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.
Well, today hasn’t started off all that well. Checked email this morning to find out someone had reported me on Facebook for violating community standards. Facebook won’t tell me who complained or what the violation was. Someone has reviewed my appeal and the decision CANNOT be reversed. 😦
I’m not sure what happens next, aside from the fact that I lost lots of personal photos, contacts of friends, and my bug page took a hit along with this, so please bear with me as I will likely have to reconstruct my social media life from scratch. I’m going to have to think long and hard about whether I even want to.
I suspect this was a deliberate hit, but I won’t say more because I’m not certain and hate speculating. We live in a world where there are lots of opinions and disagreements are bound to happen. Assumptions are made and sometimes they are wrong.
Today, I’m going to enjoy my time with Drago and my two lovely cats.
You can email me at email@example.com if you need to reach me.
June 29,2021. So happy we’re not broiling today. Since many of us will be eager to enjoy the outdoors the rest of the week, I’m sharing something I’ll describe as an “insect-related public health announcement.” Please find some humor and some good advice in my post.
While we are lucky we live here and not in the south where bugs are much more likely to bite and transmit all sorts of icky things (like Dengue, West Nile, Yellow Fever, EEEV, and a long laundry list of others), we still get various bites and stings that cause reactions.
If you’re like me, your skin may over-react (large, localized reactions), or worse if you’re extremely allergic or even anaphylactic.
After living here almost 12 years, I’ve become pretty familiar with the bugs, including the biting and stinging ones. Every year, when the grass is tall, I’ve gotten these extremely irritating, itchy bites that look a lot like the chigger bites I used to get in the south. They are angry-red, and the itching can last for WEEKS!
Well, a little over a week ago, I was sitting outside in our freshly mowed “yard” which is really a field of miscellaneous native and non-native grasses. We have 3 different colors of lawn chairs – royal blue, white, and brown. I love the blue, so I plopped down to relax and watch my bearded dragon while we both enjoyed some sun. I made a couple of mistakes here, but also solved a mystery.
First mistake. I wore my new shorts. Yep. After this much time, you’d think I would finally learn. Wearing shorts in the San Juans is like coating yourself with sugar water and sitting down next to a nest of yellow jackets. You’re advertising you’re open for dining.
Second mistake. The chair. Yep. That blue chair is a bug magnet. If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll notice I’ve photographed a few bugs on that blue chair. I should have picked the brown chair…or at least worn long pants.
I felt the bite when it happened. My desire to figure out what critter has caused me a multi-annual summer season of itchy aggravation that compels me to cover up with long pants to prevent future bites, and hide the leprosy-looking splotches, was finally realized when I found I had the teeny culprit between my fingers. I ran into the house to stick it under the microscope and found…it was SQUISHED beyond determination. Sigh!
But wait! I was able to rule out a few potential offenders. It was definitely NOT a spider. Come on! Spiders get blamed for more things than they deserve. Most spiders are innocent. It was not a mosquito, no-see-um, flea, tick, bee, wasp, and, I’ll repeat again – NOT a spider!
The thing about being an entomologist is you are 100% oriented to try to identify bugs. I’m ALWAYS looking at bugs. They are fascinating to me. Especially the ones that have super powers or weird behaviors and even the ones that bite. So, I sat down and became OBSESSED with trying to figure out what I squished.
My breakthrough came in going back outside. I took my cellphone and the little macro-lens that attaches to the camera since it helps me see tiny things that age makes impossible to see. My eyes failed at about age 50. If you’re younger than me, SEE what you have to look forward to! 👀
I scanned the chair for any salt-grain sized objects and THERE it was! I made a short video clip and then took a still image from my video. A thrips.
Thrips are tiny (1-2mm). Their name is also interesting. It’s the same for singular and plural. One thrips, two thrips! Sounds like Dr. Seuss should have written a story about these. I will forever remember thrips because when I was in Florida for my graduate school exit exams, I had to answer questions in front of my committee chair and a few other profs. One of the questions I got was about what insect order these were in. I went completely BLANK.
It is one of those moments where you want to slink down into your chair, slide under the table, and crawl away in shame. Even worse, the comment made by one of the committee members. He hinted, “but your committee chair made his career studying these!” OMG, I wanted to die. Nothing prompted my memory. I would have been utterly humiliated except for the fact that when they were trying to set up the computer to Skype in my co-committee chair who was in South Africa, they couldn’t get the technology to work and guess who fixed it? Yep. ME. I think that may have saved me that day.
Also, it WAS the only question I missed. And, in case you’re wondering, THRIPS are in the insect order THYSANOPTERA.
Back to thrips. They bite. I found quite a few records of folks being bitten by these TEENY, TINY bugs. Check my list of references when you’re done reading. If you can’t access these online and want to read more, shoot me an email and I’ll figure out how to get you a copy.
This review was pretty interesting. They actually found reports of bites by thrips dating back to 1883. One article I found is actually titled, “Night of the Living Thrips: An Unusual Outbreak of Thysanoptera Dermatitis.” That one is about an outbreak of skin eruptions at the Marine Corps Training Area Bellows in Oahu, Hawaii. The photos I saw made me itchy just looking at them.
The itching is intense! My bite had the exact features described in the literature I found, down to the presentation of the classic “anaemic halo” or white ring around the bite. Irritation and itching is attributed to the thrips injecting you with saliva when they bite.
More about thrips. They have a variety of niches in ecosystems, typically as plant eaters (phytophagous), fungi eaters (fungivorous), and eaters of other invertebrates (predacious). I should add, occasional biters of vertebrates!
Most thrips species have two pair of wings and can fly. Some are known agricultural pests. Sometimes they swarm and people notice them then, but typically, when they bite a human, it’s a case of mistaken ID. That means, a mosquito gets blamed.
