeed reach proportions on the scale of a Biblical plague), what do we do about them? Why is there such an outbreak?
Grasshopper populations cycle periodically, but it’s thought they are worst when conditions are dry. One theory is that a fungus that controls populations isn’t viable in these conditions and only works when we have damper weather.
Historically, control methods have been pretty toxic – everything from arsenic bait to other drastic measures – all environmentally hazardous. If you review old agricultural journals, records of exploding grasshopper populations conjure up images of something you’d see in a horror movie, only it was real. Historical photos exist of a landscape stripped of vegetation; bare fields and trees. Handles were eaten off wooden farm implements and fenceposts were eaten too. Crops were lost, people starved. There’s a reason it’s called a PLAGUE. 🦗🦗🦗
So, this is happening now in Oregon. Aphis is coordinating aerial spraying of wide swaths (millions of acres ) of land with an insecticide called diflubenzuron. Studies have shown diflubenzuron reduces populations of bees, butterflies, beetles, and many other species of insects. Aquatic invertebrates consumed by endangered fish and trout are also vulnerable (Xerces Society, 2022). Xerces Society has a federal lawsuit against Aphis to fight this grasshopper managment strategy. Application of this insecticide directly threatens endangered species like yellow-billed cuckoos, black-footed ferrets, bull trout, Ute ladies’-tresses orchids, Oregon spotted frogs and Spalding’s catchflies which are present in multiple states in which the insecticide spraying program operates (Xerces, 2022).
What can we do if we don’t spray? Well, I would encourage folks to look at the studies about the benefits of eating grasshoppers. They aren’t much different than shrimp. At a minimum, they could be netted, dried, and manufactured into feed for poultry, fish, and swine. We have to stop the madness. Dumping chemicals is only bringing our apocalypse closer. We won’t survive. The grasshoppers probably will. 🦗🦗🦗🦗🦗🦗🦗
Lopez-Santamarina A, Mondragon ADC, Lamas A, Miranda JM, Franco CM, Cepeda A. Animal-Origin Prebiotics Based on Chitin: An Alternative for the Future? A Critical Review. Foods. 2020 Jun 12;9(6):782. doi: 10.3390/foods9060782. PMID: 32545663; PMCID: PMC7353569. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7353569/
Shah AA, Totakul P, Matra M, Cherdthong A, Hanboonsong Y, Wanapat M. Nutritional composition of various insects and potential uses as alternative protein sources in animal diets. Anim Biosci. 2022 Feb;35(2):317-331. doi: 10.5713/ab.21.0447. Epub 2022 Jan 4. PMID: 34991214; PMCID: PMC8831828. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8831828/
The Western Tent Caterpillar is probably one of the most studied and also one of the most loathed insects in the Pacific Northwest. I’m hoping to change attitudes by shining a light on some of the ecological facets of the species and how it connects to the larger food web. We often deem something a pest before really considering the whole picture. Is there anything good about a caterpillar eating leaves off a tree? It depends on a lot of factors. Why not take time to examine the web…and I’m not referring to the tent here either.
It was just last week in my community (San Juan Island), that I heard a story about a woman who fell and hit her head after getting on a ladder to BURN the tent caterpillars out of her fruit trees. Hmmm. Please don’t try this at home. It isn’t safe. Burning the tents out of trees can actually do more damage to the tree than the caterpillars do by eating the leaves.
The photos below show something that happens to the tent caterpillars we may not notice in our panic to eradicate them from our trees. The egg on the caterpillar was laid by a parasitic Tachinid fly. It chose the head, so the caterpillar can’t chew it off its body. The egg is shed when the caterpillar molts, but the fly is already developing inside the caterpillar. It will literally eat the caterpillar from the inside out. So, when you clip off those tents and throw them into the fire, you are also killing the natural and best pest predators along with them. Naturus interruptus! We do more harm than good by intervening.
The Western Tent Moth caterpillars are affected by a few other parasitoids. Braconid wasps also attack them. Some lay eggs on the cocoons. There is also a nucleopolyhedrovirus that infects them when populations are high. In my rush to get this out, I may come back and edit, but I’ve referenced lots of great information below so you can read more about this on your own.
To add to all of this, over the weekend, my daughter and I found some tents in the orchard trees on our property. I might just be the ONLY resident in the San Juans excited to see them. Hmmm. Well, what I found was even more interesting. The tents had dead caterpillars inside and living family groups of earwigs. We also found a super cute jumping spider!
I was curious about this because earwigs are known to be garden pests, I did find some studies about earwigs that are PREDATORY on species of Lepidoptera. While these studies addressed other species of moths, the gist was that the plant species sends out a chemical signal that calls pest predators when it is being attacked by caterpillars. Every plant and pest predator sends and responds (respectively) to various signals, some very specific to each relationship. The plant is calling in the army! It may not always be earwigs, but there are wasps, flies, and others that come to aid the plant when it is under attack. Yes, it is very cool!!!
Oh, and those Western Tent Caterpillars turn into adult moths in mid summer. They are attracted to light. Turn off your outdoor lights. Nature will thank you and you will be less attractive to the mating moths. Many moth species also tend to fly off en-masse when they are mate seeking. These periodic, seasonal pulses of terrestrial invertebrates in our region end up in nearshore marine habitats when they fly out over the ocean.
Various studies have surveyed the stomach contents of Chinook and Coho Salmon, and other fishes in nearshore marine habitats during their first year at sea. Two studies I found reported finding Western Tent Moths and Spruce Budworm Moths (species considered as pests in northern boreal forests) in sampled gut contents. Brodeur et al., (1987) reported the following from one survey, “The incidence of several juvenile coho collected after the storm which had stomachs that were distended with over 100 of these insects exemplifies the ability of these juvenile coho to readily exploit these allochthonous inputs into the marine environment.” They were referring to the “pest” species, (Choristoneura occidentalis) or Spruce Budworm Moth in this instance. In Brennan et al. (2002), sampling of salmon in Central Puget Sound found insect prey included Western Tent Moths (Malocosoma sp.), and that “Lepidoptera in 2002 diets were gravimetrically dominated by tent caterpillar moths (Malocosoma sp.) 51% of Lepidoptera category by weight.” They also reported that Lepidoptera in their samples “were only abundant in 2002.” Coincidentally perhaps, this was a year of a recorded outbreak of tent caterpillars in WA state.
Other studies acknowledge terrestrial invertebrates as a better quality food than marine crustaceans for developing salmon. Periodic, cyclic, or seasonal events resulting in abundant insect flotsam in marine habitats may be missed, or difficult to record, but undoubtedly play a role in feeding fish in nearshore marine habitats.
Take away point here. Even bugs we see as pests have a role in ecosystems. Salmon and other species of wildlife don’t have grocery stores to visit when they need a meal. They rely on seasonal and periodic availability of food. It’s all they have, and it’s important for us to appreciate that.
Please take a moment to scroll through some of the photos below. Definitely check out the fantastic animation by April Randall about the adult moths flying out over the shoreline and being eaten by salmon! Don’t miss checking out those references and reading material too. If you are curious to know more, shoot me an email and I’m happy to send you literature for further reading.
References and Further Reading
Bell, K., Naranjo-Guevara, N., Santos, R., Meadow, R., & Bento, J. (2020). Predatory Earwigs are Attracted by Herbivore-Induced Plant Volatiles Linked with Plant Growth-Promoting Rhizobacteria. Insects, 11(5), 271. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11050271
Cooper, Dawn & Cory, Jenny & Theilmann, David & Myers, Judith. (2003). Nucleopolyhedroviruses of forest and western tent caterpillars: Cross-infectivity and evidence for activation of latent virus in high-density field populations. Ecological Entomology. 28. 41 – 50. 10.1046/j.1365-2311.2003.00474.x.
Furniss RL, Carolin VM. 1977. Western forest insects. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, D.C. Miscellaneous Publication 1339. 654 p.
