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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 pretty 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!
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.
This little creature was photographed on February 28, 2020 by Trever Santora on San Juan Island, WA.
It’s a Pseudoscorpion! Found on the windowsill of his house and no larger than a tiny sesame seed, I believe it to be an immature House Pseudoscorpion (Cheliferidae cancroides).
Keep an eye out for these. They’re quite harmless to humans and can’t sting or bite you. Pseudoscorpions are predacious and beneficial because they eat other organisms that are pests. Some live in birds’ nests and eat the mites that can build up and harm nestlings.
Since they don’t have wings and can’t fly, pseudoscorpions move around by phoresy. That means they’ll hitch a ride on someone who can! Not just birds, but bees, wasps, and flies can also provide a free lift.
I really enjoy the days when I have an opportunity to go over insect images I’ve taken, but haven’t yet had the chance to identify. This small (approx 7-8mm), metallic beetle is a leaf beetle in the family Chrysomelidae. It’s a Long-horned Leaf Beetle (Plateumaris germari). They are associated with aquatic habitats and this specimen was found near a wetland habitat on San Juan Island, WA., May 12, 2015. Yes. I’m slow at getting around to sorting things, but was happy to share this one today.
For all you foodies out there, here’s a new one for you. Beer brewers are isolating yeast from insects, including bees, wasps, and even crickets. Don’t worry, no actual bug parts are going to be in your drink. Drink up and enjoy the buzz!
This spider is in the genus Cicurina, also known as the Cave Meshweaver or Cave Spider. Pronounced “sik-uhr-EYE-nuh,” the Latin name translates to “tame” or “mild.”
From Buggide.net and according to Rod Crawford:
Cicurina of Western Washington: “C. pusilla is by far the commonest. C. simplex and C. “idahoana” (really an undescribed species related to idahoana, in my opinion) are moderately common. Cicurina tersa is less common than the previous three. The other Cicurina of western Washington are actually rare here, C. tacomaand C. intermedia.” ~Rod Crawford
Adams, R.J. 1970. Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States. California Natural History Guides. University of California Press. Los Angeles.
I only saw a handful of insects yesterday when I went out to look along the road near my home. The most remarkable of these (and the easiest to see) without magnifying tools, was the slender, brown rove beetle with the sunshine tail!
Gold and Brown Rove Beetles are fairly small, slender, and typically pretty agile. They have a brown body with little yellow hairs (setae) at the end of their “tail.” Another patch of this golden setae wraps around their “belly,” like a little yellow ‘belt,’ This one was indeed on the smaller side at about 12 mm. However, given the outdoor temperature was still pretty low, it wasn’t agile enough to escape a short photo session.
I’ll admit, I poked it (very gently) to see if I could get a photo of it with its tail up. When threatened, they have defense glands that emit a chemical fluid. I found out (after reading through the Journal of Chemical Ecology from 1990) that researchers found this defense fluid is made up primarily of a chemical called iridodial (Huth and Dettner, 1990).
Here’s a photo of my beetle exuding the defense fluid! Note the little white bubble at the end of its tail.
Here in the next photo, you can see it without the defense fluid.
Being curious, I had to investigate a bit about the chemical properties of iridoids. I was intrigued to learn that “iridoids are secondary metabolites present in various plants, especially in species belonging to the Apocynaceae, Lamiaceae, Loganiaceae, Rubiaceae, Scrophulariaceae and Verbenaceae families, Viljoen et al., (2012).” Tundis et. al., (2008) found that “iridoids exhibit a wide range of bioactivity, such as neuroprotective, antinflammatory and immunomodulator, hepatoprotective and cardioprotective effects.” Findings also included iridoid compounds also possessed anticancer, antioxidant, antimicrobic, hypoglycaemic, hypolipidemic, choleretic, antispasmodic and purgative properties (Tundis et al., 2008).