It’s an easy mistake to make. Thrips actually have mouthparts somewhat similar to mosquitoes. They have piercing sucking mouthparts with a single mandibular stylet and two opposable and interlocking maxillary stylets. That mandibular stylet is the hole puncher! More about how that all works in Childers et al. 2005. If you remember nothing else, just remember that adult and larval thrips can bite.
Another thing I found out in my obsessive reading. Thrips like BLUE. They like white too and have been reported getting on laundry hung outdoors to dry, then biting people when they bring that sun-dried, fresh shirt (or underwear) indoors and put it on. The blue chair is a thrips magnet. I’ve resorted to rinsing it off with the hose and wiping it dry before I sit down on it.
This most recent bite I had resulted in this baseball-sized diameter welt. It also had the white halo ring.
I ended up calling the after hours line at my doctor’s office to get an antibiotic prescription because it was the weekend and the bite sure looked to be getting infected. I took Benadryl. The call-a-nurse at my insurance company said if you’re ever having a bad reaction to chew Benadryl tablets. It gets into your system faster. I already knew this, but liquid Benadryl also works fast. The itching was miserable given the heat, but I also took a bath in hot water with a lot of iodized salt. I didn’t take the antibiotic because the salt seemed to stave off infection.
My bite is healing, but I ended up with another on my other thigh. The halo ring around this one is fainter, but still visible.
I didn’t see that bite happen, but I know it wasn’t a mosquito because I saw a mosquito bite my ankle when I was outside watering and even though I felt it, I didn’t get any mark or subsequent itching at all. Mosquitoes here don’t have the same effect on me as the mosquitoes in the south had.
Take away message here. Don’t blame the spiders next time you get a weird bite. Especially if it’s summer and you’ve been outdoors. Take a shower before getting into bed and if your pets go outside and come indoors to sleep with you and lie around on furniture, just be aware it may not be fleas biting you, but thrips. Also…avoid blue. Blue is one color that bugs in general seem to like, so unless you’re into entomology and WANT to attract bugs, wear another color. The way it’s looking to me is that gray and beige may be the only safe choices.
Oh…and before I go, the person who coined the term “delusory parasitosis…” Bah to you! Lucky for the poor farmer fellow I read about who complained of being bitten by an “invisible” bug. He’d been diagnosed with delusional parasitosis, but in his persistent presentation to his dermatologist, finally had the culprit of his irritation identified as a grain thrips.
Remember that while you might hope to have that bite diagnosed at your doctor’s office, medical professionals may not have the additional expertise in identifying what bug bit you. They’re there to treat symptoms, but in some cases, it’s important to know what bit you. So, if you feel a bite, look for a culprit and collect it if you can. In some situations, with tiny things, I’ve used scotch tape. A plastic baggie or small cup or jar with a lid works too. Collecting that specimen also means you’re less likely to walk out with “delusional” written in your file!
Carness, J.M., J.C. Winchester, M.J. Oras, and N.S. Arora. 2016. Night of the living thrips. Cutis. 97:13
Leigheb, G., R. Tiberio, G. Filosa, L. Bugatti, and G. Ciattaglia. 2005. Thysanoptera dermatitis. European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 19:722-724 DOE: 10.1111/j.1468-3083.2005.01243.x
*Author’s note – While this post attributes pest status to thrips, please know that although thrips can occasionally bite humans and animals, there are thousands of species. Not all of them are biters. Many are actually beneficial and pollinate plants. Lots become food for other organisms, including spiders (which are mostly friendly)! Pesticides are completely unnecessary and often do more harm than good.
This fly was in my yard last week. San Juan Island, WA. 06.19.2021. It’s taken me about a week to get around to ID, but I believe this to be Eupeodes fumipennis (the Western Aphideater, a syrphid fly that happens to be a bee mimic.
In case you are wondering about that name. The Western Aphideater does actually eat aphids in the larval stage. To see what a syrphid fly larva looks like in action, check out my blog post with more video footage here –https://buggingyoufromsanjuanisland.com/…/honeysuckle…/ – also viewable in the photo below. While I have not been able to identify the species name of the syrphid fly larva in that post, you can definitely see where the Western Aphideater fly might get its name.
April showers bring Mayfly’ers! This tiny creature spent the night on the glass window of my greenhouse. When I found my very first mayfly on San Juan Island, I used a key on this site ~ http://ibis.geog.ubc.ca/…/FamiliesofEphemeropteraofBC.html to help me with ID. I’ve been able to narrow the taxonomy down to family Baetidae or “minnow” mayfly.
Mayflies are in the insect order Ephemeroptera which comes from the greek words “epi” (upon), “hemera” (day), and “pteron” (wing). Put this all together and you get something like “wing upon a day!” It just describes the ephemeral quality or brief lifespan of the mayfly adult.
The adult, or imago stage of this insect, does not eat. They will emerge in large numbers typically in the month of May. The Baetidae are among the smallest in size (hence the name “minnow”) within mayfly families, but there are over 520 species described in this family worldwide. The Baetidae have only two caudal filaments and the hindwings are reduced in size. All mayfly larvae develop in water and as they are very sensitive to pollutants, their presence (or absence) can be a good indicator of water quality. They’re also favorites of fishermen because they make great bait!
Some people want to build homes too close or even in fill in these streams and wetland areas. Destroying wetlands for homes, driveways, and barns is devastating to delicate ecosystems, ruining them forever. Humans aren’t supposed to live in wetlands….but mayflies, many other species of invertebrates, and creatures like newts, salamanders, and birds thrive in them.
Some other amazing creatures that need clean wetlands and streams to live and reproduce include this alien-like Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile) I found a few weeks ago, slowly making its way across the road.