Knight, G. A.; Lavigne, R. J.; and Pogue, M. G. 1991. “The Parasitoid Complex of Forest Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma Disstria (Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae), in Eastern Wyoming Shelterbelts,” The Great Lakes Entomologist, vol 24 (4) Available at: https://scholar.valpo.edu/tgle/vol24/iss4/7
Rodstrom, R & Resources, Greenwood & Portland, Oregon & John, J & Brown, John. (2017). FOREST AND WESTERN TENT CATERPILLARS Insect Pest Management in Hybrid Poplars Series. 10.13140/RG.2.2.24262.37442.
Witter JA, Kuhlman HM. 1972. A review of the parasites and predators of tent caterpillars (Malacosoma spp.) in North America. Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. Technical Bulletin 289. 48 p.
Additional References***Updated 06.23.2022
Brennan, J.S., K.F. Higgins, J.R. Cordell, and V.A. Stamatiou. 2004. Juvenile Salmon Composition, Timing Distribution, and Diet in Marine Nearshore Waters of Central Puget Sound in 2001-2002. King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, Seattle Wa. 164pp.
Brodeur, R. D., Mundy, B. C., Pearcy, W. G., & Wisseman, R. W. 1987. The neustonic fauna in coastal waters of the northeast Pacific: abundance, distribution, and utilization by juvenile salmonids. Oregon State University Publication ORESU-T-87-001.
Brodeur, R. D. (1989). Neustonic feeding by juvenile salmonids in coastal waters of the Northeast Pacific. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 67(8), 1995-2007.
Brodeur, R. D., Lorz, H. V., & Pearcy, W. G. (1987). Food habits and dietary variability of pelagic nekton off Oregon and Washington, 1979-1984. NOAA Technical Report NMFS 57. U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service.
Cheng L, Birch M. 2008. Insect flotsam: an unstudied marine resource. Ecol Entomol 3:87–97.
Cheng L. 1975. Marine pleuston: animals at the sea-air interface. Oceanogr Mar Biol Annu Rev. 13:181–212.
Cheng, L., M. C. Birch. 2009. Terrestrial insects at sea. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 57, 4, (995-997).
DNR TreeLink. Tenting in the Trees. 2012. WSU Extension Puget Sound Stewardship E-Newletter 5:4
Drake, V.A., D. R. Reynolds, Radar Entomology: Observing Insect Flight and Migration (CABI, Wallingford, UK, 2012).
Duffy, E.J., D.A. Beauchamp, R. Sweeting, R. Beamish, and J. Brennan. 2010. Ontogenetic diet shifts of juvenile Chinook salmon in nearshore and offshore habitats of Puget Sound. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 139:803-823.
Glick P. 1939. The distribution of insects, spiders, and mites in the air. Washington D.C.: US Department of Agriculture.
Green K., 2011. The transport of nutrients and energy into the Australian Snowy Mountains by migrating bogong moths Agrotis infusa. Austral. Ecol.36, 25–34.
Gutierrez, L. 2011. Terrestrial invertebrate prey for juvenile Chinook salmon: Abundance and environmental controls on an interior Alaskan river. MS Thesis, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK.
Hardy AC, Cheng L. 1986. Studies in the distribution of insects by aerial currents. III. Insect drift over the sea. Ecol Entomol. 113:283–90.
Helm RR. 2021. The mysterious ecosystem at the ocean’s surface. Plos Biology. Apr;19(4):e3001046.
Holland RA, Wikelski M, Wilcove DS. How and why do insects migrate? Science. 2006 Aug 11;313(5788):794-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1127272. PMID: 16902129.
Hu G, Lim KS, Horvitz N, Clark SJ, Reynolds DR, Sapir N, Chapman JW. Mass seasonal bioflows of high-flying insect migrants. Science. 2016 Dec 23;354(6319):1584-1587. doi: 10.1126/science.aah4379. PMID: 28008067.
Landry J. S., Parrott L., Could the lateral transfer of nutrients by outbreaking insects lead to consequential landscape-scale effects? Ecosphere7, e01265 (2016).
Locke, A., S. Corey. 1986. Terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates in the neuston of the Bay of Fundy, Canada. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 64(7): 1535-1541. https://doi.org/10.1139/z86-228
Satterfield, Dara & Sillett, T & Chapman, Jason & Altizer, Sonia & Marra, Peter. 2020. Seasonal insect migrations: massive, influential, and overlooked. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 18. 10.1002/fee.2217.
Hello Everyone! Meet my new bug friend, Radar Love ❤️ He must have crashed the wrong party. Radar gone wrong! I found him floating in our pool, in the midst of those raucous “dippers” (the Diplotaxis beetles). Radar Love was so happy I didn’t let him drown, and even happier that I didn’t stick him with a pin and add him to the bug equivalent of a stamp collection. We hung out together for a bit and I took some photos and video to remember him by. Radar Love was released into the forest so he can make more of his kind.
Location: San Juan Island
ID: Geotruipidae (Odonteus obsesus)
Special thanks to my friend, Michelle Sloan Bos and Tyler Hedlund for ID assistance with this. I was rushing to get ready for my special spider outing. More about that later. For now, enjoy this rare and exciting sighting of a most special little beetle that calls San Juan Island his home.
When you study insects, or even birds for that matter, you start to understand you have to get to know plants a bit too. It’s all connected.
Plants (including trees and shrubs) provide food and shelter for many different species of animals. Admittedly, I just don’t know a lot about the parts of plants, beyond things like a tree trunk, bark, limbs, branches, leaves, or stems or flowers, nuts, fruit. The obvious parts.
There are some not so obvious parts. Like these extrafloral nectaries. Huh? Sounds weird. Keep reading.
Extrafloral nectaries (EFN’s) are glands occurring on more than 2000 plant species in 64 families. Extrafloral literally means outside of the flower. When we think of nectar, we usually think of little bees and hummingbirds flying around, visiting pretty flowers to sip nectar and in the process, pollinate all of our plants. It’s just that plants are a bit more complex. These glands are located in various places on plants (including trees and shrubs), and may be found on the laminae of leaves, petioles, rachids, bracts, stipules, pedices, fruit, etc. (Mizell, 2019).
These glandular secretions are a fascinating part of how plants attract and sustain a diverse, ecological community, providing sustenance for a multitude of species, including both pests and predators. You can find ants, aphids, beetles (including ladybugs), bees, wasps, and possibly even birds utilizing this excretory faucet to sip what consists of mostly carbohydrate-rich sugar, but also comprised of a wide array of amino acids and other nutrients.
Why are these important? Well, scientists are still trying to fully understand all of the diverse relationships around extra-floral nectaries. It is thought perhaps, beyond attracting organisms to a food source, they play a role in orchestrating a plant’s defense strategy against predators. They also are believed to provide a source of food and/or beneficial nutrients for various organisms during the off-season – when flowering and pollen sources are not available. They may also reduce conflict between ants and other pollinators by partitioning resources (Villamil & Stone, 2019).
Bentley, B. L. (1977). Extrafloral nectaries and protection by pugnacious bodyguards. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 8(1), 407-427.
Holopainen JK, Blande JD, Sorvari J. Functional Role of Extrafloral Nectar in Boreal Forest Ecosystems under Climate Change. Forests. 2020; 11(1):67. https://doi.org/10.3390/f11010067
Villamil, N., Boege, K., & Stone, G. N. (2019). Testing the Distraction Hypothesis: Do extrafloral nectaries reduce ant-pollinator conflict?. The Journal of ecology, 107(3), 1377–1391. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13135
Did you know spiders don’t just eat bugs? That’s right! You can amaze your friends when you share your knowledge about our eight-legged friends chowing down at the salad bar.
Researchers have observed various species of spiders (over 60 species worldwide) feeding on plant foods to supplement their invertebrate prey (Nyffeler et al. 2016). What exactly does this mean? Are they going to eat the leaves of your garden plants? Nah! Not to worry. They are primarily pest predators in your garden – little helpers to keep those aphids away.
Spiders have long been thought to only consume insects and other invertebrates. However, in recent studies, we are finding this isn’t entirely the case. Observations of spiders foraging in nature has broadened our understanding of the diets of our arachnid friends. Our prior assumptions were incorrect. Spiders actually eat pollen grains, floral and extra-floral nectar, Beltian and Müllerian bodies (structures produced by plants on their leaf tips or petioles, plant sap, honeydew (a plant-derived sugar produced by homopteran insects like aphids), seeds, spores, and even the vegetative material in the guts of their invertebrate prey (Nyffeler et al. 2016).
