I am very nearly blind when I try to see things up close, so it truly surprises me how I SEE things like the tiny “laundry” line of dead bugs this little orb weaver had strewn along a filmy thread between the boughs of our fir tree. At first, I thought it was just debris, stuck to the remnant of a spider thread, long abandoned. Upon closer inspection, I saw more threads and then my attention focused on the center, where I was able to discern what looked like teeny legs curled up around a body.
I used my clip on macro lens to get a better look. Indeed, there was a tiny spider in the center. I thought it was dead. That’s EXACTLY what the spider was hoping I’d think, and then I’d move on and the spider could enjoy the morning sun, and maybe a tiny bug for breakfast too.
I had a hard time getting decent photos. Even with the macro lens, focusing was tough. The wind would blow at just the WRONG second and I’d have to start all over again. I couldn’t find my tripod, but finally got a decent pole to help me balance, and went out to take photos at different times over a period of 2 days. I even went out last night and took a picture.
It was fairly easy to identify the spider to Genus (Cyclosa), but species ???? . After going through the literature I had, I narrowed it to 2 possibilities, but reached out to Rod Crawford for help. Rod is the curator of arachnids at Seattle’s Burke Museum and this is what he says,
“Yes, it’s a Cyclosa. This time of year all Cyclosa are juvenile, and I for one cannot distinguish between our 2 species (C. conica, C. turbinata) as juveniles. However, C. conica is more common.”
So, my little spider with a laundry line of bugs is either Cyclosa conica or Cyclosa turbinata.
Why exactly do they string the debris along their web lines? Well, again, this debris is usually made up of dead bugs and other tiny bits of debris attached to the silk line. Typically, the spider is positioned somewhere in the middle, using the debris as camouflage against predators. Often, the female spiders’ egg sacks are attached to this “laundry line” too. I think laundry line sounds better than trash line, but I don’t think I get to rename the spider.
There are five species of Cyclosa spiders in North America, north of Mexico. I believe we only have the two mentioned by Rod here. I’m going back out to check on my new friend after I finish my post. Enjoy the day and remember to Be Nice to Spiders!
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.
I wanted to share with you photos of two spiders I photographed recently. Location: San Juan Island, WA. Both are in the family Araneidae or what we know as Orb Weavers. The first (orangey one), was observed on a tomato plant July 31, 2021, and the 2nd (brown one) was observed yesterday evening, August 10, 2021, on some sort of wetland grass near my home.
While I knew the orangey one was a Cross Orb Weaver, Araneus diadematus, I wasn’t certain of the brown one’s ID beyond genus Araneus, so I reached out to Seattle Burke Museum’s arachnologist, Rod Crawford to see what he’d say. He responded to my query this afternoon and offered that both are Araneus diadematus spiders. There can be variability in color tint (many of us know the Cross Orb Weaver A. diadematus as pumpkin orange).
Rod continued with, “the ventral view of the brown one shows it is penultimate (still one molt to go). Once they mature they will be more noticeable. Seattle specimens are at this same stage now.” He also offered in terms of color variants among spiders, …”I imagine there is a genetic component to this variation, at least in most cases, but I’ve never looked into the details. I have found situations where spiders living amidst a population explosion of green leafhoppers all tended to be greenish in color, presumably derived from their food.”
It’s all so very interesting, isn’t it! I’m glad we have scientists who are willing to share their knowledge and experience. Thanks to Rod for his help!
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.
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.