And we won’t leave out the Rough skinned newt either! These little guys also call wetlands their home.
This is a Northern Carrion Beetle – Thanatophilus lapponicus, one of the carrion beetles in the family Silphidae. The origin of the name Thanatophilus is from Greek thanatos (θανατος)- “death” + philos (φιλος)- “loving, liking” (Bugguide.net, 2003-2021).
Death is part of a biological process that can be unsettling for many of us. That said, death makes way for new life. This past February, a small fawn died on our property.
We left the body where it lay. First the eagles came, then a pair of ravens. I believe a fox visited too (tracks in the snow).
Over the course of the past 12 weeks, I’ve found some very cool bugs developing in the carcass, even now in the bits of hide and bones that remain.
Did you know?
There is actually an entire field of scientific study (Forensic Entomology) where time of death of a body can be estimated by the presence and developmental stage of certain insects involved in the decomposition process. This is called determining the Post Mortem Interval or PMI. Forensic entomologists can aid law enforcement in crime investigations by surveying for species of arthropods on a corpse, and determining stages of development and feeding behavior of the arthropods present (Barnes, 2000).
Carrion beetles in the family Silphidae fall into two subfamilies: the Nicrophorinae and Silphinae. While both feed on the remains of animals, the Nicrophorinae or Burying Beetles are associated with smaller corpses like birds, mice, voles, etc., weighing under 300g, while the Silphinae utilize larger cadavers (Watson & Carlton, 2005). This preference or niche, makes them ideal for investigations related to human death or death of larger species of wildlife (as in poaching or other crimes against animals).
From Ratcliffe, 1996.
Distribution. Thanatophilus lapponicus ranges broadly throughout Canada and Alaska, across the norther United States from coast to coast, and south to Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico (Anderson and Peck 1985, Peck and Kaulbars 1987). It is also found in Northern Europe and Asia (Hatch 1928, Schwaller 1982).
Remarks. Thanatophilus lapponicus is readily identified because of the presence of a row of small tubercles on each of the elytra intervals (Figs. 31-32, 62); it is the only silphid in North America with this distinctive form of elytra sculpturing.
The larval stage was described by Dorsey (1940) , and a brief synopsis was given by Anderson and Peck (1985). The larva of this species is characterized by a dark brown to black color on the dorsal surface, urogomphi that are about two times the length of the 10th abdominal segment, and antennae with a large sense cone on the second segment (as in Fig. 40).
Anderson and Peck (1985) reported that individual females lay about ten eggs in the soil surrounding a carcass. The egg stage lasts 5-6 days, the first instar about 7 days, the second instar 8-10 days, and the third instar 10-12 days. While Anderson and Peck did not observe pupae, they did note that T. lapponicus is a cold-adapted species that occurs at higher elevations in the western Mountains of North America. It is often the only silphid present in some of these areas. Thanatophilus lapponicus shows a strong preference for open areas (Anderson 1982c).
Clark (1895) observed extensive predation on fly larvae by adult beetles.
Time of Year Seen. March-October
Anderson, R.S. and Peck, S.B. (1985) The carrion beetles of Canada and Alaska. The insects and arachnids of Canada, part 13, 1–121.
Watson, E., & Carlton, C. 2005. Succession of Forensically Significant Carrion Beetle Larvae on Large Carcasses (Coleoptera: Silphidae). Southeastern Naturalist,4(2), 335-346. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3877967
This little guy got into my pants yesterday! 😁 What is it? This is a Treehugger Soldier Beetle (Dichelotarsus piniphilus) in the family Cantharidae or soldier beetles ( because their wings resemble military uniforms). More interesting though is the Greek translation of Cantharis or κανθαρισ, translating to ‘blister beetle.’
I’m pointing this out because this little Treehugger got confused yesterday and when it was hugging my leg and my pants were hugging back a bit too tightly, it either bit me or exuded some of the defensive chemicals that they use to repel would-be predators . In either case, I was fine aside from a bit of a temporary stinging sensation.
This species is common in the west. Surprisingly, very little is known about the life histories of these beetles. I’ve spotted them on nettle this time of year. Adults are known to feed on insects (including aphids), nectar, and pollen.
I wondered if there is some uptake of the chemical constituents of the nettle to produce the defense secretions in the beetle, either via consuming pollen from the nettle, or via feeding on another insect feeding on the nettle. A literature search failed to yield any supporting information, though I did find an older publication listing insects found in association with nettle. Quite a few were some of our lovely Lepidoptera, so you might want to leave those nettle patches instead of clearing them away 🦋
In the middle of January, nothing excites me quite like finding a bug on the floor in the house. Yesterday, I found this rather beautiful creature on the floor in our sunroom. At first I thought I had a mud dauber type of wasp, but in fact, I have become a fly momma. An adult soldier fly emerged from the cup of pupated larva or phoenix worms I had ordered for Drago. The name soldier fly really doesn’t do it justice. Given its transition from the dark, drab pupal case, the adult indeed appears to have risen from the ashes into an exquisite new form.
This particular soldier fly is Hermetia illucens. If you look closely, you will notice the fly-like eyes and the tell-tale halteres just below the attachment point of the single pair of wings. Those little fan-like tufts above the haltere aren’t fluffy shoulder pads or pseudo wings, but are called calypters. They are one of the distinguishing features of this group of flies. You can read more about calypters here – https://bugguide.net/node/view/114118
How did soldier flies get their name? Well, they are in the family Stratiomyidae and these flies are so named because they are “armed” with some spines on their thorax. Check out this link to read more about that – https://uwm.edu/field-station/soldier-fly/ . Personally, I think the part that caused me to hesitate before picking it up was wondering if it could sting me since I thought it was a wasp. The mimicry serves it well!