I found several papers on this topic, but one of the most interesting to me talked about how pollen is an important source of protein for spiders in early spring when prey may be scarce. It also pointed out that pollen is a critical food source for newly hatched spiderlings. Baby Orbweavers for instance. We have these here in the San Juans. They are delightful!
Well, since the pollen floats through the air, quite a lot will stick to webs, landing exactly where the little spiders can easily access it. Smith and Mommsen (1984) even found that Orb Weaver spiderlings doubled their life expectancy by eating pollen. Eggs and Sanders (2013) concur that pollen is an important dietary supplement for Orb Weaver spiders and found that juvenile orb weaving spiders’ diets consist of approximately 25% pollen.
So, now you know! Our little spider friends, or some of them at least, are more complex than we knew. It’s a good reminder about how important it is to eat a varied and healthy diet. We can put this into practice ourselves. Good nutrition is vital for health and survival – for all living beings.
Nostalgia reigns over the little European (now re-named Western) honey bee (Apis mellifera). We think of honey in terms of “liquid gold” or perhaps reminiscent of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, gobbing it all over himself as he dips his paw into the honey jar. Honey bees are indeed important pollinators, and the economic driver of the honey industry. You can stick the almond industry in along with them because, “without honey bees, we wouldn’t have almonds, right!” More on this if you keep reading.
If you delve into how we use honey bees for pollination, it’s hard not to be sympathetic to the plight of the honey bee. Going back to the almond industry, I can tell you it isn’t pretty. Here, and in other monoculture systems, the honey bee must collect pollen and nectar from one, single, solitary food source. Then that bee and her hive family are loaded onto a truck with many other hives, and delivered to yet another industrial monocrop to do the same thing again. Maybe this time it’s an apple orchard, or soybeans, or sunflowers. In every instance though, the nutrient deficiencies can’t be ignored. Honey bees need a diverse array of nutrients just like every other living organism. They aren’t healthy because of how we are keeping (and exploiting) them (McGivney 2020).
The honey industry brought in $321.22 million U.S. dollars in 2021 (Statistica, 2022). They are packed and stacked in boxes, driven across the country, unloaded in unfamiliar territory, hunger staved off temporarily with a jar of high fructose corn syrup, or sugar water (if they’re lucky), while they familiarize themselves with the new surroundings, and are off to work immediately. They are unpaid transient workers. Valued, and needed, but treated much like the migrant workers we count on to move about the country picking our food crops.
Of course, we are told, the nation won’t eat if we don’t have bees! Partly, this is true. The part that needs clarifying is, Which bees exactly do we need to pollinate our food crops?
I’ll disclose here that I am a former honey bee keeper. Former being the point! I quit. I became enlightened. Not by the unrealized dreams of liquid gold, not from stings received, but rather by the dings of my brain firing at the connections I started to make from my observations and from searching for scientific literature that supported what I was observing.
When I was working on my MS in Entomology and Nematology from the University of Florida, I took a beekeeping course as part of my curriculum. Part of the requirement for the course was to shadow other beekeepers and set up a hive of my own. I enthusiastically set off on these tasks. Keeping my own hives was an incredibly fascinating experience.
Here in our island community, I mentored high school students who set up a hive at the community garden and gave several public talks to various organizations as part of their senior project. I’ve acted as a consultant for other beekeepers, loaned out beekeeping equipment, suits, literature, and several extension agencies have used photos I took of honey bee queens and varroa mites in their educational materials.
Keeping honey bees was fascinating. Yes, I was stung, but it was mesmerizing to watch them working. At one place that I lived, I kept them just outside of my daughter’s bedroom, and to open the window and smell the honey bees was like entering heaven. It was intoxicating.
As to my success in keeping honey bees on San Juan Island, I can tell you it’s a mixed bag. My longest-lived colony survived three years. Mostly, later in the season, the bees would be attacked by wasps, and the hives completely raided. Honey bees died in winter from a lack of food and reduced numbers. Bees ball up together inside the hive in winter. If the population is small, they just can’t generate enough heat to stay warm.
For a few years, I bought new packages of bees. That was also a mixed bag. Some years, the queen died right away. Other packages of bees came with varroa mites. Most packaged bees for purchase are available after they’ve already been at work in other parts of the country pollinating in crop systems where the climate is warmer. They’re worn out and not necessarily healthy.
You see, many people selling bees to hobby beekeepers also make money from renting bees for crop pollination. The queens are reared separately and artificially inseminated. When your package of bees is packed for shipping, they plop the newly fertilized queen into the box with the tired little workers who have been to California, Nebraska, Iowa, or who knows where else before they arrive for you to pick up. As these packaged bees became more and more expensive, my “hobby” was yielding the most expensive, tiny jar of honey you could ever imagine.
There were multiple other things I observed when keeping bees. Like they would gang up on the poor, solitary bumble bee trying to feed on the single dandelion in the yard and kill it. Not the dandelion. They killed the bumble bee.
They actually killed a lot of bumble bees from my observations. I didn’t like it. I also quickly noted that with our cool spring climate, the honey bees didn’t like to come out of the hive until sometime in May or June, way after all the trees had flowered. Honey bees don’t like to fly unless the temperature is over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I was making a lot of sugar water for them. In case you haven’t noticed, the price of sugar is becoming quite expensive.
That’s another thing. Sugar water is nutrient poor. Honey bees, or pretty much any other organism will never thrive on sugar water alone. It would be like giving your kid cans of Pepsi or Coca Cola every day and nothing else. Of course, they would not be healthy. They’d probably have a shortened life and die before they became a teenager. Honey bees, humans, and pretty much every other organism on the planet needs a diversity of nutrients to survive. Who out there remembers taking a Fred Flintstone vitamin tablet as a kid? Well, there’s a minimum daily requirement for more than humans. Honey bees need a diversity of flowers, trees, mineral rich soil, and clean water to thrive. They also need to collect anywhere from 20-130 lbs per year of pollen and 120-900 lbs per year of nectar, to sustain ONE hive (Goulson, 2003).
So, don’t we have those things out here in the San Juans? Hmmm. Let’s see. Spring temps don’t warm up until after fruit trees, forest trees, and lots of other native shrubs have already flowered or set off pollen. Our soils are poor and deficient in certain minerals like selenium. There’s a LOT of bedrock, but obviously we have some parcels that are exceptions. Summers are hot and dry. I doubt even in a good season, there’s enough pollen and nectar to support all the hobby hives we have now in the islands.
If you’ve lived here for a few seasons, you might note that summer going into fall we have a dearth of vegetation. Pretty much the only wild plants blooming are our non-native Tansy and California Poppies. Of course, the noxious weed folks urge us to pull all the Tansy. It’s toxic. We should do our best to remove it when possible because if you are keeping bees (and continue to do so after reading this), you don’t want Tansy pollen or nectar in your honey. It will damage your liver.
Back to making my point. What bees are we supposed to save? 1. Honey bees? or 2. Those other bees that don’t give honey, but might actually be better suited for pollinating things we have in the San Juans?
If you pick 2, you’re trending along with me. As an entomologist, I can suggest that supporting native bee species will be much healthier and sustainable for our fragile island ecosystem. Why? Well, native bees are already suited for this geographic climate. Bumble bees, Andrena bees, Mining Bees, Leafcutter bees, along with flies, wasps, beetles, moths, ants, and even spiders are all pollinators that work well in our island habitat. In fact, flies are probably one of our most effective early pollinators for fruit trees in the San Juans.
But won’t honey bees pollinate too? What about my garden plants or my orchard trees? Well, again, it’s really not an optimal climate. If you are still holding out, I can offer additional research that might be convincing. While not particularly applicable to the San Juans, since as I’ve already stated, honey bees aren’t going to be flying when our orchard trees are blooming, current research in mainland agro-ecosystems is indicating that wild bees actually increase fruit set in apple orchards (Mallinger & Gratton, 2014), and strawberries pollinated by wild bees are larger than strawberries pollinated by honey bees (MacInness and Forest, 2019). That’s only two papers, but if you take time to go through and read these, look at their references. You’ll find additional citations indicating similar findings in other studies.