While I didn’t find much information (yet) utilizing iridoid secretions from insects, I did begin to wonder if that tiny drop of fluid could have provided some anti-inflammatory benefit for the migraine headache I’d been suffering from for days. I’ve been working with a friend of mine who is a research pharmacokineticist, helping to edit his papers and those of some associates he has in China. Probably, I’ll pass this along since they’re always looking for ideas on how to develop/synthesize new pharmaceuticals and biomimicry seems to be the new frontier.
Huth, A. and K. Dettner. 1990. Defense chemicals from abdominal glands of 13 rove beetle species of sub tribe Staphylinia (Coleoptera:Staphylinidae, Staphylininae). Journal of Chemical Ecology, 16:9, pp 2691-2711.
Tundis, R., Loizzo, M.R., Menichini, F., Statti, G.A., and F. Menichini. 2008. Biological and Pharmacological Activities of Iridoids: Recent Developments, Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry. 8: 399. https://doi.org/10.2174/138955708783955926
Viljoen A., Mncwangi N., Vermaak I. Anti-inflammatory iridoids of botanical origin. 2012. Curr. Med. Chem. 19:2104–2127. doi: 10.2174/092986712800229005
Yesterday, my husband took me for a walk in the woods near our home and while I always enjoy the fresh air and the quiet beauty of the woods, I especially appreciate the opportunity to discover new bugs. I was really hoping to come across one beetle in particular, a ground beetle that I’ve only seen three times since September 2009, when I first moved to San Juan Island.
It’s called Matthews’ Angry Gnashing Beetle or Zacotus matthewsii. Zacotus means “very angry” in Greek, though I’m not sure why this beetle would ever act in an angry manner unless you were poking it with a stick. In that case, it’s likely it would attempt to defend itself by gnashing at you with its mandibles, and any bites you receive would be well deserved indeed!
The last sighting I had of a live Zacotus matthewsii was February 18, 2015 at 5:56 p.m. I’m hoping to walk along the same spot again this evening about the same time in hopes of sighting another.
These ground beetles are extremely unique. Their maroon-red metallic coloring is often ringed with a green shimmer along the margins of its body.
Sadly, the life history of these beetles is understudied. We do know they are only associated with old growth forest ecosystems and rarely seen. When old-growth forests are cut down, the beetles disappear and our opportunity to know them is lost.
While I didn’t find one of these beetles yesterday on our walk in the forest, I did come across some equally interesting residents, cohabitating in a rotten log near a stream. I might have missed them entirely, but for my curiosity leading me to lift off a section of the log. It was a bit like lifting the roof off a house, and being able to see all the rooms and inhabitants, only instead of being a multi-family unit, this was a multi-species, multi-family unit!
I’d packed my cellphone and my handy clip on macro lens, so I was able to take some video and photos to share with you. Here’s what I found!
The first amazing creature that was exposed in the log was a centipede. This is Scolopocryptops spinicaudus. I noticed nearby, there was a grouping of eggs, so after a bit of internet searching, I discovered the very neat fact that these (and other species) of centipedes stay with their eggs.
The mother will wrap herself around the cluster to better protect them, staying with her brood even weeks after they hatch, leaving them only after they are able to fend for themselves. I believe this mother centipede moved away from her eggs when I removed the section from the log in order to draw my attention away from them.
***Eggs were not disturbed and I replaced the log section after taking my photos.
Below is a photo I found when I was searching about centipedes and parental care. I find it amazing that even invertebrates show such care for their offspring!
The next resident in the log that caught my eye was the very tiny, whitish-translucent, globular creature that looked a lot like a bark or booklouse, but turned out to be a “baby” termite. These were larvae of the Pacific Dampwood Termite, Zootermopsis angusticollis. I wasn’t able to get a good view, but it looked as if these were being tended by an older family member.
Dampwood termites are widespread in Pacific Northwest forests. They rarely cause damage to structures, but play a very important ecological role, recycling nutrients from decaying trees. They are also food for Pileated Woodpeckers and other birds and animals.