What is cool about these flies? Well, aside from all the beautiful blue accent coloring and the pretty bands on their legs, these flies do some amazing jobs for us. They are so great at eating poop and recycling food waste that they are now being utilized in commercial operations. Hermetia lllucens Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) are also being reared commercially as food for fish, pets, livestock, and for humans. The larvae are said to outcompete other fly species that are pests to humans and livestock. They don’t transmit diseases like houseflies and blowflies, and they actually reduce the levels of Salmonella and E coli found in manure. Even more astounding is their application in the field of Entoremediation. This means they are effective at reducing harmful contaminants in biomass.
I will be ordering some to add to our compost pile this spring!
These hornets INVADING North America (hyperbole here), are native to Asia. It’s also very likely they’ve entered the US illegally in someone’s suitcase. At least that’s what I think! My sense of this came from reading the US Dept of Agriculture bulletin titled New Pest Response Guidelines linked here – https://cms.agr.wa.gov/WSDAKentico/Documents/PP/PestProgram/Vespa_mandarinia_NPRG_10Feb2020-(002).pdf Note page 16 of the guide where it reviews how Asian cultures place a high value on the wasps as a delicacy, especially how expensive the market price forthe wasps are in Japan. Hmmm.
Yesterday I thought I’d do some research on how the Japanese live amongst these giant wasps, known to entomologists as Vespa mandarinia or the Asian Giant Hornet (AGH).
What I found out was pretty interesting!
First off, the Japanese name for the wasps is Suzumebachi. Say “Sue zoom eh ba chee” and you’re close. Suzumebachi translates into “sparrow-bee.”
Japanese anime’ has a character based on the “bee sparrow,” and you can buy a variety of costume garments to dress just like her if you’re inclined. If you can believe it, many of the online stores selling these costumes are SOLD OUT! You can read about the anime’ character of Suzumebachi here https://naruto.fandom.com/wiki/Suzumebachi
The Japanese eat these highly prized wasps. I found one story online originally published in Munchies. It’s titled, I Got Buzzed on Japanese Hornet Cocktails and takes place in a bar in Japan. Guess what the bar is named? Suzumebachi! According to the blogger, the owner has gone all out and even has a giant hornet nest displayed behind the bar. Read more here – https://www.vice.com/amp/en/article/aeyp4k/i-got-buzzed-on-killer-japanese-hornet-cocktails
It’s pretty incredible how prized these hornets are for their medicinal and culinary properties. Japanese athletes are even touting increased energy after drinking hornet juice https://youtu.be/sfdSPW-cwgM or using bee protein powder.
While I don’t discount the intimidation factor of these wasps, we may be missing something in our eradication efforts.
Eating insects is in our future. It could be a lucrative investment!
Thanks for reading.
Author’s note: I am in no way encouraging the importation of exotic species, or species deemed invasive, but only writing this to present an alternate perspective as a means of balancing the extraordinary sensationalization of the Asian Giant Hornet. They aren’t the Winged Horsemen of the Apocalypse!
I found this tiny (approx 4.5mm) Scarab yesterday when I went out to pick the remaining few tomatoes in the garden. It came in with me just long enough to get a few photos so I could attempt an ID. If I’d kept it long enough to realize what I had, I might have tried for better pics. Instead, I returned it to a sunny spot outdoors and let it go about its business in the garden.
After an internet search, I came up with a preliminary ID to subfamily Aphodiinae, but I believe this specimen to be in the tribe Aphodiini and possibly (Agoliinus sigmoideus). This is where my frustration begins as I definitely need my specimen back for further examination in order to confirm. For now, we’ll leave it at Aphodiinae.
The Aphodiinae are dung beetles that feed on detritus and more. Bugguide references the work of Skelley (2008) and states, “many feed on dung, some are detritivores, psammophiles, saprophages, inquilines with ants or termites, or may potentially be predators; adults with reduced mandibles are suspected to feed primarily on bacteria or yeast-rich fluids in dung or decaying materials.”
Reading about dung beetles in general, I came across an interesting publication in Biological Control that examined how some species of coprophagous dung beetles can reduce the contamination of bacteria like Escherichia coli in agricultural systems when flies, livestock, or wildlife are present. Aside from providing other important ecosystem services like feces removal and nutrient recycling, the aspect that they also help with food safety by reducing harmful bacteria is another reason we need to invest in organic agricultural systems that do not rely on harmful pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides which alter the natural biological processes at work. In short, nature does it best!
I found another “new-to-me” bug on the island the other afternoon. This fly was a surprise. It is really small at about 3mm, with big red eyes, and clear wings with a little black dot on each one . Guess what? It’s a SWD! That’s the abbreviated form of Spotted-Wing-Drosophila or Drosophila suzukii (also sometimes called the Vinegar Fly). I’m attaching an info. sheet here for you to reference http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/fruit/flies/drosophila_suzukii.htm
It’s amazing how quickly the SWD fly can reproduce. I’m curious as to whether they’ve been seen out and about by other folks on San Juan. We have an apple orchard, but honestly, I didn’t check the fruit this year for pests and I wouldn’t use spray anyway because I love our birds. We’ve had lots of chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos in our trees, as well as gorgeous round orb weaver spiders in the garden and around the house, so I’m banking on them keeping these (and other) insects categorized as pests in check.
I had a feeling today was going to be one of THOSE days, but really had no idea how bad it would get. This time of year on the island, we’ve lost our sunshine and are headed into the Time of DARKNESS. I have no idea who got away with marketing the “Sunny San Juan’s!” They advertise that HERE is the special place where you’ll have a whopping 247 Days of Sunshine, but that is just WRONG!