What if we ignore everything you’ve written here and keep ordering packages of honey bees?
Good question. Certainly, you are within your right to order honey bees and keep them. Some folks may be determined to try and raise bees in an attempt to get honey. All I can say to that is good luck! I personally have switched from using honey to using agave as a sweetener, or quit using sweeteners altogether. It’s a personal choice, but also motivated by my own economics as well as my concern for preserving a diverse and sustainable population of invertebrates and conserving diverse and healthily functioning ecosystems. Also, please don’t interpret my position as “anti-agriculture.” That wouldn’t be fair. We have to eat, but I do believe in progress and making better choices as the planet becomes more populated. There are a LOT of people to feed. We need to figure out how to do this sustainably, without displacing our diversity of wildlife or injuring the planet’s ability to support life.
It’s a fact that native bees are being displaced in ecosystems under pressure from loss of habitat and competition from managed honey bees. In their 2018 literature review, Hatfield et al., state that “honey bees displace native bees from flowers, alter the suite of flowers native bees visit, and have a negative impact on native bee reproduction.” Citing Anderson & Anderson 1989; Paton 1990, 1996; Wills et al. 1990; Dafni & Shmida 1996; Horskins & Turner 1999, Hatfield et al., continue by stating, “honey bees potentially impact native bee species by removing available supplies of nectar and pollen,” essentially outcompeting native pollinators who are left without enough food to survive and reproduce.
How many hobby bee keepers are in the San Juan Islands? Are there enough to impact native populations of pollinators? Doubtful we could come up with an accurate number or assessment. It would be great to have a count and map of locations of honey bee hives in the islands. The Washington State Department of Agriculture does have a requirement for beekeepers to register their hives annually with the state (WSDA 2022). This isn’t set up to harass beekeepers, but to be able to contact you should there be an issue of concern, ranging from disease to threats from non-native species such as the Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarinia), a species the state is tracking to prevent further spread. If hobby beekeepers are adhering to state laws by registering their hives, scientists will be better at assessing the impact of honey bees on populations of native pollinator species, especially under the unknown parameters of a warming earth.
What are my recommendations? Well, I’ve shared why I quit keeping honey bees. We have a small orchard and keep a little vegetable garden where my husband helps me grow some strawberries, tomatoes, peas, salad greens, and a few other things. The past few seasons, because of my affinity for bug viewing over gardening, I planted some things near my garden plants that I knew would attract pollinators. For instance, I have Nepeta varieties of catmint near my tomatoes. Those purpley-blue flowers on the catmint attract all sorts of pollinators who also happen to visit my tomatoes, peas, strawberries, and more.
Judging from the diverse collection of bugs (and birds) in our garden/orchard area, I don’t believe we need any honey bees at all for pollination. I love watching the varied native bees, especially the fuzzy bumble bees that pollinate our tomato plants. Oh, one last thing! These native pollinators aren’t out to defend a colony like the social honey bees. This means they are WAY less likely to sting you. Oh, I’ve sustained a sting or two from an occasional bumble bee, but that was because they were hanging out on my blue yoga pants, and I accidentally squeezed them when I was squatting down to pull some weeds. Bugs love the colors blue, purple, and black. I learned my lesson. Now I wear blah, sand-colored clothes when I’m gardening.
Thanks for reading. I hope you will consider my points. This is not meant to be an indictment against honey bees or honey bee keepers, merely a perspective on the impacts we may have on our island ecosystem in keeping honey bees. The bumble bees, and other native pollinators will appreciate not being displaced. They’re worth saving, and thank you for recognizing their role in our food web.
Goulson, D. 2003. Effects of introduced bees on native ecosystems. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 34:1-26.
Hatfield, R.G., S. Jepsen, M. Vaughn, S. Black, E. Lee-Mäder. 2018. An Overview of the Potential Impacts of Honey Bees to Native Bees, Plant Communities, and Ecosystems in Wild Landscapes: Recommendations for Land Managers. 12pp. Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
Mallinger, R.E. and Gratton, C., 2015. Species richness of wild bees, but not the use of managed honeybees, increases fruit set of a pollinator-dependent crop. J Appl Ecol. 52: 323-330. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.12377
Yesterday I was the lifeguard. And, I had swimmers needing saving!
Here’s one of the species I used a piece of cardboard to rescue from drowning. This is a beetle in the family Histeridae, also known as a Clown Beetle. I told him no more clowning around without a life jacket. 🤣 Watch as it wrings its hindwings out, rolling them in under the leathery elytra (the outer wings).
I believe this beetle is in the genus Margarinotus. For ID beyond this, I’d need more time and a lot of patience. However, I can tell you I’ve learned some species of Hister beetles are associated with the nests of rodents, birds, and even ants and termites. They are pest predators, meaning they eat other insects at all life stages. They also are especially adept predators of fly eggs. You can often find them in leaf litter, dung, carrion, and under tree bark, or living in those ant mounds where they may be fed by ants, eat the leftovers the ants discard, or in some cases, they eat the ants!
Some other curious tidbits about these beetles include their acting ability. They play dead (Thanatosis) to deter predators. The word Hister is derived from Latin and means “Actor.”
Bugs like Blue. I found a bunch of these little ones yesterday floating on the surface of our above ground pool. They were also all along the outside of the pool (which is blue). I scooped out all the ones that were struggling in the water and watched as this one dried itself off. It reminded me of watching my cats grooming after finishing a meal of Fancy Feast wet cat food.
A Soft-Winged Flower Beetle, these are in the family Melyridae (Genus Listrus). At only about 2 mm in size, they were indeed pretty tiny. Listrus beetles feed on both pollen and nectar. They are covered with dense setae (little hairs) that pollen easily adheres to. Check out the paper reference below and learn how they have been recognized as one of the most important pollinators of plants in Western North America.
Some of you might cringe at the idea of standing below a porch light while an eclipse of moths (yep, that’s what a group of moths are called) are whirling and gyrating around your head. I find it fascinating, even as they hit at my face or hair, before bouncing back towards the light or disappearing off in the dark night.
Camera in hand, I wait for them to settle on the wood siding beneath the glow. Stealthily, I focus my lens to capture the delicate shimmer of scales and patterns, or eyes and antennae of my subject. Last night, I actually felt I was the one being observed.
This particular moth is in the genus Hypena. The species is Hypena decorata. It is a medium sized (15-18mm), somewhat drab moth. This species is sexually dimorphic – meaning the males look differently than the females. Males are slightly larger than females, with sooty brown forewings marked with two white spots near the apex or bottom edge of the wing.
Food/host plants for Hypena decorata are nettles (Urtica spp.) in the Urticaceae. These moths range from BC to Southern California. There appears to be two broods per year (April and August). Adults come to lights and can be found flying from April to September.
While this may appear to be merely another drab, ordinary moth, I want to show you the photos I took of the male and the nearby female last night. I missed it when I first went through my photos, but the second time around, it definitely appeared that the male moth was turning his head to watch me. Sort of like how Drago, my dragon lizard will do the same thing.
It’s a mysterious world, and much more rich when we recognize we aren’t the only ones that are aware. Some humans (I’m ashamed of researchers for this) do horrible things like cut off moths antennae to try and figure out how they fly (or can’t fly after being mutilated in this way). If we could only recognize they have a desire to live, find mates, food, and shelter – just like humans, maybe we would care more.
References and Further Reading
Bradley H. Dickerson, Zane N. Aldworth, Thomas L. Daniel; Control of moth flight posture is mediated by wing mechanosensory feedback. J Exp Biol 1 July 2014; 217 (13): 2301–2308. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.103770
Author’s note – When it comes to experimenting on living beings, the aim of science shouldn’t always be to prove a hypothesis. Sometimes we need only to experience the extraordinary wonder of meeting the spirit within some of earth’s most unassuming characters. Be kind to those around you. Even the ones with scales and chitin.