Finally, the last residents I spied cohabitating in this section of rotting log were the very tiny Wrinkled Bark Beetles (Clinidium spp.) Clinidium spp. of bark beetles feed on slime molds (Myxomycetes), found in decaying or dead hardwoods and conifers. They are in the Family Rhysodidae and there are only two genera and eight species in North America. Only two of these eight species range in the West (from California to B.C. ) (White, 1983).
At about 5mm in length, these were hard to detect with the naked eye. I took the following photos with my macro lens, showing the striations along the elytra and the lateral grooves on the basal half of the pronoun.
The next photo shows two adults together, presumably hibernating together in a cavity in the rotting log (White, 1983) .
It’s been raining a lot in the Pacific Northwest. Between the deluge and the cool temps, it’s definitely not the season for bug viewing. Being indoors, in rainy winter weather, when you live on an island equals boredom, cabin fever, and winter blues. You have to make your own sunshine or you get SADD.
I found my sunshine today in the barn. I went down to take better photos of the spiders I discovered over the weekend residing in the well pump house (inside the barn). I get really excited finding any sort of invertebrate this time of year.
This shiny arachnid had me fooled the first time I found one. She’s not a real widow, but a False Widow (Steotoda grossa). False widow spiders are not native to Washington. They were imported from Europe, but are widely distributed and considered a cosmopolitan species. We have lots in the basement of our house!
When I was in the well pump house, I found three females, each in her own corner, tending her egg sacks.
I also found a lone Callobius severus (male?) on the wall… just hanging out. He was alive. I gently blew on him to see if he moved. He did.
Steotoda grossa spiders are actually quite beneficial, preying on invertebrates like pillbugs, but they are famous for eating other spiders that humans don’t particularly want to encounter, like Hobo spiders or Black Widows. They construct flimsy or loosely woven, somewhat messy webs and seem to love corners in outbuildings and basements (at least from my personal experience). Female Steotoda grossa spiders have been recorded living as long as 6 years, while males have a much shorter lifespan no longer than 1.5 years.
While not aggressive, Steotoda grossa spiders will sometimes bite people. They see very poorly and react mostly to vibrations when responding to threats. A bite from a False Widow is not life threatening, but some individuals may have a localized reaction to the bite.
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!
I spent a good part of the day combing through my insect photos from the past 9 years. There are thousands. Finally, I found the ones I was searching for. I credit Victoria Compton on San Juan Island, WA for helping me out on this one. She sent a photo the other day to my email with a caterpillar and had suggested an ID. Not only was she correct, but in ID’ing the caterpillar, it enabled me to match up one of my adult moth photos that had been sitting around nameless since 2016. The photos I found today were of the same caterpillar that had been a mystery to me since 2013. It’s a nice “aha” moment when you connect the dots! Below are the pics for you to see.
Lophocampa roseata Photographed July 10, 2016 San Juan Island, WA
Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 San Juan Island, WA
This is a Tiger moth in the family Erebidae, subfamily Arctiinae. The scientific name is Lophocampa roseata (also known as the Rosy aemilia). It was first described by Francis Walker in 1868. They are found in Western Oregon and Washington as well as in Southwestern B.C. and are associated with habitats of conifer forests and maple trees. The sources I checked list them as somewhat rare and Natureserve lists them as “critically imperiled.” So, I guess we have another beautiful Lepidoptera on San Juan Island to care for along with the Marble Butterfly!
***Critically imperiled Tiger Moth. Please post/email photos if you live in San Juan County, WA and come across one in the adult or larval stage. Thanks!
Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 by Cynthia Brast San Juan Island, WA
Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed September 26, 2018by Victoria Compton San Juan Island, WA
This amazing little creature is a Tiger Fly in the genus Coenosia, and I believe C. tigrina. Photographed on May 30, 2021 with prey that appears to be a spittlebug nymph.
This particular tiger fly is a European native, introduced to North America in the 1800’s. It is now found throughout the northeastern and western United States and adjacent Canada.
Tiger flies, also sometimes known as hunter or killer flies, are indeed fantastic predators of other pest insects, including Drosophila sp. flies. Even the larval stage of this fly is predatory on other organisms. Because of their success in hunting, they are often used as biological control of pests in greenhouses.