This statistic has been creatively manipulated and someone got away counting an entire day of sunshine when the sun maybe, just MAYBE peeks out for a whole 5 minutes. Yep, two bits of advice I received when I moved here was 1) if the sun is out at all anytime between October and April, go outside and, 2) get a raincoat.
But I digress from the events of the day! So, being under the umbrella of COVID, I hardly ever, go to town anymore. There is the likelihood that I might venture out only once during the week for a grocery/mail run. Well, that was today.
I stopped first at the post office. There was the now normal line winding down the hall. I waited my turn patiently. It’s an island and I’ve learned to be on island time. There’s always someone who hasn’t yet learned this yet, and that was the guy in line ahead of me.
He was complaining loudly. He went into the office even though the sign clearly states “only THREE people at a time.” Poor postal staff had to point this out. His reaction? Well, you might ask that. He was even louder about having to WAIT and HE had MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO!
“J” whispered to me when it was my turn at the counter, “Did you HEAR that guy?” I nodded my head, commenting “there’s always one!” Little did I know there was one more someone who would be breaking the RULES.
My next stop was to grab a spider left for me at my husband’s office. A pumpkin-colored Orb Weaver. I love spiders!!! After collecting my 8-legged friend, I made my next stop at the Market.
At this point, I’m feeling a bit scattered. I have my purse, keys in hand, my “list” of things I need to pick up for the next few nights of dinners, and I walk across the parking lot and into the store. The next thing I hear is “MA’am, Ma’am!” I looked towards the voice and all of a sudden the sound is ringing in my ears as I realize the “Ma’am” is meant for ME.
“You forgot your mask,” the store employee is saying as she walks in my direction! I feel my face, groping for my mask, that I JUST HAD ON at the post office, which seemingly has disintegrated, leaving feeling the equivalent of walking into the store NAKED.
I was MORTIFIED!!! Thankfully she handed me a mask as I pretty much just stood there, unable to move. “Don’t worry,” says another clerk. “People all over the island are pretty much losing it. You’re not the first!” I feel marginally better, but not much.
Somehow I managed to finish my shopping, check out, and make it back to my vehicle. I called my daughter on the way home. Hands free. She tried to make me feel better and we had a good laugh about it.
“It’s getting to everyone! ”she says. Then, “I am starting to feel like there’s no point in figuring out what I want to do with my life, because I really wonder if we are going to have a LIFE after all of this.” I want to tell her it will be fine, but even though we joke about it, there is really nothing funny about the state of the world…OUR world. I find myself wanting to tell her to take up retail therapy to make herself feel better. Exactly how much is the limit on that credit card?
My daughter asked if I got my ballot at the post office. Then, she laughed and told me her friend, who says he ISN’T voting because he hates both parties wrote in FIDEL CASTRO and dropped his ballot in the box. Yes, I do believe folks are losing it! Big time.
Oh, and here are some photos of that lovely Orb Weaver I brought home (and released). This spider is Araneus diadematus, one commonly seen about in early fall. Now that I’m back in my “safe” zone, I can focus on Bugs that don’t require me to wear a mask!
My husband said this title was far to risque’ but I’m going with it anyway. I would tell you to “get your mind out of the gutter,” but this is a SPIDER sex story. Sex education is not a bad thing and it’s good to know how it all works, right?
So male spiders have these fuzzy, enlarged “paws” that sort of hang down in front of their face. People who study spiders call them palps. They are sort of like a 5th pair of legs, but used by the spider to manipulate food and “smell” things. These palps are also where the sex organs are housed in adult male. The hairs on the palps have chemoreceptors that help the fellas follow the pheromone trails of SHE spiders. This is the mating season for one of our commonly seen spiders in the San Juans…the Giant House Spider (Eratigena duellica) who happens to be harmless, just horny.
How do spiders DO it? Well, an adult male spider will weave a small silken sheet called a sperm web. He deposits a drop of semen on the sheet and then dips the tips of his palps into the semen, drawing it up into what is called the emboli. The emboli act like a syringe, drawing the fluid up to be held in the palp for transfer to a SHE spider. With his palps “charged and loaded,” he gleefully wanders off to woo all the ladies.
Some of these male spiders really go all out to impress a gal. They will drum (with their palps), dance, and display all sorts of postures to show how great they are. They better do EVERYTHING they can to impress her too since SHE might eat them if it’s not good enough. Watch a jumping spider perform his quirky courtship ritual here –
Here’s my collection of spiders from the weekend roaming around our home and yard. None of these are spiders you should fear, nor would a bite to you be medically significant. The ones most at risk are the poor little spiders who just want to avoid you. Be kind!
Cross Orb Weaver (Araneus diadematus)
San Juan Island, WA
Cross Orb Weaver (Araneus diadematus)
San Juan Island, WA
Gnaphosid sp. (maybe Zelotes sp.)
The Gnaphosids are known as the Stealthy Ground Spiders
San Juan Island, WA 09.18.2020
Found inside home on carpet
Gnaphosidae (maybe Zelotes sp.)
San Juan Island, WA 09.18.2020
found inside home on carpeting
Metellina sp. Orb Weaver
San Juan Island, WA 09.18.2020
Metellina sp. Orb Weaver
San Juan Island, WA 09.18.2020
Sierra Dome Spider (Neriene litigiosa)
San Juan Island, WA
August 13, 2020 (I believe same individual as photographed 09.18.2020)
Sierra Dome Spider Web
San Juan Island, WA
This was photographed at San Juan Island NHP’s English Camp (Bell Point Trail) on 08.23.2020
San Juan Island, WA
outside near rock pile (they make conical webs often suspended beneath ledges or in caves
Saturday, September 19, 2020. San Juan Island, WA – Caterpillar rescue!