I found another species of Sawfly in our above ground pool today. This one is entirely black. Size is approximately 7-8mm. This looks to be in the genus Dolerus. From what I’ve found about host plants, it looks like the larvae feed on most grasses and horsetail. Females deposit eggs into the plant tissue where they hatch and the larvae will feed for approximately one month before exiting and pupating overwinter in the surrounding soil. There is one generation (univoltine) per year and adults emerge in early spring. Adults are recorded as feeding on tree sap from Maple (Acer), Apple (Malus), and Pear (Pyrus). They also take nectar from Willow (Salix) flowers, and from Cherry and Plum (Prunus) flowers. This means they do provide some pollination activity.
Looks like WWU Biology Department is working on a web page for Sawfly identification, but it’s not up and running yet. You can find their link below and bookmark it to check out at a later date.
References and Further Reading
Baine Q, Looney C (2019) Plant associations for three sawfly species (Hymenoptera, Tenthredinidae) in the Pacific Northwest. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 74: 27–33. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.74.46795
Looney C, Smith DR, Collman SJ, Langor DW, Peterson MA (2016) Sawflies (Hymenoptera, Symphyta) newly recorded from Washington State. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 49: 129–159. doi: 10.3897/JHR.49.7104
I’d really love it if I could rename this moth. Strawberry muppet heart moth is what I’d call it. Check out the little heart-shaped markings on it’s wings.
Orthosia transparens is a medium sized (15-17mm) , brownish red Noctuid moth that flies in our region in early spring. The common name for the species is Transparent Quaker Moth. Caterpillar food plants include salal (Gaultheria shallon), madrone (Arbutus menziesii), and rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum). This species is native to the PNW region and not considered pests of economic significance. A map of the geographic distribution can be accessed here – http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=10479
Noctuidae is the family with the awful common name, “cutworm,” which leads folks to deem them evil little garden gremlins that should be stomped on or tossed out on the ground for birds to scavenge. Not all cutworms are bad, and certainly many more of us would embrace them if we knew they were going to turn out to be so cute.
I’m fine with a bit of herbivory on our salal, madrone, and rhododendrons. These little Strawberry Muppets are welcome to fly to my porch light any spring night.
I found this tiny bee who looked to be stuck to a thorn on my Bois D’Arc tree this afternoon. At first glance, I thought perhaps a March fly, and a dead one at that, but it turned out this is a most likely a “he” Nomad bee, and he wasn’t stuck at all, but just sleeping.
I learned something new today about bees that I did not know. My friend, Eric Eaton’s wife (link to Eric’s book about wasps in my Read More section) , shared with me that some bees will often sleep in this manner, attached to a substrate like this thorn or a twig, by their mandibles. Thanks Heidi! 🙂
My bee was definitely gripping the end of the thorn with its mandibles. Before I found out my bee was only napping, I wasn’t certain what was going on. I worried maybe the bee had fallen victim to some weird fungus and was now locked in a death vise. Worries unfounded! The little bee released his grip as I was about to clip the end of the twig (with bee attached) and take it into the house to view under the microscope.
Nomad bees are pretty cool. They are cuckoo bees, cleptoparasites of other bees (usually Andrena bees or Melitta bees) and target the nest provisions gathered by the host bees for their own young. Nomad bees will find the nests of host bees using olfactory and visual cues. The fertilized female will lay her eggs in these nests, where her offspring will develop after devouring the offspring of the host bee, and eating the food the host parent had provisioned.
Check out the video footage of this little bee as he woke up this afternoon and read more about Nomad bees in the attached links in my Read More section.
What adjective would you use to describe a cutworm? Perhaps pest? Something like the evil caterpillar, Mister Mind, one of Captain Marvel’s archenemies in the DC comic strip series?
If you’re a gardener, the name “cutworm” may conjure up an evil worm that wants to eat your vegetables.
If you have a lawn or own a golf course, cutworms may be the gremlins that destroy turf grass. Now personally, I think five year olds should make policy around cutworms because there aren’t many five year olds who actually WANT to eat their veggies. They’ll see reason in defending the cutworm gremlin.
I’m not a golfer, and don’t have a lawn, so I personally don’t care too much if cutworms munch turf grass. Those sites should be classified as biohazard sites right along with nuclear waste if you ask me. They’ve had so many chemicals dumped on them over the years, they can’t be anything but noxious, environmentally toxic sponges.
Seriously, stop for a moment and Google “cutworm.” What pops up? Ads for every sort of pesticide imaginable. There may a be one or two advertised as “Safer” (yep, that’s a brand name), or natural, but they are designed with the same, single, solitary mission. Nuke the cutworm.
How many average American citizens do you think, can really distinguish between one sort of cutworm or another? Did you know the name, cutworm, is used to describe the larval or caterpillar form of a whole grouping of Lepidoptera that fall into the family Noctuidae?
If you’re really into bugs, or you are an entomologist (like me), then you also might know that the family Noctuidae has another name. These so-called cutworms (some are also called army worms) are the OWLET MOTHS. Why do you think? Well, because when they grow up, they look so unbelievably cute – like owls. Also, like this one! I named him Henry!
Henry is the cutest little dude around. His scientific name is Stretchia muricina. I think that name sounds a little bit Italian to me, but he’s not part of the mafia. Actually, Henry looks more like a teeny little lion or maybe even like Orson the Wheely Bird in Sid and Marty Krofft’s late 60’s TV show, HR PufnStuff.
Whatever YOU see when you look at Henry, you’ve got to agree that he’s cute.
Henry used to be a cutworm. People are trying to kill him!
Henry isn’t a horrible garden pest though. When Henry was a caterpillar, he was more interested in eating a bit of your native currants. Sure, we all love to look at the beautiful flowers on our currants in the springtime, but he didn’t eat the flowers. He just ate a few leaves. There aren’t many cutworms like Henry. Just a few. They aren’t the same as the massive hoards of army worms that show up in the grass, or the cutworms that want to enjoy your newly sprouted veggies.
It’s pretty tough for a regular person to positively ID a caterpillar, so Henry recommends resisting the urge to grab that powder, spray, or torch. Don’t judge all cutworms to be evil. There are some tools you can take advantage of to help you sort caterpillars. Take a look at these links below and embrace diversity in the world. Caterpillars have feelings too!
Calscape.org https://calscape.org – Lists plants and invertebrates associated with plants. While some may be out of our region, many do overlap. Extremely useful. I wish WSU had one of these sites!
Check out the rest of Henry’s adorable photos here. I found him last night hanging out on our deck. He was afraid of me at first and actually played dead (the entomological term for that is Thanatosis, so you can impress your family and friends). Once Henry figured out I had no intent to harm, he decided to pose and show off a bit. After his photoshoot, Henry went back to his spot on the wood siding.
The bugs in the snow in this photo are isopods, commonly known as woodlice. Jason sent the photo to me after finding them on top of the snow, scattered about, alive, but moving slowly. He asked if I might know why they were out in such cold weather like this. At the time, I could only speculate, but did some reading and came up with a possibility that could answer this curiosity.
The literature I sourced suggests that isopods like these can be infected with a helminth parasite capable of altering behavior. Several published scientific papers specifically investigated the Acanthocephalan parasite (Plagiorhynchus cylindraceus), also known as the Spiny or Thorny-head worm parasitizing isopods. For the curious, the name Ancanthcephalan comes from Greek akantha, and kephale; head, referring to the rows of hooks or spines encircling the head of the worm.
In this relationship, the acanthocephalan parasitic worm (P. cylindraceus) is what is referred to as an indirect or two-host parasite, meaning it uses two animals to complete its developmental life cycle. It is also an endoparasite, developing internally in an animal (as opposed to ectoparasite – developing on the outside of the animal).
The isopod is the initial host in this parasitic cycle. In feeding on terrestrial detritus, the acanthocephalan parasite’s eggs are ingested. The eggs exist in the environment after being excreted in the feces of songbirds, especially the American Robin (Turdus migratorius), and European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris).