I found a “new-to-me” bug the other day when I put on my heavy duty gloves and reached to pull out some bull thistle growing in a pile of dirt near our home. I was being extra careful because the thistle has spines and they kind of hurt when you get them stuck in your hand. The beetle was right in front of me when I pushed apart some leaves to get a better grasp on the stem.
As I looked a bit more closely, I saw there were quite a few of these beetles on the thistle, especially on the buds. I went back to the house to get my camera, took some photos, then went about figuring out what this was. Definitely a beetle.
It was weevil-like, and pretty hairy. There were quite a few of them paired up. They have spring fever like a lot of other bugs I’ve seen of late. That’s how we get more bugs though, and we need them, whether we like all of them or not.
Identification took me about an hour. I am getting better at piecing bits of information collected over the years. Bull Thistle is not exactly a popular plant. It’s managed to get itself on the noxious weed list. No one seems to want this plant in their garden, aside from Eeyore, who really loves thistle, right?
Noxious weed made me think of biocontrol. That narrowed things down a bit and I learned this is the Nodding Thistle Receptacle weevil (Rhinocyllus conicus). Personally, I’m calling it the Nodding Thistle Rhinoceros Beetle because being in the family Curculionidae, it has the appearance of a nodding rhinoceros.
So, the beetle was introduced to control thistle in the US because thistle isn’t welcome, at least the non-native species like bull thistle aren’t. The part that got me reading to find out more was the adjective used to describe this beetle as “controversial.” Well, what I found is that the beetle doesn’t just eat non-native thistles. It eats NATIVE thistles too (Cirsium edule and Cirsium brevistylum).
Why does that matter? Well, disrupting native ecosystems can have ripple effects. I found out another reason the beetle is controversial is because there are native pollinators that depend on thistle, like the beautiful Painted Lady Butterflies that we love. Thistles also produce seed and flax used by our very own state bird, the American Goldfinch. Which brings me to the question, “If the butterflies and birds have begun to utilize the non-native species, are we making the problem worse by introducing another non-native species?”
In my continued reading , I actually began to connect the fact that I buy bags of expensive thistle seed at the store to attract the goldfinches, but I’ve got LIVING food for them in my yard that is free (and also free of pesticides), and here I am pulling it out. Am I going to waste my energy trying to eradicate a small patch of bull thistle? Nope. If it starts to get out of control, we can just mow it down. For now, I am leaving it for the birds and the butterflies…and all the other little creatures I’ve seen living on it. There were lots of super cute little jumping spiders all over it yesterday!
I’ll leave you with a question. Should we have introduced this hairy little beetle that isn’t native? I don’t have a good answer. Maybe it will just help control the spread of thistle and won’t eradicate it entirely. I’d like to be able to have Painted Lady’s, Goldfinches, and lots of jumping spiders in my garden, even if I occasionally get pricked by the spines of those thistles. For now, I’m going to stick to improving my drawing skills!
Twenty-spotted Lady Beetle (Psyllobora vigintimaculata) on daisy. This tiny ladybug almost went unnoticed when I was watering flowers the other day. It wasn’t easy to get a photo and she crawled down headfirst into the flower bud. I suppose she was feeling shy!
After reading a bit more about these, I discovered the best place to look for them is at the base of skunk cabbage in early spring. AND, this is the best part. Later in the season, these little beetles switch to plants that have powdery mildew. They eat it. Definitely a garden friend!
Did you know Ocean spray is one of our native plants? Lots of folks don’t even know this and label it as “invasive,” or a “fire hazard,” then rip it out of the ground to replace it with non-native ornamentals or worse, leaving the formerly healthy, forested understory devoid of vegetation.
Did you know?
Here’s a bit of historical trivia – Ocean spray is sometimes called Indian arrowwood because Native Americans made use of its straight hardwood branches for arrow shafts. They also used oceanspray for treating viral and skin diseases. Other names for this plant are Holodiscus discolor, ironwood or creambush. There is actually a novel phenolic component in the plant called Stilbene a Xyloside that has been associated with varied biological and medicinal activities.