I found one of these several years ago (September 20, 2017 to be exact), so I recognized it immediately when I saw it squirming in the spider webbing along the house this morning. My husband said I should just leave it alone. “Nature is ugly sometimes and you can’t interfere.” Well, when it was still there four hours later, suspended mid air, and still squirming, my tendency to SAVE things kicked in. The spider living above that web was actually dead. I’m not feeling very guilty about stealing food from a dead spider.
I got a cup and gently pulled at the web and began the process of freeing this caterpillar. It took finding my reading glasses and getting some fine-pointed tools to gently ply away the sticky bonds and clean the strands off the caterpillar hairs.
I think it looks pretty good! I even picked it some dinner and we’ll see if I can keep it healthy through pupation and adulthood.
I had to take the weekend off! Fatigue is setting in from the smoke and the yellow haze cast over the island isn’t helping. I’m weary of viewing responses from folks about how they want to “kill” any poor hapless spider that makes its way into their home. Arachnophobia is tough, but thousands of innocent creatures could escape a horrible death (stomping, squishing, flushing) as a result of human hysteria if only….if ONLY…that human might take a moment to educate themselves about the poor soul they just MURDERED. If you are guilty of this and you’re feeling badly, GOOD! It means there is hope for you to change your ways. Become an arachnid A-D-V-O-C-A-T-E!
A friend of mine shared the article linked below on Facebook today. It’s timely in that it speaks to the over sensationalized media reports that cast a negative light on spiders…and other insects. We need to change how we think of them! Check it out.
For today, please don’t relocate your little (or big) house spider outdoors! Leave it in the corner to do its thing. It’s going to wander a bit, but it isn’t going to bite you or harm your pets. Be curious about it. If you name it, it can become part of your family! If you want an ID for that spider, send me a message or post a photo on my Facebook Page (Bugs of the San Juan Islands).
I found this spider in our barn in August and thought it was dead, so I did what I often do – grab it and pick it up! Hmmm. This spider moved. It was alive.
This is a Folding Door Spider, Antrodiaetus pacificus. While I’m not 100% certain, I do believe this is a male since there was no burrow nearby and it’s “wandering” season. Most of the time, females are inside or near the entrance to their burrow.
Folding door spiders are the “tarantulas” of the Pacific Northwest. Their scientific name comes from Greek antrodiaitos (αντροδιαιτος)- “living in caves”, from antron (αντρον)- “cave” + diaita (διαιτα)- “way of life, dwelling” – according to https://bugguide.net/node/view/23442 They build their homes (burrows) in rotting or decaying wood or moss, living in moist, forested areas where they are rarely seen.
Females are approximately 13mm in size, with males a bit smaller at 11mm. They are classified as Mygalomorph spiders, the more primitive spiders with one pair of book lungs.
Occasionally, they become victims of spider hunting wasps. These wasps sting and paralyze the spider, then drag them into a burrow. The wasp lays her eggs on the spider, then leaves. The developing larvae feast on the poor spider while it is still alive.
Yesterday my husband was outside working on our deck (without much help from me). The weekend projects can be overwhelming, especially when I’m so easily distracted every time I find a BUG. This one was perfect for my post today!
First off, it’s a SHE spider! This fall beauty is a female Cross Orb Weaver, Araneus diadematus. She was hanging out on the side of the house, just under the eave. I had to carefully climb a ladder to get a photo, but it was completely worth the risk.
Orb Weavers are in the family Araneidae. These are some of the most beautiful and commonly seen spiders in our area. They weave the classic and typically vertical, orb-shaped web that we often see in our gardens.
While Araneus diadematus is not a native species and was introduced from Western and Northern Europe, it has become naturalized here and ranges across North America now. Bugguide.net gives the North American (including Canada) range for A. diadematus as the following localities – “diadematus – BC, WA, OR, MI, OH, PA, ON, NY, QC, RI, MA, NS, NL.”
Male and female specimens have different morphology (size, shape). Female body length can be from 6-20mm and they are fuller and more rounded. Male body length varies from 6-13mm and they are more narrowed in body shape.
Typically, even though they are around in spring, we don’t notice them until later in the fall (like now). Females will be waiting on their web for a wandering male to find them. Males are not usually seen on webs since they are often on the move to find “Miss Right.”
The female A. diadematus will lay her last clutch of eggs in fall before dying, usually timed with our first frost. The eggs will overwinter. The eggs will hatch in springtime when temperatures warm, releasing hundreds of baby spiderlings!
I found this interesting poem online about Orb Weavers that I’ll leave you with today. Thanks for stopping by!
Our cradle empty, we shall climb
To a high place, to catch the wind
And fly, strewing gossamer as we go,
Singly, flowing without will, to land
We shall know, by the compass
Blotched in white upon our backs,
Where to spin the spokes, and how
To spire the wheel; with one leg, feel
Approach too fast, and we shall quake,
And blur the whorl with shaking
From the underside, the compass
Pointing down, our legs the eight points
At night we eat the orb, conserve
The silk, to spin again by morning,
Indelicately, cramming all
Into open mouths, every spoke
We spin the globes of nurture
After mating, span them so,
With loving claws, adore the
Minor worlds we make, compass
Entwined in silk, their spinnerets
Are forming, massed bundles
Of eyes, and legs, and fangs
Entangling. Each of us
Source material. Veronica Godines, Araneus diadematus, http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. Theodore H. Savory, The Spiders and Allied Orders of the British Isles, London, 1945, pp. 130–131. The common “Garden Spider” has a characteristic “cross” on its back, and is the archetypal orb-weaver. Immatures, already orphans by the time they emerge, go out to seek their fortunes by abseiling more or less at random on air-currents, attached to an anchor point by nothing but a thread of gossamer.