Within hours of ingestion by the isopod, P.cylindraceus eggs hatch into larvae. These tiny larvae with spines soon mature into a form called a cystacanth, burrowing through the intestinal cavity of the isopod where they lodge into the body cavity, remaining attached to the intestine by a stalk. This site of attachment is important in that the worms lack their own digestive system and must gain nutrients via the host’s dietary intake. Over approximately 60-65 days, the cystocanths continue to grow and develop sexual organs. At the end of this period they are now mature enough to infest the next host (a bird).
While the exact mechanism remains unknown, the worms alter the behavior of the isopod making it “suicidal” or more susceptible to becoming prey and eaten by a bird. It is suspected that biochemical cues are responsible for inducing these behavioral changes.
Scientists have recorded infected individuals of these isopods leaving sheltered leaf litter where they are concealed, and moving into open areas where they are more visible to predators and more likely to be eaten. Inside the bird host, the worm resides in the small intestine, where it continues to grow, often becoming as long as 15 mm. At the end of development in the bird host, reproductively mature, fertilized female worms produce eggs that are excreted in the bird’s feces, repeating the cycle.
Are the isopods Jason found in the snow parasitized? Possibly. It may remain a mystery, but an intriguing one indeed.
Amato, José F. R., Amato, Suzana B., Araujo, Paula B., & Quadros, Aline F. (2003). First report of pigmentation dystrophy in terrestrial isopods, Atlantoscia floridana (van Name) (Isopoda, Oniscidea), induced by larval acanthocephalans. Revista Brasileira de Zoologia, 20(4), 711-716. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0101-81752003000400026
Nickol, B., and G. E. Dappen (1982). Armadillidum vulgare (Isopoda) as an intermediate host of Plagiorhynchus cylindraceus (Acanthocephala) and isopod response to infection. Journal of Parasitology 68(4) 570-575. https://www.jstor.org/stable/328091
I picked up these acorns (Quercus sp.) when I visited my folks recently in Texas. They have several oak trees on their property and there was an abundance of acorns all over the ground this year, so I brought a few home with me in a ziplock bag. I like acorns. My mom used to draw little faces on them and I had acorn “people” to play with when I was a child.
I also found a very cool bug under one of those oak trees while I was there. This strange looking creature is one of the Nut and Acorn Weevils (Curculio sp). It has an extremely long snout. When you find out how this weevil uses it to DRILL, you may be amazed. The adult female weevil will use this drill on her very long snout to make a hole in those acorns!
Keep reading. It really is amazing.
A female weevil will make a hole in the acorn so she can put her eggs inside it!
Because I like word games, I thought I’d point out to you that rearranging the letters in the word weevil will make the words “we live?” Well, those eggs hatch into baby weevils who LIVE in a little house that is an acorn (and sometimes in other nuts too). Some folks call them grubs or worms. They are actually the larvae of the adult weevil mom who selected the acorn for her nursery.
If you are assessing this situation from an agricultural perspective (say that nut is a pecan), invested in harvesting a profitable crop, you might be feeling very worried. Sometimes the worry may indeed be justified, but in many cases, like with these acorns, the tree has evolved a strategy to deal with occasional waves of weevils and other insects we consider pests. In actuality, they are just utilizing the resources of the tree like we do when WE (the humans) eat the nut or fruit.
I’m going to name the trees’ strategy of dealing with this bug FEAR NO WEEVIL. However, the actual scientific moniker for this strategy (and it applies to other pests and adverse weather stressors as well) is MASTING. The word mast has been used since way back in the Middle Ages to refer to the acorns and seeds of forest trees that drop and accumulate on the ground. It comes from Old English, mæst. Essentially, masting is an ecological term referring to the highly variable and often synchronized periodic cycles of fruiting/seeding in the reproductive processes of trees (both forest and fruit trees).
How is it a strategy for circumventing the deleterious affects of pests? Well, the idea is that in some years, bumper crops of nuts and seeds are produced in order to satiate the predators, so some are left to germinate and continue new generations. In this particular case, you could think of it as the oak trees sacrificing some of their offspring to the weevil gods. When there are more acorns than there are adult female weevils, some of those acorns will escape the weevil drill and makeover into little bug nurseries.
In reality, this relationship is much more complicated. In some cases, acorns parasitized by only a few weevil larvae will germinate, while those acorns with many larvae will not. The trees’ bumper crops of seeds and nuts will also cycle with years of low production, where resources are scarce for the weevil (and other organisms). Nature is incredibly dynamic though. Studies show some species of weevils have adapted a counter mechanism to circumvent the trees’ strategy of masting. It’s called prolonged diapause. This means these weevils are able to sleep longer (more than one year) as they develop in order to synchronize adult emergence with years when the trees’ seed/nut production is high.
If you are interested in reading more about the history and MYSTERY of masting, I encourage you to delve into the literature I’ve listed in the references below. It’s quite fascinating – especially going back in history to the link between masting and pannage. Way more than I can cover here. Check it out.
Higaki M (2016) Prolonged diapause and seed predation by the acorn weevil, Curculio robustus, in relation to masting of the deciduous oak Quercus acutissima. Entomol Exp Appl 159:338–346. https://doi.org/10.1111/eea.12444
Koenig WD. 2021 A brief history of masting research. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 376: 20200423. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2020.0423 Koenig, W. D., & Knops, J. M. H. (2005). The Mystery of Masting in Trees: Some trees reproduce synchronously over large areas, with widespread ecological effects, but how and why? American Scientist, 93(4), 340–347. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27858609
I first spotted this beauty on October 1, 2021 while I was taking a walk along our road on San Juan Island. There was a cluster of sun loving mullein (Verbascum thapsus) mixed with one or two thistles (probably Canada thistle) growing along the road. The glistening silk threads woven between them drew me over to investigate. There were several Cross Orb Weavers sharing the space here, but one of these was not like the other. The spider that caught my attention was quite a bit darker than the others. Describing it as brown just doesn’t do it justice. Brown sounds much too plain. She was a lovely brunette amongst a few redheads!
Since I often enjoy walking on our road on sunny days, I started looking for her when I passed her home – the Mullein “apartments.” It wasn’t just the spiders enjoying the sunny housing complex, but these units housed a few other species as well. I found some Stilt Bugs (Neoneides sp.) and some Pentatomidae hiding in the fuzzy star shaped trichomes (little hairs) of the Mullein leaves.
Now that autumn has ushered in falling leaves, falling temperatures, and a good bit of rain, I thought of my friend Louisa, the Orb Weaver out in the cold. Had she managed to find a sheltered spot to survive the recent storms? Several times over the past two weeks I’ve looked for her, but she was just gone. Since the lifespan for this species is only a year or less, I suspected she’d reached her end with our last dip in temperatures, gusty winds, and precipitation. I held out a tiny bit of hope though. Just a bit!
Today (November 6, 2021), my husband and I walked our road. It was sprinkling and the precipitation was cold. When we got down to the point on the road to turn around, shortening our walk to just the point where the old cabin used to be, I asked him to wait one second while I looked one more time at that patch of Mullein and the drying stand of thistles.
As I bent down to look closely, I saw a single strand of silk. Examining the attachment and following closely, it led me to Louisa. She was tucked under the dried nodding inflorescence of the thistle. Once a purply-pink sugar treat for pollinators, the now nodding blooms have been repurposed into a thatch roof to keep this little spider dry.
I’ve thought about relocating her so the county doesn’t mow her when they scalp the roadside vegetation. It is bound to happen at some point. For now, I’m going to leave her be, and just keep a close eye on her. Maybe I’ll make a sign! Be Nice to Spiders. ❤️ Louisa lives here!
Fun Fact! Did you know that 25% of the diet of Orb Weaver spiderlings is pollen? Check it out. Article linked in my list of sources below.
Horton DR, Lewis TM (2003) Numbers and types of arthropods overwintering on common mullein, Verbacsum thapsus L. (Scrophulariacae), in a central Washington fruit-growing region. Journal of the Entomology Society of British Columbia 100, 79–87.
Oxford, Geoff & Gillespie, Rosemary. (1998). Evolution and ecology of spider coloration. Annual review of entomology. 43. 619-43. 10.1146/annurev.ento.43.1.619.