Some reasons I’d like you to appreciate Ocean Spray….
It is a larval host plant to some of our native butterflies and moths. These include the beautiful Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon), Spring Azure (Celastrina sp.), Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), and Gray Hairstreaks (Strymon melinus). One particularly notable one here on our island is the delicate Fairy Moth (Adela septentrionella). Calscape (California Native Plant Society) lists 14 confirmed species of Lepidoptera associated with Ocean Spray (and 23 as likely) for a total of 37 species native to the state of CA. I could not find published studies for this in WA state, but link the Calscape page here https://calscape.org/plantleps.php?hostsloc=california&species=Holodiscus+discolor
Ocean spray provides cover and forage for wildlife. Birds, small amphibians, and deer rely on native plant species like Ocean Spray that make up part of the forest understory and are a component of a healthy ecosystem. Fire-scaping may be on your mind, but one way around this is to look at installing adequate water cachement around your home to help keep vegetation from drying out and dying in late summer and fall. We want to live in the forest, but if we remove the native understory, we risk altering the landscape even more and losing these beautiful creatures!
Ocean Spray flowers provide pollen and nectar for native bees! 🐝
Look at this little moth- (Malacosoma californicum pluvialis). He’s got such a fuzzy hair-do and you might even think he’s cute. But he’s not a popular fella. Why? Because no one likes him when he’s a baby. He has way too many brothers and sisters and they are all really hungry and like to eat lots of leaves. Keep reading though. I want to tell you a bit more about “Melvin.”
Melvin did indeed have lots of siblings in his tent crib high up in the tree. They were awfully crowded and terribly hungry. Folks looked up in that tree and shook their heads. What ARE we going to do about them. They are going to eat our whole tree. They went to the store to get the pesticides.
But what would happen if those same folks sat under that tree for a few days and watched the nursery full of Melvin’s siblings? They’d see the bat fly through in the dark of night to carry off some of them for dinner. In the early morning, they’d find more disappear when the hungry woodpecker and nuthatch stopped to peck at the crib and take away caterpillars to feed their hungry chicks. In the panic, some of Melvin’s siblings slipped out of the crib and fell to the ground. That afternoon, a lizard and garter snake found those and ate them right away. Near dusk, a few more dropped out of the nursery web, and little miss mouse carried those off to feed to her babies.
This was actually a good year for those caterpillars. Last year, the wasps came and laid eggs in them. They felt fine for a bit and even kept growing and eating, but then the wasp babies hatched and ate them from the inside out. Gross right? Well, that was a lucky year for Melvin. He was the only one who survived to fly off and tell me this story.
*Note – “According to research conducted at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station 60 birds species have been documented to eat tent caterpillars including cuckoos, orioles, jays, chickadees and nuthatches. This same study also found that tent caterpillar outbreaks are controlled by native predators and parasites including 127 insect parasites, 28 insect predators, frogs, mice, bats, reptiles, squirrels, skunks, and bears. By sifting through one day’s worth of bear poop (fun job) researchers found that a single bear on average ate around 25,000 caterpillars in a one day.” Conservation Research Alliance – https://www.rivercare.org/…/tent-caterpillars-are-for…https://www.oregonlive.com/…/the_western_tent…
What people find unsightly and annoying for a few months some years is a welcome gift of easy food for many species of wildlife and the species that in turn feed on them. Another thing to consider. (Malacosoma californicum pluvialis) is actually native to our region! If you can, refrain from spraying, which harms our pollinators and native insects that are predators of the caterpillars. Clipping affected areas is one acceptable alternative. Just leave the clippings on the ground. The birds, and other insects will thank you.
Bug humor…these are mating March flies (Bibionidae). In Florida and parts of the South, they call them “Love Bugs.” The one with the BIG eyes is the boy. Poor fella’s getting dragged behind since she was done with his attentions. San Juan Island, WA April 29, 2021