Today, I’m going to introduce you to Rod Crawford in my post. Rod is the curator and spider expert (GENIUS) at the Burke Museum in Seattle. He is the go-to guy for anything you would possibly want to know about spiders.
One thing I really like about Rod are his efforts to debunk some of the most common myths about spiders. For instance, putting that spider you find in your house outdoors is good for the spider and where it belongs. Nope. Nope. Nope,….and one more big ole’ NOPE! Take a look here to read what Rod says about where some spiders live (including indoors), and why tossing them outdoors is not a good idea.
Last night I spied this sweet little Pholcid spidee mom-to-be in the corner of our bedroom. Pholicid is short for Pholcidae, the Cellar spiders. These are the spiders we know colloquially as Daddy Long Legs or in her case, Mommy Long Legs. Not to be confused with the other sort of Daddy/Mommy Long Legs, the Harvestmen, which actually aren’t spiders at all!
This little “she” spider is most likely Pholcus phalangioides. My photos aren’t great. I was standing on a chair holding my phone out as long as my arm would reach to try and get a picture, but didn’t want to disturb her too much.
If you look closely, you’ll see she is carrying her eggs in her mouth. These eggs are carefully held in a delicate silk net until they hatch. Even after hatching, the teeny little spiderlings are carried around in their mother’s mouth until they are able to venture off on their own.
Pholcus phalangioides spiders are often found inside homes or structures, make untidy, haphazard webs, are great at catching pests in your home, including other spiders! Males live for about a year, dying usually after mating. Females can reach the very old age of 3. That’s quite a long time to have a spider in your home.
When I was a little girl, my mom read me this book, “Be Nice to Spiders.” We read it together many, many times! It was probably one of my earliest introductions to the wonder of ecological systems and definitely played a role in the development of my love for animals and nature.
My mom didn’t have the opportunity for a college education, and was a young mom at 23. She did however, grow up in the mountains of North Carolina, loved nature, and she had a “story” for everything! It made learning about leaves, bugs, rocks, and animals of all kinds really fun.
I was extremely lucky to have a mom like that and to be exposed to so many science opportunities, even though I didn’t really see it as science at the time. As a parent myself, and someone with a background in education, I can’t express enough to other parents out there how important it is to connect your children with nature…in a kind way! Help them to see living things with wonder and respect for all life. Especially spiders!
Here’s a YouTube read aloud of Be Nice to Spiders. There were several, but I just liked this woman for some reason. I’m sure the San Juan Island library has a copy of the book too, and if not, there’s always Griffin Bay Books, Serendipity, Abebooks, and Amazon where you can find a copy for your bookshelf.
There could be a few reasons you’re finding that spider in your sink or bathtub or shower!
Reason #1 – Lots of spiders are nocturnal, so while we’re sleeping they’re stealthily crossing the ceiling overhead. Sometimes one may bungee down to check things out below. If that happens to be over the tub, it’s possible the poor little (or BIG) spider just got stuck, unable to scale the walls of a slippery surface.
Same thing with the kitchen sink. A spider scurries across the counter too fast, one of those 8 legs slips or maybe a knee buckles (yes, spiders have knees), and the next thing that spider is facing is our equivalent of falling down into a deep well.
He…or SHE, needs someone to throw in a lifeline to get back out.
Reason #2 – Sometimes…yes, sometimes spiders end up in your tub or shower or sink because deep in the cracks or seals around the shower door or down in the drain, you have these teeny little spider snacks squirming around. That’s right! You might not see them, but even if your shower is squeaky clean, you probably have drain fly larvae living in your pipes.
Yikes! I got into our shower one morning and there were these teeny little wiggly worms down at my feet. When I poked around the rubber strip that prevents water from leaking out the shower door, there were MORE!
To help you visualize this, I’ll try and get creative. I’m not a very good drawer, so I scribbled in the wriggling larvae to enhance this image I found online. In my mind, I pictured the woman in the movie Psycho, screaming at the top of her lungs since the scientific name for drainflies is Pscho-di-dae!
The adults aren’t scary looking at all though. They’re called Moth Flies and they are sort of cute…and fuzzy-wuzzy! The larvae, also called sewer flies, actually are beneficial and help purify water, so I am viewing them now as an important part of an ecosystem while trying to get over being creeped out by them around my feet.
I also am much more welcoming to my house spiders now that I know they are working hard to save me from DRAIN FLIES!
Reason #3 – Did you know that spiders drink water? Yes…sometimes spiders end up in the sink, bathtub, or shower because spiders get thirsty! I actually had a little spider I found in my home that was in a declining way and Rod Crawford (also known as the Spider Whisperer) at the Burke Museum messaged me about how to give it a drink. Here’s what he said, “For future reference, the way to give a spider a drink is to rest the mouth area (under the front of the “head”) directly in a drop of water.” I must confess that now I’m so sensitive to spiders needing water that whenever I get one out of the bathtub, I’ve put a moistened cotton ball on the floor nearby so it won’t die of thirst!
Spider Sleuthing Day 3 – Classifying Spiders. The (VERY) Beginner Basics. Spider classification (for North America) consists basically of two different groups. These are the infraorders: Araneomorphae (the “true” spiders) and Mygalomorphae (the tarantulas and trapdoor spiders).
What are “true” spiders? Why those are the ones that aren’t Mygalomorphs! What??? I confess, I’m having to read up on this as I type this post. I DID, however, disclose that I am an entomologist and not an arachnologist in my DAY 2 post, and I can count to 6 (if you read my earlier post, you’ll get my joke), and that is high enough to tell you that these groups are partially differentiated by the number of book lungs a spider has.