I found a’nutter weevil! They’ve been everywhere this week! Looks like this may be the Nut Leaf Weevil (Strophosoma melanogrammum). These weevils feed on the leaves of broad leafed shrubs. I saw it on a chunk of rotting alder. It was pretty small and tough to photograph in low light. Probably about 3.2 mm in size. San Juan Island, WA October 13, 2021.
The headline, “Spider Bites Woman’s Lip“ popped out in my news feed yesterday. As an entomologist, these bizarre reports are click bait for me. I bit. As I read through the linked piece, my first thought was, “Yes!” Someone was definitely hallucinating!”
My other knee jerk conclusion is we have doctors who have absolutely no diagnostic skills whatsoever. In reconsidering, he may not be the one at fault though, or at least not entirely. In fact, it would be interesting to hear the physician’s side of this story. Did he definitively state it was a Brown Recluse Bite? Or, did he suggest it “might be?” Are the patient and the Newsweek reporter the ones guilty of the hyperbole here?
It’s got to be fantastic to be featured in Newsweek, right? Please note my sarcasm! The media is a huge problem when it comes to sensationalizing stories and egging on the screaming fear folks have around spiders. You’re welcome to take a look at this story yourself, but please come back because I’m gonna tell you what’s wrong with it!
First off, there is NO spider. No one collected a spider. No one brought a spider to the doctor to ID. Even if there had been an actual spider, since when have physicians become expert taxonomists and actually have the skills to identify arachnids or insects. Strangely, the story reports the woman didn’t even think much about the bite when it happened. Her words. Not mine. I really wonder about this mystery “spider.”
Secondly, the bite occurred, I presume, when she was paddling her kayak through a waterway. Brown Recluse spiders don’t make webs in the air, and certainly not over the water like that. Of course, I suppose it is possible for a spider to have been in the kayak, crawled up her legs and torso, and then crawled all the way up to her face where it bit her on the lip. You’d think she would have seen it. Also, Brown Recluse spiders like to live with other Brown Recluse spiders, so it’s difficult to imagine not finding a spider somewhere in the kayak to bring to the doctor.
Third. Lots of things can cause spider bite-looking lesions. I’m surprised the doctor declared it a Brown Recluse bite. There is no test to diagnose that someone has been bitten by a Brown Recluse. Again, no spider was brought in, so why was this deemed a spider bite when it could have been numerous other things? For instance, UC Riverside’s Department of Entomology webpage about Brown Recluse Spiders states,
“The following can cause lesions similar to the lesion from a bite of a Brown Recluse spider …mites, bedbugs, a secondary Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacterial infection and “Three different tick-inflicted maladies have been misdiagnosed as brown recluse bite: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and the bite of the soft tick, Ornithodoros coriaceus. “
Now, I’m not a doctor. I didn’t take this woman’s medical history. I’m just pointing out some OTHER possibilities. Possibilities that are actually much more likely than the sensationalized over-reaching claim it was a Brown Recluse spider. Hmmmm… Hysteria and hyperbole. I hope she recovers, and I hope she will be able to kayak again soon. I just wish there was a way to stop the inevitable slaughter of innocent spiders that will ensue. It’s a shame.
***Note*** We do NOT have Brown Recluse Spiders in the San Juan Islands. Please take a look at the attached distribution map and show it to anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. https://spiders.ucr.edu/spiders-map
Well, I was wrong in my theory about these possibly being Nepytia phantasmaria orPhantom Hemlock Loopereggs, so my next steps will be to review all my moth photos from early September to try and thread out any other possibilities. That may take some time. Initial observation (date eggs laid) was Sept. 12, 2021. Today is Oct. 7, 2021. They are indeed pretty tiny and if you look closely, you can see the caterpillar body rolled up in the eggs that haven’t hatched. The tree is a Caucasian Fir (Abies nordmanniana).
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for further updates. I’ll do my best to figure out an ID for these. 🙂
Last month I held my 2nd annual virtual event, “September Spider Sleuthing in the San Juans.” Little did I know it would turn out to be so popular. Even the Journal of the San Juan Islands interviewed me. One of the questions asked was, “What led me to create the event in the first place?” Let me answer that for you.
Well, I happen to be an entomologist (someone who studies insects), but after living here for twelve years, I’ve come to LOVE the diversity of spiders that share our islands. I want to help others understand how important spiders are in our ecosystem and dispel some of the unfortunate and undeserved myths associated with our eight-legged friends.
This week, the spider sleuthing continues, albeit informally. I received some emails about spiders, and actually had two folks drop off spiders at my husband’s office in little cups for me to take a look at. “What ARE these?” inquiring minds wanted to know.
One was a suspected Black Widow that turned out to be a look-a-like False Widow (Steatoda grossa). While instinctively protective of the little sack of clustered eggs laid in a matrix of messy web in the plastic cup, I could sense she was alarmed. I was able to remove the lid and take a few photos without disturbing her too much. For now, she remains in the plastic cup. I may relocate her and her egg sack to our greenhouse tomorrow. Steatoda grossa spiders are not medically significant to humans. She’s a friend. Her presence helps keep the actual black widow spiders from colonizing our homes.
The other cup held two spiders. All I knew ahead of picking them up was they were presumed deceased. One of those two spiders moved ever so slightly when I opened the lid. Where there is movement, there is LIFE! I was mesmerized with this spider, a Woodlouse hunter (Dysdera crocata). After photographing this beauty, I set it free in our stack of cut wood that doubles as a fence along the edge of our property. It will find plenty of isopods in the forest floor and the wood will double as a nice winter home with all its nooks and crevices. Woodlouse hunters are also harmless to humans. Consider them friendly!
The last poor little soul was unfortunately frozen after it was collected. Yes, I opened the lid knowing this, but imagining movement, and hoping that maybe it hadn’t been frozen long enough to kill it. I don’t personally enjoy killing bugs. They’re much more interesting to me alive. I took the post mortem photos, but I’d have preferred being able to resurrect it.
This sweet little dude is a Hackelmesh Weaver. His scientific name is Callobius severus. He’s harmless (a friend). He was only trying to find a mate. Male spiders often wander this time of year in search of a female. Look at those little palps! Those are the organs the male spider uses to transfer sperm to the female. They looks like little paws…or maybe tiny furry boxing gloves. I’m sorry this fella didn’t find a friend. May he R.I.P.
The social media giant we all have become overly dependent on in recent years, had a big, giant F-A-I-L today. The entire site was down. I couldn’t share bug photos or look to see what crazy or amazing things my friends had been up to. I also couldn’t watch the fabulous video of the frog and bearded dragon that I’ve been replaying over, and over, and over because it’s so DARN cute! You can find it on Tik Tok if you can’t find it on Facebook.
In the void, I resorted to the fail safe backup. It’s called E-mail. I really feel old because I actually remember how we communicated before the advent of cyberspace – handwriting letters that you put a stamp on and eventually were delivered by USPS.
So, in my email, I actually had received two nice bug pictures I want to share with you. Victoria Compton (who is running for Friday Harbor Port Commissioner btw) sent these to me. The first, a caterpillar, is going to turn into my favorite moth, Lophocampa roseata or the Rosy Amelia Moth. The 2nd, is a ground beetle in the family Carabidae (Scaphinotus marginatus) – also sometimes called the Margined Snail-eating Carabid Beetle.
Happy Bug Viewing! Thanks for checking these out and thanks for sending the photos Victoria! You have my vote. 😉
It’s wet and rainy out today, so I thought I’d share an indoor spider post for you to view. This isn’t my own, but I just watched it and it’s an informative, short, DIY on how to set up a vivarium for a jumping spider. Yes! Sometimes having a dog or a cat is impractical or impossible. Time, space, and affordability can impact our choice of animal companion. There’s also the environmental impact. Hmmm, how many of us really consider that? On the enviro-scale, keeping a spider is far greener than probably any other pet you could choose. No greenhouse gases!
