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
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!