Book lungs are the main respiratory organ in arachnids. Mygalomorphs have 4 book lungs and Araneomorphs have only 2. See, we got to SIX! 😁
The other difference between these two spider groups has to do with how they chew. Well, sort of. A more scientific description would be to say the directionality of movement of their chelicerae.
Yep. Let’s just make it easy today and say, Mygalomorph’s mouthparts move in a parallel direction (move your first two fingers towards each other like you’re making air quotes) and Araneomorph’s mouthparts are oriented in an opposing way (touch your forefinger to your thumb in a pincer-like way). For more about this, you’re welcome to delve into the deep world of spider systematics here – https://www.jstor.org/stable/2097274?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
Sorting spiders involves numerous other factors including morphological differences such as eye arrangement, hairs, body shape, number of claws and even what type of web they make or whether they make a web at all!
As to webs, well that’s going to be a post of its own. There are ALL sorts of webs and knowing their names and being able to identify them will be a tool for figuring out what sort of spider you may have.
I have run out of time for my post today, but I will leave you with a few links to check out so you can learn more of the basic morphology that all spiders share: 8 legs, head or (cephalothorax region), abdomen…Oh, and the cutie on my finger is one of my house spider friends. This little one is a jumping spider (Salticus scenicus), named Skipper.
I made a video of one of my favorite insects you will see here in the San Juan Islands. This is a bumble bee mimic, but it’s not a bee at all. It’s a fly. Not only is it not your ordinary fly, it’s a fly with a very interesting life cycle that requires a host. This particular host relationship has evolved between the fly and our local black-tailed deer. It’s not feeding on the deer because these adult flies don’t even have mouthparts to eat. Their sole mission is to reproduce and they need an incubator for their “babies.” If you see a deer and notice it coughing, watch the video to find out why. **Edit *** Update to post… I misspoke in the video and state that the fly oviposits onto the deer which is incorrect. The eggs actually hatch inside the fly body and the fly larviposits onto the deer muzzle. Either way it’s got to be pretty terrifying to the deer! 🦌
Meet Woolly Wool Carder. Woolly gets a bad rep because Woolly LOOKS like a Yellowjacket Wasp. All Woolly wants to do is find that patch of Lambswool in your garden or flower bed and take enough to make a nice cozy bed for its babies.
The European Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum) at first glance, looks like a somewhat chubby Yellowjacket. While these stouter and hairy-bodied bees mimic the barbed stingers everyone wants to avoid, they aren’t going to harm you at all. They don’t even have stingers, though the males do have some spines at the end of their abdomen they can use defensively against other flying insects that might be perceived as a threat to their food source or territory.
Wool Carders are smaller than most Yellowjackets. They are about the size of honey bees or between 11 and 17 mm. They are very brightly colored with yellow and black markings, but again, the distinguishing features to differentiate them from Yellowjackets are 1) they’re hairy and 2) they’re stout!
Other than sipping nectar from flowers, these solitary, cavity nesters are all about finding wool to make a cozy bed for their babies. Actually, aside from the uhm…deed, the female is the one doing all the provisioning for a nest. She will card “wool,” using her mandibles to scrape bits of trichomes (or hairs) from lambs ears or other fuzzy plants (especially those in the mint family) to make a cushioned bed on which to lay her egg. Each egg is provisioned with enough nectar and pollen to supply the developing larva with nutrients to reach pupation.
The European Wool Carder Bee is native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia, but has become cosmopolitan in distribution. While non-native, it has become widely adapted to various habitats in North America. These bees are not dangerous to humans or pets. They are effective pollinators, but sometimes outcompete native bees for resources.
Eek! There’s a spider in the bathtub! Do you really want to turn on the water and drown it? Hopefully you are not nodding your head “yes,” but instead finding courage to overcome your arachnophobia and finding a tiny bit of compassion. Just take a deep breath. Get a towel, or a cup and a card, and find your brave inner self to save this poor little eight-legged individual to live out its life. Say this mantra with me….”Be NICE to spiders!” Then say it over and over and over to yourself. It will make you a much more confident person. You can tell your friends and co-workers about how YOU got a spider out of the BATHTUB!
At my house, the number one threat to spiders is my cat. Millhouse is determined his job is to be spider exterminator. He squashes them. He used to eat them! Once he ate one. He fainted. I had to rush him to the vet. He revived on the way. The next time, he bit one and spit it out. I don’t know if the spider was foaming from being punctured or if the cat was foaming because well….maybe cats foam at the mouth sometimes when they eat something they shouldn’t. In any case, he’s evolving his kill techniques. Now he eats too much cat food and uses his massive body weight (he thinks it’s muscle) to flatten them.
I’m on the other side. My job is to save them. It was a good thing I saw this one before Millhouse did. You see, Millhouse loves to drink his water out of the bathtub. I have to leave the water dripping for him. That’s why you’ll note the stain on the tub. It’s from hard well water. One day I will scrub off the yellowing, but for now, pretend it’s not there.
The first thing I recommend to get the spider out is to grab something like a hand towel or a plastic cup and some sort of paper (mailer, index card, envelop, etc.). I used a towel. Watch my video and see how easy it is! The spider isn’t going to bite you. It just wants OUT of the tub. Probably it was thirsty. See my post from October 27, and you can read all about how to give a dehydrated spider a drink. At this point, it needs your help. It is stuck. The sides of the tub are too slippery for it to crawl out. It’s really easy! Here goes…
The general idea is to be extremely gentle. You don’t want to injure the spider. Keep chanting your mantra…”Be nice to spiders!” Over and over and over!
See! It’s not that hard. The spider didn’t attack me. Isn’t it so cute! By the way, this spider is a Hackelmesh weaver (Callobius severus) https://bugguide.net/node/view/7018. I checked later today and it has crawled off somewhere. Happy to escape the cat!