Yesterday I was literally in bed most of the day recovering from a precautionary step to prevent severe illness. I felt like I had been in a bad auto accident, but that’s got to be better than actually having and/or dying from a virus, right? Well, I used the time to read. Mostly I read spider behavior stuff. Believe me, some of these things are pretty interesting! Spider sex for instance. Who knew! I found this somewhat sensational spider story. This spider doesn’t live in the San Juans, but it’s so weird, I just have to share!
DID YOU KNOW there is such thing as a Eunuch spider? (Tidarren sisyphoides), one of the Theridiidae or Tangle Web Spiders, AMPUTATES one of its own pedipalps (the male sex organs). The species name (Tidarren sisyphoides) is a combination translation from Gosiute-Greek meaning ‘small male’. Male spiders of this species are very tiny (1mm) in comparison to females ( only 1% the size of the female).
According to R.J. Adams (2014) and Ramos et al (2004), Tidarren sisyphoides male spiders are born with, and develop two palps, just like other spiders, but at the penulitimate (next to last) molt (shedding of the exoskeleton as part of growth/development), the male spider amputates one of these palps ON PURPOSE!
The amputation process isn’t done by chewing or anything of that sort. The tiny spider wraps it in a silk scaffold, then dismembers the palp by twisting or moving around in circles until it breaks off. The remaining palp is quite large in proportion to the 1mm sized body of this tiny spider, making up 10% of the total body mass.
Why would the spider amputate one of its palps? Well, turns out that males with one palp can move around and chase females much faster with only one palp. It is supposed to give these guys an evolutionary reproductive advantage. Males only mate once, so the reproductive drive is stronger than the drive to preserve one’s palp! Once he’s inserted that single palp, he will die within minutes, still attached to the female. Hmmm, getting laid might not be so lucky depending on how you look at it.
After mating, the female will extricate the palp from her epigynum (the female reproductive receptacle). While some other species of spiders are known to eat the male after mating, this species does not. She will merely discard the body.
Interesed in reading more? Check out these links, and read my blog about spider sex too!
Kuntner, M., Agnarsson, I. and Li, D. (2015), The eunuch phenomenon: adaptive evolution of genital emasculation in sexually dimorphic spiders. Biol Rev, 90: 279-296. https://doi.org/10.1111/brv.12109
Ramos,M., Irschick, D. J., and Christenson, T.E. 2004. Overcoming an evolutionary conflict: Removal of a reproductive organ greatly increases locomotor performance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101 (14) 4883-4887; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0400324101 https://www.pnas.org/content/101/14/4883
Yesterday, August 29, 2021, I received an email from C. Croll requesting ID of a moth photographed by T. Ormenyi. Their query read,
“I live on Orcas and kayak quite a bit. Today I was paddling from Patos Island back home, and there were thousands of moths in the air. They were heading from south to north. We first saw them on Patos but then all the way home. Some had fallen onto the water on the crossing. ”
“I had not witnessed so many moths all traveling together before. Seemed like a migration of some sort? When they first arrived I thought there were cottonwood seeds floating on the breeze, took a second to realize that it was moths. The air was full of them for almost an hour. “
These moths sighted by Calvin and Tessa are the Phantom Hemlock Loopers, (Nepytia phantasmaria). They are in the family Geometridae. This species ranges from southern BC to California. There is one generation produced per year and larvae feed on conifers, including Western Hemlock, Douglas-fir, Grand Fir, Amabilis Fir, Sitka Spruce, and Western Red cedar (Bugguide.net).
Adults typically emerge in fall (September and October), so seeing them now is a bit earlier than when I’ve typically collected specimens at my porch light on San Juan Island. Last year, I photographed my first specimen of the season on Sept. 7, 2020. As these moths are nocturnally active, Calvin and Tessa’s report of of them traveling en-masse like this during daylight was intriguing. I was curious to know more.
William H. Hendrix III’s thesis titled Migration and behavioral studies of two adult noctuid (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) species plus feeding observations of some moths common to Iowa (1990), cites (Johnson, 1969), stating these migration events are part of the “oogenesis flight syndrome” stage where the newly emerged adult insects move en-masse before reproduction and egg laying takes place. Hendrix (1990) also provides some theories as to WHY these moths migrate in the first place. Several theories have attempted to explain this, but he concludes, “Migration, consequently, occurs primarily in young adults and its chief function is to allow escape from unfavorable habitats and allow colonization of a broad range of environments” (Hendrix, 1990).
After reading about this particular species, I believe the migration witnessed yesterday could be attributed to either 1) the sudden weather change we experienced overnight in the islands, or 2) the lack of suitable habitat for reproduction because of the drought we are experiencing. I’m guessing the drought may have more to do with this and we will see more evidence as other species struggle to survive the coming environmental shifts associated with global warming.
Thanks to Calvin and Tessa for sending in their observations!
Edwards, D.. (2011). Activity rhythms of Lepidopterous defoliators. II. Halisidota argentata Pack. (Arctiidae) and Nepytia phantasmaria Strkr. (Geometridae). Canadian Journal of Zoology. 42. 939-958. 10.1139/z64-093.
This little critter landed on me the morning of August 14, 2021 (with a few friends). I managed to collect the specimen for a photo op session. AND, I let it bite me. It felt like it was sawing into my skin. I have a pretty high pain tolerance though, so it wasn’t so awful. My husband suggested I save the specimen in case I came down with any weird disease!
I have it in a vial on my desk. ID…for starters, it’s a fly (Diptera). This is a black fly (Simulium sp.) and I’ve found the larvae in the seasonal stream near our house before. At some point, I’ll write up a better post for you about these, but for today, you can watch as this female uses her serrated mouthparts to cut through my skin and take a blood meal. She’ll use the protein to help her with egg development.
My recommendation if you’re visiting or planning to visit the San Juan Islands in summertime is to bring long sleeves and wear long pants. With climate change, my guess is we will have more biting flies out in the summer evenings.
Every once in awhile you observe something in nature that makes a story to share. I hope you will enjoy this one.
I have a love hate relationship with my climbing green beans. First of all, I don’t really like eating greens beans that much. The leaves are pretty to look at, but they are lethal to my poor bugs!!!
This morning when I was watering my bean vines, I noticed a teeny little fly, seemingly stuck to one of the leaves. My eyesight is terrible up close, so I had to use both my reading glasses AND my clip on macro lens attached to my Iphone camera to take a closer look.
Not only was the little fly stuck, but it looked like the green bean had somehow glued her to the leaf by her proboscis. I swear that poor little fly LOOKED at me with a plea for help.
Of course I was going to help, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it without causing further injury or accidentally amputating her mouthpart (the proboscis), which looks like a teeny little trunk and reminded me of the character, Mr. Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.
Finding the tiniest piece of straw on the ground, I gently pried her free. She flew away, filled with relief and maybe a wee bit of gratitude for my efforts in helping her.
Found this cool Thick-headed Fly in the family Conopidae on my daisies while I was watering this morning. I believe this one to be Physocephala burgessi.
Thick headed flies are known for a behavior called “hilltopping” where flies will aggregate to find a mate. Adults are wasp mimics and seek out Hymenoptera species (bees/wasps) for development of their offspring.
A parasitoid of bees and wasps, Conopid flies will target an unsuspecting host typically while it is leaving its nest or nectaring on floral sources. The adult fly grabs the host and oviposits into the body of the individual.
The fly’s eggs hatch and migrate into the abdominal cavity of the bee/wasp where development continues as the fly larvae consume the contents within the abdominal cavity of the host. The bee or wasp host continues to live, and is able to fly throughout the duration of the larval development period.
Just before the end of larval development and transition to pupation, the host dies. The death of the host usually occurs somewhere near the entrance to its nest or within the nest itself. Pupation occurs in the abdomen of the now deceased bee or wasp host.
The adult fly typically emerges after overwintering in the abdominal puparium of the bee.
Note*** Typically, populations of these flies are fairly low. In twelve years on San Juan Island, this is the 2nd specimen I have ever seen. I photographed my first Conopid fly at American Camp, on the bluff overlooking Grannies Cove in 2010. In reviewing records on iNaturalist, it looks like my two are the only ones reported in San Juan County. This past year (2021), another resident sent in a photograph, bringing the total, that I know of, to 3.